Monday, May 25, 2015
On the day of my birthday, I chose to purchase a 9-hour guided walking tour of the City of Venice, which as everyone knows is made of up 188 islands and 432 bridges. I am sure I walked every single island and crossed each and every bridge!
Of course, San Marco Square, the location of the reknown St. Marks Cathedral and the Doge Palace with it's two pillars supporting the symbol of Venice, a winged lion, and Posiden with his staff, are the main center of 'tourist Venice.' Hundreds upon thousand of tourists from aroud-the-world, school groups, solo travelers, all throng to see the magnificent archetecture and marvel at palaces built literally on water - with the tides rising and falling and coming right inside the front doors!! The general concensus is that the entire place will sink within an other 100 years! - especially since their last mayor made off with over a billion euros that was designated to shoring up the crumbling intra-structure!
I thoroughly ejoyed my visit. I stayed in a lovely little AirBnB on the mainland which was a very easy 20-minute bus ride each day into the Centre. I took a long boat ride around the Grand Canal, ate fabulous pasta accompanied by red wine, was seranaded, flirted with, got lost - which is my favorite thing to do in a new city - and had very sore feet by the end of each day.
Here are just a few of the wonderful sites I saw....
Just one of the magnificent ceiling in the Doge Palace
Gondoliers getting ready to go to work
The Riallto Bridge
A Doge in his very weird hat!
After 3 days in Venice it was time to take my first European coach ride - 16 hours to the south of France.. The bus ride was like riding with a United National delegration all speaking at the same time in different languages on their phones. But it really was comfortable, not crowded, very reasonalbe, and they stopped lots of time for food and streatching and potty breaks. Will certainly travel this way again. I am spending the next week or so living on a 110-year-old barge on the Canal du Midi, just a bit north of the Mediterranean Sea. The weather is perfect and boat life is so much fun!
Until next time....
Sunday, May 17, 2015
A time to sit and reflect on what I've seen and learned after an extrememly hectic couple of days seems like a good thing.
First, I'm spening my first night in Venice, Itlay. It's 9 pm on Sunday evening here. Really I'm in Spinea, a little suburb 20 minutes from Venice proper in a beuatiul AirBnB. But I got here is a long story.
First, I left beautiful Naxos on Thursday, returning to Athens for one night so I could pick up my brand new passport at the Embassay on Friday, (Only between the hours of 12Noon and 1:00PM)
I had the very lovely treat of spending the rest of that afternoon at the home a new Greek friend, Hara G. Hara and I had chatted briefly when I was still in Chicago as we have mutual Greek friends who are members of IWA and wanted us to meet. But both our times were so busy that all we managed was a phone conversation and the exchange of emails and phone numbers. When I first arrived and contacted her, she once again had a packed schedule, but it turned out that my very last day in Athens she had free and she very graciously invited me to lunch at her beautiful condo in the Aghia Paraskevi neighborhood.
How nice it was to spend several hours chatting about a wide range subjects - the International Women's Club in Athens, children, hopes, dreams, travel - while dining on a home-cooked meal and sipping a nice white wine!
All too soon it was time to head back to the hostel to pick up my luggage and get a cab to the bus terminal so I could hop the express bus to Paatra. It was from Patra (2 1/2 hours from Athens) that I would board the very plush and large 'car ferry' that would carry met to Venice, Italy.
The ship departed at 11:59 pm and reminded me of a typical cruise ship - lounges, restaurants (high end and self-serve) bars, cafes, ship stores, very nice cabins and even a disco! You have lots of choices of how to sleep on this boat. You can actually sleep in your car - or in your camper. You can sleep anywere there is a chair or a couch on any of the decks - which the majority of the backpackers, high school groups and workers did. Or you can get a cabin.
Because it is not yet high season, I lucked out and had a 4-bed cabin (which I would have shared with 3 other women) all to myself! Yeah - I got out my stretchable clothes line and did all my hand washing. I had clothes drying all over the place - it looked like a photo from steerage on a 1900's immigrant crossing
So very nice you say - well yes..and no. I just couldn't sleep - either night. FYI, crossing the Adriatic Sea takes 1 1/2 nights and 1 full day, arriving in Venice the next morning at 7 a.m. It was rather bumpy and THEY LET THE PASSENGERS SMOKE IN THEIR CABINS - ARGH! It drifted into mine and just made my stomach turn. Smoking wasn't allowed any place else inside the ship, but all of the outdoor seating areas (did I mention there also was a pool?!) were smoking areas.
