Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Zurich - 47° 21' 11" N 08° 33' 01" E

A glorious day to head to Zurich for lunch, made even better because it was with Franz Friedl!  We met at Fischstube restaurant on the lake. The terrace perched above the water overlooked swimmers, sailing boats, swans and, in the distance, snow-capped Alps.  Franz treated us to a superb lunch (I ate cod and scallops with lobster sauce accompanied by squid ink pasta and sea grass) washed down by a stunning Savignon Blanc from the region.

Following lunch, we wandered around central Zurich with Franz playing tour guide. A beautiful city that has not suffered the ravages of war inflicted on so many European cities.  Yes, there are banks. And yes, they look very solid, safe and old - just what one wants in a bank!

Of course, no outing with Franz would be complete without a coffee and cake stop. And as we were in Zurich, where else but Confiserie Sprüngli. Due to the heat, we opted to take our coffees iced - or in this case frozen! In a goblet, topped with cream, in some places, it would be known as ice-cream! The cake selection as vast as it was superb.  We managed to find room to squeeze in a Luxembergerli, Zurich's heavenly version of a macaroon.

We wandered the old city and spent some time in the beautiful galleries that frequent the narrow streets. Of course, we found a photograph we both loved. Sadly, we have a lack of walls to hang artwork at the moment so we had to leave it in the gallery!

We meandered through small German towns on the way home. The countryside is beautiful and we had the smells of freshly cut hay and crops being irrigated wafting through the open windows. The scents of summer. We ate dinner in a guesthouse restaurant - Sean's German coming in very useful.

It was fabulous to catch up with you Franz and we will be back!

Wandering through the Central Business District
A lovely day on Lake Zurich
A proudly Swiss city

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bischoffsheim - 48° 29' 25" N 07° 29' 27" E

Stepping out of Frankfurt Airport, having come from there straight from Athens, we noticed immediate differences.  The crowds didn't seem to press into us.  Train departure times were given in one-minute increments, rather than a rough hour.  The walls and floor tiles were all in perfect order, and looked like they would remain that way for the next few decades.  Announcements come over the intercom in German, followed by almost-unaccented English.  We've travelled only 2,000 kms, but we are in a very different culture now.  It's very Western here.

Flowerboxes everywhere!
After less than two hours aboard a sleek, comfortable high-speed DeutscheBahn train to Offenburg, we were met by our friend Florence.  She drove us back to her home in Bischoffsheim where we are now spending ten days under her and her family's roof.  Bischoffsheim is a scenic provincial village that is 30 kms from the Rhein River and the German border.  Although it falls under French authority now, it has changed hands four times in the last hundred years between France and Germany.  Like many European regions in similar circumstances, they identify themselves by their region (Alsatian) rather than their nationality.

 ...down the hill to Bischoffsheim
Although not nearly as ancient as Greece or Turkey, Alsace is old.  It's older than what Kate and I are used to, but it took me until just now to realize why I continue to be amazed at the antiquity of the houses, barns, orchard walls, fresh water wells, town spires, cobblestone laneways and rough-hewn timber fences. They are remarkable because at the relatively young (by Hellenic standards) age of 300-400 years, they are still being used in the exact same manner as when they were put in use in the 1600's.  It lends to a feeling that you might pass a feudal peasant around the next corner in the village, or see one tending the grape vines as you are out for a stroll along the now-paved cart tracks cut through fields and conveniently connect settlements as non-motorized means of conveyance.

The Bouvier's back garden
This time of year, everything as green and lovely.  The grape vines are covered in leaves; the flowerboxes that adorn almost every domestic windowsill are full of geraniums.  The temperature is in the high twenties and although a rain shower may rumble through the area occasionally, it usually doesn't stay for more than half an hour.  Kate and I try to stay out of the way as the Bouviers go about their lives.  Christophe and Florence are up early to push Thibaud and his eight-year-old sister, Lou, out the door to school by 7:30 and then leave for work themselves.
The scenic streets of Obernai
We wake up later and keep ourselves busy with walks to nearby villages - an easy task as most communities are less than four kilometres apart.  Obernai, a slightly bigger town north of us, has a market on Thursdays in the town square.  The big draw for us is the fresh produce - strawberries, cherries, vegetables, chickens and pork - not necessarily to buy, but just to see, to smell, to experience the busy throngs.  All of this takes place, and has taken place, with very little change from how it went on for hundreds of years.  I'm a bit jealous of the grounding that it must give the people that call this place home.

