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Saturday, August 15, 2015

RETURNING TO THE OLD FAVORITES AND EXPLORING THE NEW

I've been doing my usual pre-trip research and looking into various 'new' destinations in Greece. Each time I visit there I like to see at least one new place as well as visiting my old favorites.

For certain I'll be returning to Naxos and to Maragas Beach where I have spent many happy times camping. I missed going there last year so this time I plan on trying to spend a week at the beach. I won't be toting my little crawl-into tent though. I've decided to rent a bed-tent and give that a try. If it doesn't prove comfortable I can always opt for a room. This is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever visited and I just love being there, swimming, relaxing and having my usual beach picnic, and watching the gorgeous Naxos sunset.


 Maragas Beach



Naxos is a very interesting island with a Venetian influence. I've done the round-the-island tour several times and always enjoy it. And spending an afternoon exploring the old Venetian castle is always fun.

Venetian Castle
Venetian style vaulted streets
 
Great seafood tavernas


Exploring the island's villages

Visiting the island's Kitron brewery (a traditional drink made from lemons) 

I've written a few stories about Naxos, one in particular about camping there.


Maragas Beach Camping 

One place I've always been curious about is the Pelion Peninsula. This is the legendary home of the Centaurs and has been occupied since the Bronze Age.  There are many quaint villages in this mountainous area as well as some loved beaches. 








I have been investigating a traditional village called Tsangaradha which is not too many miles from the main port of Volos and a bit inland from the sea (with sea views). Another choice might be Zagora where there is an ancient castle ruin. 

Both these villages are accessible from Volos by bus. I could easily visit both too as they are not far apart. 

My other choices were the island of Chios but, depending on finances (due to the current drop in the looney) I may not be able to afford going there this time as it's farther up north off the Turkish coast. There's some interesting villages on Chios which is the place where mastic comes from, that resiny gum-like substance used for chewing or flavoring. 

 Chios windmills

 The village of Pyrgi with it's unique architecture


No matter where my wandering leads me in Greece I know it will be another thrilling new experience and I'm sure to come away with happy memories and lots of new travel stories.
 





Saturday, August 01, 2015

THOSE OLD FAMILIAR PLACES: ATHENS, Greece

My favorite perch above the rooftops of Plaka

I always look forward to returning to Athens,Greece to see my friends and all those old familiar places that I have grown to love as my own 'adopted' city/country.  I made my first trip to Greece in 1979, arriving by bus to Thessaloniki (from London) and then by train to Athens. I fell in love with Greece immediately. It was almost as if I had lived there before and on that first trip, plus other trips since,
 Plaka at Night

 Lysicrates Monument by the "Dirty Corner" where we used to all hang out

 Stoa of Attalus in the Agora

I have had so many deja vu experiences it really does make me think I lived there in another lifetime. In fact, my Celtic novel DRAGONS IN THE SKY is a first person narrative of a Celtic girl who gets kidnapped and ends up in Greek Macedonia. In researching it I have discovered so many connections between the Celts and the Greeks.  The whole idea of the novel (which I started writing in the '70's before I had actually visited Greece) was because my first historical novel, written when I was 17 in high school, had an Alexander the Great theme. I became fascinated with him when I was 16 and often people asked if I had lived in Greece before because I was able to write such vivid descriptions of the country and the characters.

The Parthenon

On my first trip to Greece I went to the museum in Thessaloniki and saw all the grave finds from Vergina, allegedly Philip II, Alexander's father. (This may now be contested with the discovery of a second tomb). When I took the train down to Athens I sat with a middle-aged doctor who was very kind and welcoming and when I arrived in Athens he was very helpful and encouraging.  I checked into a small hotel, The Tempi, in Plaka and thus began my exciting exploration of this amazing, historic city that I have grown to love.

View of Lykebettos over the Plaka rooftops

I visited again the next couple of years and by 1983 I decided to fulfil a life-long dream and go to live in Europe. I had always thought it might be London I'd move to, but no, I KNEW it was Greece. So I found myself a home in Plaka and there I stayed tutoring ESL and enjoying a most fascinating life for the next five years.  I regretted returning to Canada when I did in 1987 but later I went back to Greece, spending six months at a time while I was writing SHADOW OF THE LION. And since then I go nearly every year spending as much time as I can afford.  I had always thought I'd return there to live, and almost did on a couple of occasions.  And I still have that dream of living the rest of my retirement life there. But meanwhile I will be happy with my visits, each time exploring a new place in this wonderful country.

