…’neath heaven’s sea

may 22, 2013

mykonos.

a comparatively lazy day today, no plans for exploration beyond the seaside cafes and restaurants of mykonos town.

another sunny, clear greek island day, a long trek from the ship to where mykonos town proper starts, and our first stop of many for refreshment: two tall, fresh orange juices, which both fortified us and made it possible for us to continue on in the heat…

along the mykonos seafront, with the tourists and the townspeople mixing almost unaware of each other; dogs and cats and seagulls aplenty, and many a sidewalk cafe, where cool or hot drinks and food can be had…our next unscheduled stop led us to first, frappes, a cold coffee drink very popular in greece, and then for me, to cappuccino, which I cannot get enough of in italy or in greece – they are always a joy, and they provide much needed caffeine, too.

this stop also provided a delicious treat: feta cheese, baked in filo dough with herbs, with honey on top – what a fantastic treat that was…and so memorable, that my partner made it for us for supper just a couple of days ago (now that we are home) – and it came out fantastically – a really nice dish added to the supper or snack repertoire – thanks to a sidewalk cafe on mykonos.  note:  “sidewalk cafe” also being a great instrumental song from the 1974 album “todd” by todd rundgren, the second todd album that “got me into” todd’s music (the first one being 1974’s “todd rundgren’s utopia”)…little known fact.

as this was a “lazy day”, by choice (that was the original plan, when we get to mykonos: do nothing, take photos, read, drink, eat, relax – and we stuck religiously to that plan!), we spent time reading, watching the tourists and passers-by, watching the thin, scrawny island cats, taking photographs…and taking it relatively easy when compared with the level of activity at our last two destinations, corfu and santorini.  we were happy enough to find a shady bench by the seaside, overlooking the bay, and take still more photos and gaze out at the calm, beautiful water.  taking photographs of the houses and buildings and churches and the famed mykonos windmills that were dotted all over the low hills surrounding the town capturing (on film, of course!) a seagull perched atop a small dome-topped shrine, or snapping pics of modern speedboats tied up at the water’s edge…just a lazy day of watching, filming and relaxing.

the famous mykonos windmills are lovely, with their characteristic spindly design; small shrines with red domes as well as the more common blue domed buildings, churches, houses, all splayed across the low hills in blinding white – again, the all white buildings intentionally painted white simply because of it’s reflectivity – it’s the best colour to build with in a hot, sunny climate such as the climate mykonos enjoys.  one renowned aspect of life in mykonos town we did not get to try out was the famed “night life”, apparently, for the young or young at heart, there is a thriving night life scene, with cool clubs and restaurants – for those who are…in with the “in crowd”.  amongst the cognoscenti, in other words.

where, suggests the usually-reliable wikipedia “many international celebrities visit the island every summer”.  we certainly didn’t see any when we were there 🙂

in any case, there is always one more cappuccino before we go, given the amount of effort it took to get over to the town, we treated ourselves to a taxi ride all the way back to the ship, after just a few hours on mykonos, after our difficult day on santorini on the previous day; we were tired, so heading back to the ship early seemed the thing to do – and of course, I headed straight to my favourite spot on the ship, the jacuzzi, while my partner opted for a shady deckchair in the pool area, and her latest kindle book adventure (she got a lot more reading done than I did, I can tell you that much) – a wonderful, easy day and while mykonos is often portrayed as a place where there is “not much to do” or “very little to do” – I disagree – eating feta in filo with honey; drinking, juice, frappes, cappuccinos, and most important of all, just relaxing – that’s what mykonos had, and the attitude of the people there was much friendlier than on santorini.

this was exemplified by the young man who arrived in the taxi to return us to the ship:  when faced with a wheelchair, his response was “no problem” and he set about securing the chair into the boot of his rather small taxi in no time, and then unloaded it for us at the other end – great attitude, and we were most appreciative of that in our semi-exhausted state.

