Italy, Vatican, Greece · 33 Days · 40 Moments · June 2017

Betsy's journi to Italy


18 July 2017

July 16-19, 2017 Second blog on Hydra ( pronounced "Eedrra") Greek island Yet Hydra-- as lovely as it is--does not seem real to me. All water is created thru desalinization, no food at all is grown here, and all supplies, food and most of the people are imported. It is a vacation playground for the rich of Athens, and the elegant clothing and jewelry shops took the last of our euros and then some! Although a bit unreal and contrived, peaceful, refined, and immaculate Hydra with its blast from the past was a much needed relief from the heat, graffiti, noise, motorcycles, trash, dust, and cigarette butts of Athens, Rome, and Santorini! Here we hiked, swam, ate in charming cheap beachside cafe's, watched the beautiful Greeks, and repacked our suitcases to pad and disguise the two gallons of olive oil. Here we ended our trip...except for a ferry ride in the Flying Cat back to Athens where our brilliant and very handsome taxi driver Spiros from My Athens Transport was waiting for us.
July 16-19, 2017 Hydra ( pronounced "Eedrra") Greek island After Santorini's one room tiny barrel-shaped cave studio dug into the hillside, in Hydra our Airbnb was an imposing stone Captain's mansion of seven rooms, three imposing columns porches, elegant furnishings, and anchors, paintings, and cannonballs with Greek history. We much preferred this island to noisy, hot, dusty Santorini. Here no vehicles were allowed, and donkeys haul all luggage and supplies from the harbor up the steep hillsides and to neighboring villages. The clip clop clop of donkey hooves starts at seven AM up The narrow, steep stone step "streets." All streets and steps are beautiful multicolored granite, kept clean of donkey poo and cig butts by meticulous street sweepers. Hydra looks and feels like a movie set here...winedark sea; yachts and red fishing boats at harbor; and white, yellow and gray stone buildings all with red tile roofs climbing up the high wooded hillside.
Santorini Greek Island July 14-16, 2017 We took the ferry to Santorini and arriving in the port of Fira, were startled to see bus after bus slowly winding up steep switchbacks on a very high brown volcanic cliff. Soon we were in a taxi on this cliff with our friendly taxi driver Takis who drove us partway up the simple village road in Emporio to the traditional cave house we rented on Airbnb where Theo the owner picked us up in a tiny car and lugged our now quite heavy suitcases up the steep stone stairs. The tiny cave home built into the rock cliff is in a traditional Greek farming community where caves are built on terraces upon caves, and despite being very old, is fully modern with wifi and A.C.. Theo told me about an old trail to Pyrgos, so I braved the heat and was delighted to walk on an ancient trail from an ancient road in an ancient village. You will see stone terraces with tiny grapevines only a foot or two tall. Imagine the stoop labor required to harvest these.
7-15-17 Spinalonga, Crete (Greece) Shelba and I had both read the book Yannis which was about Spinalonga, so we felt quite an affinity with the place. After the visit, we shared an incredible fish dinner of small sea bass and tasty Greek appetizers...Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), tzatziki (yogurt, cukes and dill), tasty bread, Greek salad, etc Greek beer. I love Greek food and can't get enough of It!. After this we went shopping for Greek dresses, then swimming in the clear, very salty Aegean Sea. Greek people come up to you speaking English. I try to speak a little Greek but they are already talking English to me! It wasn't that way in Italy at all. In every way, the warmth, enthusiasm, and hospitality of the Greek people fills my heart. We are packing our bags with two five liter cans (Approx one gallon each) that we bought from Maria's family's olive oil and 2 large bottles of raki. We're lucky Maria also supplied an old, heavy duty suitcase now devoted to olive oil an raki.

15 July 2017

July 15 and 16 Santorini Greek island I had the most amazing 10K kayak tour tonight that our host Theo recommended. Owner and guide Haris explained all about The unusual volcanoes and Caldera in Santorini. We paddled first class kayaks from the Red Beach to the giant white cliffs to the brown beaches, then to the black pebble beaches, just like the ones at home. The cliffs were massive and the deep, low, winding sea cave was thrilling. We landed in a tiny pebble beach and had a Greek picnic dinner. We started off at 5:30PM and returned in the dark after sunset with lights on a very calm sea at 10:00 PM. Next day in Santorini our taxi driver Takis took us to meet his family and see his small cave house in Megalochori ("large village"), a sun-splashed traditional village of cave-like dwellings.

