"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!

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