Friday, April 19, 2013

Full Circle

Beginning this final blog post from the Athens airport en route to Paris for the last legs of the journey. Finishing it en route from Reykyavik to Boston.
Yesterday we blew down out of the mountains of northern Naxos, saying Yassas to Stamatis and his mother and to the little village which was now being battered with waves that were more than just whitecaps – the whole sea was roiling and white – and that crashed over the jetties and seawalls flooding the end of the main street.
Before we left we already knew that the slow ferry to Santorini that Pat was supposed to take that day had canceled its route due to rough weather and the fast Blue Star ferry was on strike. She had planned to spend her last day in Santorini but had to stay in Naxos Town for another night instead and catch the Wednesday ferry and go immediately to the airport.
 Despite the blustery conditions we headed south of the port again to see if we could find Demeter’s Temple, the best ruin on Naxos. By the time we finally got there, the skies had opened up and just the short five minute walk up to the site and back in driving wind and rain was enough to soak us through even in raingear. I stayed just long enough to get the shot. Checked back into Pension Sofi and spent the rest of the day rambling around the twisty streets of old town, where the arches, high walls and narrow paths protected us from the worst of the winds. Found new picturesque neighborhoods and shops and actually got somewhat of a handle on the layout of the labyrinth – it is hard to imagine how a town could build itself in such a manner! By evening the only place we wanted to eat was the one with the wood-burning stove on the waterfront; a good choice with fresh grilled fish and potatoes. Wandering back up through the old town at night we discovered that many shops were open which we had never seen before, as were cafes and bistros that always were deserted in the day. The alluring lights of the shops in the darkness drew us in and made us spend Euros we hadn’t intended to, and in the heat of the moment and the cool of the night I bought a heavy Greek cotton hooded sweater which I haven’t taken off since! We topped it off with a nightcap at La Vigne, a French wine bar hidden in the maze of streets and tucked cozily into two cave-like rooms with a lively little local crowd.

On Wednesday, Pat went off on the ferry to Santorini and I headed out to the Naxos airport, my favorite kind of airport. Basically a one room affair, with a check-in counter that might be 2 feet square. The day I flew my plane was the only plane of the day; sometimes there are two planes a day. One woman runs the whole event with a guy to help her with the baggage handling- after we went through security to the loading waiting room (which seemed to be a entranceway with a stone floor) she literally locked us in so she could go out to the plane, a twin prop with 36 seats.
A short flight to Athens and then one of the most fantastic flights of the trip from Athens to Paris. The day was clear enough to see the countries and geographical landmarks along the way and after following the west coast of Italy north we crossed the Alps which were beginning to turn pink with the setting sun and were absolutely awesome and breathtaking. Then on into France with its well-delineated fields and villages and finally to Charles DeGaulle airport – the antithetical opposite of where I started in Athens; so enormous and confusing – after a series of moving walkways that at first appear to be escalators but are actually moving walkways that go steeply uphill to a higher floor on which you have to hang on to your rolling luggage or you will lose it and wipe out all the people behind you!
Then to transit between terminals you need to take a train that really has to go far and when I got on the bus to take me to my hotel, I was shocked at how far the actual distance was – it took 10 minutes to drive between Terminal 2 and 3.

I vaguely remembered carefully choosing my overnight accommodation because I wanted to be in a village rather in the city but I was delighted when I woke up in the morning in my fairly fancy standard business-style hotel to be able to actually open the window to a spring day and see the roofs of the nearby town. A beautiful walking path lined with trees about to bloom led from the side of the hotel through a park into a perfect little French village with a bakery, market, cafes and even an open fish market. It was the quintessential quick trip to France.
Today I have been in Iceland Air hell – with all that European economy airlines have to offer, which is essentially nothing – no food except some crappy stuff for purchase, no amenities, barely even food at the airport. Oh, I have been spoiled by the hospitality and service of so many countries around the world…
So now I am on the last leg of the tour – Rekyavik to Boston. Full circle. Back to where I have come from. So what have I learned, how have I changed?
On the most purely basic level, I left feeling limited and disabled because of my lower back pain – I am returning strong and healed, sometimes feeling as nimble as a mountain goat, climbing rocky paths and steep hills that I never would have thought were a possibility for me any longer. I have visited exotic and exciting cultures, eaten foods I have never encountered and been the recipient of kindness and sharing all around the world. I have had almost no bad experiences – in villages everywhere, people have been welcoming and good to me.

