Posted by inka on Nov 14, 2012 in art
, Day trips
, Greece trips
, Greek islands
Don’t we all admire the fabulous Greek statues, some of immense size as the kouros to be found in the Historical Museum of the Greek island of Samos.
However, masters as the stone masons and artists of antiquity were, they were only human which means that sometimes they botched a job. Scarcely will we see anything less than perfect and if bits and pieces are missing it’s due to the passing of thousands of years, not to a lack of skill. A curious and interesting exception is the famous kouros, much visited on the Cycladic island of Naxos.
Near the town of Apollonas in the far north of the island are several marble quarries where some of the enormous statues were hewn out of the rock. And so was this ten meter long kouros, believed to have been designed as a statue of either Apollo or Poseidon. But, somehow the old masters got it wrong and the piece broke at the neck. What to do? Well, obviously, it couldn’t be moved anywhere, so it was just abandoned and left lying unfinished on its back for 2500 years.
For some reason I found this unfinished masterpiece even more interesting than the perfect statues and , standing at its feet, could just visualize the ancient stone masters, scratching their head when they heard the almighty ‘crack’. Couldn’t you? Have you seen a botched masterpiece anywhere in the world?
Posted by inka on Nov 12, 2012 in Day trips
, Greece trips
, Greek islands
I usually approach travel in two ways: either I go unprepared, keeping an open mind to new experiences, adventures, people and surprises .In short – with the true explorer spirit. Or, I prefer to have a port of call, often in the form of a friend of a friend who has agreed to show me around or at least give me some hints and pointers and insider tips.
Going unprepared means that at least I know where to find the place on the map, whether to pack summer clothes (mostly) or warm clothes (as little as possible).
My trip to Crete fell into the category ‘port of call’. That had a lot to do with the fact that I was on a food expedition. For once I wasn’t going to climb around in ancient ruins (no shortage of those in Crete and worth another trip), meander through museums or even have a beach holiday. No, I wanted to sample Greek food up close and personal.
Moussaka, Tzatziki, Souvlaki, Horta, Domades, Spanakopita, the names alone are music to my ears. I can just picture Alexis Zorbas breaking into dance whilst his life’s achievement is crashing down around his ears. Who cares, he can still have the world’s richest Moussaka and a bottle of Greek wine.
So, it was a stroke of luck that a friend of mine has a close friend by the name of Philip Exadactylos who is the proud owner of a company called Eat Crete. He is based on the island of Crete and his company specializes in exporting the best of Crete food all over the world. A few phone calls and emails later and it came to light that he would be in Crete when I wanted to visit and happy to introduce me to the marvels of Greek cuisine.
We met in the delightful Marina Café in Heraklion and incongruously I started my food adventure with a dessert: one of the richest chocolate cakes I have ever tasted. With typical Greek cordiality and laid back attitude Philip behaved as if he had known me forever and had all the time in the world to educate me in the delights of Greek food and the background of his company.
Who could resist?
My host for the day
The truth was, that he was somewhat pressed for time because he had to go high into the mountains on a buying spree for his exports. “Why there?” I asked.
“Ah,” he said, “my success has a lot to do with the clever ladies of Crete. I only buy and sell the very best products and many of them are home made by the ladies who live in the mountain villages. They have formed small women cooperatives, cook and bake together making use of a communal oven and they even run tiny shops for retail where they sell the hand made and hand wrapped products. That way everybody benefits. Would you like to see it?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I jumped at the opportunity. I had come to Heraklion with an alternative plan in mind should he not have been able to meet with me. The alternative was Knossos, but that was forgotten in a moment. I must be one of the very few visitors to the island of Crete who are all blasé about Knossos!! I did get a brief peek though, because he had to swing by and pick up a friend of his who was a tour guide in Knossos and who also wanted to go to Krousonas and stock up her larder.
I only made it as far as the entrance!
Off we went on a hair raising road southwest of Heraklion and right into the interior of the island. What made the trip even more exciting was the fact that it was another day of strike in Crete. This time it was the lorry drivers who transported gas to the patrol stations and the result was that nearly all of them had run out of fuel. So had Philip and therefore negotiated the mountain road with one eye on the ravine and the other on a patrol station which might still be open and have some gas. Shortly before Krousonas we got lucky and found one, so at least the return trip was guaranteed should we not go over the edge before.
Just open the door to the shop of the cooperative and the scent of freshly baked bread, cake, fresh pasta, cinnamon and other spices makes you want to sample each and every of the many products on display. And sample we did. As soon as the charming ‘boss lady’ heard that I was a travel writer and had come to Crete to learn about the food, she took me by the hand and pulled me to the kitchen where I could see first hand how the clever ladies combined tradition and modern appliances to create their delicacies.
Here we are.
