Sep 20, 2015

Karpenisi : "Through bushes and through briars..." - but mainly oak and fir

On the last weekend of August we had a quick getaway from the city, to make amends for our ruined summer vacation. The weather was not what you would call optimal for a swim at the sea so we
decided that we go to Karpenisi.

Karpenisi is in a region of Evrytania in western Greece, near the peak of Mt. Tymfristos (Mt. Velouhi, as it is locally called). It was a nice trip to get there, a little long . But then , the mountain was covered in an amazing forest, rivers and streams running through it , so we could not complain much about the curvy road once we arrived.

The town itself is a really pretty town, not as small as we first thought it was. It's built on the slope of the mountain, so all the roads go uphill or downhill .

There are really nice villages to visit nearby and it is recommended to have lunch there, such as Megalo Horio (literally the "Big Village") -a 25 minute drive away- and Koryschades -10 minutes away. At Megalo Horio there is a nice path through the ravine which goes to the "Kefalovryso" (the wellhead) of the stream crossing the village. It was a really nice walk, under tall , green trees with the stream running literally under your feet.
We did not have a chance to go to the "Pada-vrehi" gorge ("always-raining" gorge) because we did not have enough time for the hike. But we definitely have to do it .... see why on this link.

I would recommend listening to any version of "Bushes and Briars" while looking at the pictures on the photo album:

Aug 19, 2015

Potsdam: Monotonic scenery and Harmonic life

A few weeks ago I visited Potsdam to attend to a workshop. It wasn’t my first visit in Potsdam. I had visited Potsdam some years ago and I didn’t expect anything exciting. The city is very close to Berlin. When we took the train from Berlin to Potsdam it took us less than 20 minutes to get there (we took the fast train). When we came back we took the slow train and it took us about double the time.

The city is flat with many wide streets and pavements and long building blocks. On the pavements there is one lane for bicycles and a different lane for pedestrians. The bicycles in the roads of Potsdam seem to be many more than cars. I so envied cyclists in Potsdam! In my previous visit in Potsdam one of the locals had taken us for dinner at a restaurant located in the Dutch neighborhood (see more about it here). I remember that I liked this neighborhood with the typical red brick buildings. However, this time I didn’t have the chance to visit again. We had dinner twice at a restaurant located at the square at Brandenburger Tor, one of the three city gates that still remain today. It is in the heart of the historic city of Potsdam. I remember from my last visit in Potsdam that my impression from the historic city of Potsdam was that it was nothing exciting. My feelings haven’t changed.

On the third day of our staying in Potsdam the workshop organizers had arranged dinner on a boat around the lake. During a playful discussion , someone said that "the landscape around the lake was monotonic and the movement of the boat was harmonic". That was a common feeling for us and our Italian colleagues at dinner that night.

In the last day of our staying in Potsdam I had the chance to visit the Sanssouci Park. Within the park are located open cafes, playgrounds and many sights of interest. In the Sanssousi Park is located the Sanssouci Palace. The word Sanssouci means without worries. The Sanssouci Palace was the summer residence of Frederic the Great. In this palace the Prussian king could leave all the formalities of the royal court behind and spend time on his hobbies like music and philosophy. I had the chance to visit the Sanssouci Palace and I enjoyed the guided tour. It lasted for about 40 minutes (that was good because that was the only time that I could spend there) and it was very informative regarding the king and peaces of art that still remain in the Palace.

I was impressed about the German system used for booking tickets. The opening hours for the Palace were from 10:00 in the morning until 18:00 in the evening. However, the first tour would start at 10:15. When I booked a ticket there was a screen above the ticket counter that showed the number of tickets still available for that particular time. On the ticket there was a note that the ticket was valid only for the particular time written on the ticket and the employees were very strict that only the group that corresponded to that time would enter the Palace.

