Thursday, July 29, 2010

Roam if you want to, roam around the world...

Samos was, to me anyway, in some ways a bit surreal. For one thing, our hotel was full of retired-age Germans. We'd be sitting on the terrace, looking out over the Aegean, enjoying a meal and a glass of wine, and all the conversations around us would be in German. The kids weren't learning "good evening" in Greek, (kalispera), they were saying Guten Abend. And they were, with the Germans, enjoying spotting ein gecko who would come out to catch bugs after dark.

This was a bit weird. Where were the Greeks?

Our waiter, Achmed, well, he was Egyptian. He was pleased to speak a little Arabic to us, though his was the non-religious greeting as opposed to our usual greeting used for speaking to and between Muslims, salaam alaikum (peace be upon you).

Every time we ate there, flying about were the tiniest, most delicate flying insects, quite harmless. They would fly around us, land, then hover nearby again. If you tried to shoo them away they would land on your hand and look at you bemusedly, until you shook them off into the air again.
Trying to be friendly, between bites and making sure I didn't accidentally eat one of the friendly bugs, I asked the other waiter where he was from.
He gave me the ultimate are you stupid? look. Samos, he said.
Oh. There's a Greek. Oh, good. Thank you.

We zipped around the island in our tiny blue car, exploring, getting lost, exploring some more. Good stuff.

Thomas and a sign particularly pertinent to him. "Please do not climb on the monuments." In English, Greek and...German. What is up with the German thing?! Nothing against them, just wondering.

We visited the Temple of Hera, queen of the Gods, the Heraion. Fittingly the largest Greek temple ever built (and that's saying something!), now only the massive foundation and one reconstructed column, half it's original height, remain.

And some feet. With guards nearby to keep you the heck away from the feet. I know this for a fact. I thought Thomas could stand near them for a photo...oh, no. Not even close to the feet.

Alrighty then. I couldn't really blame them. Mike and I have joked more than once that perhaps we need to visit the British Museum to see all the artifacts taken by the British through the centuries from the places we've visited.

Not that one can blame the Brits of yesteryear...I mean, if I was wandering around with my parasol, trailing skirts behind and I came upon these feet, I might have set my manservants to loading them into the carriage to take home for an amusing garden ornament. Sorry, wake up Natalie, *slap, slap* back to this century...!

In this century Thomas was running ,tripped, and clonked his head, hard, on some ancient stone, resulting in an angry, swelling and purple goose egg. And a goodly amount of screaming from my generally stoic child. I scooped him up and took him over to the restoration area where some workmen were, well, not working. I asked for ice, several times, and they waved me away. "He OK, he OK." they told us dismissively, raising their voices so I could hear over his sobs.

So perhaps not all the Greeks care for children.

So, going with the theory of using what works, we once again resorted to hunting lizards in ancient ruins to distract from injuries.

There were lots of pretty big lizards (can you see the tail of this one darting under the rock in front of Bethy?) and wildflowers to pick, and soon enough the lump was forgotten, though for the rest of the day Thomas would suddenly cease his usual perpetual motion, stand still, put his little hand to his head and say I have a headache.

No doubt, buddy.

There was a castle in town, Lycourgos Logothetes, next to a church and cemetery. The remains are kept above ground, quite elaborate, with a flame burning and a photograph of each occupant.

I am not afraid of the dead, but for the second time this trip I found myself with heebie jeebies, this time total heebie jeebies, not the scaled back I-have-a-bunch-of-bugs-crawling-on-me ones.

Usually I enjoy wandering cemeteries, reading the inscriptions, feeling grateful for the life I have, thinking about the lives of others. This time the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching.

I looked all around, up at the windows of the church, didn't see anyone. Made an executive decision and hustled us out of there. Yeeeach. Later I learned that it is considered bad form to take photographs on sacred ground, though I must say I felt creepy before I took the photo.