so our relatively “lazy day” on mykonos, followed by a really lovely afternoon of swimming and reading, really was a most relaxing and lovely time, so I would discount those who say there is “nothing to do” on mykonos – that’s actually wrong, it should be “there is nothing to do on mykonos except relax” – and that is exactly what we did during our short but lovely visit there.

may 23, 2013

final island destination: katakolon (olympia) – also known as katakolo.

for the fourth and final day of greek island-hopping, we docked at katakolon in the morning, and our first destination was the train station, where my first and most important activity, while my partner was buying us tickets to travel to the site of ancient olympia (our main goal for the day was to visit this ancient site, which was about a 45 minute train ride away – 25 miles, approximately – from the port) was to get and consume at least one cappuccino, so I would have enough caffeine to tide me through the journey.

we just missed the first train, which was a real shame, as we had to wait quite some time for the next one, which was of course, late.

the train journey itself, was surreal – a strange gallery of landscapes, moving from extreme beauty and wealth to terrible poverty, it was almost as if you could see the entire economic struggle in microcosm as the fairly modern train sped along, hooting it’s horn at the many, many level crossings and travelling through a somewhat bewildering array of rural areas, including farms, beautiful brand new houses with massive ornate gardens, shacks, dilapidated houses and yards, graffiti-scrawled walls, with the untrimmed plants whipping at the train windows constantly…until we finally arrived at the town of olympia, which also happened to be the end of the line, so the train had obviously been purpose built to transfer tourists from the port to the site of olympics, first modern day, and then, to the  ancient site on foot, after traversing the modern town (wheelchair and all, a truly challenging  journey I can tell you, especially for my partner).

but, arriving at the site, it all began to feel like it was worth it, and we had a wonderful but short tour of the ruins, which were impressive indeed, and it was a slightly haunting and very impressive place, the birthplace of the modern olympics, and it was such a fantastic feeling, to see the scale of it – obviously, these games meant an enormous amount to the people of that time, given the amount of time and effort spent to create this massive training complex for the athletes – the scale of it is hard to write about in words – and some of the buildings are in incredibly good condition given the amount of time that has passed.

I particularly liked the temple of zeus, which was central on the site, and it was a wonderful day walking around and looking at the various different buildings, and reading about their purpose, construction and back story.  the site itself was fully overgrown with plants and trees, some stunningly beautiful trees with gnarled, old, twisted trunks – and the ruins, amid this greenery, was fantastic to visit – the place has a really good vibe about it, possibly because of what it represents (the birthplace of the olympic spirit) –  but, the best was yet to come – the museum.

we’d bought the combination ticket that allowed us to travel both to the ancient site, and to the museum, so at the end of our time walking around and taking photos at the site itself, we went to find the olympia museum, which was unfortunately quite a long distance away, but once we found it – our collective jaws just dropped.

tiny, delicate figurines of animals and people, statues – so many statues, that some of the “less interesting” ones were lined up in a protected hallway OUTSIDE the museum proper; the central gallery inside, on the other hand, containing absolutely staggeringly massive works, whole tableaux of full sized or even larger than life statues, of every type of greek person or greek god imaginable – an absolutely unmissable collection of statuary.

the other rooms of this fair-sized and incredibly populated museum contained a huge array of olympian artefacts, from helmets to weapons to jewellery to carvings to ceramics and back for more statues still –  some of them compellingly life-like and beautiful.  this gallery of photographs begins to give you an idea of what you would see, but does not in anyway have the impact that “actually being there  does.  what a wonderful museum – I cannot recommend it highly enough – do not miss it!!

then time raised it’s ugly head again – we didn’t know how long it would take us to get back to olympia station, to catch the last train at 14.30, so we were forced to cut our visit to this amazing museum short (which was quite upsetting!), locate a taxi, and return to the station post haste – where of course, we then ended up having to wait for the train.  more juice and more cappuccinos followed, until the train arrived and we could make the long journey back to the port at speed.

a short walk through the port town, which had beautiful red flowers blooming above the shops, and we made our way back to the ship on our very last day of island visits.  the island of katakolon (olympia) was an absolute high point, possibly my second favourite greek island after corfu, and the visit to the ancient oylmpia, and particularly, the olympia museum containing the artefacts of ancient olympia, are a do-not-miss item.

