Check Santorini off the List (at least Oia)

22 10 2015

It hasn’t escaped me that I haven’t showcased the iconic Santorini photos in my previous posts.  I said that I had only scheduled one of our days in Santorini, but that doesn’t mean that all of the other days weren’t packed full with wandering the streets of Oia scouting out photo locations.

Yes, we were those people.  The ones that did a trial run to the top of the remains of Oia Castle to figure out the best place to set up the tripod so we didn’t have to guess at sunset when the hoards of people would make a run for the wall, the ledge, any available seating surface and bake in the setting sun, taking selfies and drinking and finally applauding the sun for a gorgeous setting.

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These people. We didn’t want to battle with these people.

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Perfect viewpoint to capture the Oia cliffside

In fact, we didn’t elbow our way through the crowds at all, instead we enjoyed the sunset from the comfort of our own Oia cliffside hotel, before we made the trip to the castle to catch that magic hour after the sunset.

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We spent our days peeking down alleyways to discover the secrets hidden in the back.

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Yes! We found cats. Lots of cats!

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We trekked our way back down to Ammoudi Bay and this time in the heat of the day.

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One of many many asian couples that take their pre-wedding photos in Santorini. I felt for those women hiking up their wedding dresses in the hot sun

And we trekked our way back up….for thank goodness our last time.

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And we found those 3 blue domed churches.  Yes….those blue domed churches.

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And of course we ate, and managed to fit in a few more (2…4…maybe 6) visits to Lolita’s for gelato.

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Grilled (squeaky) halloumi cheese with fig reduction

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Local specialty: white eggplant

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The tastiest and freshest greek salad with locally grown veggies

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Pomegranate and Chocolate Sorbet (eaten but not shown: stracciatella, pistachio, kiwi, cuban lover, peach, strawberry, coconut, melon…)

After a couple of days of meandering through alleys snapping hundreds (possibly thousands…) of photos, trekking up and down steps, eating our way through the village, beating a path back and forth to Lolita’s for more gelato, and cooling off at the pool, we were finally ready to say goodbye to Santorini when we captured our iconic Santorini Sunset photo. 

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The Sacred Rock: The Acropolis

19 08 2015

There is a lot of pressure when you are the sole trip planner.  Sure, it’s nice to get that pat on the back if you bring your travel companions to the perfect view at sunset, or the best kept secret restaurant in the city, or if you just have THE BEST time ever.  But what happens if things don’t go according to plan, if your sources turn out to be full of shit, or perhaps you failed to notice that the site was last updated in 2012?  Well either way, I felt a lot of pressure on this trip.  I felt like we couldn’t truly ‘wing it’ to see the sights effectively, nor did I want to overfill our itinerary, and I definitely wanted to see what we could do to avoid getting caught up in a sea of cruise ship tours.  (get it ‘sea of cruise ships tours’ – HA).

I tried to ask Nathan’s opinion on a few things: do we go to the Acropolis first thing in the morning when it opens at 8AM or at the end of the day when the heat is dying down and the cruise ships are gone…. Little response.  Private tour or bus tour? what’s the price difference.  Ferry ride or flight to the islands? What’s our timeline again? I tried to show Nathan photos a couple of nights before we left, and he said ‘NO – I don’t want to see anything.  I want to be surprised.’

So there you have it.  The fate of our trip rests on my shoulders.

And so, after our 3 hour nap and a cup of mango and lemon gelato, we are off to The Acropolis.  At the end of the day.  It was still really hot.  But the light for photographs was what won me over.  First decision made.

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The Acropolis is Greece’s most emblematic monument, the sacred rock, an ancient citadel on a flat-topped rock that rises 490 feet above sea level from the heart of the city.  It is a compass that you look to to orient yourself in the city, and it may involve you walking round and round and round trying to figure out where you started and which way to go now.  But, regardless of user error – you can see it from pretty much anywhere.

After hours spent looking at the names of the different ancient sites and monuments on the computer before our trip, it all seemed a little overwhelming.  I was worried that there was a certain order to view the sites and a best view point for photos.  But once we started the trek up the dusty path, I began to realize that it really doesn’t matter.  Every ancient structure is impressive and it is mind boggling that people have been ascending this sacred rock for over 6000 years, and it just gets better and better the further you climb.

