Arlington National Cemetery – My Father’s Final Resting Place

My father was a complicated man. He was born in New York City, in Brooklyn, in a tough, poor neighborhood. His father died early in his life, cirrhosis of the liver, drank himself to death. As a teenager, my father got involved with an unsavory group and to escape he enlisted in the Marine Corps. The way he told it, “It was enlist or get killed” He chose the Marines for they were “bad ass” and he felt he could save face with the gang he left. He didn’t meet the minimum age requirement, but his mother lied for him swearing he was of age.

He loved the Marines. He found a family there, people he could depend upon, three square meals, people who “had his back”. He loved the routines, the order, the challenge, the camaraderie. He found purpose and believed wholeheartedly in the mission of the Marines. He could sing the Marine Corps hymn by heart and every November 10th he celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.

My father served in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. He never shared much of what went on no matter how many times we asked. When I informed him I visited Da Nang and HoiAn in Vietnam, he let slip some good times there swimming in a river, each man taking turns manning the machine gun to keep them safe. My father was a good Marine…he retired a First Sergeant, as far as he could go as an enlisted man.

At home, I think my father wished he could run the family as he did his platoon. But families don’t always work that way. His three children didn’t all fall in line. We certainly didn’t have a “Leave it to Beaver” family. Dad struggled with the concept of family, but I know he tried his best. And considering where he came from, I’d say he did alright. I know he loved each and every one of us, though he showed it differently. And he was married to the same woman for 65 years. That says something.

Some of the best times (and worst) was when we were all crammed into whatever car we owned, ready for another move. Dad always said he had “wanderlust” and he loved to move. He believed in marathon driving….we would take off early in the morning and dad would drive all day. We would stop for quick meal breaks. If there was a “point of interest” dad would stop and say, “There’s the Painted Desert…take a good look, you have 5 minutes.” and back on the road we would go. Instead of stopping for the night, dad would throw us some blankets and we would sleep in the seats as he drove all night, followed by another full day of driving and then, finally, a night in a motel. We criss-crossed the country several times this way as we went from one assignment to the next. My sisters and I would argue like crazy over who got stuck in the middle. I think I averaged one school per grade level….four different high schools. Perhaps some of his wanderlust fell upon me as I definitely have the travel bug. I think a small part of his wanting to be buried at Arlington was so we would all get another opportunity to take a trip.

My sisters and I have a lifetime of crazy stories…some hilarious, others heartbreaking and sad. But somehow we all made it through…our souls and psyche filled with cuts, scrapes, bruises and scars….most of which have healed…but also smiles and laughter, and dare I say, love.

Parents bring you into this world, they protect you and keep you safe. They teach you as much as they can. They are always there, even as you grow into adulthood. It is difficult to comprehend when they depart…and then, one day they are gone. As much as my father and I butted heads, I miss him. I loved him. I wanted to do him proud.

He was buried at Arlington February 6, 2018. The service was one of honor and respect. He received a 21 gun salute and a playing of taps. Six Marine body bearers carried my father to his final resting spot. The folding of the flag was like a ballet, each movement choreographed, precise, practiced. My father is at rest now with the family I believe he felt most at home with, he is now forever surrounded by his brothers and sisters in arms. Semper Fi, Dad….rest in peace.

I miss you Dad.

Arlington…a place of remembrance and honor. Everyone should visit once in their life.

The Tomb of the Unknown is so moving. It is guarded 24/7….through all weather…snow, heat, rain, bone chilling temperatures…doesn’t matter, a sentry will be there. They walk back and forth on a black mat….21 steps forward, stop and turn toward the tomb, wait 21 seconds. Turn toward the direction to walk, place rifle on shoulder away from the tomb, wait 21 seconds, repeat. Over and over again. It is a very solemn location. You feel honored to be there.

Kennedy’s Gravesite. Designed by Jacqueline Kennedy, she insisted upon an eternal flame, similar to the one at the Tomb of the Unknown in France. JFK and Jacqueline are buried here. To the right is a small marker with the inscription; Daughter August 23, 1956. This is the grave of their little daughter, still born. It is said Jacqueline wanted to name her Arabella. To the left is another small marker, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy August 7, 1963 – August 9, 1963. The Kennedy family had their share of heartache and tragedy. Nearby are the simple gravesites of Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. Marked only with a white cross and a small grave marker showing the name.

