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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








I found it impossible to write of Grecian Isles while under  6” of snow.  And that is the difference between a committed author, who can imagine anything, and me.  Then, we had 2 weeks of Spring weather and I was outside too much to write.  But it got cold again…and warm again…and now it's raining.


See us now on our way back to Athens, discussing how exhausting our bus adventure had been.  Lunch was in Kalambaka, downtown, at the restaurant of an 80 year old wizard, who greeted us in her kitchen, as is traditional in tavernas.  Six huge pots bubbled on the cook surface [Gas? Electric? Fire?—I forgot to look].  She asked what each of us wanted.  Yianni had told us her lamb stew was to die for and we accepted death-by-delicious.  As she was filling my plate I exulted over the eggplant in the stew; she gave me a double portion!  Her grandson [?] helping in the kitchen, remarked on the large portion too.  I ate every morsel and some bread.  Wow!


After lunch, we staggered around the charming town, avoiding touristy places and going to the hardware store.  As we went in, a man stepped through the door to spray oil on his .22 rifle.  We wondered what kind of varmints he might be getting ready for.  This is why we love going to hardware stores around the world; you always see something mind-bending.  Like mink traps in Ireland.

Back on the bus, we crossed the plain of ancient Thebes, now called Thiva, famous in myth as the home of Oedipus Rex, whom we last saw at the theater in Athens.  Yianni asked me if he had told me anything that I didn’t already know.  I told him I didn’t know Thiva was Thebes.  He was sad, but we had both told him that we had studied a lot for the trip.  And that we had a splendid time.

Then he launched into a ridiculous story about a deceased lady, beloved in 2 towns, who was pulled between the two, to become the long, neck-ed lady, represented by the hills in front of us.  I explained that in English “neck-ed” means “without clothes”.  “So I managed to teach him something:  “Neck’d”  I think most everyone else on the bus was asleep by that time, except one couple who laughed at “neck-ed” like we did.

We had traveled 850 miles in 4 days.  Not so very much to an American, but remarkable in how much we saw and how many centuries represented.

And back to the Royal Olympic hotel and a fancy dinner on the roof.  The cool thing was that, though we ordered a light meal from the appetizer menu, the waiter treated us like we were lavish patrons; he even brought us a complimentary plate of tiny desserts!  So our last night in Athens, we looked over the brightly lit temples and monuments, drank coffee and thought, “We never need to come to Greece again, [but I would go if invited.]”  Anyone?...

                         

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the next morning we rose early, had a miserable breakfast, as the kitchen was not yet open, but had laid out stale crackers; we then rode the bus to the airport.  The flight was ½ hour late; we sat on the tarmac another ½ hour, reading the airline’s motto: “Aegean Airlines: we pride ourselves on punctuality.”  That means, “We’re pretty spiffy for Greeks.  So don’t complain.”

For some reason, we weren’t seated together, but were pleased that we both had a window seat!  And a wonderful view of the rather large island of Santorini, as we swooped over, then back again.  Santorini [a corruption of Santa Irenè] is a large crescent-shaped island, with smaller islands nearly completing a circle, the center of which is a volcanic caldera.



We were taken to our hotel, on the tip-top of a hill, with a steep and twisting lane leading to it.  When the Gate1 rep told us about the tours of the island, we grabbed one.  Our plans of walking were ridiculous when we saw the size and the steepness of the island.  So for $43 each, we lined up  a 10 hour tour of Santorini for the following day..











 

The Fire Fairy of Newport News Park

You may not be aware of the existence of the Fire Fairies; they are not as well-known of the other fair folk.  But they live in the nearly-dying embers of a campfire, just when the glowing coals look like ruby red crystals or burning diamonds.  The fairies then ascend from the coals looking just like sparks, rising from the dying fire.  But they are not sparks, but living, breathing fairies.

Zoe and I watched just such an event the other day, whilst camping.  We knew it was a Fire Fairy, in that sudden flash of intuition that sometimes comes to grandmothers and granddaughters on a mild evening in February, when full of s’mores and tired from a perfect day, they stare into the last of the wood burning down to ash.


“It’s a Fire Fairy,” they whispered, knowing how shy such folk are.

