A villa on Crete

And here we are, ensconced in a villa on the edge of the village of Panormo. We’re on the north cost of Crete, about half way between Heraklion and Rethymno. There are two villas together in a big – um – field. 
We are in the front unit, and looking past us is a big hotel complex. But behind our wall:
So nice! What’s the view like?
Yes! We have bonus goats. Or sheep. We can’t decide. They arrive every morning at about 9:00 and spend about three hours hanging out, grazing, lounging under the trees. On our first morning a pickup truck arrived with a bale of hay. While two guys dispensed the hay a third darted into the melee, grabbed a critter and put it in the truck. Someone was having goat – or lamb – for dinner. 
We’re right on the edge of things, weather wise. It is mostly very sunny and quite breezy. Okay, windy, especially by the water. Inland it seems downright hot to us. The locals are finding it chilly and it has even rained a bit. Nan and I have been making use of the pool. Getting in involves a lot of gasping and whooping, then we’re good. 
Particularly nice at night time!

A villa on Crete

And here we are, ensconced in a villa on the edge of the village of Panormo. We’re on the north cost of Crete, about half way between Heraklion and Rethymno. There are two villas together in a big – um – field. 
We are in the front unit, and looking past us is a big hotel complex. But behind our wall:
So nice! What’s the view like?
Yes! We have bonus goats. Or sheep. We can’t decide. They arrive every morning at about 9:00 and spend about three hours hanging out, grazing, lounging under the trees. On our first morning a pickup truck arrived with a bale of hay. While two guys dispensed the hay a third darted into the melee, grabbed a critter and put it in the truck. Someone was having goat – or lamb – for dinner. 
We’re right on the edge of things, weather wise. It is mostly very sunny and quite breezy. Okay, windy, especially by the water. Inland it seems downright hot to us. The locals are finding it chilly and it has even rained a bit. Nan and I have been making use of the pool. Getting in involves a lot of gasping and whooping, then we’re good. 
Particularly nice at night time!

Seeing the sights in Athens

Athens left me with rather a strange feeling. On the one hand, every time I looked up and saw this
I reeled back a bit.  I mean, the Parthenon! Right outside the window. Across the street, more good stuff (here’s the view looking back at the hotel)
We visited two fantastic museums. It was really something to visit the National Archeological Museum and see the mask of Agamemnon:
And these guys:
And then there was the New Acropolis Musuem. No pictures inside, unfortunately. The building is astounding in and of itself, as is the collection inside. On the top floor there is gathered the marble staturary and friezes from the Parthenon, arranged on the same footprint as the actual Parthenon. As we walked along we could look at ancient works and look out the floor to ceiling windows to see the actual monument on the hill beside us. Where there were historical drawings for reference plaster models replicated some of the missing portions. And then there were the blank spots awaiting the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum (it’s time,folks). 
We also paid a visit to see the Presidential Guards at the tomb of the unknown. 
Every hour, on the hour…
So what do I mean by the strange feeling about Athens? After all, we enjoyed the museums and the monuments, rode the subway, explored interesting restaurants – we even explored the torrent of tourist crap that is La Plaka, the old city. And yet. For whatever reason it just didn’t have the feeling of so many European cities – these weren’t streets that I wanted to stroll down to while away the afternoon. I’m glad I’ve been here, but it sort of feels like it’s checked off the list and doesn’t need to be done again (unlike Berlin. Or Tokyo. Or Paris. Or London. Or Seville. Or or or…..)

A return to Ephesus

We arrived at Kusadasi to find three other cruise ships docked – it was going to very busy in town and even busier at Ephesus. And it was – a sea of people:

Wilf and I have both been to Ephesus before, and we had a specific goal. When we were there in September of 1999 work was just beginning on the Terrace House excavation. In July of that year a very expensive roof had been installed to protect the worksite, but the public was not allowed in. Fifteen years later the site is extensively excavated and open for viewing. Worth the wait!
We could walk along on a system of elevated glass walkways, looking at the work that has been done and the buildings that have been revealed, complete with paintings and mosaics. It must be very exciting, as an archeologist, to make big discoveries. But oy, the grunt work that goes on. See the tables below?

Covered in a zillion pieces of white marble, it’s like assembling an enormous white jigsaw with no picture to follow. Yikes!
Once we had seen the Terrace Houses it was time to rejoin the fray
We had to have a picture of the most photographed cat on the site:
And then made sure we had a picture of ourselves in front of the library.

Sumela monastery

When all the Crimean ports on our cruise were cancelled an additional Turkish port was added – Trabzon. I had heard of the city (aka Trabizond) as one of the great cities of the Silk Road and the centre of an empire, for a time. The guide books are fairly dismissive of the modern city, and the cruise ship warned us that there were not a lot of services. In fact our day long tour returned to the ship for lunch – I guess there was no restaurant in town that could handle that many people to the standard required. Not only were there no suitable restaurants but there was a shortage of English speaking guides so some were brought in from Istanbul. 

It turns out that our Trabzon excursion was a highlight of the trip. Trabzon may not be considered very interesting, but at 500,000 it is a big place. We drove out from the city, heading for the mountains. This is the road to Iran, and it winds through a mountain valley, lined with hazelnut orchards and other agricultural pursuits. These are rough and rugged mountains. Once upon a time a group of Greek monks settled in a cave in these mountains, which eventually became a monastery, and that is what we came to see. 
We rode in our coach for about an hour, entering a national park. Eventually the road became too narrow and we switched to little mini vans. I tried not to think about it too much as we careened up a narrow road, swinging around the hairpin turns as we worked our way up the switchbacks. Then – a photostop. This is where we were going:
Once we got to the end of the road it was time to start climbing (did I mention that it started to rain?)
First a cave, then more permanent constructions then a full fledged monestary complex, which was inhabited until 1924. It fell into disuse and ruin, but concentrated work has restored the paths, buildings and infrastructure. In the very oldest part of the complex are frescoes painted onto the rock. They have been damaged over the centuries, but they still have the power to impress. 
And we met up with this guy again….
And after all that climbing up and down – Turkish tea and a potato on a stick!
It did stop raining and the sun came out. Up there in the cloud forest, where it rains 250 days of the year (or more) we were lucky. 

Postcard from Sochi

We figured we’d go to Russia, fine. But we wouldn’t spend any money, take that Mr. Putin. Well, he gets the last laugh. We did a short tour of the city, but our movements were so tightly controlled that there wasn’t even a opportunity to buy a bottle of water, let alone shop! And there we as a lot of pent up shopping demand on that cruise ship. 

So, a couple of guys hanging out at the summer place:
Once a man who struck fear in the hearts of millions, now a prop for tourist photos.