The Marine Corps War Memorial

Winter Trip to Mexico

We had planned to head back to Vieques, our special little island in the Caribbean, but the trifecta of hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria killed those plans. Instead we decided we would give Mexico a try, specifically Cabo San Lucas. For some reason we have never ventured south of the border for a holiday. There was always somewhere else on our travel radar that trumped our southern neighbor. That and the reports of rising levels of violence. Shortly after making our reservations we read the following State Department posting for the Cabo area:
Criminal activity and violence, including homicide, remain an issue throughout the state. According to the Baja California State Secretariat for Public Security, the state experienced an increase in homicide rates compared to the same period in 2016. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted, criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Bystanders have been injured or killed in shooting incidents.
But we were assured from our contacts in Cabo that tourists were safe so, with a little trepidation, onto our plane we did board. When leaving out of Seattle, tradition has it I always grab a Seattle Times to read on board…..bad choice this time. There in black and white was an article describing six people hung from highway overpasses just out of the San Cabo airport the day before we left. Should I show Heidi or not???? Too late…she saw. Trepidation is building to consternation. But wait….it gets worse.
The next day we decide to drive to the Walmart in Cabo to grab some groceries and supplies. On the way we cross a bridge spanning a dry riverbed and there to our right was a body just lying in the sand. “Don’t look”, I say. Of course, Heidi looks, and being the positive person she is, she assumes he is just passed out drunk, sleeping it off. But why was there a small battalion of police walking about? About an hour later, shopping completed, we cross the arroyo on our return trip….and there, in the same spot, still uncovered, was the body. Definitely asleep, like forever asleep. So what is beyond consternation? Alarm? Worriment? Jitters? Horror? Angst? Dread?…..all would fit our feelings.

We had rented a cute little casita with a pool mid-way between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. As we both came down with terrible colds, we decided to just hunker down, enjoy the warmth and sun, read our books and try to erase the vision of the dead body from our minds.

A couple days later, feeling a bit better, we ventured out to explore the area. First day into Cabo San Lucas…a bit touristy for us…seems to cater to the younger crowd, but we did find some amazing tacos. Another day into San Jose del Cabo…home to the airport and more laid back than Cabo. Thursday night is Art Night in San Jose del Cabo. The roads are all closed to traffic, the galleries open their doors, singers, dancers and entertainers take to the streets, and food smells from all the restaurants hang in the air. We just roamed from street to street taking in the sights and smells. Fun time.


Left early one day for a road trip up the Pacific coast to Todos Santos. Todos Santos is a little art community, home to an enclave of ex-pats. Cobblestone streets, art galleries, little cafes….our kind of place. Ate at Tequila Sunrise Cafe across the street from the Hotel California. The Hotel actually has nothing to do with the Eagle’s song, but you find yourself humming the tune all the same. At Tequila Sunrise we had probably the very best margarita known to mankind and served to us by Mr. Margarita himself…worth the trip just for the beverage.(recipe at end of blog) We also grabbed a cute little piece of pottery and, a must for us, a piece of artwork to frame when we return home.


Once we got over the dead bodies, we actually enjoyed our time in Cabo. The sunsets and sunrises were spectacular. The people we met were kind and friendly. The food….well, the food was amazing. We found a little hole-in-the-wall place in Cabo named Gardenias that served the absolute best tacos for just a couple bucks and occasionally we splurged on high end restaurants. Cabo is definitely growing with many a new hotel being built. Across the highway from us was the Grand Velas Resort. Rooms here go for $900.00+ a night and they have a taco that sells for $25,000.00. Really, $25,000.00….filled with Kobe beef, Beluga Caviar, civet coffee and even some gold flakes.

We’ve always been foodies and we got our fill here in Cabo.

We are glad we decided to visit Cabo…it was close and somewhat inexpensive. The scenery was spectacular and nothing but sun and warmth in the middle of winter. Nice place to escape the cold and snow in Washington state.


