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Early next morning, we were having a lavish breakfast in the dining hall over -looking the swimming pool, when we noticed some birds hanging head down to drink from the pool, clinging  to the brickwork.  We were suitably enchanted and, when we were coming out to get on the bus, we saw hundreds of these birds hanging from their tear-drop nests.  We had found the African weaver birds!  We’d been seeing their image on T-shirts and the like, but they were more marvelous than we expected.


Weaver stance

Another day of travel, across the last bits of Swaziland, including a good sized town, where folks were preparing for a wedding [or other] feast buying goats and other goodies.  It’s considered a snobbish thing to say that people are happy in poverty, but the vibrancy and bustle of the folks we saw in rural Africa convinced me that most people live life surrounded by the love of their families and the love of God and make the best of it.  Only in the cities did we see bitterness and unrest.

We stopped at Ngwenya Glass Complex in Swaziland, quite a sophisticated place that turns trash-glass into wonderful tourist art.  I myself bought a glass warthog, with pewter head and legs.  And who wouldn’t want such a fine thing?  Other folks were buying huge things which we marveled over their ability to get them on the bus, let alone the airplanes.  There were wonderful linens, baskets, bowls and legions of peafowl screaming on the grounds.  We bought a small one of each but the fowl.  Ngwenya Glass claims, “The glass is always greener on our side.”

We crossed the border back into South Africa without incident and our next stop was at the Matsumo Village, home to ex-pat Swazi people who can gain the right to vote in SA.  The village is a living history example of a Swazi village [and not ancient history, either].  We were given a wonderful tour by a gorgeous young lady in native dress, sort of a wrap-around dress of stiff fabric [likely originally bark cloth].  Married women added a shawl over one shoulder and darker colors.  The men wore short kilts, with fur around upper arms and calves.

The women of our tour were told that we had to allow the men to enter the huts first, as befitted their status.  Many a lady was bitterly complaining, when I pointed out to them how low the entryway was.  If they preceded the men, there would be very awkward face to butt proceedings.  There is sometimes logic in these things.



Bowing to enter

I watched an "older" lady weaving large loose baskets which I could see were used to shelter chickens.  Some of the young men were on a hut roof tying down the thatch and they gave me a hank of rope as a souvenir.  I was baffled to see that the rest of our group had bee-lined to the amphitheater, grabbing up the seats as if their very lives depended on it.


Chicken houses                                 and the weaver of them

We found excellent standing room along the back wall; perfect since when the music and dance began I could dance along [discretely, I assure you].  Oh it was a marvelous show!  Imagine the best gospel choir you’ve ever heard, with one voice leading and singing over, under, around and through the other voices.  Hear them singing four part harmony, with sopranos sweetly arcing over deep bass.  Add drums and dancing featuring high kicks and short spear brandishing and you get a shadow of the beauty.  I was entranced, and, when suddenly I realized the group was singing in English “Jesus died and rose again” I raised my hands in worship.  I thought, these are truly my brothers and sisters in Christ, though we are from different hemispheres, indeed, different worlds altogether.



Men as they are meant to be

From the sublime to the mundane, we made our way to a buffet lunch, where the same performers served us lunch and bussed the tables! 


A good doze on the bus and we awoke near our hotel at Hazyview, hard by Kruger National Park.  Another of the Protea chain, it is a charming camp-type hotel, sprawling over grassy lawns and tended trees, where you could stay a month.  We had two nights.

But what a night!  We had impala meat and bread pudding.

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We were up at 5 am, eating “rusks” in the hotel lobby.  We thought they were dog biscuits at first, but they went down all right with coffee.  The hotel had packed take along boxes for us and, clutching these and shivering, we piled into the bus, well ahead of dawn.  All so that we could arrive at Hluhluwe National Park right at first light.  Hluhluwe is pronounced Shu-shu-we of course, sort of like the Phil Colllins song. 

We piled into safari trucks that seated 10 and we were off. 



Safari, so goodie

There were quite a number of private vehicles, so it was like a safari park tourist thing in the US.  [I look forward to going to one of these to compare.  And we did ride such a thing at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in FL.]  But this comparison did not diminish in any way the thrill and amazement of seeing this animals in the native bush country.

Here are the animals we saw:

   
White rhinos


Zebra


Wart hogs

Nyala [nee-A-la] antelope
Cape buffalo
Giraffes
All kinds of birds
Vervet monkeys
Lion [just barely]
And ant nests in the trees that look like big black goiters.

Sometime in all of this, we stopped for breakfast at Hilltop Camp, where the crew had made a lavish hot breakfast.  But we knew it was still “camp” food because there was merely instant coffee.  A vervet monkey was nearby, in case anyone dropped any crumbs; he ran across the tin roof to try to assure that would happen.  But, we were all too hungry to share. 



