Monday, October 28, 2013

Home Sweet Home; Twinkies; A Walk in the Park; Julia Who? Banana vs. Beer?

"Well, It's Another Beautiful Day in The Villages!" Those of us who live in HappyVille have heard that phrase a thousand times, but when we awoke to our first sunrise after the Greek Adventure, it was really true. International travel is fun, exciting and exhausting, and it's always a joy to sleep in your own bed again. Rudy and Gretchen enjoyed their little vacation with My Good Friend Bob and His Lovely Wife Jan, but we lured the puppies home with promises of treats and kisses. We have seen many of our friends and neighbors who asked how the trip went, and after saying it was fun but tiring, I refer them to previous blog posts for the details...

One of my happy tasks this week was to award Twinkies to Chris Lavender and Psychic Bob Blythe for quizzes they won over the summer. I couldn't find the delectable little treats when we returned from our coach trip on 1 October (evidently they are still very popular) but found them after our return from Greece (I couldn't find them in Greece, either... well, what do you expect from Europeans?) Anyway, here are Chris and Bob accepting their rewards. Chris, like Your Trusty Correspondent, is a Twinkie connoisseur. We like our Twinkies frozen, or at least chilled.

I'm pretty sure Bob's prizes never made it into the house; I heard the crackling of cellophane as we were departing... Bob is evidently not a Twinkies connoisseur. Nevertheless, whether consumed frozen, chilled or at room temperature, or using a knife and fork or simple fingers, I think the satisfied look on the wall emblem says it all about Twinkies!

The weather lately has been beautiful, with crisp, dry mornings and comfortably warm, sunny afternoons. We went out on the Florida Trail near Ocala the other day, one of our favorite hiking venues. Since I am still in training for a Christmas week backpacking trip out west, I decided to carry my 25 lb. pack. My Lovely Bride carried the camera. I wanted her to carry a pack as well, but I got a "What are you, nuts?" look...

While on the trail, she took this photo of an interesting-looking mushroom. I thought about jokingly suggesting that we take it home for dinner...

When do you know you are getting old? It happened to me at our local grocery store yesterday. I was checking out, and the pretty 17 year old girl at the register looked very familiar. I said, "You know, you look just like a young Julia Roberts." She looked at me with a blank stare and said, "Who is she?" Taken aback, I looked at the 35 year old male bagger and said, "Help me out." He looked at her and said, "You know, the actress from Pretty Woman." Another blank stare... "I don't go to the movies much." Sigh...

I am in trouble. Again. Those of you who follow My Lovely Bride on Facebook have heard this story, at least her slanted version of the story. Here is My Side, also known as The Real Truth. Suzanne got a recipe from someone for a salad made with black rice. (Now, first of all, everyone knows about good old white rice, and brown rice is probably okay, but really, black rice? C'mon...) Anyway, we were having salmon and Tuscan boule bread, and to go along with it, she makes this recipe with black rice and a bunch of veggies, nuts and some olive oil. There are a couple of veggies that are edible, especially if they are marinated in some olive oil, lots of salt and spices, and then grilled, but chopped up in a salad? She smiled and said, "Want to try this yummy black rice salad?" I replied (Mistake #1), "Okay, if I must..." (Some of you, especially the female contingent, are probably thinking, Ty, (a) that was not a very diplomatic response; and (b), you are doomed.) So I tried it. It was what I expected, kinda really salady and ricey and oily... I asked politely, "Is it supposed to have some meat in it?" That was probably Mistake #2. So I wound up eating my grilled salmon with bread and cheese, and Suzanne ate her salmon with the black rice salad thingie. Yes, I did share my bread with her.

I didn't get any more grief about the black rice salad until the next day when Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie came over for lunch. We were having French bread and cheese, and you guessed it, more black rice salad. I didn't even have to (politely) decline this time, because there was a sign on the salad bowl which read, "For Girls Only; Boys: Hands Off!"

This story does have a happy ending. I have not been relegated to sleeping in the garage, and I think Suzanne regained her bubbly sense of humor after I insulted her culinary expertise. But after a bike ride, she did draw a weapon on me, and I fortunately was able to fend her off with a bottle of Alaskan amber and a pack of Chipotle and Monterey Jack filled hot dogs. Luckily, she decided not to dump the remaining salad on my head....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Fivesome; Trireme; Big Ship; Athens; Gypsies; Greek Food; Get a Room! Home Sweet Home!

Our last group dinner was with our good friends Maryanne, Ann and Mark. We had a lot in common with them, because we had all lost a child. That's a tough "common denominator" to share, but we all have experienced the ups and down of tragic losses and the happy realization that our sons and daughter are still with us in Spirit. Suzanne had given readings to them this week, and both their sons had come through with solid evidence that they were still here, so our dinner was actually a celebration.

