It was this little red flowers that got me up and going. I went back to Greece in search of them. Today I know where and when they can be found in Greece. The Greek lady at the B&B I stayed in, in Kardamyli called it, 'Ahni Mohni' we call it anemone. They come in various colors, the red and mauve being the most abundant.
I am home now but the end of March was the start of my 3 month adventure and it was in the Peloponnese that I started. It was a glorious morning, that was spent roaming the ruins of the ancient city of Corinth.
I have a few days in London and then it is home to Los Angeles. Today I went to Wisley garden. It is a huge property, a garden center, a horticultural center and is absolutely lovely and magnificent. The instructions given Online on how to get to by public transportation is confusing. I tried yesterday but had to abort the trip. I tried again today and was successful. From London Waterloo take the train to Guilford, there are lots of trains going there. At Guilford, locate the bus station, it is up the hill behind the Friary's mall. Take bus 715, one every hour on Weekdays, ask to be dropped off at Wisley. Walk the 10 minutes to the property. On the way back, head back to the main highway, it is very busy, use the overhead bridge and walk to the bus stop on the other side. Be sure to wave to the bus to indicate to the driver you want him to stop or else he won't stop!
A few days ago I began to realize that I'm about to complete my 3 month adventure. There was a time a month ago when I thought I wasn't going to make it and that I wanted to quit and go home alone. That was when my trip to the Outer Hebrides did not pan out. I needed a new place to go to, somewhere South and warmer. I chose South Wales reluctantly. I walked into a bookstore in Glasgow, bought a guidebook for Wales, went to Glasgow central train station and bought a ticket for Cardiff. Last Sunday as I realized that it was my last day in Wales, I became quite emotional. Thank you Wales for saving my trip. It has been a lot of fun discovering South Wales. There were so many highlights. The photographs were magnificent. I've been in London for 2 days and will be here till next week when I fly home to the USA. I went to Oxford yesterday, to the Bodleian library for the JRR Tolkien exhibition, an excellent exhibition. This photo was taken in the grounds of Trinity college in Oxford.
In many smaller places especially in Wales and Scotland, buses don't run on Sundays. I need to plan carefully to take that into consideration. So the last 2 days I took the bus to Tintern Abbey and Monmouth. Today I'm staying in town and exploring Chepstow. Also I have to look at the supermarket opening hours whether they are opened Sundays. If not I have to buy more food on Saturdays that is if I have kitchen privileges. I was pleasantly surprised in Pembrokeshire that the tourists buses run everyday during Summer. It made a lot of sense. I was able to do a lot of things the Sunday I happened to be there. Another thing I don't do is travel on a Sunday. I stay put on Sundays wherever I find myself at. Happy Sunday.
I left Hay-on-Wye yesterday and is now in Chepstow, my last stop in this 'traipse through South Wales'. It wasn't my choice to come to Wales but other plans fell out and I had to pick a place to spend a few weeks. I picked South Wales and it has been wonderful, not what I expected. It doesn't have the highs like Greece. It is sedate and comforting and comfortable. I met the loveliest people, kind and friendly. I took the bus yesterday to the evocative and iconic Tintern Abbey. It is beautiful, more beautiful from the outside as it stands magnificently in the valley next to the river Wye. Tintern Abbey like so many others was a victim of King Henry VIII's action, 'the dissolution of monasteries and Abbeys act.' He closed and dissolved all monasteries and Abbeys, robbed and pillaged them of anything of value, left them destitute and to a fate of ruin and disrepair. William Wordsworth visited here and wrote a poem about it. JM Turner painted it and so many others, writers, poets and painters have paid tribute to Tintern Abbey.