“Sometimes,” they continued, alternating sentences, “Fire Fairies fly from the fire to flit around the campground, spying on people.”
“But they must be very careful when it rains!”
“One time, the Fire Fairy landed on a tree to hide, when she thought people had seen her!”
“She accidentally lit the tree on fire!”
“ ‘Oh, nooooo!’ she wailed in her squeaky, raspy little voice. ‘It was an accident!  I never meant to cause a forest fire!’ ”
“Just then, a cloud was passing and heard her sobbing.  ‘What’s that?” he said. ‘I think it’s a Fire Fairy hiding in that burning tree!’”
“So he began to rain on the tree, the Fire Fairy and the campers in the campground.”
“And the forest fire was put out before it could burn a single tree badly.  And the Fire Fairy, being inside the tree, did not get her fire put out.  But the campers grumbled very loudly and went into their tents to sleep.”

The next day, the campers saw the partially burned tree and they put Zoe inside and took a picture.

             
The End.
 

New Newport News News: Glamping edition

All of a sudden, all 5 of us had the weekend off and the February weather was mild and dry.  “Let’s go camping,” texted Andrew from work on Wed.

So he rented us a campsite in Newport News City Park campgrounds for Sat-Sun-Mon.  The Park ranger told him we didn’t have to rent 2 campsites, so it was too cheap to stay home.

B66


By the time we got camp set up, we realized that we were very happy to be glamping = glam-camping, in local parlance.  This involved setting up camp on Fri, Andrew and Theresa leaving to go feed both household’s cats and returning that evening with all the things that were forgotten the first trip out.

Andrew had gotten a campsite within sight of the playground, so Zoe could take herself over whenever she spied other kids there [or could persuade me to go with].  Theresa took a bike ride; we walked over to the camp store with Zoe on her Razor.

Sat evening, I sorted through some wood scraps / half done projects, saving anything worth keeping and the rest we burned, while Ron made the best-ever hamburgers on the camp stove.  Then we had s’mores.

Sunday morning, we went out to breakfast at Vancostas, fed the cats, showered, napped and returned to camp.  Zoe and Theresa took out a foot-paddle boat [$6 per hour CHEAP!!]  Then we all collapsed into lounge chairs, since Theresa and I must practice for our upcoming cruise.  We read, while deciding what to do next [nothing].  Lunch was fabulous chicken salad on croissants.

Andrew and Zoe put together an ultra-light airplane model he’d gotten at the thrift; it really never did achieve what you’d call flight.  It spend the rest of the afternoon nose-dived into the perfectly laid teepee of firewood that Theresa had built from wood Andrew chopped and she collected.  There was a quick trip home to feed cats and take home the bikes and bring back a pressure cooker for making stew.  Theresa had given much thought to how to cook a camp stew, researching recipes and methods.  But since the site had power for RVs, she elected the cooker, which did its wonders in half hour or so, with perfect results.



Just at dark, my brother Robert, wife Pat and son Sam arrived for dump cake made in an iron dutch oven over coals, followed by more s’mores.  Robert was sure to make himself the low-carb version; that is, marshmallows and chocolate with the graham crackers.  Andrew set up his telescope just after we all saw a satellite zipping by in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.  The stars were bright and numerous, even through the light of the fire.  Andrew placed his ‘scope behind the tents and we could view the Orion nebula [it’s the sword tip] and ruddy Mars.  Zoe and I watched the fire burn down to crystalline red coals and wove the story of the Fire Fairy [see next blog]



Monday morning, we broke camp quickly; that is, Zoe and I went off to play and hike while the adults broke camp.  I had seen a boulder through the trees and across a stream that we wanted to explore, but it turned out to be the root mass of a fallen tree, with some standing water and intriguing mud nests.   Anyone know what this is?  Crawdads?