Monkey pic--- this is not actually the monkey, but that's the label that came up.


This is the vervet monkey

Finished at Hluhluwe, we piled back on our coach and snoozed a bit on the long drive to Swaziland.  A small kingdom, surrounded by South Africa, Swaziland hearkens back to tribal times.  Ruled by a king, no one has voting rights; every year there is a festival where the Swazi girls dance bare-breasted before the king.  He gets to choose one as a bride.  Yes, every year.  The Swazi flag features a lion to represent the king and a she elephant to represent his mother, who acts as Queen.  The black and white Swazi shield, lozenge-shaped, is on a field of red, with gold and blue stripes edging the red.  Adopted in 1967, the flag is all highly symbolic, with the gold literally meaning gold, which is the source of income for the Swazi.

We walked through customs, leaving South Africa and entering Swaziland.  This is taken very seriously, for you cannot get into SA if you do not have the proper stamps.  We noticed a large container on one of the desks full of free condoms.  Stuart [our guide] later told us that working girls hitch a ride with a trucker as he passes through the tiny country; and return with another going the other way.  Indeed, we saw a young [!] woman carefully counting out how many condoms she would need.  AIDS has taken a horrific toll in Africa, so it was actually a good thing to see her being careful.


Swazi village fence at Nisela

We stopped to eat our carry-along boxes for lunch at Nisela Camp, a sprawling Cousin Vinny’s where you can sit outside and have drinks brought to you.  There is a small Swazi village for rent for special occasions.  We watched as a group set up for a wedding.  Ron had Sibebe Premium Lager.  Ron now says, “It was wet.”  I believe that at the time, he said, “It tastes like American beer.  It’s good.”  But I didn’t write it down word for word.  Our carry-out boxes from the hotel were lavish and we had a lot let over for Stuart to take to his friends at the Candle Factory.

We conked out on the long drive to our next Cousin Vinny stop, the Swazi Candle Factory, much as we hated to miss the scenery.  From what we saw, Swaziland is wide open range country, with rustic, but not poverty stricken villages along a major, well-kept express way.  The King and Queen each have lavish palaces perched on low hills, approached by long, well-watered boulevards. 

The Swazi Candle Factory is not at all what we expected, but a compound of shops selling very nice stuff, as well as CTC.  If you are interested, their brochure lists their address as—Malkerns Valley 26° 31’ 49” S 31° 11’ 60” E.  And <www.swazicandles.com>

What we bought was good quality, so we were glad to buy.  My favorite store was Yebo!, where I bought postcards that state, “Rabbits against fascism.”  Then we repaired to the diner, where we bought carrot cake to go, and then proceeded to eat it right then and there.  I personally wanted to have to go-box refilled, but wiser heads prevailed.

And another long drive.  For a tiny country, it did take all day to cross, what with border crossing and 2 Cousin Vinny’s.  Quite worn out, we ate in our room from our stash of cheese, crackers, dried fruit and cookies.  We watched the sun set on Sheba’s Breasts…which are mountains.  The tour guide says, “The distinctive twin peaks are clearly visible from the Malagwane Hill when traveling from Mbabane into the Ezulwini Valley.”  Be that as it may, we stayed at the Mountain Inn.


A little bit of Sheba

The inn has an open layout, with many rooms opening to the courtyards and others along cloister-like and balcony hallways.  Very charming, it was the kind of place you’d like to settle in for a week to do nothing.

 

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Bright and early, we flew from Cape Town to the Durban airport, named after Shaka Zulu.  An  Attila the Hun sort of a guy, he tried to bring all the Zulu tribes under his dictate; it was a very bloody empire and did not survive him.  Just so you know, very little of his territory was in what is now South Africa, so this wasn’t a “native vs. white invaders” thing.   South Africa was very underpopulated and a wild country; no one really wanted it until they all wanted it.  You can read popular history of South Africa in James Michener’s The Covenant.



A good read

About 2 hours ahead of sundown, we arrived at the St. Lucia Estuary, a sort of fistula of the Indian Ocean on Africa’s east coast, though it is sweet water.  As soon as we approached the water, we saw hippos, yes HIPPOPOTAMI!!  They are enormous, ugly, beasts, left over from the Pleistocene era of mammal gigantism. [as are elephants and rhinos]. 

             
Hippos in the St. Lucia Estuary

We climbed on the boat, a large version of The African Queen, [book by Forster, who wrote the Hornblower series], with the awning and the noisy motor.  There were about 50 of us, rather than Bogart and Hepburn.  We then saw the full pod, which included babies.  Our 2 hour cruise [♪♫♪♪♫] took us up the estuary and back down the other side.  Each hippo pod has its own area, rather like any suburban neighborhood.  The hippos lounge in the water all day, but only feed at night, when they come onshore to graze.  It is then that they are the most dangerous to people.  And with the sun setting in the west, we stayed aboard our boat.  We saw 1 small Nile crocodile as well.  These are extinct now in the Nile itself, but were a big deal in ancient Egypt, where they and the hippos were greatly [and justly] feared.