And boy do the Europeans still smoke - in restaurants, in bars, in taxis, on the street. Being a 'recovered smoker' is worse than a non-smoker as I think we can smell smoke a mile away, After years now of non-smoking restaurants and bars and eveni some non-smoking outdoor areas in the States, it's amazing how stinky cigerette smoke is.
And one last thing that just finished off the on-board portion of the trip - I forgot to change my alarm clock to Italian time. I gained an hour and didn't know it - so my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. I just couldn't figure out why I was the only person up and moving around when were going to be docking in an hour.- not!
But now comes the fun part! I had checked and rechecked the ship's website so I knew where we were docking. Martha, the BnB owner had sent me specific directions on how to get from the port to her place - except they changed ports! And the new port is nowhere near the old port.
With very few English-speakers to ask for help, finally managed to take a shuttle-bus out of the port to the RV campiing site where the local buses pick you up and take you to the train station where you can catch another local bus which is supose to take you to exactly where you are going - because you have written the stop down and shown it to the driver! That didn't work too well.
When he told me to get off the bus - I was no where near any of the landmarks Martha had said I would find. So I'm dragging my suitcase and bakpack down the main street, asking every person I meet if they 'parla inglese' and getting no help at all. Finally I walk to a big church where there is a little tent set up in front selling nick nacks and food-stuff for a mission project. I asked if either of the 2 men in the booth spoke English and I literally cried when the both said - Sure! I showed them the address and out came their smartphones. They conferred and the next thing I knew, one of those gentlemen said follow me....He put my luggage in the back of his car and drove me the 2 miles back to the front door of the BnB, pointing out where I need to catch bus stop into Venice for in the morning!
There are some very good and kind peopel in this world and I was so very lucky to find several today that made my little trip here just a wee bit less adventuresome. And I didn't even tell you about trying to buy a bus ticket in the train station! Another time.
Suffice to say, I finally arrived at the Chiocciola Venice Bed & Breakfast. My room wasn't quite ready, but I sank down into a chair in kitchen, had my first cup of coffee of the day and spent the next hour using their very strong wi-fi signal to take care of some long, over-due emails and book myself an all-day walking tour and gondola ride for Tuesday. Then I found a really lovely, old, old home that was turned into a lovely Italian restaurant and sat down and ordered - a pizza and a big glass of wine! Spent the afternoon reading and napping and now I ready to call it a night. Tomorrow Venice and lots of photos will be taken and shared in the next post!
Until nex time.....
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
This island has tall mountains and beatuiful beaches. They get snow and ice in the winter and warm northern breezes in the summer to keep the temperatures moderate. You can still find many of the old ways still in existence, espeically in the small villages, though the young are fast taking over with cafes and bars and shops of all kind.
Since arriving on Saturday, I have stayed at the small, very friendly and extremely reasonable Hotel Poseidon just a few steps from the beautiful St. Georges beach. I have my own little balcony where I can watch the world walk by. It even comes with a clothesline so I can hang out hand washings - a much needed necessity when access to washers and dryers are few-and-far-between. Breakfast is included daily as well as transport to and from the port the days of arrival and departure. How much you might ask as does one pay for such a place? €25 per night!
The food is traditional, plentiful and good. A huge pita stuffed with gyros (here you have a choice of pork or chicken) with a good dollop of tazaki sauce, fresh tomatoes, red onions, and french fries, yep french fries, make a great lunch. Add a soft drink or even a local beer and the cost is between €2-4.
Dinner of yummy, fried fresh calimari, greek salad and fries (Naxos is famous for it's potatoes) plus a glass of wine is €8.50.
Naxos is also the home of one of largest pure white marble quarries. This is easily seen in the statues that adorn the isalnd and the steps you climb and the walkways you stroll along (which are very slippery when wet) They also are home of large emery mines. I really couldn't figure out what they were talking about until it hit me and realized it was a mineral I had never considered mined - think emery boards to file your fingernails!
I attended a bouziki and guitar concert of Greek folk music in the lower-level of a 16th century Venitian castle Monday evening. The musicans were outstanding and played for over 3 hours. Local dancers performed - whirling and kicking in this tiny space - and unlimited glasses of the local wines and ouzo were served. Unfortunately the lower-levels of castles are dark!
I met two wonderful women that night who were from Ashland, OR. They not only encouraged me to take the day-long island bus tour the next day, but also told me all about a wonderful program called Village to Village which they have in Ashland. It's is a community program that allows seniors to remain in their homes, eliminating the need for moving into long-term care facilities. I've done just a bit of interent snooping but it sounds perfect. There are many such communties springing up all ove the US. This is something I will certainly look into when I return.
