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Posts Tagged ‘peloponnese’

Sunkist2 Island Traveler

This page gives you a little insight of my Travels through my lens.

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

The Greek Mountains of the Peloponnese of “southern Greece” is far from tropical in the winter months. This roadside chapel near the famed Olympia is active with tourbuses, except for my vision this winter!IMG_5549

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The Nikon d7100 DSLR, Nikkor 55-80mm captures this Alps-like scene.

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Copps Hill Burial Ground      My travel to a new destination is not complete without a journey to a local cemetery.  You may call me bizarre, as others have noted this trait as unusual.  I generally see that the culture of a land and the knowledge of an age long past is before my eyes upon walking past those gates.  A somber reflection, in a dignified manner, into the lives of those departed, opens my eyes to the needs to respect the dead.  The payment of homage and need to glorify the memory of a family member takes on so many differences in the cultures of my travel.  From an early age I found the monuments to the dead intriguing.  The walks through the cemetery take on a peace of their own.  Ancient or modern in design, open wide or grown over set a tone.  The maintainers of the gravesites add to the culture.  My earliest remembrance came from a Victorian era matured cemetery in Connecticut, USA.  Though not in a New England wealthy town, the deceased  retained many beautiful and massive stones over their graves.  Many monuments reflected the touch of the sea with anchors and granite crosses adorned with cherubs and dolphins.  The cedar and cyprus trees were so mature that the shadows fell across most graves in a cloak of sadness.  Pools of fresh water in the hollows on the grounds drew weeping willow branches toward the reflections on the water and tears of leaves  floated down in the breeze. The families of the late 1800’s felt the sadness of loss of the loved ones and those graves clearly let the living feel the grief.

    sabagraveIn the heat of the noonday sun, no cemetery was more striking to explore than the Hassell Cemetery on the 5 square mile  island of Saba in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea.  This island is an upside down ice cream cone with a population of 2,000.  The lilliputian villages are populated by ancient seafaring Scot families and Carib/African descendants. The families had etched a space over several generations to bury the dead.  Volcanic in nature, the land required the above ground vault mausoleums.  These were not like the historic New Orleans, LA style, but more low-rise, in a dense plot of graves.  The island seaman would travel the world and return with glass and ceramic tiles from every culture.  Those tiles were then used to pave every inch of every vault in every color and mixed pattern. The reflection in the sun and the intensity of the blend is a vision of ingenuity.  Most crypts sport an oval photograph of the deceased imbedded on a raised head stone. Like a hotel washroom, the tiles are scrubbed and shined gleaming by the  families.  They were so proud of their graves.

  GreeceChurch On the road to the last vestige of land of the mainland before touching the deep blue Aegean Sea and the islands of Greece, the villages of the Peloponnese area, known as Mani, gives us the color of a proud culture.  These fierce people from ages long past retain the memories of stoic, no, Spartan times in history. This culture retains religious veins of intense respect for the dead.  The honor of the departed parent is most evident here.  The graveyard of Greece is a family place and many times attached to the family’s own individual church. These churches serve as the last resting place.  Black-shawled women tend the grave/vault near the cubic whitewashed structure.  Within a glass-doored wooden tombstone are put vessels of  “holy water” and olive oil, photographs of family, incense, dried flowers, toys, “toma” or the pressed religious icons of silver, painted icons of saints, candles of golden bee’s wax and the list goes on.  The touching sadness of the stuffed toy puppy and the photo of the dark curled haired toddler speaks of this culture.  These are glimpses into a respect for life and the prayers for the departed.  The life of the village revolves around all in the Mani mind-set.

     These and the many chances to walk the paths that the mourners have walked have opened my eyes to a respect for the timeless  museum of granite, marble, slate and the wood.  I place my hand on the chiseled words and feel the warmth of the stone and drink in the sound of the wind through the monuments that draw me to the land of the lost.  The land of the living becomes most real. 

GreeceMani

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Sunkist2 Island Traveler

This page gives you a little insight of my Travels through my lens.

