Greek Trek 2017: Santorini Part 2– Oia

Our last stop on this trip is the town of Oia on the island of Santorini.  First, the name is pronounced Ē’ă.  That is a long e with a short a, with the emphasis on the e.  Oia is the polar opposite of Fira.  Fira you had to go up and down tons of stairs.  Oia has all its major shops on one main pedestrian walkway at the top of the town.  You can descend stairs to other places, if you so desire.  Oia is also the best place for watching sunsets.

              Oia is on a peninsula while Fira’s location is at about the center of the island.

This is the main shopping area.  It is linear so you don’t have to go up and down stairs.  Makes shopping a much more pleasant experience on a hot day.

Original inhabitants lived in the caves, which are now luxury hotels.  They are naturally cool in the summer.  The temperature inside the caves can reach a balmy 68O and as low as 62O.  That compared to the high 90’s outside on a summer day.

This interesting item is, believe it or not, on top of a building that is below street level clinging to the side of the cliff.

This shop had two interesting Pinocchio puppets on display outside on an old child’s tricycle.

Art is everywhere like this mosaic on the wall of a restaurant.

This restaurant had a very classical painting type sign out front.

As well as this art gallery.

 

I decided to have something to eat on the rooftop dining area of a taverna.  This place offered a variety of nice views from the terrace.  You can look out over the caldera and enjoy the scene.

Or you can look out over the town of Oia and enjoy the view.

Or you can concentrate on the view closer to the taverna.

This church was along the main walking area at the top of Oia.  Unfortunately, it was closed to visitors at this time.

Here is an unfortunate sign of the times.  Because of Oia’s rich and famous visitors, the Paparazzi in particular, and the public in general, cannot fly drones around Oia without special permission.  There was a sign on the school that said that photos of the children are prohibited.  It is a sad commentary of our times.

Oia is a jumble of juxtapositions and contradictions.  Here is a beautiful church.

But zooming in closer there is a bikini babe working on her tan on the wall next to the church.

It was a very hot day but this woman looks a cool as can be.

Artisans of all types have their shops along the main shopping walkway.

And even the Great White Whale has a shop here.

There are steps along this main shopping walkway but they are very gentle descents and ascents, unlike Fira.

The fish are busy here in Oia as well cleaning people’s feet.  (We first saw the fish do their thing in Athens.)

As with all the islands, the cats are on Santorini as well.

One shopkeeper was so enterprising as to set up a cat rental.

This building stood out because it wasn’t white.

I couldn’t help but notice that there was always a place close by if the need for food or drink suddenly overtook you.  This was the case all over Greece.  If anything, you will never go thirsty or hungry.

Oia has stunning views no matter where you looked over the caldera.  And yes, Oia has windmills.

But as the sun sets I must go back to my hotel and busy myself with getting ready to return home.  I have bags to drag and planes to catch.  It is on to the next adventure.

If you are interested in taking the same tour I did, you must not be faint of heart.  It is a grueling trek.  It consisted on 3 nights in Athens, 3 nights on Mykonos, 3 nights on the cruise ship, and 3 nights on Santorini.  Homeric Tours offers this tour and it is called the Aegean Escape.  Be aware, depending on your flight arrival in Athens, you must be up early the next morning for the Athens tour.  The cruise ship taking you to Mykonos leaves Athens at noon your 4th day and takes until 6:30 pm to arrive at the port in Mykonos.  You do not leave the hotel to board the ship for your cruise until 5:30 pm in your 4th day on Mykonos.  When you leave Santorini, you have the choice of paying to fly out or take a ferry back to Athens for your return flight.  I suggest paying for the flight.  I will say that if you are up to the schedule, this tour is great.  You get to catch the different flavors of Greece.  By this I mean not just the food, which was fantastic, but the people you meet along the way as well.  But, like I said above, it is time to say good bye to Greece and be off on a new adventure.

Copyright © 2018  John J Campo

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Greek Trek 2017: Santorini Part 1 – Fira

My chariot departs Crete at noon for an afternoon cruise to Santorini.  To my amazement, the sea was a little rough.  Until now, the sea had been quiet and placid.  We arrive at the town of Fira on the island of Santorini at 4:30p.m.  Because of the rough seas, the ship cannot dock and everyone must take a tender to shore.  There is nothing quite like boarding a tender in rough seas.  You need to time you step from the ship to the tender just right.  Fortunately for me, as I can’t swim, the crewmembers helping all of us disembark from the ship are very skilled at reading the waves.  The ride in the tender was rough and, once docked; disembarking from the tender wasn’t any easier.  However, everyone made it to shore without incident.  For those of us leaving the ship, to stay on the island, were taken to one dock area where we could get our ground transportation to the hotels.  Those going on a tour were dropped off at a different area.  I will explain the reason for this later.

Santorini, or Thira, and her sister islands of Thirasia, Aspronisi, Palia Kament, and Nea Kameni, were once the volcanic island of Thira, also known as Strongili or the Round One.  A catastrophic eruption ending with the collapse of the volcano destroyed the island and gave birth to the five smaller islands and the caldera we see today.  Santorini itself has towering cliffs on the caldera side, covered with white buildings, and looks majestic. Now comes the Crete connection.  It is thought that the eruption of the volcano on Thira caused a giant tidal wave and destroyed the Minoan people and culture.  However, geologists working in the caldera say they may have discovered evidence that this volcano had its catastrophic eruption several hundred years earlier than first thought.

Santorini is not a party island like Mykonos.  The rich and famous come here to “get away from it all.”  At a hotel in Oia I was told I just missed Chris Jenner.  Looking out over the caldera you can see why the rich and famous come here.

Santorini has two main towns: Oia and Fira.  Because they are so different in structure and what you see, I have split this into two parts.  As the title says, we will be looking at Fira first.

Okay, let’s get the culture shock over first.  The bus from the hotel dropped me off next to that bane of American culture: McDonald’s.  No, I did not go in.  (And NO, the thought never crossed my mind!)