Regardless, I felt much better entering the deep golden grasses of the field next to the cemetery and wading through them, wary of snakes, over to but not into another castle, or perhaps another part of the first, who knew? Wildflowers, stone walls Thomas could climb on, much better all around.

Then we hopped off to the next destination from Mr Guide Book. What better way to cure the creepy crawlies than to climb down into a tight little tunnel that somewhere beneath the mountain is 180 meters beneath the ground, constructed 2500 years ago?

Heck yes! The Efpalinean Tunnel actually opens up relatively well after you climb down a ladder and squeeze yourself for the first 20 meters or so. After that you can walk upright and everything through the dripping rock.

And it's not too dark. There are lights all along, and the open gaps that go down and down and down are caged off, again, relatively well. You can't go all the way through the 1000 meter tunnel since a goodly portion has collapsed, but better not to think of such things. As it was, the guidebook said "engineering marvel" so it was a given we would go.

No worries.

Up on the hillside was the beautiful Spiliani Monastery, overlooking the town, countryside and sea.

Though the kids were just about at the end of their sightseeing tether (and we expect a lot of them, so it's a pretty substantial one) we thought we'd stop, take a quick photograph, and then go back to the hotel for some well-earned pool or beach time to let them unwind.
Another couple was coming out of the gates and, seeing that I was about to leave, called me over and told me that there was something there that was a must see, something really special, especially for the kids.
Well, when someone says that, one goes. Not exactly sure what we were looking for, with a bit of searching around the grounds, we finally found what they meant. An underground cave church, I believe to the Virgin Mary. Down a slippery rock path to the one room chapel of Agios Georgios, impressively long and slender candles lit by petitioners propped up in the rocks nearby, glowing in the dark.

Then we made our way out, through the gates to the little blue car, the hotel, and to put our feet up.

Quite the day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Suddenly I see, this is what I want to be...

sailboat Donna in the harbor of Pythagoreio. Mamma Mia!

To tour the Greek island of Samos, we chose a little blue Fiat Panda, all of 131.2 inches long. (For perspective, our Nissan Patrol in Dubai is more than 200 inches long.) So stinking cute, and perfect for the narrow village roads.

Mike couldn't wait to wedge himself in and start beeping the horn at the corners in proper island style. The kids christened it Blues Clues and we were off.

The nearest town, Pythagoreio, is the birthplace of, and named in his honor, Pythagoras. Yes, of the Pythagorean theorem for a right triangle.

He also designed a wine cup that teaches moderation. There is a line inside the bowl of the cup, and you can fill it with any sort of liquid up to that line and drink as you usually would. But, go past the line and every drop of your drink comes flooding out of a hole in the bottom. Who wants to treat the famous Samian wine that way?

We learned about this cup when I took Bethy for a time out to a gift store away from her Dad and brother to give everyone a break. Bethy charmed the store owner (I offered to sell her) and was being quite good, but then, in her Bethy-esque exuberance, bumped one of the cups which crashed to the floor, breaking the base. The store owner gifted it to her, and I talked him into at least letting me pay a reduced price for it, seeing as how we'd broken it.

I had to restrain myself from taking this teapot home. So darling, but not suitcase friendly. Still, is it just me? I almost regret not bringing this baby home.

We explored the harbor

and little backstreets, which were delightful, especially as we had them all to ourselves.

Then I saw these, and everything clicked into place. Omigod, that's what I want. As in, what I want out of life. I had to take a photo.

No doubt you are thinking, yes, backpacker's legs, lookin' good, but so what?

Here's the deal: not a soul in that group was under the age of 70. Seventy. How great is that?

The idea of backpacking, fit and adventurous, around the world for your retirement gets two thumbs up from me. Serious goodness. Something to think about.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Knowing me, knowing you, there is nothing we can do...

27 miles long and 8 miles wide. That's the size of Samos, a Greek Island in the North Aegean. Where we tumbled off the ferry and through a tiny Customs and Immigration office out onto the waterfront of the town of Samos or maybe it was Vathy, we're not sure since. They've grown into one another, or something. I am sure it makes sense to the Greeks, and that's what counts.

