Saturday, October 31, 2009

Universal Languages

Today we packed up our stuff and left our beloved retreat at Milia.

It felt as if we were leaving home and family all over again. Funny how relationships can evolve in just a matter of a week. People whom you have never known, let alone pronounce their names or even speak their language, are now forever imprinted upon your heart and soul. And from this point forward the thoughts and memories of them and the time you spent together will always bring a smile to your face and heart.

In preparation for this trip we have been taking the Rosetta Stone language courses. We also carry with us a little black satchel in which we have small language conversation books and "cheat-sheets" with pertinent phrases in a variety of languages. French, Italian, Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and even Spanish. We know just enough words to get us in a little bit of trouble! They are slightly helpful and it does give us a sense of trying to participate in the language. And, the books did help us in Italy as we pointed out our request to take the car across the ferry so we continue to keep them with us and it gives us a very small sense of security.

So having practiced the standard beginners Greek; hello, good morning, good night, please, thank you, and this is very good we sat down to order our first dinner in the family run restaurant.

We were both a bit tired after our travels and getting moved in so we thought we would order a light supper of soup and salad. This request had the potential of being our demise. We had just committed one of the biggest faux paus and didn’t even know it. The manager of the place, who is also one of the cooks and a waiter looked at us in what can best be described as ‘disgust’ and said “You Americans, you eat like birds, not like the Greeks who really enjoy a good meal”. He genuinely looked offended and we were sure we could never redeem ourselves again. The next morning we worked on ‘mending our ways’.

We went into the kitchen and thanked the cooks for the lovely meal last night and admired their kitchen. They began to warm up as we told them we would love to be able to prepare meals like they had for our family. “Tell us about your family” and so began a conversations that we could participate in, the language barrier irrelevant. We began talking about was near and dear to our hearts. Through hand language, pictures, and often times the wrong words over and over we began to get to know our friends at Milia.


Zorba has run the place for 10 years after leaving Serbia. He has been married for 5 months and hopes to own his own place soon. He sounds and looks just like the comedian Ray Ramono and was pleased to hear he reminded us of a movie star.

Jordan is married and has three children and he lives in the village 5 kilometers down the road. Working here is good steady work and he needs it, he often puts in 12-hour days. Evan has 2 babies under two and spots every baby that comes in the place. He will stop everything he is doing just to run over to play with them for a moment; I think he is getting his baby fix. George is the older man who sweeps our room and brings us firewood each day.

As the days went by, we would find that George would actually watch for our return and prepare the fire for us so our room would be warm when we entered it.

We were fully welcome ‘into the kitchen’ which really is the hub of all activities.

Tasting a little of this or a little of that became a treat and honor for us. If a baby fussed in the restraunt one of the ladies would tell a young mother that we were experienced parents and grandparents so we were given the honor of “Cretan grandparents”. Parents could rest their arms a while and we could fill ours.

Such a good deal. The inability to speak to each other became less an issue, as our ability to relate to each other on a nonverbal level increased.

Even though our Greek did not improve tremendously nor did their English become any better we developed a wonderful form of communication. Greeting each other with hugs and kisses, the cooks knowing Tom would enjoy a cold beer after our hikes (they would serve it with a freshly baked piece of wheat bread), the ladies saving pieces of chocolate for an occasional treat and just the wonderful excitement of seeing each other again became our routine.

We knew, as we got ready to leave it would be a hard for us. We had grown so very fond of them all. They packed us up with warm bread, fresh cheese, olives, fruit, homemade wine and beer, chocolate cakes, fried cheese pies with honey and George gave us a bulb from his garden. We would not leave hungry!

We said our goodbyes and drove to the big city of Kissamo where Tom was hoping to get his haircut. Much to our dismay all businesses close between 1:00 and 6:00 so we had missed our opportunity for the day. We sat down to have a cappuccino and who should stop his truck in the middle of the road to embrace us but our old friend Niko (he was one of the men who helped us the night we had our long walk-about). “What, you are leaving? Come; spend one more night with me. I have an empty house, my children are grown, my wife has passed and I will cook dinner for you! Come, stay my friends.”