Across the street in a little shopping area stands the symbol of Fira in particular and of Santorini in general.  Yes, none other than the donkey.  You will see why later.

On the same street is Nick the Grill.  No, that is not Nick.  That is none other than Jack Daniels.  I saw his face in other bars in Fira.

At last an entrance to the rabbit warren of shops.  Many from Britain come here to vacation and enjoy the warmth.  Obelix is a popular comic magazine in Britain.

 Fine leather goods are a hallmark of the area.

Some of the pedestrian areas have flowers as a nice, cooling canopy over the walkways.

Santorini may not be a party island like Mykonos but it has its fair share of bars.  Here we have “The 2 Brothers.”  Judging from the waitress at the door, business must be slow during the day.  I don’t know why because it was hot!

There are many little alleys and walkways lined with shops in Fira.  This is on the island side of Santorini.  This eventually leads you to the top of the town and the view into the caldera.

The truly picturesque part of Fira is looking down into the caldera.  Much of Fira, and Oia as well, is attached to the cliff side of the caldera.

Looking back towards one end of Fira and you can see Oia in the distance to the left.

There are several doorways at the top of Fira that look like they lead nowhere.   Actually, this leads to a restaurant clinging to the side of the caldera.

Another of the “doorways to nowhere” but at least you see people sitting there.

There are a ton of stairs to climb in Fira. 

Entrance to the Greek Orthodox Church on the crest of the cliff overlooking the caldera adorned with a mosaic of the baby Jesus.

The interior of most Orthodox churches are more ornately decorated than Roman Catholic churches.

Outside on the street is the double headed eagle of the Orthodox faith.

You never know what you will find down any flight of stairs or alleyway.  At the bottom here is an Adidas shop.

I said there were two dock areas in Fira.  The one I was dropped at had a way for busses and cars to come down and pick people up.  The other dock you have three different ways to get to Fira proper.  You can always do the old bag-drag and walk up the path. There is a cable car that will deliver you to the top of the cliff.  You just have to go up these stairs to get to the cable car going down.  Or, there is another way.  You can usually smell the mode of transportation before you see it.

You look over a low wall down to where the smell is originating.

Yes it is that symbol of Fira and Santorini.  You can ride your ass to and from the port.

There are many different places where you can wet your whistle.  This one is Scottish themed.

This is a jazz club.

I have been to many countries and the one thing I always find is an Irish Pub.  Welcome to Murphy’s.

The middle of the day and the pub is exactly like the sign says: Dead.  And there is a picture of Jack Daniels on the wall to the right.

But it does offer the opportunity for stress relief.  Looks like it has gotten a whole lot of use!

There are even hookah bars if you want a drink and an alternative to cigarettes.

In one store I saw these words of wisdom from Socrates. 

But now it is time for a nice repast and prepare for the next day going to Oia.

 

Copyright © 2018  John J Campo

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Greek Trek 2017: Crete

Our trip from Rhodes to Crete is not uneventful, but in a good way.  The crew cooked up a BBQ with entertainment on what could be termed the Lido deck, aka, outside in the fresh sea air.  I opted for this instead of a regular dinner in the dining room.  (Who would choose a stuffy, staid dining room to BBQ steak and chicken outside in the fresh air with entertainment thrown in to boot.)  With a full belly I retire to my cabin.  When I wake up to get ready for the tour of Crete I see we have already docked at the port.

We dock at the port city of Iroklio, also called Heraklion, to tour an ancient site and around the city itself.  Crete has a longer history than most of the islands because it was the center of the Minoan civilization, which predates the Greek civilization.  We know some history of the Minoans but, unfortunately, we cannot read any of the writings this culture left behind.  We can read the hieroglyphics of Egypt because of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone.  For those not familiar with the Rosetta Stone, it was a stone discovered in 1799 in Egypt.  This stone had a decree inscribed on it in hieroglyphics, Demontic (an ancient Egyptian script) and Greek.  Because of this we were now able to decipher the hieroglyphic and Demontic writings.  Unfortunately, we have not discovered any such stone to decipher the Minoan language.  Although the Minoans have vanished, they left behind the massive palace known as Knossos.

Crete itself was governed by several different countries over its history: the Romans, Venetians and the Turks to name a few.  In World War II, Crete had the dubious distinction of being the first major land objective of size to be captured almost entirely by airborne forces.  The German Fallschirmjägers (paratroopers) invaded the island in May of 1941.  They succeeded in capturing the island, which was a first.  However, this was accomplished with a large number of casualties which made Hitler vow that he would never again use his precious paratroopers in any such operation.  (This is why the island of Malta, which was next on the list, was never invaded.)  A memorial was erected in 1941 by Germany to commemorate the paratroopers who perished taking the island. It is located in a rural area 3 kilometers outside Chania.  Only the pedestal of the monument remains today and has been engulfed by the expansion of Chania.  German rule ended in 1945.

The cruise from Rhodes to Crete was made more enjoyable with on outdoor BBQ.

Chicken and steak cooked over charcoal never tasted so good.

Entertainment was provided by The Plug and Play Duo.  Their forte was ABBA tunes.

These two youngsters just had to dance to the music.

With a belly full of steak and chicken, it was off to sleep.  The morning begins early and will provide new adventures.

In the morning it was off the ship, into buses and away we went.  On the trip to our first stop we passed a bowling alley.  Found it strange to see a bowling alley in Crete.

We arrived at a place that, from a quick glance, would be a pile of rocks.

However, our guide held a drawing depicting where we were really at.

Welcome to the Palace of Knossos.  Once a grand palace for the Minoan civilization, it is now, as with most ancient landmarks, a ruin.

We walk around almost in awe of the vastness of the palace.  This is just looking across the palace grounds.  The sheer size is nearly overwhelming.

Some sections still retain the original colors they were painted so many centuries ago.

The Minoan people must have been short considering the height of the different stories of the buildings as illustrated by the man on the balcony.

A throne room with its ancient wall art is only viewable from behind a barrier.  The throne doesn’t look all that comfortable. 

