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.

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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!!!!!!

Chania, Crete

Tell any Greek that you are visiting Chania (pronounced Hon Ya) and they will say “ti oraia”…How Lovely!!!!! Little known outside Greece, Crete’s cultural captial has long been Greece’s favourite city. A gentle and sparkling mix of historical beauty and seaside charm.

Crete is the largest Greek island and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean. It has pretty much escaped the tourist hordes but that may be changing. People are finding out about the absolutely fabulous beaches, the rugged mountains and gorges, the food, and, of course, the people. Crete is part of Greece, but is seems to have its own culture. One thing you can be sure of, at every meal you will be served some Raki, compliments of the establishment. You need to be extra careful drinking Raki….at 37% or more alchohol, the effects can quickly sneak up on you.

We took the fast ferry from Santorini to Heraklion, Crete….rented a car and drove the almost 150 kilometers to Chania, mostly in the dark. Driving is something else here in Greece. Important to understand that you drive on the shoulder pretty much all the time. This way, those who want to go fast can get around you and those in the opposite lane can also easily pass if you are off to the side. It seems to work, and we have quickly become shoulder drivers. At one point we almost had a few passengers with us. Right as the sun was setting, nature called and we pulled into a small gas station right on the coast. While I was busy exploring the men’s room, Heidi was busy snapping pictures of the sun dropping into the sea. All of a sudden the back doors opened and in popped a couple Greeks. A more astute partner outside the car noticed Heidi inside and at the same time spied their car just 10 meters away. Communication became a bunch of hand gestures and a lot of laughing. Seems everyone rents the same model of white Nissan Micra.

Chania is this “Cute as a Bug” city, with its narrow, labyrinthine alleyways to the historical Venetian Harbor. We heard one woman explain, “So cute!!! You can’t swing a dead cat in any direction without hitting something cute”. Never had heard that expression before, but she was spot on. Chania is dripping with cuteness. Getting lost should be your goal as you wander down alleyway after alleyway. It’s a shopper’s paradise and a feast for your eyes. Stroll past old Venetian homes and gaze upon ruins from Byzantine times, your camera your inseparable companion.

People have been living on Crete since the dawn of time, well at least over the last 6000 years…first by Neolithic people, then the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Dorians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, and occupied by the Germans during WWII. All left their mark on Crete, but for Chania, the greatest influence were the Venetians. Approximately 1/6 of the population of Venice moved here in the 13th century. They fortified the city and the harbor and built most of the buildings still standing in the old section of town.
I was reading another travel blog, and the author described Chania as “a jewel in the Mediterranean beautiful enough to make your eyes feel as if they’re going to burst into tiny little hearts and spill out all over the turquoise sea.” I can’t think of a better description.

Tomorrow going for a drive to visit some mountain monasteries and do a small gorge hike.

Goodbye to Santorini

Santorini Island was home to Mt. Thera and in 1610 BC it erupted with one of the fiercest explosions ever witnessed by man. Archaeologists feel this explosion may have brought an end to the Minoan Civilization due to the tsunamis and temperature declines caused by the massive amounts of sulfur dioxide spewed into the atmosphere. What is left is a thin, 18 mile long, crescent shaped island that almost encircles the massive caldera. Towns cling to the cliffs that soar upward 200 to 300 meters out of the sea.

Now-a-days Santorini is one of the most visited islands in Greece. Most mornings up to four cruise ships steam into the caldera and deposit their passengers. Today we will see the Royal Princess with 4300 passengers and the Celestyal Olympia with another 1500. Most will come to Oia and fill the narrow walkways to the point of gridlock. The first day we were here, four cruise ships were in town and the crowds were overwhelming. The powers to be have actually limited the number of passengers allowed on the island at any one time at 8000. We have quickly learned where to find the cruise ship schedule and to hunker down when they arrive or go somewhere off the itinerary.

Yesterday we hiked from Oia to Fira, opposite direction from what is recommended. Our path had more uphill during the 13 kilometer walk. The route follows the edge of the caldera. You climb three hills and at the top of each is a little church. One must be very devout to attend the services. It was a beautiful hike and we only met a handful of people along the way. One couple was from South Africa and they had just been to Crete, our next destination. We soaked up their recommendations and somewhere along the conversation stream we were convinced that Africa must be moved up on our bucket list.

Tomorrow we leave for Crete, the largest of all the Greek islands. Sad to leave Santorini but so excited about visiting the former center of the Minoan civilization.

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Last Dinner on Santorini…..Ambrosia Restaurant

Wasting Away Again in Santorini Ville

Santorini…you’ve seen the pictures…that Greek island with the white washed homes and blue roofed churches, all dangling off the cliffs high above an azure Aegean Sea. We’ve had Santorini on our bucket list for a long time. They’ll be no rushing around touring for the next few days. We intend to just soak in the sun and the sights and take a vacation from our vacation, well, most of the time.

We are staying in Oia (pronounced ee a) As always when we stay in one spot for a few days, we seek out the bakery. Up early, we follow our noses to find that unmistakable scent of baking bread. We are led to To Poupvi Bakery, just down by the bus station. They have arguably the best baklava in the entire Greek world. Each morning we set our breakfast table with fresh fruit, Baklava, Greek yogurt, orange juice and a little Ouzo. Great way to start the day.

