My Big Fat Greek Holiday (Crete)

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This is my last big fat Greek holiday post.  Probably for this lifetime, because I can’t imagine going back, or even flying across the ocean again.  With three days left in our HOE-liday (at one of the little shops someone had painted on the parking area ‘Enjoy your stay, Happy Hoeliday) I bought a hat.  It’s a white visor with ‘Santorini/Greece’ written all over it in silver, with a brim about ten times bigger than an old-fashioned little girls bonnet.  And there’s a ribbon tie at the back.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  So if you know anyone who needs a good hoeliday hat, I could be persuaded to part with it.

We arrived at the Albatross Spa and Resort Hotel in Heraklion, Crete, after nine o’clock at night following our last long ferry trip and about a thirty minute bus ride.  The rooms here lacked Greek-ness.  They could have been anywhere, really.  There was a shortage of hot water and loud live entertainment in the courtyard until well after eleven at night.  See how you can tell it’s all winding down by how whiney I’ve become?  If we had arrived in Crete first I probably would have loved it more.

On Saturday my nieces opted for a relaxing pool day and a walk to the beach, and the rest of us braved the public transport system and got ourselves to Knossos.  The first thing we did there was sit down at a street-side restaurant for lunch.  By now this will not come as a surprise to anyone since 80% of our trip appears to have been spent sitting down and eating.  Then we paid six euros entrance admission per person to this bronze age archeological site and once through the gates were strongly urged to pay another ten euros per person for a guided tour.  We decided to wander around on our own and learn as little as possible.  There were a lot of rocks and ruins.  We saw a peacock.  The sun was really hot.  We congratulated ourselves on six euros well spent and hit the gift shops.

This is where I bought a cute little chess set.  I don’t even play chess.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t admire the cuteness of Zeus and Athena and the Spartan warriors. There are some very persuasive shop owners in this country.

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Sunday, the 25th of May we were up early to catch yet another bus, this one taking us to the Imbros Gorge.  Here’s what the brochure says.

This gentle walk lasts about 2 hours and takes you through the captivating countryside, passing mountain villages and the impressive White Mountains.  At the end of the Gorge is Komitades village, where you will have free time for lunch.  Afterwards, drive to Frangokastelo, an old Venetian castle, where your guide will tell you all about its interesting past before you go for a swim in the Libyan Sea. 

Here’s what actually happened.  Our guide told us the eight kilometre walk was not an easy one, down hill over very rocky terrain.  She made it sound sufficiently horrendous that when I was given the option to ride down the hill with two French-speaking ladies (one of them had a cane) I completely chickened out and got back on the bus.  The others all did it in a little over two hours while I sat around drinking water and lemonade.  I regret this not one little bit.  Because when the walk was over my family informed me that I would not have enjoyed that at all.  Which I took to mean I would have been a complaining pain in the ass all the way down and they had a much better time without me.

I don’t remember any castle.  Did we see a castle?  And I wasn’t out in the sun for eight km either.  I do remember some crazy Libyan Sea swimmers, but I wasn’t one of them either.  I was impressed by some interesting washroom doors though, so the trip certainly wasn’t wasted on me.

On the 26th we were homeward bound.  Bus at five a.m. to get to the airport, one hour flight from Crete to Athens.  About a three-hour wait to board the Transat flight from Athens to Toronto.  Nine or so hours in the air watching movies and tv shows and playing games on a touch television screen.  I never even thought about sleeping.  Our flight arrived 45 minutes early in Toronto.  That meant almost a six-hour wait for my next flight, but I was able to change it to an earlier one.  Thank you WestJet.  Then there was another three-hour flight home.  With nine hours mysteriously added to the day.  A cab ride home I barely remember.  And then sleep consumed me.

I had one day to deal with jet lag and then it was back to work for four days, one day off, and three more days of work.  And here I am, still alive and in relatively good humor.  Amazing.

I’m glad I went on this trip and I know I’m lucky and blessed and privileged to have been there and done that and gotten back home safe and sound.  Now can I just stay at home forever and never go anywhere again?  Except for our trip to Ontario this summer of course;  that doesn’t count.  I mean flying across oceans.  I think I’d like to be done with ocean crossing and messing around with time zones and figuring out other country’s plumbing.

Thank you for listening and commenting and looking at my photos.  I’m off now to reply to comments that are so old you’ve forgotten you made them.

