THESSALONIKI, Greece

By all means, when you come to Greece, go to Athens. The Acropolis and its state-of-the-art museum is a must-see.  Walk the old Plaka area, visit the quaint and quirky shops and indulge in the excellent cuisine.  That should take a day… or two at the most, then get out of the city and breathe!  Unfortunately, Athens is one of the most polluted, dirty cities in Europe and even the Greeks will tell you apologetically, that Athens is not a city to linger in too long.  Instead, head north into the heart of Greece.  There are little villages still steeped in traditional ways and hospitality, stunning landscapes of mountains and valleys and sea, and the interesting and vibrant city of Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, with an expansive seafront promenade and everything a city has to offer.

Towards Aristotelous Square

Towards Aristotelous Square

Like any city, Thessaloniki has its industrial, seedy side, but the old city is a representation of a place where the old meets the new with surprising success.  It is a city trying to come of age with a splendid mix of Greek tradition and European style after a stormy history of foreign occupation, war and tragedy.  As recent as the last 100 years, Thessaloniki was plummeted into an era of World Wars, German occupation, Jewish ethnic cleansing, a massive population exchange between Greece and Turkey and the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 which destroyed much of the city and left a quarter of the population homeless and unemployed.  And while the city hasn’t been immune to the effects of the present financial crisis, Thessaloniki is a testimony to the resilience of the Greek culture.

Landmark structure of Thessaloniki - The White Tower

Landmark structure of Thessaloniki – The White Tower

On our recent visit there, we found some of the most stunning Greek Orthodox churches, old Roman ruins, traditional Macedonian architecture, Ottoman monuments and a street market (Modiano Market) dating back to the early 1900’s and still cranking out goods and fresh produce.  The landmark monument of Thessaloniki is the White Tower and it is a perfect first stop on the city’s tour as it houses an excellent museum with fascinating information and exhibits depicting the colorful history of Thessaloniki.  There is an area once famous for its tailor and seamstress businesses and today there are still remnants of these fine establishments.  The old Jewish quarter with its narrow, cobbled streets and modest living quarters is a quiet testimony to an age gone by.

Flower market in front of Hamams

Flower market in front of Hamams

But turn the corner and you’ll find artsy cosmopolitan stores and multinational cafes buzzing with the day’s activity, brightly lit and surprisingly trendy.  A perfect example of Greek tradition with a European flair is the cafe, MIA FETA – a feta-tasting bar complete with a plethora of olive oil dips and pairing wines.  Brilliant!

Mia Feta

Mia Feta

Not far from the central Aristotelous Square is a very popular deli/bakery called simply, BLÉ.  The mouthwatering display of breads and sweets takes confectionary art to a whole new level.  We happened upon this haven of tasty temptation after an awesome lunch at an Italian restaurant with a french name, TRE MARIE, very popular with the locals for good reason.  After much deliberation (“No, we couldn’t possibly…No, we really shouldn’t….; Yes, we MUST.  We’re HERE after all!…”) we decided to split (wisely) the perfect chocolate soufflé  – warm and slightly crispy on the outside with a gooey flow of dark chocolate lava on the inside.  I wanted to take a photo but neither one of us wanted to stop indulging long enough to snap a picture.

Blé Deli/Bakery

Blé Deli/Bakery

Our B&B (COLORS CENTRAL) was located in the funky and hip urban area of Thessaloniki called Ladadika.   This area was electric with late night energy (thank goodness for the “Sleep Bug” app) and there is always something to do, see, eat, experience here.  On our arrival, we ate in typical Greek fashion at 11pm and the place was just warming up.  We discovered that probably the only time this area sleeps is on Sunday mornings.

Ladadika area

Ladadika area on Sunday morning

We finished off our trip by renting a car and heading further south towards the city of Katerini and Mt. Olympus.  The clouds hung low in the sky and as we worked our way up the Mt. Olympus road we entered into a dense heavy fog and it became increasingly difficult to see even the road in front of us.  We stopped to turn around but went through the same gyrations as before (“No, we couldn’t possibly…No, we really shouldn’t continue on…Yes, we MUST.  We’re HERE after all!)  So, forging on ahead, we turned a few more blind corners and suddenly burst through the top of the cloud and into clear skies.

