Thursday, June 27, 2019


Naxos sounds a little bit like Nauseous - which is what we were when we arrived.  Everyone who travels has a maddening airline/traffic/missed connection story - so I won't bore you too much.  Ours involved a ferry with a broken engine, multiple transfers to smaller and smaller boats on rougher and rougher seas, and my poor wife holding it together as our leisurely 4 hour tour of the islands turned into a 7 hour drama on the high seas.
But thankfully our hotel "greeter" George met us upon our belated arrival to Naxos - supposedly an island where many Greeks vacation.   It is a very dry island where the tap water is taboo but the open spigots in the streets are supposedly safe for consumption - no more stomach issues so I guess that is true.
We had four full days here, probably one more than we needed but part of our plan was to simply plunk and be.  The first day we rented the cutest convertible ever and toured the villages and ruins of the island - the spring of Zeus was at the end of a too-narrow road with no guard rails and treacherous drop-offs - luckily we met no traffic in either direction.  The villages were cute but a little sad as it was obvious many had seen better days.
Janine gets to drive
We had been told to flee Naxos town (aka Chora) during the heat of the day and we largely did.  The second day we decided on some alone time - Janine had found an exquisite bakery where she spent the better part of the day and I took the local bus down to some of the "good beaches" and rented a chair and  an umbrella.  The hypnotic lap of the waves and the relaxation of a good book in the shade made for a great afternoon.
On day 3, Janine finally got to rent an ATV - something she has wanted to do again ever since our Honeymoon 15 years ago.  We got the more powerful 300cc engine quad and went to the inland olive oil museum and later to another beach - the first time Janine spent any significant time on the beach during out whole trip - she's definitely a mountain person.
As mentioned, probably one more day than we needed - we had some fun on our last full day but it blended into repeats of past days.  We had our last(?) traditional Greek dinner on the second floor of a waterfront restaurant watching the sun set near the iconic Temple of Apollo.  It was the eve of our 15th anniversary and Janine continued her tradition of buying us tiramisu at her favorite bakery - we saved it for breakfast this morning to mark the actual day.
We are both ready to return to some routines, our home, and our dog.  A Sunday afternoon run with Jackomo is the first thing on our calendar.  But before that we must make the long journey home  -  starting with a hopefully uneventful boat ride back to Athens.  Tonight we stay on the outskirts in a port town called Rafina.  A short transfer tomorrow to catch the plane back to London - and then, because of timing, another overnight stay before our London/Portland/SF flight - sadly not business class.  How will I survive?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Between Heaven and Earth

Every time I looked up in Meteora Greece, I thought "the gods had a rock war."  The mountainous stones sitting upright in the valley were like nothing I'd ever seen before.  And the stones were the secondary reason we were here, the primary reason were the castle like monasteries atop six of them.
Somewhere around the 17th century, the monastic orders populating the caves in this land formalized their settlements into floating palaces in the sky.   Most of the material hauled up by ropes over the period of decades.  Today, a few monks and nuns still populated this magnificent structures but it is a thriving tourist business as well - although at 3 euro a visitor it's more of a boon for the town in the valley than the monasteries themselves.
Janine had heard of these and really wanted to make the four hour drive north from Athens to see these and hike between (some of) them.  I, willing to go along with most of her odd impulses, agreed and was glad that I did.  These buildings are designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites for a reason - although as I said in the opening, I was in awe of the landscape as much as edifices.
Today we have a LONG day of travel back to Athens - waiting at the port of Rafini for most of the afternoon - and then a 4 hour boat ride for our final adventure on the island of Naxos.  That's where I am now and I can say for all the niceties of the more modern ferries, I miss being able to go on an open deck - I feel like I've been on a very nice bus for the past 3.5 hours.

Thursday, June 20, 2019


We arrived by boat as all good Cretans should.  The massive ferry was much nicer than the ones I remember from island hopping 20+ years ago.   While only in second class, the extended Firepine family had scored front row seats in the boat to see our approach to the caldera of Santorini.
The houses of Santorini

In planning this trip, I had told the group - while I don't really care about re-visiting this island, we are somewhat required to go to Santorini if we are going to Greece.  Returning home without pictures of the blue and white cliffside houses would leave us feeling hollow and unworthy of social media. ;-)  It was also close to Crete and would provide a different flavor to the  trip.
It is a beautiful but incredibly touristy island.  The cruise ships and ferries are non-stop into the port and the sunset we witnessed from Oia was a site to bedhold both in terms of wondrous nature and the hordes of humanity clamoring on rocks for pink-tinted selfies.
THE CLASSIC Greek Picture
For me the highlight was probably the hike from Oia to Fira.  A 10k journey across the spine of the island full of sweeping vistas and rental properties of the rich and famous.  The ladies went shopping at the end.  Dan and Tyler rented an ATV to make their way home.  I managed to get the local bus to drop me at the beach in front of our remote house and went straight into the ocean before retiring to our patio for a well earned Mythos.
Tyler and Fiona with the ATV
I'm also happy the family made use of the few spare hours we had on our departure day to visit the ancient ruins of Akritori - the lost city of Atlantis.  It was the height of Minoan culture when the volcano at Thera blew in 1500 BC  - vaporizing many towns but burying Akritori to be discover 3.5 millenia later.
We then said our sad goodbyes. It was a great week traveling together.  The Firepines are off to visit family in England and we fly to Athens to continue our Greek Odyssey.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Legend of the Minotaur

We are just outside of Heraklion, Crete in a tiny town called Eskopi - other than having a cool Airbnb in the countryside, the highlight of this place is the local grocer who gives you shots of raki (the local grape hooch).
Jen and Janine at Knossos
One of the reasons we are here is it's proximity to Knossos - ruins of the ancient (2000 BC) Minoan culture - supposedly one of the first "empires" of Europe.  Janine, Jen, and I head there early this morning while Tyler, Fiona, and Dan did a Father's Day trip to a local beach with caves.
Minos is the legendary king who had Daedylus built the labyrinth and then put the half-bull / half-man Minotaur  (Minos = king, Taur = variation of bull) in the labyrinth to slay Athenian sacrifices - 7 boys and 7 girls every 7 years.  Later  the Athenian prince Theseus would carry some string into the maze, kill the monster, escape with Minos's daughter - there's a lot going on here with a cross-over episode with Daedylus and his kid Icarus.

