The Olive Tree

In the courtyard live an old olive tree
Who has witnessed the change of the island.
From the ancient ships from across the sea
To battles fought on the beach’s sand,
It has stood watching ages come and go.
For its majesty, they built a courtyard
To shelter its branches from Winter’s blow.
The shade its leaves provide will act as guard
For this simple table where we will dine
On this culture’s culinary delights.
We will toast her with our glasses of wine
On how her, here now, makes the perfect night.
I don’t know if this was our destiny,
The pairing of us and our olive tree.

A Drive on an Island – Naxos, Greece

I knew that a large portion of Greece was a collection of islands, but I did not know that each island had its own flavor and character. I know that it does not take a huge leap of logic to figure that out, but it is not something that most people would think about until they find themselves traveling between them. I also thought that I would spend my time on the coast of these islands hanging out on the beaches, but when I got to Naxos, I realized that it would be great to spend a day on the interior of the island and explore what it had to offer.

There are many small towns in the interior part of the island with two of the more exciting ones being Chalki and Apiranthos. Both of these towns have their own charm, and are fun to wander through. Chalki was a town that was inhabited by Crete refugees many years ago, and they brought their knowledge of marble working with them. The town is basically made of this marble, and it makes for an enjoyable day to walk through the town and marvel at the architecture.

Apiranthos is more built up than Chaki and sits in a valley floor. At first look, it might appear to be like any other small town in Europe, but its real charm comes in the old downtown area. There are great walking streets with nice restaurants, galleries and shops. But the real appeal of this town is getting out of it. There is a hiking loop that goes for six-and-a-half kilometers. On it, you will be able to find some historic places that you would expect to find on a Greek island though most of them a Greek Orthodox in nature and not the more historic Greek gods that first come to mind when thinking about this country.

That does not mean that there are not plenty of these features left from Ancient Greece on the island. There is the Temple of Demetrius which has been turned into a museum. If you want to go there make sure that you go earlier in the day because they do close up early in the afternoon. We had made it there at 4 o’clock after touring around the interior of the island and they were locking up, but looking at for a distance it looked like a place worth visiting. If you want to look for something free, there is the unfinished statue of Dionysus. It sits in the same place where they were working on it and it is a huge piece of marble that weighs over 60 tons. It is not hard to find and sit only fifty feet off of the side of the road.

Basically, anywhere you go in the interior of Naxos island will surprise you. It is worth renting a car for a day or two if you are out here and checking out all this island has to offer. It is not just beaches and a big city on the edge of an island. The island is filled with culture just waiting for you to voyage out to find it.

The Hike from Fira to Oia – Santorini, Greece

If you are spending time in Oia, a great way to spend the day is to take a quick fifteen minute bus ride to the main town of Fira, and hike along the ridge of the caldera back to Oia. It is about a 15 kilometer hike, and with all of the sights you will see along the way, it will take a little over fours hours to do.

When you get off the bus at Fira, you basically head north through the town of Fira. It is similar to Oia with a bunch of restaurants, cafes, and shops, and though the views are still dramatic, I like the feel of Oia a little bit more.

That does not meant that there still is not a lot to see in the city, and you will spend a good first quarter of the hike hanging out in this town. The path is pretty easy to follow. You just stay on the main drag, and when you hit the Blue Note restaurant, you take a left for the rest of the way. If you are worried about making a wrong turn here, there is a sign that points you to Oia, and tells you that it is a ten kilometer hike from this point. It is also a good spot to stop and have some gelato from the Blue Note. Tiramisu, and raspberry and cream were my favorite flavors. It is also a good place to go to the bathroom because you won’t see many more of them along the way.

Though you never really leave civilization behind, after Blue Note, the buildings become fewer and further between. I was lucky enough to be out here in the spring and the explosion of wild flowers added a new surprise once we left town. The downfall of this is the wind and cool weather. Bring layers if out here in the spring because it can get cool on top of the ridge of the caldera.

Being in the city is really cool, but looking back and seeing the whole white expanse of them is also dramatic. There are basically three cities that you will see along the route, and each of them offers their own beauty. The first two blend together and are a great place to stop for lunch before making the final trek.

Oia is the third city and it pops in and out of view as you continue your hike. It is also a great reference point if you take this hike later in the afternoon so you can watch the sunset while making your way to that final city. The hike here gets more hilly with pushes uphill and steep downhills. Also the path turns into a path of loose volcanic rock which makes hiking go a little slower.

There are still hints of civilization along the way. There are time that had me wondering why they had built these structures in more isolated places. There were a couple of churches along the way at the top of the hills that took some effort to get to, and with no obvious road to get there. It made me wonder what kind of services they had there and who were the people that joined the congregation.