Although I have nearly completely avoided media news, I have kept up with the news of my own village through the miracle of Facebook – births and deaths, illnesses and recoveries, joys and sadnesses, trivialities and events of significance – and I have never felt alone or out of touch.
Traveling is still like breathing to me – it is easy and natural and calms me down as much as it excites me. There are still so many places I haven’t gone yet, things I still haven’t done. As long as I can still pack a suitcase and walk those mile-long airports, I will travel. For me, it never gets old.
And my next stop – well, I am headed toward a little village in the White Mountains, a small, remote place where at this time of year many of the businesses are closed and the villagers have to make their own entertainment. And I am hoping that I will be able to see this village from a world traveler’s point of view with new eyes and a fresh perspective.  To get there you have to drive on a windy road through a dramatic notch between steep mountain slopes and the view as you come down into the valley is awesomely beautiful…

Monday, April 15, 2013

Appollonas and Around

In our next tiny rental car, we headed north out of the port onto the coastal road that became almost immediately one of the twistiest, treacherous, deserted and most precariously perched roads I have ever ridden on (until we headed over the mountains in the other direction the next day!). It was also breathtakingly awesome scenery – high, high mountains rising on the right side, sheer drops to glistening sea coves on the left. Basically you can never get out of second gear (and if you don’t drive a stick shift, you will have a hard time finding a car to rent), there were occasional brief (three minute) stretches of third gear and once I even got into fourth for a minute. The last gas station is in Eggares, only 7 kilometers out of the city, and there are no others all the way to Appollonas – and none there either. After an infinite amount of climbing, we came around a curve and saw a gleaming white village with a beach, shining in the sunlight, in a valley at the bottom of two steep cliffs.

It was not hard to find the Hotel Adonis – one of the largest buildings in this tiny town, where absolutely nothing was really open yet for the season, although around the little harbor, the cafes and restaurants have their doors open and a few tables outside which are occupied by the same few men every day drinking espresso or citron out of cups and glasses as tiny as the town, which has only 100 year round residents, and swells to 400 during the high season of summer (there are only 5 children in the school). But Stamatis Andris, with whom I had had a lively email correspondence regarding reservations in the last few weeks, was at our hotel to meet us and provide the usual above-and-beyond Greek hospitality. We get lots and lots of attention, particularly because we are the first guests of the season and the only guests here! Our room has a balcony with French doors that open out onto a view of the sea and the sun streams in during the morning hours.
A lemon as big as your head
Because there is really nowhere else around here to eat or even buy food, we eat breakfast and dinner at the hotel each night and it is all fantastic home-cooked Greek dishes, prepared by Stamatis’s mother using all local foods, because that is what the people here have to eat. At this time of year there is a lot of goat/sheep cheese, homemade yogurt, pumpkin, potatoes, greens, some lettuce, fresh fish when they can catch it, eggs, and bread from a bakery in the next town that comes by van. There is also a variety of things made from the citron lemon (pronounce Kit-rone) which is a giant version of the regular lemon and has a much thicker skin, from juice to liquor to candy to seasonings. We drank the local wine until it ran out – now we are drinking wine from Crete. Stamatis even taught us some Greek dances on the porch one night.
A girl from the highest village east of the Mississippi visits
the highest village in the Cyclades

