All posts by brucegk

Greece Wrapup

On our last day in Greece we had a morning flight to Athens and then took a “Tours by Locals” to see the highlights of the city. In Greece and probably the EU, you have to have a tour guide license to lead tours within a tourist site. Our guide had only a taxi license, so he did all his guiding while driving. He was able to drive, talk, and work a dash mounted iPad simultaneously. We covered a lot of territory in a short time. The Theater of Dionysus is located at the base of the Acropolis. It is believed to be the world’s first theater and is dedicated to the Greek god of plays and wine. The theater on the site today is a restored Roman version of the theater. The site has been used as a theater since the sixth century BCE.The walk up to the Acropolis is on a marble walkway. Even when dry, the stones are quite slick. We saw three people fall, but we all made it safely. The above picture is the entrance; and while it looks crowded, it was much less crowded than the last time we were there.The Erechtheum is a temple on the Acropolis built in the early 400’s BCE and dedicated to Athena and Poseidon. It is best known for the “Porch of the Maidens”.

The best known building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, a symbol of Ancient Greece and one of the best known cultural monuments in the world. There was a lot of scaffolding when we visited it over five years ago and there was a lot of scaffolding and a crane this time. There is a marble mine in Greece that supplied the original marble, and that same mine is being used exclusively for supplying replacement marble. The replacement pieces are a brighter white.I don’t know what building this is, but it was one of many visible from the top of the Acropolis.Our next stop was Hadrian’s Arch and it’s nearby temple complex. The temple had Corinthian columns.We drove by several other buildings in the vicinity of the Acropolis. These classic Greek buildings seem to be scattered amongst many more contemporary buildings.We watched the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the parliament building. This ceremony occurs every hour on the hour. The guards do what seems to be a ritualistic ballet to show off the pompoms on the toes of their shoes. The old Olympic stadium was built for the first modern Olympic Games. It is made entirely of marble and seats 65,000 people. It is still used for events today.This is a view of the Acropolis from another hill on the outskirts of the city. You can’t see it in the picture, but there were numerous spots of bright reflected light all over the city. We were told that these were solar panels mounted on the roof to provide hot water.From left, Bruce, Susan, Linda, and Jack on the overlook.

On Tuesday we flew from Athens to Washington, Dulles via London, Heathrow. Once again it proved to be an adventure. As we were boarding in Athens, it was announced that we had a limited takeoff window so it was important for everyone to get seated promptly. If we missed the window, the delay would likely be thirty minutes or more. Despite the warning, there were people changing seats after everyone else was seated. We did miss the window, had a lengthy delay and arrived in Heathrow with about twenty minutes to reach our scheduled flight. Fortunately, our flight was delayed so we got to the gate with time to spare. Unfortunately, we were delayed because the 747 at the gate had a mechanical problem; so we had to walk down stairs to the tarmac and into the drizzle, board a bus, ride all over the airport to another 747, and climb the stairs to enter the aircraft. The plane from Athens to Heathrow had the leg room of Spirit Airlines and no free drinks or snacks just like Spirit. Have I ever mentioned that I hate flying?

And now the answer to the question none of you have been asking: “Which island did we like best?” We both have the same answer: Rhodes. We found the old town one of the most interesting in Europe. For best scenery we pick Santorini, but it is way overcrowded. For best beaches, we pick Mykonos; and for best food we pick Crete. My overall second pick would be Santorini despite the crowds. Susan would have a three way tie for second and I would have a two way tie for third.

We are now home in Wilmington. Thanks for traveling with us and a special thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. Our next trip will be this fall with an OAT trip to Sicily with a short extension to Malta. I hope you can join us!

Residential Rhodes

The old city of Rhodes within the city walls has a population of only 6000 people while the metropolitan area which includes all of new Rhodes has a population of about 90,000. Monday morning we went to the old town via a different route and entered the old town through a different gate. From there we explored the residential area, two thirds of which was once Muslim and one third of which was once Jewish. The streets were very narrow and the houses were very small with shared walls.We entered via the gate nearest to the Palace. In this area, there seemed to be two parallel moats. I presume this was done to better protect their headquarters.This was one of several successive gates we passed through to enter the old town.All the pots of different colors lining the roof of this building reminded us of San Miguel except San Miguel would have elaborately decorated Mexican pots.Most of the streets were very narrow and could accommodate a motor scooter but not a car.Most of the streets were stone. The steps to this house were made the same way but incorporated a designThe abundant pots of flowers added to the appeal of this street.Yet another church that was converted to a mosque. None of the mosques and few of the churches were open so you could not see the inside.We exited through a different gate into a panorama of water, beach, boardwalk, street, and city wall.This is one of the nicer gates as seen from outside of Old Town.A view of the windmills and light house through what was probably once a canon slot in the walls.We prefer the sandy beaches around Wilmington to this rocky beach. There are chairs and umbrellas all along the beaches that are behind this shot. You can rent two chairs and an umbrella for ten euros for the day. The chairs on the calm side were about 80% full and were nearly empty on the windy side.And yes, Rhodes also has beautiful sunsets. That is a parasail below the sun. The sun is setting behind the mountains of Turkey. Our final stop in Greece is an afternoon in Athens. Which island do you think we liked best? All will be revealed in our next blog.