We did spend a delightful day will him. We took pictures and made copies for each other and hugged and kissed as we parted.

We will never forget this time and the relationships we have enjoyed. Each one of us contributing just a thread of our lives and yet when all woven together, the beautiful tapestry of friendship was formed. Although our language skills improved very little, all the thoughts and feelings we shared amongst ourselves, were well known to each other.


So, onward we go. Lebanon is the next stop. And we are looking forward to the next set of adventures. Not sure of the wireless situation there but will write when we can.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Day Hike Into The Night

We discussed whether we should write this blog but because we could write it, we decided we would write it.


We are still in our wonderful little place in the mountains known as Milia, on the island of Crete.

Yesterday, we decided to take a day hike through the gorge to the villages above us. It was a beautiful, sunny day with blue skies and the promise of being quite warm . In fact we questioned before we left whether or not to wear hiking shorts. We decided to continue in long pants with a layering of clothes on the top to adjust to the temperature.


We left at 11:00 after the usual breakfast which we previously described. We had our hand drawn map and the written instructions, also previously described. Our trail took us down into the valley, through several gates used to manage livestock and into a large olive grove. We took a lovely break under the olive trees before proceeding up the other side to a village called Lower Kalathenes.

We found a coffee shop there which was closed because it was afternoon (the Spaniards call it siesta – not sure what the Greeks call if but it means the same thing). We knew if we sat at one of the tables outside the café someone may come to open it; and sure enough a nice lady came and sold us some drinks and cookies. It was quite funny from our perspective as the man across the street looked out, went in and called a young man, who drove over and got the woman who owned the store to open up. We enjoyed our soft drinks marveling at how nice it felt to sit down and drink it!

After we left Lower Kalathenes, we walked up the road to Upper Kalathenes. These two villages were described as the most active in the area, although we hardly saw anybody and only an occasional vehicle. This was on the road that would eventually take us through another small settlement, Kioliana, where we would find a trail going through the mountains that would take us back to Milia. As we arrived in Upper Kalathenes, the skies began to darken and then it began to rain.

We sat on a log, using an olive tree as shelter; hoping this would just be a cloud that would soon pass. After a while, we surveyed the skies and decided this was not a temporary condition. We didn’t have an umbrella in our backpack but we did have two small “emergency ponchos” which we slipped on. We made the decision to continue on our planned course through Kioliana (about a mile and a half) to the trailhead. The ponchos worked well for the parts that they covered, so we walked in the rain through a beautiful area.

After a mile or so, a car approached, and Nancy stopped him to ask how much further to the trailhead. You understand that hand drawn maps are just that – hand drawn, with no particular scale and as we would later find out, no particular accuracy. The man driving the car was a very nice man who spoke some English. He was driving children home from school which is apparently one of his jobs. He dropped a child off and returned to drive us to the trailhead.

We started on the trail and were happy to see some landmarks that matched the map, plus Milia had an occasional paint mark on a rock to guide the way. It was still raining but we thought we were doing pretty good, until the paint marks and a bent sign took us to an absolute dead end. The only thing left was an “extreme rated” goat trail, which in the rain we decided was not wise. We backtracked and found a couple of more likely trails which turned out not to be good either. So we decided to return to Lower Kalathenes and take the trail home that we came on in the morning, knowing that was an easy and familiar trail.

When we were almost back to Upper Kalathenes, we saw in the distance, a small church and cemetery which were listed on the map as landmarks for the trail back to Milia. After two attempts to get to the church, we gave up and decided to continue on to Lower Kalathenes as originally planned. It was now after 5:00 and we knew we would lose light in about an hour. When we got to Upper Kalathenes, we ran into a small group of men. One was a young man named Yanni, who spoke English. He told us the fastest way back was by the church/cemetery and he and a friend took us there to show us the way. He said, “you see that mountain over there with the three big boulders on it, you want to go over that”. We were sure he was pointing to Turkey, it looked so far away! But on we went.