There are also a couple of vineyards carved into the hills along the way. It is a nice reminder of what is waiting for you at the end of the long voyage, and it is also nice to know that the land on the island of Santorini is used to the best of its advantage.

Eventually you will get to that final descent that will take you into Oia. It creates some amazing views from atop this perch, and it is also around this time of the hike that you start to feel the strain for the long hike. But you know that it is coming to the end.

The paved path also returns at this point as well, making the end of the hike more comfortable. It is a great way to see a lot of what the island of Santorini has to offer, and a great way to spend the day. If your a photographer, it is a must do experience. Most of the path is safely away from the dangers of the road, even though there is a short hike along the road, but it is not more than 500 meters long. It is a highly recommended experience, and if you find yourself out here, I hope you take the opportunity.

Santorini – Oia, Greece

I’ll admit that the only really thing that I knew about the small Greek island of Santorini I learned from the board game by the same name. I never played the game, but it looked really pretty with all of its white buildings with blue domes. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of the island that I learned where the inspiration for this game came from and I knew in an instant that I would have to make my way there someday.

Santorini was a volcano at one time that had a massive explosion that left the island as a caldera looking out over the sea. A couple of the cities on the island were destroyed and there are a couple of place where you can go look at these ruins that outdate Pompeii, and have the same eerie feeling as it.

But it is the recent cities that have been built on top of the cliffs that are the real treat of this island. The buildings all have a similar feeling to them, and they are painted white with blue highlights. It isn’t just the city of Oia on the northern edge of the island either. It is every place where people have settled, whether it is on the caldera side or the seaside. It gives the city a utopian feel that is fun to stroll through and just marvel at the beauty of it.

I know it all started with a board game review that I saw on YouTube, and looking at the little city that white an blue pieces of plastic could make, but I am glad that I came across that video because it has led me to an amazing island out in the middle of the Aegean Sea where I can experience that Greek lifestyle.

The Vatican has a lot of money – Rome, Italy

It is the smallest country on Earth, supporting only 825 people, and settled in the heart of Rome. It is also the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church, and brings in millions of visitors, and pilgrims every year. Most of them tour the Vatican Museum so they can have an opportunity to view Michelangelo’s famous painting of the Sistine Chapel. But before they are able to make it to this piece of art, they have to make their way through their vast collection of art and antiquities collected from Roman excavations and the surrounding areas. And what a collection it is. For instance, you could ignore the ancient Roman marble statues that are hanging around the room, or the ornate mosaic floor that is over 2000 years old, and just focus on the large bowl in the center of the room. This was a bathtub used by the emperor Nero, and is made of one single piece of a rare red stone called, porphyry. This is not to mention the architectural dome that hangs over this artifact, and is a masterpiece in its own right. All of this combined adds up to a large chunk of change that could be used to create its own museum.

But it is only one of many rooms that hold masterpieces not only from Ancient Rome, and some of the greatest works of art from the Renaissance period as well. This is a depiction of one of the many frescos that are painted on the walls by the master painter, Raphael. There are others as well from Michelangelo that include some of his sculptures, and of course, the Sistine Chapel. I think I even saw a couple of paintings from Dali and Picasso hiding in the corners of the labyrinth of art.

The collection does not only contain priceless pieces of art from Europe. There is also a substantial amount of Egyptian art that was collected during the early expansion of the Roman empire. At first they seem a little out of place among the classical Greek and Roman features, but then thinking about the history of this area, the pieces seem like they should belong with all of the rest of the collection. It demonstrates the spread of the Roman influence and how open they were when bringing in other cultures as long as they accepted their gods as well as their own.

The vast collection of art is not the only thing that will turn your head if you visit this sight. The building itself is one of the few that are featured in the Vatican. It has architectural wonders that date all the way back to the Renaissance. The Church hired the best from this area to create the museum, and one of its greatest features is the dual staircase that leads to the exit of the museum. It sit below a dome and after a three hour tour of magnificent piece of art, it will have people stopping to marvel at it. It is one of the more modern sights in the building, but feels right in place among all of the other classical pieces of art.

I have been to a lot of impressive museums in my lifetime, and I have seen some amazing pieces of art, but nothing like the collection that is held in the Vatican’s museum. I have also toured some of the world’s greatest houses that have gathered a vast amount of wealth, but once again, nothing like the collection that is housed in the Vatican’s museum. It is a jaw-dropping experience, and almost distracts you from the fact that you are standing in front of a great work on art from centuries ago that has long withstood the decaying of time. It is a place that would require a few visits to really let your mind wrap around what it is your seeing. I believe that the best way to think about it during your first visit is to not think about the wealth that is housed here and appreciate the art instead. It will give you a different perspective at what you are looking at.