Zoe spotted a tree with a large hole where a missing trunk would have twinned with the still-standing tree and she said, “I could stand in there!”
We quickly hiked to camp for my phone [camera] and she was indeed just the right size to stand in the trunk.  As shown here:



We all drove to IHOP for a lavish breakfast and parted company.  We fed our cat, napped and did some gardening, and gradually realized I really missed our camping companions.  Then we got a text inviting us to home-made potstickers for supper.  It seems Theresa spent all afternoon making potstickers—and missed us too.  So we finished our glamping with dinner and a movie [RiffTraxx “Hillbillies in a Haunted House,” an amazingly bad film wherein there are 2 Alfreds and no Batman].
Another early start for the last day of new and exciting, and our northern-most stop in Greece.  [I still have Thessalonica and Philippi on my list, but neither has much left from the First Century.]

We climbed many switchbacks up to the cliff-face home of the monasteries that fear built.  There were many monasteries in Greece until the Seljuk Turks began to invade from Mongolia in the 11th century.  During that time, few places in Greece were safe.  [An analogy would be Great Britain vs. the Vikings in the 9-10th centuries].  So the nuns and monks moved to the cliffs of Meteora, where they built strongholds on the unassailable pinnacles.  Originally, there was no access to the strongholds, but a pulley system for bringing up supplies and the occasional intrepid monk.  Not until the 1920s were steps carved into the cliffs and hydraulic lifts were added in the 1960s.  When we arrived, construction vehicles vied with tourist busses for access; tiny, crowded flea markets perched on the verge of the twisting road. 

Our first stop was the nunnery of Roussanou Sta. Barbara.  We walked up a modest 30 or so steps to a “plateau” where stood a facility with stand-over-the-hole toilets. [I cannot even imagine how the ladies in trousers managed.]  Many more steep steps and one drawbridge later saw us taking in a spectacular view down the ragged crevices.  There was a small entryway, with the old gong for calling the nuns.  There a young nun took our tickets whilst painting small white rocks with the name of the monastery, its picture  and your name on the back.  For €2!  I really could do that all day for Christ.

                   

We made our way into a tiny but amazing chapel with every surface fresco’d.  Chairs for the choir nuns left little room for tourists, but we stood cheek to jowl while Yianni told us about the symbolism. [no photos allowed inside]

“Does anyone know why the blood of Christ on the cross flows onto the skull beneath?” he queried.

“It is the redemption of Adam.” I answered.

He was astonished and gave me a bear hug.  He said that only once before had anyone known that answer.  I said that my Sunday School teacher taught me.  [And I brought her a gift from Greece in gratitude!]

Returning down the stairs, we met a cat walking along the baluster, but heard much ruckus from the bushes.  Turned out that her 2 kittens wanted her to get away from us and pay attention to them!  With much mewing and other ado, one managed to scale the wall with the help of a tree branch.  He quickly retraced his steps after seeing the crowd.  His momma greatly enjoyed the petting.  Later, we saw 2 nuns feeding some cats by the roadside. 

The next stop was a monastery with 120 steps, which we declined, as several others did.  We took loads of photos and wound up in a wonderful shady piazza, walled with benches and overlooking the gorge, across which a cable car, the size of a pick-up truck-bed, hung from a lax cable.  This led to a fairly new door in the monastery wall.  The older winch hung from a lip a hundred feet above.  Construction materials were being assembled 50 feet below us, for repairs to the building.

     

We watched the people go by and the flea market and eventually got our turn with a large black and white cat, who was working the crowd for love.  She finished up with a woman and her adult retarded son, and then jumped up to the parapet near us.  I stroked her healthy fur whilst she and I sat in the sunshine. This was some of the best cat-love I have ever received!   A young man approached, drawn by the cat and I invited him to join the group.  He was from Spain and missed his cat.  We talked about where we’d been in Spain and our love of the museums there; that we still wanted to go to Madrid to the Prado and to Granada for the Alhambra; he said that we really must.  So there’s another trip.


For 600 years, men and women joining the monasteries donated their land as a dowry, so that now the Church owns about 20% of the land in Greece.  As it was in Europe before the Protestant Reformation.

Back on the bus, we made our way to Cousin Vinny’s¹ very fine authentic icon workshop [Zindros].  They make the icons the old fashioned way, with hand carved wood, real gold and 1001 coats of thin varnish and therefore, they are fabulously expensive.  They did have small reproduction icons like the one we bought of St. Paul, but not Irene nor Zoe, our favorite Greek-saint-named ladies.   So we shopped the CTC in the basement and bought Zoe a plush frog purse, which I think she would like better than an icon anyway.