While the girls completed their Power Shopping, Mark and I visited the Naval Museum in Mykonos. It was small but packed with paintings, artifacts and ship models representing about 3,000 years of Greek maritime history. This model of a trireme was based on Greek warships which defeated the Persian navy at the battle of Salamis in 480 BC, almost 2,500 years ago. Shortly after 300 Spartans were annihilated at Thermopylae (a "must read" book about this epic battle is The Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield), 270 triremes from Athens and other Greek city states defeated Persian ships at the battle of Salamis. In this trireme, 170 rowers (in Greek democracies, rich and poor alike rowed side by side) and 30 marines comprised the crew. They maneuvered to ram the Persian ships, and evidently were pretty good at their seamanship skills, because the Persians suffered heavy losses, in part because they, unlike the Greeks, could not swim. Xerxes was evidently in a foul mood after the battle, because he ordered many of his Phoenician allies beheaded because they had not prevailed against the Greeks. (I'm not sure that would exactly lift morale among the rest of his army and navy).

Just before we departed Mykonos, a cold front came through with dark clouds, rain and visits by three cruise ships. The poor weather was offset somewhat by the dramatic skies above this enormous cruise ship anchored close offshore. As much as I like ships, I cannot say that I could ever take a cruise on a ship like that... you know, with 5,000 newly-acquired friends.

We completed our visit to Mykonos and headed to Athens. Then we settled into a very decent hotel just a half mile from the Acropolis. The last full day of our Greek Adventure found us at the top of Athens (that's what acropolis means, the top of the city) with the famous Parthenon undergoing renovation/reconstruction.

Another famous monument was the Palace of Athena with its gigantic marble columns sculpted in the form of women.

A view of the Acropolis with the Temple of Apollo in the foreground gives you an idea of the tough uphill fight attackers would have trying to overcome defenders manning the walls of the Acropolis. Nevertheless, it was overcome several times over the centuries.

This photo of My Lovely Bride smiling among the ruins of the Acropolis belies the fact that after two weeks, she's running low on energy touring hysterical site after hysterical site and seemingly identical piles of rocks and stones...

One of the sad things about touring Europe is seeing Gypsy children not going to school and being forced by their parents to steal or beg on the streets, often by playing accordions like this young boy, approximate age 5 years. This is a very common sight; there appears to be very little interest by Gypsy adults in assimilating into Western cultures or having their children attend school.

In between tours, we grabbed a snack of baklava and cappuccino; not too hard to take, low on calories and full of things to keep you awake... well, maybe there's a smidgen of truth there...

Okay, just one more church visit to look at these votive candles...

And this couple, caught making out in front of archeological equipment. "Come on, guys, get a room!" The problem here was that in the Acropolis, there are hardly any walls left standing...

Well, that brings to a close our Greek Adventure. The next blog will see us back at our homestead in The Villages, Florida, where we are holed up for the winter...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kandylakia; Mykonos Part 2; Little Venice; Delos

In the mountains of Greece, especially on steep roads with hairpin turns, you see many small roadside shrines, or kandylakia, which may mark lives lost (particularly in auto accidents, which are common here because Greeks tend to drive in a crazy fashion), or even lives saved. Typically, you may erect a kandylakia to your (if you are saved) or your loved one's patron saint, such as Archangel Michael. They may be made of wood, metal or stone, and typically contain icons, votive candles, incense or photographs. They are less common on the Greek Islands because the terrain is less conducive to traffic fatalities.

Continuing in the spiritual vein, on the island of Mykonos alone there are said to be 365 Greek Orthodox churches. Most are tiny buildings holding ten or twenty seats, with incense and candles burning throughout the day. They are obviously still well-used, and on Sunday we saw many church-goers at a large church in town, almost all dressed in black.

These tiny churches contain beautiful icons (from the Greek word eikona, meaning "image") that contain symbolism of the person or event portrayed. Free-standing statues are not generally found in Orthodox churches because of the rejection of the previous Greek Classical age's idol worship, and because icons are designed to show the spiritual side of man, not the sensual earthly body.

One of the trademarks of the Greek Islands is the combination of whitewashed buildings and sky blue domes and doorways. This door and stairway is an example of the unusual and thoughtful architecture here.

We made many new friends on this trip. Here we see Mark and Anne walking down a short street lined with colorful planters made of used olive oil cans. They are delightful, fun folks who live in Oregon, and taught us a lot about The University of Oregon Ducks, whose mascot is indeed a duck, and whose logo image is actually Donald Duck, the result of a handshake between Oregon football coach Leo Harris and Walt Disney himself back in the 1940s. We had a lot in common with Mark and Anne, and as Mark and I were the only guys in week two part of the trip, we found a lot of guy things to talk about. We plan on getting together again next summer in Oregon when we head west.

