Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Leftovers: Hydra

This leftover Greece post is an especially painful one, because I really loved our trip to Hydra.

Let's start by talking about how to pronounce the name of this island. I know your gut instinct is to call it "high-druh," and I can understand why. You're wrong. I don't care if you have a friend who went to Greece, and came back, and told you all about their trip to "High-druh," and now you've been calling it that ever since. They're wrong, and so are you. Hydra is pronounced "EE-thruh." If you can't manage a Greek accent (I can't), just call it, "EE-druh." You will sound ten thousand times smarter if you do this.

While we're here, let's talk about gyros. A gyro is pronounced "year-o," not "jigh-ro." If you ever, ever call a gyro a "jigh-ro" in front of me, I will smack it out of your hand.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, we can look at some pictures.

The port of Hydra.
Hydra is best known as the island without cars. The only vehicles allowed on the streets are garbage trucks. It's as peaceful as it sounds. The main thing the island has going for it is tourism. Lots of Athenians come here, along with the rest of the world. The amenities--hotels, restaurants, museums, are all clustered around or near Hydra port. There are a few monasteries in the hills. There were multiple fancy yachts at port. Wealthies like to visit.

View from the hills.
At a monastery.

Like Salamina, Hydra is not that happening, tourist-sight-wise. It is quiet, beautiful, and not far from the mainland. As one of the few, well-stocked places without cars, it's worth a visit for that experience alone. There are two places to catch a ferry to Hydra. The first is Piraeus port, and the other is a port in the Peloponnese. The ferry from Piraeus takes about an hour, and the one from Peloponnese takes twenty minutes. Now that I've told you this, I'm really hopeful that you won't actually go. It was so nice when we went. I'd hate to ruin it with a whole bunch of people.

On the streets near the port.


This is some good, pretty, pointless photography.

We popped over to Hydra on a day trip. It was delightful. We were there on an off-day, so it was quieter than usual. The views were just...stunning.



Intrepid readers will notice that it was not a sunny day on the island. We were heavily threatened by clouds the whole time we were in the hills. When we made it back to the port, it unloaded on us. We were happy to have our umbrellas, and found a cafe along the port that kept us out of the rain. Things improved while we were eating, and we had just paid our bill when the second round hit.

The thunder began loudly, and managed to get louder over the course of a few minutes. The rain came down in buckets, then barrels. Pedestrians who'd crowded under the cafe awning moved toward the building, until everyone who could was standing inside, and everyone who couldn't was flattened against the walls. The awning sunk under the rain. The one at the cafe next door collapsed, and narrowly missed a waiter. The waiters at our cafe were running back and forth, shirtless, with giant, prodding poles, pushing the water off as fast as they could. The sidewalk was a creek.

It was far and away the coolest storm we saw in Greece. 

The rain eventually moved on, and we were able to venture out again for a few minutes before our ferry arrived. My shoes were soaked, but I took that beautiful photo of the port, so it wasn't a total loss.

Here it is again, in case you didn't want to scroll.

I would gladly go back to Hydra, with or without a thunderstorm. It's just nice.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Leftovers: Salamina

It's been about five months since we took the ferry to Salamina. I'll do my best to remember things. The first thing I had to remember was the name of the island. Like a lot of places in Greece, this island is known by a few different names. If you haven't heard of Salamina, you might have heard of Salamis. If you've heard of Salamis, you've heard of Salamina, because they're the same place. 

An ancient harbor on Salamina, with some sort of unidentified blip near the upper right corner. Is that a fly?
Salamina is most famous for the Battle of Salamis. It was one of those epic Greek v. Persian fights, along with the battle at Marathon (where the marathon race originated, because a dude ran to Athens to announce the victory, then fell down dead), and the battle at Thermopylae (the one with the 300 Spartans). This battle was a big win for the Greeks. The Persians never attempted another land invasion. 

This statue commemorates the battle. That's Athens across the water. I'd just like to point out that I also look this cut when I stand naked astride a floating vessel in battle. It's uncanny.

Salamina is the closest island to the city of Athens. It's about 2km from Piraeus port, which equates to an approximately 10 minute ferry ride. I know--so taxing. Some locals live on Salamina, and commute to Athens for work. Other locals live in Athens, and keep vacation homes on Salamina. The point I'm trying to hammer home here is that it's close. Did I convey that?

We took the ferry to Salamina on one of our last weekends in Greece. It may actually have been our last weekend in Greece, but, as I say, it was five months ago, and I can't remember yesterday. I can remember my overall impression of the island, which was highly favorable. It's nearby, but still mostly uncrowded. It wasn't the most happening place, but I can see why people like to vacation there. The beaches are nice, and not very populated. There is little reason (other than proximity) for tourists to visit, which makes it a very low-key, villagey-feeling place. Yes, I liked it.







