Wednesday, May 23, 2018
"Study of tomato, garlic, and onion" by Hilary J. England, oil on canvas, 8.5" x 11"
I decided to do a quick study today of this juicy tomato, some garlic, and an onion bulb. I was kind of hungry and thinking of a good tomato sauce, I think, which is the subconscious basis for this painting! Either way, I enjoyed painting it.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Day 13 and 14, Santorini and leaving -- iit was a wonderful time, but I'm happy to depart. Santorini is beautiful, but its good for couples and party groups -- I felt most alone even in a group here, and that's an underlying feeling that is never a pleasant one.
But, for the hotel I stayed at -- I can only say they had the most comfortable bed in all of Europe! That I was sad to leave behind and stayed in there until the last possible minute!
Yesterday was spent relaxing and snoozing as well, plus I found a laundry service to clean all of my clothes for 15 euros -- clean, and fold. When you travel more than a few days, you cannot underestimate the importance of clean clothes! Washing your socks and underwear in the sink gets really old.
So now, I'm sitting in Santorini airport, waiting for my flight back to Rome, with a stopovere in Athens. I look forward to seeing Rome again for a few more days, and hitting some art museums. Rome was my favorite visit so far -- as a single person, this was by far the most comfortable city and cosmopolitan, wheree the locals did not look at you like you were bad real estate or with pity, because they can't comprehend a woman on her own haha.
So, back to Rome! I'm looking forward to a few more days there :-)
Monday, May 7, 2018
Day 12 was a bit more sedate-- actually, MUCH more sedate than yesterday. I woke up surprisingly not sore anywhere haha, after a very restful night's sleep, and decided the next two days here would be my "wind down" before leaving on Tuesday.
I decided to see the island itself as much as I could in its entirety, so I engaged a very engaging guide named Johannes, from Bavaria, but of Greek descent. His immediate sarcasm and wry humor made me feel right at home with him and his small group, so off we went. He showed us many nice little villages, all accompanied with his biting comedic comments, and then took us to Akrotiri, where he led us through the ruined Minoan city with precision and a very informative, historical tour.
After we spent about two hours in the ruin (which is bordered by the fable "Red beach" -- which was currently somewhat inaccessible due to falling rocks), we headed to the famous Black Beach and had a very nice few hours there, just swimming, relaxing, and enjoying a leisurely lunch. After we headed up to the highest point of the island, at a hair under 4,000 feet, and did some exploring up top -- pretty scary to look down! The cliffs are completely unguarded, so as Johannes said, if you decided "this is where you want to end it all, sayonara!"
Johannes decided that for safety sake, it was better to visit the cliffs BEFORE the next stop, which was the winery. We headed to Santorini's premier winery, with beautiful views, and since I'm not a wine drinker, they provided me with a glass of fresh local orange juice, which was very nice of them. We stayed around for about an hour, and then we were off. Johannes tried to convince me to head back to Oia, but it was hazy, and the cruise ships had just come into port, so the idea of wading through another thousand Japanese tourists vying for a shot of a hazy sunset was not appealing to me. He understood, and arranged for me to be dropped off at the hotel. He said in parting, "I envy you. I despise dealing with the cruise ships in Oia!" Haha, apparently, I made the right choice heading back.
So, tomorrow's plan, complete leisure, as I leave Santorini the following morning, and would actually like to have one full day of rest before heading out. Let's see if I can manage that without getting too stir crazy!
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Day 11 in Santorini was a very exhilarating and physically strenuous day -- I had to revert back to my 20s to manage this one! And, thankfully, that inner kid was still just below the surface to tap in to ;-)
We started the day at a meeting point not far from my hotel, and it was kind of chaos -- all different groups were meeting there, as an official "meeting" area, and trying to get it sorted out required about an hour -- in the end, I wound up on a bus not knowing if we were going to the right place, etc., but I figured I would just roll with it and fix any snafus along the way.