Except from the Sanssouci Palace in the Sanssouci Park are many sights of interest. Another sight is the New Palace that is one of Prussia's most impressive palaces in contrast to the Sanssouci Palace, which is rather modest in size. In the Sanssouci Park among others one may admire the Chinese Teahouse, the Roman Baths and the windmill. I didn’t have the chance to visit the New Palace. I would come back to Potsdam to walk around the Park and visit some of the remaining sights of interest.

(.... a postscript note on the downside :
 Ironically, while all supermarkets in Greece accept credit/debit cards, the fact that a supermarket employee was upset with me, as if it would be obvious and natural to me that they don't accept cards, gave me a bad taste... but, whatever. That's why Potsdam is generally not known as a tourist attraction).

Jul 31, 2014

Skopelos, the Blue and Green of the Sporades

Here I am again, back home, pondering what possibly I could write that could accurately describe Skopelos.

Well, the cliché "Blue and Green" is actually accurate for Skopelos.

Apart from being probably the most forest-covered island of Greece --which was something extraordinary even after having visited Corfu and Ithaki-- , Skopelos has some of the best beaches I've ever been to, and can be compared  only to the beaches of the Ionian Sea (as I've mentioned before, I am really biased when it comes to the beauty of the Ionian islands).

It is an island which is also perfect for those who have a yacht or a sailing boat, with its many mooring spots and bights and bays. Clear turqoise waters and white pebble beaches are typical, crowded and noisy beaches and also secluded beaches can be found at the south side of the island. Most of them are protected from the strong summer north winds, known as "meltémia". That means there is always somewhere to enjoy a swim , even when strong winds prevail on the island. [UPDATE: I just read on another travel blog that there are 60 white beaches, most of which inaccessible by car]

As far as beaches go, Kastani is probably the best, if you can ignore the noise. It is a surrounded by a luscious pine forest which goes down to the seaside. The natural beauty of the beach of Kastani though was ruined for us by loungers, the tacky beach bar and the fact that loud music was played by a DJ at the beach bar - the guy could not even get a hint to change to another genre when , just before sunset, with 10 people at the bar, he was still playing noisy greek-pop bouzouki-based songs (we actually call them "skyladiko" , which translates to "dog's music"). All this made me think that I'm starting to get old for this kind of thing... I wonder if he didn't do it on purpose, to make everyone leave the place, so that he could enjoy the sunset alone with friends. I know I would do that!

Well, not all beaches are like Kastani: Milia, which is next to Kastani, is also very beautiful. Things are a little more calm there, although there is a kind of a beach bar there too.There is also a path under the pine trees at the west side of the beach which shortcuts to Kastani.

Stafylos , with the pine forest virtually hanging above, calls for scuba diving. Agnontas is the spot for those who like their fish food really fresh -lobsters are plenty to be eaten- after swimming in the calm, clear sea. Limnonari is not as impressive as other beaches, but it it's really nice, less crowded and worth the while to go there, even if only to see the landscape - there is a nice little restaurant there, too ("Limnonari").

For us the one beach fine-tuned to our taste was Panormos. With pines providing shade at some parts of the beach, you could be on the beach all day and not be tired or sunburnt. Bars and restaurants offer everything you could need, plus free sunbeds and umbrellas.

Of course, the island has more to offer than beaches. The town of Skopelos is beautiful with its winding alleys and built on the side of the hill sloping to the sea. There is much to see and do, or just walk around and enjoy the vistas. We saved the best for the last evening: Sunset and dinner with the best view of the town of Skopelos. The "Anatoli" restaurant on top of the "Castle", where there is live "rembétiko" music (after 10.30pm as we later found out), is probably one of a kind.

The village of Glossa is very nice, too, probably best to visit in the evening - we were there at noon and although we had great coffee on an open terrace at "Avra" cafe overlooking the Aegean, there was not much else to do at that time.

One of the most visited places - because of this little-known movie - is the chapel of St. John near Glossa. It won't be hard to find, as there is a huge sign "THE MAMA MIA SPOT"(unfortunately not kidding) on the main road to Glossa which marks the turn you have to make to go there.