Rhodes Town

On Sunday we visited Rhodes Old Town which is still completely surrounded by medieval walls.Our hotel is located at the very tip of the peninsula with the winds and rough waters on one side and the calm and smooth waters on the other. So far there has not been much difference between the two sides. We walked into town by the port on the calm side passing a lighthouse and three windmills along the way.At one time a moat surrounded much of the city. Today it is a garden with a walking path. The city wall is on the right and the shorter moat wall is on the left. There are ten (or twelve depending on who you believe) gates through which you can enter the city.Most of the streets had a very medieval feel to them.This building had gargoyles to drain the rooftop.The main attraction in Rhodes is the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. It has a history nearly as long as its name. The Palace was originally built in the late 7th century as a Byzantine temple. According to Wikipedia, it is now believed to have been built on the site of the ancient temple to the sun god “Helios” and that is most likely where the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) was located. After the Knights Hospitallers occupied Rhodes in 1309, they converted it into their administrative center and the Palace of their grand master. The Palace was damaged in the earthquake of 1481 and repaired soon after. The Ottomans captured the island in 1522 and converted the palace into a fortress. Much of the lower Palace was destroyed by an ammunition explosion in 1856.

According to Wikipedia, during the Italian rule of Rhodes, the Italian architect Vittorio Mesturino restored the damaged parts of the palace between 1937 and 1940. It became a holiday residence for the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, and later for Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini whose name can still be seen on a large plaque near the entrance. The guards at the site had a different spin saying that the building was remodeled for Mussolini, but was never occupied by him since Victor Emmanuel took it over. In either case, the Italians added some nice mosaics and decorations to the second floor.This is the main courtyard of the Palace.Columns, arches, and mosaics filled the primary rooms of the second floor.This shows you the detail of the mosaics.Many of the smaller rooms had furniture and elaborately painted walls.They even had several beautiful Murano glass chandeliers.After the Palace we wandered down the main shopping street where this colorful collection of purses caught my eye.Whatever they were filming here, they had a nice backdrop – but there was a nice backdrop almost anywhere you would choose to film.The town was filled with old churches…old mosques…and gates to the town.This is the ruins of a cathedral built in the 14th century. The round disks show where the pillars used to be.Our last stop of the day was the Archaeological Museum which was housed in a former hospital. The best features were the building and the mosaic floors.it also featured several mosaic pictures, On Monday, our last day in Rhodes, we are going to explore the residential area of the old town and the beaches.

Heraklion

We stayed in a historic, boutique hotel located in the center of Heraklion. The first floor was built by the Venetians in 1510 and the second floor was added by the Ottomans in 1730. For a long time, the building served as a meeting place of the lords and nobles of the city to discuss political and economic issues. It was recently restored as an eight room hotel. Our room is the top room on the left where the Ottoman sultan once resided. Linda and Jack’s room was once the stable and is now a two story suite.

Parking was very limited and there always seemed to be a car hemming in other cars.The major attraction in Heraklion is Knossos Palace. Knossos is the largest Bronze Age archeological site on Crete and has been called the oldest city in Europe. The Palace of Knossos became the political and ceremonial center of the Minoan civilization. The Palace reached a population of 18,000 people in 2000 BCE and peaked at nearly 100,000 people by 1700 BCE. The Palace was abandoned at some unknown time at the end of the late Bronze Age, 1380 – 1100 BCE. It has been studied and restored by various archaeologists over the years. Some of today’s archaeologists are trying to correct perceived mistakes of previous archaeologists. All the original frescoes and artifacts are housed at the Archaeological Museum in town.The top picture is of the throne room. There was a cruise ship in town, so the Palace was very crowded. We had a long wait to get into the throne room.This is a wood model of the Palace at the Archaeological Museum.This is believed to be an ancient board game with the playing pieces on the right.This disc contains 65 different characters from an unknown and undeciphered language.Some other objects at the museum including a sarcophagus and fresco. The parts that are smooth and uniform in color are added to fill the spaces between the recovered parts of the original fresco.