The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

I know that there are many colosseums around the world, but when someone mentions the Colosseum, thoughts of the one in Rome is the one that is instantly thought of. It may not be the oldest one ever created, but it definitely is the one that brought about the height of the sports as a form of entertainment to ease the passions of those living in Rome. It does not live up to the glory that it once had when it was first built, but it is still the one whose structure and history has caught the imagination of the world.

It is obviously one of the greatest tourist sights in Rome, and now is a great time to visit. Even if you have seen this sight before, they have been able to excavate more of the basement level and discover what it was used for due to the fact that there were no tourists able to visit the sight during Covid. Because of this, we can now take tours through the same tunnels that set the stages for the battles and fights that were staged on the massive arena floor. It is not part of every tour, but there are a few that will take you down there. We were able to combine a tour of the Forum with the underground tour of the Colosseum through a company called the Tour Guy and it was a great experience, and a perfect way to get down to this part of the location.

The underground part of the Colosseum was a series of tunnels that housed the various animals and gladiators, so they could be prepped before they were brought up to the stage for the entertainment of the masses. Many other workers navigated through the hallways to get these fighters ready for their battle, and there were even a couple of longer hallways that led to the training grounds of the gladiators, so the spectators would never see them before a match.

Right before one of these battles, they would bring the gladiator and his opponent to an intricate elevator that would raise them to the arena floor. They would hear the crowds cheering as they rose, not knowing who or what they would face in the battle they were about to have. A trap door would open right before they hit to roof of the underground section and the would be splashed from the sun that could not find its way down these dark tunnels. When their eyes would finally adjust to the the bright light, they would eventually see their opponent for the first time. It could be one of the wild animals that were brought from exotic places, or another gladiator, or even their best friend that they trained with in the training grounds not far away. Whatever they saw, it would be accompanied by the screaming crowd looking for blood.

It was fun imagining the lives of these long ago stars of the Roman era, and it is a great edition that they have opening up the lower parts of the Colosseum so we can go down there and see all that there is to offer. What used to be a must see when visiting Rome has upped its game even more, making it one of the greatest archeological sights that anyone can visit in the world. If you do go though, make sure that you are adding the lower levels of the Colosseum to your agenda because it is not one of the things that you will regret that you have done.

The Forum – Rome, Italy

I have been experiencing the far reaching extent of the Roman empire all year long. Every place I have ended up traveling to the school year has led me to ruins that this culture left behind. Some of them have been well preserved, and some of them have been just piles of rocks that are still being excavated so the world can enjoy them again. But I found that if I really wanted to see the best of what these ruins have to offer, I should go to the source, so I packed up for a quick weekend, took a short three hour flight from Amman, Jordan and touched down in the first of Western Civilization’s empires. I was instantly transported to a land of Roman ruins and some of the most famous are among the landscape of Rome.

I did not have a lot of time in the city, so I had to be selective about the places that I would visit. High on my list was the Forum. I had heard about this location as being a great place to highlight what this ancient civilization had to offer. Despite the fact that I knew that it was the original square of Rome, I did not have much more knowledge about this place. This is why when I finally made it through the gates, I was blown away by what I witnessed.

A lot of Ancient Rome has been preserved, allowing people to walk through the old streets, and look at the places where temples were built, and rulers were murdered. The glory of Rome is brought to life here, all the way down to the architecture, and statues that decorated this place. Time has worn them down a bit, but with a good guide, the stories of Ancient Rome can be brought back to life.

My favorite was the home of the vestal virgins. I have heard of these women spoken about in the past, but I had never heard about how they were forced to live. They were young women that held on to their virtue for the pride of their families. It was a great honor to have a vestal virgin among your children and at least one daughter would alway be asked to take on this task. Our tour guide asked if anybody knew what happened to the vestal virgins who did not live up to their promises, and there was a fourteen year old girl there with her family who knew the answer to this. Apparently, if the virgin did not hold on to their virtue, they were buried alive because it was against tradition to shed the blood of any of these women.

It made me laugh that the young lady was able to answer this question in front of her father. I had to think about what kind of conversations they had at dinner which allowed her to answer this question so quickly, and if her dad would ever let her date before the age of thirty-six.

Rome is obviously filled with a bunch of amazing sights, so it could be very easy to skip over one of them, especially if you are there for a limited time. If there is one place that you should make sure you see though, it is the Forum. This sprawling expanse of Roman ruins is filled with amazing stories and incredible architecture that have stood up over the millennia. It will probably still be around 1,000 years from now, but it is worth seeing the first opportunity that you can.

An Off-Season Vacation – Paphos, Cyprus

One of the nice things about living so close to Europe is that I can be in a different country after a short plane flight. Another thing that is nice about this is I can visit some of the world’s most coveted destinations during times where the tourists are gone. It means that I have access to this town with lots of amazing sights and great restaurants without having to fight my way through crazy crowds. This is what I did on my latest vacation. I took an hour flight from Amman, Jordan to the island town of Paphos, Cyprus to enjoy this town before it exploded with tourists during the summer months.