13 July 2017

July 15 and 16 Santorini Greek island I had the most amazing 10K kayak tour tonight that our host Theo recommended. Owner and guide Haris explained all about The unusual volcanoes and Caldera in Santorini. We paddled first class kayaks from the Red Beach to the giant white cliffs to the brown beaches, then to the black pebble beaches, just like the ones at home. The cliffs were massive and the deep, low, winding sea cave was thrilling. We landed in a tiny pebble beach and had a Greek picnic dinner. We started off at 5:30PM and returned in the dark after sunset with lights on a very calm sea at 10:00 PM. Next day in Santorini our taxi driver Takis took us to meet his family and see his small cave house in Megalichori ("large village"), a sun-splashed traditional village of cave-like dwellings.

12 July 2017

July 12, 2017 Archanes, Crete Greece We continued our warm friendship with Maria and Alexander today with a hike to a remote Greek Orthodox chapel at the top of Mount Juktas where we saw a family group of 18 vultures with an 6 or 7 foot wing span swooping around the cliffs. (See photo of Minoan goddess..me/row. Vulture ). On this mtn. Maria showed us many wild herbs, thyme, oregano, etc with tiny, intensely fragrant leaves, perfect for tincture making. Then we went 4 wheeling on steep dirt roads in her Yaris to her family's vineyard and olive grove. Here we sat on crates under an olive tree in the 98° heat with the Kakoulaki family and discussed drought, climatechange, and the worldwide prices of olive oil. Maria's cute bro Girogos showed us the tunnels of ripening grapes. Then Shelba and I headed back to Archanes for a haircut, moussaka lunch on the square, and home for clothes washing, blog writing, and reading in the hammock.

11 July 2017

Knossos, Heraklion, Crete July 11, 2017 The Minoan palace ruins about five miles away at Knossos were beautiful and fascinating, as was the local bus trip from our small village of Archanes ( grapes, olives, tourists, and regular people) to get there. It takes a lot of energy, time, discussion, planning and map reading plus figuring out the Greek alphabet to get anywhere! We are located here at Labyrinth 6, in the village of colorful white, yellow and Minoan red small comfortable stone houses behind courtyards lush with herbs, flowers, lemon and pomegranate trees. Dinner again, local apricots, plums, watermelon, bread, cheese, fish, and olives. Sleeping to the sound of the cicadas in a warm dry Cretan near the Aegean sea.

10 July 2017

July 10 and 11 Athens to Archanes, Crete First photo: Georgos/ Anastasia's sweet inner courtyard in Athens. Next photos: "Philoxenia"("love for strangers") Now in Crete, at Maria's stunning restored stone home in Archanes, 20 minutes south of the capital of Crete, Heraklion. Maria, a journalist and community organizer, has lovingly and artistically restored this large home with big peaceful courtyard with many herbs and fruit trees. The black table is an ancient grinding millstone from the village. This rich Minoan red color appeals to me greatly and I will paint a wall in it when I return. She and her friend Alexander invited us to dinner with Greek salad, bread, great wine and raki, and chicken and other treats baked in the woodfired oven shown. This is by far the most artistic place we have stayed in. We have made a strong connection with Maria and George, have talked about many deep subjects spanning the globe and centuries. We think they will visit us in Hawaii in Decembet.

9 July 2017

July 8 and 9, 2017 Delphi, Meteora, and Athens, Greece EXploring the Cliffside monasteries at Meteora Today we took a Viatour/Chat overnight bus tour to the shrine at Delphi and then on to the monasteries and convent up on the cliffs at Meteora. We climbed 300 steps to the top and visited the old church, auditorium, and kitchen with clay oven. Until recently, monks and supplies were hauled up in a rope basket, twisting and turning in the wind. No wonder they kept their business with the outside world to a minimum! It was fun connecting with new travelling friends, Jacob and Amy from Florida, and Chris from England, who had interesting stories to share. On our return to Athens, our cave-like digs in Georgos and Anastasias's house in a friendly, old, crowded residential district in Athens where we had bread, cheese, olives and anchovies in their colorful courtyard. Tomorrow morning, our flight to the Greek island of Crete and the palace of Knossos.