Recipe for Margarita served at Tequila Sunrise Cafe in Todos Santos

Wet the rim of a Margarita glass using a slice of key lime (do not use water!)
Salt the rim of the glass
Fill glass 3/4 full with large ice cubes (about 3 oz of ice)
Add 3 oz of quality blanco/silver/plata tequila from 100% de agave. The El Capricho tequila is what is used in Todos Santos.
Add 1 oz of Cointreau
Add 1 oz of Damiana liqeuer
Squeeze 4 key limes into the drink, add a lime slice to the rim and “stir slowly” with a straw.

Nafplio – The Most Romantic City in Greece

We planned the last part of the trip as an exploration of the Peloponnese Peninsula, but when we arrived in Nafplio we immediately fell in love. We extended our stay and canceled our remaining reservations. This town has it all…a fortress high on the hill, quaint streets with no cars, nice beaches, good food, and friendly people.

To get here we rented a car….we got a little Fiat 500c…cute as a bug!!!! And really good on gas.

On the way out we drove by the Corinth Canal. This canal literally changes the Peloponnese Peninsula into an island. The four mile long canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf. It is only 70 feet wide at sea level and still is traversed by boats and small cruise ships, but only if they are 58 feet wide or less. Started in the 7th century BC, the digging proved too difficult. The project was picked up again during Roman rule (under Emperor Nero) in 67 AD using a workforce of 6000 Jewish slaves. This project was also abandoned. Not until 1893 was the canal finally finished. Today about 11,000 ships pass through every year.

Nafplio is just so cute. All the roads in the old town are pedestrian only. Like Chania, it is filled with cafes and shops, the buildings built during the Venetian rule. At night families migrate to the city square where their children ride bikes and scooters around the fountain, the men drink their ouzo, the women chat away….very family oriented. Nafplio is only a couple hours from Athens so many Athenians come here for a quick vacation. We did not see another American the entire time we were here.

The Palamidi…Venetian Fortress
High on the hill, overlooking and guarding Nafplio, is the old Venetian Palamidi Fortress. This was the last fortress built by the Venetians. Just as they were completing the walls, the castle was over run by the Ottoman Turks. These Venetians were expert masons….most of the fortress is still intact after all these years. In the harbor lies a water castle called the Bourtzi (means “Tower”). Originally built as part of the fortress system, it has since been used as a prison, a home for the Executioners (seems like no one wanted them for a neighbor), a hotel/cafe, and is now being refurbished to be opened up for tours. At night the Bourtzi and the Palamidi are all lit up…beautiful sight.

Beaches and Mycenae
Each day we would head out to a beach. Our favorite was Kontili Beach, a wide expanse of sand and gravel and crystal clear (and warm) Aegean Sea. At the far end of this beach is a tiny little church perched upon a small hill above the water. So much nicer than Pink Beach on Crete as it was devoid of the crowds.

Mycenae is the ancient bronze age city, founded by Perseus and home to King Agamemnon, leader of the expedition to Troy. (he happened to sacrifice his daughter to the Gods in exchange for fair winds to Troy….seems his wife held a grudge about this act and later took it out on him by stabbing him to death while he was taking a bath.) To enter the palace area you must pass under the Lion’s Gate with walls a good six feet thick. The museum on the grounds holds artifacts found on the site with displays of weapons and pots, gold jewelry and burial urns and so much more. Spectacular and so, so, so ancient.

Tomorrow we head home and we must say goodbye to Greece.
Our Turkey/Greek Odyssey coming to a close….an unforgettable trip!!!
Big question now…where to next???

Athens

We only have two and a half days in Athens, clearly not enough time to do the city justice. There is so much to see, such history; ideas, concepts, ideals, philosophies that have survived the years.

Our first stop is the Acropolis. It is kind of like the Mt. Rainier of Athens…no matter where you are you can look up and spy the Acropolis. It’s like a giant birthday cake set out for all to see, the Parthenon acting as candles. We chose to hike up in the evening, when the temperature cooled a bit. Our hotel was located nearby in the old Plaka area so we wound our way through a few narrow streets, bought our tickets and headed up. Now all around the base of the Acropolis and along the shoulders are amazing sights to see. There is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, The Legendary Olive Tree of the Pandroseion, the Theater of Dionysus, the Temple of Athena Nike…and many more. These are all ancient but built at different times. And at the top, the shining glory, the most sacred sight of the ancient world, The Parthenon. We truly were in awe being here in the shadow of such history.

