Wasted youth?

At the acropolis, we met an American who is a curator at a museum in his country. This was his fourth visit to see the Greek antiquities.

The man asked a lot of questions about our travels and talked with our kids about their experiences on the trip, what their favourite moments had been, etc. He told the kids that the opportunity they were getting through this trip is something that will change them forever and that they are so fortunate to be able to do this.

He then commented to me that our kids have no idea really what this experience will do for them. He lamented with the George Bernard Shaw quote that, “Youth is wasted on the young”. The wisdom that comes from years of experience would be so beneficial to young people who have abundant energy and a long lifetime ahead of them to apply it.

For myself, I see so many things I’d like to know more about. I would need countless lifetimes to immerse myself in all I want to learn, understand, and apply. Life and its myriad signicant moments flash by. We get a glimpse but only a glimpse. There’s so much more. The best, it seems, we can do is to make the most of today. We’re not getting younger. Hopefully, we’re getting a bit wiser.

Our Lucky Stars

While reading in our Athens hotel lobby, I struck up a conversation with two young guys who were watching television there. They are from Albania, Greece’s neighbour to the northwest. They are on their way to England via Greece and then Italy. They can’t get into England with an Albanian passport. How exactly they are getting into England, whether it’s ‘above board’ or not, I don’t know.

Nevertheless, these guys told me about life in the capital city Tirana, from where they came. They said there’s no real future for them there. They can’t make a real living. The one guy’s parents have a small ‘business’ selling cigarettes and other small items on the street. Not much of a living.

These guys are only two of the multitudes of people who are seeking out a new life and are looking to the ‘promised lands’ of Europe and North America to find it. They are willing to give up everything, to risk everything for that dream. It’s not only to improve their way of life but rather to actually survive and thrive.

We take everything for granted in our insulated lives in southern Manitoba. So few of us can imagine the difficulties of so many and the desperation people have in many parts of the world. My conversation with these guys reminded me that while we all search for fulfillment (love, fun, significance, freedom, influence, etc.), many are first searching for security and the basic hope of a better life tomorrow than today. It also reminded me that in all our struggles, we have the basic need to share of ourselves and to find connections even among strangers. I wish these guys well, wherever they land up.

Athenian Monuments

We travelled to Athens from Santorini via an overnight ferry.  Well, actually, it left Santorini at 2:00 a.m. and arrived in Piraeus (port near Athens) at 8:00 a.m.  So, not lots of sleep.  Since we travelled again in ‘deck’ class, the best we could do was to find several soft chairs to sit/lie down in.  Not too bad.

DSCN4770 (Medium)   DSCN4774 (Medium)

We spent the first day walking around the centre of Athens, taking in the variety of antiquities scattered throughout.

DSCN4780 (Medium)   DSCN4825 (Medium)DSCN4833 (Medium)   DSCN4828 (Medium)  DSCN4835 (Medium)   DSCN4784 (Medium)

We splurged on laundry service that evening!  Yup, no washing our clothes by hand!  Oh yes, we know how to have fun!  Smile

Then, the next morning, we headed out for the acropolis and Parthenon.  When we had been here years ago, we didn’t go up to the acropolis.  I think we were ‘museumed out’ and ‘ruined out’.  This time, we went and are certainly glad we did.  What a great place!  There’s a lot of reconstruction being done, some of it repairing damages done by previous reparations.

DSCN4883 (Medium)   DSCN4909 (Medium)DSCN4967 (Medium)   DSCN4960 (Medium)   DSCN4968 (Medium)   DSCN4977 (Medium)DSCN5009 (Medium)   DSCN5014 (Medium)DSCN5016 (Medium)   DSCN5023 (Medium)

The setting up on the acropolis is serene and majestic.  High above the city, one can imagine the grandeur of the buildings which will have inspired awe in the citizenry below.

Birthday in Santorini

Happy birthday Aaron!  He turned 11 on September 17th. 

On this day, we took a ferry from Heraklion, Crete to Thera, Santorini. Santorini is one of Greece’s most famous destinations. It’s blue and white buildings set high up on the rim of the volcano which formed the island, are frequently pictured on travel guides and photos representing Greece.

DSCN4598 (Medium)

DSCN4645 (Medium)  DSCN4656 (Medium)  DSCN4666 (Medium)  

Upon arrival, we took a bus to the town of Oia, on the far end of the main island.  Here, we walked the narrow and winding lanes up and down the cliff-side to which the town clings.  The dramatic views didn’t disappoint.  They were exactly what we had expected from photos of the place.  It’s almost difficult here to NOT see a ‘postcard photo’ moment as you scan the town.  Although Mary-Anna and I had been in Greece years ago, we hadn’t been to Santorini so this was a new experience for us too.  It’s truly magnificent!