The back side of the island was mostly vacation homes, with very few tavernas scattered between. When I say "back side," I don't actually know which side of the island it was--I only know it was about forty-five minutes to an hour from where the ferry dropped us. There were a couple bigger cities (towns?) nearer to port. We stopped at one for a late lunch. Phil liked throwing his food over the side, and watching the fish eat it.


Here he is reaching for some of his food to throw.

Here he is watching the fish eat the food he threw.

We left our house around 9am, and were back at our house by 4pm. It was a quick, lovely trip, and I miss Greece.

Monday, October 16, 2017

New Post for a New Post

After one month of home leave, and two months of jet lag, we've finally blogged from our new post in...

BANGKOK, THAILAND!


It's a different balcony view than we're used to having.

Bangkok is overwhelming. There are more than 14,000,000 people in the metropolitan area, which is approximately 13,000,000 more people than I grew up with back home. There is a large expat community, and a large tourist community. English translation abounds. It is not hard to get around. You can buy almost anything, except inexpensive breakfast cereal, and the best kind of Greek yogurt.

Some things are really cheap, like Thai street food, and local labor. Everything else costs more than I was led to believe. In comparison with Greece (Oh, Greece), Bangkok prices are painful. It's especially difficult for a cheapskate who wants to buy dairy. We spend $6 for a gallon of milk, and $5 for a 200gr thing of butter. Yeeeowch. It would probably be less painful if we ate more of the local diet, but butter is more than a diet to me; it is a way of life.

Look at this cool storm! We're still in the rainy season, though it's supposed to end soon. There was a huge storm the other night. It flooded a bunch of streets. My expensive grocery store is still closed for flood repair.

Bangkok is the third largest U.S. Embassy in the world, behind Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a huge change from our last post, where almost everyone at the embassy was either someone we knew, or someone new. We're slowly finding friends, which is no small feat for a couple of introverts with a toddler.

We have a lot to show and tell. I've been waging battle with mealybugs, and black aphids on my new hibiscus plants. The Kid has learned some fun new skills, like using chalk indoors, and reaching for sharp kitchen tools on countertops. Phil has been taking care of me in my various infirmities, and figuring out the demands of his much-busier office.

This photo was taken three weeks ago, before the bugs arrived. If you could see them now, you'd weep.

We just returned our first set of visitors this morning. Phil's family has been with us for the past two weeks. We had a great time, and were sorry to see them go. We managed to hit a few interesting sights while they were here, and I dutifully photographed those for you. They are in my blog "To Do" pile. As you can see, I've already Ta Done (pronounced like "Ta Da") a few things on my blog wishlist, like adding a link to our Instagram account. I'm hoping that between the blog and the Instagram, you'll be able to hear from us more regularly.

Should we take bets on that?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kalavryta, Nearby, and a few randoms

I was going to drag this out further, but I'm not sure I'll ever get through my Greece postings if I don't cram them all in. So, here's the rest of our Peloponnese trip.

As promised, this is the link to the place we stayed near Monemvasia:
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16897733?location=Trochalia%2C%20Laconia%2C%20Greece&s=sMLl7-WN

Our host was Fotini, and she was absolutely lovely. She made breakfast every morning. It was delicious.

There were a few nice beaches nearby. This is one of them:



On our way from Elafonisos to Xifias, where we stayed, we saw this old fort. I thought it was cool, and took a photograph of it. That's the whole story. The end.

Cool, old fort. 
We drove from Monemvasia to Kalavryta, and saw nice things along the way.

This is a shipwreck beach. It's not the famous one on Zakynthos, but it is almost as pretty, and way more accessible. 

This is the Mani town of Gytheio. It was stunning.

More of Gytheio, with big mountains in the distance.

We finally made it to Kalavryta, after winding our way through teeny mountain villages. I made a terrible remark that I didn't realize was terrible at the time. There weren't many people in the villages, but there were large cemeteries, so I made a stupid joke about how the dead outnumbered the living.

I learned later that the Nazis obliterated many of the mountain villages of the Peloponnese. Kalavryta was particularly brutalized. For a time, the Greek resistance was operating out of Kalavryta, and captured about 80 Nazi fighters during an early battle. The Nazis, angered by the defeat, began to work their way through the villages, burning homes, and killing residents. The Nazis told the resistance that unless the prisoners were released, they would continue slaughtering the villagers. The resistance responded by killing the prisoners. Infuriated, the Nazis were ordered to Kalavryta, where they locked the women and children in the village school and set it on fire. Every male over the age of twelve was marched to a nearby hill, and shot. The women managed to escape the school, where they witnessed the deaths of their loved ones, and were forced to drag their bodies off the hill for burial. It was December, and the widows of Kalavryta were left with nothing.