The lion fountain is in the center of one of the main squares.Once again there were a number of nice pedestrian streets.Agios Minas Greek Orthodox Cathedral from the inside and outside. While it doesn’t show in this picture, even this church was not spared from graffiti.

Saturday we fly from Crete to Rhodes via Athens.

Another Adventure with Linda and Jack, Susan and Bruce, and Waze

To begin our adventures in Crete, we rented a car to drive from our home base of Heraklion to visit the old town areas of Chania and Rethymnon. We have a T-Mobile plan which is supposed to include service in numerous foreign countries. However, for our last two trips abroad, phone and text would work but not data. After numerous calls to T-Mobile we decided that it must be something about our phone. We went to the Apple store in Charlotte, and they made several changes. But there was no way to know if it would work without going abroad. I am happy to report that text, phone, and most importantly, data is working well here. I also learned that Waze works as well abroad as it does at home.

Linda was our driver and Waze was our guide. The road between cities was mostly two lane, but slower cars typically drove on the berm to make passing easier. The real problem was negotiating the narrow, crooked, one way streets in the town and finding a parking spot near where we wanted to be. Waze made an impossible job merely difficult.We enjoyed seeing the diverse countryside of Crete. This shot shows the abundant wildflowers, rocky coastline, sandy beaches, and snow capped mountains of Crete all in one shot.The blue domed churches of Mykonos and Santorini are replaced with red tile domes on Crete. We have also noticed that the restaurant food is more diverse here.The buildings on Crete are no longer all white and it seems you can see the snow capped mountains everywhere. This is the Orthodox Cathedral in Chania.The Mosque of Hasan Pasha (the first Ottoman governor of Crete) was constructed in 1645. It originally had a small minaret, but that was demolished in 1923. It is now an art gallery.The age of this stone lighthouse on the harbor is unknown, but it is believed to be one of the oldest in the world.

The harbor was especially beautiful.Much of the area above the port held buildings that had been bombed during WW II.This building had once been a mosque as evidenced be the minaret, and was now a church as evidenced by the cross on the clock tower. As you can also see, graffiti was a serious problem throughout Crete.

After a four hour walking tour of Chania, we headed back to the town Rethymnon. Waze and I had picked out a parking lot ideally located near the start of our desired walking tour. When we arrived, that lot was being cleaned of debris from a recent fair and we weren’t allowed to park there. We then spent the next thirty minutes hunting for a parking spot.We spent most of our time there exploring the Fortezza (or fortress) which looms over the city on a high point near the water. It was built by the Venetians in the 16th century, and was captured by the Ottomans in 1646. It remained an active fort until the early 20th century. By that time, many residential buildings had been built with the walls of the fort. At the end of WW II, the city began to expand and the residential buildings were abandoned and ultimately torn down. Today it is a tourist attraction.This building was a cathedral within the fort under the Venetians and was converted to a mosque under the Ottomans. The bottom picture is the interior of the dome.The flower pots on the railing of this balcony were a little over the top!A mosque in the old town.The old town was filled with pedestrian only shopping streets and residential streets such as this one. We returned to our home base in Heraklion before the rental car office closed so we wouldn’t have to find a parking spot at our hotel. On the next day we will explore Heraklion.

Exploring Santorini

Santorini is truly a beautiful island. Rick Steves says that if you can’t take a beautiful picture here, you should throw your camera away. The white buildings, the blue trim, the blue church domes, the water all around, the buildings clinging to the steep cliffs, the paths and stairs going in all directions, and the colorful plants accenting the patios, all make for beautiful shots in all directions. There is a path on the caldera side that traverses the length of the island. We walked that path from our hotel into the main city of Fira.The path was primarily downhill but had many steps and some uphill portions.These are a few examples of the patios we saw along the way.We never lacked for blue domed churches. There were five cruise ships in town which made Fira very congested when we reached it. You can see three of them in the middle photo. You also see that Susan tried to fit in with the blue theme.We visited the Prehistoric Museum which housed artifacts from 2000 to 1700 BCE that were recovered from the Akrotiri Minoan archaeological site on Santorini. The top photo is what they called a “duck pitcher”. At first I wondered what they were talking about, but then I noticed the pitcher had the profile of a duck with an eye painted at the appropriate spot. We all marveled that many of these 3700 year old pieces looked like something you might buy at a craft store today. The bottom fresco is of blue monkeys which may have been brought to the island from Egypt.Our final stop in Fira was the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral.