Breaking through the clouds

Breaking through the clouds

View of Mt. Olympus

View of Mt. Olympus

Our determination was rewarded with a great hot meal at the trailhead taverna followed by a nice hike up onto the slopes of Mt. Olympus – wonderfully reminiscent of our home state of Colorado.

Mt. Olympus hiking trail

Mt. Olympus hiking trail

As we headed down to sea level to find our B&B for the night, we grossly underestimated the distance to Elatochori, and navigating new terrain in the dark was “exciting.”  What a welcome we had, though, when we finally spotted the ALSEIDES BOUTIQUE HOTEL in Elatochori, a popular winter destination especially for skiers.  We entered the old stone lodge and our spirits were instantly lifted by the warm welcome of the hostess and the hot fire in the great room’s massive fireplace.  Her mother fixed us a “snack” (Greek style snack = big dinner) and after lingering in the main room we finally retired to our own beautiful room, made up a fire in our fireplace and fell asleep to the sound of NOTHING except the crackling of simmering logs.

Alseides Hotel

Alseides Hotel

The next day, after a more than generous breakfast, we headed out to do some exploring on foot.  The village of Elatochori is very near a ski area and the terrain is hilly with numerous trails through the woods that make for a great hike.  We meandered along the riverbed for a while, over little wooden bridges, up to a waterfall and eventually back to the village.  We could understand why people are attracted to this area for a winter getaway but couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it must be during the summer months.  Perhaps a return trip for us???

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Posted in Hiking, Mainland Greece | 1 Comment

Vicenza, Italy

Vincenza vertical gardens

Vicenza vertical gardens

“So stinkin’ FUN!!!”  So well put by my five-foot, fun-loving, bundle-of-energy friend, Silvia to describe our visit to Vicenza, Italy.  The Mabie family is hands-down one of our favorite families on the face of the earth.  Imagine two great people with three awesome kids each as individual in their gifts and personalities as the other.   The kids are encouraged to work hard and play harder as modeled by their parents.  We first met them when they were stationed in Crete and now they are enjoying the perfect mix of the spice and sweetness of life  – La Dolce Vita – in Vicenza, Italy.  As expected, they have all dived into the new culture with vigor, not wanting to miss anything – sounds like my kind of people and all the more reason to visit Italy again!

Walking the Piazza in Vicenza

Walking the Piazza in Vicenza

Vincenza lies just west of its other more famous cousin Venice, and although it can’t boast about streets of water or San Marco Square, the area has its own charm of old Italian architecture, palaces, towers and piazzas.  The only thing missing is the hoards of tourists.  Vincenza itself is more of a typical small Italian city.  In Silvia’s words, “Vicenza is the epitome of Italy to me. It has a country, small town feel, but also the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities. The townspeople are passionate about their history, and welcoming. I also love the fact that within 45 minutes we can be in either Venice or Verona and either discover for ourselves and teach our kids about the culture, traditions and history of these beautiful cities that most people only dream about visiting.”

Back street in Vicenza

Back street in Vicenza

The Mabie’s home is nestled outside of Vincenza in a quaint little village called Quinto Vicentino.  As different as our experiences were each day, our morning routine was always the same – a walk down into their village to the local coffee shop/bakery for a rich cappuccino and croissant – no better way to start the day.  After that, we would all pile into their minivan and sit back and enjoy having our own private tour guides complete with the entertaining commentaries of three energetic kids ages 7-10.

Walking the park around Quinto Vicentino

Walking the park around Quinto Vicentino

Our visit to the city of Vicenza started out with a stroll into the city center where we discovered, oh happy day! a chocolate festival.  Dozens of tents were set up each displaying a plethora of shapes, sizes and flavors of chocolate creations for the passerby to sample.

These are the kind of tools every woman wants for her birthday!

These are the kind of tools every woman wants for her birthday!

Most of Vicenza’s structural wonders are credited to the architectural genius of Andrea Palladio and include the Basilica Palladiana in Piazza dei Signori and the Teatro Olimpico, the first indoor theater in the world. This theater was designed to represent the classical Roman theater and was constructed by Palladio between 1580 and 1585.  When Palladio died during its construction, another prominent architect, Scamozzi, took over the project and contributed its most impressive asset – an elaborate wood and stucco three-dimensional stage set designed to give the illusion of a long street scene from the classical era.  This set was such a technical accomplishment that it was never replaced and is still used today.