I was in Brecon for 3 days, it is a quiet little place. I left this morning, took the bus and am in Hay-on-Wye now. This little village is famous for its used bookstores. Years ago, some fella from here went to the USA, bought a bunch of used books and came back to open a used bookstore. Many others follow and soon this village became renown for its used bookstores. Then they held an annual literary festival and has burgeoned over the years. The last one ended yesterday and I'm here a day later. I saw the lineup, nothing there that piqued my interest. It is a sweet little town, one does not need to shop for used books to enjoy this place.
This was taken in Newport in the Pembrokeshire coast 2 days ago. I left yesterday by train to Cardiff and took a bus from Cardiff to Brecon. I am in Brecon now, a small village in the Powys valley. We passed Brecon Beacons yesterday, a premier hiking area. I hope to explore this area over the next few days as my time to end this trip draws closer and I get closer and closer to London. It has been quite hard, each place is new and I have to force myself to ask for help all the time to locate the places I want to be. The Welsh people has been nothing but kindness and hospitable. Thank god!
I have been in this area for a week now. It is wild and beautiful. Monuments of any repute are hard to come by but it the wild and rocky and rugged coast that make it such a draw to visitors. For me it is the wildflowers that is the draw and there are plenty. Until I arrived in this area my visit to South Wales has been quite humdrum! After seeing the wildness and the copious amount of wildflowers, things has changed for me. In fact, this is my next favorite place after the Outer Hebrides.
The scenic route or the road less traveled. I took the scenic road this morning. I took the train to Saundersfoot this morning. The train station at Saundersfoot is a mile away from the village, a seaside resort, a smaller version of Tenby. I passed some lovely wildflower meadows and this tunnel of trees. It is a poor imitation of the Dark Hedges but still as beautiful. Saundersfoot is a sweet little seaside resort and is on the Pembrokeshire trail.
I arrived in Tenby yesterday, took the train from Swansea. Tenby is a sweet little resort town. In the daytime, the day trippers fill the streets. At night it is quiet and deserted. I also took the boat over to Caldey island which still has an active Cistercian monastery community. It is a small island where in Spring, seabirds breed here. From the highest point on the island, one can see the sea all around, it is that small. It was a very pleasant outing, long hikes and walks through bluebells in the woods.
At the very end of Gower peninsula is a little village called Rhossili where a little island sits. The island is called worm's head, an incorrect translation of the Welsh 'WURM' which means dragon. Here are found many varieties of birds who use this remote place to breed in the Spring. It makes for a lovely hike along the coast and down to the beach.
Clyne gardens is famous for its Azaleas and Rhododendrons which is in full bloom right now. It is a 20 hectares garden replete with castle. One cannot go anywhere in Wales without bumping into a castle. Clyne castle is a private residence and entry is not permitted. The garden surrounds the castle and is free for the public to meander and wander around. It is an incredibly beautiful garden with woodlands and streams also. The woodland walks are covered at this time of the year with bluebells. What a treat to just walk everywhere in it to enjoy the trees, flowers and other plants. The dogs loved it too, they can run all over with such reckless abandon. The weather today was so lovely. Wales and England are warming up!
I'm still traveling. I'm leaving soon for Swansea, Wales, checking out of my room in Cardiff. A funny thing happened yesterday morning as I was walking towards Cardiff bay. A young fellow on a bicycle stopped me and asked if I remember him. 'Are you talking to me?' Yes, he said and continued 'Greece.' Where in Greece? Delphi! OMG, yes of course! That morning in Delphi, there were 3 of us taking the bus heading towards Kalambaka/Meteora. There was me, him and another guy and we had to change buses 3 times, Delphi to Amfissa, Lamia and Trikala before finally ending in Kalambaka. Here we split up, he and the other guy went to one hotel and I to another. Fancy bumping into him, he was on his way to work. Until a week ago I had no plan to come to Wales.
I left the Outer Hebrides 2 days ago and was in Glasgow for a night. I left Glasgow yesterday and came to Cardiff to traipse through South Wales. It was a full day for me today. The weather is so lovely compared to the Highlands of Scotland. Well, I ate a lot of Welsh cakes already and probably will eat much more before the trip is up. I love the food scene in Cardiff. It is a very understated city.
