Browse Posts by Country/Region Tag:

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Trip Report: Final Leg of my Greece Trip

Hello again, 

I am already home and have worked my first week back. But I wanted to wrap up my trip reports and final thoughts, as well as share photos. I left off on the ferry from Karpathos to Santorini. The ferry was really enjoyable. From Diafani to Pigadia on Karpathos to Kasos Island to Sitia and Heraklion, Crete to Anafi Island (I was sleeping for these last two stops) and finally arriving to Santorini around 6am. It is such a big boat that moves slowly that you hardly feel like you are moving most of the time. It seemed to be mainly Greek people and only a handful of tourists. But all of the staff is super nice and always finds someone to speak English or help me when I look confused, like in the dining area. At one point, two musicians joined another who had an instrument and all played together on the outside deck with traditional Greek instruments, including a Haida which is a bagpipe-like instrument with goat or sheep skin. At each port, there are crowds of people getting on or greeting passengers getting off, as well as cars, loads of cargo, and big trucks. But it goes quickly and seamlessly, sometimes only in port for about five to ten minutes. I am glad I got a chance to ride in it before it is retired and moved to a faster, smaller boat. 

There was a local bus waiting to board when the ferry arrived around 6am. Quick and easy and I get to see a few of the other places on the island I am not staying with views of the sunrise. My hotel is a few blocks from the bus stop in Fira, where all local buses leave from. I drop my big backpack off at the posh hotel and go for a walk around Fira. As I round the corner of my hotel, a man stops to ask me where I am staying. I, of course, am not going to tell him and say I can’t remember, but he is persistent and I walk away. I find a coffee shop open and grab a coffee. The man is nice and friendly. But he keeps winking at me. Then he starts rubbing my shoulder and then slips me a wadded up piece of paper with his name and phone number. We all know this is a damn good way to lose your hand. I glare at him and say No. At least he leaves me alone and doesn’t charge me for the coffee. 

I go back to my wandering. Food and everything appears to cost at least 50% more than elsewhere. There are lots of hawkers and tourist souvenir shops selling the exact same “handmade” crap. Yes, someone’s hand was involved, but that does not make it handmade. I now realize my mistake in waiting to buy anything along my travels (I didn’t want to add to the weight of my large backpack). There is little here to purchase that appears special or representative of the parts of Greece that I really found wonderful.

There is a HUGE cruise ship in town... and I thought the Anek ferry was big! They are too big to even pull in to a port, so drop anchor in the middle of the ocean and shuttle droves of people in to town in small boats. This fills the town quickly with large, loud groups of what appears to be mainly Chinese tourists by around 10am. The narrow streets are now crowded. The selfie sticks are flying, nearly hitting me in the eyes several times. Much of the area is now luxury suites and expensive bar/restaurants. There are barricades and signs everywhere not to stand on roofs or that it is private property, but people appear to have no regard for the signs and enter or stand on restricted areas for the perfect photo opportunity. There is a small public walkway that donkeys carry cruise tourists from the port to the town that apparently has resulted in donkeys having spinal injuries and more. The path is smelly as at least one donkey seems to have been fed a Costco sized can of beefarino and lost it on the trail. And girls in their planned picture-perfect outfits still stand there and get their Santorini Selfie. Men keep approaching me and trying to join them for drinks and bars and partying. I head to my hotel to see if I can check in. 

My hotel is very swanky. The bed mattress is soft enough to not use my thermarest. There is a huge bathtub and shower with plenty of room that doesn't flood the bathroom. And you can pick as many items as you want off a menu for the included breakfast. Apparently, hotel rooms along the caldera can go for 500-1000 euros a night in high season. I go back out and wander a little more, using the day to just play with my photography. There aren't even many cats to keep me company! I grab a few street souvlaki and take it back to my hotel for dinner. Sunset arrives and hordes of people that didn't pay for an expensive restaurant or hotel view line up at one of the few public spots to watch it. There are also people flying drones to capture the views. While the sunset was nice, I wonder if it was worth it. I hung out at the hotel and had interesting conversations with staff regarding the impacts of tourism to the area. I ask about other places to go on the island that are different than Fira, but it doesn't sound promising. 

The next morning is super windy. My breakfast I ordered the day before arrives and is nice and filling. The wind starts to die down, so I decide to try to check out Oia, which is easily reachable by bus, but may be as crowded or even more so. But the bus ticket person tries to rip me off when I hand him a two euro coin for a 1.60 euro ticket and I don't feel like arguing to get to somewhere I wasn't horribly set on any way. Instead, I find a secluded bakery that smells of fresh baked goods in an alleyway secluded from the wind. I get a coffee and sit outside. The baker surprises me by bringing me a bag of freshly baked cookies on the house that are delicious! I end up staying there all day. Locals hang out there and it appears several restaurants or hotels get their bread there as many people zip in and walk out with large orders. I get treated to chocolate truffles on my second coffee by the super kind baker and sit and talk to a woman here from Indonesia who came to Athens as a house cleaner and now Santorini in a hotel, leaving her family behind and sending them money. I head back to the hotel and catch another start of sunset before catching my bus to the airport for my night flight back to Athens. As my flight left early the next morning, I spent several hours in the airport until check-in for my flight home. And now I am back! 