The island tour was so entertaining and educational. Our guide, Reena, spoke 6 languages, and would answer questions in one-to-another in quick order! We traveled far, far up and over the mountains (7,000 ft) and stopped at a pottery, a distillary, a olive oil press, several beaches and photo ops through-out the day, while learning about the history of the people that occupy these small mountain villages, some no larger than 50 inhabitants. And when it does snow, everything stops as the road is much too winding and weaving to try and travel on. These are worse than any North Carolina mountain road I was ever on! Here are just a few a the many photos I shot that day....
The Ya Ya's chatting and I am sure, laughing at the foreign tourists!
Glass jars storing a rather wonderful citrone-based liquor.
A local gentleman with his 'working' donkey that was hauling bricks up the steep village streets.
Tasting all the delicious products made by the olive grove owner - a young woman!! I want to pack everything I could in my suitcase (not!) or send packages home as gifts (also not - they don't ship!)
A fabulous spice shop that also sold whips made from bull penis skins.....hmmmm.
And what moved me the most was a statue of Kronos. It was lying in an old marble quarry. It is 1000's of years old and they do not know why it was never raised or moved to it's planned location. So he lies in state on a mountain top which you must climb 56 steps to reach. He has been open to the elements of wind, rain, snow and ice for all these years, yet he still exudes such dignity. You wonder about the artisans who carved him and how sad they must have been when he did not rise to his full glory.
I learned yesterday afternoon that my new passport is ready for pickup - YEAH. So this is my last day on Naxos. I will be sorry to leave, but happy to once again have a 'real' US passport in my possession. I ferry to Athens in the morning ( a 7 hour ride) and will spend the night once again at the Athenstyle Hostel. I know, I said never again, but it's cheap and really close to the Embassy. I can only pick up my passport between 12 Noon and 1:00 PM so will do that on Friday. And then.....
I felt it time for some Italian history so I have booked the ferry to Venice, Italy!! It departs the port at 12 Midnight on Friday and I arrive in Venice at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. I have booked a great little BnB just outside the island city of Venice and will bus in and back for €1.20 each way.
My plan is to 'get lost' for a few days wandering the winding narrow streets, crossing the bridges, mingling with the tourists in St. Marks Square, sipping a glass or two of good red wine, maybe a boat ride to Murano to see the glassblowers....the options abound.
Unti next time....
Sunday, May 10, 2015
From Athens I took the dreaded metro at 6 a.m. to catch the Blue Star Ferry from Piraeus to Santorini. It's a 9 hours ride and I must admit, though dreading it, it was really lovely! The boat/ship is very up-to-date and has all the ammenties you could want. I took over a lovely, big couch, pulled out my Cubs blanket and blow-up pillow and went to sleep for a few hours. Upon awaking, I ate my lunch (which I had purchased on shore after hearing how high the food prices were on the boat) and played on my computer and read for the next 6-7 hours, arriving on Santorini at 3:30 p.m.
Though my promised ride from the port to the hotel did not show up and I had to take a cab, the Rodakas Hotel manager, George, was terribly apologetic and upgraded my room for free! A very nice bonus.
The hotel was located in Akrotiri - the far south-end of the island of Santorini. The room and the pool area were, as you can see, very nice.
Santorini is the Greek island that Shirely Valentine ran away to. For those who don't know my friend Shirely, ignore all references or rent the movie on Nexflix - best 'chic flix' ever! I am sorry to say I didn't meet a Costas, but I did meet Mark & Steve at check-in, a great couple from Seattle, who I hung out with for a couple of days. Not quite the results I was looking for - but lots of fun just the same.
Santorini is known for their picturesque blue-domed roofs (the churches) and there are many dotting the landscape wehrever you go.
The largest village on the island is Fira. This is where the cruise ships unload their hoards and where the young folks all go to party and dance until the wee hours. The narrow streets are lined with expensive shops with handsome Greek men standing in the doorway inviting you to come in and spend your $$. The view from the top (Gold Street) is spectacular.
The much smaller village of Akrotiri where I stayed has several really nice restaurants that were in walking distance of the hotel. It is also is where the Prehistoric Ruins of a pre-Minoan culture, what the majority of archeologists consider the lost city of Atlantis, are located. The 'dig' is huge and so interesting.They have only dug down 2 levels at the most and believe their are 4. The city was lost to earthquakes and mud slides but show a very advance society living there 10,000+ years before Christ.