It is too early, 4-6 weeks too early! I have left the Outer Hebrides, left on the ferry this morning and am chilling out in Portree, the capital of the Isle of Skye. I am going back to Glasgow tomorrow and then onto Wales to see if I can find anything interesting there. But I will come back to the Outer Hebrides next July. I will fix my itinerary early and get all my rooms booked. The Outer Hebrides is getting very busy. It is small and is easily inundated. So if you have any plans to visit, get my eBook 'The Hebrides' and make your plans early. The Machair blooms in late June onwards, July being the best month. Now everyone is going there in July and if there are no rooms available, bring a tent and a sleeping bag. Wild camping is allowed!
Finally I'm here. It took some juggling with buses and ferries to finally get this far. However it is way too early for the Machair. I will stay 2 more days then return to Glasgow and head South to Wales. But I will return next year at the right time. The Hebrides, part 2 will be delayed till 2019.
I took the train to Berwick upon Tweed this morning. It is a seaside market town a half hour by train away in the South East corner and in England at the English/Scottish border. It was just a sleepy little seaside town. I hung around for a few hours, had coffee and a fruit scone and left on the next train back to Edinburgh. This is my last day in Edinburgh and I am sad to leave. I've become quite attached to Edinburgh. I'm leaving to go to Glasgow for a few days as my adventure continues.
Abbotsford was the home of Scotland's premier author, Sir Walter Scott. Even as he travel around Europe, he always come home to Abbotsford to write. It was an hour by train fro Edinburgh to Tweedbank, the village closest to the property. Sometimes a volunteer would drive a shuttle to pick up visitors and send them back to the train station but not today, the day that I went. Today I had to walk an half hour to and from the property. It was a nice walk, it being a cloudy day and not hot at all. The property sits by the bank of the Tweed river and can be seen from the property at the back. It is a lovely place and showed the life that Sir Walter Scott had when he lived there, pouring most of the money he made from his writing into the property.
The very iconic Edinburgh castle, sitting on top of the hill above the city of Edinburgh. It is massive and impressive and served many purposes over the centuries that it existed. Some parts of it served as a prison, first during the war with Napoleon and also during the American revolution when the USA fought for independence from Great Britain. The captured Americans were not considered as prisoners of war but as rebels because there was no independent America yet! In the prison which is now a museum, an old American flag can be seen with 13 stars! History is so fascinating!
It is good to be back in Helsinki after 3 years. I didn't do much but eat and window shopped. I walked down the fancy areas of the city and try to absorb the ambience of the city. Definitely the Finns get an A+ for design. The clean lines are so effective. It is good to come back at least once every other year just to get inspired again.
I left Heraklion a few days ago, had a few hours layover in Athens airport and then arrived in Helsinki to such a drop in temperature that I wanted to turn around. Helsinki is only just now getting started their Spring. The trees are still bare but there are lots of little hyacinths and wood anemones appearing in the lawns which makes it quite pretty. I decided to stay a few days just to get my fill of gravlax. The gravlax here is so incredible that I eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I returned here yesterday. I was here the day before but they closed on Mondays. I did check their website which said, 'opened daily.' It was a long way away, a 2 hour bus ride to the resort town of Agios Nikolaos and another 1/2 hour bus to just before the village of Kritsa. It was worth it. This is a very beautiful church painted in th 13th and 14th Century, small but not too small, very intimate, 3 altars and therefore 3 barreled naves with the middle one accommodating a huge dome. It has a very unusual floor plan. Some of the frescoes have disappeared but a lot still remained and still very vivid. The colors are still vibrant like it was painted not too long ago! Very beautiful, lots of visitors mostly from France and Germany. Panagia in Greek means virgin. So it is a church dedicated to Mary, 'the virgin of Kritsa.'