Quite frankly, Santorini made me sad. It shows the massive affects and impacts of tourism, which sounds like exploded over the last decade or so. And don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that I am one of them. It was a great reminder to try as hard as possible to be as conscientious as possible when traveling. I guess I am glad that I saw it, as it was really an eye opener for me. The caldera is beautiful. But the increased water and energy consumption, increased traffic and overcrowding, increased trash, and inequitable distribution of income from tourism is extremely problematic to a place with limited space and resources and it is ruining what everyone is coming to see and experience. I hope they find a way to curb it before it is too late. Or maybe we are well past that. A few locals told me the only way back to something manageable would be another volcanic explosion :(

This was a perfect first trip post-pandemic. I feel refreshed and that inner peace and centering that I get from traveling took longer to obtain, but did finally get there. My next trip planned is to go camp with the Katmai Bears again in Alaska for a week in late July/early August for my small business. And then.... who knows?!? 

Thanks for following along on my journey. Here are all my photos from the trip.


Sunday, April 23, 2023

Trip Report: Karpathos, the Island with True Greek Hospitality


I woke up in my lovely hotel room in Amoopi, made myself a coffee to enjoy on the balcony and then headed down for the included breakfast. Had a great sleep because this was the first really comfortable mattress (glad I bring my camping Thermarest every time I travel) and it is super quiet as I am their first guest of the season and only one here. The hotel is set amongst olive trees and a bee farm. Breakfast includes an egg, cheese the husband makes from mainly goat milk, delicious yogurt with their own honey, fruit juice and coffee. There is a fruit tree on their property that has a fruit I haven’t seen before and he lets me try some. And the kitten joins me from breakfast, staring at my food from the chair opposite me. Because I am really don’t want to take another taxi and ruin a good mood, I decide to walk to Pigadia. which is where I need to get to to catch the ferry that evening. It is several miles, but I figure I have 6 or so hours to kill. 

It is a warm and sunny day, it takes me past several of the beaches of Amoopi which are beautiful. Inclines with my heavy backpack aren’t my favorite, but I take my time and rest when I find shade. Olive trees are great for that! Pass some huge luxury villas in Amoopi and then the landscape is pretty barren with not much scenery other than an occasional goat or sheep and a turkey and chicken farm. The dirt road finally leads me to the busier main road heading down into Pigadia. Several people pass and wave hello. About ten minutes down the road and a guy who owns a car rental and car wash business invites me for a coffee. I have seen coffee delivery people zipping around on scooters several times, and he orders us delicious iced coffees that have a hint of cinnamon while we chat. He eventually has to go deliver something to a client, so I continue walking. Was going to try to visit the Archeological Museum, but it was closed. It was a pretty building from the outside, though. Make it down to the harbor and go try to find out about buying my ferry ticket but am told the office doesn’t open until about an hour or half hour before the ferry arrives at 7pm. I wander then harbor a bit and then decide I should probably eat. Find a restaurant on the harbor and order some grilled octopus and stuffed grape leaves. A dirty but sweet cat takes to the warmth of my big backpack and goes to sleep. Everyone in the restaurant is so nice and a man who lived in New Jersey for a while and I chat. I see big trucks and cars heading down for the ferry and the online ferry tracker app I downloaded says the boat is getting close, so I say my goodbyes and wait for the ticket office to open. The ferry to from Pigadia to Diafani is only 4 Euros. And they also print my ticket for me for my Sunday journey on the same ferry from Diafani to Santorini that I purchased online. 

The man from the restaurant waves from his balcony overlooking the harbor and then comes down to see me off. When the ship appears, it is huge! This boat, the Anek Line Prevali runs twice a week and leaves Athens and makes many stops, delivering goods and people to the islands. It was slated to be replaced April 1st by newer, faster boats that will be able to make three trips a week by a different company, but that date kept getting pushed back. This led to some anxiousness prior to my trip as I had a gut feeling when trying to pick which islands I wanted to see that Karpathos was on the top of the list and a lot of if is was doable hinged on ferry scheduling. But it worked and I am so happy it did. 

The ferry has multiple floors, with sleeping cabins and a little restaurant and coffee/drink shop. There are indoor and outdoor areas to enjoy the sunset views over the mountains island and probably the best 4 euro purchase I have ever made. I can imagine how great it was when it made its first voyage, as it has a now empty pool, gift shop, and dance/DJ hall. But the ride is only about an hour so I don’t have too much time to explore it all. I will have 17 hours on this boat on Sunday, and now I am really looking forward to it! 