There were also many many birds.

A fishing eagle


African Pied Wagtail


Egrets


And, finally, a hippo skull on the boat






Back on the bus, we drove to the charming Hluhluwe Protea hotel.  Hluhluwe is pronounced Shu-shu-we of course, sort of like the Phil Colllins song.  We had a splendid meaty dinner polished off by bread pudding.  This is the Africaans cuisine; who needs veg anyway?

God’s own country.



 
A day on our own.  The tour group was going to optional tours, such as Shark Cage Diving and Wine Country.  We had planned our own day before we left home.  I should mention that we always buy the DK guidebook to anywhere we plan to go.  They are not cheap but are in full color and have wonderful advice.  The pictures provide a souvenir as well.  The South Africa version included a section on game spotting.



Swing Bridge with 2 swingers

So Ron and I returned to Victoria Wharf.  We shopped and greatly enjoyed the Water Shed, a cavernous building of tin siding full of booths selling arts and crafts.  The US $ is at a great rate vs. the Rand right now and we found fabulous bargains and endless cleverness.  The lion [and many other animals] are made from used flip flops, glued together and carved.



Flip Flop Lion

We had cold tabouleh and husami [rice pilaf and fried cheese] for lunch and made our way to the Two Oceans Aquarium.  As we entered, we could already see a feeding frenzy taking place.



Feeding Times

I was hoping from the name [Two Oceans] that the aquarium would be set up to compare and contrast the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, which do come together off the southern coast of Africa, not at the Cape of Good Hope, but Cape Agulhas.  Although it was a nice aquarium, with a truly fine café latte in the snack bar, it was modest in scope.  We saw a number of critters we’re not familiar with.


Jimmy Durante  fish = Black musselcracker
Tail up Pipe Fish

And a nice display of African penguins which was nifty but paled in comparison with the wild ones.  The jellyfish display was psychedelic.



Jellies

Right outside the aquarium was a large low building that we took for a grocery store, but was in fact, an array of food booths like you find at major urban rail stations.  Both take-away foods and food fixings, we bought some Malay spices and candy [for our hosts, see below].

We walked back to the museum, toting our finds, and actually did have time to visit Mambo’s, a plastic wonderland.  Oh, how I wished for an extra suitcase, but I settled for some jewelry-size zipper bags and some glue and scissors.  [No matter how I plan, I never seem to have these items when I travel.]

We rested a bit [2 hour nap!] and freshened up, for our dinner was to be at the home of a local family [an optional tour, that we are growing very fond of].  We bussed to the home of proud “colored” family, the Gordons.  Under apartheid, regular folks like you and me would be classed as “colored” if you had any mixed ancestry.  Melting pot, in other words.  Might be black African, Indian, Malay or any other mix.  This is not a shameful term to most of these people, they told us, and welcomed any questions.  Our hostess had made us a lavish dinner of Cape Cuisine dishes, which included a mix of spicy chili-like stew based on Indian spices; wraps of pita and hashed meats; flavorful rice dishes, with a pudding dish for dessert.



Dinner

Included in the family at table were her husband, a blue collar worker and her brother, a professor at a local college; her teenaged daughter helped cook and serve and left after they were introduced.  There were 10 or so of our tour group, so it was a crowded, noisy room, but our hosts circulated and talked to all of us.  They were quite interested when I told them that the history of South Africa is also the history of Virginia:
·         founded by a private company who ran the colony for profit;
·         slavery was introduced by the Dutch early on;
·         women were scarce;
·         natives and colonists had an up and down relationship;
·         land ownership was grossly unfair;
·         SA had a gold rush, VA had a tobacco rush;
·         20th century attempt to keep the races separate [but “equal”], the results of which we are all still dealing with.




 

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Breakfast buffet and back on the bus [with a bumbling bunch of babbling baboons].  There were 40 of us, being shepherded by Stuart.  He has a good sense of humor, but takes no nonsense.  He made it clear from the get-go that he would only be responsible for 1 [one] suitcase, properly labeled, for each of us.  As the trip progressed, it was quite amazing how luggage increased exponentially.  Not us; we were following our new paradigm of ‘light and small” gifts and souvenirs.

But I digress.  We made for Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, on the slopes of Table Mtn.  We had to assume it was still there, as the cloud tablecloth had settled down on top.  We rejoiced again that Stuart had got us there yesterday.  Kirstenbosch is enormous and we had only 3 hours there, so we headed past the Bonsai toward the Tree Canopy Walkway by way of the Conservatory.