It ended up I was with the correct group, and we took the winding roads along the cliffs down to the port, where we boarded a sail boat and headed out for our full day of island hopping.
The day started off overcast, but we were hoping for some of the haze to clear up so the views would be sparkling. Our guide, Tania, a very knowledgeable gal, lamented that is not usually the case. "Here in Santorini, you do not usually see that 'clear' view until the autumn, but every year can be different". I really didn't mind -- the views were still spectacular.
Our first stop was Neos Kemani -- the youngest volcanic island that is under 450 years old, and still active (it saw an eruption in 1958). There are spouts of steamy sulphur plumes here and there coming up from spots in the cracked earth and the surface of the island is basically covered in pumice, making it a little awkward to walk. Tania informs us we will be scaling to the top of the island, to see the bests views. Well, okay! I look down at my sports sandals and hope they can manage the stones.
After nearly an hour of treacherous paths and a few injuries -- a number of other people fell and got scraped up along the path -- we finally reached the apex of the island, where we could see the cauldera complex and the other surrounding islands. It was very beautiful, and we stayed up there about 10 minutes, just taking photos and admiring -- before we began the descent-- which was more harrowing than the ascent. Again, another person falls from our party, slipping on the loose pumice stones, and she is scraped up pretty good, but she keeps her equanimity as we all keep moving on. We were warned the boat leaves on time and will leave us behind -- I wonder how long before someone came back for us and have to laugh about that.
We all board the boat (which is now a party boat, as there is a bartender on board, and a snack bar has opened, and lots of dance music is being played) and head out to our next stop -- the back of the volcanic island, where there is a sulphur springs to swim in. The boat cannot get too close to the island because of rock ledges, so they anchor off shore -- "Approximately 2 and one half American football field lengths" says Tania. She goes onto the megaphone and gives us all a stern warning -- "Please. This is very serious. If you are not a strong swimmer, or have health, heart conditions, etc. please do not enter the water. We have only one rescue boat, and Nikkos is not a lifeguard -- just the boat operator." I look at the water tentatively, soberly, and think if I should consider this. I look into the distance of the enclave where there are other swimmers from another nearby boat, and think, "how bad can it be?"
The ladder goes off the side of the boat, and the first of the adventurers jumps off the 12 foot deck into the water. Everyone cheers. With that, I join the line of other enthusiasts cannonballing off the side of the vessel. My turn. Without thinking, I just leap into the air. When I hit the water, FREEZING COLD. I surface in a bit of shock, but look around, and see a few other heads bobbling in the cobalt sea. I swim determinedly in their direction, realizing not only is the water frigid, but the currents are strong. And then, I get the horrified thought of, what if there are sharks? I push that aside and just keep swimming, making some headway -- and then the water starts to warm, as I approach the cauldera. I have reached the promised land (or sea). As I entered the warm enclave of the sulphur springs, I saw people clinging to the rocks along it, catching their breath. I decided to do the same. The rocks were razor sharp and slimy, so staying on them any length of time was not possible, but it was enough for me to literally get my bearings and wind back, and then, I spent the next hour lazily floating in the warm, gentle water, like a baby in amniotic fluid.
In the distance, we heard the whistles. Time to head back. I began swimming my way back toward the open sea, and could see the water had grown choppier, as some clouds had appeared over us. I felt the temperature change as I headed out, and could also feel a very strong current working against me. This was a bit disconcerting, as we didn't seem to be making headway, just getting more and more tired and pushed away. I switch tactics and begin backstroking, as my legs are pretty strong, despite my one leg being mangled. I am able to make some good progress, and the fellow next to me in the water, I can see he is struggling, looks over as I pass him, and does the same. I see the rescue boats zipping around attempting to pluck struggling swimmers out of the water, but there are at least a dozen, and only one of him. I can feel the first tentacles of fear touch me but I won't allow it. I keep swimming, and flip over to try a breast stroke. A huge wave suddenly hits me in the face and I inhale water. I immediately go to a back stroke and keep calm -- I know that I must reach the boat eventually, just keep plugging away. I finally am within a few yards of the boat, and I am pretty exhausted, but I know I will make it. I hear yelling in the distance. A girl from Milwaukee is in panic. They are trying to reach her, but they have two people clinging to the raft. I reach the ladder. For a second, I'm so exhausted, I don't know if I can climb it. But, I do. I get on deck, and the wind is whipping, and the boat is pitching, almost knocking me down. I slide on to a bench, like a dead fish, and just breathe for a moment. I'm still alive! I laugh with joy, and the two elderly women sitting watching me curiously, say, "Are you okay? Did you not drown?" Their English is broken, but I can see they are concerned. They look over the railing to the other people now struggling aboard and shake their heads.