I arrive in Diafani and it is dark but I find my hotel easily and the owner is there to greet me. The hotel is situated at the end of the small town, overlooking the harbor and giving it a great lookout over the whole town. I sleep well and wake up to breakfast on the balcony, a great lookout to the harbor and town. I walk to the store for water which is run by a sweet older woman in traditional clothes with a store cat that loves attention. Women walk by in traditional clothes and modern clothes. A man waved me down and says he passed me and was the one who honked as I walking with my backpack on my way to Pigadia. He looked for me on his way back to give me a ride, but didn’t see me. He has a batch of baked goods and gives me one as I set off on a walk. A woman in traditional garb has a huge uncooked bread loaf on this giant paddle, heading off to a communal oven to bake. I head to south and check out the old ruins of the town windmills. Then I set off on a hiking trail to a beach. But not far in, I see a pretty church off the trail on a cliff over the ocean and go check it out. It is next to a little house and a woman is there with her son and daughter. The woman is about to bake using the old traditional oven and invites me in to watch. She gets the fire going to heat the oven, moving things around with different sized stick/pole instruments. She then makes a brush by attaching juniper bush-looking shrubs to the end of a pole and sweeps out the oven. She has bread loaves of all different sizes and some Other baking goodies, all of which she carefully fits in the oven and closes a wooden door over the oven opening. She invites me to take photos, so I take a few with my camera that hopefully turn out. I love the traditional clothing and am kind of obsessed with these boots the women wear that look like red dress flats with tan on top so they could walk without fear of local snake bites and thorns and such. She occasionally checks and moves things around, placing something over the embers when too hot and shielding items when they brown. All the while, she is feeding me various baked goods, including a yummy little sausage pastry roll like a pig in a blanket, straight from the oven. Delicious! I finally say my goodbyes and head back on the trail, but never made it to the beach as I am stuffed and in need of a nap. 

I venture out for supper, as my hotel owners are still frantically trying to set up their restaurant downstairs and it is not ready yet. Settle on a place with calamari, which is good but busier with younger locals drinking amongst their groups. As I am heading back and of course, playing with all the cats, I run in to Manolis who gave me the morning pastry at the coffee shop, and he invites me to join him. Generally women don’t sit in the coffee shop. It appears to always be full of older men playing backgammon and talking with each other, but he says it is okay. He gets me a mountain tea with honey and explains that it is indeed a type of sage. He is from the town but has lived in France and is now back after a life traveling on the sea. He shows me all kinds of old photos of his family and tells me stories of the town. He seems to know everybody, although in a town this small, even I keep running in to the same people over and over again after one day. The next table over is several men talking politics without arguments or anger, including someone running for mayor of Karpathos and lives in Diafani. We finally say our good nights and he gives me his number in case I need anything or want a ride to or back from Olympos. He also explains that the town will be busy tomorrow as there is a festival at the church (which explains all the baked goods being prepared today). 

Wake up to another good balcony breakfast and people watch. Everyone is dressed up, either in business suits or traditional clothing. The young girls are in brightly colored dresses with gold coin necklaces. The church is absolutely packed, and I see the woman from yesterday selling her baked goods. I leave them to their festivities and head off on another walk. This time I head north and walk past a cute school with a very decorative facade. I walk to a beach that is beautiful and empty, except for a lone cat to greet me. The beach and water are so clean and I get my feet wet, but too cold to get in. I relax for a few hours before heading back. Stop by the old woman’s store again to say hi to her cat. The woman smiles and speaks to me softly in Greek, even though she knows I don’t understand. When she closes the shop to go to her home next door, the cat is lounging in my lap and she runs back inside and thrusts a Greek nougat candy bar into my hands before saying goodbye. Most people appear to have migrated from the church to the nearby restaurants. Occasional firecrackers are lit. This lasts for hours and for the younger drinking crowd, it seems to go on well in to the night. My hotel owners open the restaurant for the first night, but nobody from the festivities come down. So I eat a late lunch/dinner there and the food is great. I choose a baked feta with sesame seeds drizzled with honey and zucchini cakes. Super yummy! I chat with the owner of my hotel for a bit before bed, as she spent time in New Jersey before moving her about seven years ago. I Have an early night as I check out and head to Olympos the next morning and the weather report says it might rain around noon, so I want to beat the rain or midday heat. 

Last breakfast and then start the hike to Olympos, a matriarchal town at the top of a nearby mountain. My map says it is about an hour and a half walk away, but I must walk slow because I always take longer (especially with elevation gain and my heavy, large backpack). I start the climb and get about an hour in, sweaty and tired and starting to think maybe not the greatest idea. Many had said people will give you a lift if they see you walking on the road (it really is just one road up or down), but the hiking trail is shorter but separate from the road. But the trail soon crosses over the road and some guys in a truck see my and pull over to see if I want I ride up. They are heading to Avalona, the agriculture village near Olympos but give me a ride to Olympos. I am very thankful. 