Teatro Olimpico

Teatro Olimpico

Not far from Vicenza is Marostica – a typical walled city that lies beneath the shadow of its imposing castle fortress.  One of the interesting characteristics of the large piazza in Marostica is the giant chessboard etched into the paving stones where an elaborate game takes place every two years using live performers as chess pieces, including horses and knights.  A walk up to the fortress ruins was rewarded with a stellar view over the city and the landscape beyond.

The castle fortress, Marostica

The castle fortress, Marostica

Another day we took a road trip up into the hills to a village called Valrovina, where we relished a phenomenal lunch at the popular Melograno Restaurant and then walked around the postcard pretty little town.

Valvorina

Valvorina

Valvorina

Valvorina

Our nights were spent mostly relaxing in the Mabie home making homemade pasta, enjoying good Italian wine or coffee and playing games with the kids – Farkel “pro-move!”  Our visit to Vicenza was made special not so much by the places we visited or the things we did but by the people with whom we shared those times.  Mille grazie, Mabie family!

 "Due belle sorelle"        (Two lovely sisters)

“Due belle sorelle” (Two lovely sisters)

Posted in Italy, Musings | 3 Comments

From Sea to Shining Sea – a road trip from north Crete to the south coast

South Coast views

South Coast views

One of the best ways to really appreciate where you live is to play host to friends who come to visit your “neighborhood.”  Such was the case last October when our friends from Colorado made the long trek across “The Pond” to see what was so special about Crete that we would still be here after 4 years.  Truth be told – we’re still here because the ongoing shenanigans in the US government make finding employment stateside very difficult.  But for now, we are grateful to have a job and the longer we’re here the more attached we have become to this unusual island that hums with the hybrid intensity of  modern-day tourism and ancient traditions.

Kissamos port

Kissamos port

Scott and Gail arrived on a Saturday and we hit the ground running.  There was a “cooking class” for the local women (and men) in the village near us where we learned how to make the delicious traditional Sfakiapita. Originally from the Sfakia region of Crete, these Greek pies filled with sweet mizithra cheese, hot off the griddle and drizzled with honey are a delicious treat reminiscent of  Mexican sopapillas.

sfakiapita on the grill

sfakiapita on the grill

A day spent roaming the old Venetian city of Hania always makes me smile.  The old stone buildings and little alleyways tucked back into the shadows of the old fortress walls create a maze of cobbled walkways perfect for inspiring a writer’s imagination or a photographer’s trigger finger.

Old town Hania

Old town Hania

And if you really want to be inspired, just take a road trip outside up into the hills where you will see the “real Crete” and things beyond your imagination.

Throne with  view

Throne with a view

We took off for a few days to do one of our favorite road trip loops heading to the south coast.  We stayed our first night at Stephanos Village Apartments in the high village of Mirthios.  The hotel is one of our favorites not only because of the warm hospitality or the delicious Greek meals or the comfortable, quiet rooms.  The view over the Libyan Sea is an ever-changing,  jaw-dropping buffet of color and intensity.

Sunset gazing at Stephanos Village

Sunset gazing at Stephanos Village

Sunset from Stephanos Village

Sunset from Stephanos Village

We managed to tear ourselves away from poolside the next day to play in the surf at the expansive Damnoni Beach as well as a visit to the nearby Moni Preveli – a picturesque monastery with a riveting history  (search “Moni Preveli” to read previous blog posts.)  As we walked the hushed corridors and courtyards of the monastery grounds, we felt as if we had stepped back in time.  That is, until one of the monks, cheerfully grabbed Gail’s ipod and began giving a tutorial (in English!) on apps that he was particularly fond of.   Totally blew my image of the monastic lifestyle.  But as savvy as he was on technology, he still wouldn’t let me take his photo.

Moni Preveli

Moni Preveli

Looping north we arrived at our next destination, another favorite B&B – Villa Kerasia – otherwise known as Babis’ Place.  As always we were warmly greeted by Babis and the peace that oozes from this perfect Cretan gem in the mountains just outside of Heraklion  (search “Villa Kerasia” to read previous blog posts.)  A visit to the local winery, a hike to a chapel perched high on a cliff and a delicious meal prepared by Georgia finished off a perfect three-day getaway before heading back to Hania and home.  Scott and Gail were a blast to be with and I know they enjoyed their visit as much as we enjoyed having them here.  The tearful goodbyes for the girls were tempered only by the fact that when we finally do return to Colorado, they will be there and we’ll have lots of catching up to do in their neighborhood as they help us rediscover Denver!

