Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The wee beasties

There is a whole lot of this going on these days:

As soon as I sit down, I am bedecked with black cats. I can't complain - it's getting colder, but we're waiting for a part to arrive for the woodstove so we can't use it til Thursday. So we keep each other warm. 

This was the configuration this morning. Last night, my view of the TV was obscured:

Ahhh, but Charlie wasn't even on me - he was on Kevin. 

Wee beasties: endless entertainment.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The sensory overload that is Florence.

We arrived in Florence at the end of a long day that involved flights from Rhodes to Athens, Athens to Rome, and Rome to Florence. That last one was a bit delayed, so we didn't arrive until past 10:30 pm.  By now, I was pretty hungry, but Kevin assured me we'd have no problem getting pizza around the corner from our hotel. And around the corner from our hotel translated, happily, to in the shadow of the Duomo. Several restaurants were in full swing, and I lost no time in inhaling a pizza margherita. I had visited Florence as a child but somehow retained zero memories of the Duomo, which seems improbable given its impossibly awesome ... everything.

The only bummer about sleeping steps away from a huge cathedral is the bells. Which did not sound the hour, or as near as I could tell, any interval thereof. They were on their own rhythm, three to eight bongs, every once in a while. But I wasn't complaining. The next morning I began a three day project to capture the majesty of the Duomo. 

By afternoon light...

Morning light...

And by floodlight at night, to the accompaniment of most excellent buskers.

chose not to invest my limited waiting-in-line mojo on getting inside; I spent that instead in going to see the David the following morning:

He is scrumptious. 

I spent most of the two full days we had in Florence simply wandering around. It is common to go into sensory overload here - it even has a name: Stendahl Syndrome. I succumbed to this before I even set foot in any museums. The window shopping alone filled my brain with so many textures and colors that I had a hard time falling asleep at night. 

Mom, that one was for you. :)

At one point I came to my senses and made my way back to the Duomo, to the adjacent Baptistery, to see Ghiberti's famed doors.


And a colleague of Kevin's scored me a ticket to the Uffizi, thus sparing me hours in line, and I dutifully trudged around with hundreds of my fellow tourists to gape over such classics as...





(Very cool ceilings)

The rooftop of the Uffizi features a balcony where we all tried to get pictures of the Duomo. I wasn't tall enough, but I found a workaround. 

One of our evenings we ate out with Kevin's colleagues and oh my god, when the chef tells you to eat wild mushrooms because they're in season, I highly advise doing just that. The four glasses of wine I consumed went down like water. Normally that would be enough to send me slithering under the table.  I attribute my stamina to the conversation, the accompanying food, and maybe the fact that it was a varietal I normally wouldn't have tried. Afterwards we went out for ... yes, gelato. Imagine if you will.

And there you have it. Florence.

I could easily spend more time in any of the places we visited on this trip. I felt like a beautiful appetizer tray was presented to me, and I soaked up as much as I could. But there is so, so much more to see and appreciate!

We have no international work trips on the horizon at the moment, so I'm just going to have to let this trip satisfy me for a while. 


Friday, October 31, 2014

Rethymnon and Rhodes

Continuing the better-late-than-never chronicles of our trip to Greece and Italy ... The next day, we took a bus to Rethymnon, some 80 km away, like Heraklion, a coastal town on the north shore of Crete. Once we debussed (why can't that be a word?) we made our way along the coast, looking for a place for Kevin to do what Kevin does in the presence of water...

...which is this. We were right near the old town section of Rethymnon, which consists of a more-or-less grid of beautiful little streets, scarcely larger than alleys.

Please note the white line in the road above, indicating that DUH, this is a road open to vehicles. 

It was all about the shopping on the most streets, but I was pleased to see that this was also a real neighborhood, filled with actual homes and normal people and such.  We wandered around, eventually grabbing a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe, and then following up with gelato, naturally.

On the ride back to Heraklion a couple of hours later, I attempted to capture some shots of the land meeting the sea.

 Crete: it's big. There is quite a bit of topography involved.

Hills don't stop olive groves.  

That evening, we wandered around Heraklion some more, observing graffiti but not understanding any of it, window shopping, spying on locals, spying on other tourists.  It appeared we were maybe not the ONLY Americans, but certainly in the minority. That evening, we dined at our hotel again - I wanted a do-over after my plate of rabbit bones two evenings previously - and as the cuisine was known for featuring traditional Cretan fare, why not.  

The next day, we were due to leave for Rhodes in the late afternoon. We had time for one more walk, so we checked out the old Venetian fortress in the harbor. It was closed for renovations, so we thought we'd take a wee stroll down the jetty behind it. 

We kind of underestimated just how long that jetty is. Maybe two miles. One way.

We finally got to the end of it, and when we looked back for the fortress we couldn't even see it - it was around a corner.

Our flight to Rhodes was really a flight to Athens first. Sure, there are direct flights, but they are spendy, as my sister would say. I had fun staring out at the Peloponnesus from my window seat - that whole chunk of Greece across the water from Athens - and kind of losing myself in daydreams.


By the time we got to Rhodes, it was past sunset. We watched lightning over the ocean on our descent - quite a sight. The next day we immediately set out for the waterfront and boom, there was Turkey, some twelve miles away. For Kevin, this was the fifth time he had seen into another country without being able to cross over the border.

We had originally hoped to rent a car and drive around the island but scotched that idea pretty quickly for logistical reasons. There would be plenty to see without the hassle and expense, and we didn't have much time anyway. We wandered along the waterfront and eavesdropped on our fellow tourists, most of whom were Russian. 