Olympos is colorful and beautiful with a maze of narrow cobblestone streets. I find my hotel near the church that has an amazing balcony view. The owner is very kind and insists on giving me a discount on the agreed upon price as his son was in a car accident and flown to Athens so his wife went to be with him so he can only offer coffee and juices instead of a full breakfast. I don’t mind, but he changes the cost to only 35 euro for the night. We also laugh as it turns out the people in the room next to me are Americans (of which I have only run in to a few) from Capital Hill in Seattle. I have fun wandering the town, going up and down and getting lost until running into something I had walked past previously. Much is closed at low season but I grab a vegetarian pie and fresh orange juice for lunch and wander past old wind mills and churches and colorfully painted houses. I eat dinner at a restaurant called Olympos because I had read that they had donated meals to volunteers who come to Diafani to care for street cats (they seem sadder in Diafani and Olympos than I have seen elsewhere). Turns out the food was also FANTASTIC, and probably may favorite meal in Greece. All local and fresh, I have baked goat meat in a tomato base that falls off the bone along with traditional pasta called makarunes that are cooked in butter and onion and topped with a grated goat cheese. They bring an after dinner treat of orange slices with this deliciously sweet molasses fruit jam. I am sad that I only have room for one meal, even after trying to work myself in to “second dinner.’ I head back to my hotel for sunset as my balcony is west facing over the mountains and go to sleep to silence only dotted with occasional braying of a mule or bleat of a goat. 

Wake up early as I absolutely can not miss my 11:55am ferry from Diafani and I have to hike back and hopefully pick up a few supplies for the seventeen hour ferry ride. This time I take the hiking trail for a bit to cut out some of road curving back and forth, but then walk mostly on the road once it straightens out and heads down the mountain. Again, an older man passing stops and motions for me to get in, so I get a free lift back and arrive with a few hours to spare to grab a few coffees and wait for the store to open to grab some snacks and drinks. Run into Manolis again and he sees me off to the ferry and points out someone from Diafani who will also be on the ferry who he told to look out for me if I have any issues. 

Boarding is easy and I head up to the reception desk to check in. I managed to book one of the few “lux” cabins for the long ride, as it was only six euro more than a regular window cabin. My hopes aren’t high for an extra six euro, especially after several reviews complained about how dirty and uncomfortable the cabins are, but I figure what the heck… I work in a jail! How dirty can it really be?? Ha! They take me to my cabin and I love it! Big with two beds and a sitting area, clean enough for me, complimentary slippers, water, some fruit, and little bottle of honey liquor at the top front of the boat so you can see where you are heading out the window! All settled in and off to Santorini with an ETA of 6am tomorrow morning. Better set my alarm so I don’t miss my port and end up in Athens! Two days with one night in Santorini and then I begin my journey home. I will send one more trip report after returning home with Santorini highlights and a link to my photos once I download them all and get them up on my flickr account. 


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Trip Report: Low Key Greek Easter in Crete


Last I left off, I was still in Kefelonia, catching a flight from Argostoli in Kefalonia to Chania, Crete. Turns out flying in Greece is my least favorite mode of transportation, thus far. There are really no direct flights between the islands… all of them connect through Athens. And the flights were less than an hour each. There is the time you get to the airport and check through security and then some times connecting flight delays and changing gates. So if there is an available ferry, I don’t know if it really saves that much time or stress. I just prefer bus or ferry travel, as once you are on, you are good. But I made it to Chania, a little later than expected but it was easy to catch a bus from the airport to the city. 

Little snafu at my hotel, as they sent me the wrong check in instructions, but checked in. The hotel is right in Old Town, a block from the Harbor lined with restaurants overlooking the Venetian lighthouse and temple turned mosque when the Venetians lost to the Ottoman Empire in the Cretan War. I make it for the tail end of sunset. The old town is nice to stroll around the narrow streets full of colorful shops, stonework, and food, and very busy as many Greeks come to the islands for Easter or come back to home villages. 