There are some disadvantages to enjoying a tourist sight this way, the biggest of which is the weather. Most of the time people travel to Paphos to enjoy the sun and warmth along the sea shore, but when I was there, I had to bundle up and brave the wind in order to enjoy the outdoors. I was told that it was unusually cold this year, but it still made for a different spring break environment than what I was hoping for.

The businesses were a little more ambitious in getting me to go to them then they usually would as well. I believe a lot of this is because they are gearing up for the upcoming tourist season, and they are really looking forward to this season more than they have in the past. The last couple of years have hit businesses hard, and they need a good summer to bounce back, so they were pulling out all stops to attract that much needed business. There were numerous people that would point to their menus and try to engage in conversation as we walked by. My favorite was the pink pelican that was obviously someone’s pet, and the mascot of the restaurant with the same name. The small amount of tourists that were there were always drawn to this spot to get up and close to this animal that would otherwise be elusive.

On the other hand, the sights that would usually have throngs of people at them were empty. It opened them up to give them the kind of exploration that you always hope to give these historic points. I have been in Europe before where it is almost impossible to move around some of these sights, and they put you in a line to shove you along so they can get as many people through as fast as possible. That was not the case with my trip to Paphos. I could enjoy these sights at my leisure, and rarely did I see other people. If I did, we never got in each other’s way.

In a couple of months, this waterfront will be crowded with people, and I am happy that it will bring in the revenue that is need to keep this place thriving. I know that I will soon be one of the people in some other European town exploring what it has to offer, but until then I will enjoy this quiet European town before the mad rush. It is fun to get to experience it in this way rather than the usual madness that comes with the height of the tourist season, and I can’t wait to experience other European sights in the same way.

Changing Seasons

Not only the changing of the seasons
Are buried during the Earth’s rotation
Numerous times again around the sun.
The tide will also take our creation,
And cover it with the beach’s fine sand
To compress it into a hardened stone.
History will take this forgotten land
To turn it to a place where plants have grown.
It will take a man with a fine-haired brush
And the patience of the centuries lost
To push away the silence of time’s hush,
Reminding us of a past that we tossed.
The mosaic that once laid on the floor,
We can now admire like once before.

Blue Wine – Cyprus

It is not a trick of the eyes, or a way to play with the light. It is really a glass of wine of a new variety, blue wine. To be fair, it is not new, but it is a rare thing, and there are not many places in the world where you can get a glass of blue wine. The mistake that first brought this wonder into the world was in California, but five other countries repeated the process to produce their own blue wine. One of the wineries that produces this delicacy can be found in the hills of Cyprus outside the small village of Omodos called Linos.

Omodos is a charming village in the heart of the wine country in Cyprus, and is a short hour drive from Paphos by car. It is one of the places that everybody should visit if they make it out to Cyprus, and not only to taste the blue wine. The village is a fun place to stroll through that transports you back in time when streets were narrow and the only way to get from one place to the other was by walking. It is covered now with touristy shops and restaurants, but looking around, you can still see and imagine the way it once was.

It is also nestled right in the heart of wine country. Linos Winery is one of the bigger and older wineries in the region, and the only one to boast about the blue wine, but there numerous wineries around that allow you try the nectar that they have created. They have many traditional variations, and few grapes that can only be found on the island, but the one that the people of Cyprus brag about the most is commandaria. This is a desert wine made from raisins, and it is not a sweet as I would have thought. It falls more into the category of a lighter sherry and goes great after dinner.

Commandaria, like much of the other things that can be found in Cyprus, dates way back in history, and holds the distinction for being the oldest variety of wine in the world. According to people on my tour, they made the wine all the way back in the Hellenistic period using old presses much like the one pictured above. They would squeeze the raisins and grapes between the two large beams while men twisted the press below. They would then collect the juice in these large earthen jugs to ferment, and when the wine was ready, they would serve it to their guests.

The process has changed over the years, and now they collect the wine in oak barrels to age, but this does not take away from the history of the wine making process of this region. Commandaria is the wine that is talked about in Odysseus’s voyages, and Richard the Lion Hearted drank it during the crusades. It adds to the flavor of going out on a wine tasting tour in Cyprus.

It is easily one of the things that you should plan to do when taking a trip to Cyprus. There are many tour companies out there, and the one I took was called Cyprus Wine Tasting. They came to our place earlier in the morning and drove us to three different wineries while talking about the history of the island and the wine. The tour included a traditional lunch, and walk through the village of Omodos. And the most important thing was the driver to safely transport us from place to place. This is a great company to work with if you decide to take a tour and the one I recommend.

In the meantime, I raise my glass of blue wine to you and hope that someday you make it out to this part of the world.