We then took a public bus to the city of Oia, which we can see in the distance from our balcony.It had an abundance of interesting architecture and views.There were the ruins of a castle at the end of town.A few buildings apparently didn’t get the memo about the all white exterior, but that just added to the interest of the town.The main Greek Orthodox Church in Oia.

On our second full day we visited the black sand beach and the Santos winery.We did a short walk on the beach, but it was rather soft and part gravel; so we spent most of our time exploring the town.There was this church in the town.And this church, all by itself, high on the cliffs over the town.We enjoyed a wine tasting at the Santos Winery. The grapes in Santorini give the wines a unique taste due to the volcanic soil in which they are grown. The winery had a beautiful view of the caldera. That is Fira on the right and Oia in the distance on the left.We took a short walk at twilight to dinner. We passed at least six brides having their pictures taken. Many were posing on the roofs of buildings. The top photographer was making the bride walk back and forth on the curving roof in high heels. Many buildings, particularly churches, have signs to keep off the roof. Now we know why.

Today we take a ferry from Santorini to Crete.

A Fast Ferry to Absolute Bliss

On Sunday, we took a hydrofoil ferry from Mykonos to Santorini.The ferry was very sleek, fast, and smooth.It left an impressive wake – much bigger than that of a much larger cruise ship.Our destination in Santorini was The Absolute Bliss Hotel. It was appropriately named.Our bed had neatly folded towels wrapped in ribbon and topped with a KitKat bar plus flowers and M&Ms below the pillows.

Like all hotels on the rim of the caldera, it drips down from the edge into the interior which requires many steps to reach the room.And this is the view from the deck in front of our room. Santorini is the largest caldera filled with salt water in the world. The town of Oia is the white on top of the caldera on the right side. When you look at the caldera from a distance, your first impression is that it is topped with snow due to all the white villages.In the morning, a waiter brings a hot breakfast for you to enjoy on your patio.Of course we enjoyed a sunset happy hour on the patio. The wind off the cold sea makes it a little chilly after the sun goes down.We have a second patio with two lounge chairs and a hot tub. Why would we ever want to leave such absolute bliss?Santorini is famous for its sunsets, but so far the best sunsets have been in Mykonos. We did leave our hotel and will share some pictures from our explorations in the next blog.

Yet Another Adventure

On Saturday we took a day trip from Mykonos on a 16 passenger, 51 foot sailboat to the archaeological site on Delos island and the uninhabited island of Rineia. The latter island was our first stop after an hour long sale in strong winds and rolling seas. Mykonos is known for its high winds, and the locals have developed special names for the winds that blow through there: “the bell-ringer”, the “chair-thrower”, and “the unseater of horsemen”. It was the first time for all four of us on a sailboat that size.Because of the strong winds and cool water, it was pretty cool going over. You will notice that I was the lone holdout for wearing a jacket. We anchored in a cove with beautiful blue water. The island was once used for farming and had several buildings including this small church.The shoreline was dotted with ruins including this building that was very popular with the blackbirds. We had the choice of snorkeling or taking a dingy to shore, but we (and most other passengers) opted to relax on the boat. Following a lunch on the boat we set out on a thirty minute sail to Delos.

Delos is a small island about three miles long and less than a mile wide, but it was one of the most sacred places to the ancient Greeks as it was the birthplace of two of their most important deities, Apollo and Artemis. The island was inhabited as early as 2500 BCE. The sanctuary to Apollo was established here in the 9th century BCE when people from all over the Greek world came to worship Apollo, the god of light, and his twin sister Artemis, the moon goddess. From the 9th century through the second century BCE, Delos flourished as a free port and center for all commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean. It became “the greatest commercial center of the whole world”. The prosperity of the island and its friendship with the Romans ultimately led to its destruction and abandonment after two successive attacks by enemies of the Romans and pirates.

We took a guided tour through the ruins of the shops and houses of Delos.One of the buildings had this elaborate mosaic floor. The centerpiece of the mosaic in the building is a reproduction and the original is displayed in the museum.The site had many Greek columns, but most of the statues had been moved to the museum.This is the main road leading to the entrance of the sacred site. The remains of buildings along the road were once shops so you could complete your shopping before reaching the sacred area. Kind of like all the souvenir stands lining the streets to a tourist attraction today.A row of lions stands guard over the sacred lake where Apollo rose.Apollo is believed to have risen from the middle of the sacred lake where the palm tree stands.The distant hills of Delos had more ruins, but we didn’t have time to get to them. It was a fun day! The weather was cooler and the seas were rougher on the hour and a half trip back to Mykonos. Bruce stopped being a hero and wore a jacket going home. Susan is proud to report that she didn’t get seasick despite the rocking of the boat.