That is Lou in the stripes
This is my second, and Kate's seventh or eighth, trip to Alsace.  The Bouvier family generously include us in their lives - we were attendees of the Grande Fête to mark the end of Lou's school year last night - but that is only part of what draws us here. The scenic towns, the hundreds of kilometres of bicycle paths; the delicious foods; the tasty, inexpensive wines; the delicious foods; our desire to improve, or perhaps grasp a basic usage of the French language; the delicious foods ... they all conspire to make Kate and I want to return here, with our bikes, for a summer of French language studies, cycling and perhaps some delicious food.  Furnished apartments are commonly available for rent here in the summer months.

The big question for us is, "When do we fit this into the schedule?"

Bischoffsheim's town steeple

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Panatheniac Stadium - 37° 58' 06" N 23° 44' 28" E

 We have explored Athens (or at least that where ancient Athens stood), the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, the Plaka, the flea market and ruins of many important monuments that now escape our memory. But what impressed us the most was the Panathenaic Stadium. Not just because it is functional but for Sean, it is a sports stadium and for me, the original (from roughly 500 BC) storm water system is still in use!

Constructed completely of marble with amazing acoustics, the stadium hosted the athletic events of the ancient Olympics until they were banned by the Christians for their pagan bent - honouring the Goddess Athena.  They were renovated for the first modern Olympics and hosted the finish of a new event - the marathon. In the ultimate feel good outcome, the Greek, Spyridon Louis, won the first marathon but fortunately failed to repeat in full the legend of Pheidippides who as the inspiration for the modern event. Pheidippides was the Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the defeat of the Persians in the Battle of Marathon, delivered his message and promptly collapsed and died.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Athens - 37° 58' 04" N 23° 43' 38" E

...and once again, I wish I had taken more history in school. History upon history upon history everywhere. Each time a shovel is sunk into the earth in the old city, ruins are revealed. Sewer systems, house foundations, mosaic floors, wells and walls. The foundation engineers of Athens are a pretty resourceful lot managing to redesign (at short notice I am sure), the substructure of a building to minimize impact on the ruins.

But mostly they are just that, ruins.  Even the famed Parthenon, perched magnificently atop the Acropolis, is on a shimmer of its former self.  A few millennia and vandals such as the Christians, the Ottomans and Lord Elgin have pared down this extraordinary structure to a few columns and the odd frieze. And despite this, it remains impressive. The precision with which these huge lumps of rock, way up in the air, were put together with the limited technology at the time is remarkable, even when you have slaves to do the heavy lifting.

We explored the Acropolis Museum today - what an amazing building. They are preparing the ruins they discovered when digging the foundations (anyone surprised?) for public access. The main floor has sections of persplex through which you can peer down into the ruins. The top floor is amazing. All glass, looking out over Athens on all sides and lined up with The Parthenon. And it houses the original marble from the frieze, the metopes and the pediments - or what is left and reproductions of those that can be verified. So you can walk around viewing all this up close whilst, in the distance, the you can see the real thing! And at night, the Parthenon reflects on the windows. Very cool design.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Off the coast of Santorini - 36° 26' 24" N 25° 22' 43" E

Observations regarding the Greek islands we visited.

  • get there by ferry if you can.  Entering the Port of Rhodes made me feel like an ancient mariner.
  • once you have settled in your accomodation, rent a scooter.  You can visit different beaches and you can shop for pool/beach food at supermarkets for half the price.
  • have dinner at a restaurant on the harbour of the old port.  It won't be as expensive as you think.
  • when you have your scooter, go south to find the nicer beaches.
  • Anthony Quinn Bay is sheltered by headlands; it isn't as tourist-y as it could be and it provides some great fish-viewing, even with just swim goggles.
  • take swim goggles.
  • restaurants outside of Rhodes town are 1/2 the price of restaurants in town.  Ones away from the beach can be really good.
  • buy or bring some tupperware sandwich boxes and pack a lunch and snacks for the beach.  We bought some when we got here, and it was 3 Euros well-spent.
  • beaches without surf are much nicer for swimming.  Stick to the east side of the island for these.
  • I remember next-to-nothing about my first trip here.
  • even during Tourist Season, it is a quiet place.  Aliki has a population of 600 - 800 people and provides a marvellous balance of solitude and tourist services.  It is located at the least-busy end of the island, too.
  • the wind almost always comes from the north.
  • a scooter is a cheap, easy way to get around the island.
  • I should learn to cook octopus and squid.  It's delicious, and now that I've seen my talented brother-in-law do it, I know it can easily be done.
  • beaches with some type of shade are better than wide, open beaches.
  • Ka Vos is a local (Paros) white wine that is tasty, inexpensive and is
    sold in convenient, don't-have-to-go-back-to-the-store-because-we're-out-of-wine-again, 1.5 litre bottles.