This wall decoration is still mostly intact and now protected by plexiglass.

It is thought that ancient acrobats used these “horns” during their performances.

Another ancient piece of decoration where you can see that it is a relief, i.e., this is not flat but has actual depth to it.

The immensity of the complex is what amazes visitors.  It is said that in its day it was able to accommodate over 2,000 people.

More wall paintings: one of a dancer to the right and one of dolphins.  Whatever was on the two panels below the dancer, have vanished with time.

A storage area with storage jars intact.

But where you have a tourist attraction you have vendors.  This one takes advantage of the myth of the Minotaur.  It is said that it was the palace of Knossos that gave rise to the story of the Minotaur, the half man half bull monster.

There is even a restaurant across the street from the entrance to the palace.  Did not have time to eat there as I had to return to the bus and head for Heraklion.

Heraklion is a bustling, cosmopolitan city.  Our tour was headed to the historic center of town.

We start at this beautiful fountain built by the Italians.  At one time the Italians governed Crete. 

They also left their mark in the form of the buildings they left behind.

This art gallery was once a Roman Catholic Church, the Basilica of St. Mark.  Remember, the dominate religion is Greek Orthodox.

Most of the Italian architecture is close to the port area.  This is now a government building.

A look through one of the arched entrances of the building reveals a tranquil scene.

Once inside there are doors leading to staircases.

One of the things that I didn’t expect to see was Ben and Jerry’s.

On the border of the Italian section is a pedestrian shopping section with nice cafes . . .

. . .and plenty of shops.

On one street was this Chinese restaurant.  I noticed, as you can see to the left of the restaurant, handbills were posted everywhere.

The streets do get crowded.  The sign telling you to hold onto your child was a sign I had not encountered anywhere else.

Motor scooters seem to be the main mode of transportation in this section of town.  I was amazed at the number of posters plastered to the walls of the buildings.

Artisans’ have their studios open for the buying public.

A travel agency reminds me that the time has come to say good bye to Crete and return to the ship for our last stop on this trip: Santorini.  (Just like the sign says.)

 

Copyright © 2018  John J Campo

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Greek Trek 2017: Rhodes

Quietly, like a thief in the night, my chariot arrives at the port of Rhodes.  Rhodes is as famous as Patmos is obscure.  Everyone learns in elementary school about the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.  The Colossus of Rhodes is amongst them.  While the Colossus no longer exists, the city of Rhodes on the island of Rhodes still thrives.  What many don’t know, even war movie aficionados, (unless you read the credits) is that you are seeing Rhodes when you watch the movie “The Guns of Navarone.”  Since no such island as Navarone exists, Rhodes became the backdrop and set for the movie.  (The studio planned to use the island of Cypress but political unrest on the island prompted the change to Rhodes.)

The island of Rhodes has a very long and interesting history.  Besides the famous Colossus, the island boasts a medieval old town and the second most visited Acropolis in Greece. (Only the Acropolis in Athens receives more visitors.)  The old town was built along with a mighty fortress and the Palace of the Grand Master by the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Rhodes was under their control from 1309 to 1523.  It came under Turkish rule with the Ottoman Empire taking possession of the island in 1523.  After World War 1 the Italians took possession of the island.  After World War 2 Greece took possession of the island and it has been under Greek rule since.

The tour I am taking leaves at 7:15 in the morning so it is early to rise to get breakfast and be ready for the tour.  Stefanos is our guide and is very informative.  Our first stop is the town of Lindos when the second most visited Acropolis is located.

When you leave the ship you are greeted with this beautiful sight.  (No tender ferrying you from the ship to the shore.)  That is the old city of Rhodes.  You board a bus and are swept off to Lindos.

Lindos has many narrow streets packed with shops.  But we are here for the Acropolis first.

This is the Lindos Acropolis seen from where the tour busses park.  Yes, you have to walk down a long, steep slope into the town before you can walk up to the Acropolis.

There are 2 ways to get to the top of the Acropolis.  One way is easy and I will show that later.  Or, as you can see, there is what I call the death march way: the stairs.  Yep, you guessed it.  I took the death march way following my tour guide.  What I am showing is the easy part at the base of the Acropolis after the long climb.  The stairs below this point are narrower and you can only move in 2 single files: one up and one down.  The single file up side is against a shear rock cliff and the single file down has no guard or hand rail and a straight drop!  There was no such thing as stopping to take a nice scenic picture during the climb.

You think you are at the top when you reach here but that is not the case.

You go up more stairs until you reach this nice shady spot.

This is our guide, Stefanos (I hope I spelled his name right).  He makes the climb every day during tourist season so he is fit and looks like he is out for a walk in the park.  I, on the other hand, was soaked in sweat and very worn out by the climb.  (God, am I that out of shape?!)  Most of the tourists on this climb were totally soaked with sweat as well.

This is the final staircase to the very top of the Acropolis. 

This is the complete scene of the final climb.  If the ruins in the foreground look familiar, it is because this site was used in the movie “The Guns of Navarone.”  Gregory Peck and company walked pass these columns.  It was a short scene but these are the columns.

I could have inserted a nice photo taken from where these people are standing but it would not show the scale of the site.  The site is truly magnificent.

The site also gives superb views of the bay.

And can see the pristine expanse of the beach below with rows of neatly arranged umbrellas.

The Greek government is trying to restore as much of the site as possible.

You are treated to a bird’s eye view of Lindos.  These nice, white buildings were not marred with graffiti. 

Lindos itself is interesting. Along the street to the Acropolis you pass a bar and grill.  (Note to self, stop by for an ice cold beer on the way down.)

And pass along narrow streets packed with shops.

An unusual offering of dresses, coffee and Nutella is made along the street at the crepe shop.

I said there was an easy way up to the Acropolis.  Here it is.  Yes, via donkey. 

For a mere 6€ you can ride to the top.  (The donkeys may be beasts of burden but they certainly don’t need to be burdened with my tubby little butt!)