We’re Hoppin!

After awaking at 6:30 AM, driving with our friends Linda and Jack to Washington Dulles airport, waiting on the tarmac for two hours at Dulles until thunderstorms cleared in New York, running through Heathrow to catch our connecting flight with only minutes to spare, we arrived in the idyllic Greek island of Mykonos. While the trip got off to a rocky start full of worry we were gong to miss our connection in Heathrow, it all ended well with both us and our luggage arriving in Mykonos on time. I give high marks to British Air for having a representative meet our arriving flight from Dulles and guiding the 12 passengers transferring to the Mykonos flight through security and to the gate. It was a long and winding trail, and I doubt that we could have made it on time without her.

We are on a two week trip where we will spend three days each on Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and Rhodes. We worked with a Greek travel agency that booked the hotels and transportation between the hotels. While at the hotels, we are on our own.

Despite having been up for over 30 hours, we went to Greek night in our hotel restaurant. The festivities involved traditional Greek music and dancing. You might recognize the curly hair that joined the dancing. The night ended for us when they played a nontraditional song, YMCA.

While Mykonos is best known for it’s beaches, the main town of Chora (also known as Mykonos Town) is filled with quaint white buildings with blue, or sometimes burgundy, accents. The flowers are abundant and usually red for contrast.

The island has more than 400 churches. Most of these appear to be very small private chapels scattered across the landscape. They say throughout the southern US, that the towns have a church on every corner. Mykonos Town seems to out do the south.

The windmill is the symbol of Mykonos as a number of them line the ridge overlooking the town.

This area on the waterfront is known as “little Venice”, even though there is not a canal in sight.

Of course there is a lot of shopping. The stores all had very interesting displays in front to lure you to stop and shop. I loved the table which had been sliced from an unusually shaped piece of wood. Susan struggled not to buy a pair of shoes.

We had dinner in Little Venice and then stayed for the sunset. People lined up by the windmills to see it, and it didn’t disappoint.

A Week in Paradise

We have spent the last week with our Minnesota friends, Jean and Ron and Lynn and Jim, at the Vidanta Resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It is a huge resort with at least eight residential towers, countless pools, a long lazy river, a golf course, and nonstop landscaping laced with boardwalk walking paths. It is the perfect place to relax.This is a part of the view from our balcony. That is Puerto Vallarta in the background with the Pacific Ocean in front of it and a river below us. We can watch the cruise ships arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon. There is a nice sunrise for the early risers (I have no sunrise pictures to offer). The weather has been similar to San Miguel except the nights are warmer and it is a little more humid. It has been near perfect beach weather!We spent most of our time at this pool located adjacent to the ocean. The water was “walk in” warm. We had lunch most days in our pool lounge chairs with two for one frozen mango margaritas. Additional pool services were eyeglass cleaning and popsicles. I had a tamarind popsicle one day and that together with the tamarind chicken at Nirvana, has made me a real fan. I hope we can find tamarind somewhere in Wilmington!We also had iguanas that like to hang out at the pool. They are quite adept at snatching food when you look away. They also caused some screaming as they moved about the pool. Thanks to Jean and Lynn for the iguana pictures.We got off the grounds several days. On Sunday we went to a large craft fair in La Cruz which spread along the water front. We bought an art work made of tree bark. We went to Bucerías for dinner on the ocean one night. From left is Susan, Ron, Jim, Lynn, and Jean.Wednesday we went into Puerto Vallarta for a walk along the Malecón, a mile long esplanade beside the ocean.There were many people working for tips such as this man who had created an elaborate Mayan sand sculpture.This person created columns of balanced rocks.There was a performance by Mayan pole dancers who slowly rotate down from the top of the pole to the ground. One of the dancers is playing a flute and small drum as he turns. This purpose of this dance was to prevent or end droughts in ancient times. UNESCO has designated it an Intangible Cultural Heritage.Numerous sculptures line the Malecón. From left to right are Lynn, Jim, Jean, Ron, Bruce and Susan.

We fly home to Wilmington on Friday. Our Minnesota friends are returning to a snow storm on Saturday. While Wilmington had some nearby flurries this week, we will be returning to temperatures near 70. While it won’t be as nice as the weather we have experienced in Mexico, we are hopeful that spring is near. Our upcoming trips are the Greek Islands in June and Sicily, Malta, and a transatlantic crossing in the fall. Thanks for following our experiences in Mexico and we hope you will join us on our future travels.Sunset over one of the ponds on the resort with the ocean in the background.