7 July 2017

July 6 and 7, 2017 Flight Time to Athens and day in Athens The Acropolis and The Acropolis Museum After flying to Athens and getting settled in our charming Airbnb in an older residential section of Athens with steep, short, narrow streetswelcomed by our hosts, Georgos and Anastasia, we walked to the beautiful marble cemetery lined with trees and then strolled to Vanaava square for a dinner under the grape arbor where I enjoyed kebabs, tzitziki, and too much ouzo. Waking up early, we started climbing the polished stone steps up the Acropolis. It was a breathtaking climb in every way. My photos aren't great for this day because I ran out of disc space but you get the idea. At the top of the Acropolis the Parthenon loomed magnificent and the wind whipped all around the summit, while Athens and the wine dark sea encircled the heights. The very sophisticated State Museum of the Acropolis has a glass floor built over an archeological site that underlies the whole city.

5 July 2017

July 5, 2017 Last day in Roma! We left our elegant Vatican's Roof apartment early to go to the Campo Di Fiore farmer's market in the heart of the historical district. There we saw beautiful produce, huge peppers as big as small watermelons, luscious red-tinged apricots, giant green figs, and colorful beans. I had a big glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice (that will make me live forever, right?). After this, despite the continued 96` heat, we walked the narrow streets of ancient Rome and shopped, then to the Borghese Villa Gardens. Here I enjoyed the National Museum of Modern Art, (their theme: "time is out of joint") and then rented a bike for an hour to see all the Borghese palaces. We came home and packed for our AM flight to Athens. Then I left our penthouse to enjoy the cooler evening streetside cafe scene along " our"street, Via Gregorio VII and grab a flaky pastry. Even after just four days here, a few shopkeepers recognized and welcomed me. La Dolce Vita!

4 July 2017

July 4, 3017 Rome, Italy Today was the Vatican day with the Sistine chapel paintings by Michelangelo, and other remarkable paintings, sculpture, and architecture. The crowd control here was intense. In peak season, now, 24,000 people visit the Vatican museum daily. That's a lot of people to move through the many chambers and the Sistine Chapei.The building is not air conditioned, and in the 94 degree hear, humanity from all nations was close and very ripe. We had a very good Italian English-speaking guide, Vanessa. We listened to het funny and sTories and notable narrative through radio headphones. She told us that Michelangelo's paiintings on the Sistine chapel ceiling were much darker when she was in school, but the encrusted dirt was removed in the last twenty years to allow the paintings to shine. You won't see any photos of the Sistine Chapel because no cameras were allowed. I could see the frescoes clearly in the1 12 minutes we had,. The creation if Adam by God was electric!

3 July 2017

July 3, 2017 Pompeii Naples, Italy Today we took a 13 hr bus tour from Rome to visit Naples and then the ruins of Pompeii at the national archeological park there, a UNESCO site. It was fun to go to southern Italy where the people are more relaxed, though obviously poorer. Sheets and underwear are hanging from apartments on all major streets. The eruption occurred from Mont Vesuvius in 79 AD and thousands of people were overcome by waves of poisonous gases and ash in 24 hours. You can see Vesuvius in two photos here. The people on our bus were very surprised to hear that we lived on an island with one very active and three dormant volcanoes and asked us if we lived in fear. I said that I had life support supplies for several days in a backpack I kept close to me at all times. The archeologists have cleared the ash to reveal the ruins below and that's what you're seeing on the photos. I chose not to take pictures signifies preserved in the ash.

2 July 2017

July 1 and 2, 2017 Leaving San Gimignano, Tuscany Traveling to Roma Roma first day It was a sweet departure from our Tuscan farmhouse owned by family Bellini. The artist Andrea gave us two of his lovely impressionistic oil paintings of Tuscany countryside ...see photos, and I took one last photo of the kitchen there and of the towers of San GimIgnano. Our drive back to Siena was marred by a minor car accident when I was hit in a fast and crowded roundabout in Poggibonso. Luckily the local polizia were both efficient and pleasant and g95 us on our way in 40 minutes. Now we're in Roma, big, green city with elegant people and of course, amazing art and history. We're staying at Vatican's Roof, an Airbnb that's a penthouse apartment on the sixth floor with great balcony. Today we walked into town and visited the Pantheon, sat with the colorful international crowds in the big Piazza, enjoyed the fountains, and crossed over the river River on Ponte d'Umberto, the stone footbridge.