There is a part of Mykonos that is called Little Venice. While there are no canals, houses and restaurants are built right on the water, with balconies overhanging the water. During the 16th and 17th centuries when piracy was common in the Cyclades, cargo from ships was offloaded quickly to the houses here. Today there are several restaurants that usually have full tables at the water's edge, but with an onshore wind and seas running, you are liable to get wet. When I asked a waiter for a waterside table, he looked at me like I was nuts, and then laughed.

We had a half-day excursion to the archeological site on Delos, a nearby island that allows no permanent residents, only a group of caretakers and guards. Delos was a holy sanctuary for 1,000 years even before the ancient Greeks declared it to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, making it one of the most important spiritual and religious centers of Greece. It was also "purified", when in the 5th Century BC, every dead body was removed to a nearby island, and no one was allowed to give birth or die here. It became a thriving commercial center for over 1,000 years, and once had 25,000 residents. Delos was devastated when 20,000 people were killed by Mithradites VI of Pontus in 88 BC, and almost all of the remainder were killed in a brutal pirate attack in 69 BC. Because the small island had no fields or pasture land and limited water supplies, it was not self-sustaining, and became uninhabited in modern times. However it is still a rich archeological site, supervised by the French School in Athens.

This wealthy merchant's home, the House of Dionysius, was obviously at the high end of Delos's real estate market. It had a central courtyard with marble columns, a beautiful mosaic floor, painted marble statues, and walls decorated with colorful frescoes.

This block of marble is actually the bottom half of an olive press. Greek and later Roman occupants of this home made their own olive oil and much of their own wine this way. There were no Safeways and even fewer 7-11s here, so homemakers had to be handy. Having a few slaves captured in battle helped reduce the owners' workload. Delos also hosted the largest slave market in the area in Greek antiquity.

There may have been an ancient inn or restaurant here, because this lovely tourist appears to be asking for a glass of wine. The waiter never showed up, though, and she had to resign herself to a bottle of mineral water and a very tasty baklava from the museum cafĂ© in a modern building nearby... 

Delos was founded by Greeks, but after Rome ascended to power, its citizens took over Delos and made many civil engineering improvements, including this huge fresh water storage cistern. At the time it was covered with a wooden roof.

Delos may be best known for the Terrace of the Lions, funded by the people of Naxos and dedicated to the god Apollo. Originally a dozen snarling marble lions stood here; today seven remain, their features much softened by centuries of rain and weathering. These are actually copies; the originals are protected inside the Museum of Delos nearby. There used to be a sacred lake at Delos 50 yards from the lions, but caretakers today keep the lake drained dry to suppress disease-carrying bacteria. (Our tour guide told us it was to keep down mosquitos; that doesn't sound nearly as threatening...)

The museum has several good pieces, but most of the best statues have been sent to the museum in Athens. This one is representative of Classical Greek sculpture. Statues were generally not representative of specific people, but of a stylized ideal. They were also almost always painted, rather than bare marble.

This was the Temple of Isis, built in the Doric style during the Roman occupation to honor the Egyptian goddess Isis (revered even in Rome as the ideal mother and wife, and the patroness of nature and magic). It was probably used until the 4th Century AD when decrees by recently converted to Christianity Roman Emperor Theodosius led to pagan temples being destroyed. 

Finally, it was with a bit of historical whimsy that on the ferry to/from Delos, one fellow passenger was dressed in a decidedly modern outfit that ancient Greeks and Romans might find a bit bizarre. In fact, I myself found his outfit, which included plastic shorts, more than bizarre. Where is he from, another planet?

Sunday, October 20, 2013


After our zero-dark-thirty reveille and a two hour drive to Piraeus, we boarded our slow Blue Star ferry for a 5 1/2 hour voyage to Mykonos. In spite of lack of sleep, My Lovely Bride was quite chipper on the ferry ride which began right after dawn... doesn't that drive you crazy sometimes when your partner is always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when your butt is dragging and all you want to do is pull the covers over your head? "Stop moaning, Ty, and get another cup of coffee!"

The ferry made a brief stop to drop off/pick up other passengers at the beautiful island of Syros. This is the harbor area, but we didn't have time to look around. It was a quick stop-and-go.

Here is our hotel, the Porto Mykonos. It was very comfortable, with a view of the Mediterranean out our window. Our bed had a huge mosquito net suspended over it, and I asked our friendly porter how bad the mosquitos were; he replied with a smile that there were no mosquitos, and that the net was just there for decoration. (Well, not exactly... for three mornings, I was awakened between 0400 and 0430 by the buzzing of the little female beasts out searching for male blood... why do I say that? Because Suzanne was not bothered at all by the skeeters. It must be professional courtesy or something like that keeping them away... sigh... I hope I don't pay too badly for that comment... Smack!)

After a brief rest, we got out into town for some sightseeing. Just across the very narrow road (yes, most roads in Greece are very narrow) from our hotel were some private homes with interesting entrances. These are new homes; that means they are less than 2,000 years old.