We poked our head in a church. It started off as Eastern Orthodox and was eventually converted to Greek Orthodox. I realized anew how much more there is for me to learn about Byzantine culture and history.

Sections of the sidewalk were done up in abstract designs of black and white pebbles.

We made our way over a moat into the walled fortress old town area.

Right around here is where I sprained my ankle for the third time in as many weeks. 

A sprained ankle and pebble-stoned roads are not a great combination, but having to go slowly meant I could savor the buildings.

Here we have the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. A mixture of French, Spanish, and Byzantine influences, I read somewhere on a placard.

The inside was pretty spartan - mosaic floors, to be sure, but not nearly as fussy as it could have been. There was very little in the way of interpretive signage so I never did learn what the series of grand rooms were used for.

In the moat were cannonballs graciously donated by the Turks. 

I lusted, but exercised forbearance, with all of the tourist shops that fill the streets of old town.

We must have been exhausted, because we had an early dinner, followed by dessert at a little shop selling one thing, and one thing only: chocolate fondue. The shopgirl asked me if I wanted dark, milk, or white chocolate and I looked at her as though she were insane. Only one of those choices counts as chocolate. She approved of my choice.

The light was totally different on the water the next day.

Actual colors. Amazing. 

We flew to Athens again. This is Tilos, as near as I can tell. 

Then we flew to Rome. And then Florence. A long day. Fortunately, there was this to amuse us in the airport in Rhodes:

Not something you'd see in the States, huh!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Athens - Heraklion

The trouble with traveling via tagging along on business trips is that there just isn't much time. After our first full day in Athens, we slept tremendously well on our scrumptiously comfortable bed and the next day...we left for Crete. Athens: a city with thousands of years of history - time to go! good bye! Our flight wasn't until late afternoon, so while Kevin hustled to various meetings in the morning, I headed out to explore the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

It's ginormous. It took 650 years to build, and wasn't completed until Roman Emperor Hadrian's watch in the 2nd century AD. 

After the Celts invaded Greece in the 3rd century AD the temple was abandoned and assumed a new role as the Home Depot of Building Supplies. 

And why not? It must take a pretty concerted effort to quarry, transport, carve, and assemble such enormous columns. Why not reuse and recycle? Now, each fragment is roped off. "Don't get any ideas", the signs seem to say.

Ah yes, the intricate Corinthian style of column I remember learning about in 5th grade.

That's the Acropolis in the backround.

I then explored the National Gardens of Greece. It consisted of a wonderful maze of little paths and the occasional covered walkway. I didn't come across any actual gardens. Somehow I missed the gardens in the national gardens. 

It was still delightful. 

I had some lunch in the Plaka neighborhood and reconnoitered with Kevin back at the hotel just in time to grab a cab to the airport for our flight to Heraklion. Our cabby knew one word of English: "COWBOY!"  After a while it became easier to just go with the flow and admit that yes, we were cowboys, from New York. It made the conversation easier.

The next cabbie we encountered, in Heraklion, was Stellos, who spoke English so melodiously and in such a beautiful voice that we succumbed easily to his suggestion that he pick us up the following afternoon to take us to the Palace of Knossos. Most tourists who come to Crete, he told us, come on the cruise lines and are transported everywhere by bus. The successful cabbies are the ones who double as tour guides. With two grown, semi-employed sons living at home - hello, Greek economy - Stellos needs to hustle to get by.

Our hotel was right on the harbor. We wandered around Heraklion and had dinner at our own hotel's restaurant, on the roof. I had "restfully sautéed rabbit", which consisted of many little rabbit bones. Note to self: Um. Try something else next time. 

The next morning we went to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, to do our homework before our date with Stellos. 

Note to self: bring a bib next time to catch the drool.

Without further ado, some of the pottery on display. I did a terrible job documenting which pottery is from which era - in GENERAL, this stuff is all around 2,300 - 2,700 BC. You read that right. The Minoans had their act together WAY before anyone else.

I'd brought my copy of Merlin Stone's "When God Was a Woman" with me so seeing the Snake Goddess (who's on the cover of that book) was truly jaw-dropping.

And now, for the room containing both bathtubs, and large clay containers in which people were buried:

Note the skull.

After yes, an hour and a half, we were toast. We had to leave. Even knowing that we were abandoning whatever was on the second floor - my guess would be the original frescoes from the Palace of Knossos.

We wandered around Heraklion a bit more but got back to the hotel in time for our date with the lovely Stellos. 

The Palace in Knossos is huge. I'm glad I'd had a look at the model at the museum first:

By now, only a suggestion of most of those walls are present: the site is mostly open, in other words.

Few full-on structures remain, and the parts that do, such as the two-stories underground private chambers of the royal family, are not open to the public.

Around us were private tours being conducted in French, German, and Italian. We were the only Americans, as far as we could tell.

On our way back to the hotel, Stellos gave us a tour of the wall that surrounds Old Heraklion. 

It's three kilometers long and 15 meters (about 50 feet) tall. When he was a kid, there was hardly any development outside the wall but now, modern day being modern day wherever you go in the world, it's sprawl sprawl sprawl. 

That evening, we had dinner at an outdoor cafe near the Lions Square in old Heraklion. 

Twas lovely. And the bed in our hotel was even more comfortable than the one in Athens, which didn't seem possible but there you are.