As an aside, according to our guide, all the donkeys on the islands are American.  After WWII, the United States instituted the Marshal Plan to rebuild Europe.  All sorts of vehicles and rebuilding supplies poured into Europe.  However, the Greek islands had few usable roads that could accommodate trucks.  To get around this, hundreds of donkeys were sent from America to be used to transport material and equipment around the islands.  Once the rebuilding was done, the donkeys were left to the Greeks.  These donkeys thrived and bred.  Hence, all the donkeys are American.

The next and last stop on the tour is to the old city of Rhodes.  Our guide explains the maps that we will find around the old city.  He stated that you can get very lost without these maps.

We walked across this bridge that spanned a park to the gate ahead.

This beautiful park under the bridge was once the moat that protected the approaches to the city walls.  Picture this area covered with water.  It is quite a formidable barrier for any invader to overcome.

One of the ancient cannons still guards the entrance to the old city.

We funnel through one last gate to enter the old city.

Once inside the walls, the old city is a bustling place.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly crowds can gather and then disperse.

The streets of the old town can be a bit hard on the feet.  Anyone with mobility problems will find this a challenge.

And in the summer it is so hot that any shade will do.

With one last look down an ancient street it is time to head back to the ship.  There are just two more stops: Crete and Santorini.  We head back to the ship for the all night cruise to Crete.

For more information on the sites used in Rhodes along with stills from the movie and how the site looks today, see the magazine After the Battle Issue #177.  The company offers many interesting books and magazines.

 

 

Copyright © 2018  John J Campo

 

 

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Greek Trek 2017: Patmos

It is time to leave Mykonos but once again I feel like I am back in uniform.  I vacate my room by noon and then hang around the lobby of the hotel until 6:00p.m., when the bus takes everyone down to the port for a ship due to arrive at 6:30p.m.. Once at the port everyone shows their passports to a rather disinterested custom agent.  My chariot once again is the Celestryal Olympia.  Once aboard, having surrendered my passport to the ship’s purser, it is time to look for my assigned cabin.  Like most cruise ships, the cabin is utilitarian but not spacious.  However, the cabin is there for you to sleep and shower.  The rest of the time should consist of roaming the ship with its lounges, swimming area, and dining areas and going on excursions.  This being said, I must make a comment on the shower portion of the cabin.  I have had to use some small showers in my day, but this was a small, small shower.  It was so small you would have to get out of it just to change your mind! But I digress.  Once settled it is off to find a dining facility to eat and then a lounge to relax. 

The Olympia does not leave Mykonos until around 11:00 p.m. setting sail for the port of Kusadasi, Turkey.  The ship arrives early the next morning at Kusadasi but having been in Turkey before, I decided to stay on the ship and try to catch up on some sleep.  Besides, the excursion leaves the ship at some ungodly early time in the morning.  I find the dining facility for breakfast.  It is pretty empty as most passengers are off seeing Kusadasi.  We depart Turkey at 1:00 p.m. and sail to the island of Patmos.  We arrive in the late afternoon and prepare to go ashore to visit the town of Skala.

For those not familiar with this island, it does have a claim to fame.  In the early days of Christianity, Saint John the Divine, also known as John the Apostle and John of Patmos, was exiled to this island and was forced to live in a cave.  While in exile he receives a vision and from that vision came the last book of the Bible: The Book of Revelations. A grand basilica was built on the island was destroyed by Muslim raiders.  Monasteries were built and in 1207 came under the rule of the Republic of Venice.  It was in 1340 that the Knights Hospitaller came to the island and built a fortress.  They stayed until 1522.

The Olympia arrived at Skala but did not dock.  Those of us going ashore had to transfer to tenders, kind of a waterborne taxi, to the dock at Skala.

The port of Skala is small and loaded with tourists.

Docked in the harbor are the luxury yachts of the rich and famous.

High above Skala is the town of Chora and the Castle of Patmos can be seen from the docks.

And, of course, the obligatory tourist gift shop is right at the docks as well.

In the town square the locals sit with the tourists enjoying a libation and to see what the crazy tourists are going to do next.

And in the heat, and it was very hot, a vendor sells pop corn with the help of Mickey and Minnie.

I noticed that the streets look the same on all the islands.

Found a nice bakery just inside the town.

Here is just a small sample of the goodies for sale.

It is July and that means heat and humidity.  I was in shorts, a tee shirt and sandals. I was still hot.  Then I saw this muslim woman and I was even hotter.  She looks as cool as a cucumber and not showing the slightest concern for the heat and humidity.

This was a welcome sight.  Nothing like a nice ice cream shop on a hot day to cool you off.  They had not shortage of customers either.

If ice cream isn’t your thing, there was a liquor store close by.

Churches like this one abound on the island.

Even the side streets are picturesque.

Motor bikes are a primary transportation vehicle on Patmos. 

If you have an international driver’s license you can rent a motorbike to get around.

But remember, even in this serene setting, the long arm of the law is there.

Of course Patmos has its share of island kitties just like Mykonos.  This one didn’t even budge when I approached to take a photo.

The pharmacy here is not as grand as the pharmacies in America.

The aid station is small and up a small alley.

Craftsmen and artist studios are open to the public with beautiful items for sale.

But this lovely lady was in front of a cosmetic store.

Most unusual name for a store but definitely gets your attention.  Didn’t know I lost anything.  (Except maybe my mind)

After a look down one last street. . .

. . . and one last shop, it is time to leave Patmos.

 I go to the waterfront to board my chariot for an all night sailing to Rhodes.  Patmos was a nice respite.  Rhodes promises to be a bit more challenging.

Copyright © 2018  John J Campo

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Greek Trek 2017: Mykonos

The time has come to leave Athens.  At 8:30 in the morning it was onto a bus and off to the port of Piraeus to board the Cylestia Olympia, my chariot to Mykonos.  It was as if I was back in the military again as I did a lot of “hurry up and wait.”  I was at the port by 9:00 in the morning to board a ship that wasn’t due to leave till noon.  The passage to Mykonos took 6 hours, but to be honest, I slept for 3 of those hours in a lounge.  Arrival at Mykonos was around 6:00 in the evening and was met by Dimitrius and Jenny from the San Marco Hotel. My hat’s off to Dimitrius, who navigated the narrow road in that small bus.  The San Marco Hotel is an hour walk from Mykonos Town but they do provide bus service to town.  It is beautiful and well worth the stay.