The Temple of Dionysus
Built in the fourth century BC, could hold as many as 17,000 people. Still in amazing shape.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Completed in 161 AD, holds about 5000. Currently used as a concert/theatre venue. Luciano Pavarotti has performed here, so has Sting and Elton John.

Pandroseion and the Olive Tree, The Old Temple of Athena Polias

The Parthenon
The jewel of the Acropolis. You are not allowed to walk inside (there is actually a crane inside as restoration is occurring), but you can walk all around. The temple was built from 447 BC to 338 BC, and is still magnificent from every angle.

Next day we took off on foot to see more sights. Truly, everywhere you go in this ancient city is a building or site that is older than old. Modern buildings are sometimes built over and around little churches or archaeological sites.

The Panathenaic Stadium

Built originally as a racetrack in 330 BC, redone in marble in 144 AD, at one time held 80,000 people, currently 50,000 is the seating capacity. At the last Olympics held in Athens, this was the site of archery and the finishing point of the men’s and women’s marathon. This is where the torch handoff is presented to the Host Olympic city. The stadium is made entirely of marble and the design far-sighted. There is a walkway around the track, but it was designed lower than the track so people walking by won’t block the view of the people sitting in the front row. The water run off below the walkway is still intact and hasn’t needed a bit of restoration. We took turns standing on the First Place podium and did a short sprint on the track (emphasize the word “short).

Temple of Olympian Zeus
Only 15 of the 104 Corinthian Columns remain standing, but you can still get a feeling of the majesty of the building. There is one column in pieces, toppled in 1852 in a wind storm, where you can see how the columns were pieced together. Truly spectacular.

Acropolis Museum
There are just some museums you don’t want to miss…the Louvre, MOMA, the Rijks Museum, The Smithsonian (and many others) and the Acropolis Museum. Great design, great collection of antiquity. The top level is a replica of the Parthenon with the remaining pieces set in place. So sad many of the pieces are on display in other countries, and won’t be returned. Our opinion, they belong here at home.

We loved Athens. We walked where Sophocles, Aristotle, Plato, Herodotus, Hippocrates and so many others walked before us. We tracked through the old Plaka area, ate delicious Greek food (shouldn’t a Greek Salad just be called Salad in Greece?), bought an Athen’s Hard Rock Cafe pin, some jewelry, and soaked up the Grecian sun.

We rent a car tomorrow and drive to the Peloponesse Peninsula and the romantic city of Nafplio.

LAST DAYS ON CRETE

After all our hiking, we decided to do a beach day, so off we drive to Elafonissi Beach, also known as Pink Beach. Certain times a year, the sand on this beach is a light pink color, but not this time of year. We got there early after surviving a winding, mountain road. The beach was empty at 9:00. We grabbed an umbrella and two lounges, went for a swim and started working on our books and tans. Little by little the lounges by us filled up. Soon the sand between us and the water filled up. There must have been a couple thousand people at the beach, but it is so large it doesn’t seem like Waikiki where it is shoulder to shoulder, feet to head.

For some reason, I thought the water would be really warm, but it was a little brisk, about 77 degrees F. Once you got wet, it felt good. This was one of those beaches where you can wade out forever, your feet always in sand.

We left around 2:30 with our pelts all tanned and two books finished. Back into the car and ready for the mountain road again. Here are some driving videos:

Driving and Raki

The Tunnel

Cute Village

We have fallen in love with Crete. A special place for us.

Next up: ATHENS

The Samaria Gorge…an Epic European Hike

The Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in all of Europe and home to one of the most popular hikes on the continent. You begin the hike high in the White Mountains of Crete, at about 4100 feet, and end up at sea level at the Libyan Sea. You descend through pine forests and traverse through a gorge with cliffs ascending to heaven. While not technical, it is 16 kilometers long over stones, more stones and even more stones.

The trail is open only May through October, the rest of the year it is too treacherous with raging river water and falling rocks. On any given day, up to 3000 people may make the trek. It is not a hike if you desire solitude.