Posted in Around Hania, Crete, Road Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Morning Glory

8:00am:  View of White Mtns

8:00am: View of White Mtns

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10 – NIV)  Another translation puts it like this:  “One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches.”  (The Message).   I would add, “But one day spent in Your presence on a Greek island beach is the best of all!”   This morning was a glorious, generous gift from the One who delights in giving us all good gifts.  And although I could never presume to capture the reflection of His beauty on camera, I gave it a humble try.  Enjoy:

7:00am:  Moonset

7:00am: Moonset

7:30am:  Early morning fisherman

7:30am: Early morning fisherman

Suess, the beach dog

Suess, the beach dog

9:00am:  Promise of a beautiful day

9:00am: Promise of a beautiful day

Posted in Around Hania, Musings | 1 Comment

My Big Fat Greek Food Blog 2

Nature's bounty

Nature’s bounty

I know this sounds crazy, but I love it when I find a snail in my bunch of spinach.  Then I know it’s organic and fresh.  When I bring home my load of vegies from the farmers market, sometimes I find little hitchhikers which end up being freed into my yard rather than cooked up in a pot.  That’s one of the reasons I’m not going to include a recipe for cooked snails.  That, and the fact that I just have never developed a taste for them.

Live snails per kilo

Live snails per kilo

But what I have developed a taste for is beautiful, green, extra virgin, cold pressed, organic olive oil that explodes with taste and makes anything you put it on or in taste like comfort food.

Roasted vegies with olive oil

Roasted vegies with olive oil

Did you know that the average Greek consumes about 26 liters of olive oil per year?!  So an average family of four consumes over 100 liters (or 27 GALLONS!) per year.  When I tell that astounding fact to my Greek friends, they just look at me and shrug and say, “That’s about right.”  But then, olive oil here is as plentiful as water.  In fact, every authentic Greek recipe and remedy involves the use of copious amounts of olive oil.   Need a skin lotion or sunscreen?  Rub in a little olive oil.  Want to lubricate a creaky door hinge?  A few drops of olive oil will do the trick.  Hair mask?  Olive oil.  Dry lips? Olive oil.  Bee sting, rash, or mosquito bite?  You get the point.  Some remedies really should get a prize for the most creative.  A Greek friend says that a precautionary couple of teaspoonfuls of olive oil BEFORE a night out on the town will ease the effects of alcohol (presumably so you can drink even more) and that the same treatment AFTER a drinking binge will ease the effects of a hangover the next day.  I thought I’d heard it all until last month when I was the unfortunate recipient of yet another fender-bender.  The narrow street in downtown Hania was crowded with passing pedestrians – mostly old ladies.  Each one inspected the large scratch on my car and offered her sage advice,  “Tipota!  Ligo ladi!” Roughly translated it means, “It’s nothing!  Put a little olive oil on it!”  Seriously?  Even if it worked, why would I want to waste this liquid gold on my car?!

Fresh-pressed, extra virgin

Fresh-pressed, extra virgin

I have put on a few pounds since we moved here mostly due to the abundance of feta and bread.  There’s nothing really special about the bread here – it just serves as a conduit to get the olive oil into my mouth without using a straw.

Goodness in a basket

Goodness in a basket

I’ve already decided that when I leave Greece, I will have to travel with a flask of olive oil and a lemon in my purse.  Can’t get enough!  Speaking of lemons, you’ll love this succulent  Greek chicken recipe:

LEMONATO KOTOPOULO   (Lemon Chicken)

3 cloves garlic

1 whole chicken cut up

2 potatoes per person

1 t. fresh ground pepper

1 t. mustard

2 t. oregano

2 t. salt

Juice of 2 lemons (plus zest)

½ C. olive oil

½ C. water

Peel potatoes and cut lengthwise in fourths.  Place in large cooking pan.  Lay chicken pieces on top.  Cut one garlic clove in half; slice a small hole in each breast and insert ½ garlic clove.  Cut others in half and lay around pan.  Add oregano and pepper.  Dissolve mustard in lemon juice and zest and pour over chicken.  Add salt, oil and water.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 min.  Uncover, Return to oven and bake 10 min or until golden brown.  Serve with a fresh salad and, you guessed it…. plenty of olive oil!