The island of Mykonos is known for two things: Partying and cats.  This is the party island with clothing optional and gay beaches and a hopping bar scene during the summer months.  In the winter the place becomes a ghost town.  Even the shop keepers and hotel staffs are seasonal.  Talking to the staff at the San Marco, they said they reside at the hotel during the high season and then return home during the off season.  Believe me, they work hard for their money.  Take the dining area crew for example.  Amalia and her staff, Xenia, Effie, and Joanne, have to be present for breakfast which starts at 6 in the morning.  It ends at 11:00 at which time they get a break for the afternoon.  Then they have to set up for the dinner hours and that can extend well into the night.  They do this day in and day out.  I have been told that this is the case all over the islands.

I did not explore the party or beach scene as that is amply covered by other websites.  The place I explored was a section of Mykonos Town known as Little Venice.  Why is it called Little Venice?  It is a jumble of narrow streets you can easily get lost in, kind of like the Venice canal system. As with the Plaka, some shops were high end while others sold tourist souvenirs.

Oh, and one last thing.  I mentioned above and in my Athens post about cats.  The one thing that you see, especially on the islands, is the cat.  These cats are not skittish like cats in America.  And they serve a purpose.  The presence of cats keeps the vermin population down.  On Mykonos you can even buy a calendar entitled “The Cats of Mykonos.”  They have a revered place in the culture and community.

The trip to the port of Piraeus presented us with more graffiti.

The port itself is divided into sections with cargo ships on one side and passenger ship is another.

This is just two of the many cargo ships that were headed for Piraeus.

While the port at Mykonos is small and nondescript, the yachts in the harbor show that this is the playground of the rich and famous.

You can take a stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the view.

One of the hotels in the main town of Mykonos even has a small (very small) beach in front.  Most people have to walk from the port to the hotels due to the limited taxi service.

This gives you an idea of how small the beach is outside the hotel.  You need to take a bus to the main beaches.

All along the waterfront there are tavernas to get a delicious repast.

You can’t get sea food any fresher than this.

Little chapels and shrines are all around Mykonos City.  I guess that is so you can pray that you find your way out of Little Venice.

This is an entrance into Little Venice and it is one of the wider streets in the area.

A boutique gift shop which was closed at the time.

I guess that is what you need after you buy jewelry from this shop. 

Some streets had souvenirs aimed at the tourists.  The ever present Mykonos cat is catching some shade.

Streets in Little Venice are about this size.  It is hard to walk two abreast on these streets.

To my amazement, there is at least one hotel within the labyrinth of Little Venice.  I saw two people doing the dreaded bag-drag to get here.

This is about the only motorized vehicle that can get down the streets.

This clothing shop posted a mannequin at the door to model a dress.  Makes it look like someone is standing in the door.

Of course, nearby is another of the cats of Mykonos.

The Piano Bar is hidden within the labyrinth as well.

Mykonos is also known for its windmills.  They sit on the far side of the town. They can be reached by either going through Little Venice or. .

. . . by walking along the waterfront on this very narrow pathway.

Believe it or not, this is a public bathroom along the waterfront.  Blends right in with the rest of the town.

The San Marco Hotel, while away from town, offers a pretty spectacular view.

The lobby has an inviting feel to it.

George is the general manager of the hotel.  He takes an interest in all his guests.

The hotel is very open and is built on a hillside so it has four different levels.  This is the lobby level.

Every room has a small patio area where one can just sit and enjoy the day.  This is the second level.  The staff, who stay at the hotel through the tourist season reside at the highest level.

The gentleman on the right is Lucus.  He is a former member of the Greek army.  He and I (as I am a veteran as well) talked about the different militaries and equipment.  I hope the other receptionist will forgive me for not remembering his name.

This is Valia, the bartender.  She is friendly, vivacious and attentive.  You would think she is Greek but you would be wrong.  She is Albanian.  I met hotel workers and shopkeepers who were from elsewhere in Europe including England and Ireland.  They spend 6 to 9 months on the resort areas of Greece and then return home over the winter. 

This looks like a good place to end my visit to Mykonos.  How better to end this visit than to show two more of the ever present Cats of Mykonos enjoying the shade.

On to the cruise ship to be whisked away to other islands of Greece.  First stop: Patmos.

 

 

Copyright © 2017  John J Campo

 

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Greek Trek 2017: Athens – Lost Luster

As a young Sergeant in the Air Force, I was sent on temporary assignment from my base in England to Athens.  The reason is not important, but I was in Athens for five months.  Flying into Athens I was presented with an expanse of white buildings and a decided lack of high rises like you see in large American or English cities.  Once on the ground I saw that the buildings were whitewashed, well kept and beautiful.  Many years have passed and I once again find myself in Athens.  Flying in I saw much of the same picture I saw all those years ago.  However, on the ground, I was shocked by a decidedly different reality.  The once proud buildings were dull and dilapidated.  Graffiti defaced many of the now forlorn structures.  Financial difficulties brought on by government mismanagement and changes demanded by the European Union have caused Greece to become the pauper of Europe.  But, either despite or because of these difficulties, the Greek people are still proud, bold and hospitable.

This trip to Athens was only over three nights but a lot was packed into that time.  I spent a majority of my time exploring an area called “The Plaka.”  It is an area below the Acropolis with narrow streets lined with shops and eateries.  There is very little vehicular traffic in this area.  The shops sell just about any trinket a tourist could desire from “evil eye” pendants and bracelets to fend off evil to flokati (sheep skin) rugs.  The eateries, better known as tavernas, provided the taste buds with delicious dishes and equally delightful drink to wash it all down. 