My Big Fat Greek Holiday (SANTORINI)

We put in a lot of days waiting to get to Santorini.  Not that the rest of our visit to Greece wasn’t amazing, but the island of Santorini was the place in this beautiful country that my brother wanted to return to and sadly never got the chance.  We were visiting the island  as much for him as for ourselves.  This was a way for us to see it through his eyes and to remember so many things about him, and to miss him of course, but in a good way.  It was an emotional time for all of us, the final goodbye, but with a promise to never forget.

My nephew Andy (my brothers oldest son) for the entire trip had boundless enthusiasm and such an adventurous spirit.  His passion for good food, his energy and interest and joy in just being there, his obvious love and concern for his mom – it’s so easy to imagine the smile he would have put on his dads face.  Countless times I was reminded of my brother in the things Andy said, his gestures, his expressions; and amongst all of us, the recounting of our many shared memories.

On the ferry to Santorini

On the ferry to Santorini

The trip from Paros to Santorini took three hours.  The ferry was huge, with escalators and gift shops and hundreds of passengers. Our first views of the island were breathtaking.

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You may notice there are no pictures of those breathtaking first views of the cliffs of Santorini on my camera.  The bus ride up the cliff on a winding hair-pin turn road was seriously the scariest ride of my life.  This is an excellent place to find out once and for all if you have some latent fear of heights.  What a relief it was to finally get to the top, and then all I could think about was that we would have to make the trip back down again in a couple of days.

We checked into the Kalisti Thera Hotel with a big group of German tourists and a lot of confusion.  After our Transat orientation we spent a quiet evening enjoying the poolside bar and figuring out our Santorini itinerary.  The next day we were off to Oia on the northern tip of the island.  For some reason or other I decided to take pictures with my phone that day.  A combination of incredibly bright sunshine, polarized sunglasses and this brain resulted in me pushing the wrong button and taking at least a dozen pictures of myself.  They were quite funny.  If you would like to know how squinty-eyed and frown-y you look taking a photo, this is a great way to find out.

Quite by accident we stumbled upon the Paradox Thai Food restaurant (looking for a restroom actually) and ended up chatting with the waiter and ordering drinks and MORE FOOD.  Shrimp, skewers, pot stickers, spring rolls, an appetizer mix, all of it delicious.  We were urged to go to the trip advisor website and post a review.  So I did.  I now have one review there.  In which I said pretty much just what I said here.

We drove all over the place, trying to read a map and asking for directions,  looking for the cable cars and the place where the donkeys take you up the hill to Fira.  It turned out to be about four blocks from our hotel.  We parked the car in a gravel/garbage bin lot squeezed into an impossible space and set off walking up to a cobblestone walkway on the cliff edge beside the sea.  There were the usual gift and souvenir shops and some cliff hanging bars.  At the Palia Kameni the waiter informed us that Mythos is not authentic Greek beer and urged us to try Yellow Donkey instead.  We met a couple from New York, a lady from London, people from Ontario, Athens, Italy.  Many people spend six months of the year working here.  One man told us he would love to visit Canada in the dead of winter when it’s thirty below.  Obviously it’s possible to be out in the sun too long.

It was late in the afternoon and the donkeys were heading home for the night, so we had to take the gondola down to the sea and back up again.  Thank God the donkeys don’t work around the clock.  The gondola ride was enough stress for me.  Our Transat rep had told us that the donkeys smell bad and poop and stuff.  Just in case we weren’t aware of them being real live animals I guess.

We had three full days on this delightful island, spent by the pool, on our balconies, going back up the hill to the shops and the fish spa.  We watched the sunset from the Zafora Café.  Lots of fresh air, sunshine, great food, long walks on cobblestone streets and up and down stone and marble steps, good wine, great company – I don’t know about everyone else, but I was happy for a soft bed and sweet dreams.

Now I know why my brother wanted to come back to Santorini.  It was sad to leave.  Off to Crete tomorrow and our last two days in Greece.

My Big Fat Greek Holiday (Paros)

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We spent just two days on the island of Paros, which is much less rocky than Mykonos and a lot more green.  It’s also older, dustier (even with some rain), smaller and quieter.  Except for the cooing doves.  It felt like they were following us everywhere.   Our room at the High Mill had the hardest beds I’ve ever slept on, and you could drive around the entire island easily in less than a day.  So I suppose two days here was long enough.  Although like every place we visited it had its own unique charm.

