"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, April 26, 2010


For those of you who are interested in a sampling of our daily lives here, come with me for a walk around our village of Horafakia. We start by walking up a little ways on the country road from our house and take in this view over the fields full of wildflowers.Most of the homes in the village are older, functional and always stone.
The village church stands in a square at the entrance of Horafakia.
Jiannis (John) is the owner of our local market where we stop in frequently for locally grown produce, fresh baked bread (psomee), eggs (avga) and cheese (mizithra, feta, graviera). The simplicity of local markets makes them very efficient. Truly a "quick stop", you can park right in front, run in for a few items and be on your way in a matter of minutes. (In the States it's rarely a quick trip to the grocery after finding a parking place in a giant lot, taking a hike to the back of the store and standing in line just to purchase a carton of milk. You know what I'm talking about!)
Horafakia even has its own "Home Depot."
Some homes are REALLY old and in shambles...
Others are relatively new and well maintained.
The local schoolyard ...
...and the "post office".
Everywhere on the island you see these shrines by the roadsides built to honor a deceased loved one. Almost all of these stand at the site of the fatal accident on the road. It's a daily reminder that Crete has a high auto accident fatality rate. (It's no wonder when you see how the motorbikes drive!)
This sign (Agios Pavlos - Saint Paul) points the way to the abandoned monastery that is just past our house. These photos were taken during Holy Week when the whole village gets whitewashed - stone walls, tree trunks, sign posts, homes.

We live in an agricultural area. At the beginning of Spring, these "green house" rows crop up everywhere. The farmers make good use of the land under the olive trees after harvesting the olives in the fall.

The new moving in on the old...
Grapevine lattices double as a clothesline
Traffic jam in Horafakia
View of Tersanas Beach Cove from the village
The wild herbs and grasses in Crete are a feast for the eyes and nose!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Florence, Italy

Florence...Firenze...the seat of Renaissance art and architecture, is a thriving city today dedicated to restoring and preserving its long heritage as curator of the best of the Renaissance. In fact, the historic city of Florence is one big museum and just a walk around the streets attest to this fact. One need not even step inside the famous museums to get a flavor of Renaissance Italy. On every street and in every piazza there are statues, churches, frescoes, palaces and homes that reveal the powerful influence that Florence had on the world of art and architecture particularly in the 15th - 17th centuries. It was the hotbed of creative expression, the birthplace of humanism in the arts, and today still attracts many who are passionate about art and art history. Masters of the visual arts such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, and Donatello all called Florence home as well as the scientific innovators Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci.
We landed in Rome and took the fast train to Florence. Richard is happy to go ANYWHERE if you just give him a cappuccino and put him on a train!
The street scape in Florence is tight but not oppressing. Evidence of the Medici dynasty 1434-1743 is everywhere - here you can see the Medici family crest on the corner below the balcony. Under astute Medici leadership, Florence enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity. The Medici, particulary Lorenzo, were passionately dedicated to nurturing new forms of art and preserving them for future generations.
Biking is a major form of transportation.
The Piazza del Duomo is a magnificent pedestrian only area that includes the cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Campanile (tower) and the Baptistry. The buildings are clad in Tuscan green, white and pink marble. Brunelleschi's Dome dominates the city as it stands taller than any other building in the city. The engineering of this gigantic dome was a revolutionary achievement even in today's terms because it was built entirely without scaffolding.

The huge Piazza del Signoria was and still is the main meeting place for Florentines and tourists alike to come together for political, social and leisure activities. It is flanked by the Palazzo Vecchio, home of the Medici, and a unique outdoor sculpture gallery.
Giambologna's's sculpture "The rape of the Sabines" is a beautiful study in circular motion carved in a single block of flawed marble. It was made to view from all sides and truly is a marvel to study.
The Palazzo Vecchio's great bell in this tower used to ring out to call all citizens of Florence to a parlamento (public meeting) and to commemorate special events.
The Palazzo Vecchio had an exquisite courtyard adorned with sculpted columns, statues and frescoed walls.
We visited both the Uffizi museum (impressive collection of Renaissance art including "The Birth of Venus") and the Academia where the imposing statue of David by Michelangelo stands.
The most famous bridge in Florence - the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge (built 1345) was spared by Hitler when he bombed Florence because it is said he was so impressed when he visited it in an earlier time of peace with Mussolini. This photo was taken of us on the Ponte Vecchio looking up the Arno River that cuts through the middle of the city.
The Ponte Vecchio is covered with workshops and was the site for tradesmen such as butchers, tanners and blacksmiths until evicted by Duke Ferdinand I because of the stench and filth. After upgrading the overhanging buildings on the bridge, it is now a haven for gold and jewelry merchants. From the door on the street you can look through to the window that frames the river.

One of the highlights of the visit was a guided tour through the streets of Florence on bicycles. Richard swallowed his biker's pride and pedaled off on a bike that didn't quite fit him, minus the pedal clips, fancy gears and spandex.
The New Market Square was originally a central market for silk and other luxury goods and was also known as "The Straw Market" because goods woven out of straw, such as baskets and hats, were sold here. In the market there is a little bronze fountain Il Porcellino (the little boar) with a shiny gold nose thanks to the superstition that anyone who rubs it will return to Florence someday. Mel figured a kiss would really guarantee it!
Our B&B (Soggiorno Panarei) in the heart of Florence was fit for a king. Here's King Richard on his royal laptop.
In most European cities, you can find a room either with a great central location or one that's quiet - but not both. We got lucky on this one. Located only 3 blocks from the Piazza del Duomo we enjoyed a peaceful stay in our room that looked out over an inner courtyard.
A beautiful afternoon was spent on the grounds of the Palazzo Pitti. This palace was built by the Pitti's - a rival family of the Medici's. It was a huge undertaking that eventually bankrupted the Pitti heirs. Guess who bought it and moved in - the Medici!

The Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti were laid out for the Medici and are a perfect example of stylized Renaissance gardening with many box hedges, wild groves, profuse flowering plants and trees, fountains, ponds and of course, statues.

Seems as though the standard Florentine color scheme was yellow with green shutters. Still the case today.
The Viottolone is an avenue of cypress trees lined with Classical statues and provides a beautiful shaded walk through this little corner of Tuscany. A wonderful trip and we hope to return again!