1 July 2017

29 June 2017

The bright grapes, vineyard, and olive trees say it all, we're in "vino e olio" country in Tuscany!. In front of the vineyard are Marcella and her son Leonardo, whose lovely farmhouse we're staying at (previous days pix). They took us for wine and oil tasting...and buying, to two organic farms owned by their friends...see Angela next to hard and with me. This is the famed Chianti wine region. Today Shelba and I basically walked and drove around the beautiful Tuscan countryside in our tiny little car. We ended up in Gambassi Terme (hot springs) where we enjoyed The spa and had The best meal at Il Gatto E La Volpe (the cat and the fox) restaurant in Gambassi Therme where the scallopini do pollo was to die for and where Shelba fell in love with our very attentive waiter! Marcella and her husband Andrea whose lovely Tuscan farmhouse we're staying at (former day pix) invited me to return next June and stay with them for a month in exchange for teaching English to 4 children 9-13.

28 June 2017

Delightful lunch at La Osteria della Stellata ristorante in Certaldo, an official Italian "slow food" restaurant. We had thick onion soup from the famed Certaldo onions, Tuscani tipica cannoli bean and veggie soup (more like stew), and cod and potato pie. The owner runs the restaurant with his 88 yr old mother, who is still in the kitchen cooking. It is slow, peaceful, pleasant, and the food wonderful. The rest of today's photos are from the historic Medici palace/castle in Certaldo, reached by funicula. There is a regular lower town of Certaldo, then the upper historic fortified medieval castle/tower area. Again, I hope you'll share my delight and fascination with light on historic stone. Tomorrow we are touring five nearby Wine and Olive Oil farms w/ our hostess Marcella. She and I have been exchanging local idioms. She invited me to stay next summer with them for language exchange... I would teach her son English; she would teach me Italian; and I'd help her refine her English
June 27, 2017 San Gimignano, Tuscany Today we spent the day enjoying our Tuscany farmhouse in the (extremely hot 95degree) sun at the pool, then exploring the amazing walled fortress village of San GimIgnano. Look at the first photo that shows our arched entrance to "home" looking at San Gimi. See the towers there. Then we drove there and immersed ourselves in the narrow stone streets and magical towers. All the next photos reflect my love of towers and light on stone. I climbed the tallest tower--Torre Grosse--twice and many of the photos are looking out from the thick walls or the top of the tower. We got quite lost driving on the way home on all the dusty, unpaved country roads in Castaglia and had to get a rescue from our kind hostess. Even GPS couldn't get us out of that one. Today we're going to the Farmers Market day at the village of Cetaldo and there will eat at one of the restaurants that's part of Italy's "slow food" movement, La Osteria. Tomorrow, hot springs!

27 June 2017

June 26, 2017 Firenze (Florence) to Sienavto San Gimignano Region of Tuscany Today I DROVE in Italy! Shelba and I rented a tiny car in Siena and got out on thevhighway with all the roundabouts, crazy motorcyclists weaving in and out of their lanes, and cars and semis passing at 85 mph. But we made it to San Gimignano!. About five miles from the farmhouse where we're staying that you see in these photos, the owner picked us up and took us up through the hills and through the gates. This ancient restored farmhouse where we're staying for five nites has rock walls two feet thick, and we have two stories, 2 large bedrooms, two large bathrooms, and a lovely living space, plus a swimming poo! I have a wonderful cool cave bedroom on the lower level. Around 8 pm the very welcoming Airbnb hostess, Marcella with her husband Andre and son Leonardo delivered to us this incredible home cooked meal with wine! She is taking us on a Wine and Olive Oil tasting tour in a day or two.

26 June 2017

25 June 2017

June 25, 2017 Florence, Italy Galleria Dell Academia One photo, one day, one enduring work of art. One word: DAVID.

24 June 2017

June 24, 2017 Firenze (Florence), Italy (Photos 1-6) Today we spent most of the day at the Uffizi Museum in Firenze (Florence) that houses Renaissance art and classical sculpture. The day started cool, quiet, and overcast when we arrived by 9:00, but by noon, the Piazza was a broiling, moiling inferno of 95degree heat and hordes of tourists. Many were smoking which along with general pollution has dimmed and damaged the exteriors of all these historic structures. I can't believe that smoking is allowed anywhere near these buildings. To see Da Vinci's and Botticelli's pairings "live" was overwhelming to me and brought tears to my eyes. Photo 7:,Historical pageantry in the streets of Florence. 8. Street art in Florence 9. Betsy walking through a quiet back street in Florence, rendered in b n w. 10. Dinner at home, local grocery takeout. ...left to right: pizza, mixed olives, pasta salad, cheese, dried tomatoes in olive oil, acchiughe (anchovies)...pronounced ,"achoogie," wine.

