"I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love forever and ever." Psalm 52:8

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter Road Trips

Almost every weekend, we jump in the car and go explore a different part of the island. After a particularly rainy week, we couldn't wait to get up into the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) and see some snow.

(Is that a potential ski run??! YESSSS!)

We headed up to Omalos - a small village whose claim to fame is that it is the trailhead for the largest gorge in Europe - the Samaria Gorge. This amazing national park draws multitudes of busloads of visitors during the peak summer months who hike the most popular hike on the island - 11 miles down from the top of the gorge to where it spills out at the Libyan Sea on the south side of the island. The gorge is closed during the winter months but we have plans to hike it in the Spring before the torrent of tourists - another blog to come!

At the top of the gorge is a taverna with breathtaking views from our table inside. These peaks soar up to almost 8000 feet. Doesn't sound like much from a Colorado point of view (our home in Evergreen is at 8000 feet!) but remember that we start here at sea level not too far away.

The E4 trail (European Mountaineering Footpath starting in southern Spain) traverses the island from west to east and crosses many mountain ranges including the Lefka Ori.
Mel takes a breather on the E4 trail scaling Mount Gingilos above the Samaria Gorge.

The Omalos Plateau is a fertile valley in the shadow of the Lefka Ori.

One of the towns we passed through on the way home was Fournes where they claim the sweetest oranges on the island are grown. We believe it!

Last weekend we strapped our bikes on the car and headed west to the Gramvousa Peninsula located on the northwestern tip of the island. We started our trek from just outside of a large seaside town called Kissamos (or the old timers still call it by it's original name - Kastelli). It was a beautiful blue sky day with very little wind and cool temps - perfect for biking.

Wherever you go on the island you can always be sure you'll run into some curious goats. This guy was especially friendly when Richard opened the potato chip bag.
The ride ascended gently up the east side of the peninsula on a jeep trail of sorts that hugged the side of the hill and offered spectacular views of the sea.

When we reached the end of the "road" we ditched our bikes to take the hiking trail over the ridge to see the west side of the peninsula. As soon as we crested the hill, the west winds blasted us nearly off our feet but we forged ahead and were rewarded with the views over Balos Bay. Gramvousa island (in the distance to the right) is the site of a very important Venetian fortress and castle that held out against the Turks long after the Cretan mainland had fallen.

That night we treated ourselves to dinner at a local fish market taverna right on the port of Kissamos.
After a delicious dinner of sea salad (local plants harvested from the sea), grilled octopus and cuttlefish, we finished off the meal with the traditional shot (or two) of raki.

The next morning (Sunday) was the start of the Greek Lenten season. Traditionally, every small village and big city holds parades and festivities - Greek Mardi Gras. Many of the floats were very elaborate...

...and others..well, not so...
We noticed that there seemed to be more participants in the parade than observers. Some floats had up to 50 or more adults and kids all decked out in elaborate costumes. This little guy could barely walk but did his part!

Dancing souvlaki pitas - now that's something you won't see in an American parade!

The extravagant colors of the parade participants were in sharp contrast to the typical local Greek dress.

The following day was "Clean Monday". The whole town turns out and the beaches and parks are full of people enjoying picnics, dancing, live music, and kite flying. This is the last day that meat is eaten as the forty day Lenten fast begins in preparation for Easter. We went down to our favorite local beach (Stavros beach - about 5 minutes from our house) to watch all the festivities.

We've been told that Easter is the most important religious holiday in Greece and a very unique experience. So, we are gearing up to enjoy all that has to offer including a very moving midnight mass at the local monastery. But before that, we will be posting our next blog from Italy where we join Richard's brother in Sorrento on the Amalfi coast for a week and finish off our trip in Rome (ROMA!) So, check back in with us. We always love to hear your comments!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


In November, Richard attended a ten day training at the US Naval Base in Naples, Italy. Any chance to go to Italy is high on the priority list for Mel so she joined him for a week. The visit was made even sweeter because of the beautiful accomodations at the Hotel Excelsior situated in the popular Lungomare (waterfront area) www.excelsior.it. From the rooftop terrace there is a stellar view of the marina and the oldest castle in Naples, Castel dell'Ovo (Castle of the Egg). Medieval legend has it that its name is derived from a magical egg that the classical poet and sorcerer Virgil hid in the castle and if the egg is ever broken then the castle and the city are doomed to destruction. Obviously, it's still intact and is used today to house exhibitions and special events!

