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!