We estimated the light and knew if all went well we would arrive before total dark. Plus at that point it had stopped raining so we left confident that we would make it. Of course as we descended into the valley of olive groves, the light was began to slip fast. But we found the trail that we had been on that morning and headed for home, walking in the moonlight; which provided a modicum of light. We followed what looked like the main trail, but it took us through a gate that we didn’t recognize. We continued on because it was heading in the right direction. Then we came to another gate that was locked with a padlock which meant we were on the wrong road and couldn’t go on. The one thing we failed to bring in our backpack was a flashlight. Next time we will have one no matter what time we leave. We knew where we were and we even knew we were close but without light, we didn’t want to attempt to find the trail. So we made the decision to return to Upper Kalathenes and pay someone to drive us around the mountain to Milia. At no time were we in danger because we knew this trail going in that direction very well. As we returned, we sang songs, and had a good time.

After an hour, we made it back to Upper Kalathenes and with our very limited Greek, and the help of sign language, we were told we could find Yanni at the local café. When we approached the café much to our delight we could see him through the plate glass windows. He was sitting with all the men in the village enjoying conversation, cigarettes, and beverages. You should have seen the look on his face when we walked in.

He said “you are back, what happened?”. Actually you should have seen the look on all of their faces when we walked in because only men are there by tradition. Several of them came out with Yanni and we were treated very nice. He said they would call the local taxi (there is only one) and we could see if he would take us to Milia.

When the taxi came, the driver was none other than the man who gave us a ride earlier to the trailhead! After two o’clock, when he is done taking the school kids home, he runs a taxi service for the locals. He agreed to drive us to Mila for 17 Euros and we took him up on his offer.

We arrived at our place around 8:30, looking wet, tired, and very happy. We enjoyed a Greek salad and some wonderful, warm bean soup and bread. We had actually walked for over nine hours and had a wonderful adventure. We woke up this morning, feeling no worse for wear and have had a good laugh over the circumstances of the day before.


There's no place like home!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Chestnut Forest


When we started this adventure, one of the things that we both agreed upon was that if we found a place we liked, we would stay there. Milia is one of those places: so yesterday we extended our stay here until we are ready to leave. It is a place of simplicity and quiet, sheltered by the mountains from any sounds of traffic or the 21st century. We can hear the bells on the goats and the roosters as they crow. Heart rate and blood pressure go down by just being here.


So today, after a breakfast of tomatoes, feta cheese, yogurt and honey, bread, honey cake, eggs, and fresh made sausage, we decided to take a hike. We picked up the hand drawn map and instructions and set out on a four-hour hike. Reading some of the instructions will give you a flavor of this hike.

“You follow the earth road passing in front of the restaurant. After 50 meter, you find the first narrows on your left and you follow them.

Turn right on the steps; continue the path and you will see the fence. After passing through please close it. The RUIN you will meet 15 minutes later- after you pass through the chestnut forest-is the sign that you are in Kato Milia.

Just after you turn on your left. Forward on that direction you see the old Chapel of St. George on your left. If you pass the Old House in Kato Milia, walking on the right direction, following the earthen track to the upper side, you find a fence. Stop and look at the left and you see the path which takes you from the old path (which is missed a little bit), but continue straight forward and between the rock and you’ll se on your left Kastellos.

To approach the top is a bit difficult as there is not a certain path and you have to follow the goat’s way. The view from the top is outstanding.”

We followed these instructions and they took us to the promised view, which was indeed outstanding. Along the way we picked up two very happy dogs that stayed with us the whole time.

The Chestnut Forest was beautiful. The chestnuts on the ground look like balls of chestnut colored fur.

We found these to be delicious when they are freshly roasted.


After we reached the top of Kastellos, we sat on a rock and had a picnic lunch of wine, cheese, fruit, and chocolate, and just breathed.







Life is good.

The Perfect Place For the Perfect Storm



We are writing this post to you from a small town in Western Crete. It is known as a “Traditional Cretan Village”. And, it really is. Up in the hills, South of an area know as Kissamos, is a small village known as Milia. Milia was a small remote village, several centuries old, which has been restored into a place with 16 living areas and a dining area/lodge.