The first day we walked down into the town where places were just opening for the season.  It was sad to see some businesses boarded up or abandoned, and the foundations for buildings that were never completed scattered around the island.  We ate at a place called Del’s Kitchen (their first day open) where the owner gave us complimentary shots of Ouzo (an anise-flavoured aperitif) after our meal.  The meal was great, the Ouzo was truly horrible.  Just my opinion.  I drank it down anyway, because – hey – free booze.   That night we ordered take out to be delivered to our hotel room, and their half hour delivery time turned into at least a 90 minute wait.  So they gave us a huge water bottle filled with white wine to make us feel better.  We carted it all the way to Santorini before working up the courage to try it.

On our second day in Paros we rented a car and toured the island.  I thought my slide show would be shorter for this part of our journey, but apparently I was very impressed with the Moraitis Family Winery and took a lot of pictures of important things like wine bottles.  We also visited an ancient marble quarry.  And by visited I mean we’re pretty sure we drove by it.  It was on a rather awful road that we were directed to by a tiny sign.  By now we were getting used to winding, hilly, bumpy, twisting potholed roads from hell, but this one went in a loop so we didn’t have to do any backtracking.  Whatever we missed, it’s going to stay missed.

We stopped whenever something looked interesting enough to photograph, and found a beautiful little hill-top restaurant where we sat on a high open terrace for lunch.  This really does sound like all we did was drive around and stop to eat.  Which is basically true.  And maybe the best way to spend your time in Paros.  Because once again the ‘home cooked’ food was excellent.  This family had a sweet little three or four-year old girl who timidly approached our table wanting to talk, but gave up on us when we couldn’t make ourselves understood except with lots of smiling.  They also had a beautiful big shepherd dog that was happy to get some dog treats from Andy.  We asked for directions when we were leaving, and the husband had to summon his wife Flora to help him explain things in English.  And still none of us got it right.

I’m embarrassed to say we drove by the same place at least three times after that trying to figure out where the hell we were going.  Maybe four.  They kept pointing us in the right direction and we just kept getting turned around and coming back. The dog was always happy to see us.  I think Flora and her husband may still be rolling their eyes.

One more sleep on the cement beds and then we’re off to Santorini.

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My Big Fat Greek Holiday (Mykonos)

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Kalimera – good morning!

The length of this slide show reminds me of my dad.  Back in the olden days when W would start setting up his projector to show everyone pictures of our life in the Arctic, my dad, in anticipation of being bored to death, always fell asleep before the first picture made it on to the screen.  I’m hoping you won’t do that, because these are not pictures of snow.

We spent four days on the island of Mykonos and it’s hard to condense all that glorious scenery and sunshine into one blog post.  This is the Greece we anticipated with hot windy weather, stone steps and walkways, marble floors, blue and white everywhere.  The plan for the 14th of May was to be in the hotel lobby in Athens at 5:30 a.m. to collect a boxed breakfast and depart for the ferry at six.  Except for a bunch of bleary eyed tourists showing up on time, none of that happened.  Thanasis wandered in at 6:30 surprised that no one at the hotel had passed the message on to us the night before about high winds and changing to a later ferry.  We did not get our boxed breakfast.  What the hell could possibly be good about a boxed breakfast at five in the morning anyway?  However, one lady took particular exception to this, extremely miffed that breakfast in a box was now out of the question.  We ran into her and her husband several times over the course of our holiday, and referred to her forever after as the breakfast lady.

We were bussed to a different, speedier ferry, whipped across the sea to Mykonos, bussed to the Kamari Hotel and given a complimentary late breakfast there.  Our little rooms and balconies were delightful, the staff was wonderful.  Birds and cats and gorgeous trees, great restaurants, cooing doves (those got to be not so delightful after a while as they absolutely never shut up….)

We spent a relaxing pool day, walked down to the beach to the Tasos Taverna for more wonderful Greek food, and signed up for a Jeep tour of the island the next day.