 

Posted in Crazy Cretan Culture, Cretan Cuisine, Musings | 5 Comments

Orange you glad it’s winter?

Knock, knock…Here comes winter…

DSC_0088

There’s nothing but goodness about winter in Crete when the citris trees bear fruit, their branches heavy with juicy oranges, sweet mandarines and fragrant lemons.  An afternoon in the orchards is just another way to enjoy what Crete has to offer during its “low” season.  We stayed close to home this year and our holidays were filled with some very memorable moments.

Hania Indoor Market

Hania Indoor Market

Christmas Day was spent with the Daskalakis family in their home along with other dear friends.  Marina is an amazing cook and her Peri-peri chicken (made with her homemade spicy sauce) is perfection on a plate.  Not to be outdone, Nick is living proof that some Greek men are very comfortable in the kitchen whether it be stirring the soup or uncorking the bottle.  (And we always have lots of uncorkings thanks to Nick.)  Our many wonderful friends here made this holiday not only tolerable away from our families, but downright enjoyable.  Pair these friends up with some great Greek food and it’s always a winner!

Souvlaki- Greek fast food

Souvlaki- Greek fast food

Our weather this winter has been unseasonably mild with the very welcome absence of the harsh winds that are normal this time of year.  The day after Christmas was a perfect day to get out and do some biking.  Richard and I started out in Hania and headed west on the old highway that hugs the coastline.  It was surreal to pass through Platanias  (the area of tourism-on-steroids in the summer months) and see the hotels completely empty, locked up and waiting for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the next onslaught of tourists.  In Meleme, we biked along the old runways from the now deserted Allied Air Base from WWII.  Our trek ended at the fishing port of Kolymbari where we indulged in a much needed coffee and spanikopita.

Biking along the north coast - Hania area

Biking along the north coast – Hania area

New Year’s Eve – back at the Daskalakis home – they just can’t get enough of us…or maybe it’s the other way around.  The evening ended with our large group walking down the street towards the Hania city center and being in the middle of fireworks and festivities all around us.  Keep in mind that there is no “fireworks show” per se as in the US.  Instead, everyone has their own stash and so the whole city is lit up from every back alley and home terrace.  As we approached the indoor market area, the mob scene was impressive and the party was just starting.  Richard and I said our Kali Kronia’s (Happy New Year) and headed to our hotel room.  Every year we have treated ourselves to a New Year’s Eve night at a nice hotel in Hania.  This year we stayed at Casa Leone, a beautifully restored old Venetian mansion right on the old harbor.  (My Trip Advisor rating gives it a five star for the accommodations but a one star for the breakfast.)

View of lighthouse from Casa Leone

View of lighthouse from Casa Leone

Shhh….don’t tell anyone, but Crete in the winter is so amazing.  Yes, we do get an occasional cold snap and sideways rain, but winter here is mostly known for its sleepy, relaxed way of life that chugs along happily as we all enjoy cooler temps, no crowds, great hiking/biking weather, fantastic fruit and every excuse in the world to hang out by the fireplace at home or in a cozy taverna with friends…or just with each other.

The best part of waking up

The best part of waking up

Posted in Around Hania, Biking, Cretan Cuisine, Festivities and Events, Holidays | 3 Comments

The Twelve Days of Crete-mas

DSC_0110We hosted a Christmas party at our home last week and enjoyed the company of many friends from different cultures.  I even got out my guitar later in the evening and we all joined in a carolling fest.  One thing led to another and here’s what happens when you start laughing about your Cretan experiences after a few mugs of gluewein:

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CRETE-MAS

On the first day of Crete-mas my true love gave to me:

  • A goat in an olive tree
  • Two loaded shotguns
  • Three dumpster cats
  • Four herds of geep*
  • FIVE SHOTS OF RAKI*
  • Six Greeks a-shouting
  • Seven roosters crowing
  • Eight dogs a-barking
  • Nine Yia-Yia’s* sweeping
  • Ten beat-up trucks*
  • Eleven fender-benders*
  • Twelve watermelons
  • *Geep – A cross between a goat and a sheep (basically the ugliest sheep you can imagine)
  • *Raki – Cretan moonshine
  • *Yia-Yia – Greek for Grandma
  • *Usually OLD Toyotas that don’t look any better than the mules they replaced
  • *You’d be lucky to get away with only eleven

Gotta love it here! 