21 June 2017

June 20 and 21, 2017 Solstice in Vernazza, Italy Cinque Terra district Today was a sun-drenched day on the Mediterranean coast in the bright and happy Cinque Terra wine district. We really love it here. There are five similar but distinctly different downs all within a fifteen mile stretch here on the coats, now a national park with an ancient stone trail that connects all the towns, and many more trails way up the mountains. These are vineyard growing towns and fishing villages. I have never seen or tasted such good red wine as we've had here. It is light purple, soft, and fruity, light and full...pardon my wine adjectives. After waking up in our cool and comfy digs in an old stone house right in the middle of town where on the narrow winding alley life goes by at all hours of day and night in a happy Babbel. On solstice day I hiked on the Cinque Terra trailh from Vernazza to Manarola on the ancient vstepping stone trail, mostly stepping straight up or straight down!
June 22, 2017 Vernazza and Manarola villages Cinque Terre, italy Photo 1 and 3: I'm hiking on the stepping stone trail to Monterossa, climbing up out of Vernazza through the lush vineyards of the Cinque Terre. 2. Vernazza from above on the trail. These five villages glow like gems tucked in fertile furrowed valleys. 4. Ancient Drinking Fountains provides good water for modern plastic bottles. 5. Piazza (plaza) in Vernazza...life with laundry. 6.7. Betsy swimming in nearby village beyond Manarola. Hop on n off regionale train to each of five villages. Shop, eat, drink, n swim! Ah, I'm happy in Italy! 8.9.10. Vineyards and steep residential alleyways in Vernazza. We were happy to meet, dine, and kayak with three sisters travelling from California. Terry is also a community college professor of English! We will see them in Florence.

20 June 2017

June 18-20, 2017 Days 6-8 out of 35 Lake Como, northen Italy These photos show us leaving Venezia for Lego dI Como (Lake Como), a many-lobed, Clearwater lake north of Milan hundreds of miles long, ringed by ancient villages and modern villas. We strolled around the lake and had a lovely dinner there. Red wine and spaghetti taste so much better in Italy! The next day we took a long ferry boat ride around the lake seeing ancient villages and modern villas, stopping at Bellagio where we ate the most amazing polenta at a cafe at the top of many stone stairs, then walked to the point where I swam. Como seems to be a wealthy, snooty community where few Italians looked at us while desperately poor-looking, very black immigrants tried to sell us things in the street. The contrast was chilling on a very hot day. I was glad to leave.
June 18-20, 2017 Days 5-6-7 of 35

18 June 2017

Day 3 of 34 June 17, 2017 Today at 8:20 AM we left our quaint apartment in Cannaregio, Venice to see the big sights. We took the fast vaporetto (water bus) all along the exciting, wave-whipped Grand Canal for a half hour journey to Piazza San Marco to see the Basilica Cathedral and the Doge Palace. The day was hot, humid, and crowded with throngs of visitors in tour groups and on their own, as we are. It's hard to find a bench or a bathroom here in Venice and there are few trees. Smokers are everywhere, including many lovely young girls, and the smoke, crowds, shuffling with tourists, and heat really got to me. Venice is supported by tourists but the shopkeepers and residents do not appear to like them, kind of like in Kona. When we finally got off the vaporetto in our district around 12 hours later, we walked for an hour to find a small food shop with no luck. For dinner we found a fruit stand and had cherries, grapes, apricots, and fresh dates.

17 June 2017

16 June 2017

Day 2 of 34 June 16, 2017 Setting out to learn the history and culture of the Campo dell Ghetto Novo historic Jewish district where we're staying, we visited the old synagogue, Jewish bakery where I had sweet hamantashen pastry (not as good as my grandmother's), and various art galleries. There are still 250 Orthodox Jews here, now free to leave the ghetto, but who choose to stay. Today we explored on foot the districts of Santa Croce and San Polo, over stone bridges across the small and Grand Canal in search of the most desirable Italian pizza place...we found it...a tiny, three table restaurant in a curved narrow cobblestone street. Here we whiled away the afternoon drinking beer and eating light tasty pizza while people-watching lovers; slim, fast-talking Italians: dog walkers, families from around the world, and many impressive, beautiful gray-haired women. Stay tuned for tomorrow: the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilicica with transportation by vaporetto-camal boat bus.