Me with some Labrys (double-headed axes)

But the coolest piece of etymological data the I learned, that Labyrinth developed from the Labrys - the double headed axe that was the symbol of the Palace at Knossos.  The palace itself was massive for it's time with hundreds of rooms and 5 levels - an easy place to get lost.  From these two concepts, the double-axe logo and the complexity of the palace, it developed into the word Labyrinth - palace of the double axe.  In addition, the Minoan people held bulls sacred and had a passage ritual of grabbing the horns and flipping over the back of the bull - many were injured and killed in this process.  These ideas eventually merged into the myth of sacrificing young people to the Minotaur and the Labryinth of Crete.
The "Labyrinth" of Knossos
We head out tomorrow for the legendary blue and white houses of Santorini.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

First Few Days in Greece

We are traveling with the Firepine Family - Daniel, Jennifer, Fiona, and Tyler.  Janine and Dan have been friends for more than 20 years.  Jen and Dan started dating about the same time Janine and I did.  Fiona was born the day I  flew to Switzerland for my Ironman - because of mechanical difficulties, my plane turned around and I got an extra day to see the newborn baby.  The kids are turning 14 and 13 this year and we jumped at the chance to spend some time with our old friends and their soon to be high schoolers.

Our Balcony in Chania

We arrived separately on the island of Crete but within 15 minutes of each other.  As with all long distance travel, their were some hiccups along the way but we eventually made it to our wonderful apartment in the old harbor of Chania (pronounced Ha-nia).   We immediately began wandering the city, taking lots of photographs, and trying to pronounce the few greek words that Fiona and I knew.
Our "landlord" Lia made some great recommendations, most of which we followed.  This meant great food and beautiful beaches.  Gramvousa was probably my favorite with sweeping views from the citadel above and clear blue waters on the beach below.  The dinner at the restaurant of the same name has so far been my favorite.  One of the local specials is a type of dolmade where the stuffing is but inside of zucchini flowers instead of using  grape leaves.  
Balos and Grambousa

We did an all day hike through the Samaria Gorge - most of us still have a few aches and pains two days later.  I also think I got a light case of food poisoning.  The highs and lows of travels.
I want to keep this short and interesting so I'll leave you with those highlights until I get to our next stop.
Tyler drinking from the stream

Saturday, June 8, 2019

First World Miracle

Tomorrow we head to Greece. Today I make sure my Android phone can post to the Blog. Blogger App works on first try. Another miracle of St Rete?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Voyage Home

Because we (wisely) chose not to walk all the way to Finisterre, we had a couple of days to burn as well as an already planned 2 day layover in Paris - so our journey home was a vacation in and of itself.

We left Santiago on Tuesday morning by Bus for the town of Porto, Portugal. We had a rental in a private apartment that was very reasonably priced compared to the unexpectedly expensive tourist town of Porto. We called our host Miguel by Janine's phone and then passed the phone to cabbie so he could explain the strange drop-off point - which the cabbie promptly got wrong. But we made it anyway and Miguel gave us a good lay of the land after marching us to the second (third in U.S.) floor of a riverside apartment building (always the second floor it seems). We promptly began exploring the myriad of churches and tiled decorated buildings of the town from where Port gets its name.

One of the more interesting excursions was the Libreria Lello - a hundred year old bookstore that may (likely) have inspired the Hogwarts library (J.K. Rowling evidently taught English in Porto).

We watched the sun set from above the city as we chatted with two twenty-somethings (one Portuguese and the other Spanish) about their next travel destinations.

While Janine and I ate our fair share of Tostada y Marmalada on the Camino, whenever we found a proper Patisserie I was rarely disappointed in the quality or the value. We lucked into another such venue in Porto. After indulging in cafes and pastries, Janine and I took different paths - her to explore the gilded world of the Church of Saint Francis and I to simply wander the streets and see what trouble I might find - very little other than getting an opinion on the best local Port cellars - which is where we headed next.

The Ferreiro Cellar was one of the oldest of the dozen or so Port cellars on the other bank of Porto (technically the city of Gaia). We learned a tad about the process and got a taste of the white and the tawny. The ruby we would taste by chance on our walk home - at a pop-up vendor outside the cathedral at the top of the two-tier bridge that spans the river Douro.

The Francesinha sandwich is probably the most memorable food from the Portugal trip - a kind of meat laden grilled cheese ladled with a tomato sauce. They also eat a lot of fava beans which were delicious with bacon (as is everything).

Another long bus ride back to Santiago was required to catch our flight to Paris. We made use of the evening to see the cathedral one more time and strangely enough the Botafumiero swung again - We are 3-0 in this regard.

The Paris layover was simply required because of Santiago flights. We have both been several times but I was excited to get in for a day and walk through all of the amazing gardens. Janine spent a few hours at a Louvre exhibit related to Christian Dior. We are staying at a hotel by the airport which will work out pretty well for our morning flight.

I look forward to coming home - albeit the word home is a bit fluid right now.