White buildings, red roofs, beautiful blue waters, olive and cypress trees.

Definitely Greece.

Luggage pulled behind us, bumping over the sidewalks, the first order of business was to find an ATM, get some Euros, and acquire some breakfast (that by this time was better referred to as lunch). We'd had a snack on board, but were pretty hungry. (Did you even know you can get a mass-produced chocolate croissant wrapped like a Twinkie? Not the best version of French pastry I've ever tasted. That and a small bag of chips. Real breakfast of champions. material, there. )

We sat down to omelets and pizza at a sidewalk cafe. The ubiquitous cats wound figure eights around us, begging for a handout. The kids and I find them irresistible, despite warnings in the guidebook that they should be treated as pests and a hazard. Mike has no trouble seeing them as pests and a hazard, and was vindicated in that belief when Bethy was bitten and scratched by this small but apparently cranky feline:

Bethy was shocked and cried more than the injury warranted. Mike tried but failed not to pull an "I told you so". I hope the cat felt bad.

But, being a cat, I doubt it. I slipped some food to the other cats and shunned this one. So there, mister cat.

I asked our waiter about how things were in Athens, there having been rioting only a few weeks before, and the Greek economy looking pretty poorly. He flushed and went from mild-mannered waiter to agitated Greek faster than you can say ya sou! After a small rant about tourism and, I believe, against the big city Grecians, he abruptly strode away to the kitchen.

When he returned he was utterly calm. Apparently all was well again, but I resolved not to ask such questions again. A band went by, why I'm not sure, but we jumped up and watched appreciatively, and the kids were swooped away by the restaurant owner, who spoke no English whatsoever which didn't deter him in the least from giving them a tour of the restaurant and some chocolate.

Off to find a taxi, we were directed to the station where the drivers stood gabbing with one another, fingering and flipping their worry beads. One kindly separated himself from the group and between gesturing and a few words named a reasonable price to drive us to our hotel. We piled in.

The road wound up the hills, past churches and tiny roadside church shrines, through a town with room in the narrow street for only one car at a time, the driver tooting his horn at each blind curb and driving well. We saw a little boy goofing off and jump from a wall that was awfully high for him. Our driver slowed and watched through the side view mirror until he was sure the boy was all right, then kept going.

It felt really good to be in a place like that.

We loved the lemon trees, heavy with their bright fruit, we loved the horn tooting, and we loved the signs in Greek, picking out the letters we know. I was a bit disappointed, though that the STOP signs were in English. One can't have everything.

Our hotel, Kerveli Village Hotel, is supposedly the first place the rising sun hits Greece every morning. This was a delightfully romantic notion and tipped the scales in it's favor when I was choosing our place. We walked in and announced ourselves and the tall, flamboyant girl behind the desk looked vaguely unsettled and said she had to check something in the office. "Just a minute, just a minute!" she trumpeted to us approximately every 2 minutes. We started not to believe her, but eventually it turned out that there was some sort of problem with our reservation.

Yes, wrong day again.

Gnashing my teeth, I went to our carefully planned calendar and checked the dates. The first part of our trip was on side one of the paper and the second part was on side 2. And, there, at the end of last week of side was the 8th of the month. And on side 2 the first day of the week was also designated as the 8th, putting us a day behind.

People like me should be banned from ever using Microsoft Excel. Obviously.

Only one thing to do in such a situation.

Fortunately the staff were accommodating despite my idiocy, and promised to have a room ready for us while we ran up a bar tab.

The peaceful surroundings, the view over the sea, with our kids wearing themselves out on the playground and the cool libations soon had us like putty, which was perfect.

Which was good, because then, in a fit of "what else did I screw up?" I checked our plane tickets from Samos to Athens and found that they were for today as well. Hey, that one wasn't me, for once. Call to the travel agent and he promised to fix his mistake. Another cocktail, feet up, warm sun and cool breezes, it all worked out.