We thought because it was called a Jeep tour that we would all be riding around in Jeeps.  We thought we would have guides driving the Jeeps with three passengers in each one.  It was another day for things not going exactly as planned.  Too many people, not enough Jeeps, and only two guides.  So Andy got to drive an actual Jeep with his mom and cousins as passengers.  A lovely couple from Calcutta on their honeymoon got to share a car with my sister and me.  Just what every newlywed couple wishes for – two strangers who speak a different language tagging along in the backseat on a day long tour.  They were disappointed of course that the car was not a jeep, he was used to driving on the other side of the road, the roads were narrow, rocky, twisting, steep and rough.  I know how to drive a standard, so trust me when I tell you he wasn’t an expert at changing gears or staying far enough behind the car in front so that you don’t have to brake on a hill and stall and roll back to get going again.

I think I got whiplash.  I had a stiff neck for two days after that.  But they were such sweet people and we did make a lot of stops so it wasn’t a day of complete unending terror.  Sometimes the roads were bordered by rock walls, but often they weren’t.  Sometimes we had to stop for oncoming traffic.  Sometimes we risked having our side mirrors lopped off.  There were wonderful views, amazing beaches, horses, cows, goats.  Rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  Stop signs in Mykonos are just a suggestion. No one takes them seriously.

On the 16th we rented a car and went to see Little Venice.  It’s a long row of shops along the waterfront.  I have no pictures of it because, come on,  SHOPPING!   Who has time for a camera when there are euros to be spent.  We also went to Ornos Beach.  On one of these days I drank an entire bottle of red wine all by myself.  My notes aren’t all that clear.  On the 17th Andy rented a scooter and went touring all over the island on his own.  Ann did some laundry.  Jo relaxed on a lounge chair and read.  The girls got lots of sun by the pool.  I watched a pair of doves build a nest under a pool umbrella.  So really, who had the most exciting last day in Mykonos??  Hard to decide, I know.

Mykonos is absolutely beautiful.  The people are friendly and helpful and incredibly nice.  Although a few of them could use some driver ed.  We’re off to Paros in the morning.  It’s pronounced PAW – Rose, and does not rhyme with Paris.  Duh.

Efcharisto – thank you.  Kalinikta – goodnight.

My Big Fat Greek Holiday (Athens)

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And we’re back!  Well, we were back two days ago, but serious jet lag and disorganization has prevented me from making this announcement in a timely fashion.  There is a nine-hour time difference between Alberta and Athens.  We flew into the future and then back into the past.  That can really mess with your equilibrium.

My holiday started on the 10th of May with a packed four-hour fight to Toronto (on which there were many screaming babies). (I remember those days of travelling with small children and don’t miss them much).   It was 1 degree C. in Edmonton when I left, and 19 in Toronto when I arrived there.  I kept a travel journal and actually wrote this shit down.  With a lot of other extraneous information about my luggage and boarding pass and some big scary dude sitting in my assigned seat in error, and taking a shuttle bus to the hotel and waiting for family to arrive.  Also there was a lady in the elevator with me at one point who would have shared her life story with me if the ride had been longer.  She was off to somewhere to pick up more beer.  I never saw her again.

Yes, it’s going to be that kind of travel log, so feel free to bail at any time if you were expecting intelligent discourse and historical information about points of interest.   I also take photos through bus windows while wearing polarized sunglasses.  With surprising results.  Remember that not all surprises are good ones.

Our party of six (including me, my sister Ann, her two daughters A and K, my sister-in-law J and her son Andy) were at the airport on Sunday at noon, baggage checked and all of us through security for our 3:40 departure.  I have no idea why it’s necessary to be there so early.  But there are lots of wonderful internet café type lounges at the Toronto airport so we consumed many beers and much wine before boarding our transatlantic flight and soaring off into Monday morning.  One o’clock in the morning our time suddenly turned into eight a.m. in Athens, and one night of sleep vanished into thin air.

While we waited for our rooms to be ready our Transat guide Thanasis booked all of us for a city tour by bus and a hike up a steep hill to see the Acropolis/Parthenon.  This seemed like a great idea at the time, and turned out to be very educational.  It taught me that I’m too old for all-nighters when the next day involves hill climbing via great long flights of winding stone steps in the hot sunshine.  My neice A referred to these sites as the Apocalypse and the Pentagon.  I wish she had kept a journal.  I think it would have been way more interesting than mine.

At this historic ruin Andy and Ann both bought table cloths that neither of them really needed from a lady highly skilled in the art of selling things to tourists who are suffering from sleep deprivation.  People like her were everywhere with booklets and postcards and souvenirs.  Sometimes it was very hard to say no.