The boss lady
They all were happy to have their picture taken and I stuffed my face as if there were no tomorrow. Crete also has acres and acres of olive trees and olive oil is one of the most popular products Philip exports. Liquor is another one and a concoction the name of which escaped me but which is popular in summer with water and ice and in winter with hot water. A truly versatile drink which, as they assured me, heals all ailments including chargin d’amour. Helped along with a jar of exquisite honey and a handful of walnuts, nobody can be unhappy for long.
The magic drink
Some of the lovely gifts they make
The car nearly sagged with all the goodies we loaded into it and then made the return trip to Heraklion, all in one piece. Back in the capital we tried to walk off a few of the countless calories, but gave up as soon as we came to this lovely café and sat down for a Greek iced coffee to round off a wonderful and successful day.
You see, Greece may be in crisis, but the Greek certainly have the spirit to pull themselves out of the rut.
Posted by inka on Apr 6, 2012 in Day trips
, Greek islands
Easter is the most important religious celebration of the Greek Orthodox Church, even more important than Christmas. Accordingly, many traditions and customs are being observed which vary from island to island and even from the mainland. Although I can’t go this year, I have been in the past and the experience of the Lighting of the Candles in church on the night of Holy Saturday is something which deeply moves the soul, regardless to your own religion or even if you have none.
I, of course have it good, because I have not one but two Greek islands practically at my door step: Kos and Samos. A short ferry ride from either Bodrum or Kusadasi and I am in a different country, a different world and never is it more spectacular than at Easter.
Ferries to Samos
One of Samos' spectacular sites
Festivity is in the air and godparents buy their godchildren new clothes. Eggs are boiled and painted red. Why red? Well, there are several stories and explanations. One is to represent the blood Christ shed to redeem mankind. Another is, that the Virgin Mary wept bloody tears when her son died and they happened to fall upon a basket of eggs she was carrying, dying them red. Yet another tells of a woman who carried a basket with eggs. When she heard about the resurrection, she didn’t believe it and exclaimed: ‘The dead won’t rise from their graves as unlikely as these eggs will turn red.’ Which, of course, they did!
Good Friday is dominated by processions. The image of Christ, covered in flowers, it taken out of the church and carried around the villages to the cemetery. People follow, many of them on their knees. At the cemetery candles are lit in memory of the dead. As you can see, candles play a major role in Greek Easter celebrations.
On Holy Saturday, mess starts at 11pm. Shortly before midnight, all lights are extinguished. At midnight, the priest comes out from behind the altar with a lighted candle and the light is passed on from person to person accompanied by rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ.
The traditional meal on Holy Saturday is magiritsa, a hot soup made from lamb intestine. Easter Sunday people attend another mess in church and feast at home on roast lamb, easter cake and lots of wine and ouzo.
Kos’s Easter specialty are cheese pies. Eggs are bumped and cracked between people, a tradition which goes back to Byzantine times when this was done with the King and Queen.
If you really want to see the Greeks have fun and celebrate, try to make it to one of the islands at Easter.
Posted by inka on Feb 23, 2012 in Greece trips
, Greek islands
All about ‘glamping’…
Not for noting do I call myself the ‘glamour granny’. I’m the first to admit that I just love a touch of glitz, that I prefer silk to polyester and won’t leave home without lip gloss. In fact, I don’t even stay home without. This however isn’t just vanity, for me it has a lot to do with discipline and self respect. Start letting yourself go and the rest of your life will very fast follow suit.
When it comes to travel I like style and comfort too. I’m not opposed to adventure, mud, pot holes, deserts, dust, heat and tropical rain. As long as I can find refuge somewhere to clean up., preferably free of cockroaches, snakes and scorpions or any kind of creepy crawleys. Which is, why I’m not fond of camping. Having said that, life can throw you a curve and the ‘art’ is to make the best of it, accept circumstances gracefully and bring a touch of glamour into the inevitable. Which is then called ‘glamping’. So far, I’ve only once been confronted with such a situation and here is the story for you to enjoy.
Last I went on a Greek island hopping trip. One of my stops was the Cyclades island of Naxos where I was to meet a writer friend . I knew that the lady in question was a camping fan, something I had never done in my life and, frankly had no intention of trying out now. But, she assured me that the camping site of Agia Nicolaos was very clean pretty and that they also had cabins for those who didn’t want to rough it in a tent. Then she kindly made a reservation for me.
Nice beach, no?
I arrived in Naxos via ferry from Mykonos, my friend was waiting for me at the terminal and we made our happy way to Agia Nicolaos. I proceeded to the reception of the camp site, where the lady informed me, that, regrettably, they had no vacancy for a cabin. “But”, she continued with a broad grin, “you can have a tent. We’ll also give you a sleeping bag and a mattress”. My dismay latest only for a few moments, then my spirit of adventure took over. Why ever not? Let’s see if I can’t find some glamour in sleeping au naturel and try out the concept of ‘glamping’.