The first day we left our remote home base and drove south through the mountains, climbing higher and higher on intense switchbacks and roads that narrowed to one-lane bridges with donkeys, goats and sheep tethered (or not tethered) at surprise random intervals along the roadsides and up the slopes. Greece is all shades of green in the spring which most tourists don’t get to see – by summer it is dried and brown. There are flowers everywhere, wild and domestic, and when we reached, Koronidas (also known as Komiaki – every village has two names for some reason!),  the highest village in the Cyclades at 2900 feet, the flora very much resembled the White Mountains, with apple trees and lupines and maples, things one does not expect to see in the Greek islands. We continued slowly on through the wonder of the rural villages and the mountain peaks until we reached Apiranthos, a beautiful traditional village where all the streets are paved in marble and the hand-crafting tradition has been preserved. A few hundred years ago refugees from Crete settled in Apiranthos and have maintained and celebrated its heritage. Although there are many lovely places to eat and shop, there is nowhere to stay there – which speaks volumes. I bought some handmade sheep bells as souvenirs; there melodious clanking is a sound that will always remind me of these islands.

After hearing about the impending winds that were coming to the island, we decided we better take advantage of the perfect weather and calm seas to do a day at the beach and so Sunday we drove south (you can only drive south from here) to a place that is very crowded and popular in the summer and is of course deserted as hell this time of year. It was a relaxed and pleasant day. We returned to Apollonas and hiked up to the Kouros, which is a marble statue of a male god that was carved about 2000 years ago but never erected, probably because it cracked before it was finished, and has rested on its side on a hillside overlooking the sea and the village ever since. It is one of the few antiquities we have been able to find on Naxos and on Paros – the signage always starts off strong but then generally disappears completely making it impossible to locate ancient monuments, temples and statues.

We woke up on Monday to gusting winds and high seas – our calm peaceful view now resembled the coast of Maine, on a bad day. The local people were bundled up in down jackets ( but they actually are bundled up like that much of the time) but to us it really did not feel that cold just very blustery. But yes, I am wearing all my jackets and warmer clothes now, all the things I very nearly ditched permanently in the heat of Southeast Asia, never believing I would ever really need them again on this trip. I am wishing I had a cozy cashmere sweater or a thick wool turtleneck. Or maybe my hairy Uggs(my god, I haven’t thought of them until just this minute – maybe there is something from home that I miss…).
We drove off again, high into the mountains to visit the “villages” and it was a great day, reaching Filoti, at 2500 people, the largest mountain village and clearly the center for all the others. I think you could learn a lot about Naxos, especially the agriculture and food, by staying in Filoti.
There were local shops and cafes and actually a bit of a bustle of business that did not depend on tourists – and even one place that said “Rooms to Let”…maybe next time around…We wandered on down the road to Halki, where the Citron distillery is located and had a private tour of that ancient facility and watched them making this local liquor the same way they have for hundreds of years.
We have had the pleasure of drinking Citron several times on this trip – sometimes shopkeepers will give you a shot when they realize that you are actually going to buy something.  We have noticed this along the way, but particularly in Halki, where the word goes out that we are in town and stores seem to open up magically and if we look in a window of a closed shop and express interest, the shopkeeper next door will make a phone call and the store owner will appear within moments to unlock the door and show us around.
By the end of the day we had bought 2 baskets, 2 woven bags and a scarf at reasonable prices from local producers and admired many other products including ceramics, lace, jam, candles, cheeses, spices and much much more.
We tried to find Demeter’s Temple, one of the best ancient ruins on the island, and this was the only place where we ran into other adventurers staring with puzzled expressions at their maps and the cryptic signposts. Everyone was daunted by the strong winds and all, including us, gave up without seeing the site. We did run into a Dutch couple at a very old church in the mountains an hour later who had ridden bicycles to it the day before and said you could actually drive to it – apparently not from the approach we and the others had made. It is somewhat discouraging how hard it is to find so many of the good ruins, although I don’t care about them as much as Pat. I love the countryside and the scenery and the local culture more.
Our last visit of the day was Moni, another village perched high in the mountains with a spectacular view and lots of narrow marble paved streets that was closed up so tight on this windy, pre-season day that it seemed as though it was a ghost town that had not been occupied for years, with empty village squares and boarded-up stores. It would be interesting to see the contrast with summer months -  it would be probably be equally appalling and delightful here.
Returning to Appollonas, we were astounded to see how much the sea had risen and how high the waves had become. I am flying out Naxos on Wednesday so it is not a problem for me, but Pat was supposed to take the ferry to Santorini on Tuesday; the Blue Star ferry which generally runs no matter what the weather had been cancelled for Tuesday for a strike so she was planning to take a smaller ferry that goes to all the little islands along the way, which sounded kind of fun until this weather came up. Now we are not even sure that ferry will run, so she is going with the flow and hoping to still reach Athens by Wednesday night.
At present we are hotel-bound for the evening due to the high winds and will see what tomorrow brings. Mostly I am in shock that my travels are almost over – I feel like I could go on for another six months – that, of everything I have done in the ever-increasing years of my life, this is what I still do best. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kalimera, Paros!