We crossed the plain of Thessaly, once a lake, now fertile farms, due to the 6 million years of eroding of the rivers on the mountains, turning them into canyons, crevices and fantastic spires.  Current thought is that the lake drained into the Aegean after an earthquake.

And then the long drive back to Athens…

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N4: 107, Meteora Rising, Greece Sept. 27th, 2016
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious that it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.





 
The irony was not lost on us: visiting Apollo’s pagan shrine on a Sunday.  But then, Sun Day is Apollo’s day.  So much of the ancient world is with us yet.  The ways of Greece and Rome inform our every day: our architecture, law, language, politics, literature and more.  Think about it, won’t you?

But since I am convinced that God is where you look for Him, I looked.  But somehow neither of us got the frisson of awareness we have had at other ancient “holy” sites.  And we couldn’t figure why. 

Not to say that we didn’t have a marvelous time!  Delphi has been on my must-list as long as Mycenae.  Our first job was to hike down the cliff to the Temple of Athena Pronaia [which we kept calling Paranoia.  But it means “before the shrine” meaning that you would stop there before approaching Apollos’s shrine.]  Yianni had finally realized that he had a Criplympics champion on hand and gave Ron and I a head start down the hill.  We could still hear him through the walkie-hearie earphones, as we took the rocky, rooty switchbacks at bottom speed.  Pausing at an overlook on the trail, we drank in the view of the sheer, shining face of the other side of the deep valley-crevice.

The splendid little temple complex includes a circular colonnade and a tholos tomb.  We have seen this picture dozens of times since we got home, since it is so beautiful and serene, but never heard what it was before.  It is iconic of Greece, without being specific to most folks.

the iconic temple of Athena Pronaia

The mountains of Delphi are the tallest, top to valley floor, and most precipitous I have ever seen.  [Except maybe western Scotland—ok, the mountains above Sta. Barbara CA…]  They are composed of some type of conglomerate stone with solid plugs of limestone [?] of a bright tone of yellowish tan that catches the light.  Indeed, the cliffs above Apollo’s temple are called The Shining Ones.”  And the east-west orientation of the canyon allows the sun to catch the cliffs aflame morning and evening.  In other words, it is the perfect home for the sun god.  And the reflected light is such that I ended this day with an under-chin suntan!
the ruins and cliffs of Delphi

From there, Yianni [and the bus] took us to the museum before the crowds arrived.  [He is a clever guide in this way; we never had to jockey around to get close to the art.] 

I knew that this museum was going to be the top experience for art and I wasn’t disappointed.  The culmination of the collection is The Charioteer.  This near-perfect life-sized bronze was a thank offering by the winning chariot driver of the Delphic Games, depicting the solemn expression and heavy drapery [so he can retain his dignity at top speed] that are required of a victor. 
The exhibit included bits of the rest of the grouping, which had included 2 horses with trappings, the chariot itself, and a young groom.

The Charioteer and bits

I will digress just a bit here to expound upon the philosophy of the shrine of Apollo.  The gateway to the temple had the following phrases, one on either side: “Know Yourself “ and “Nothing in Excess”.   And these require a little explanation.

I always thought “Know Yourself” was a touchy-feelie guru idea, but it is far from that.  The Greek gods were understood to be jealous and proud of their powers and any human who dared aspire to greatness would be accused of hubris and punished grotesquely.  To “Know Yourself” was to know your limitations in skill, greatness and praise and to remain humanly humble.

“Nothing in Excess” was not exactly “moderation in everything” but truly another warning about the capriciousness of the Greek gods.  Again, no human can reach the heights of the gods.

This is why The Charioteer must maintain a serious and humble expression with none of the “touchdown dance” attitude of the modern sportsman.  And why he must offer a rich gift of the bronze [read “hugely expensive”] grouping for his victory.  Not HIS victory but the god’s.