We entered at the South Slope of the Acropolis, and so our first big site was The Ancient Theatre of Dionysos.  It is the most ancient theatre in the world and saw the premiere performances of the plays from ancient Greek poets: Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles in 5th century BC.

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Ancient Theatre of Dionysos

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There is something to be said for sitting in seats at the world’s most ancient theatre.

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The Odeion on Herodes Atticus was built in 161 AD by Herodes Tiberius Claudius Atticus, a teacher and philosopher who inherited a fortune from his father.  To this day, this theatre is used as a venue for concerts during the Athens Festival – which would be a pretty cool experience.

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The Propylaia is the monumental gateway, and grand entrance to The Acropolis.

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Built in 437 – 432 BC, it is made almost entirely of Pentelic marble.  Now, Pentelic marble is flawless white with a uniform, faint yellow tint that makes it shine golden in the sunlight (which makes it just lovely at sunset), and comes from Mount Penteli, which according to google maps is almost 15 miles away from the Acropolis.  Considering that the monuments, including the Parthenon, are all made of Pentelic marble, can you imagine what it would have taken to harvest all of the marble and move it that distance?! Crazy!

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Temple of Athena Nike

The Temple of Athena Nike showed its golden hue as the sun started to set during our visit.  Built in 421 BC, it commemorated the victory of the Athenians against the Persians.

As we passed through the Propylaia gateway, I could see the Parthenon up ahead to my left, but I felt like we had to delay the anticipation and leave the Grand Finale to the end, so we went ahead to the right.

The Erechtheion was built between 421 and 406 BC at the most holy site of The Acropolis.  Athena and Poseidon both wanted to be the patron of Athens and it was decided that whoever gave the city the best gift would preside over the city and surrounding lands.  Poseidon struck the earth with his trident and a spring of salt water poured out of the ground.  Although impressed, the people were not that impressed when they tasted the salt water.  Athena’s gift was the Olive Tree, which ultimately won her the prize, and naming rights, since the people found value in the food (olives), oil and wood provided by her gift.

The site of The Erechtheion is said to be build where Poseidon struck the rock with his trident and Athena planted her olive tree.  The Western section dedicated to Poseidon, and the Eastern section, with its southern balcony featuring the 6 Caryatids, is dedicated to Athena.  And the olive tree growing on its left, although not the original olive tree, is said to have sprouted miraculously after the original olive tree was destroyed by the Persians at this very same spot.

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We wandered around looking at the view.  And I was also that person that was hovering around the water fountain, taking my turn guzzling straight from the source, rather than filling up a water bottle.   I don’t know why I even questioned bringing my water bottle, much less didn’t even buy one when we were at the bottom!  But just in case that happens to you too – there is a water fountain at the top.

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We could see the flag waving to us from our hotel rooftop terrace.

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And oh look – there’s our roof top terrace!

And finally….The Parthenon! 

The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to Athena, built in 447-438 BC, and the most important surviving building of Classical Greece.   It is built from an estimated 13,400 blocks of Pentelic marble that was transported from the quarries on Mount Penteli.

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During the last 2,500 years, The Parthenon has endured many different transformations.  During the Roman Period, after acquiring many new votive offerings and statues, The Parthenon became a Christian cathedral and many statues and friezes were destroyed.  It was then turned into a Mosque during the Ottoman Period.  For the majority of its life, the building remained intact – a Doric peripteral temple with 8 columns on the front and 17 columns on each side, with no straight lines in its design, so the columns appear to bulge, as if straining from the weight.  It wasn’t until 1687, when the Venetians bombarded the Acropolis, causing an explosion that created the gap in the south side of The Parthenon, that the structure began to falter.  And in 1801-1812, Britain’s Lord Elgin, removed much of the sculptural decoration of the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion, including 1 Caryatid, which is presently displayed in the British Museum and the Greek government has been trying to bring back to Greece to be displayed with the other 5 original Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum (which is amazing by the way).