Bonsai [most more than 100 years old, and chained down!]


Cecil Rhodes [miner and founder of DeBeers Diamonds] was the last to own the land, though he didn’t live there for long.  He bequeathed it to the nation for the public.  In this it reminds me of the Huntington family, Getty and the Rockefellers.  The rich earneth and they giveth back.

There were very few folks there on a weekday morning: a few enthusiasts offering to share their knowledge; a group of birders with cameras; mothers and toddlers.  And 40 Americans.  As I mentioned last blog, West South Africa is its own floral kingdom and the Garden was one of the best places to get the feel for this.  The Conservatory featured strange desert plants native in the Kalahari to the north.

Welwitschias have a long tap root for desert living

I spotted “Mickey Mouse Rock” which the map thought was “Castle Rock”.  Does this look like a castle to you?


Mickey Mouse
The Tree Canopy Walkway had just opened recently and is unique.  A slightly swaying bridge meandered around the tree tops, allowing the visitor to see down 30 feet to the forest floor, while appreciating the tree tops.  If you ever played “MYST” you have seen such a walkway. 


 
Tree Canopy Walkway                                                MYST by Cyan

Returning to the entrance, we passed a flock of birders avidly scanning the bushes.  Suddenly I saw an animal in the shrubs!!  Then I saw it was a gardener on her hands and knees, laughing at me.


Flowers

The gift shop was very fine and I bought little zip up containers made from the ends of water bottles and decoupaged with fabric [or paper?].  Recycling is big in SA.

Our bus then took us to Bo Kaap neighborhood on the slopes of the "City Bowl", so called because the mountains form a natural ampitheater for the center of town.  Bo Kaap means "above the cape".  These row houses were originally homes for freed slaves, who celebrated by making each one unique in color and decor.  Now, they are being bought up by downtown businessmen who fancy a quickie with the mistress before going home-- no, no, I mean who sometimes work very late and must stay in town for the night.  We saw some of the gorgeous women who--no doubt-- are the housekeepers for such businessmen.  They ran everyone else off the sidewalk; the men of our town were suddenly open-mouthed and mesmerized.

Views of Bo Kaap


Back on the bus, we headed for Victoria Reef, the enormous waterside shopping mall of Cape Town.  It was very upscale and none of the stores had clothes even approaching my size.  Even Woolworth, which in SA is a boring clothing store, not a fascinating 5 and Dime with a lunch counter.  Upscale malls are good for one thing—Pylones!  We discovered this funky place in Paris years ago and have visited one in Tornino, NYC and Amsterdam.  They are quite pricey, but we bought a frog-shaped egg-separator for our son.  And how I wish could have brought one for YOU.

Heading out the back door, however, we found a delightful balcony for lunch at the Greek Fisherman.  Ron’s “Greek Village salad” really was = tomatoes, cukes and olives, no lettuce.  I had “lamb shavings” which was not wool but meat, thank goodness.

From our table, we could see the working harbor: school kids in uniform going on boats to tour; ship repair [we found out later that Cape Town is the Hampton Roads of Africa] ; many more shops and a great deal of bustle.  Just during lunch, the weather changed over and over, revealing then concealing Table Mtn.



Harbor View

After lunch we took a 30 minute harbor tour featuring some old time cranes and the roads full of shipping.  [I really love shipping and freight].



Cranes

Moving along, we found a warehouse building jammed with artisan booths, selling handmade art at modest prices. The cleverest was a gentleman who makes animal sculpture from old flipflops.  “Using art to save the planet.”

Moving along the harbor, we saw seals lounging in a fenced area, free to come and go.



Seals

We found the most wonderful place called African Trading Company.  It being only our second day in Africa, we were afraid to buy much, but the prices were amazingly low.  In fact, we had a very good exchange rate all during this trip.

Finishing up our day, we walked back to the hotel well before dark, ate a very modest meal in the hotel room.  ZZZZZ

 

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The hotel’s breakfast buffet, which was very nice indeed, included a mystery fruit, which looked like a small purple pomegranate and tasted nasty. 

Passion fruit


Hustling onto our bus, I saw Mambo’s Plastics Warehouse across the street.  I was quite interested to read that they had a Widget Range of products.  Imagine my disappointment to find it was “widest range”.  I still determined to visit, if I had a chance.

Mambo’s



Our guide, Stuart MacMillan, just 3 generations out of Scotland, was to be much admired.  We were ignorant of Cape Town our first morning, but he knew enough to get us up to Table Mountain right away, as there were no clouds.  We had less than an hour wait [which to be indelicate, I spent in the restroom, reading about how they have to haul water to the top of the mountain via the cableway].