Our room is built into the sides of the mountain and made of stone with it own porch overlooking the gorge. We have a wood burning fireplace and candlelight for heat and light. They do have some solar power so for a few a hours a day we have a light that we can turn on. Solar also heats the water and we get a warm shower. The windowsill is our
refrigerator and thus far working out very well. They grow all the food up here and we will be they first to say that it is superb! Freshly baked whole wheat bread, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onions, yogurt, wine, olive oil, honey, and the best feta cheese ever.
So what does one do up here you might wonder? Well, today we are enjoying the most beautiful lightening and thunderstorm! It is phenomenal and what better way to enjoy it but in our cozy abode, fireplace a glowing, windows open, a good book in hand and the sound of water hitting the rooftop as we look out on the lovely mountainside.


You may wonder how we found this place. One of the nice things about travel for us is the interesting people we meet along the way. While on the base in Souda Bay Crete we met a lovely woman named Roxanne who was raised in San Francisco but now lives here in Crete. We began discussing our adventures with her and she asked us how long we would be here in Greece. We both answered at the same time “until we are ready to leave”. What a wonderful thing to be able to say. We talked about the things we have enjoyed the most and so it was at her recommendation that we come to Milia. And it is absolutely perfect.

We head off in a few days along the coast to the eastern side of the island. The towns have names I cant even pronounce let alone spell. We hope to stay at some mom and pop hotels along the way. We have a few recommendations so we will see where that leads us.

The Grecian airline is having a promotional for several of the countries we want to visit. We are beginning to think about the next country but we are not sure where that will be or when we will go.


For now, we think we will just be still and enjoy the storm!

Happy Anniversary, with Love



Today is my anniversary. For those of you who know me well you know it is not one of the traditional anniversaries that I celebrate today. It is the four-week anniversary from full time work at my place of employment. Four weeks….. It feels as if four life times have gone by and I am at least four worlds away. I find myself reflecting on how much four weeks has changed my life. And, it really isn’t the end of something I celebrate but the beginning of something else. Time. I realize as the days pass by I have the luxury of time. Time to sit, time to think, and time to thank God for you and for my very existence.

I am very blessed and I know it. I think about my beloved family today. Eight children and their spouses, eleven grandchildren with the hope and promise of more to come. I still rejoice each and every time I see them and get to spend time with them. Sunday lunches after church have become the anchor of my life, the place that holds me steady and firm. For the last 37 years they have been my focus of life and I cannot think of a better way to have spent my life.


My wonderful husband, who at this stage of our lives, has become my soul mate. In all of our years together, this is our first moment to be as one. Having married into a ready-made family it feels as if this is our honeymoon! We have become very comfortable in just being together. Whether we are chatting or just quietly sitting next to each other reading during a thunderstorm, we are very content just being. I find that after these last couple of decades…I still love this man and I am enjoying this time immensely.

I have been blessed with a wonderful career in which I have had the opportunity to grow and I hope become what God has wanted me to become. I can never thank my colleagues and the people I have met along the way while at Peachwood Medical Group enough for the wonderful decade I have spent with them. What I have learned from them is immeasurable and I look forward to returning next year on a limited basis. My beginnings and end are so very far from each other and I marvel at the paths my life has taken. I have enjoyed each and every road along the way.

And I think about the friends and family who have enriched my life more than words can ever say. Those of you who are near and dear to my heart, who have loved me through out the ages, come to my mind and I celebrate you. I think of you with a love that is immeasurable and I thank my God for you and how you have given sustenance to my life. Let me never be amiss to tell you how much you mean to me.

And so, I sit here on this “anniversary” at a place called the Blue Beach in Crete, Greece.

Having the time to reflect on the beauty of this moment. The quiet and stillness of it all. I look out and the water is actually three different shades; sapphire, turquoise, and jade. Beautiful beyond what you can imagine. We sit in the sun basking in the warmth and quiet of the day. In the distance we hear the children laughing and playing in the warm ocean. We doze on and off during the afternoon and I take these moments to thank God…..it has been a beautiful life. I thank Him mostly for the time I have to reflect upon that and to know that each curve in the road has brought it’s own blessing and joy. That each season is beautiful in it’s own time and way. That each and every one of you who is reading this is valuable to me and you have enriched my life beyond what words can say.