  • pay for accomodation that has a balcony with a view of the caldera, or have friends that do.
  • expect hordes of tourists between May and September.  Not that it will be unbearable, but expect them.
  • find a way to get to a south-facing beach, even if it means walking down a donkey track carved into a cliff face.
  • travel with at least a partner.  Visiting Santorini by yourself would be very lonely.
  • be prepared to take many pictures and to say "wow" more than you thought you would.
  • locating yourself in Oia is the least-busy of the cliff towns.
  • the sun is hotter than you think, even when you take heed of this statement.

Goodbye, Greek Islands.  We will be back.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Oia - 36° 27' 40" N 25° 22' 27" E

The cliff tops of Santorini appear to be snow-capped as we approached on the ferry but as we got closer, they revealed themselves to be the villages of white houses that the Greek Islands are renowned for. Stunningly beautiful despite not being very practical. Narrow, steep, winding marbled streets through which luggage, groceries and wine bottles need to be hauled, up and down stairs, sometimes slippery, often crowded and definitely not to any known building codes! 

Our house is perched on the cliff of looking the caldera. It is newly renovated, beautifully staged and boasts three bedrooms each with ensuite bathrooms. The water sparkles, the sun shines and our rooftop deck is a perfect place to pass the time. Wendy and Graeme's partners-in-crime dribbled in over a few days.  Once they were all in town, we hosted a dinner party for twelve. Then the party began!

We enjoyed a day on a yacht cruising the caldera, hikes along the cliff, breakfasts and dinner at the gorgeous Andronis Boutique Hotel, watching the sunset from the deck of a house perched on the cliff high above the cruise boat crowds, margaritas by the pool, drinks on the rooftop, and, of course, swimming the beautiful, clear, warm water.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Alyki - 37° 00' 08" N 25° 07' 59" E

Sean turns 50!!

Alyki, on the Greek island of Paros, is treating us to more blue-hued, stunningly clear waters, more pretty white houses with blue shutters and white churches with blue domes. Sigh...

Wendy and Graeme have joined us at 'Laliotis Home'; the gorgeous, marble-floored house with a huge terrace we have rented for the week. The village, with its long sandy beach and restaurants is a 300m walk. We have turned swimming and lazing on the beach into an art form!!

Big celebrations were had today for Sean's 50th birthday! After a swim and a laze on the beach, we ate a lunch of local calamari and salad rounded off by a birthday ice-cream cake. Gotta say, it beat anything we have ever bought from Dairy Queen.  For dinner, we ate at a restaurant on the beach with the warm Aegean waters lapping at our feet.

Beautiful local seafood with carafes of crisp and chilled white wine with a backdrop of a blazing orange sunset was certainly a fine setting for a milestone birthday.

Happy birthday Sean. Looking forward to another 50 years of adventure!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Taverna near Pounda Bay - 37° 00' 14" N 25° 07' 48" E

It is a good thing our long-term plans are flexible.  These long-term plans include, as many of you know, to buy a sailing vessel on the west coast of Canada/USA, pottering around the San Juan Islands and the coast of British Columbia for a year or so, then starting south along the west coast of the Americas to Ecuador, across to the Galapagos, through to the French Polynesian Islands and then carry on to New Zealand and Australia.  Being here may insert an intermediate step between now and Oz.

Having spent some time in the Mediterranean, swimming in bathtub-temperature water, eating tasty seafood, noticing the consistently moderate winds from the north, motoring in relatively calm seas AND noticing the permanent 50 percent discount that Croatia sells used 40 foot sailboats for, a seed of an idea has formed.  Perhaps we could spend some time bobbing around the eastern Med.  I wonder if we would have any visitors if we did.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Anthony Quinn's Bay - 39° 26' 00" N 28° 04' 33" E

Life on Rhodes is idyllic. Each day we leap aboard our trusty scooter and explore yet another beach. We swim, laze on the sun, 'snorkel' in our swim goggles looking at all the fish hiding in the rocks. The water is warm, ten shades of turquoise and aqua and clear as clear as clear.