Okay, I have been here a week and a half, and although I can slowly decode anything I read in the Greek alphabet, I have only learned 6 essential words/phrases in Greek.Kalimera- good morning
Kalispera – good afternoon
Kalinichta – good night (I forgot I knew this one so maybe it is 7)
Ne – Yes
Ohi – No
Efkaristo – Thank you
Yassous or Yassas – Hello, goodbye and cheers (a catch-all word)
We took the morning ferry from Naxos to Paros on a sea that was as calm as a birdbath and as clear as glass. Eleni met us at the dock in Parikia and took us to her perfect little guesthouse on the edge of town just a few meters from Livadia Beach. A spacious room with a private sunny patio that opened out of a beautiful courtyard with beautiful gardens that must be exquisite in lush summer months.
The first day we walked around the old town, including a visit to Yria Ceramics, run by Monique Mailloux, a woman who I went to Franconia College with almost 40 years ago, who moved from there to Paros and never left (except unfortunately she left on vacation an hour or so before we arrived!). We shopped the few stores that were open and Pat bought a rugged sweater made of natural yarns and I bought a trendy (a.k.a. not entirely practical) little Greek sweater dress on sale which is now the coziest and most comfortable piece of clothing I have with me (and of course the only thing I am not completely sick of.) I have finally washed my clothes by hand with shampoo for the last time – have I mentioned this is the only thing I will NOT miss about this trip?!
Paros is apparently the 3rd most popular destination in the Greek islands because of its numerous white sand beaches and the upscale nature of its shops gives away the income bracket of its usual clientele. However, lunch at the Mikro Café, an intimate and intellectual little bar and bistro in the heart of the winding Old Town streets, seemed so welcoming that it made me think running a little bistro should be my future destiny.
 An afternoon respite on the beach and then dinner in a seaside hotel of Greek specialties like tzatsiki, calamari and zucchini croquettes.
After a breakfast of dakos (which we thought was “tacos” and which seems like the Greek equivalent – feta cheese piled on tomatoes and chunks of dark whole grain bread), the second day we rented a car, the smallest Peugeot in the world perhaps, and drove around the island, in detail shall we say, since it was such a small island that driving every road and visiting every beach we possibly could (and some were not drivable) seemed like the right thing to do. Eventually we stumbled across Molos Beach, a secluded and peaceful cove with a sandy beach and a tiny marina, that made everything else before and after seem second rate. Homemade spanakopita and moussaka at seaside café in Aliki made the afternoon just right.
Overall Paros seemed fairly populated and modern and more evolved food-wise with much “biological” fare as they call it, which makes it much more appetizing, shall we say, to aliens from other countries.
The following day at noon we said goodbye to Paros and boarded the Blue Star ferry for a smooth sailing journey back to Naxos town to pick up a car and begin the next and nearly last leg of this westward journey that is sadly coming to end in the not-so-distant future…

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Across the Aegean - Naxos Town