What a difference a day makes. I was in beautiful Santorini yesterday, looking down at the blue caldera and trying to block the glare of the sun on those whitewashed buildings. Today I'm back in Crete and in the countryside trying to see the frescoes in a church in the little village of Kritsa but it was closed on Monday. I did check to see if it was opened, the website said, 'open daily.' I guess they failed to mentioned except Monday. I tracked all the way there, 2 bus rides and hours on the buses and a 1Km hike each way under the hot sun! Oh well, such is my life. I'm going back tomorrow. I read the frescoes there are phenomenal!
Yesterday when I asked about the ferries from Heraklion to Santorini, they weren't even sure if the ferries were sailing. There was a 24 hour work stoppage, pan hellenic, all sailing vessels were docked and not moving. The travel agents wasn't even issuing tickets, told me to check at the port in the morning. The ferries started sailing again and so I got on a ferry and less than 2 hours later I arrived in Santorini. It is very beautiful. Santorini consists of a few villages with Fira as its capital and the most northerly village is Oia (pronounced eeya). When one sees pictures of Santorini, they are most likely take in Oia, blue church domes and whitewashed buildings, so iconic of Santorini. A local bus runs between all villages. I arrived in Fira with no reservation but I knew there was a little pension next to the bus station and that is where I am staying. Other guests wants views of the caldera. Me? I don't care, it is just steps away. I hadn't plan on visiting Santorini but I saw the ads in Heraklion and realized that it is quite close by. So I came! I'm glad to have included Santorini, beats having to come again on another trip.
The longest and most beautiful gorge in Crete is the Samaria gorge, some 16Km long but it wouldn't open till May 1. So the next best thing is Imbros gorge, opened all year round and only 8Km long. It is all downhill and really spectacular. So I hiked it this morning, took 3 and 1/2 hours of walking through some beautiful scenery. There were quite a lot of people, both young and old. The toughest thing was avoiding the fresh goats' turd, they are everywhere.
I left Spili this morning, changed buses in Rethymno and arrived in Hania around noon! I found this sleazy hotel next to the bus station and decided upon it. At 35 Euros a night, I can use the money I saved to eat better. This is the place to eat seafood. I had a platter of fried seafood for lunch which was really good. Old town Hania is quaint and adorable and a very popular destination for Europeans. There is an airport here. The buildings in old town are close together and form a maze and it is really fun to wander and zigzag into every little lane. Every turn seems to offer a picturesque vignette. Many of the upstairs have been turned into rooms to let.
High above the mountain village of Spili is a plateau where the wildflowers blossom in exuberance every Spring. It is quite late in the season but there were still plenty to see and enjoy. The most prized are these tulips that are very typical of this high mountain plateau. They were all over the place and absolutely magnificent.
This is supposed to be a great place for wildflowers. However I've just got into town and the locals doesn't seem to know or care. There's a group staying here at this hotel that has gone out to hunt for wildflowers. I'm hoping to meet them and ask them. I did walk around the neighborhood, it is a small mountain village. I saw huge colonies of orchids.
I left Thessaloniki very earl this morning and it is an hour's flight to Heraklion, the capital of Crete. I have doing all the major sites today and I have tomorrow, after which I take the bus to Rethymno for a few days. I hope to do some hiking in the villages. I was at the palace of Knossos this morning. It was a Minoan settlement, a people that predates the Greeks and was here 4,000 years ago. They were a very sophisticated society, their art, crafts and architecture is well ahead of other civilizations around the same circa. This picture is called 'the blue ladies'. No one really know his they look like. This is a presumption from other depiction of the men and women of that time. One thing is certain, they found a few blue fragments of frescoes and presumed this was how it would have looked originally.