We got an early start, bought our tickets at the park entrance and down we went. It is helpful if your parents were mountain goats for the first 3 kilometers are rather steep with many a switchback….a good thigh burner. You continue to descend, but not nearly as steep, until you come to the old settlement of Samaria at 7 kilometers. Here people have lived for centuries, the last inhabitants were forced out when the area became a National Park in 1965. It’s a good spot now to eat lunch, refill your water bottle, use the water closet and then off again.

The scenery now changes as the trail enters the gorge. Steep cliffs soar above you on both sides. You feel so tiny as you make your way along the riverbed. Important to watch where you place your feet for you pretty much walk on loose stones for the next 4 or five kilometers. You cross the river a couple dozen times either rock hopping or using wooden bridges built for the purpose. Wild oleander blossoms brighten the way. You hear the bleating of an occasional wild goat. This section of the trail is truly spectacular.

WE MADE IT!!!! TIme to celebrate!!!

Here’s a little video of our hike:
Hiking the Gorge

When you come to the end of the trail, there is a small little village right on the sea. You grab a bite to eat, a cold beer and then a couple lounge chairs and an umbrella and just chill out until the ferry arrives. A short 40 minute ferry ride with outstanding views of the southern coast, brings you to another village with road access. The wind was blowing so hard it pushed the ferry (the size of a Washington state Evergreen class ferry) completely past the dock. We had to come about for another go…a hearty cheer erupted when we finally docked. Then an hour and a half bus ride home with at least 1000 curves. Don’t ask Heidi about this trip. Finally home to Chania…time for dinner and then bed to rest our weary bones!!! Definitely an EPIC day.

Mountain Monasteries

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We drive today to visit the Monastery of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity).  We pass ancient orchards, the branches green on top of thick, twisted and gnarled  trunks.thumbnail_IMG_1600thumbnail_IMG_1599.jpg

 

 

Orange trees burdened with fruit compete with the olive groves for the most popular tree on Crete.  Boxes of bees litter the countryside, the thyme honey recovered ever so sweet.  When you arrive at the monastery, initially you are not impressed.  From the parking lot it is a rather plain, nondescript building.

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But once in the courtyard, every changes.

The grounds inside were spectacular…roses, fruit trees, lavendar…such variety, a real visual feast for your eyes and nose.    The underside of the central dome featured the face of Jesus looking down upon everyone.  dome

The altar bright and intricate.

altar

Carved wooden seats for the monks lined the walls.  Offering candles lit the entry.candles

Off to the side was a little museum filled items of gold and silver, robes, crosses, manuscripts, wooden carving and other historical relics of the monastery.   Built in 1634, the church has played and continues to play an important role on the ecclesiastical life on the island of Crete.  The monks also run a profitable and award winning olive oil and wine making facility.  We visited the cellars and of course sampled the wine and oil, heck, we even bought a couple bottles to enjoy later.

Further down the road is the Gouverneto Monastery.  Unfortunately for us it was closed for the day, so we instead took the trail down to the abandoned Katholiko Monastery and the cave of St. John the Hermit.

Supposedly, Saint John founded the Katholiko Monastery, perhaps the oldest monastery in Crete.  It is said that while praying he hit his stick upon a rock and from thence forth sanctified water flowed with curative powers.  In his later life, he wandered the hills naked, crouched over with age.  Mistaken for a wild animal, St. John the Hermit was shot by a hunter.  His last request was to be taken to his cave to die.  His bones were found and are interned in the cave today.

After we explored the cave, we made our way further down the hill to the abandoned Katholiko Monastery. The trail ends at the monastery and a large bridge that spans the gorge. Not wanting to stop until we made it to the sea, we found a steep little scramble off to the side and arrived at the riverbed. We then followed it another kilometer to the sea. There was an small inlet that was once a used as a harbor, and outside the harbor waves from the Aegean Sea crashed upon the rocky shores. Luckily there was a nice breeze blowing as we climbed back up to our car.

We finished the day with a nice dinner watching the sun set beyond the little Chania Harbor.

It is up early tomorrow…..we do an epic European Hike…The Samaria Gorge!!!!!!