Beyond

High in the Mani Region of Southern Greece Mainland perches the village of Vathia

High in the Mani Region of Southern Greece Mainland perches the village of Vathia

Tripod mounted Cannon 750, late afternoon sun of September. This village is beyond the reach of most European Tourists, hint-hint!  ~Ron

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A Tiny Greek Island Delivers Big Benefits without Stress

Flying Dolphin GR The desire is simple: hop on a little comfortable vessel, have a coffee in a roomy armchair, watch the scenery whizz by, and dock next to pure bliss.  These are the beginnings to a fulfilling getaway on the island of Hydra, Greece.  The spring months open the tiny Aegean Islands to the tourist trade and Hydra, a mere hour and one half sea trek from Athens, is well prepared for  international visitors and savvy Greeks.  The draw to the several square kilometer parcel a short distance off the coast of Greece’s  Peloponnese is twofold: no motorized vehicles and a comfort oriented infrastructure.

Mules and Sporty Motorboats

IMG_2046HYDRA The Port of Hydra is bustling with action, as the visitors make their way over cobblestone whitewashed paths to the numerous guesthouses and very small hotels. Want a taxi? Grab a Mule and driver to move you and luggage to the comforts of your Bed and Breakfast perched over the harbor slopes. A breeze is alway found in the town from the western direction and the mountainous southern peninsula of Greece.  The local sea is regularly calm and commercial trade moves on it between the mainland, the port and several little villages. Caiques can be hired to move the tourist from the harbor to several picturesque coves. Beaches abound, though some are pebbles,  and others have amenities of tavernas and changing facilities, and chaises and umbrellas. The network of pedestrian pathways lace the seaside and countryside and make casual walks very easy and true hiking objectives very manageable.

Grilled Meats and Homemade Wine, A Room with a View

hydra_tavernaHydra_ hillsPhaedraHotelHydra

Wild hare stiffado, baby lamb chops, braised field green in lemon, pistachio ice cream, washed down by carafe upon carafe of white wine from the courtyard’s oaken barrel is a start. The locals know the seasonal foods and the several great little restaurants accommodate, as all are quite good,  Seafood is alway available and a mullet or seabass grilled in olive oil and Greek oregano, bathed in lemon juice, surrounded by crispy chips is a best choice.   Christina’s Taverna is an outdoor courtyard leader and Hilda, owner at the Phaedra Hotel will point you in the right direction for the best daily activities and nighttime dinners to your liking.  The morning meal is perfect on their rooftop plaza and the comfortable rooms add to the pleasure.

hydra_mule

My fondest pleasure is the morning wake up call; well, not a call, but the sound of the “clop-clop” of the Donkeys on the cobblestone village path. Out of the canopy double bed and up to the balcony for a Greek coffee got my day going just fine.  No mopeds, no SUVs, no tour buses, all kept the day perfectly aligned.

Take the Flying Dolphin line from Pireaus Port to Hydra, secure advance accommodations, pack light and wear hiking shoes. The evenings are certainly casual and the visitor will want a sweater at night in the shoulder seasons. Value here is very good for the benefits, but bring a few extra Euros to splurge. Ya’ sou!  ~ Ron

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I have alway been mystified by amber, from the first time I held a small piece to the sky, and behold, a tiny insect came to light, trapped in the yellow resin for all eternity.  Worry beads first appeared in India. They were invented to help count prayers and consisted of a series of fruit pits, punctured and strung on a piece of string. Over time fruit pits were replaced by amber, ivory, coral, semi precious stones, or other precise stones and noble metals. A tassel and a “papas” (the bead that marks the beginning and end of its cycle) were eventually added. The people of India embellished worry beads in various ways and thus created a work of art. Worry beads evolved into a collectible jewel that soon became a symbol of wealth, prestige, power and culture. They were something between jewel and sceptre . Today, they are still used to count prayers.