So now that we're back in Athens the only thing we have brought back is pictures (and a nice tan). Not even some cheese or wine.
Oh, well. Skopelos is one of those places we'll probably visit again , anyway.

Mar 24, 2014

A Trip Down the Memory Lane: Monemvasia and Bay of Geraki

A trip down the memory lane

Picture this:
A small truck is on a dirt road which goes around a small, narrow, fjord-like bay. As the sun sets behind the hills surrounding a saltmarsh at the edge of the bay, the truck follows the road around the marshes into a village on the side of the hill.  The truck stops in front of a grocer's store. Two men and a boy go into the store, but the boy takes a long look at the beautiful scenery before going inside.

As you can imagine, I was that boy, 28 years ago, and I had this picture of going to the bay of Geraki with my dad and a really good friend of his -who I will just call "Jimmy" for the needs of this post (Γεράκι is Greek for "hawk", by the way). Jimmy is from St. John ("Ai Giannis") in Monemvasia which is nearby and he had taken us there just to buy some wine and cheese. For nearly 20 years, since my dad passed away, this image came to mind whenever I thought of going to
Monemvasia - us on Jimmy's truck, chatting and going to buy some groceries, and the scenery near the bay. I could not possibly remember where this narrow bay with the saltmarsh on one end was, or what was its name. Not until Kate and I saw it on a map at the hotel in Monemvasia and decided to go there.

From then on it was a ride down the memory lane: I remembered where the grocer's store was. We found it was still there, run by the same guy and (probably) his son and we bought some wine and cheese, too. The only thing missing was chatting with my dad on our way to the village...

Back to the present

Let's take things from the beginning.
We spent a weekend in Monemvasia in February. We'd been in Monemvasia many years ago (during that visit we saw Jimmy and his family, too). Good weather helped this time, but we saw too few people visiting the town - not at all like older times. The recession has led many of the businesses in town to either close down for good or open for a short period of time each year. The busiest place of Monemvasia, the medieval castle, seemed a little bit deserted, apart from the hotels and the few bars and restaurants that were open. February is probably too early for tourism in Monemvasia.
It was nice in the medieval castle, as always, walking in the narrow streets and having a nice cup of coffe on the terrace of a cafe looking out to the sea...
Also, one of the best things of this trip was visiting the bay of Geraki which is a beautiful and a little bit exotic place, 20km from . We went up the hill to the Acropolis of Ancient Zarax (ask the locals for directions, it's the best thing to do!), were we enjoyed a nice view of both the bay and the open sea.
In Geraki you can find many good and reasonably priced sea-food restaurants, mostly specialised on fresh fish. There is outdoor sitting by the sea when the weather is good. This place has great times of relaxation to offer.

Tony and Kathy's Tips:

  • Hotels inside the castle are much more expensive than outside (and in our humble opinion overpriced just because of location), so if you visit Monemvasia it's really easy to choose -- Cheap -> Outside, Expensive -> Inside.
  • If you are into strange peppery cheese tastes, buy cheese from the store of Mr. Sofos in Geraki. Touloumotyri (Τουλουμοτύρι) is excellent. Another fan of this kind of cheese has written about it (in Greek):
  • Be sure to buy or taste the traditional fresh pasta of Lakonia, named "gogles" (not Googles). Probably the best place to taste it is the Kastro pizza restaurant (!), which also has excellent pizza and it is just across the causeway connecting the new town of Monemvasia with the castle.

Sep 9, 2013

In Kythnos for a christening...

I haven't been in Kythnos for nearly 2 decades, so it was like visiting for the first time. I totally liked Dryopida -of which unfortunately I haven't got any photos- and Hora, which reminded me a little of the Hora of Amorgos. Of course Kanala, where we stayed , is one of the best places to visit on this small Island.
I have to mention that restaurants and taverns in Kythnos are great (at least the ones we had diner at).
A great weekend getaway just 1h40min from the port of Lavrio.