Santorini is a photographer’s paradise. You just need to point your camera and PRESTO, a post-card perfect picture.

We shall finish at least one book while here, but tomorrow we need to get SIM cards and the only place to do so is Fira, the capital city here on Santorini. There is a path calling us bright and early tomorrow.

Cave Hotel, Open Air Museum, Love Valley

While in Cappadocia we stayed in the quaint village of Goreme. Years ago Goreme was just a working village where people farmed the land and raised sheep. The rooms, carved into the fairy chimneys centuries prior, served as homes for the people and barns for livestock. There were no balloons, but occasional backpackers would wander through to view the unique landscape. One person, Mr. Ali Yavuz, decided to turn one of his barns into a guesthouse for weary travelers. It was a hit, and soon others followed suit and the town transformed overnight, much like Leavenworth. Mr. Yavuz little guest house has now evolved into a 47 room hotel, the Kelebek Special Cave Hotel. The room we stayed in used to be Mr. Yavuz’s ancestral home. Another room once served as a chapel, another a barn, a storeroom, the others all unique, all carved from the stone. Now cave hotels are everywhere, as well as cave restaurants and shops. Carpet stores, cafes, souvenir shops now line the main streets. While tourism has replaced farming, Goreme is still a quaint little village. Men, escaping the noon-time sun, can be found sitting under grape arbors playing backgammon or dominos. Invitations are tossed at you to sit and enjoy a Turkish Coffee or some hot apple tea. Life still moves at a slower pace, much like the balloons passing in front of our balcony as we sipped our morning coffee.

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LOVE VALLEY

Yesterday in the balloon we floated above Love Valley. Today we hiked the trail that meanders through the gorge. About a quarter mile into the hike, our journey was interrupted when two dogs, a man on horseback and his herd of sheep crossed in front of us…we quickly recorded our “encounter”
All That Grass and Sheep in the Road
Once the road was clear, our hike resumed. The road/trail wove between small farms with apricot, apple and pear trees. Here and there were small plots filled with grapes, melons, squash and onions, all ripening in the warm Cappadocia sun. Our path made a sudden turn to the right and smack dab in front of us we encountered our first Fairy Chimney. Standing approximately forty feet tall, it served as a sentry guarding the others behind him. Soon we were in a forest of fairy chimneys, all standing erect and tall. These “chimneys” are phallic in appearance (thus the name Love Valley) although Heidi and I both agreed a better name might have been “Viagra Valley”. Found a land tortoise near the base of one of the chimneys…cute little critter. At one point we hiked high on a hillside and looked out to the horizon. If you took away the fairy chimneys, the area could easily be mistaken for Eastern Washington. All in all a great 4 mile hike.

Goreme Open Air Museum
We have soared above Cappadocia, hiked among the Fairy Chimneys, today we go underground. We visited the Goreme Open Air Museum. Here we found dwellings of people who lived here centuries ago. Deep into the hillsides were carved homes and churches. In other areas of Cappadocia, entire cities have been found underground, some going 11 levels deep and holding up to 3500 people. Stables, store rooms, communal rooms, kitchens, churches…were all carved into the stone. While most of this area is sedimentary stone, I cannot for the life of me comprehend how these rooms were carved. Some of these were constructed before the advent of metal. At the Open Air Museum, we saw the artistic genius of these early inhabitants. The thinking and planning that went into creating these places of worship is mind boggling. Brightly painted frescoes still adorn much of the interior, protected from the sun, wind, and rain/snow. Prior to this area becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was open to anyone who happened to wander by. Unfortunately, vandals defaced many of the faces depicted on the frescos. While the caves protected the artistic treasures from the elements, they could not stop thoughtless people.

We leave Cappadocia with another rug and memories that will last a lifetime. We soared like the birds and tunnelled underground. We are thinking we need to come back to Turkey. There are miles and miles of trails to be hiked. We missed the Travertine Pools of Pamukkale, the ancient city of Ephesus, the Sümela Monastery carved into a hillside, and the breath-taking Turkish beaches on the Mediterranean. We head to Greece tomorrow. We can only hope we will find the same level of hospitality and kindness that we found here in Turkey.

Geri döneceğiz…..we will return.

Up, Up, and Away in Cappadocia

Thirty million years ago, volcanic eruptions deposited massive amounts of ash and mud upon the area now known as Cappadocia, Turkey. Through the years erosion has shaped the area into an other-worldly landscape. From the earliest time of man, cave dwellers have lived here. Entire cities were built underground, some 11 levels deep into the ground able to accommodate thousands of people. Monasteries and churches were carved into the ground…the altars and seats chiseled from the stone. Some are intricately painted. Christians hid from Roman soldiers. The history of this area is astonishing. If you are interested in reading more, see HERE