We have explored Rhodes old town and the gorgeous Lindos. We missed a 'do not enter' sign and the heroics on the scooter rivalled that of Daniel Craig in the latest James Bond, zipping along the labyrinth of narrow paved laneways dodging people, under shop awnings and around blind corners.  I did draw the line at bouncing down stairs, much to Sean's dismay!

The food is fabulous and we have discovered some rather tasty Rhodes sparkling wine that is going down a treat. The local beers slide down very nicely, particularly after a day on the beach.

 Things are a little more expensive here and we can see evidence of the issues facing Greece by the boarded up buildings and half constructed hotels. Whether Greece defaults on its loan repayment or not this week will have little impact on us but will be interesting to see how the EU and IMF manage it all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Rhodes - 36° 04' 32" N 28° 04' 33" E

Kalim'era Greece!

Arriving in Rhodes by ferry was very cool. We disembarked straight into history where the Colossus of Rhodes as fabled to have stood before being toppled by an earthquake in 226 BC. Magnificently preserved fortifications thanks to the Italians who occupied Rhodes after WW1. They removed all modifications done by the Ottomans during their 400 year occupation and restored the city back to the glory of the Knight's Period when the Order of St John of Jerusalem occupied Rhodes.  

We are staying a short distance from Rhodes Old Town at a resort called Eden Roc. The view from our balcony is stunning, looking east across the resort's Olympic swimming pool to the sparkly, blue of the Aegean Sea.  

And to get around, we have a Piaggio Fly scooter!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Marmaris - 37° 02' 00" N 27° 25' 50" E

Güle güle Turkey!

After five weeks of exploration and adventure, we are bidding a farewell to Turkey.  As if we were not supposed to leave, our ferry from Fethiye to Rhodes in Greece was cancelled due to lack of passengers. Four in our case. So, we were bussed to Marmaris to the ferry there. In true Turkish style, the bus stopped for a break and the driver brought us çay (Turkish tea) and water! Marmaris again! Our second unscheduled trip, it seems to be drawing us in.

Turkey in review - we have loved it!!

Roman Milestone, put in place during
 Augustus Caesar's rule
The history! Make that the history on history on history. Age upon age - Neolithic, Bronze, period upon period - Archaic, Classical, Roman, Hellenistic, and era upon era - Byzantine, Turkish, Ottoman. Ruins of empire after fallen empire dating back millennium. And filled with historical legends - Caesar Augustus, Cleopatra and Antony, Homer, Alexander the Great, John the Baptist, Mary the Virgin and Suleiman the Magnificent.

The food!  Breakfasts of cucumber, tomato, cheese, olives, bread salad greens and cake! Tomatoes, always peeled of course, that taste like tomatoes, the sweetest fruit and salty feta. Aubergine featured in many dishes, fish, chickpeas and lentils. We sample everything from Testi kepap to wild boar. And, naturally, the local beer and wines! Sean's new favourite dish is lentil, tomato and mint soup.

The warm, clear waters! Seriously clear and beautifully warm. From the boat, we watched schools of fish feeding and marvelled at the squid swimming along the rocks. Swimming with our swim goggles, and with each breathe we looked down through the blue at little fish, rugged rock formations, sea grass and the odd bit of litter. Beats the black line of a swimming pool any day.

The culture! The blue and white nazars warding off the evil eye found hanging in doorways of shops and houses and on the companionway of boats. A cotton waffle blanket replacing a top sheet. Passing your plate to be served rather than passing the platter at mealtimes. Friendly, friendly people. - nothing is too much bother. Çay, everyone drinks it all the time.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk! We were impressed by how revered Atatürk is by the Turks. Statues everywhere, flags with his image flown from houses and even his signature tattooed on people's arms. He was impressive. Considered the founder of the Turkish Republic he separated church and state, removed Sharia law and introduced civil law. He believed in gender equity so women were given the vote and an education. But most interestingly, he created a written Turkish using a modified Latin alphabet and improve literacy amongst the Turkish people from 10% to 70% in two years.

New friends! And we have made some new friends along the way! Ilsa and Jorrit from The Netherlands who touchingly gave us our own nazar to ward of evil eyes on our travels. Netti, also from The Netherlands and the rest of The Hemera gang. Gwen, the expat American, who entertained us with great food, wine and conversation on her yacht in Marmaris. Our new dive buddies, Sandra and Markus from Germany, who lead us on dives, could spot the unspotable camouflaged in the rocks and sand and livened up our dive logs with stamps and stickers.  We look forward to catching up again our our travels or yours!