 
Water up the Cableway

We learned that the Cape of Good Hope is one of the 6 Plant Kingdoms in the world, just a spot on the map, really.  So I took lots of plant pictures, none of which I can now identify.  But the Protea, in many forms, is king here.  And I didn’t get one photo of it anywhere.  Just Google it.  But I did identify Rock Hyrax.  They are about the size of a large cat, and like cats, love toasting in the sun


Rock Hyrax

Rising 3,558 ft. from sea level Cape Town, Table Mountain was a landmark long before Dutch settlers started the colony.  Ships out of Europe bound for India and the Indies used it to distinguish Cape Bay from False Bay, where many foundered thinking they had rounded the cape.  Of course, as we learned, Table Mountain plays hide and seek.


Ron with Table Mountain one day



Ron without Table Mountain the next day

Thus [dis-]oriented, we descended, boarded the bus and began our tour of the Cape Peninsula.  Cape Town itself actually faces north, protected by the peninsula ending in the Cape of Good Hope.  Our tour took us all the way to the Cape itself and back.  Passing Hout’s Bay, we saw 2 pods of orcas frolicking, followed by a twisting Chapman’s Peak Drive, with sheer cliffs dropping to the ocean.  Then we crossed the peninsula to Simon’s Town for a fabulous lunch of seabass with lemon butter.  I went for a wade in the tiny bay and found the water shockingly cold.  Stuart had told us that the water comes straight up from Antarctica, which is why there is a colony of African penguins on Boulder Beach.  We humans had to stay on a boardwalk, while the penguins got the run of the beach.  They are the size of a large cat and not intimidated by people at all.  They must think that people have weird faces, since we all were holding cameras to our eyes.


African Penguins

Do you ever have a moment that is so perfect that you could die right then and not regret it?  Seeing wild penguins was such a moment for me.  [This is not to say that I wasn’t amazed spitless as this trip progressed].  In fact, as we resumed our tour, we saw more animals I never thought I’d see in the wild.  And this was our first day!

Eland

Ostrich

The Cape of Good Hope is not the southern-most point of Africa; nor does is mark the border between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.  That honor goes to Cape Agulhas, much to the east.  Nonetheless, we were excited to be there.  Nearly blown away, in fact, as the winds were gusting to 60 mph.

Waves

Then we made our way up to the headland above the cape.  Many folks were going up to the lighthouse, but we sat down for a latte in a café overlooking Buffalo Bay, watching the winds, waves and clouds.  Ron also saw a breaching whale.  He had the look on his face of “I really did just see that!”  The local birds were employed in bussing the tables.


Bird with French fry.

Heading to the bus, we were entertained by baboons wandering around the parking lot.  Baboons [pronounced b’boons] are nasty people as a rule, so we watched from a polite distance.  One unlucky tourist however, had a camera lens swiped by a young baboon. 

Baboon


Stunned by all this in our first day, we bussed back to town, for a lovely dinner together at Beluga, just a short walk from our hotel.  I had Mushroom Gnocchi, with a Truffle Emulsion.  It sounds like a chemistry experiment but it was delicious.



 
A long time ago in Italy, we met a family from South Africa.  We were on an Italian cruise line waiting 3 hours for our passports to be returned to us.  And we talked.  They told us that if we ever wanted to go on a safari, South Africa was the best destination.  [Especially now that they have a government [in contrast to the past and to neighboring countries.]  Then, Ron’s former boss went there—they make antenna simulation software there—and we were convinced.

We’re not getting any younger [although recently, we have gotten lighter], so we thought sooner rather than later, and booked a trip with Gate1, who led our successful Greek tour a year ago.

The cheapest flight took us through Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and then several hundred miles back to the west to the toe of Africa.  We drove up to Washington DC and stayed in a hotel near the airport, since it was a fairly early flight [10:10, check-in 3 hours ahead].  We never get cheap when it comes to making a flight; DC traffic is as bad as LA.

Leaving our car at the economy parking and sitting in Economy class on the plane is ‘us all over.’

The 13 hour flight to Dubai saw us sitting in the center of the plane, hoping to get some sleep.  We didn’t.  But I watched: the opera “Turondot “ twice, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds [surprisingly interesting], “The Mummy” with Tom Cruise [awful]; “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” [really really groot]; all the while being buffeted by clear air turbulence.  We also got fed twice, hot food, no additional charge!

Ordinary menu----



How do you get Golden Arches out of Arabic?---
   

We had a brief layover in Dubai, enough to go shopping and take a few photos of the world’s tallest building hazed by a sandstorm.  Now, here is the problem.  I am going to count UAE as a country I have been to, since we actually set foot on the tarmac, could see downtown AND I bought a souvenir [a camel key chain].  Ron does not count this as a true visit.  So now I have 1 more country on my list than he does.  This is not MY problem. 