The Salparo seafood restaurant has unique advertising, far better than a billboard or a neon-lighted sign... seafood is very expensive here because the Mediterranean Sea has been overfished so badly. The average catch is a small fish about 8 inches long, and is grilled with the head on. They are tasty, but pretty small.

An example of the lack of fishing success here is this fish-cleaning station, made of beautiful marble, which never had more than one fisherman cleaning small fish... (I know My Good Friend Bob is about to make a wise-crack about it being my kind of fish cleaning station, but I will forgo any comments on his sense of humor in the spirit of neighborly good-will and because he and Jan have our little puppies in their good care.)

The harbor right in town is very small, suitable only for fishing boats and a small local ferry. Our hotel is in the center of the picture about halfway up the hill, only a 5 minute walk from town.

Did I mention that the streets were very narrow? Here is Suzanne in downtown Mykonos, flanked by shops and residences. Very small cars, trucks and motor scooters use these streets for delivery of goods, trash pickup, etc. Fortunately, tourists are generally not targeted by the drivers, although there were several close calls. You can imagine that you would not want to step out of a bar after a few glasses of retsina without looking carefully at what's driving by!

Mykonos is famous for its windmills, which sit on a hillside on the west side of the island. A couple appear to be in use as private residences, but regrettably, we weren't invited in for ouzo...

My beautiful date and I had a wonderful romantic dinner out at an upscale Italian restaurant specializing in freshly-made pasta. The meal (veal Marsala and spaghetti with prawns) was delicious, and I decided to take up gourmet Italian cooking when we get back home... hand-making pasta can't be that hard, right?

Shopping is apparently a Big Deal here in Mykonos, which is known as a favorite stop for the Rich and Famous. In June, July and August, the island is insanely crowded with tourists. We are here off-season, and the only day with crowds was when there were three cruise ships in port at the same time. This shop specialized in white cotton and linen, and is typically very small and cozy... and expensive. Fortunately, My Lovely Bride is not much of a Power Shopper, and I conveniently forgot to pack the extra bag she wanted for goodies... Sorry, Dear...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Navel of the World; Where is Your Oracle? Arochova; Narrow Streets; Retsina and Raki

One of the interesting sights at Delphi was the Omphalos, Greek for navel, a four foot high hollow stone with a carving of a knotted net covering its surface. According to legend, Zeus sent two eagles flying across the earth to meet at the center, or navel, of the world. The Omphalos was said to allow direct communications with the gods, and may have been made hollow to channel intoxicating vapors from below ground that the oracle (a priestess) would breathe in and interpret for pilgrims coming to Delphi for guidance. It is probably not coincidence that there is another omphalos in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that was said to be the foundation on which the Ark was placed when God revealed himself to his people. It was also called the navel of the world, and as the tradition developed during the Hellenistic period after the Omphalos of Delphi was already in use, was probably an attempt to copy and compete with its Greek version.

Because of the historic spirituality of the entire Delphi site, Suzanne suggested that everyone take time to meditate near the Temple of Apollo and consult the Oracle, which she reminded them, is actually inside all of us. She personally received a surprising and meaningful answer to the question she asked.

The most impressive statue in Delphi's museum is this life-size bronze charioteer in almost perfect condition. Part of a set of six horses, a chariot, and two grooms, it was erected in 478 BC by Polyzalus, the tyrant of Gela, a Greek colony in Sicily, to celebrate the victory of his chariot team in the Pythian games (like the Olympic games, held every 4 or 8 years). (What if NFL team owners commissioned bronze statues to celebrate their Superbowl victories; that would certainly help our sculptors...)

Okay, enough history... we also had time to explore modern Delphi and a nearby town, Arochova. It is near a ski and snowboarding center on Mount Parnassus, and is relatively modern, with lots of shops and restaurants. The architecture is quite stunning, with houses built in terrace fashion up the steep mountainside.

The streets here are quite narrow, and traffic jams can be, well, interesting; this lady on her ATV may not be familiar with the mariner's Law of Gross Tonnage, but is surely at a disadvantage with the approaching tour bus... speaking of buses, Suzanne and I joked about bringing our motor coach over here and touring Europe. I can't imagine the stress of trying to fit it down streets originally designed only for walking, or maybe an occasional oxcart. And don't even think about the $9.00/gallon diesel fuel prices.

This wood products shop was one of my favorites. I thought about buying a neat wooden slingshot, but realized that the TSA officers might frown on any hand-held weapons in my luggage.

We had a great group dinner in Delphi. These photos prove that this was a happy, fun group, even before the raki (also known as arrack, a raw, hard liquor distilled from anise or grapeseed) and retsina (Greek wine made with pine sap; it tastes a bit like turpentine) started flowing... the food was much tastier than the drinks.