The Acropolis

I went to the Acropolis as it was part of the tour package.  I have included a couple of old pictures from my first trip to show some changes.  If you want more photos along with detailed information I suggest you go to Matt Barrett’s excellent site.

This photo I took when I was sent to Athens as a young Sergeant.  Most people think this is the Acropolis.  Actually this is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena, which sits atop the Acropolis.  Back then, there were no paved walkways or stairs.  It was also pretty devoid of people.

Today, the way up to the Acropolis is now nicely paved with steps where needed.

Back then you pretty much had the run of the place with few visitors.

Nearly the same spot today.  Some of the temple has been restored but, as you can see, it is a sea of humanity.  This was as far as I went this trip.  The site was packed!

The Theater of Dionysos back then shows how much the city backs up to the Acropolis.

Today, you can see the reconstruction taking place and some of the modern buildings are gone.

The police patrol the area and these two officers are making sure the street vendors have proper permits to sell their wares.  The other thing I noticed is that, unlike police in an American town who ride the same brand motorcycle, here one is riding a Honda and the other a Suzuki.  The other thing I noticed is that sometimes I would see two policemen per motorcycle.

You can always hire a horse drawn carriage to take you to the base of the Acropolis in style.

And just because you are not in America doesn’t mean you escape seeing Segway tourists.

From the Acropolis you can look out and see other ruins that surround this sacred rock.

The Acropolis Museum, which was not even built the last time I was here, is built over other ancient ruins of an Athenian neighborhood.

Inside there are many artifacts found at the Acropolis. 

This statue, once part of an Acropolis temple shows the toll suffered from decades of pollution and erosion.

The statue shows how the arm is connected to the rest of the sculpture.  According to archeologists, square wooden pegs were used so that the arm stayed in the prescribed position.

All in all, a visit to this ancient site is well worth braving the madding crowds. 

The Plaka

The Plaka District is an area of Athens with narrow streets lined with shops.  There are shops of every kind here.  Some are there selling trinkets to the tourists while others are high end stores catering to the rich and famous.  Intermingled with these shops are tavernas, places that serve delicious Greek cuisine and drink. 

The Plaka is maze of narrow streets where you can easily get lost.  There are maps around to tell you where you are.

Tavernas in the Plaka offer good food and drink with inside and outside seating.

From the hanging birdcage there is no mistaking this for anything but an ice cream shop.

The streets are narrow and packed with tourists shopping for souvenirs.

This is one of the more interesting offerings in the Plaka.  The name was the thing that caught my eye.

Inside you can get the most interesting foot treatment.  These fish eat away your dead skin.  Some say it tickles while others say it feels like tiny nips on the feet.

Need food? Shops have it by the ton.  The plastic sealed packages to the left are olives.

Fine leather goods are readily available.

This building has the remains of a mural.  But you can also see the neglect and decay along with some graffiti.

Graffiti defaced many of the buildings in Athens.

A vintage BMW motorcycle was parked on one street in front of a fence covered in graffiti.

This taverna had a beautiful mosaic on the wall.

Another taverna on the Plaka with plenty of outside seating and across from graffiti.

A honey shop with the freshest honey you can buy.  You can even watch the honey makers at work.

No shopping area is complete unless it has a bakery.

There were many souvenir shops with tee shirts for sale.  I saw some that I liked but due to what was printed on them, I doubt I would be able to wear them anywhere.

This church in the middle of the Plaka. . .

. . .with a beautify mosaic of the Blessed Mother and child.  Churches seemed to be the only buildings devoid of graffiti.

These awnings in the Plaka district show the diversity of the shops.  A cheesy souvenir shop can be next to a high end watch shop.

Do you see the cat amongst the ruins?  Cats will be a recurring theme in this and the posts to come.

My time in Athens is done.  Now it is time to head to the port to catch a boat to the next destination: Mykonos.

 

Copyright © 2017 John J Campo

 

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Another June, Another Sac Comic Con

As usual, June has arrived and so has the Sacramento Wizard World Comic Con.  I decided since last year I went on the first day, I would go on the last day this year.  Different from last year was the amount of star power that was here.  Last year, to refresh your memory, we had William Shatner, Dean Cain and Michael Cudlitz.  This year Val Kilmer, Kate Beckinsale, Edward James Olmos, Nichelle Nichols, Jon Heder, Kevin Sorbo and Lou Ferrigno, just to name a few.  And, as a real blast from the past, Kato Kaelin of the OJ Simpson Trial fame was there to MC some of the cosplay shows.  Alas, I have no pictures of the celebrities because their autograph section was posted “No Photography” and was heavily patrolled by security.  So, if you wanted a picture you had to pay uo.  As for autographs, Val Kilmer and Kate Beckinsale cost $90 and the prices went down from there depending on your celebrity.

 This Comic Con also was cursed with the worst heat wave ever in June as well.  On the day I went it got to 107o outside.  The theme song for Sacramento this week is from Smash Mouth called “Walking on the Sun.”  That is what it felt like.  In fact, the refrain “you might as well be walking on the sun,” kept going through my head.  When I told out-of-state attendees that just 7 days earlier it was in the 60’s, with wind, rain and hail for the Sacramento region with snow in the high country, they couldn’t believe it.  This is probably why attendance was down.

The first person I saw was this random woman just standing in the shade outside the Sacramento Convention Center. She had on a wedding dress, a paper crown that said Israel and a staff with the Star of David on it.  No one else was around.  I started to worry that the show was over. 

 

Normally, this area would be packed with people.  However, the temperatures were so high no one dawdled waiting for friends.

These lovely ladies were the first costumed attendees I saw once inside the air conditioned splendor of the Convention Center.  I’m sure Hugh Hefner would be afraid of this bunny.

Spider Woman, sans mask, with sidekick, was just inside the Convention Hall.

Trek Mystery Backpacks for sale.  Would you pay $90 for a pack filled with who-knows-what?

A young Belle was there with her father and big brother.

This young girl, along with her dad, was trying to decide whether to approach the ladies to have a photo taken.

Decision made and she has nice photo to remember this year’s Comic Con.