DSCN4592 (Medium)  DSCN4627 (Medium)   DSCN4608 (Medium)DSCN4616 (Medium)   DSCN4655 (Medium)   DSCN4678 (Medium)   DSCN4681 (Medium)      DSCN4687 (Medium)   DSCN4691 (Medium)

Every time we stopped for something like ice cream or lunch, we told Aaron it was in celebration of his birthday.  He milked the opportunity to have dessert on a terrace, ice cream in the heat, and have his sisters carry his stuff.  Smile

DSCN4701   DSCN4705 (Medium)

As watched the sun set, we witnessed the light change the rich tones of the buildings and volcanic hillsides.  Sailboats floated in the blue, then shimmering gold waters.  Beautiful!

DSCN4720 (Medium)

DSCN4737 (Medium)   DSCN4740 (Medium)

DSCN4749 (Medium)

Islands in the distance shimmered on the horizon, cloaked in the dissipating heat of the day.  Perhaps destinations for another time…

DSCN4751 (Medium)   DSCN4752 (Medium)

In old town Rethymnon where Venetians and Ottomans once ruled

Crete is an island shrouded in myth and mystery.  It is a place where bulls were once worshipped, where a fabled labyrinth and minotaur terrorized Athenian youth, where Minoans built a highly advanced civilization in which women held esteem and political influence, and where the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans fought over for millennia.

During the storied and turbulent history of Crete, towns such as Rethymnon were captured and influenced by conquerors such as the Venetians and Ottomans.  Reminders of these inhabitants are still evident in the architecture and culture.  Rethymnon’s old city bears these signs.  Today, cafés and shops line the narrow, winding streets.  It’s a romantic and quaint neighbourhood.  The people are engaging, the tempo relaxed, and the surroundings are charming.  I thoroughly loved our time in this city.

DSCN4230 (Medium)   DSCN4242 (Medium)DSCN4252 (Medium)   DSCN4264 (Medium)DSCN4357 (Medium)   DSCN4380 (Medium)   DSCN4366 (Medium)DSCN4267 (Medium)   DSCN4383 (Medium)   DSCN4418 (Medium)

Check out these and other pictures of Rethymnon in my Greece picture gallery.

“If you make plans for your future, the gods will laugh at you”

I met Marco while I was out for a walk early in the morning in old town Rethymnon, on the western half of Crete.  Marco works at a cafe in the old city, near the Venetian port.  I ordered a cup of Greek coffee and a pastry.  The latter was made fresh earlier in the morning.  Marco is the pastry chef at the cafe.

Marco has a degree in acoustic engineering.  Due largely to Greece’s current financial crisis, he cannot find work in his country in this field.  So, he works 12 hours per day as a pastry chef and waiter at this small restaurant.  He says his earnings don’t allow him to save money, not even for the wedding he and his girlfriend plan for the next year or so.  I asked him about his plans for the future.  He laughed and said that Cretans have a saying that says, “If you plan your future, the gods laugh at you”.

Cretans, Marco says, are a stubborn people.  They don’t like to take orders from anyone.  This comes as a result of this island having been a hotly contested and defended property for millennia.  The people are like veteran warriors, according to Marco.  They are always ready for a fight but love to relax and socialize.  Alongside the dogged perseverance, is the friendly nature of this island’s citizens.  They are frequently loud and animated as well as warm and invitational.  In the villages south of Rethymnon, extended families carry on century-old vendettas against each other.  Often, they don’t know what the original cause of the fight was about.

Marco says he loves this island and its people.  “We work hard, we drink good wine, and eat good food.  If I sit down for a coffee, I don’t leave for at least 3 hours.”  He says that every Cretan has a village to which they are connected.  Marco goes back to his village a few times each month to visit his grandfather and extended family.  “You will never die of starvation here in Crete.  Your village will always take care of you.”  About family, one’s roots, and culture, Marco adds, “You must always remember where you come from.  If you don’t, you are just like a drop in the ocean.”

Later, I brought Mary-Anna and our kids to meet Marco and to have brunch at the restaurant.  Along with the spanakopita (Greek spinach and feta pie), Marco gave us pizza and sandwiches.

It’s good to know where ‘home’ is.  It’s also so enriching to meet new friends from ‘far away places’.  And just maybe, I’ll not plan too much for tomorrow lest the gods laugh at my presumptions.

Sitia and Vai

We settled into our apartment in the village of Petras near the sleepy fishing town of Sitia on the east coast of Crete.  The apartment is perched up on a hillside and so affords beautiful views of Sitia and the sea.

DSCN3939 (Medium)   DSCN3945 (Medium)DSCN3954 (Medium)

We spent the first day here on the beach near our apartment.  The wind was strong so the surf was rough.  We ventured into the water but took care when we noticed a lot of sea urchins were making their home on the rocks in the shallows.