I didn’t feel like going to hunt for other accommodation, I wanted to see the island and have fun with my friend. “Will you pitch the tent next to my friend’s?” I asked. “Sure,” she said and sent me off with an attendant to fix up my new lodgings. I can tell you, my courage nearly left me when I saw the tent. It barely reached my waist fully pitched, the so called mattress was paper-thin and so was the sleeping bag.
First I learned how to crawl in and out without bringing the whole thing down. If you look at it the right way, it’s actually good exercise. Knee bents and push ups out of necessity. Next came a quick trip to the supermarket and the acquisition of a tiny pillow and two brightly colored beach towels. Hey presto, my ‘home’ was complete.
Sitting in front of my 'holiday home'
After much giggles we returned to Naxos town for some sightseeing and food. I was delighted with Naxos’ Venetian past. A massive castle and ancient houses tower above the harbor and city. We entered by what’s called the old market and just meandered through for hours, enjoying new sights at every twist and turn.
The Venetian castle of Naxos
Then we returned to the harbor and walked across the causeway to admire Naxos’ most famous landmark: the remaining columns of an Apollo temple, rising sky high on a tiny island surrounded by the crashing waves of the sea. You get well sprayed on the walk across the causeway too and if the typical strong wind is blowing you better be careful.
View down from the causeway
Stomachs started to growl and we had octopus in one of the many restaurants topped by the best and most lavish dish of ice cream I had eaten in a long time.
Evening fell and after a few fortifying ouzos and watching the sun go down over the beach in Agia Nicolaos the real challenge started by trying to get my clothes off in my tiny tent without making a spectacle of myself and to find a more or less comfortable position to sleep. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as stiff as I thought I might be when dawn broke and I decided to get up and have a shower. Communal shower of course. I approached and heard already laughter, the running of water and, definitely mixed voices coming from the ladies. What can I tell you? A bunch of young French girls and boys were having themselves a party in the shower and stopped dead when I entered. For a moment they gave me the evil eye, waiting to see if the ‘granny’ would get upset.
I couldn’t help but laugh and simply asked if I could join the party. Out came a gallon bottle of cheap red wine, some plastic glasses and a tub of melting chocolate ice cream. I was invited to help myself to both and took a swig of the wine, but passed on the ice cream. One shower stall was graciously vacated for me and we parted company with many wished for a happy holiday.
The glamour crisis was averted because tent, insects and communal showers or not: you can manage everything in style. It’s just a question of the right attitude.
Posted by inka on Feb 10, 2012 in Greece trips
, Greek islands
It seems to me that prospective ‘Greek island hoppers’ much favor the Aegean Sea. They tend to head for the Cyclades which include such famous names as Mykonos, Delos, Ios and Santorini or, further afield Rhodes and of course Crete.
But, don’t forget, there is also the Ionian Sea, bordering the Northwest coast of the Peloponnese with its centre piece: the island of Corfu. Being a history fan, the name of the island is immediately in my mind connected to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, more popularly known as Sissi. Tragically assassinated on the shores of Lake Geneva by an Italian anarchist in 1898, she was an avid traveler and loved the island of Corfu where, in 1890, she built a summer palace, the splendid Achilleion. More European royalty followed suit, the Achilleion was in fact bought by the German Kaiser Wilheml II in 1907, who added the Kaiser bridge to facilitate access from the palace to the beach.
Empress Elisabeth of Austria
Early ‘tourismto the island was indeed quite classy and of course one wants to know what attracted these people in the first place. Corfu is very different from the aforementioned islands in the Aegean Sea. Not much by way of white washed houses with blue shutters baking under the sun. The climate is hot in summer and quite cold in winter with lots of rain which accounts for the fact that it is green, green, green. Thousands upon thousands of olive trees cover the grounds. And then there is the fact that Corfu was under the rule of Venice from 1386 to 1797. The Ottomans had a short, unsuccessful go, then the French, then the British until Corfu finally became Greek which indeed it originally was in antiquity. But the Venetian influence makes Corfu and in particular the capital Italianate. A vast citadel which reflects the many wars which were fought over the island, totally encloses the Old Town which features elegant buildings, such as the famous colonnaded Liston as well as narrow, winding streets with colorful houses, shops and great museums. Throw in a touch of France, Greek food, culture and music and you have a cosmopolitan mixture with a very unique charm.
Corfu is mountainous with Mount Pantokrator its highest elevation at 1000 meters. Blessed with beautiful beaches and elegant spas, Corfu is a destination for every taste. Don’t miss out next time you plan Greek island hopping.