I look forward to what’s ahead!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet, Sweet, Sicily!

Have you ever been to a place where the experience of being there permeated all of your senses and, for the rest of your life, you would be able to recall that place with complete clarity? The thought of it; the sights, the sounds, the smells, even the night air as it wrapped around you, evokes a feeling of sheer delight and contentment. Well for us, Sicily has been just that place. We arrived from Spain, after a quick stop in Scotland. The moment we stepped off the plane we felt such a sense of peace. The people here are very nice and are always willing to go the extra mile to help you and to make you feel welcome. It is as if you are their long lost family.

After we arrived at the airport, we learned that the next flight to Crete, Greece would be in a week leaving from the Navy Base in Naples. Naples in on the mainland and the flight is called the Patriot Express, which is a civilian 767 leased by the government. This is a scheduled flight so we knew we had a good chance of making it. We decided to rent a car and explore the island for a week. In Italy, no one gets excited over renting an Alfa Romero or a Fiat but when they handed us the keys to an Alfa Romero we were ecstatic to say the least. Thank God we have an International GPS (lovingly referred to as Betty), which allowed us to set her for sites unseen.


The first day we went to Catania and meandered around town. The open market was beautiful and we had so much fun meeting the locals and examining their goods. They sell everything from fruit to escargot!

The cheese and homemade salami was the best we have ever tasted and the vendors are always happy to have you try their goods. It was a beautiful fall day, crisp and slightly blustery and we walked for hours.

We would find ourselves meandering along the old cobblestone streets and as we rounded a corner we would be in the middle of a beautiful piazza, hundreds of years old with a history deep and rich. It was everything you would imagine an old Sician port town to be.


We took the week to meander and we found an old farmhouse to stay in, and fell in love with the small, off the beaten path,community.


We loved the ladies who ran the place, Francesca and Sylvia and they took such good care of us. They told us of some local activities, hiking, shopping and the local eateries. Their best recommendation to us by far was to tend the local festival that has proved to be one of our most favorite evenings so far. It was in a town called Mota Camastra. Walt Disney could not have re-created this mountain city any better. When I say mountain city I don’t mean a city ON a mountain, I mean a city IN a mountain. It was phenomenal! Our pictures will never do it justice but our hearts and minds eye we will never forget its beauty.
As we walked up the winding path, we could hear music playing to welcome the children. You will never guess what they were playing…”It’s a Small World”…. in English. We rounded the corner and lanterns were lit along the pathway with large candles also on the ground to light the cobblestone roads. The local merchants had their entire foodstuff available for sample and
sale. Limoncello, orange cello, olives, cheese, salami, crepes, marmalades and freshly roasted chestnuts to name but a few. Men were playing banjos, accordions and jute harps out in the evening; playing with such passion it made me weep.
They served us a huge bowls of freshly made warm pasta, fresh bread and a glass of wine. We sampled everything they had to offer. Near the end we sat down to have a glass of the local wine and Tom order a “bar-b-qued” sandwich. I will never forget the look on his face when the man told him it was horsemeat! He ate it and we decided it was not too bad at all.

In the everyday life, there is a lot to be said for just breathing and appreciating the beauty around you.


After a few days we drove to Taoromina another beautiful town on the Sicilian coastline. We walked, talked and savored the beauty.


We then continued north to Messina and took the ferry to the main land and actually made it without any hitches. Trying to tell an Italian man you want to take your car across the ocean and continue heading towards Naples with only a small phrase book can be daunting but we made it and it was a lovely.

We felt as if we had left one world and entered another as drove into Naples. No American insurance company will give you car insurance while you are in Italy so you must buy the Italian insurance. An extra $14.00 a day but well worth it! The Italians concur that the drivers from Naopli are the worse and we agree. There are rules to follow and non-adherence to them can be a matter of life and death! Go and go quickly is pretty much it and never make eye contact. Driving here for the non native is a two person experience. One to drive the car and the other to watch the GPS to call out directions and to watch the traffic from the right. Things happen so quickly the driver does not have time to look at the GPS or wait for the voice command. No pictures to show of that, we were afraid to take our eyes off the road even for a minute.