These things usually do.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mama Mia, here I go again...

Man, those Turks. They've really raised the bar as to what qualifies as "disabled":

You want to use the handicapped stall? You gotta earn it.

Well, we thought it was funny, anyway.

As was this sign:

I didn't go in, so I can't speak to the validity of that particular claim.

We spend our last full day in Turkey wandering the marketplace of the seaside town of Kusadasi, with the statue of Atat├╝rk on the hill looking grandly over the harbor where many cruise ships come in and our ferry would be sailing out of to take us away from Turkey and into Greece.

I think the "NO HASSLE" bit was a pretty good ploy to get tourists to try out that shop, though I didn't feel hassled at all in any of the market. The sellers in this were just fine, calling out to us, as expected, but nothing compared to some of the packs of dogs we've elbowed our way through. And I mean that in a figurative way. The dog part, not the elbow part.

Speaking of dogs, one shop appealed to us solely thanks to its name:

Let me explain. Our much-loved dog was named Kismet. So I went into the Kismet Jewellery store and bought some earrings, and in a moment of, well, kismet, or perhaps it was serendipity, we made another new friend. The salesman's name was Zaki, the same as Thomas' toy dog with whom, you may have noticed, he goes everywhere.

It's a well-travelled dog.

All coincidence, with the dog link that would only have worked for us, but these are the sorts of things that make life fun.

We had one last dinner with Ersan, and said a fond goodbye to him, to the village of ┼×irince, and a temporary good-bye to Pat and Colleen as they were going on to Athens without us and we were making a side trip across the water to stay a little while on one of the Greek Islands.

We also said good-bye to Nisanyan House, especially those breakfasts.

The staff, who adored and spoiled the smaller members of our party, let said kids sit on the motorbike that is used to ferry luggage and firewood. (The latter for their stone outdoor oven where they make breads).

We had panicked the night before when all of us had gone on an extended search for a missing Thomas. Turns out he was in the cook's cottage, playing happily, with her looking on benevolently. When they say make yourself at home, they mean it.

Now all of that was behind us. Dropped off at the terminal, we boarded a passenger ferry to the island of Samos, while Pat and Colleen went on with Ersan to Izmir to catch their plane.

Bethy has apparently forgotten some of her Pacific Northwestern roots, as she argued with me that "there's no such thing as a boat called a ferry, Mom!" Fortunately it was on the sign.

And, with the captain tooting the horn, we and our luggage were off across the beautiful blue Aegean.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

She was a day tripper...

More ancient ruins. I know, I know. These were probably our favorites of all for the trip, though. And you know why? Because we had them pretty much to ourselves.

No need for creative cropping and shooting around other tourists. Score.

This is Priene, up on a hill, overlooking Turkish farmland. Nothing but us, the ruins, the wind and the sun.

Past this sign,

and raced each other up many stone stairs to keep it fun rather than drudgery,

to the remains of the city once known to the Greeks as Ionia, and the site of the Temple of Athena and Mount Mykale behind. It was magnificent.

It felt like so much time had gone by that the stones were a part of nature again, and nature made herself known. No particularly angry bees, but lots of lizards sunning themselves,

this funny bug, with whom Bethy fell deep in love,

close-up, isn't it elegant?

and, to keep the kids entertained, we gathered up as many black beetles as we could find, to hold a mass beetle race.

I kind of got the heebie-jeebies holding that many beetles with their legs all going...yeah.

Nothing like racing bugs on ancient stones. Sadly, the beetle races did not end well. An overexcited contestant inadvertantly stepped on one of the racers, and it went downhill from there.

Thomas, sitting in his lionesque throne, does not approve of such things. Thumbs down.

With the exception of the beetle tragedy, the afternoon was blissful and quiet, a hike in a warm forest, steeped in history and very much a part of yesteryear.

Personally, I enjoyed sitting in the throne and having the kids address me as 'Queen Mommy'.

That works .