After about 10 minutes of water rescues and spluttering swimmers, Tania soberly hits the megaphone. "I am glad, my children, that everyone is now accounted for. We didn't expect the rapid weather change, but we are all here, we are all well, so let's move on!" And like that, no muss, no fuss, we head out to our next port.
We headed to a small island, which had a town situated high on its cliffs. Tania advised, "Don't climb it. It's very dangerous and not worth it. Save your energies for our next stops" (that was the tip off). There were several open air seafood restaurants and ice cream stands, so I found a nice seat, relaxed, and ordered a local meal of grilled prawns, and a tomato salad with fresh bread. I shared my meal with a very friendly little dog who seemed to be the restaurant mascot.
After, I got an ice cream cone along with the rest of the group, and just sat and relaxed, enjoying the ocean. We stayed in port for about an hour, and then headed out again, another little island, or two, but we didn't anchor this time, just flew past them. Finally, we reached Oia, where would would view the world famous sunset. This was optional, as Tania, stated, "If you do not want to stay with us and see the sunset, stay onboard the boat, and Stavros will take you back to the port in Fira, where you can take a shuttle back to the meeting point. But you must make up your mind quickly, because the boat only stays long enough to disembark the passengers and leaves right away!" Well, who wouldn't want to stay and see the sunset? How silly.
We disembark the board, and as Tania stated, the boat quickly slips away, as if hurrying from the site of an accident. I turn and look at the island, it is breathtakingly beautiful, with soaring cliffs and the white city above gleaming like snow on a mountain peak. So stunning, and so high above us, very dramatic. I look around -- where are the transports? Cable cars? In the distance, from way above, I see movement. As it approaches down the mountain, I can make out, -- it's herds of donkeys running down the steep mountain paths! We all laugh and point -- "Wow" "So cute!" "That's amazing!" Tania smiles and nods. "That is our transport!" We all stop laughing. Huh??? "Of course, that is totally optional. You can always climb up on foot. There are only 689 steps to reach the top." I look for the boat -- wait! Come back! But, Stavros is just a dot on the horizon by this point.
I am torn as to whether to attempt the climb or to ride the donkey. I hit the first of the steps, ancient, uneven stones, very steep, and shake my head. It will have to be the burro. The shepherd looks at me and smiles-- "You will enjoy the donkey taxi!" I smile weakly -- I'm not so sure. After giving us some quick instructions, "No screaming - the donkey's sense fear" and "keep leaning forward and grasp the donkey's belly with your legs" I got my leg up and I was on top of the smelly critter that would take us way up that mountain to the gleaming city. The donkey lurches, and begins its ascent, ploddingly. I sway in the saddle and look down -- we are literally on the very edge of the cliffs. If this donkey decided to buck me off, I would plummet about a thousand feet to my demise on the rocks below. It seems surreal that this is happening -- I'm beyond even being afraid. I think I might be in shock. The donkey continues its lurching progress.