DSCN3964 (Medium)   DSCN3979 (Medium)

Today, we took the local bus 25 kilometres east to Vai, a beautiful beach set against a ‘forest’ of palm trees.  This part of Crete is dry so the indigenous vegetation is hardy.  The palms at Vai are said to have been the result of date pits strewn here centuries ago by the pirates who frequented these seas and islands.

DSCN3999 (Medium)   DSCN4001 (Medium)DSCN4057 (Medium)

We snorkelled and saw many fish of various colours and sizes.  Aaron’s underwater camera came in handy to take pictures of them.  Later, we hiked up a large hill near the beach towards a more secluded beach on the other side.  We may lounge at that one tomorrow.

DSCN4019 (Medium)

We had to catch the local bus back to Petras at 4:15 p.m.  The picture below shows the family waiting at the ‘bus stop’, a tree next to the road.

DSCN4066 (Medium)

An unfortunate event today was losing our iPod Touch.  It was left somewhere at the Vai beach.  Although the kids used it mostly for games, I used it to keep up on CBC news, listening to music, and accessing my email.  We will head back to Vai tomorrow.  Perhaps a good Samaritan left it there for us.  If not, I guess it’s one less thing we have to carry with us.

It’s all Greek to me…

Here are some signs we saw on the ferry to Crete.  Looks like Greek has a lot of long words.  In other countries we could figure out what many words meant since they use the same alphabet as we do in English.  The Greek language, however, is, well, all Greek to us.

DSCN3931 (Medium)   DSCN3933 (Medium)DSCN3935 (Medium)

Rhodes Scholars

I took pictures of our kids (actually Aaron is sleeping in the picture below) deeply engrossed in their writing when in Rhodes.  Yup, they are ‘Rhodes scholars’!  Actually, after a month and a half on the road in 7 countries, I suppose they could be considered ‘road scholars’ as well.  Smile

DSCN3899 (Medium)

Under the Stars in Rhodes

After a 3 hour bus ride from Selcuk, we arrive in the coastal party town and vacation hotspot of Marmaris.  Here we boarded a ferry to our next country, Greece.  The ferry (a catamaran) crossing to the Greek island of Rhodes took only 3 hours, so we arrived at about noon.

DSCN3693 (Medium)

Upon arrival, we purchased tickets for the ferry to Crete, leaving that night at 2:00 a.m.  This meant we had about 13 hours to explore Rhodes.

From the port, we took a taxi to a place called Butterfly Valley, about 50 kilometres from the city of Rhodes.  Here we found relief from the constant heat (every day has been in the mid 30s) in a cool, treed valley.  We saw countless butterflies, a few lizards, and a few crabs next to the stream that flowed down the small valley.

DSCN3717 (Medium)  DSCN3730 (Medium) DSCN3736 (Medium)   DSCN3741 (Medium)DSCN3800 (Medium)   DSCN3770 (Medium)DSCN3750 (Medium)

Back in Rhodes, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant recommended as ‘local’ by our taxi driver Nicolas.  The food was incredible!  We had Greek salad, spaghetti bolognaise, and a dish featuring eggplant stuffed with rice and pork.

We went down to the beach for a bit before hopping on and off a hop-on-hop-off bus that toured the city.  Most of the city of Rhodes is contained by an intact fortress wall built 600 years ago by the Knights of St. John.  Rhodes, of course, was the site for one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes.  This statue of Greek Titan Helios literally stood with his feet on either side of the harbour entrance.  Today, only parts of the two bases remain.

DSCN3803 (Medium)   DSCN3844 (Medium)DSCN3865 (Medium)

We then walked throughout the old part of the city before sitting down for some gyros and souvlaki for dinner.  With the night’s darkness upon us, we walked along the fortification wall by the sea.  We settled down on a beach near the port where our ship would leave from in a few hours.  We all caught a few winks of sleep there on the beach with our backpacks as pillows.

DSCN3899 (Medium)   DSCN3904 (Medium)

We boarded the ferry, which was late, at about 3:00 a.m.  It was a press of people, squeezing past each other trying to get in first.  What reason is unbeknownst to me.  We had purchased the cheapest tickets which put us on the open deck.  The damp wind had picked up throughout the evening and night so we looked for a place somewhat out of its blast.  We landed up sleeping on several large boxes in which life preservers are stored.  The night was cool, damp, and windy.  The boat rocked and wallowed in the white-capped sea as we made our way west towards Crete.  A night under the stars it was!

DSCN3911 (Medium)   DSCN3912 (Medium)DSCN3915 (Medium)   DSCN3922 (Medium)