 

in case you couldn’t tell that I really liked it, the museum in particular was most, most excellent, and we dearly wished we could have spent hours and hours there – but it was not to be.  still, we did manage to capture the essence of the place on camera (how nice is that – a museum where you are ALLOWED to take photographs – fantastic!) – our photos came out fantastically well, so we do have great visual, and internal, memories of the ancient items we were privileged to see both at the site of ancient olympia and in the museum.

one more day at sea, one more day of jacuzzi and sitting on our balcony, watching and listening to the sea…and that sound, after a week, is ingrained in my brain now at the deepest level – and it’s a sound I will always, always love.

it was time to travel home.

back first to venice, and then straight to the airport for our flight back to scotland via paris – but, we only saw the paris airport, nothing more.  setting foot on scottish soil, edinburgh, late afternoon, presented us with a beautiful, warm day with big, fluffy white clouds in a blue sky – fantastic.

while it’s wonderful to visit such places, it’s also very, very good to be home.

 

very good indeed.

next time, we return once again to our usual topics of music, applications, looping, guitars and all of that pureambient stuff !!!  see you then.

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islands join hands…

may 20, 2013

a bright, sunny and almost too hot day, clear blue skies, greet us at our first island destination, the greek island of corfu.

I’ve long wanted to visit corfu, every since reading gerald durrell’s “my family and other animals” (the first and most famous of his three books about his childhood in corfu) as a young man, and I can tell you right away, I was in no way disappointed – in fact, I would say I am astonished at what a wonderful and diverse place corfu is.

I am not normally one to book a proper tour, but given that we only had one day on the island, and we wanted to cover as much ground as possible, we relented and I picked the longest possible tour, which goes right round the entire island stopping at various scenic and/or historic sites along the way – a six and a half hour tour.  not much time, but as much as we could manage, and I was so, so pleased with that decision – because it was possibly the most enjoyable tour, and the most enjoyable day, I can remember in a long time.

where to begin? we were met by our tour guide, a pleasant middle-aged greek woman, who had an enormous wealth of knowledge about corfu; it’s history, it’s inhabitants, it’s customs, it’s quirks, and listening to her commentary throughout the day really opened my eyes about the place that corfu has in both greek and world history.  this stood us in good stead throughout the day, and by the end of it, I felt educated, entertained and thoroughly pleased.  we set off on the tour, and after perhaps 20 or 30 minutes, we began to climb and climb, up and up, on the tightest switchbacks, on a tiny road, and it was difficult to see how on earth that large of a bus could actually stay on a road that narrow and winding – but it did, and we eventually reached what seemed like quite literally, the top of the world.

our first destination was very possibly chosen for the incredibly dramatic effect that it had on the tour’s passengers, a monastery – the monastery of the virgin at paleoakstritska, corfu –  placed high, high on a hill overlooking the most incredibly coloured and beautiful sea I have ever, ever seen.  an old greek orthodox church stands on the site, guarded by vine-climbing cats and beautiful gardens both decorative and practical – vegetables growing alongside palm trees with grape vines overhead, cool shady gardens surrounding the all white buildings.