Back at the hotel we had a late (early) supper, depending on your time zone, and I enjoyed my first of many Greek Salads.  If you don’t like tomatoes and cucumbers, you should not visit Greece.  They are in just about everything.  My salad also had black olives and capers and a slice of feta cheese the size of my face.  It was delicious. So was the wine.

And then we slept.

On the 13th we walked to a subway station and figured out how to get to Plaka and the Athens Flea Market.  What an amazing place.  It was so amazing that I didn’t take any pictures of it except for this fruit stand.  And I didn’t remember until halfway through the day (after glancing at my watch) that it was my birthday.  There were walking streets filled with shops and stalls selling clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, books, bags, leather, hats, scarves, shoes…an endless list.Greece 2014 026
We had my birthday lunch at a place called the Bush Bar where our waiter helped us decipher the menu.  We sat outside on a quiet little side street across from two men smoking and playing an intense game of backgammon in front of their store which sold wooden chairs.  It was a slow chair day I guess.

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Here’s a travel tip.  Take a chef like Andy along with you to a new country.  He was super enthusiastic about trying every dish specific to Greece and was often able to identify mysterious ingredients in whatever we ordered.  I don’t remember having one bad dining experience even when the menus had very little English on them and we pronounced everything wrong.

Later we went up to the roof top bar of the hotel to take some photos, and then walked a few blocks to the Big Bad Wolf Souvlaki Bar to eat AGAIN because, you know, some time had passed….  We did not go hungry.  The night life in Athens is busy and noisy, although we were assured it is one of the safest cities to wander around in after dark.  There were people and smart cars and motorcycles everywhere, families with little kids, buses, taxis, everything open for business, nobody in a hurry to go home to sleep.

Although maybe we should have been, with a bus to our first ferry to catch at 5:00 a.m.

 

The Twentieth Day of May

Where in the world am I today?

Santorini!  This is the spot I’m most excited to see, because my brother liked it the most when he visited Greece.  And this trip was lovingly planned for all of us to remember him.

I’ve heard the red wine in Greece is an acquired taste, so I will do the polite thing and try to acquire a taste for it.  Because Canadian tourists are supposed to be known for how ridiculously polite they are.  I would not like to disillusion anyone about that.  No hanging over the balcony railings here!

 

The Eighteenth Day of May

Where in the world am I today?

It’s another scheduled post, written in anticipation of actually surviving my trip to Greece.  If I am in Paros like I’m supposed to be today, that means I made it by ferry across the deep blue sea. Yay me!  And yay everybody else who may have noticed me turning either white or green and politely ignored it.  Or told me to snap out of it.  I’m going with family – they’re unpredictable.

We will be in Paros for two days and then we sail (can you call it sailing if you’re on a ferry?)  to Santorini.  I’m sure I must be having a wonderful time, wish you were here, etcetera.  ♥♥

 

In Real Time

Kamari Hotel, Mykonos, Greece

Kamari Hotel, Mykonos, Greece

This is one of the views from where I’m sitting right now on our last day of four in Mykonos.  What an incredible place.  I’m going to try to bring some of this sunshine home with me.  They seem to have plenty to go around.  It’s our first truly lazing around doing nothing day, so I’ll get back at it.

The Twelfth Day of May

Where in the world am I today?

Post scheduling is a wonderful thing. This is a scheduled post!  Therefore please go ahead and consider it wonderful.   If you haven’t heard of any horrendous plane crashes with Canadians aboard, today is my second day in Athens, Greece.

Did you know there are 60 places in the world called Athens?  Most of them are in the U.S., but you can also visit Athens in Brazil, Scotland, Portugal, Italy, Serbia, Cuba, Finland and Germany.  The world is a crazy place.  I’ve never been to Athens, Ontario, but I have been to Paris in my birthplace province.  It was a long time ago and I don’t remember it.  Sorry if you got excited there for a second.

Our flight was ten hours and three minutes on Sunday from Toronto to Athens.  I have no idea if I’m lying or not, because all this is actually in the future.  Imagine going so far away in just ten hours.  I imagine I said that to myself a lot on Sunday.  Or whatever day we’re currently experiencing.  Always wanted to time travel, and here I am.

Parthenon/Acropolis/Athens, Greece http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_temple

Parthenon/Acropolis/Athens, Greece
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_temple

 

Just Jazzy 176

“Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”
― Joan Winmill Brown

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Let your heart be light.

Just Jazzy Advent Calendar