A Summer of Adventure

The two favorite words of teachers and children have been uttered numerous times over the last couple of weeks, Summer Break. It has been a rough couple of years with the ever-changing landscape of school due to the conditions of the world, but we have finally emerged from that to a new world of possibilities. There are still a few lingering effects of the pandemic, such as the need to wear masks on international flights, and the occasional PCR test to make sure that you are not carrying the disease to strange and remote parts of the world. Still, every day, a new restriction is being lifted, and it looks like it will be the perfect opportunity to travel the world again.

I woke up this morning on my second full day of Summer Break knowing that I will spend the majority of it moving from place to place. I will traveling to many different parts of the United States, sometimes for family, sometimes for friends, and sometimes for business. I will also start my adventure with a three week trek across Iceland. It is a promise for something I have not gotten to experience for a long time, and though I am a little nervous about traveling this way again, I am also really excited for the adventure to begin.

I am sure this is the same for many of you out there. If there is one thing that living this pandemic has taught us is that life is meant to be lived, and we should not put off those things that we have always wanted to experience in our lives. These opportunities can easily be taken away from us for financial reasons, war, or in the case of the last few years, a pandemic. Now that things have opened up again, I am going to take advantage of it. I hope you join me during the next couple of months on my journey, or more importantly, I hope that you take advantage of your opportunities yourself to go out and see those things that you have always wanted to see. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross while out there and we can make a part of our story together.

Two Greek Islands – Santorini and Naxos

Greece has always been a series of islands off of a the mainland to Europe. They were tied together by a collection of gods though their ideals based on these deities might be viewed by the different cities. Back in ancient days, these small individual communities had a common enemy to the east called the Persians which eventually united them under a common cause, but before then they were loosely tied together through trade and location.

It is hard to travel through these islands and not think about their old way of life. It is hard to think that at one time, to the Greeks, this was the whole world, even though we look at it now as just a small little corner of the Earth. When you stand on top of one of these islands and look across the Aegean Sea to another island, we think of it as something just a short ferry ride or airplane trip between them, but if you think about how they viewed those other islands, it would have been a different community and would take a day to get from one island to the next closest one.

Though we can take this simplicity of life for granted, and think of those people who lived so long ago as being disadvantaged, it probably was not the case. The people still had art that is admired to this day, and they used that art to beautify their communities, much like we do today. People would still bustle around their cities, making sure that their daily chores were done and try to carve out a life for themselves, much like we do today. They would see outsiders with a cautious eye even though when they got to know them, they would realize that they are not much different than they were, much like we do. They would have friends, and families. They would work during the day. They would look to their loved ones to enjoy their evenings. All of this much like we do.

Though we would look back at those times as a time when life was made more difficult do to their lack of technology, they would not have seen it that way. They would have looked at themselves as the height of civilization, and would have lived a life of comfort. Yes, they would have a hard time if they were transported to this age just as we would if we found ourselves back in that age, but in reality, things would not have been that different.

In reality, nothing much has really changed. The traditions may have changed, and we may no longer look to the ancient gods for guidance to our ideology, but if you stripped away all of these cultural differences, you would still see a group of people, who at the heart of it all, still had the same major concerns that each of us as individuals also have. We are a group of people who find commonality with each other to make those strong connections that build up over a lifetime so that we can create the memories that give us a fulfilling life.

As I look back at my recent trip to Greece and the two islands that I got to visit, Santorini and Naxos, I can’t help to think about how much I owe to this ancient culture. But it is not just this culture that I should give tribute to. It is every culture that I have been lucky to have made contact to. It is this collective whole that makes up now just me, but every person who has ever lived on this planet. There is so much that we all have in common that if look past the superficial, we will be able to see it. Thank you Greece for helping me see this, and I hope that I can bring this attitude with me to every other place I get to visit in this world.

Until next time, keep traveling, and keep enjoying making those greater connections.

Akrotiri Ruins – Santorini, Greece

It is easy to forget the Santorini is a Greek island with a lot of history and archeological sights on it. There are so many other things to do on this island that this sometimes gets brushed under the rug to be forgotten about, but one of the must-do sights on the island should not be treated this way, the Akrotiri Ruins on the southern edge of the island.

Before the volcano of Santorini exploded leaving only a caldera behind, Akrotiri used to be the prominent city on the island and a major trading center in the Aegean Sea. Despite its growth, it eventually fell victim to the volcano and was buried under hot magma to preserved for ages. It has since been rediscovered and archeologists are slowly digging it out giving it a feel very much like Pompeii in Italy. The biggest differences being that this sight is centuries older than the preservation next to Mount Vesuvius, and they have only uncovered about three percent on this vast city.

They have already found some amazing art and vases that have been left behind. Because this is an active archeological sight, many of these priceless artifacts are brought to the museum in town to be put on display so they can finish uncovering more of the town. Despite this, there are still a lot of pieces that are there to look at, and add to the flavor of making the trip out there.

The real draw though is the opportunity to visit an actual archeological sight and look at the architecture from a period of time when it was still being developed. You also have the opportunity to walk through the ruins and feel what it would be like to live in this city so many centuries ago. There is actually a lot to see for them only uncovering such a little bit of the town, and you can see why this was one of the major trading posts in this part of the world.

So, if you make your way out to Santorini island and have a few days out here, the Akrotiri archeological dig should be one of the sights that you make time to see. It might take away from the wine tasting, walking the caldera, and eating amazing food in one of the most dramatic cities in the world, but it is worth the trip. It is only a half an hour bus ride from Firi, and they will be back to pick you up right around the time you finish your exploration, so there is no reason that you shouldn’t go.

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.