Flying Over Cappadocia
There are over 25 balloon companies here and at any one time 100 balloons can be seen floating over Cappadocia. We booked a hot air balloon flight with Butterfly Balloons. We lucked out and grabbed a spot for an extra long flight in a little smaller basket….it was just us, Kevin, an oil and gas engineer from Scotland, Sylvia, a flight attendant from Indonesia (Singapore Airlines), and Max, a Doctor of Philosophy from Russia, and of course Bozlak, our pilot. We were picked up bright and early (4:25 am), given a light breakfast, and ferried to our balloon. We got there just before they turned the burners on. We scurried into the balloon, received our safety talk, and lifted off into a clear blue Cappadocia morning. I cannot find the words to describe the landscape of Cappadocia so instead of trying I’ll add a lot of pictures. At one point during our flight, we entered Love Valley, and just as we descended down among the Fairy Chimneys, Kevin handed me his phone and asked if I would man the video. He got down on one knee, pulled out a diamond engagement ring and asked Sylvia to marry him. She accepted!!!! Pretty cool. Our balloon continued to soar well past the others and finally landed in a wheat field, and get this, Bozlak touched down right on the trailer, I mean RIGHT on the trailer…AMAZING!!!!

We helped to deflate the balloon and then had the traditional champagne toast, but in addition, it was Sylvia’s birthday and Kevin arranged for a birthday cake (does that guy get brownie points or what!!!!) We were all rather giddy after the flight….a time to remember to be sure.

There is truly nothing like a balloon flight, and when you add the landscape of Cappadocia and doing it with someone you love….well, it’s magical.

ISTANBUL

“Why do you want to go there?” “Isn’t it dangerous?” “Be safe.” “Aren’t you afraid?” “Where is Turkey?” These, and similar comments, were typical responses when we said we were coming to Turkey. We expected it, for the media did a good job reporting the rash of bombings last year in Ankara and Istanbul. Everyone has heard of their prime minister becoming more and more autocratic. But you find everything isn’t mayhem and turmoil that the papers would lead you to believe. We found an extremely safe environment with many safeguards put in place. At the airport a security screening was installed BEFORE you check in for your flight, in addition to the regular screening prior to entering the gates. We found a city full of warm, kind, friendly people….people who would go out of their way to help you. Like the two women who made a point of helping Heidi navigate the payment instructions at the pay toilet under the Galata Bridge. Or the man who guided us to the English speaking attendant at the post office. People on the street coming up to us just to say hello (not counting the ones wanting to sell us carpets) The way we look at it, we probably have a much high probability of getting killed in an automobile accident on the way to Seattle than anything happening to us here in Turkey.

Istanbul is a MASSIVE city…over 20 million and spans two continents. Founded around 3000 BC and named Byzantium, renamed Constantinople in 306 AD after the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. In 1453, after being conquered by the Ottoman Turks, the city received its current name, Istanbul…meaning “The City”.

Each day we were here we walked over 9 miles…taking in as much as possible. There is soooo much to see and do and such amazing food!!!!! One day we ate breakfast in Europe, lunch in Asia and back to Europe for dinner….now that is continent hopping for you!!!!

Istanbul Sights
Hagia Sophia – Without a doubt one of the most beautiful churches/mosques in the world. Now a museum, you feel so tiny when you stand under her massive dome. This is actually the third church built on this site…the first two were destroyed in separate riots. The current Hagia Sophia was built in 532, with no power tools, no cranes, and believe it or not, no steel. It’s an architectural marvel and a wonder to behold.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is opposite Hagia Sophia. This is a working mosque, but is open to tourists throughout the day except during the daily calls to prayer. Built in 1609, it isn’t as old as Hagia Sophia, but many will say it is even more beautiful. Entry is free of charge and you must be wearing respectful clothing to enter. Shawls and long skirts are provided for women and covering for the legs for any man arriving in shorts above the knee.


Basilica Cistern
Built around 527AD, this underground reservoir has walls around 6 meter thick and covered with a fine layer of mortar dust to create a water tight seal. Going underground is a bit creepy…dark with water dripping from the ceiling, but so cool to walk through something so old.



Grand Bazaar/Spice Bazaar/Galata Tower/Bosphorus Cruise

We were always on the go while here in Istanbul. Went to the Grand Bazaar…the oldest and largest covered market in the world. It covers over 54,000 square meters and holds over 4000 shops….a shopper’s paradise. The Spice Bazaar, not as old or as large as the Grand Bazaar but filled with every type of spice imaginable plus nuts, candies, cheeses, and goods of all kinds. We hiked up to the Galata Tower, crossed the Galata Bridge and watched the fishermen catch sardines, and took a morning cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. We spent one afternoon on the Asian side of Istanbul visiting a quaint little market and tree lined residential area, and enjoyed an evening Whirling Dervish show….and in between we ate Lamb Kebabs, Clay Pot Beef, Baklava, freshest humus in the world, rich and strong Turkish Coffee, Raki, the licorice flavoured national drink…delicious, delicious food.

It is a shame that tourism is down around 85%. One restaurant we visited said they used to have lines of people waiting in the street to eat. They employed 7 servers, all of them let go now because of the downturn in tourism. A crying shame for all the merchants, but for us it meant small lines, seats available in restaurants, no crowds.

We leave Istanbul now for Cappadocia. Can’t wait…Heidi gets her first balloon ride.