The world's tallest building as seen through blowing sand--


The airport is the most exotic I’ve ever been to, filled with nationals from around the world.  It truly is a hub and the Emirs that envisioned it thus were very smart men.  There were an amazing amount of Indians there, which makes sense as a stop on the way to India.  I just hadn’t thought of that.  And folks from all over Africa, and even China.  I rank the prayer room facing Mecca IN THE WOMEN’S RESTROOM as the highlight of my visit to Dubai.


Ron had booked us window seats for the flight over Africa, as we were hoping to see the Great Rift Valley, but in fact, most of the 8 hour trip was over water.  Then, we flew almost directly west to Cape Town.  I watched “Marilyn Monroe Declassified” which seeks to prove she was murdered by the mob, which story was well known even back then.  [Which reminds me: in Dallas there is a Kennedy Museum in the former book depository.  One tourist signed the guest book, “Oh JFK, where are you now?  We need you!”  And another guest wrote below, “I’m in heaven having sex with Marilyn Monroe.”]

But I cannot leave us hovering above Cape Town, waiting to land.  [Not in heaven exactly, but what we like to say is “Ron and Carol in their natural surroundings—traveling somewhere.”]

Sunset over Cape Town--                                           


Table Mountain with tablecloth of cloud-- 



The end of our 2 day jouney saw us greeted at the airport by our Gate1 guide who whisked us to Victoria Junction Protea hotel.  We stayed in Proteas all over Greece.  They are quite nice for the most part.

We asked Stuart where we might get some cokes and,  after warning us that the streets of Cape Town are never safe, he said, “Spa.  Look for the green tree emblem.”

With the help of some friendly drunks, we found SPAR, the British grocery chain.  We ate croissants, with cheese from the airplane for supper.  And with Coke Light, lights out.
 

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Mykonos is possibly the best known of the Greek isles, due to Jackie Onassis hanging around there.  I’ll never forget the huge controversy when she got off her yacht wearing pink and orange together.  Now this is a thing, as in p’orange.

Mykonos is also the most touristy of the islands, probably for the same reason.  Here, you can stay in old windmills, rehabbed to be quite costly. 

Mykonos is also the nearest island to Delos, the most sacred of the Greek isles.  No one lives there, but the ruins are world famous.  The pathways are likewise ruinous, we discovered.

We arrived via ferry from Santorini.  Our tour company had reserved airplane-style seats for us, so we relaxed for the 1 ½ hour scoot across the water, water-planing smoothly.  I was aghast to discover that the romantic island of Naxos, where Dionysus fell madly in love with Ariadne [you remember, after Perseus had abandoned her], is actually pronounced “Nachos.”  Alas.

Leaving the ferry with 400 of our best friends, we actually found our luggage unmolested and our Gate 1 bus right there to take us to our hotel, hanging over the harbor in the most romantic way.  [We did not need a vehicle for the rest of our stay, since Mykonos is quite walkable.]

This time, our guide kept us much too long describing all of the best party beaches and how you can’t really get there.  But the hotel provided a refreshing glass of cherry juice and we finally got to go to our room.  The hotel is built on a series of terraces, which gently make their way down to the swimming pool and eventually to the harbor.  The breeze off the Aegean blows day and night, so we slept with the French doors open at night and the long white curtains billowed in from the tiny balcony.


After a rest, we walked down to the “corniche”.4 On Mykonos, it skirts a beach full of feral cats and men fishing for octopus; on this scene, we found the Kavos restaurant poised directly on the water for souvlaki and gyros.  Thousands walked past us, presumably from a cruise ship, but we ignored them and watched the sun set over the little bay.  Just before it was gone, the sun cast blue shadows on the white seawall.  When we were finished eating, the waiter cleared our plates by throwing the leftovers into the sea, where scads of tiny fish were waiting.

blue shadows----

 Kavos----



Vignettes of Mykonos---

     

     


We found a small but excellent maritime museum the second day---

Courtyard--- Trireme---

The next morning, we wandered into Old Town taking loads of photos and window shopping.  Very high-end shops, scenic, but a little precious for my taste.  Worn out, we walked up the hill to the hotel pool; we had been told that the hotel bar was open when the restaurant was not.  We thought perhaps a cold drink and some snack food, but the bar turned out to be a fantastic source for freshly made fruit plate and pita with tzatziki [yoghurt with herbs and cucumbers].  As the waiter brought over our food and drinks to the awning’d / bench’d nook we’d claimed, he introduced himself.
           “I’m Saki”
           “Psycho?” asked Ron.  [much hilarity]


After an interlude by the pool [too lazy to swim] we took a nap.   Greek islands lend themselves to such indulgence.  We had planned on a museum visit, but the size [small] and cost [large] dissuaded us and we wandered back to town, finally returning to “our place” on the corniche for a supper to fresh tomatoes and a Greco pizza.  This time, I threw the leftover pizza bones [crust] to the fishes and tiny crabs.