A place where I love to sit and enjoy the view

New Acropolis Museum

I have good friends in Greece and love to visit with them. I feel as at home in Athens as I do in Vancouver  and in fact, when I return to Greece I feel my life 'changes', and I am more alive and happier than I am anywhere else.
 Monastiraki market district 
Dining at a favorite souvlaki shop in Monastiraki 
So, this September I once again return to my beloved country. It has been so sad what has happened to Greece due to the econimic strife all brought about by former politicians and dishonesty and now by the determination of Germany to control all of Europe, especially greece, through the banks.  My friends there have been suffering terribly and I understand the terrible situation they have been put in. If my meagre tourist dollars can help I will do what I can and I encourage others to visit this most fabulous country too.
 Some of my Friends
 Anna owner of the To Kati Allo Taverna
Anna's family, Dino (her son), grandson and husband Leonnatis
NEXT: Exploring some new places in Greece.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

EXPLORING NEW TERRITORY: Part 2 - MALAGA, SPAIN


A couple of years ago two Vancouver friend, Carlos and Natalia, moved to Malaga, Spain to open an ESL school. I decided that since I'll be in Spain visiting other friends, it would be nice to stop by to see them too.

Malaga is the second largest city in the Andalusia region of Spain on the Costa del Sol (population 538,479). It is one of the oldest cities in the world, founded by the Phoenicians around 770 BC. The name derives from the Phoenician "malaka" which meant "salt" because fish were salted near the harbour here. It was under Carthage's rule during the 6th century, later part of the Roman Empire. After Rome fell, it was under the Islamic domination until 1487. During the Arabic rule the city became an important trade centre.  The city has Phoenician, Roman, Arabic and Christian era archaeological remains which interest me. 

Several famous people were born in Malaga including Pablo Picasso, the Jewish philosopher/poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol and more recently, the actor Antonio Banderas. Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's famous "Malaguena" is named for the city. 



Malaga has been named European Capital of Culture for 2016. There is lots to see and do in Malaga, besides the beautiful beaches (which Natalia has promised to take me to!). There are many interesting museums (at least 30) including the Picasso Museum and the Wine Museum. The baroque Cathedral "La Mangueta" has been newly restored. There is a Roman theatre, A Moorish Alcazaba fortress (with an archaeological museum) and panoramic views from the Gibralfaro Castle.  

I'll only be there for a few days but I'll try to see as much as I can while I'm enjoying the company of my friends. 


NEXT: Back to my adopted home, GREECE 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

EXPLORING NEW TERRITORY: Part 1 TORREVIEJA, SPAIN



I have visited Spain previously. On one of my first trips to Europe back in the '70's my friend Rosalie and I took our daughters with us on a camping adventure to Sitges with a day stop-over in Barcelona.  Then, during the '80's when I was living in Greece, I met up with Rosalie and her friends in Spain and we went to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.  On that trip we also spent a day in Barcelona exploring the Gaudi exhibits and Pablo Picasso museum.  I've always wanted to go back and see more of the country. So this year, on my way to Greece, I am going to visit Spain again.

I'm flying from Cardiff to Alicante, a seaside resort city on the Cosa Brava.  My friend Inka, also a travel writer, will meet me there and we will go to her home in Torrevieja. Inka says her apartment opens up right onto the beach! 

 Torrevieja is a seaside city on the Costa Brave about 30 miles from Alicante.  It was originally a salt-mining and fishing village locate between the sea and two large salt lakes.  The name "Torrevieja" means "Old Tower" as until 1802 it existed as only a guard tower and a few laborer's cottages. In 1803 King Charles IV ordered that the Royal Salt Works be moved to Torrevieja and this began the history of the town. It now has a population of about 104,000.  Torrevieja is still a salt exporter and you can visit the Museum of Sea and Salt.  It's popular with tourists from northern Europe who live there including a lot of Brits.



Inka promises to take me on a number of excursions. These will include a visit to a pirate's island. There is lots to see and do in the area and I'll try to squeeze as many adventures as possible into the 4 days I'll be there. Another travel writing friend, Darlene Foster, from Vancouver, lives nearby so I'll get chance to visit with her as well. 


www.torrevieja.com

Sunday, July 26, 2015

TRIP PLANS 2015: LONDON, THE COTSWOLDS and CAERPHILLY WALES


Houses of Parliament by the Thames

Richard the Lionhearted
'm just starting to plan my travels for 2015, leaving here August 28 with my first stop being LONDON.

I've been there so many times it's almost like returning 'home'. But each time I go I love to see new things (and there's lots to see in London!)  This time I think I'll visit the Tower of London as I haven't been for some years. And of course I'll browse around all the old familiar haunts.  I'll be staying at the Indian Y as usual (breakfast and dinner included) and it's right in the Bloomsbury area with a lot of historical houses including the one where Virginia Wolf lived which is right across the park from the Y. 
Queen Victoria monument

The London Eye
I always go on the London Walks and this time I notice there is one called "The Cotswold Walk" which really interests me as I haven't been to the Cotswolds for years either.  You meet a the Paddington train station and go from there for the day. These walks are always so much fun and this one sounds outstanding.