Getting to Naxos proved to be a low point of the trip for me for the stupidest of reasons. I packed up a half-finished bottle of wine to take with me and stuck in my tote bag and by the time I had boarded the bus to the port, I discovered it had broken and begun to saturate much of what was in the bag. The fleece jacket that I had planned to wear on the cold ferry ride was now soaked with cheap Santorini white wine as was the sling bag from Indonesia that I used to carry my stuff around in every day. I quickly got the bottle off the bus and isolated the jacket and the bag. What I didn’t realize until I got to the port was that my ipod was in the bag (a freakish mistake – I never usually kept it there) and after soaking in wine inside and out, the battery went haywire and burnt itself out. Despite keeping it in rice for the last few days, it has never come back on although the screen has cleared. What I didn’t realize until I went to pack up today to go to Paros is that my hiking sandals were also in the bag and I must have tossed them quickly out on the bus and they never got back into my luggage. What an expensive and stupid disaster! I am trying to take it in stride but can’t stop kicking myself for it.

The ferry left an hour and a half late – there were hundreds of people waiting to get on board because it went on to a few other islands and then to Piraeus, the port of Athens. However once we were all aboard we barely filled the spacious capacity of what proved to be a fairly elegant boat, with two escalators up to the main floor and cabins full of airplane style seats as well as cafes and lounges. It was all quite orderly and organized, including the loading of cars, motorcycles, motor homes and 16 wheeler semis hauling full loads. Because the seas were incredibly rough, I was well dosed up with Dramamine and stayed on the back deck out of the wind (with all the smokers, unfortunately) and did not get sick at all, even when I finally gave in to the chill and went inside.
Pension Sofi
The gangplank was already lowered before the ferry stopped at Naxos, where it barely stayed 10 minutes, just long enough to let off the scant 25 passengers and one motorcycle that were disembarking and to take on a few. We immediately felt the quietness of this island in comparison to Santorini. We were whisked away to our little guesthouse, Pension Sofi. Although exhausted, we walked back down to the port in the cold and whipping wind to where there are a few dozen restaurants and chose the one with a flaming woodstove and fresh fish on ice waiting to be grilled.
We knew that it was supposed to be windy and rainy on Monday but when on vacation in a place that is considered a tropical vacation paradise, one tends to be delusional about the weather, even if it is April. So although waking up to a very cold and gray day for exploring Naxos town did not fit our expectations, we bundled up and did it anyway. And felt completely rewarded for doing so, beginning with the Sanctuary of Apollo, the ancient marble portal a hill outside of town. A simple and dramatic Greek ruin, it is the symbol of Naxos and does strike some awe.
As always, Naxos Hora (or Old Town) was nothing at all as expected. Despite compelling photos of ancient buildings and narrow streets, it seems impossible to pictorially convey the labyrinth that these ancient port cities are, a warren of winding ways, homes built upon homes built over arched tunnels over twisting avenues that come together in impossible angles. From any direction, steep steps will eventually lead you to the Venetian castle perched at the summit, overlooking the port from its well-positioned vantage point designed to watch for pirates and marauders. We got a tour of the castle and the excavated ruins below it from a man who was 13th generation descendant of the family that had inhabited it in the early 1700s and he still made his home there. The upstairs was filled with the usual European antiquities, but the basement was fabulously interesting with old Greek kitchen and mill tools and a theater where concerts are held on the weekends. At the end of the quite private tour, we got to try Citron, (pronounced Kit-rone) the local spirit made from lemons which was quite alcoholic and delicious.
Although filled with many shops and restaurants (more than half of which are not open yet), people do live in the Hora and there are small grocery stores and other necessities as well as a fabulous old-fashioned bakery. Despite the feeling of being lost, eventually every pathway will spill out on to the main port avenue, a wide street lined with restaurants, banks, etc. that frames the harbor full of boats and the ferry dock.
As I write this a few days later, after a full day of driving around a different island, Paros, I can barely remember what we did on Naxos on the gray day. Ate seafood soup for lunch that brought back warmth and strength, discovered that we could manage to go Amorgos at this time of year, the ferries only ran at midnight and every other night went to a different port so that we would have to stay 5 days to come back. This meant a sea change (literally!) in plans and while at the Blue Star Ferry office looking at the schedule, Paros, only an hour away and visible across the channel, seemed like an easy alternative, although we had not researched it at all. Within a few hours I had booked a place via Skype, we bought tickets and we arranged to leave our big luggage at Pension Sofi while we went.
In the cold and rainy night, we wandered back up into the old town and ate at a cozy Italian restaurant with excellent wine and nouveau food. By the next morning the sky cleared out and we finally a perfect Cycladean day with a clear blue sky to complement the Aegean Sea. We walked to a beach and hung out for several hours; everywhere folks were doing their spring cleaning and fix-up - the sounds of hammering, vacuuming and sandblasting, the smell of white wash and the sight of people preparing for the upcoming tourist season. We are definitely a few weeks ahead of the curve in the Greek islands, which has its good and bad sides – the good being that it is virtually crowd-less, the bad being that many places are not open yet. I am okay with this – I know I would not be happy here when the place is wall-to-wall vacationers.
The highlight of the day (and maybe this whole part of the trip) was catching the sunset of a lifetime framed by the Sanctuary of Apollo. Who was it that said the sun never sets!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Santorini - Chic and Greek