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So there you have it.  Our tour of The Acropolis.  From 5:30PM – 7:30PM, we sweated under the setting sun, stirring up little clouds of dust under our feet.  But we didn’t have to deal with hoards of tour groups!

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Greece It Is!

19 08 2015

It took me a little while, but I finally convinced Nathan that it was time to extend our travel outside of the US and Canada.  Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting Santa Fe, Vancouver, San Diego, NYC, Arizona, Hawaii! and there are still 9 states I have left to visit, but after 6 years, it’s time to spread our wings!

So it was Greece or New Zealand.  Those were the options I was given.  And since our travel plans were going to be in July, and New Zealand is in the midst of its winter – GREECE IT IS!

After months of reading travel sites and looking at maps, reading ‘top 10 things to do’ and ‘top things to eat’ lists, researching admission prices, operating hours, and loading up on euros after checking on the financial situation in Greece, we were finally ready for our trip.  Well, I can’t say that we were ready exactly, but it was time to go!

After a 15 hour travel day/night, we touched down around 10AM in Athens; a little bleary-eyed, a little frizzy-haired and just a little bit excited to be in Greece!

We stayed at the Electra Palace Hotel in the Plaka, the oldest neighborhood in Athens, and it proved to be a fantastic home base for our adventures the next few days.  Armed with a map, 2 cameras and the anticipation of a new city to discover, we headed out to explore….that is, after a much-needed 3 hour nap.

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One of the most popular modes of transportation…especially for date night!

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Was not expecting Athens to have so much graffiti

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Streets of the Plaka with a view of Hadrian’s Arch

 





Beauty in the Mist

8 10 2014

It is amazing that on one day I can see this:

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Seattle Skyline – View from West Seattle

And a couple of days later, I see this:

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View of Elliott Bay – No Skyline in Sight and some very hardcore paddle boarders

The Fog did lift a little bit while I was out on my walk to reveal sights like this….

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Can’t pass up a good photo op (of a photo op)

On this dreary foggy morning I had to force myself out of the house.  The reason I gave myself:  it’s not raining.  Yes it was gray and foggy out, and there was a lot of moisture – some might say mist – in the air.  But it wasn’t raining.  And we’re on the cusp of the season where, if it’s not raining out it’s pretty much the equivalent of a sunny day in the summer – you have to take advantage.

But as I walked along the waterfront walkways, trying my hardest to see something, anything in the whitish gray fog, I found a couple of things that caught my eye.

On a normal day these wispy plants catch my attention long enough for me to trail my fingers along their tips as I walk by.  But today, when they were heavy with dew – these dew drops earned at least 5 minutes of my attention.  Hard to take photos when they’re swaying in the wind – and although you don’t see it in the photo – my fingers are holding these strands in place after one too many blurry photo.

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And then I came across something that I couldn’t resist.  People probably thought I was crazy, standing with my back to the water, squeezed on a 6 inch ledge between the water and a tree.  And although I hate…HATE spider webs – when they’re all glittery and sparkly with dew drops, they become irresistible to me.

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I Miss You Vancouver!

12 05 2014

When you catch it from its good side, it’s hard not to fall in love with Vancouver, and really hard not to reminisce on the great times you’ve had there and think about all the summer patio moments you’re going to miss.  But again, you have it catch it from its good side.  The previous times we’ve visited this year it’s been grey, rainy and made you want to get home and curl up under the blankets (even if those blankets are 3 hours away).  But Vancouver when it’s sunny?

Ohhhh…  It’s hard to drag yourself away.

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Spring goslings

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Brother & Sister Time!

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Spring Buttercups

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Nesting Trumpeter Swan

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Balancing Turtles

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Vancouver Skyline from Lost Lagoon

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Second Beach Views

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Nature’s Art Gallery

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Balancing Rocks





Sisters Reunite!

19 02 2014

After all of my practicing… ‘Je voudrais un boîte de douze macarons,’ I got to Laduree and I froze.  Strawberry marshmallow, salted caramel, rose petal, coconut passionfruit, pistachio, praline, lemon, chocolate coffee…..?  How am I supposed to choose only 12 with all of these flavors? Easy solution I guess….’quinze macarons s’il vous plait’.  I just couldn’t leave without a box of 15 macaroons.  And, they almost all made it home.