View of the Hotel Excelsior from the Castel dell'Ovo and Borgo Marinari

The city street scape is unbelievably claustrophobic especially for a Colorado mountain girl who likes her wide-open spaces. Despite the dark and dirty streets and noisy clamour there is a certain charm that is distinctly "Naples". A perfect place for people watching because there's LOTS of them.

The large pedestrian square Piazza del Plebiscito was originally built by Napoleon's brother-in- law who ruled Naples in the early 1800's. He apparently was dissatisfied with the chaotic jumble of buildings opposite the Palazzo Reale (restored to its original grandeur where one can wander leisurely through its opulent rooms and imagine the nobility that lived there) and rebuilt the entire area. Today it continues to be the center of city life and many gather here for various ceremonies, festivities and military parades. One of the days we were here, the piazza was being used for a military school graduation ceremony.

Richard boards the Funicular to ascend up the hill to the Vomero neighborhood where the views of the city are outstanding.
Once in Vomero, the phenomenal 15th century Certosa di San Martino is not to be missed. The elaborately decorated church shares the hilltop with the Castel Sant'Elmo, the Chiostro Grande courtyard and the first-rate Museo di San Martino.

Now a grand museum on beautiful grounds, the Museo di San Martino was enlarged and redecorated by Carthusian monks whose vision was to document Neopolitan history and culture through displaying different art media including paintings, sculpture, costumes, porcelain, glass work and, most famously, the nativity scenes. The nativity scenes set mostly in large pastoral scenes that fill the room, tell a story through the elaborately carved figures down to the most finite detail of each man and beast. No two characters among the hundreds depicted are alike. Truly remarkable. Highly recommended google search!
In the the view looking south, you can just barely make out Vesuvius over the cloud of pollution and haze.

On a clearer day, we ventured out to Pompeii and were not expecting the enormous size and scope of this ancient city that was completely destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius.
The city was buried under 20 meters of ash and pumice and many artifacts and remains were discovered to be completely intact. The stunning preservation of Pompeii gives us a glimpse of daily life in this beautiful Roman city as it came to a sudden and complete halt during the horrible two day eruption beginning on August 24, 79 AD.
The intricate mosaics still intact on many of the floors communicate stories as well as basic information. This one at the entrance of a home warns "Beware of dog".
The cobbled streets of Pompeii show the worn carriage tracks in the street and the well-planned sidewalks and building structures give testimony to the fact that the Romans were top notch architects, engineers and city planners.

There are more fantastic sites in Pompeii - too many to post on this blog but so worth the visit. Because it is so well preserved, it's easy to get lost in your imagination about the every day lives of the people of Pompeii.

Back in Naples, another castle of note is the Castel Nuovo (new castle) built in 1443 is now the site of the Museo Civico and town council meeting rooms. The dungeons have many legends about them including the claim that crocodiles once lived here.

Sunrise over the sleeping giant - Vesuvius.
The day we arrived in Naples, we hiked up to the rim of Vesuvius and looked down into that gigantic crater. (Before you get all impressed with us, we have to admit that we drove the road nearly to the top!)
All in all, a phenomenal Neopolitan experience (especially the food!) but we were happy to get back to the peace and fresh air of island living.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


After three months of searching, we finally moved into our new "digs" out in the country near a village called Horafakia. Perched on a rise above the countryside we get lots of sunshine, sea breezes and great views. But the best part is that it's only a five minute drive (or 10 minute bike ride) to the beach.
Come on in...

This is the living area with stairs up to the loft above. We enjoy our Saturday morning coffee up here while taking in the scenery.

View South
(Recent rainstorm down here meant snow on the Lefka Ori mountain range)
***Remember you can double click on any image to enlarge - highly recommended!

View east from the loft

View north to the sea

View west towards the Rodoupou peninsula (the sleeping dragon)

One of our neighbors

It always amazes us to see the contrast between the clear blue sea water and the high white mountains this time of year. Almost looks photo shopped even in real life!

About every other Saturday, we go to Hania to the local market (laiki) to stock up on fresh produce. The citrus this time of year is absolutely delicious. Richard loves the mandarin oranges.

The laiki is a good place for good conversation too. Here Mel passes the time with a local Greek gentleman who loved talking about weather and the mountains. In the background the table is set left to right with local red wine (brown wine that tastes like watered down sherry), raki (Cretan spirits that can taste like jet-fuel), and thyme honey (always tastes fantastic!)
And of course, a few green bottles of virgin olive oil are there, too.

Once in a while we get a beautiful beach day even in January!