Sunset in Naxos – Naxos, Greece

One of the greatest appeals of the island of Naxos is the fact that the major city on the island faces to the west, giving people who visit the perfect opportunity to watch the sun set every evening. For those of you who followed my blog during the time I was trapped in Thailand knew that I spent a lot of my time out there searching for the perfect sunset. So now that I am on another island that offers the same feature, of course I would take advantage of it.

The perches that a person can find in this city are countless and each one gives its unique perspective. I was lucky enough to have found one in the little apartment that we rented while we were out here. It has a beautiful roof patio that gives that perfect view over the ocean. There are a couple of buildings in the way, but it still made for the perfect opportunity for pictures.

Most visitors like to head out to the peninsula at the tip of the island to get the perfect picture there. Not only does it get you away from all of the modern buildings, but it also offers the perfect structure to take the pictures with, Apollo’s Temple.

Of course the perfect shot that everybody tries to obtain is the sun sinking below the horizon while being framed by the forgotten door way. I don’t know what this is like during the height of tourist season, but I suspect that you will need to get out there early if you wish to position yourself for the perfect spot to get that picture. I was lucky enough to be out here during the offseason, and did not have to fight for that spot, but the wind still likes to whip over this little plot of land and makes it really cold. If you find yourself out here during the same time, I highly recommend dressing in warm clothes because you will need them while you are watching the sun set.

Some people still find the perfect spot along the coast for their picture. There a lot of those little spots as well. No matter where you go to get that picture, you will not be disappointed because Naxos has plenty of great places to get that amazing sunset snapshot. 

The Island of Naxos – Naxos, Greece

Naxos is not as touristy as some of the other Greek islands, but that does not mean that it is not worth the visit. It is known more for the agriculture rather than the wine, sights or nightlife that some of the islands that are known for, but the dramatic arrival from the ferry port lets you know that you are still in for a treat by visiting this island. As soon as you exit the ferry, you can’t help to look to the left and see the ancient marble doorframe that stands on the edge of the coast. It has been standing there since 430 B.C. when the tyrannical ruler of the island of Naxos commissioned that it be built to create a temple for the god, Apollo. The temple never was finished, but the doorway still remains.

Getting closer to it shows that a little of the foundation was laid as well, but it is more interesting to see the history of architecture by looking at the doorway. It is a simple design that came around long before the Roman arch. It does not mean that it is any less powerful than the Roman arch; it just means that they have not come up with the more elegant design yet. The doorway had still stood the test of time though because here it still stands despite the rain and wind that constantly batters it throughout the centuries.

This is not the only historical place right off from the ferry either. In 1490, a Venetian came out to the small island and decided to build a castle on the top of the hill that sits right outside of the port. Of course, the centuries of weather was not as friendly to this castle as it was to the doorway, but the people of Naxos have come back and restored it to its former glory except now it is a place for families to live, as well as restaurants and shops.

It makes a great place to wander through. They call it the labyrinth, and the name is well deserved. There are a ton of twists and turns with each one giving another surprise. It reminded me on a mini-Venice and a great way to spend the afternoon was spent wandering through it narrow passages. You can easily get lost among them, but you know that you won’t get too lost because there is not that much space to get lost in.

Basically, Naxos is not the island that hits you in the face with its touristy ways, and for that reason many people might dismiss it as a place not worthy of your time. When I first arrived on the island, I fell into that camp, but I have come to find out that there is a certain amount of charm with the island that will grow on you, making it worth your time.

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.

Rome in April

I have done some extensive traveling in Europe, but most of the time I have spent out there have been during the Summer months when the crazy crowds from all over the world pack the streets and tourist sights. Once, I was able to make out during Christmas time, but the markets during this time of the year also attract a large crowd. One of the nice advantages to living so close to all of the locations is that I do not need to save up large chunks of money and plan a long flight during my off time of the year to get out here, and the fact that I am traveling during the off-season changed the dynamic of these locations significantly.

The spots that would be packed with people now only have a few that can enjoy it the way it was supposed to be enjoyed, and I did not have to fight through all of the crowds at each of the tourist sights to catch a glimpse of what brought people there in the first place. The weather is also more enjoyable. For instance, I have heard people complain that Rome is hot and dusty, and during the summer months, it probably is. But in April, the cooler spring air makes the environment green and a lot more enjoyable.

It does not mean that Rome did not cater to the tourists that did make it out during this time of the year. The food was still spectacular; it is just not as hard to get into the restaurant that you want to get into, and enjoy the experience that they have to offer for you. There are plenty of food tasting and wine tasting opportunities that will have to be booked way in advance if you find yourself out here during the height of the tourist season.

The options for hotels open up as well. I know that I could have booked a fancier place than the one that I stayed at, but I am having to go back to the more modest accommodations. Now that the world is pulling itself out of the Covid pandemic and things are starting to open up again, the prices of hotels are going back to where they used to be. I can no longer find that five star hotel that is giving out insane deals just so they can remain open. It was fine though because I also went back to my old ways of traveling by spending less time in my hotel room, and more time exploring the city I was in. There are still some great places that are available at this time in great locations that are affordable and still comfortable. I stay in a converted monastery that still had the chapel and old art work still hanging on its walls.

Rome is a great city to explore at this time of the year as well. Every corner that I turned that was another sight to see, each of them boasting the might that this part of the world used to display. If I came back during the height of tourist season, these spots would still be there, but there would be some many people crowding into the sights that I would not be able to get the picture that gave off the lonely feeling that these ruins display, and would have to wait longer to get the pictures that have the minimal amount of people ruining the picture that I wanted to take.

Rome is a great city and definitely worth visiting. I know that many people do not have the opportunity to see it the way that I was able to see it over a long weekend in April, but if you are able to make this possible, I believe that this might be the best way to visit.

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.