At the top of Thessaloniki is the old city, Ano Poli and the ancient Roman walls to keep out the Slavs and other Barbarians from the North. It has incredible views of the city below and the port. In 324 BC General Cassander married Thessaloniki, the half-sister of Alexander the Great after the latter's early demise and established a city in her honor. Thessaloniki in the province of Macedonia remained important in Roman and Byzantine times. The great fire of 1917 destroyed almost half of the city and was rebuilt by French architect, Ernest Hebrard. Today Thessaloniki, the second city after Athens is a thriving metropolis.
I'm stuck in Thessaloniki with nothing to do for 2 days because of Greek Orthodox Easter. I have another day and then I fly to Crete. By what I have read Crete promised to be an exciting place. I need the wild, not cities and Crete can provide me with that.
Thessaloniki is the capital of Macedonia, a region of Greece, the ancient kingdom of Philip and his son, Alexander the Great. Greece wants the country of Macedonia to stop using the same name. The name of Macedonia belongs to this area. Later it became second in importance to Constantinople and has a lot of Byzantine remains. The museum for Byzantine culture details the progression of the Byzantine empire, from early, middle, late and after while under Ottoman rule. It is a very interesting museum. All the relics are found in Thessaloniki. It still has a lot of Byzantine churches from the middle to late Byzantine period.
I'm in Meteora now, arrived yesterday. I left Delphi yesterday and after 4 buses, arrived in Kalapaka, the village closest to Meteora. This morning I took the Meteora bus and went up to visit a few monasteries. They are all on top of huge rocks and the climb up was so tiring. I could only managed to visit 2 of them. I'll do more tomorrow. I have tomorrow to do more and I leave for Thessaloniki after that. It is an incredible feat to have built these gigantic monasteries on top of all those rocks. Before the advent of stairs and steps to them, everything from people (monks) and things have to be winched up. It is an incredible feat. It is inspiring to observe the dedication of these Christians. Meteora is an awe inspiring place.
As if I didn't have enough, I dragged my taxi driver from yesterday literally out of bed to go search for anemones. He lives next to the taxi stand and the cafe he hangs out at called him for me. So off we went. I told him I saw some from the bus that took me to Delphi 2 days' ago. We didn't see any. I can't remember where I actually saw it. So I instructed him to turn back and as we were about to ascend the hill heading up to Delphi, I saw some from the roadside. He stopped and back up. I jumped out and ran to the side of the road and lo and behold, there they were. It wasn't for nothing after all. I'm happy!
What a surprise! This morning while taking a taxi to the monastery of Hosios Loukas. I saw a lot of anemones on the roadside. I asked my driver to stop on the way back. I climbed up the hill and took a bunch of pictures. Imagine my delight! I was in anemone heaven.
I arrived late and the ancient site is closed. I will be hiking on Mt Parnassus tomorrow and will see the ancient site on Sunday. Spring time in Greece is so glorious, the wildflowers are everywhere and are so beautiful. It is a terrific time to visit, less people and lovely weather.
This has been an extremely long travel day, left Kardamyli at 8.10am, arrived in Kalamata at 9.10am, waited 6-7 hours for bus to Patra. The trip to Patra took 4 hours and I'm finally here. I had dinner, ate some street food round the corner from the hotel which is next to the bus station. I have showered and am getting ready for bed. I have an 8.30 am bus for Amifssa, takes 2 hours. Then I change to bus for Delphi. Till then, goodnight.
That was yesterday. What a difference a day makes. It's raining today and I'm kind of homebound. I keep hoping the rain will abate for just a few hours so I can head down to the beach. I think I have my wish. It looks like it is clearing. Yesterday I hiked for 7 hours in a deep river gorge on a dried river bed, clambering over little rocks, large rocks and huge boulders, up the gorge, on the ridge and down again. I saw the length and breath of this area in one day. I went through dried scarab land and lush olive groves. It was so incredible, though hard. I kept telling myself, with each step I'm closer to the end, with each passing minute I'm closer to the finish line. It worked. I kept going and going for 7 hours and had a spring in my step all the way, sprinting to the finish line.