Today, Kalavryta is a sleepy ski town, primarily populated by tourists. There are a few, good Greek restaurants, and a fun cog rail trail. Despite the attractions, there is an inescapable undercurrent of tragedy. The old school now houses a holocaust museum, and the hill is a memorial to the lives lost.

"No more war."

Names and ages of the youngest victims.

I had a hard time in Kalavryta. It is beautiful, and the people are magnificently welcoming, but it is sad. I was glad we went, but I wasn't sorry to leave. My favorite part of the village was sitting in the square next to the church. The church was destroyed twice: once by the Ottomans, and once by the Nazis. One face of the church clock is stopped at the time the December massacre began. All around the square are cafes, and park benches. The locals spend their mornings and evenings in the square. The kids walk through it on their way to school, and play in it after school. It's a gathering place for the village, and a nice reminder of the goodness of community.

There are many villages across Europe that faced unimaginable horror during the last world war. As a young American, I've had a blind spot about the toll the war took on the continent. War is terrible.

I'm not sure how to transition from that, to this next part. It's jarring, but maybe that's okay. Near Kalavryta is a ski resort. It's deserted during the summer. I hiked up the side to grab some snow.

View from the top.

The snow.

View from the bottom.
Outside Kalavryta is a little place called Planitero. It's famous for its trout farms. We ate at a very good taverna in the village, the name of which has escaped me entirely. There are only one or two tavernas there, and both are highly rated, so you're probably safe no matter where you go. The food was delicious, and the taverna was beautiful. I've added it to a list of places where Phil and I would get married if we hadn't already gotten married.

This is the yard outside the restaurant.

This is the inside of the restaurant.
 The mountains were amazing. I had beauty-fatigue for a week after we left. Everything looked ugly in comparison.




If I could return to one place in Greece, it would be the Peloponnese. It's huge, it's lovely, and it's enduring.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Elafonisos


We took a side trip to Elafonisos while we were staying near Monemvasia last month. Elafonisos is a tiny island off the coast of the Peloponnese. The ferry ride is only twenty minutes. There's not much to see on the island, apart from the stunning, Caribbean-like beach, Simos.

Here's Simos.
Simos is not too far from the harbor. Nothing is too far from the harbor. We drove around the entire island in less than an hour. There are some nice-looking hotels, some insane villas, and a good number of restaurants. You could easily spend a day and a night there, but it would probably start to get boring beyond that, unless you go to the island with the specific intention of marooning yourself somewhere quiet.

More Simos.

I can't remember where this was. Probably near Simos.

Simos from a distance.

We were still there in the off-season, so it might crowd up significantly during the summer. European tourists, especially, like to take in the island during their tours of the Peloponnese.


The church on the point. Peloponnese in the background.

We spent a few hours on Elafonisos, and had a great time. Simos was one of the most beautiful beaches we saw in Greece.

Have I mentioned that I miss Greece?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monemvasia

We are currently on home leave. I miss Greece. Moving is the worst part of Phil's job, and I hate doing it. We had a few stressful, sad weeks, and now we are recovering for a month. Before we land at our next post, I'm hoping I'll have time to share the rest of our adventures in Greece. Part of our final weeks there involved cramming in a bunch of last-minute sightseeing, and it was really lovely.

One month ago, we took a final tour of the Peloponnese. We started in Monemvasia, an old Byzantine/Venetian/Ottoman fortress on an island. The name Monemvasia roughly translates to "one entrance," and refers to the fact that there is only one entrance to the city, through a gate at the base of the island.

The entrance is on the other side (helpfully cropped out of the photo).
Today, Monemvasia is a hopping little tourist town. The lower city has a handful of cool hotels built into medieval structures, along with nice patio restaurants and souvenir shops. The upper city is ruin, but pretty ruin, with outstanding views. There is still only one entrance, accessible from the mainland by causeway. There are no cars in the city. You have to hoof it on the cobbly streets with your gear. It's worth it, though. It is really pretty. 



A local residence.

View from the lower city.

Phil at the far end of the city.

Looking toward one of the many old churches in the lower city. 

I took this photo because the flowers were magnificent.

Cool, little streets.

An old church in the upper city. It's the best preserved thing up there.

View from the top.

Looking toward the modern town from the upper city.  
Upper city ruin.


An old building from the upper city.

Looking down at the lower city.

Add caption


Church in the lower city.



Monemvasia from a distance.

We didn't stay in Monemvasia proper. We thought it would be too difficult to manage with a kid and luggage. On our way to the city, we realized that we'd left the baby backpack sitting on the couch at home. We did okay with his stroller in the lower city, but took turns running to the upper city, while The Kid and the stroller stayed behind.

The place where we did stay was about ten minutes down the coast from the new city. It was quiet, and lovely. I'll ask Phil what it was called, and report back with more photos. Until then, here's one more of Monemvasia.