After my last night in Kalavasos of drinking too much local Cyprus wine and zivania, the very alcoholic Cypriot spirits, with Kyri and Pana at Retro Taverna, I got up at 5 am to fly to Santorini via Athens, a very short morning’s hop compared to my other stretches of flying around the world. I met Pat at the gate to Santorini – she had been waiting in the airport since 3:30 am after flying all day from Boston via Heathrow, so my indulgent exhaustion was nothing compared to hers.

So Santorini – much smaller than I expected, maybe because there is soooo much hype and it seems like half the people I know have been there, or maybe because it really is small. From our little hotel with a view of the sea on the east side, it is a less than 5 minute walk to the stunning Mediterranean views from the west side. A tiny embraceable island at this time of year, when most places are not open and you can walk through an entire village and not find an open café to stop in for a glass of wine. It is the beginning of the tourist season and today many people were out whitewashing their buildings (because everything in Santorini is white). Apparently the day before we arrived there was a red rain, it literally rained red – something to do with that same Saharan mist that turned the sky white in Cyprus, which I still don’t understand. Glad we missed that.

We never feel prepared for the weather – in the sun it is pleasantly warm, in the shade it is always cold and along the west side for sunset the wind is wicked enough to pile on all one’s jackets. You see some people wearing down coats and boots and others who were unrealistically optimistic about their visit to Santorini wearing cutoff shorts, tank tops and flip flops, freezing their idealistic butts off. I am wishing I had squeezed that cashmere sweater in with the sundresses and miss my beret… I think this, like Cyprus, is the place where you can get sunburned without a clue that it is happening. In the evening we put the heat on in our room, which is really a setting on the air-conditioner so the heat stays up by the ceiling – what do these Mediterraneans know about heat anyway – and pile on the extra fleece blankets (at least there are plenty of blankets, unlike the Sri Lankan mountains!).

The food is good and Greek, but not cheap since this is a tourist place. Tonight we had cooked fava beans in tomato sauce (on Cyprus they called them “cuchas”) and a great arugula salad with sundried tomatoes and parmesan cheese and a big plate of deep fried whole anchovies – you just ate the whole thing except for the tail and they were surprisingly delicious and not at all like anchovies on pizza.
Our hotel is ideally located just out of Fira on the edge of Firastefani and we walk behind the building onto a stone walkway that winds its way right into the heart of town with lots of shops and restaurants and breathtaking views of the Caldera (the port) below down a very steep hillside.
At first it is hard to see the local lifestyle but I realize now that we walk past the school and many homes along this pathway – if we take it the opposite direction, in just a few minutes time you come to the small, quiet village of Firastefani which is probably not quiet at all in the summer but right now it is like a ghost town with white apparitions of tourist accommodations hovering on the cliffs over the sea, silent and shuttered against the wind.
Angeliki, the woman who runs Hotel Aphrodete is young and very kind and accommodating, and always wears black jeans and turtleneck sweaters or black gym clothes. I thought this was just chic Greek style but it turns out this is modern mourning attire – her mother died this past year and it is Greek tradition to wear black for some endless amount of time after someone dies (hence all the old women who are always wearing black because someone in their enormous family is always dying). She says her mother wouldn’t mind if she wore colors but she wants to honor her mother’s memory for a while. We were the first guests of the season and there have just been a few others during our stay here.