After we reach the plateau, about 3/4 of the way up, the shepherd comes riding up on his own donkey, hitting all the donkeys with a cane, and forcing them to a stop. "You all get off here. We cannot enter the city with the donkeys." So, we get off, and climb the rest of the way, which is really brutally steep, to the city. As I am climbing, I see throngs of panting people, sitting on rocks along the way, looking at each other for sympathy. I have to laugh thinking that if I had to climb the entire length, I would have made it at around midnight. Finally, one more bend, I pull myself up along the rope, and like opening your eyes for the first moment after darkness, this gleaming white, ethereal city was before me. I was very impressed.
Oia was unearthly -- everything white and shining -- like a very early glimpse of Heaven -- a pale comparison, but the closest thing to what I would imagine heaven to be like. Little pearls of winding alleys and flower lined streets, all smelling like honeysuckle and hibiscus. Quiet music playing here and gentle ocean breezes. Incredible and other worldly.
I sit for a moment, and across from me are a couple, also sitting and resting, taking it all in. We lock eyes and smile the universal understanding of, "wow". I speak first -- "So beautiful!" They perk up at this -- "Are you American?" I nod. They smile, "Us too!" They get excited -- "Where are you from?" And we begin to chat. They are a couple from Carlsbad, CA, originally from Wisconsin, their names are Frank and Lynda, and we decided to go exploring together. I spent the evening with them, and they even treated me to dinner, which was very kind -- but Frank insisted since they had invited me to dine with them.
After a nice sunset (we found a place away from the massive crowds)-- we all headed back to our meeting point, where Tania guided us to our particular buses. I took the nearly hour ride back into Fira, and was tired, happy, and in desperate need of a shower. I was a little sunburnt, but all the better for it for the amazing day in Santorini, and thankful I decided to not skip that crazy tour!
Friday, May 4, 2018
I spent the night in Piraeus, in a hotel I initially was horrified to be at -- when I first walked up to the hotel across from the Ferry port, there were two chain smoking Russian chicks at the desk, and a few raggedy looking mutts lounging about in the reception -- none of which budged when I strolled in. My driver looked around and basically made the sign of the cross as he gave me a desperate look and ran back to his Mercedes (I guess he was afraid someone might take off with it). For the first time in my journey, I felt a pang of anxiety. What did I DO coming here?? I swallowed that fear, and proceeded.
The Russian women were pretty nice and helpful -- first appearances aside -- and told me there was an actual Cunard office around the corner, and I could take my online voucher and get my ticket ahead of time, thereby jumping the line in the a.m. -- this was a big help. The flea motel actually had a service elevator, and wifi, and with my key -- they sent me on my way to my second floor room. As I got out of the claustrophobic elevator, the hallway had a stench of stale piss mixed with bleach -- not pleasant. My senses went off again as I walked the long dark corridor thinking, "I could probably get mugged in here".
Upon opening the room, I had mixed feelings -- first was relief that I was in and I could lock the door and next thing was to inspect for bed bugs. The room was old, pre war, with high ceilings, and pleasantly, had a private balcony that looked out over the harbor -- the doors were open to a patio set and the long sheer curtains were gently blowing in the wind -- this instantly put me at ease. I began to check everything out. The bed was a plank/platform, so there was no boxspring, and also, the queen size mattress was quite new, and no evidence of bugs. A sigh of relief. The wifi worked. Good, and there was a little working fridge. So, although it was very Spartan (haha pun intended) -- the a/c actually cranked as well, and was extremely quiet. The last thing I worried about were roaches -- I stood in dread before entering the bathroom, with visions of waterbugs coming up from the drains -- but I saw no evidence of anything, and after all was said and done, decided I could stay the one night, and not be too uncomfortable. There were double locks on the door, for security, and with that, I settled in.
I actually passed a decently comfortable evening, and with no regrets, headed out at 6:30 am across the street to board the Blue Star ferry that would transport me the 7 hour journey to Santorini.