Sunday Oct. 1 saw us up early to catch the ferry the short distance to Delos.  We realized suddenly that this was, ironically, our second Sunday visiting a major shrine to Apollo.  But then, SUNday is named for him.

We grabbed some extremely delicious buns and “filter” coffee at a patisserie near the hotel.  We needn’t have rushed, as we had to wait at the ferry a very long time for a tour group to arrive [from a nearby luxury sail-ship cruise].  Arriving at Delos, we were greeted at the ticket booth by an official cat.

The tour group went haring off with a purpose, so we went the other way and had the site almost to ourselves.  The lower section of the island is well-paved and well signed plus we had a map and a purchased guidebook [bought in town the day before].  We enjoyed fresh squeezed OJ at a tiny café—with cats—and toured the museum.  Most of the finds on the island are housed in the museum for preservation, with replicas in situ.  This is the pattern for ancient sites, and we take great pains to find out where the originals are before we plan our trip.  [EG, the original art from Pompeii is in the city of Naples.  Very very few people realize this, though the replicas are quite good, you’re missing the real deal].

Gatekeeper---

original lion statues---


Outside, we began climbing Mt. Cynthus, seeing the temple to Isis in her Greek form.  Delos is a strange mix of great care and carelessness.  Many of the houses were reconstructed but gated, so it was too dark to see the floor mosaics within.   Others were open to the elements, buckling where water stood.  This housing district, late Greek, early Roman, was evocative of its times, like Pompeii, but without the tragedy.  We gazed, fascinated, at huge half-burned storage pots; doorways of marble where the locations of doors and locks could be seen etched into the soft stone; niches in the walls where the family gods [lares] would have been placed.  We paused to rest in the large amphitheater, then began our descent, unable to reach the top of Mt. Cynthus.

OH! The trek downhill was most treacherous.  The pathway had been washed out at some point and never repaired. Thus worn down to stubs, we boarded the boat for Mykonos, taking many photos of the mountain, where we dared to tread.

our ferry from the mountain----



the mountain from the ferry---


As we ferried, we could look down into the water to see clearly down 40-50 feet.  Then, as the sea floor fell away, the water became “wine-dark” as Homer describes it.  It is not purple like wine, but a dark translucent quality of which “wine-dark” is descriptive.  And , upon this thought, 3000 years fell away.

Early next morning, we boarded out short flight to Athens.  There were cats in the waiting room at the Mykonos airport, feral, but lap-sitters nonetheless, shifting from lap to lap as people got up for their flights.  I think airport therapy cats should be a thing!

Miserable wait in Athens as the BA counter wasn’t open yet, but after we finally got through security, we found a huge McDonalds with power plug-in s at the tables and plenty of room to park luggage.  Kudos to Ronald!!  We took turns visiting the airport museum, wherein were showcased the finds from the building of the airport…a mere 15 year ago.  Scratch the earth in Greece and you’ll find a treasure.

Four hours to London; seven hours to Dulles [DC] and home.

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Waking up on Santorini to bright morning sun, curtains blowing in from our tiny patio [we slept with the French doors open], Bougainvillea flowers skittering across the concrete, my black sand drying on the little table outside, an old well up the hill from our doors.  Breakfast in the sun on the hotel’s large, multi-leveled outdoor dining porches.



Then we walked downhill from our perch, trekking along the cliff-clinging stone-paved pathway high above the sea.  Each step

brought more photo-perfect scenes:




tiny walled loggias with potted plants;





steps going up and down in every direction to houses, shops and restaurants



bright sun over stone paved pathways and whitewash. 



Down into the town of Fira [over time, Thera in Greek became Fira in modern Greek, which has a lot of Turkish in it]. 



There was no WC in the Archaeological Museum, so we went across the sloping street to a tavern for a coke and the facilities.  While Ron was thus engaged, two mule strings went by, bedecked and beribboned, each string of 5-6 with a guide, on their way to carry tourists up the switchback path up the cliff face.  Ron had both cameras with him.

The marvelous museum was small but crammed with treasures from ancient Thera: geometric amphorae up close; funeral objects from 8-7th centuries BC; and my favorite collection of items featuring a bird with a swastika [sometimes eating a snake]!  No one there knew what the symbolism was.  And there were 6 staff members present, outnumbering the tourists.  Not even Google has a post.