I did a 7 hour hike today, almost took everything out of me. First was a 3 hour hike in the dried river bed, climbing over large boulders, small stones and medium size rocks. That was hard but once I got in there, there was no going back. I had to go on and on, doing that for 3 hours. Then at some point I leave the gorge and climbed the steep embankment to leave the gorge, to walk on the top of the ridge for a few more hours. Finally to head down to Kardamyli. Even that was hard, clambering over rocks and more rocks, chased by dogs barking loudly. It was quite hellish!
Today is Greek Independence day and there was a parade in Sparti with people all dressed in their national costumes. It was so beautiful. I got emotional. Mystras is closed on Sunday but I went out there anyway. I took the taxi there, walked down the hill to take photographs. There are wildflowers everywhere. The best time to see wildflowers is the first 2 weeks of April though I am here at the end of May. It was raining a little but it didn't bother me. I walked the whole 5Km back to town stopping to take pictures. I happened upon this plot of anemones. What a find. I would have totally missed it if I were in a motorized vehicle.
For over 200 hundred years, Mystras was a thriving kingdom until the fall of the Byzantine Empire. Today on the steep hillside is a collection of ruined churches, some are in better shape than others. Some even retained their beautiful frescoes. This is an UNESCO world heritage site. I was here 10 years ago and it has always been my intention to return. The best time to visit is early to late Spring when the whole place is filled with wildflowers. This is one of the best places in the world to see wildflowers.
I left Corinth this morning, took the bus to Corinth canal for the bus to Sparti. No one understood me when I asked about Sparta. The ancient city was called Sparta. The new town is Sparti. Upon arrival in Sparti, I had a terrible lunch. I took off and headed for Mystra immediately after lunch. It was great. Just like I remembered it. The whole mountain was covered with all kinds of wild flowers and my favorite, the red anemone. It started to rain but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm. I had a great visit. I will head over there again tomorrow even though Mystra is closed. I saw some great olive groves with potential for great photographs.
I arrived late last night in Corinth. The town is ugly, concrete blocks built haphazardly. It is lacing totally of any aesthetic sense. It was a travel day yesterday, leaving London on an almost 4 hour flight to Athens, took 2 hours on the Suburban train to get to the Peloponnese and to Corinth. I was dead tired. I got up early this morning, took the bus to ancient Corinth. I remember I wasn't able to get into the site the last time I was here 10 years ago because the park closes at 3pm and I was too late. It is quite an extensive site, here are the remains of the ancient city that St Paul wrote 2 letters to. Both letters are in the Bible known as the epistles of 1st and 2nd Corinthians. What Corinth lack architecturally, it is splendorous in its display of wildflowers. They are everywhere in the fields, olive groves and roadside, blood red poppies, white Asphodels, yellow mustard flowers and daisies. It is quite a visual feast. It is a great time to be here for the wildflower displays.
The Hebrides isn't a place most people dreamed of going to. The Inner Hebrides is more popular than the Outer Hebrides. The Inner and Outer Hebrides is a chain of many islands which only a few are inhabited. Why go there? What's there? My mission in life is to visit unusual and quirky places How would the Hebrides fit into this category? It was the phenomenon of the Machair that drew me to the Hebrides especially the Outer Hebrides. The Machair are these wildflower meadows that explode in the Western shores of the Outer Hebrides every Summer that piqued my interest. As I search the few guidebooks on the Outer Hebrides, I underlined every line that said, 'Machair' and these were predominantly the places I stopped at. The locals are happy to point out the Machair to you. It is not a very well known detail of the Machair but I love wildflowers and wouldn't miss any place in the world where I would have such an all access pass to! Indeed, it was wild. I loved and enjoyed every Machair that I could get to. I want more and much more. There are plans to return. Be warned. If you are like me, it will be your undoing also! This book will help you plan and make your Machair experience a reality! Let me illuminate the challenges to travel to the Hebrides and how to overcome them and make it an enjoyable and successful experience.