This booth was all about talking to your Angel and psychic readings.  Bet he wishes she was his angel.

The Sacramento Ghostbusters made an appearance at this year’s convention.  I did not see them at last year’s convention.

They even brought their Buster mobile and a big blow-up of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man.  It ain’t the cool ambulance but it works.

If you need a mask, this is the place to come and buy.

Even Barnes & Noble was there with plenty of wares to show.

As the Photo Op board shows, there were plenty of stars at this year’s convention.

These two formidable looking women were walking around the floor.

They were actually advertising for a sci-fi speed dating site.

But I doubt their services will help this guy.

Not even hanging out by the Batmobile got him a date.

Professional Cosplayer and glamour model Ivy Doomkitty was there with her sister.  The one thing I really like about both the professional and amateur cosplayers is their willingness to pose for pictures.

These were the only two trekkies that came out in full costume.

The 4th Doctor put in an appearance.

Jasmine made an appearance without Aladdin.

The Pumpkin Geek was there with his beautifully made forever pumpkins.

Get your custom made light sabers here.

A group of super heroes walked the floor.

Along with a well armed Pikachu.

And Merlin came to escape the heat.

Would you look for spiritual guidance from this gentleman?

Ray said that even though she is from a desert planet, Sacramento was like walking on the sun it was so hot!

And these three formidable people came loaded.

The comic book artist Ruben Rosas was on hand.

A husband and wife cosplay team showed their stuff.

The Sacramento Zombie Club was there recruiting new members.  Zombies can’t stand still for a moment!

And finally, the masked gentleman on the hoverboard arrived with his wagon and bulldog in tow.  The dog escaped the heat while the hoverboader had a chic magnet. 

And the Hulk says to come back next year.  Maybe the heat will be gone.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 John J Campo

Posted in Civilian Aviation | Leave a comment

The Luau

This winter has been particularly long, dreary, wet and cold in California.  After five years of drought, we needed the rain and snow but hated the gloomy, clammy weather.  To add to the gloom I had to have eye surgery.  But, I recovered quickly and the weather has turned the corner to summer.  This has me remembering Hawaii and the Luau.  The Luau is almost an obligatory event for travelers when they go to Hawaii.  A luau, for the few who never heard of one, is a Hawaiian gathering that includes food and entertainment.  On the island of Oahu there are at least 7 places that offer this event.  Perhaps the best known is at the Polynesian Cultural Center.  A trip there is usually an all day affair allowing you to walk through different areas that showcase the different cultures that make up the Polynesian Pacific.  However, if you don’t have all day, you can go to the other luaus which offer an evening of food and entertainment.

The one we attended was the Paradise Cove Luau which was 10 minutes walking time from the Aulani Resort in Ko Olina.   In an idyllic setting with its own cove, this is considered one of the better luaus on Oahu.  Upon entering the Paradise Cove grounds you follow a path to an area with a photo station for the obligatory souvenir picture a male and female cast member. (Of course the guy is buff and the girl is beautiful.)   Once past this, there are craftsmen, dance exhibits and a small amphitheater on the grounds.  I will say that the entertainment was good and the food was great. 

The Paradise Cove Luau is situated on the leeward side of Oahu.

Backlit by the setting sun, a young lady demonstrates a Polynesian dance.

After adjusting for the backlight, you can now see the beautiful dancer in a paradise setting.

Woodworkers are there making items on the spot.

And yes, some Polynesian men are heavily tattooed.  It is a cultural tradition for them.

This is the main stage where all the night’s entertainment will take place.  As you can see from the seating, the venue can accommodate a lot of people.  They said there were 500 people there this night.

Demonstrations of different Polynesian styles of fishing are showcased in the cove.

Even at this demonstration they have beautiful women and buff guys for the guests to look at.  You will see both of these dancers later.

And, of course, what luau would be complete without tourists being, well, tourists.

Remember, this is done in good fun and to demonstrate some of the Polynesian culture. 

But the cove is also beautiful and in the sunset offers up more of the idyllic setting.

In the small amphitheater there is more dance demonstrations going on.  In the foreground are roasting pits.

This is where they roast at least one of the pigs served for the feast.

The “guest of honor” is revealed.  Yes, that is a whole pig that was roasted in that pit.

This is another of the beautiful ladies that works at the luau.  You see a lovely smile but may think her eyes are closed.

Closer inspection of the picture shows her eyes aren’t closed but she is giving you a beautiful smile with a playful wink.

Elsewhere around the cove people are having their photos taken with cast members.  Here is the Samoan fire dancer posing with two guests.

Finally, the call goes out that dinner is served.  So we trot off and join the line.  These dinners are buffet style but, if you want to pay extra, they will bring you your dinner.  I am a lover of pork so I want to serve myself and get plenty of the roasted pork.

After you eat, the dance demonstration begins on the main stage.

They make it a family affair and make sure to include the children in the show.

Of course there has to be two lovers singing the Hawaiian Wedding Song.

No luau would be complete without the Samoan Fire Torch dancer.

He can even twirl two torches at once.  I say this because I would probably incinerate myself.

Then comes the Tahitian dancers.  As you can see from the blur, the dancer is really moving those hips!

Once again the audience members are brought up to dance this time with the Tahitian dancers.  Yes, even children are included.  As I said, they make this a family affair.

Now we come to what I call the DOH! part of the show.  The MC bring out a male tourist I will call “the Mark,” dressed in grass skirt and coconut bra and the following transpired.  First, as you can see, they place him opposite of an extremely beautiful dancer.  After asking the Mark’s name, where he was from and so forth, the conversation went like this:

MC:  Are you married?

Mark:  Yes.

MC:  How long?

Mark:  49 Years

MC:  My, that is a long time.  Okay, what I want you to do.  You see this beautiful woman across from you?  I want you to look deep into her eyes.  Look very deep into her eyes.  Concentrate and look very deep into her eyes and….um, what did you say your wife’s name was?

Mark:  Who?

DOH!