From there to the museum of truly old stuff, from Akrotiri: from “marvelous” to “spectacular”!  The Prehistoric Museum houses the original wall paintings from the 18th century BC town, pieced together painstakingly from the floors of the houses, where they had fallen face-down; this is the reason they were preserved at all.  Wonderful motifs of octopi and dolphins, lotus flowers and sailboats.  And the one golden object found: a perfect little goat about 1 inch long.



Brains full and feet tired, we walked downhill to the taxi stand where we scored one of the 27 cabs on the island.  This saved us the long uphill slog to the hotel.  And we were quite satisfied with our purchases for the day: chunks of black pumice and a reproduction of the Cyclades flute player at half the museum cost.



After nap [refer to the first paragraph above, omitting breakfast], we made our way to Mama Thera’s tavern for a sunset meal on a small patio with a dozen friendly people.  Ron had pork with a surprising lemon sauce and I had lamb-kebobs.  As the sun set, the waitress made her way around with blankets for everyone. 


Oh, I want to go back!!
 
Our first stop was the ruins of Akrotiri, a 3500 year old town, destroyed by the volcano that is Santorini.  Not the eruption that blew the entire center out of the island, as is popularly thought, but a much more modest one. The site was discovered by miners removing the light pumice to make concrete [the kind that sets under water].  After this find, mining was stopped.

This place is impossible to describe!  The buildings were 3 or more stories high and the tourist path runs around the top floor!  As at Pompeii, the archaeologists discovered hollows into which they poured plaster.  So far, all the casts were of furniture, trees but no bodies.  But tragedy always lurks and, the head archaeologist, Spiridon Marinatos, was killed when the roof protecting the site collapsed in 1974 [or he died of a stroke].   The site was closed for until a new massive roof was constructed, so we were incredibly fortunate to be there after the re-opening [in 2012].  They hadn’t even finished building the tourist shop, but had it under a temporary pavilion.  Other amenities were also being constructed, but this being Greece, who knows when they’ll be finished.




Bed frames discovered when plaster was poured into spaces in the pumice.

We were guided by a knowledgeable lady, who talked us all around the upper level and then down stairs to the ground floor of the main street of town.  And we walked on the actual street, with my hair literally standing on end with awe.  Actually, it wasn’t allowed to stand on end, as it might have damaged the walls, but I had some mighty goosebumps.


Street level in the Minoan town now called Akrotiri

We changed tour guides at this point and got an airheaded bimbo.  She was in a tearing hurry to get to Cousin Vinny’s winery.  But along the way, we stopped for lunch at Perissa, one of the black sand beaches, made of crumbled pumice.  I gathered some for my World Sand Collection, after eating a wonderful meal of moussaka with—wait for it—eggplant.  Because we ate at a place on the beach, we got to use the beach chairs and umbrellas, as well as the WCs.  I had worn my swimsuit under my clothes, but I found it too cold to swim and, after wading, I took off the suit to be more comfortable.  [but I put the clothes back on, never fear].


A great guy I met on the black sand beach at Perissa.

Next stop was Megalachori.  When our guide was telling us about the village, we told her we couldn’t hear her.  She was quite rude and set off at a brisk trot down the street.  We never did find out why we were there other than its charm.  I had to watch my step throughout, so I saw the pavement.  And the man who was an ardent photographer hung back with us, and Ron also got some scenic photos. 


We then drove to the lofty parking lot of the monastery Profites Ilias [Prophet Elijah] for a 360 degree view of the island and the sea. Some intrepid souls climbed the 3,000,000 steps to the top of the highest peak on Santorini.


Windy Santorini

Mind you, we had 1 ½ hours at Cousin Vinny’s, tasting wine [I had a drink that tasted like Tang, with the other children].  Santos Winery had a big sign saying that they do “welding events.”  We wandered all over the parking lot and watched a welding event at a belvedere overhanging the cliff face.  The female welder wore a long white dress; it seemed like a hazard with all the sparks from her job. 

Finally on our way again, we arrived at Oia [pronounced “EEE-aa.”]  Oia was named by National Geographic, or some such, as one of the 10 best places in the world to watch the sunset.  [The other 9 are in my backyard.]  People were swarming all over the old town, lining up, so many that the island began to tip toward the sea at the edge.  So we headed back away from the crowd and found an open-air cantina serving delicious food, and with a table right on the edge of the cliff.  We had a great view of the sunset, the caldera, boats in the caldera, while we had swordfish and eggplant.  A feral cat strolled by.  For dessert we had kataifi, which are nests of angel hair pasta, baked with pistachios and honey inside.  Mmmmmmm.


CAT vs KATAIFI



Santorini is justly famous for its white-washed homes and hotels, and blue domed churches.  For a wonderful view of it, watch the dream sequence in the Bollywood picture “Bang! Bang!”  Or stay tuned to this channel for our walking trip of the island.


Sunset in Oia