Posted in Crazy Cretan Culture, Holidays, Musings | 2 Comments

Καλά Χριστούγεννα! (Merry Christmas) 2013

Almyrides

Almyrides

You’ve heard it said, “The older you get, the faster time flies.”  I’m here to tell you that it is a true statement!  Here we are in Crete for our 5th (yikes!) Christmas .  Where has the time gone?  Our 1st year here we were still in a somewhat “shock” state.  The 2nd year was more of a vacation-honeymoon.  By the third year, the novelty had worn off and the harsh reality of living in a vastly different country/culture loomed over us.  But we made it through, had some wonderful and wacky adventures and are here to tell you that we both agree, our fourth year was a pivotal one and by far , the most enjoyable.  What was the difference?  Acceptance, tolerance,… avoidance?  Maybe a little of all of the above but mostly, it was the discovery of two very important things along this journey.  #1.  It’s not what you do or where you go, it’s WHO you’re with that matters.  #2.  The greatest, most satisfying and exciting journey of all is the one you take with God in the driver’s seat.  He has proven His faithfulness to us over and over again through the beauty of His creation and through the love of people around us.

Cmas 2013

So, this Christmas, it’s our wish that you get a glimpse of the Christmas miracle and know that God is crazy about you.  So much so, in fact, that He gave His love a face and a name – Jesus.  Almighty God wrapped up in a tiny baby.  Defies all logic.  I guess that’s why it’s called a miracle.

mir-a-cle  /’mirikel/ noun: a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.

May we all experience the consequences of His extravagant love this year.

Blessings,

Melanie and Richard

Loutro, Crete 2013

Loutro, Crete 2013

Posted in Crete, Holidays, Musings | 4 Comments

Biking the Bodensee

Uberlingen

Uberlingen

Our dream of biking in Germany came true when we ventured off for a week in September to bike around the Bodensee located in southwest Germany.  The Bodensee (German for Lake Constance) borders three countries (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) and this giant body of water with its shoreline towns have a long history beginning as far back as the Stone and Bronze Age (about 4000-850 BC) when the early lake dwellers built homes on “piles” or stilts directly on the water.

Outdoor museum site of ancient pile dwellings

Outdoor museum site of ancient pile dwellings

Today the Lake Constance is the home of a wide range of cultural interests, water sports and cuisine and you can enjoy all of the above while biking on the well-marked mostly flat pathways that hug the shoreline, meander into small villages and pass through orchards and grapevines.  The bike/pedestrian path that circles the lake is roughly 162 beautiful miles long with stunning views of the lake over one shoulder and the Alps over the other.

Bodensee cycle path

Bodensee cycle path

We decided to focus on the section of the lake known as the Untersee (lower lake, which I still don’t understand since its actually the north part of the lake).  We rented bikes and began our tour in Friedrichshafen (the birthplace of the flying Zeppelin) with the goal of biking a convoluted loop of sorts using various forms of transportation including bikes, ferries, trains and feet!

On the ferry

On the ferry

Our first day out started with a cycle around Friedrichshafen followed by a ferry ride to the quaint town of Meersburg with its imposing castle above the town.  We have discovered the best way to “see” a new place is to sit at a neighborhood bar, order up some local wine, and make friends that aren’t tourists.  We did just that in Meersburg and enjoyed the fellowship of a local couple who were more than happy to share tidbits and recommendations that even Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet don’t know about.  (BTW – The Guter Hirte (Good Shepherd) restaurant in Konstanz was excellent!).

Meersburg castle

Meersburg castle

We spent the whole day in Meersburg checking out the old town and hiking up to the castle.  Later that day we ferried across to the largest city on the lake, Konstanz, a town of historical significance and quaint Medievel architecture as well as a bustling center for education and commerce.

Part of our cycle route took us from Konstanz to Richeneau Island to Stein am Rhein and finally to Schaffhausen where devoured an amazing pasta meal at La Piazza followed by some serious snoozing at the beautiful historic Hotel Ruden.  Most of this route was in Switzerland and we found out quickly just how expensive a small snack can be.  Two espressos, two waters and two small pastries = 25 euro!  But the scenery was stellar and we got a break in the clouds so we got over it..