The Greek word for worry beads is kompoloi (Greek: êïìðïëüé), often spelled koboloi, komboloi, or coboloi and was first introduced by the Turks.  Kombolois became popular among the common people as means for meditation and to calm the nerves.

During that period worry beads were  popular among religious Greek people.  The most common name for the religious worry beads is worry knots or komposkini (Greek: êïìðïóêïßíé), meaning a rope with knots, because the religious persons use  each knot to say a prayer.

You would be hard-pressed to not see a senior citizen Greek man sitting at a tavern or ouzo bar table without a komboloi in hand.  Twirling one is not that easy.  It took me many ouzos to learn the technique! In my right hand, the tassel is held between the middle and first finger second joint, with the tassel in the palm, lying down. A flick of my wrist in a counter clockwise motion, launches the beads over my hand and wrapping around my little finger, I then repeat the motion, releasing the Papas, shield, bead and tassel. My komboloi is silver beads on a silver rope chain with dark yellow amber beads disbursed throughout. It fits my palm size. I have owned plastic ones.  Ancient Persian komboloi can run at $1,000 for large hand hewn Baltic amber. Nice!

When tourism development in Greece occurred, komboloi, being an important element of Greek culture and tradition, became again popular but this time as a souvenir sold to tourists. Then and today, komboloi can be a trinket usually made of plastics, metals, or machine-made silver platted beads and had nothing to do with the jewel of superior aesthetics and a symbol of wealth, power, freedom and prestige that used to be in the past.

In our age, when  stress, shopping, drinking, smoking, depression and antidepressant drugs have become a matter of everyday life, kompoloi made a dynamic comeback and offer many solutions to the “vices” of contemporary life. My chain-smoking Greek shipping friend stopped cold turkey with one komboloi; twirling away the vice.

They are not exaggerating  when they say “show me your worry beads and I’ll show you who you are”.  Choices include the size, color, number of beads, shield, tassel and priest head (papas). In order for a komboloi to be functional as a twirling toy, it is said that they should consist of an odd number of beads, with a sum always equal to a modulus of four, plus one.  I was told they should have forty beads in the body: representing the 40 days of Jesus on earth before ascending to heaven.  The Plaka District in Athens purports a plethora of shops. Nafplion, Greece has a museum dedicated to the art. My favorite shop was on the rim of the volcano in Thera, Santorini, Greece.  Sadly, the old artisan closed the doors some years ago, though, I will keep my komboloi close at hand.

Komboloi of every size and style

Vitina Village Bead Shop in the Peloponnese Mountains with artisan.

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The mountains and seaside slopes of the mainland of Greece etch out treasures for the traveler.

I love the islands of the Aegean and all the attractions of the city of Athens.  Yet, the peaceful existence of the smallest villages a mere 3 hour drive from 5 million residents and the hustle of the Capital City beckons.  This is a journey not to delay.  The summer months into late October support the flexible traveler to drink in the life and leisure and weather for finding that perfect route.  I can help you find that magic place.

    I focus my attention around the town square.  Lush with olive and palm trees and roped with vines and blossoms of Bougainvillea. This village life bustles in the morning, grinds to a halt at noon, unless it is a holy day, near the church.  The cafes remain active if there is a grape-arbor overhead. Pushcart vendors do stay out in the midday sun to sell the lottery tickets or the trays of slices of melon and kilo of citrus.  The shutters on most shops close and siesta prevails.  I enjoy the pace and tone of the residents.

The southern region of Greece has the benefits of mild, dry weather and the lack of people. The variety of landscape and the ability to be close to the sea should secure the  Peloponnese Peninsula as a great start. The loop around the region is a two day trip, but I prefer to linger for a long week-end.  Think of your right hand with your first three fingers pointed downward. The center southern branch is the Mani region.  Use this as your staging area and travel on the Areopolis-Kalamatas Highway toward the West. This is a two lane road though this area and in the villages it may be one lane.  A few tour buses run this loop with European senior citizen and the Central European camper vans tour in caravans.  Take the time to visit the seaside tourist town of Stoupa. The beach is commercial and the harbor front supports a thriving trade of Pubs, Coffeehouses and Tavernas.  The Brits have figured this out a while back and Bed and Breakfast Inns abound.  This area is a little busy for me and I suggest that you move west several kilometers to Kardamillis.