An interesting postscript to this story came when I told it to a friend of mine and his wife.  My friend’s response was, “What an idiot!”   His wife had a different take on the story.  Her reaction was, “We don’t stand a chance against those Polynesian women.”  Just interesting to see the two very different reactions as the female reaction I didn’t expect.

Finally, there is one last dance to say goodbye.  And so, with bellies full of food and the show still playing in our heads, it is time to leave.  Some board busses back to Waikiki while those staying in Ko Olina are able to amble back to our hotels.  Would I go back again?  Why yes, yes I would. 

Aloha!

 

Copyright © 2017  John J Campo

 

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941 Plus 75 Years

“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press.  FLASH: Washington: The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”

WOR radio in New York made that report at 2:26 pm, interrupting the broadcast of a New York Giants baseball game.  At or near the same time, all other radio stations across the United States announced the attack to a stunned nation.  Suddenly the nation was plunged into war.  Everyone knows the speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt the following day asking Congress for a declaration of war.  Until December 7th, the United States was a spectator of a war raging in Europe and Asia.  We supplied arms and food to our allies, but we were not active participants.  Now we were completely immersed in the war we tried so hard not to enter.

The attack on December 7th destroyed much of the Pacific fleet at anchor.  The pride of the Navy, the USS Arizona, was destroyed.  An armor piercing bomb touched off the forward powder magazine causing an explosion that took the lives of 1,177 of its crew.   The Arizona was never fully salvaged.  The Navy recovered some of the dead, who are buried at the Punchbowl National Cemetery, but had to leave many more entombed in the Arizona. The remains of the Arizona were left as a war grave. 

It was not just naval base at Pearl Harbor that was attacked.  The Japanese attacked Wheeler, Kaneohe, Bellows and Hickam air fields, Schofield Barracks, Ford Island and Barber Point.  The objective was to destroy America’s ability to stop Japanese expansion.  As we know, that did not happen.  Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the attack, was against war with America. He had been stationed in America, attended Harvard, and admired America.  He knew our industrial might.  He was given assurances by his government that America would have some official notice of war before the attack.  When he later found out it was a surprise attack he was quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”  He knew Japan could not win a war with America. 

America suffered 2,403 dead, including 68 civilians in the December 7th surprise attack.  It will not be until September 11, 2001 that America will suffer even greater loss of life in a surprise terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon and 4 hijacked passenger planes.  That totaled 2,996 dead. 

The Arizona Memorial was built on the remains of the USS Arizona and was opened on May 30, 1962. The Pearl Harbor Memorial Sites include the battleship USS Missouri (representing the end of the war), the WWII submarine USS Bowfin, the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, memorials to the USS Utah and Oklahoma, which were also left as war graves, and additional exhibits at the Visitors Center.  December 7, 2016 marked the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Your first view of the memorial is through the trees at the drop-off point outside the entrance to the memorial grounds.

The main entrance sign that shows that this is more than a memorial for the USS Arizona, but for two other ships that were lost and left where they sank.

This map shows the memorial center and what is on Ford Island. 

At the visitors center you can buy tickets to go aboard the USS Bowfin, a submarine that survived the war.

They have added a museum in the visitor’s center with items about the attack.  Here is memorabilia from the USS Arizona.

The entrance to building 2 of the museum has this painting showing a Kate torpedo plane attacking Battleship Row.

But when you turn around and look up, you see a model of the Kate bomber suspended overhead.

More memorabilia from December 7th is preserved on display.

A small piece of the salvaged portion of the USS Arizona.

The salvaged remains of one of the torpedoes dropped by the Japanese on December 7th.

Two of the anchors of the Arizona were blown completely off the ship.  This one is at the memorial visitor’s center.  The other is on display in Phoenix, the state capitol of Arizona.

Boats transport you from the Visitors Center to the actual Arizona Memorial, built upon the remains of the USS Arizona.

From shore or on the transport boat, you can view the beginning and the end of World War II.   It started on December 7, 1941 with the destruction of the Arizona and ended on the battleship moored behind it, the USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed the surrender documents on September 2, 1945.  Tours are available for the Missouri as well.

The most striking image a visitor sees of the memorial is how amazingly simple and elegant it is.

You can view a portion of the remains of the Arizona looking down through two openings, like this one.

The survivors of the Arizona made a pact that when they died, they would have their cremated remains returned to the Arizona to sleep eternally with their shipmates.  This, the Parks Service does with great reverence.

At the back of the memorial are the names of those who died on the Arizona on December 7th.  If you look to the lower left forward of the wall, you will see other names.  These are the names of the survivors who have been returned for their eternal slumber.

You may be lucky enough to see little globs of bunker fuel rise to the surface from the Arizona.  Not all the bunker fuel could be removed from the ship.  What remains slowly rises to the surface.  These, as you see above, are referred to as “the tears of the Arizona.”  This oil does not go very far as the Parks Service has a system to catch and recycle the oil before it can drift into the ocean.  There is enough fuel on board for the Arizona to mourn its dead for many decades to come.

“Old Glory” is raised over the remains of the Arizona every morning.

But if you look behind the flagpole, you will see a portion of the Arizona quietly rusting with a ladder leading down into her interior.

On any given day you may meet a Pearl Harbor survivor at the memorial.  This day Herb Weatherwax, a native Hawaiian and stationed at Schofield Barracks at the time of the attack, was there greeting visitors.  He was there selling his book, “Counting My Blessings.”  He is at the age where he uses a stamp with his signature to autograph the books.

There was a news report a few days before December 7th of this year on the veterans going to Pearl Harbor for the 75th Memorial.  That report said, if I heard correctly, there are few than 200 Pearl Harbor survivors left alive and only 2 survivors from the Arizona alive today.  In just 5 short years when we celebrate the 80th anniversary, there may be no one alive who was there on that fateful day.  Hopefully, we will continue to honor this day despite the fact that no participants will be alive to jog our collective memory.

 

Copyright © 2017  John J Campo

Posted in Historic Sites | Tagged | Leave a comment