I, of course, wake up early. Greece is not a place for early risers and the streets are pretty much empty. Sit on the harbor and enjoy sunrise before more wandering about. Have a Greek coffee at a shop with a Greek man from New Jersey who came for a regular visit about four years ago and the morning of his flight decided he just wasn’t going to return. He built a house on the sea and happily lives here now. He invited me to an Easter lamb feast at his friend’s house, but I won’t be in town. But everyone says Sougia is beautiful and relaxed, so I am looking forward to it. I then follow the sounds to the church, which is very busy on Good Friday with bells and song and large Greek crowds. I pick up some groceries, as I am not sure what will be open and within walking distance of the village for four days. But I am fine eating olives, meat, and cheese for days! The woman in the grocery store shows me the old exposed stone wall as well as the remains of a lion carving that are just part of the store! Thousand year old relic in the crackers and tinned fish aisle? Sure! Why not! I head back to the bus terminal around 1pm after a fresh Greek salad to offset all the different cheeses I have been trying (there are some wonderful goat’s milk and sheep milk cheeses in Crete). Well, okay… maybe there was a huge hunk of fresh feta on the Greek salad so didn’t totally offset all my cheese consumption. And off to Sougia (pronounced SooYah, which much like all Greek words, I have been pronouncing incorrectly). 

The bus system in Crete seems efficient and wider reaching than other places, even in low season. The ride winds through the mountains, a few which can be seen from Chania to still have snow. Everything is so green with wildflowers and blossoming fruit orchards of oranges and lemons (which give way to olive trees at higher elevations). There is plenty of sheep and goat farms with occasional goats on the side of the road. I am still not sure how it escaped me how CUTE baby goats are, but they are so adorable and plentiful in Spring. 

My AirBnB hosts meet me as the bus pulls in to Sougia to give me a ride up in to the mountains to their guest house in Lividas, a village of supposedly 14 people in the white mountains. It is a lovely spot with a large, west facing terrace overlooking the mountains. The hosts occupy the back part of the house and there is a sweet cat named Cleopatra that has a cute, squeaky meow when she wants attention, but then she doesn’t like to be touched. But she loves lounging next to you or in her stone bed in the sun. It is the husband’s family house, the top floor is empty as it was damaged during WWII. My room is great and so cute with a fully stocked with coffee, tea, local thyme honey, thick olive oil, and more. They greet guests with homemade chocolates and mastica ice cream and it is delicious! There is a small church across the road with fresh spring water that the hosts say is okay when boiled for coffee or tea. I wander the road for a bit and head back. The hosts tell me they are cooking an early Easter supper for the French family that is checking out the next day and they each chipped in 15 euros if I want some. Sure! The French family doesn’t even say a word to me as they eat on the terrace next to me, but the hosts take great care of me. Greek salad with fresh myzithra cheese, bread and tzatziki, grilled veggies and lamb with dessert. The hosts keep apologizing for having to charge me, but it is well worth it and I totally understand. Plus, it is way more than I can eat and they tell me to put the leftover in my fridge. It is all fantastic dinner with a sunset view over the mountains and faint clanging of bells as the sheep and goats wander around the mountain. It is so peaceful as the only noise is from bleating goats and sheep with their bells. I reluctantly head to bed. 

The host wants to make me Greek coffee and treats in the morning, but I get up early for Greece and let her know it is okay as I plan to head out on an all day hike. She is such a mom and says that I have to tell her where I am going and to send her messages since I am alone. It is very sweet. I head down the road for a bit before taking the hiking path down to Sougia (part of the E4 European hiking trail). It supposedly takes about 45 minutes, but is takes me hours! Partially because I am not a goat and step carefully on the loose small rocks so I don’t slip or turn my ankle and partially because I am looking at everything, cooing at every baby goat and sheep, and taking pictures. There is a wild goat here called the Kri Kri and I am hoping to see one. They have huge curved horns and are thought to have been imported during the Minoan civilization times. They are considered rare and endangered, and are elusive and shy around humans. They now only exist on mainland Crete high up in the White Mountains. My hosts say they can sometimes see them at the top of the mountains. So I was looking at the top of the mountains for one along my hike and saw movement and then long horns. Then saw a smaller one next to it… a momma and her young one! Not great light for a photo, as it was backlight, but enjoyed watching them until they disappeared and I continued my hike. But as I rounded a corner, there they were, crossing about 100 yards in front of me! We both stopped and looked at each other briefly before they darted off. Got a few photos and hope at least one turns out!! Also along the trail is a huge stone property full of all kinds of animals (peacocks and deer, along with the goats and sheep,) which later my hosts tell me belongs to a rich local doctor who must also love animals. 

I finally arrive in Sougia and stop for a coffee and to pick up a bottle of water. It is a good day for a long hike as it is somewhat overcast and breezy. I head out on the path to Lissos, site of an ancient city, now uninhabited. It supposedly takes about 90 minutes to get there and there is sometimes a water taxi back, but the sea is pretty rough today and I don’t see it running. The trail first heads down through a gorge. There is the sound of bells and goats appear on the rocks above me. Occasionally, I am passed by a Greek family out for a group hike. Then the trail climbs back up and there is a beautiful meadow plateau of wildflowers. It smells so good! After walking through the meadow, I reach the viewpoint for Lissos. I had every intention of continuing the trail down in to the valley to visit the town, but the clouds are starting to look a bit ominous and I worry about making it back through the gorge if it really starts to rain, as I am unsure about flash floods. And I am getting tired so the thought of hiking back uphill out of the valley is not appealing. But the viewpoint at least gives me an idea of the ruins, including an amphitheater and temple. I stop in Sougia for some stuffed grape leaves before the long uphill trek home. 10.5 miles, some up hill and I didn’t even get lost and have to test out the theory I had heard that if you are lost, just follow the goats or sheep because they will always lead you to a village. 