but the view – was literally breathtaking.  in the bright sun, the colour of the water, seen from on high, is so extraordinary that the only way I can describe it is to say “you had to see it for yourself”.  yes, I took photos, lots and lots of photos, and videos, and while you can see the colours well in the photos, it’s still not the same as standing against a smooth, white wall and gazing down at the beautiful, rocky inlets – and depending on the depth of the water, many different coloured areas blend together into a stunning seascape the likes of which I’ve never seen – set in an equally impressive landscape.  we took the obligatory photos and videos and panoramas, of course, and then reluctantly got back onto the bus to carry on around the island…

the next stop was another high point, after another feat of large-bus-on-tiny-climbing-road-miracle-driving, which included a drive through a greek village with streets so incredibly narrow that there is literally millimetres of clearance on either side of the road, and in actual fact, residents cannot open their shutters without risking them being knocked off by passing tour buses – absolutely remarkable – eventually, we arrive at what was actually just a rest stop (called “the golden fox”), but again, once we disembarked from the bus, we were treated to an amazing overlook of palaiokastritsa (or paleoakstritska whichever you prefer), which is another incredibly beautiful and unique corfu seascape / landscape…and we realised later, that we were actually now looking down on the monastery of the virgin where we had just been…looking down at the beautiful seascapes!  it’s strange to think we were in such an amazing, high spot while at the monastery…and then, that we would climb even higher, ending up looking down on the high spot that wasn’t so high after all…that’s strange!

as the day was getting hotter, not unpleasantly so, but we could not have asked for better weather really…(especially given that our three days in venice previously had shown us the worst of mediterranean weather, downpour, rough seas, rain, winds, etc.) we felt that ice cream was in order, so we sat there eating delicious greek ice cream, looking out over this incredible scene, with the endlessly fascinating / coloured sea, and already at this point, I could totally understand naturalist-turned-author-turned-zoo-owner gerald durrell’s love for the place (and indeed, the whole durrell family, which includes another very respected author, lawrence durrell) – I got it, immediately.

I don’t at this point want to give the impression that corfu is only amazing views or overlooks of the sea, while that is certainly one aspect of it’s many charms, it’s only one aspect, and as we drove on through the countryside, continuing towards mount pantokrator , we were treated to a series of unique and beautiful landscapes, climbing through scrub covered hills that might have been in southern california; on through farmlands, towns, villages, treeless areas and many different and often beautiful environments.  corfu is full of surprises, around every corner, and our next destination, the seaside town of kassiopia, was simply one of the most idyllic places that we’ve ever been to.

the tour bus could only go so far into the town, but a short walk down the main street for my companion, and a short car ride for myself, delivered us to a really nice outdoor restaurant just a few hundred yards from the seafront, with huge quantities of white wine, and a lovely vegetarian meal following our greek salads…a really fantastic lunch, outdoors, in the shade, watching the world go by.  afterwards, we walked the short distance to the seaside, and sat on a bench a few inches from the water, and watched the boats, both those that were moored and any that were under sail, too.  it was midday, but the bright, bright sun was not in any way too hot, it was just perfect.

we agreed that we could have sat there, looking at the rippling, clear mediterranean water, lapping gently against the shore, forever.  but we couldn’t – so we went back up to the meeting point, and sat in a very pleasant town square, in the sun, until the bus returned to retrieve us.

more travel…more environments, me snapping many, many photos through the bus windows; driving along the northeast coastline via the village of nissaki and the coastal resorts of barbati, ipsos, dassia, gouvia and kontokali, as we made our way back to our starting point, corfu town.  driving through the one substantial urban centre on the island that we did visit, the architecture and the faded buildings lent an air of neglected grace. but as interesting as corfu town assuredly is (and time constraints meant we couldn’t stop in corfu town, only drive through it – so we did have a whirlwind view of it), it’s the countryside that sticks in my mind…the rural areas of corfu, the tiny villages, the churches, the amazing, amazing sea surrounding the island and the awe-inspiring views of the sea and the coastline – that’s the charm and the beauty of corfu.