THE COTSWOLDS is an area in S. central England


roughly 25 mi (40K) across and 90 miles (145 Km) long just south of Stratford-on-Avon to just south of Bath. The name means "sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides" ("wold" meaning 'hills')  The name is derived from the 12th century "Codesuualt" or "Cod's-wold" - Cod's is high open land (old English) or it could come from Brittonic name "Cuda"  - a mother goddess in Celtic myth who was thoughtot reside int hat area.  Cotswolds is famous for its honey-colored limestone villages.  http://coswolds.com  

 Caerphilly Castle

After that, I'll be heading to WALES to visit my cousins in CAERPHILLY (where my dad was from). I love going there and every time I do I visit 'my castle', the Caerphilly Castle, one of the most magnificent in the UK.  I'll only be in Caerphilly for a couple of days before heading to Cardiff to catch a flight to Alicante, Spain where my friend Inka will meet me to take me to her home town farther along the south coast to Torrevieja.  
Me, in front of my castle.

NEXT STOP: SPAIN 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

CASTLES ON THE RHINE AND A VISIT TO A MEDIEVAL TOWN

On my return home from Greece last October, I stopped for a few days in Mainz, Germany to visit my friend Patrick. I told him I'd like to see some of the Rhine Castles and he had arranged with his friends Wolfgang and Jurgen to drive us to several sites.  We hopped on the train at Mainz and rode to a town nearby where Patrick's friends were waiting. 


It happened to be a rainy day, but that wasn't going to stop us from having lots of fun. We drove along the scenic river enjoying the views of vineyards that grow up the steep banks and river boats plying they way upriver.Even in the rain the scenery was beautiful. 



Patrick, Jurgen and Wolfgang, my tour guides.


Rhine vineyards

Our first stop was the Sooneck Castle, built on the ruins of a Medieval castle by Prussian princes as a neo-Gothic hunting lodge. The castle was constructed in 1282, destroyed in the Palatinate War of Succession in 1689, and acquired by Frederick William, Crown Prince of Prussia and his brothers in 1834.



Sooneck Castle
An amusing little Russian guide named Leo greeted us as we entered and showed us through the various castle rooms. He explained all the artifacts on display from the long-bow hunting equipment to the bedrooms, which weren't actually slept in but more for show. 
Our Castle guide, Leo 

 bedroom


 dining room
crossbow for hunting
It was still raining when we left the castle but the weather began to clear by the time we reached the picturesque little Medieval town of  Bacharach located where the Steeg Valley meets the Rhine Valley at a juncture near the old Roman road, Aosonius Way, which connected Mainz with Trier, branching off from the Roman riverbank road. The area was first recorded settled in 1094 bu probably was inhabited from antiquity. 
 old gate entrance



 craftsman and his art

In the Middle Ages the town of Bacharach was an important outpost on the Middle Rhine, an economically prominent site as a place of transfer, trade and warehousing for wine and timber.  We entered through a gateway in the original stone wall of the city.  It was like stepping into a picture book, with quaint timbered houses and narrow streets, obviously these days a popular tourist site. 



The Church of St. Peter


 Interior of Church of St Peter


Located in the centre of Bacharach, the Church of St. Peter is dated between 1230/40 but has gone through numerous changes and renos.  It has a baroque style sacristy and is one of the most unique examples of Romanesque architecture on the  Lower Rhine. The Church is surrounded by courtyards and open-timbered houses, many from the late Middle Ages. The town's post office tower dates from the early 1400s.


 Above the church stands the ruins of the  Chapel of St. Werner dating from the early 14th century and above that, stands Stahlick Castle, a fortified castle dating to the 12th century. 



Before heading off to explore Stalick Castle we stopped in a quaint restaurant for a typical German meal of veal schnitzel and beer.







 On our way to Stahlick Castle

Stalick Castle, towers over Bacharach

Today Stahlick Castle is used as a youth hostel. There were children frolicking in the courtyard wearing capes and sparring with pretend swords. 
 http://www.jugendherberge.de/en/youth-hostels/bacharach390/shortportraet 




On our trip back we stopped at  the ruins of another castle overlooking the river, where there is now a first-class hotel and restaurant built in its place. 



View of the Rhine River


 Remains of old castle




The views along the river were magnificent even through the mist. In spite of the weather, we had an excellent day exploring and enjoying the sites along the majestic Rhine. 

  Sunset 
 Town View