When I return, my host has made some Easter stew called magiritsa with lamb offal (intestines, heart, and liver) with lemon, rice, onions, and pepper. She explains that the week before Easter, no meat, fish, or eggs are eaten. After late night mass, this traditional stew is eaten for the first meat after Lent. The flavor is delicious, but there is a lot of offal I it and I will admit I may have snuck Cleopatra some that I couldn’t finish, as I didn’t want to offend my hosts. She also has delicious homemade traditional Easter butter cookies straight out of the oven and eggs dyed red. My hosts head to the Easter Mass in Sougia around 9:30pm and I am absolutely exhausted and head to sleep. 

I wake up for Greek Easter and the husband has homemade pastries with a delicious cream filled one dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. He is an excellent baker! There is also a red Easter egg for breakfast. The morning has a bit of a chill and I am still a bit tired from yesterday’s hikes. My allergies are also kicking up here from everything in bloom. So I get a later start and head to the nearby village of Koustogerako. The village trails are faster then the road so I take it up the mountain. This trail is less clear and I often find myself in what appears to be goat or sheep pastures. At one point, I have to get through a herd of sheep and they seem a little like they want to charge me (lots of moms and babies). I back away and make my way very slowly and as non-threateningly as possible. I make it to the village, which is slightly larger than the one I am staying in but also very quiet. I have a coffee at a cafe where people are hanging out and they invite me for beer, ouzo, and/or food. But my hosts are saving me a plate of their Easter lamb and veggies, like my first meal at their place. I wander the road back, so as not to piss off the sheep again. I check out the WWII memorial. The village is so high up that the birds of prey (golden eagles, peregrine falcons and vultures) seem to fly right past you at cliff edges, at times. I make it back to a plate of Easter food that my hosts kept warm for me. More delicious local lamb! There are occasional fireworks throughout the day and Sougia has the bigger roast lamb on a spit celebrations (but my belly is already happy and I don’t want to walk all the way down and try to catch a taxi at night). 

The next day I have a delicious homemade cheese pastry drizzled with local thyme honey that was the BEST. Like, I may dream about it for years to come. I leave tomorrow and it was warm and sunny, and the guesthouse had a washing machine to use for only 5 euros for a big load. I clean pretty much all the clothes in my backpack and hang them on the line to dry, lazing about on the terrace with Cleopatra and reading my book in the sun. I enjoy sunset as the goats and sheep run past the terrace and the bagazillion night stars, as the only real light is a few twinkles from small villages across the mountain. 

I get up early and Cleopatra hears the door and comes running to greet me and squeaks her little “hello I need attention”. I finish last minute packing and enjoy the husband’s homemade chocolate pie that they delivered while still warm out of the oven the night before. My hosts offered to drive me back to Sougia to catch the 7am bus and Cleopatra runs to the car to say goodbye. Such sweethearts, all of them. 

The bus back to Chania takes about two hours, so I arrive a little before 9am and buy a moon bus ticket to the airport for my 2:30 flight. The bus station has luggage storage for 3 euro and I drop my big backpack before heading back to wander Old Town again. Meet up with the Greek nice man from New Jersey who tried to convince me to stay and go fishing with him after he gets off work, but after all the work I put into flights and ferries and buses that only run at certain times a week, I sadly have to decline. 

Then, my travel day turns stressful, which is what often happens and why I generally hate travel days. We board the flight late and then are told we can’t leave because Athens is too backed up. So then we just end up sitting on the tarmac until we get the go ahead from Athens. I land five minutes before my connecting flight to Karpathos (the only flight of the day). And the airport is a mess with tons of people that missed connecting flights. I thought by leaving two days after Easter, I might avoid this. I was clearly wrong. Luckily, the Karpathos flight was also unable to leave on time so I made it, as miraculously my bag did, too. But the stress of it all to literally go two islands over and then having to take a taxi to my hotel 10 minutes away that they charge 30 euro for left me a bit annoyed. Taxis here are horribly overpriced and the buses on Karpathos don’t run in the off-season. I had picked Amoopi as it was closer than Pigadia AKA Karpathos Town but apparently the taxi rate is the same for both. And Amoopi, while smaller and on a nice beach is pretty much still closed up until busy season, so there are no restaurants or stores or anything open. Oh well, planning error. But the room is nice, the bed is comfy, the family seems nice, and there is a purring little kitten that wants all my attention, so it isn’t all bad. In hindsight, I should have taken the 5 hour ferry trip that would have been longer on the bus tomorrow in Crete, but dropped me at the final destination I wanted in the same or less amount of time. But the ferry system on this route has bee In limbo and schedules weren’t finalized until a little over a week ago, which could have also left me scrambling. I swear, Greece transportation planning is worse than any other country I have ever been to. Oh well, I am sure when I wake up tomorrow morning, things will be better! Trying to get to the other side of the island by tomorrow night, without taking a stupid taxi and no running buses. But I have a plan that fingers crossed, will work. 