corfu town does have a charm of it’s own, and some very grand buildings, a large fortress and many historical landmarks which flew past the bus windows faster than we could really register them, and before we knew it, we were headed back out to our ship on the tender, preparing for the next day, the next island adventure…

may 21, 2013

today, after steaming all night from corfu, we arrive to an incredibly bright, sunny and extremely hot day, to find ourselves at santorini, our next island destination, and santorini, for me, was incredibly beautiful to look at, almost unreal, but a very physical challenge, because the main city, thera (or fira, depending) is precariously perched at the top of a cliff, and, since we refuse to ride the poor donkeys, the only way up besides walking, which is also out – was a very small and fairly terrifying funicular.  it had to be something like 90 degrees fahrenheit (at least 90!!) at the base of that cliff, and of course, there was a long queue, standing in the sun…I was seeking shade, shade, any shade while my partner braved the queue for the funicular.  eventually, she got the tickets, and we climbed up to queue again – and there it was, six tiny cars, four passengers to a car – not a particularly efficient way to travel.

a few rocking and terrifying, but with an amazing view, minutes later, we were at the top, in thera itself.  but we were so hot, and so tired, from that experience, that all we wanted was to sit down in a restaurant and get a cool drink – so that is what we did.  we discussed our original plan to get a bus to visit nearby oia, a town some distance away, and decided with the heat, and the physical difficulties, that it was out of the question, so we settled instead for a look around thera.

it’s a remarkable city, since all of the houses are painted white, with the occasional famous blue dome (photos of santorini are all over the internet, and you can see this all white with blue domes construction all across the island) – the white houses simply because that’s reflects the most heat, so it’s for a sensible reason.  but it also looks amazing, all of these bright, bright white buildings perched on this cliff top – remarkable.

santorini itself has a unique history, it’s one of a few islands that are the remnant of a massive volcanic (bronze age) eruption, there is a “ring” of islands that surround a very volcanic looking “island”, called “volcano” on the local maps, in the centre of the circle, and you can take a boat out to visit this central volcanic island, which contains the unique black volcanic rock common to the region.  that rock is used now to make statues and other artefacts, and it’s a beautiful, porous, deep black material – lovely.

so standing, or sitting, up on the cliff, overlooking the sea, seeing the cruise ships anchored below, and the volcano island out in the middle of the circle, is an amazing sight, what an incredible, incredible view!

we walked around thera for a short while, finding two museums, both closed (not very useful, but there you are) and looking through some of the local shops, before returning to the cliff edge, finding another restaurant – and having a couple more cold drinks – this time, we were still SO thirsty, and SO hot, that we each had a large fresh orange juice, and a strawberry sorbet – and that was just fantastic, in fact, we would often order fresh orange juice and despite it being quite expensive, no matter where we bought it, it was always absolutely fantastic tasting, cold but as if it had just come out of the orange – absolutely wonderful.

time was pressing, so once again, my partner queued for the downhill funicular ride, while I sat in the shade, and eventually, we found ourselves back down at the water’s edge, we boarded the tender and returned to the ship for the next part of the adventure, which will be in the next blog – hopefully very soon.

I would say that out of the four islands we visited, that I really, really loved corfu the best – it had such a range of beautiful environments, and dramatic scenery, amazing, impossibly beautiful views, but also, a homey, sleepy, quiet, dreamy atmosphere, a place where you could just rest in a sort of endless siesta…sleep, wake, sleep some more…while santorini has the dramatic cliff and beautiful white city, it did not have the same kind of feeling that corfu did.

this was an amazing memory for myself and for my partner, a trip we will never, ever forget, and I am so glad we decided to do it, despite the physical challenges it presented – it was so, so worth it, I would have done it just for the six and a half hours on corfu – it would have been worth it just for that part alone, so the rest is just a bonus, really!

there is so much more that I could say about both corfu and santorini, but words fail me, and all I see, if I close my eyes, are the images of the dramatic views from both islands, which are unforgettable, and while I did preserve those views in pictures, taking many, many photos at each of the four islands we visited, it’s the views in my memory that I cherish the most, and I can close my eyes and go to corfu any time I want to, which is the most amazing feeling – I love it!

next time: mykonos and katakolon (olympia)

see you there. 🙂