Walkable also was the beaches of Black (big black stones, no sand - Ouch!) White Beach (missed that one) and Red Beach - the most popular one on the island - but a what a climb up and over just to get there! I loved this little guy playing the violin at the the top of the climb before the decent to the beach.
And of course, Santorini is known world-wide for it 's sunsets and that is how I will bid you adieu until next time.......when I head to the island of Naxos for 4 days.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
The first stop on my RTW trip has always been Greece. Why? Because I fell in love with the movie Shirley Valentine and have always told myself that when I could, I was going to see that part of the world - and here I am!
The final picture is a colorful bar filled with all the different bands and kinds of ouzo!
I must say that my arrival on Saturday was not an auspicious start to my travels. I was robbed of all of my identification by a gang of 3 on the metra train riding from the airport to downtown Athens. They surrounded me, and while they were jabbering in my face, one reached into my bag and stole my document wallet and also grabbed my jewerly bag. So the first thing I did, even before checking into my lodging, was find the local police station to report my loss - a total waste of my time.
To say that the police system in Greece is antiquated is an understatement - they didn't have a computer to enter my report and there was no wireless so I could bring up photos of my lost documents for them. By now I have been awake for 24 hours and am stressed to the limit. I started crying and the young man taking the information could not have cared less. He dialed a phone number, handed me the phone and said 'Here - talk!' ....and I was chatting with the Duty Officer at the American Embassy - praise the Lord!
He apoligized for rushing me, but it was a weekend and I was the 8th American he had talked to that day who had been targeted and robbed at the same station on the metra. I was told to come into the Embassy on Monday morning to begin the process of getting a temporary and then a permanent replacement passport - oh happy day - and this will only cost me $147!
Oh well, nothing to do but return to the Athenstyle Hostel (my first, and perhaps my last time in a dorm-style room in a youth hostel). Not that it wasn't a memorable experience. It was very loud- thank goodness I had invested in really good earplugs - as there were 5 young ladies sharing my room, besides myself. Over the 4 days I was there, I had roommates from India, Great Britian, the Netherlands, Korea, Brazil, Bali, Germany and Portugal. They would come in for a night or two and then were gone. The mixture of languages and hand-signals used to understand each other was really hysterical, but it all seemed to work. It was the first time I had slept on a top-bunk in a 1000 years and as you might imagine, the mattresses were not Sealy Posture-Pedics! I have decided that from this point forward I will use AirBnB and enjoy a private room all to myself for the same amount of money!
Did I let the loss of my stuff and little sleep get me down? No way! I had made an acquaintance before I left Chicago who very generously offered to be my private tour guide and show we around Athens - and that's exacting what he did for two full days! OMG - I'm sunburned and have very store feet - but boy have I had a great time.
Here the very, very old (10,000 BC) is still standing right next to a brand new high rise apartment. To wake each morning an have a of the Acropolis and Parthenon is just mind-blowing! As you can see, the never-ending task of keeping these ancient monuments upright is a on-going process - therefore the many large crains and scaffolding.
Then there are the churches - which are everywhere!
And did I mention the food! On Sunday we took a tram along the coast to have lunch at a taverna that was near the water's edge. The fresh calamai, fried sardines, eggplant spread, fresh bread, white wine, and a gruyere cheese from Naxos that made your taste buds sing...I had a very happy tummy.
And least I forget the fabulous art works in the museums ....
And then there was fabric stores everwhere and even a very weird fashion statement I still have figured out what they were saying....
The final picture is a colorful bar filled with all the different bands and kinds of ouzo!
What was really disappointing was the grafitti. It covers everything, and I mean everything, including some of the oldest monuments, and no one seems to care or want to do anything about it. Now I was used to seeing grafitti in Chicago, but this is overwhelming and really a shame to see it adorning ages-old marble statues and walls.
Monday I spent the morning at the Embassy and now have in my possession a usable, temporary passport. I will return in 7-10 days to pick up my permanent one. So what's a girl to do to kill time while waiting - hop the Blue Star Ferry to Santorini and several of the other outlying islands. I am actually writing this blog while saling the Agean Sea in a very large car ferry with 1000's of other travelers.
It's a 9-hour ride to Santorini (home of those picturesque white houses built into the rocks with bright blue tile roofs, turquoise seas and world-famous sunsets over the caldera.) I will be staying for 3 nights in Thira, the main village, in my own room (whoop!) where I hope to do my first load of laundry and sleep without a tipsy roomie banging in the door at 4 a.m. with a case of the giggles. Tonight I will take myself to a sea-side traverna for dinner and a glass of wine and be one very happy traveler.
Until next time.....