Thursday, April 13, 2023

Trip Report: Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea


Three and a half hour comfortable ferry ride from Patras (although a bit cold and windy) and now I am in Sami, Kefalonia. My Airbnb host picked me up from the ferry terminal. We drove through the small town of Sami to reach where I will be staying the next few days in Karovomilos. The hosts live downstairs and they built out a little apartment in the attic with a great balcony overlooking Sami to watch all the boats coming in and out and a church across the street. Really cozy, just glad I am not taller as it is easy to bonk your head in certain areas of the slanted ceiling. She is a fabulous host who thought of everything. The kitchen is stocked with fruit and fresh eggs from her chicken. The fridge is stocked with water, ouzo beer, and some meat and cheese with bread for the sandwich maker. She even has left me birthday cake, as her birthday was a few days after mine, as well as some Easter cookies! 

Thankful for the stocked kitchen, as it pours rain about an hour after I arrive, I make myself dinner in instead of going out in search of food. The next morning is sunny, So I get laundry done so I don’t have stinky hiking clothes in my backpack and leave it to dry before setting off for the day. My place is a short 30 minute walk along the waterfront to Sami. I pass some sheep grazing and laugh as an older group of men emerges from the cold water and ask if I am going to swim. The friendliness of the Greek people is far more obvious here on the island, from the women sitting next to me on the ferry to everyone I encounter when walking, who greets me with “Kalimera!” (good morning) and a smile and wave. With no solid plans, I decide to walk to Antisamos beach and enjoy the sunshine. It is a nice walk with lovely views. Along the way, a herd of goats crosses my path and I hear their bells frequently coming out of the brushes alongside the road as they peak out and then scoot away from me. Get to the spectacular viewpoint overlooking the beach, mountains, and super blue water before walking down the hill on to the beach. The beaches in the north of Kefalonia or mainly pebble beaches, although I hear those in the south are sandy. No matter, as it is too cold for me to go swimming. Very little is open here as most tourists don’t start arriving until May. But I enjoy the cats and lack of people and and noise. I have a soda at the beach cafe before heading back up the hill. 

I take a branch of the road back to Sami to head in to the ancient Acropolis and old castle ruins of Sami. Not much signage, and mainly arranged rocks and rubble amid olive trees and wildflowers leads you to just imagine what it looked like previously. After my fill of scampering around, I find a hiking trail back to Sami instead of backtracking to the road. It is well marked and I follow it through cow pastures and forest down the side of the mountain until I return back to Sami. 

I stop in at the bus ticket office to see the time of the bus to Argostoli in two days to head to the airport for my flight to Crete, but they are closed for several hours. So I head to one of the few open waterfront restaurants called Dolphins and have an early lunch/dinner of calamari with fries and salad. The owner is very kind and insists I stay until the bus ticket office opens. We chat for a bit and he treats me to coffee and a shot of some kind of really nice cinnamon liqueur. When he finds out how much I love moussaka, he says he will make a fresh batch tomorrow if I want to come back for dinner. Of course, I am in! 

When I return back to my place after another 11 mile day of walking, Sophia is downstairs making dinner and invites me in. I play with her cat and chat about her moving here from Bulgaria and life here in Kefalonia. She invites me to stay for dinner, but they eat well past my bedtime around 10:30 or 11pm. 

Sleep in a little, but today is a special day… Cave day! One of the main reasons I decided to come to Kefelonia was to see Melissani Cave. I have seen pictures of it on the internet and you know I love caves! There are many within walking distance of Sami. I was nervous as I hadn’t done enough research as to when it was open during the non-tourist season. Everything I found on the internet when I arrived was that it was only open Thursdays and on the weekend, which would mean I wouldn’t get to see it. But Sophia and the restaurant owner had said it would be open on Wednesday when I was here. So I tried not to get my hopes up and walked over, only about ten minutes from my guest house. And as my wonderful travel luck would have it, it opened at 10:30!! This cave is not big, but is special as part of the roof of the cave fell in, which allows the sun to illuminate the water around mid day. In Greek mythology, it was the cave of nymphs and artifacts were found in the cave showing that it was a place of worship to Pan and nymph Melissani. There is a small boat ride around the lake and into an inlet. I get there as the sun just starts to enter and because there are so few tourists right now (they say it can be full of people and a 40 minute wait in busy season) the boat owners let me just sit in the narrow area at the edge of the water where they load people on and off the boats and watch the sun illuminate the cave. It was suppose to be cloudy until late afternoon, but apparently “partly cloudy” in Greece can mean, like two clouds. The water is a brilliant blue and is brackish water, missing fresh and salt water like censored in Mexico. I sit there for over two hours, watching the blue of the water grow bigger and bigger as the reflection of the water dances on the cave wall. At this point, the two boat operators are laughing at me, but it was just so beautiful. 