The journey across the Aegean was comfortable, but still, as with all transportation, it has its foibles. Crying babies, grouchy people, lines for the bathrooms, etc., a few spells of choppy water that initially gave me a moment or two of vertigo, but nothing too severe. I was very happy to arrive in Santorini, and find the hotel driver waiting for me in the front of an ocean of other hotel drivers. He took me the precarious 30 minute drive up the mountains to the hotel, where I was promptly greeted by a cordial hotel owner named Sophia. After straightening out yet another glitch that would have left me homeless for an evening (they had me booked for one less night than I actually was) -- she showed me a map of the area, and the lay of the land, and showed me to a very pleasant room for myself -- and I can tell you -- I am happy to be checked in and able to relax. As I sit and unpack and reflect, there's an almost odd feeling of emptiness to come out so far and be so remote into the sea, but the people here seem to be happy, and that calms that somewhat unsettled question of what do they do and how do they stand being so disconnected? I don't know if I could live on such a remote island, even as beautiful as it is -- so there goes the idea of being a castaway haha. I have an exploration planned for tomorrow morning so now to shower off this day's "travel' and just chill for the evening. It's overcast here, and rather cool, at 68 degrees F, with some thunderstorms in the forecast for tonight, and I don't mind that at all, because hopefully tomorrow it will be sunny as predicted!
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Headed out of Athens for the nearly four hour drive to Delphi/Mt. Parnassus. It was a quiet ride, as the European countrysides in a lot of these Mediterranean countries seem to be sparsely populated, with most of the population preferring to stay within the confines of the cities. As we peacefully traveled, I just relaxed and enjoyed the sites (and smells) of the farms. It was very enjoyable.
We reached Mt. Parnassus/Delphi at around high noon, and it was a blazing day, even if it was a bit hazy. The peak was imposing, as we had made it our mission to try and reach it -- a lofty goal (pun intended). We set out as a group, and huffed and puffed our way for a few hours up the dusty and rocky ascent, taking photos, and ducking into a desperately needed bit of shade here and there, to try to cool off and have a little (now very warm) water. The guide stated the weather was unusually warm -- more like end of June or early July -- we all had a laugh over this, as we wiped the copious sweat away. I was nearly blind between sweat from under my hat and the sunblock oozing down all over the place. It was kind of icky.
We triumphed at around 2 pm, and then started our slow descent down, relaxing and just enjoying the beautiful views. After, I was able to more fully explore the little town of Arachova -- beautiful and picturesque, and have an amazing lunch of spinach and cheese "pie" along with a refreshing Greek salad, and an unsweetened tea with lemon. The staff offered desserts that were scrumptious, but I was not able to eat them and decided to save them for later on (which I am glad I did). The views from the restaurant were also very impressive, and after a little while of relaxing, headed back out to do more exploring. After a little shopping in the town, our group headed back to Athens.
We reached Athens at around 8 pm, and I was pretty tired and scorched by that time -- the little bits of sunburn starting to ache from where I missed with the sunblock. I headed back straight away to my hotel, and took a little salad "takeaway" from the cafe across the way and headed up for the night. A cool shower and some relaxation was all I was thinking of before tomorrow's new adventure -- back to Pireaus, and enjoy a restful day there, before setting out on the next leg of the adventure ❤️
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Day 7 in Athens and Piraeus was a more gentle pace. I woke up later, had a more leisurely breakfast, and then started to explore the city. Problem was it was May 1, and the workers were having a protest/celebration for May Day, so much of the center of the city was shut down. Not to be put off, I explored the sea ports of Piraeus -- and that was very beautiful and interesting. I also had a nice lunch (Greek salad) and a glass of lemon soda, and back out I went.
After, I was feeling a little tired, so I decided to head back to my hotel and hit the rooftop pool. I stayed up there a while, just relaxing, and listening to the Danish tourists drink beer and banter. I went across the road a little ways after showering and got a gyro, enjoying the street musicians and the passerby people as I ate, and then headed in for an earlier night. Delphi tomorrow!!!
"Study of tomato, garlic, and onion" by Hilary J. England, oil on canvas, 8.5" x 11" I decided to do a quick study today...
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