Rhine River

Rhine River

Most of our days were wet (there’s a reason everything is so green here!) but we pushed on from Schaffhausen to Radolfzell pedalling along the shores of the Rhine River, through postcard pastures and deep woods so quiet that it almost seemed wrong to have a conversation as we biked along.

Through the woods near Schaffhausen

Through the woods near Schaffhausen

In Radolfzell, we ate dinner at Liesele’s and stayed in the historic Hotel am Stadtgarten that was built on the old fortress wall overlooking the old moat which is now a manicured sunken garden. It was wonderful to fall asleep to the sound of heavy rain but not so nice to  bike in, so the next morning we opted to take the train to Uberlingen departing there and biking on Meersburg.  The rest of our trip was spent snooping around the Medievel streets of Konstanz, biking to the garden island of Mainau, cycling down into Switzerland to Romanshorn where we took the ferry over to Lindau (another beautiful island on the lake.)  Check out the photos in the gallery!

All through the trip we were blessed with fresh food (in some cases right off the tree), hospitable people, good health and great photos and lots of stories.  We always found something to smile or laugh about in spite of the weather.  Beautiful..

Afternoon in Konstanz

Afternoon in Konstanz

Delicious…

Carb overload at the German bakery

Carb overload at the German bakery

Whimsical…

Fountain in Uberlingen

Fountain in Uberlingen

and downright funny…

Cow spa

Cow spa

The Bodensee is a sightseeing delight and should only be experienced from the best perspective – the saddle of a bicycle.

On the trail

On the trail

Posted in Germany, Travel | 1 Comment

Love in Loutro

Tranquil evening magic

Tranquil evening magic

The highlight of August in Crete was the wedding of our dear friends’ daughter in the idyllic setting of Loutro on the south coast.  Accessible only by foot or by sea, we opted for a water taxi rather than the 45 minute hike with our belongings (including a guitar) over the narrow path that skirts along the edge of the arid south coast hillside.  This little seaside village tucked into a beautiful cove was once an important port town in Hellenistic and Roman times.  Today, Loutro is a popular destination for tourists and is especially suited for weddings not just because of its Meditteranean beauty, but because the whole town is so accommodating.  This little village closes down in the winter and explodes in the summer with 95% of the population being visitors.  But somehow, it manages to preserve the small village feel – no discos, no loud parties, no cars, buses, scooters – just a peaceful, relaxing, stunningly beautiful place to get away from it all.

Morning magic

Fresh-squeezed morning magic

We had been to Loutro a few times before but this time was special because it was sweetened by the presence of good friends and families gathering for a joyful occasion.

Wedding party

Wedding party

The wedding took place at a restaurant perched above the town with a view over the sea.  Even more beautiful than the surrounding was the bridal party and family.  I had the honor of playing some music during the wedding and so I had a great seat for viewing!

What a venue!

What a venue!

But what stood out as the crowning moment for many of us were the tributes said at the reception.  Rather than the typical chain of cheesy toasts and raunchy roasts offered by tipsy siblings or college roommates looking to outdo one another with feeble attempts at humor (usually at the expense of the embarassed bride – “Please, will somebody take the microphone away from him!”), this was a class act of beautiful thoughts shared with the intention of honoring the recipient and peppered with just enough humor to lighten the mood.  Not a dry eye in the crowd.  I must say that Nick, the father of the bride, took the prize for an eloquent speech that left even him choked up.

After the reception, the dancing began with traditional Greek dances and lots of good drink!  We woke up to a nice surprise the next morning and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to dive in a swim around with this beauty.  She even accepted a little stroke on her back from me as we were paddling around together.  I never put “swim with a sea turtle” on my bucket list because I never thought it would happen.  Now I think I’ll put it on there just so I can cross it off.  What an amazing experience!

Sea Turtle beauty

Sea Turtle beauty

It was hard to leave on Sunday to return back to the “real world” (or as real as you can get on a Medittereanean island.)  Nick has a favorite word he uses a lot to describe something very special, and this weekend in Loutro was nothing short of it …..”Magical!”

Posted in Crete, Festivities and Events, Holidays, Musings | 3 Comments