    In Kardamillis (Kardamyli),you will have the beach access, the Tavernas, craftshops, bars and B&Bs. The architecture is Greek, Turkish, (though they never conquered the Mani), and colonial.  The Mani castle structures remain in this western region.  There are real estate companies that may rent one of these villas for a family for the week and many have sea views from the side of the hills above this town.

    The nightly village life reverts to the passion for freshest ingredients for food of salads, wild game, carafes of red wine, more stifados of rabbit, fried zucchini and sweets.  Somewhere ouzo will find a place.  Metaxia brandy, 5 star, rounds it all out.  A rare bouzoukis player may turnout at a Taverna; hopefully yes.

My real journey for your daytrip into the mountain villages begins five more kilometers west on the Areopolis-Kalamatas Highway to the micro village of Prosili. The draw to this hillside village is the Cathedral of  The Church of Prosili, but I prefer to find the smallest white-washed paths below the church, high on the hill above. There is a blue paint, an aqua paint, and a green paint that may only be know to Greeks in this village.  This combination painted and weathered on the doors, windows and fences paired with the intense foliage is surreal.  Prosili is a bit in decay.  The Taverna in the square has been opened, then closed, periodically.  The For Sale signs perk up in several areas and the average age of the folks has risen over these years.  Still, the beauty remains and the village life rewards all.

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Vitina in the Arcadian mountain range of the Peloponnese Peninsular of Greece rises to winter pleasure.

I have travelled the countryside of the Greek mountains in the summer months and can relate the pleasure of discovering a wealth of culture aroung every bend in the road.  The northern mountains in the center of Greece provides a touristic path that gets overrun in all seasons.  I have discovered in the winter that the  southern mountains give the traveler the chance to view a  region unphased by the hassles effecting most Europeans today.  Ski resorts and the groomed mountain trails can be found on the Peloponnese.  My destination is to the villages that  support the winter trade.  Vitina is one of these villages with less that 1000 residents.
Food and drink is the important focus of this village and the church and family really support the infastructure with  real service to the visitor. The freshest dried herbs, homemade greek noodles, rounds of cheeses and dried sausages are offered by craftsmen in the very tiny shops.  White and red wines from local vines are bottled and line the shelves.  Olive trees in groves line the roads to the village of Vitina.  It goes without saying, but I will, that the first cold press of the oil is the finest and the woods of the trees make their way to lathes and the carver hands of the villagers.  Some shops specialize in the most unique crafts. Need a walking staff with a sheep head in olivewood?  When the temperature is Zero C. and the light coating of a night flurry remains on the northern facing red tiled roofs, the lunchtime gastric juices flow.  The hardwood charcoal ovens of the local tavernas whaife the aromas of the local specialty meats in the narrow pedestrian streets.  Wild boar, hare, rooster, baby lamb are on the menu.  Field greens (horta) are still hearty and grown on the southern facing glades and those tender leaves bathed in lemon juice and olive oil, touched with salt and tossed make the meal zip. I particularly like the Taverna called Paradosiaki, a comfortable, nicely decorated family enviroment with great staff and menu.

A drive to this village from Athens takes less than two hours.  The route is quite simple as you head toward the Corinth Canal and on E65 towards Tripoli.  Before  the route narrows, yet after the fantastic mountain tunnels, and tolls, the right cutoff on road E55 and then 74 toward Olympia directs you to Vitina, also spelled Vytina.  The snow topped peaks loom over the hillside passes.  It is dramatic in winter.  Many small hotels and Bed and Breakfasts abound in the village. Larger hotels are along the access route. Finding  these gems is a joy; experiencing the benefits of each is the reward.

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