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During my time in Geneva, I spent a couple afternoons just wandering the streets and looking at the buildings.  If you’re in a place for too long, everything can start to look normal.  Trams and cable lines, futuristic light bulb-looking light posts, french signs, and hundred year old buildings.  So after 2 weeks I kind of had to tap back into my wide-eyed wonder of seeing Geneva (and Switzerland) for the very first time.

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This hundred year old building was my home for 2.5 weeks.

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My sister and her husband were my hospitable hosts and her cats kept me company at night.  Of course, I had my responsibilities while I was there: lift everything that was too heavy for my sister (a lot of things – I’m much stronger), care for the cats which consisted of entertaining them at 3am when they wanted to play, maneuver my body around theirs at night so as not to disturb their slumber, clean up after them when (not if) they were sick, groom them, clean their litter box…and play paparazzi and take hundreds of photos of them.

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Oliver

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Moosh

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And the most difficult of all tasks….keep my sister company = sit at outdoor patios and drink cappuccinos, eat truffle-topped cheesy delights and Chantilly cream and Nutella-laden desserts.

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Patelos: Cheesy, proscuitto-filled dough, topped with sliced truffle

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Mini beignets topped with powdered sugar and drizzled with warm Nutella and hazelnuts

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Baba: rum-soaked brioche, filled with Chantilly Cream and drizzled with Nutella and hazelnuts

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It was a tough couple weeks but we made it through the longest time we’ve spent together in 7 years.  At the end of the trip we both agreed that we had a better time than we both thought we would, and we were equally surprised that she didn’t make me cry (not even once)!

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The Lee Sisters in Geneva, Switzerland





Sometimes It Just Takes One

12 02 2014

It turns out that I had found the Cathedral in Old Town Geneva after all….I just didn’t know I had found it.  I’m not going to say that I was pacing around in front of the Cathedral last time, but I think that’s what was happening.  Maybe I expected a big sign saying, ‘this is the what you’re looking for – the Cathedral’ or maybe I was just too enamored by where all those narrow cobblestone streets would take me.

Nevertheless, I found Saint Peter’s Cathedral.

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Saint Peter’s Cathedral – Old Town Geneva

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As luck would have it, the organist was practicing, and I was treated to an almost empty cathedral full of the rich sounds of the organ.

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Built between approximately 1150 and 1230, Saint Peter’s Cathedral has Romanesque and Gothic features as well as a neoclassical monumental porch.  The Chapel of the Maccabees adjoins the cathedral and is the first example of flamboyant Gothicism in Geneva.

I almost left before I visited the Chapel of the Maccabees, but once I walked through the curtained doors, I knew I had to stay a while.  The room was full of color, from the light streaming through the artistic stained glass windows and the ornate ceiling and walls.  

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Saint Peter’s Cathedral has had a particular spiritual significance since 1536 when it became a major center of the Reformation under John Calvin.  It is now the most frequently visited building in Geneva.

I saw someone scan a barcode and gain entry into a door on the side and it peaked my curiosity.  What else could I see here?

For 5 francs I was able to walk up the narrow spiral staircases to climb to the North and South towers.  It was a workout and it definitely made me sweat and wheeze a little as I tried to climb the stairs faster than the group behind me.  For some reason I felt the need to gain a little distance so that I could take in the experience by myself.

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There is a passage leading from one tower to the other over the nave and under the structure of the metal steeple that houses the bells.

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I decided to head to the North Tower first and enjoy the panoramic view over Old Town, the harbor and (if they were visible that day) the mountains surrounding Geneva.

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The South Tower has a watch room at the top and I found myself at eye-level with the cathedral bells as they were chiming, along with great views of the water and the Jet d’Eau.  

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I spent almost three hours touring the Cathedral.  And I hear I had thought that I could just pass by and take a few photos and be satisfied.   It’s great to travel with company and share the experience with others, but it was a great opportunity to tour the Cathedral during the off-season, and tour it on my own, and to feel like I had it almost all to myself.