And one more note: in all the pan-Hellenic [all-Greece] games: Olympic for Zeus, Pythian for Apollo, Nemean also for Zeus , and Isthmian for Poseidon.  There was a first prize.  No second or third or honorable mention.  You won or you lost.  If you won, you were crowned with a wreath and glory; no prize money, no medals, though your home town would feed you for free the rest of your life. You paid for your victory statue and other votive offerings.  If you lost, you were ashamed forever.  You could literally never go home again.  We are a sports-crazed society but we hardly keep score anymore, let alone expect no personal profit.  And, btw, there were competitions in poetry, playwriting, heraldy [sportscasting], trumpet playing, and recitation [acting] without any reward but fame.  And no self-promotion, commercial endorsements or special shoes.  And most of them were dead by 35. 

Following these reflections, we scrambled up the hill through the shrine complex of Apollo: the treasuries for the donations of the various city-states to the god along the paved path to the retaining wall below the temple itself, where the names of freed slaves were engraved as public record.

FREEDOM!

The temple building itself, though mostly tumbled in earthquakes, is still striking but no longer open for tourists.   WE made our way around and then up another elegant switchback to the theater.  As I mentioned earlier, if you could not get a prophecy on the one day a month the oracle was receiving, you waited around Delphi til the next month…or the next.  So theater and games were open daily for 9 months of the year.  Apollo departs Delphi in the winter to visit Hyperborea [“Where the North Wind originates] and Dionysis—and snow-- occupies the site.

a sacrifice to the god? No, a sleeping dog, which we let lie.

Many folks in our group continued the steep climb to the Stadion well above but we, Yianni and one other couple “Knew Ourselves” and figured it would be hubris to try.  So we took lots of photos of ourselves and strangers [so they could all get in the photo] becoming dazed by the intensity of the sun and dried by the breeze coming up the canyon, but losing any sea moisture on its way from the Gulf.  Like Sta. Barbara, indeed, my CA friends.

Sated and sun-slammed, we boarded the bus and switch-backed down the great canyon to the town of Itea [not to be confused with Ikea] for a lunch by the sea.  Cousin Vinny ² served a wonderful stuffed eggplant and we sat with our fellow Criplympics contestant and his wife, finishing a lovely meal with a life-threatening crossing of the road to get to the bathroom.  Lastly, we were served ice cold ouzo with a 5 to 1 ratio of water.  It tasted just like ice cold ouzo with a 5 to 1 ratio of water.

According to Yianni, The perfect quartet for a Greek is: a sunny day, by the seaside, eating seafood, with ouzo for lunch.  We had a trio since eggplant if strictly a land-dwelling creature.  A trifecta is good enough for me.

A delightful treat was in store for us: a stop at Thermopylae!  This was not on the itinerary and I suppose they skip it if they are running late.  Some 19th century bozo put a twice life-sized, naked Leonidas [lee-ON-a-das] on a memorial wall and it is such that it’s hard to take a picture without seeming like a voyeur.  Next to it is a really ugly, 20th century, headless Herm to commemorate the Thespian tribe that also fought here.  The actual mound of the dead Spartans is across the street; police will not let tourists cross from one to the other but we could at least see it.  It is hard to imagine the battle, as the river had silted up to create a broad plain beyond which we could not even see the water.  This is great for tourism, but destroyed the strategic value of the “Hot Gates” bottleneck that allowed the 300 Spartans and their allies to slow the Persian advance.

where's the leather bikini, Gerard Buter?

We snoozed on the bus, waking in time for a view of the mountains as we approached.  Kalambaka, the site of our next hotel, Is the gateway to Meteora, home to monasteries and nunneries. Meteora simply means "high"

Meteora

Picture a line of sheer cliffs, an escarpment, blue in the distance, with a giant W carved out.  In the center of the W is a spire upon which perches a monastery.  It is to this summit we travel tomorrow.
Finally at the hotel in Kalambaka, we were invited to some trad Greek music and dance.  This I longed to see, but the music was way over-amped for the room.  We made our way to the small garden outside to listen through the open door, but someone got cold and closed the door [rather than moving across the room. Huh?]  So we left, enjoyed the peaceful garden and made our way to the Trough for dinner [to which the landlady allowed us early access].

I was writing up these notes and Ron yelled from the shower, “Do you want me to do the raindance on these socks?”  And now you know our travel laundry secrets.



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N4: 104, The Delphic Oracle, Greece Sept. 26th, 2016
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious that it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.