Once I finally took the boat tour, I meet a girl from Texas that had been living in London for seven years and she offered me a ride to the next cave, Drogarati. It is 8 euros for the Melissani Cave, but only 10 euros for a combined ticket to both caves and they are about four and a half miles apart, so it saved me another long walking day. This cave is more impressive in size. You walk down about 90 stairs to a cave full of stalagmites and stalagmites. They think the cave is over 100 million years old, but was just discovered 300 years ago when an earthquake created an entrance. It was pretty cool, both literally and figuratively. 

I get a ride back to Sami and check out a cave Sophia had mentioned when she learned of my love of caves that is a few blocks from the guesthouse. Zervati cave has no entrance fee and is the middle of the neighborhood. There is an iron fence that you just open and close behind you. After a small overgrown trail down, you can see the water. These were more underwater caves that I guess divers have been working on exploring. I don’t explore too much, as it is kind of creepy alone and I also hear and then see a bunch of hornets in the tall grass and I assume there is a nest somewhere nearby. 

I return to the guesthouse, as Sophia said she would be off work at 2pm and we could get coffee or something. Instead, she offers to drive me to a beautiful beach she had mentioned the night before that was a bit far inaccessible by bus during low season called Myrtos Beach. It is supposedly one of the best beaches in Greece and was in some film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. We pass flocks of goats, sheep, and a donkey in pastures by the roadside before reaching the viewpoint overlooking the beach. The beach is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a rock beach and not sand, but the rocks are super white, which causes the water to be a milky, super blue color. I don’t even think I have ever seen that color of blue before and pictures can’t even due it justice. Sophia insists we drive down to the beach from the viewpoint, and she points out a small little cave at the end of the beach that I go check out for cave number four today, making it a super successful cave day! 

We return home and Sophia is off to go tend to her chickens on the other plot of land they own and so I head to Dolphins restaurant again, as I promised to the owner to try his moussaka. It was delicious! Each one is a little different and I am hoping to perfect mine at home with the tips people are giving me to make it. The owner treats me to another after dinner liqueur to try and a coffee. Tonight’s liqueur was called Mastika, flavored with part of a Greek tree called the mastic tree. It has a very delicate lemon-ish, pine-like flavor that is not at all overpowering. The restaurant owner and I say our goodbyes and I head back to the guesthouse to pack. I am sad to have to say goodbye to Sophia. She offers a ride to the bus in the morning, but I know it is early for them and she has already done to much for me. We hug and I give her packages of Pike Place Market orange cinnamon tea that I bring as presents when I meet special people when traveling. A few minutes later, I hear a soft knock on my door and Sophia gives me a little string bracelet called a Martiki that they give to family and friends to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. 

Kefalonia is an amazing place and is everything I think of when I think of Greece. It is relaxed, wild and beautiful and full of friendly people, nature, trails, meadows, and livestock. Sad to leave as I barely scratched the surface and there is so much to see and explore, but difficult without a car and limited public transport during low season. 

Up super early, I catch the bus to Argostoli, leaving at 8:15a from Sami. The bus is pretty empty (six other people) and we cut through the mountains past many grape fields and wineries to the other side of the island, arriving about an hour later. There are no buses running to the airport now, so I will have to take a taxi, giving me about three hours to wander Argostoli. My main goal is to see a sea turtle. They have a bunch of loggerheads that live in the wharf sea grass and come up when the fishing boats are here. I see one within minutes! The small boats line the waterfront, selling their fresh morning catch. They clean it as someone buys it. Octopus, skate, and big and little fish are all for sale. When they clean it, they throw the innards overboard and little fish and a few seagulls feast. A turtle comes by, popping his head out and then disappears. I wander and walk the walkway across the wharf for a bit and grab a coffee on the waterfront. Argostoli is way bigger than Sami and busier, but still comfortable. And taxis are a fixed rate of 20 euros to the airport and there are a few hanging out near the bus terminal (taxis are expensive and sometimes hard to come by). I head to the airport early, as I hear travel is busy before Greek Easter. But it is a small airport and wasn’t necessary :) All checked in and heading of to the Venetian port of Chania, Crete for the night before heading by bus to the small mountain village of Lividas to hunker down for Greek Easter. 

Hope everyone is well!