Pat wanted to visit the antiquities – excavations and museums and so we took the bus to Akrotiki, where there is an extensive archaelogical excavation site of a village from 1500BC and then walked through the countryside to the Red Beach which is a very disappointing small stretchy of rocky shore line that is a deep reddish color. In fact all the beaches on Santorini are a disappointment, as many Mediterranean beaches are to beach-o-philes, because they are not sand or white. But we are not here for the beaches, Santorini is about the amazing landscape and stunning and improbable architecture of the white-washed buildings perched precariously over the sea.
We get lost several times a day on the winding cobblestoned walkways through Fira, which one morning became clogged by visitors from a single small cruise ship and made me realize how intense this place would be in high season when 6 or 7 large cruise ships at a time might dock for the day and when all the hotels and apartments are open. Santorini was devastated by an earthquake in 1956 and nearly everything we see has been rebuilt to some extent. As always, I wonder where the local people live and finally we wandered down below the shopping district and found a street lined with big old plane trees like you see in many Mediterranean cities but which are a rare oddity on Santorini because there are almost no trees and certainly no large ones (in fact they import wood from the mainland to burn in their stoves). Anyway this was clearly an old main street and yes, we were in a regular neighborhood of house and stores that had no view of the Caldera, just the basic beautiful sea view looking east.

From our hotel we can walk the opposite direction north on the walkway along the coast and end up in Firestefani (where almost nothing is open) and then continue on to Imerovigli (where absolutely nothing is open). In between these two extraordinarily beautiful villages in a stunning monastery built in the fashion of the numerous Greek Orthodox churches on the island, with a large blue dome and a smaller blue dome and a flat steeple with three bells. Amazingly we have gotten lost in Firestefani half a dozen times because there are 5 paths that come together in front of another of these clones churches and we rarely pick the right one home.
One of the most interesting things we have done is an excursion to Oia (pronounce Ee-ya) on the very northern tip of the volcanic curve which is Santorini. Although you can see Oia across the sea no more than a mile away, the local bus ride takes 20 minutes on an incredibly winding mountain road with dozens of switchbacks overhanging a very fertile plain to the east and against a steep cliff on the west.
Thirty or forty years ago, breathtakingly beautiful Oia was a quiet and hip retreat for artists…and you can probably guess the rest of the story. Today it has an abundance of gorgeous and expensive places to rent and lots of picturesque paved paths lined with artsy studios and high-end shops. There was one studio where Greek religious icons were sold and because Pat has been studying those, we went in. It was an odd sensation of falling back through several decades - the artist resembled an aged Johnny Winter with long white blond hair and ancient cowboy boots and was playing hard rock music of late 60’s vintage while he painted gilded saints on ancient wooden doors.

 Pat was, of course, attracted to going to the Maritime Museum – having already visited the Museum of Prehistoric Thira in the morning, I opted out and went to the Lotza Café with a terrace overlooking the sea for wine and food. By the time she joined me I was in a lively conversation with Yanni, a Greek-American, Harley-riding, world-traveling entrepreneur who owns jewelry stores around the world in places from Moscow to Santorini. Yanni entertained us for several hours with his proud ex-hippiness and his knowledge of the old days of Santorini and his great self-image. His line “I used to be young and beautiful – now I am just beautiful”) is one of the best things we carried away from that night besides the memory of a good time.
We have eaten a few great brunches at Mama’s House – Mama being the quintessential Greek mama except with a wonderfully brash personality that she picked up living in San Jose, California during her youth.
This morning we woke up to the blustery sounds of wind and the sight of trees bending over in the gales blowing across the landscape. We worried that our ferry to Naxos would be canceled due to the weather but oddly by afternoon it has settled down and is sunny and fairly pleasant so we are off in a few minutes to catch the boat to our next destination.