We went to the ancient ruins in Pompeii and they are amazing. They are so very well preserved that you can almost see the city as it was before its demise in 79 AD.

We are now on the island of Crete. Hoping the wireless is up and available to send you this post. We think we will stay for a while. May take a clipper ship cruise to the surrounding islands or go back to one of our favorite places in Crete a place called St. Pietro’s. It is an old refurbished church that is actually delightful to stay in.


Will let you know!

The Daily Routine

Got an e-mail from our fun loving daughter in law Liz who said “enough about where we are going and where we have been…..give us the good stuff ! What have you been eating and what are you doing?” Ah yes, the good stuff in life!

I’m here to say we’ve developed some new habits. Staying up late and getting up even later in the morning! We have broken some all time records here for how late we can sleep in. We can put a teenager to shame! And, we have a siesta nearly every afternoon!

The Meditterreans are very traditional regarding their meals and family. Every meal is considered a family event so everyone is present (except school age children during lunch) for every meal. Feels like home and we sure do love it. Everyone gets dressed up when eating out, even the babies. Different regions specialize in different types of food, but since these are coastal areas seafood is the specialty. Octopus is a delicacy and I am here to confirm this truth. It is delicious. We also have tried almost every other type of fish offered and have had rabbit. It is always interesting ordering something you have never had before in a language you don’t speak regularly. Even more interesting is to see what you get. My favorites was …..Paella. Bits of shrimp, crab, prawns, chicken cooked with some vegetables and served piping hot from the pan with a saffron and rice combo. Before you is everything you might want in one pan. I tried not to lick the plate when I was done! The wines are phenomenal and the locals will tell you the sherries are the best in the world.

We usually sleep in pretty late in the mornings so will have a cappuccino and light snack in the morning. We usually will walk or ride our bikes along the beach and eat lunch where the locals eat. This usually occurs at about 2:00 and nobody ever finishes in less than 2 hours. Just about right since Siesta is usually from 4:00 to 6:00. Everything, and I mean everything stops at this time. Nightlife begins about 8:00 and a lot of people finish dinner after 10:00. We are living the life the locals do; we just have all day to do it.

We are now in Sicily and love the area. We have rented an Alfa Romero for the week and will driving through Sicily along the coast to Catania and then to Taoromina. On from there to Messina and then we will cross over by ferry to the mainland and on to Naples. We plan to stop in Sorrento and Pompeii along the way. We may have a flight on the Patriot Express next Wednesday to Crete, Greece so that is our only time element. This area is surrounded by olive and orange trees and is exquisitely beautiful.

Will send pictures next time. Sorry the post is a bit behind….. Cannot always find wireless connections.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The View From The Back Seat

Our dear friend Lois e-mailed us last week and asked us if we had any learned any “life lessons” while on this trip. After only 1 -1/2 weeks of travel we weren’t quite sure how to answer. Then, after having two of our flights to Sicily and then Greece changed at the last minute, an incident happened that allowed us to reflect on this question.




Often times it is a small event that triggers a deeper insight. I never would have guessed it would happen on the back of a tandem bicycle.
If you’ve never ridden on the back seat of a tandem bike it is certainly a different experience. First, you cannot see the road ahead of you. For those of us who like to “know where we are going”, not being able to see the route in front of you presents some challenges. You peddle along, in a forward motion, always following the person in front of you.

You find you have to trust “the Driver” to maneuver a course that you cannot always see. He must dodge unexpected objects, watch for oncoming traffic, plan the turns and navigate all at the same time. 

Your job is just to roll with flow.
Of course, you must do your part, peddling along trying to keep the forward momentum going. Then you find yourself becoming attuned to your driver and after awhile you can tell when he is going to change your direction. And then you began to relax and “let go”. Without the distraction of being in charge, you can start to enjoy the scenery. The scenery looking to the side is often different then the scenery from the front. You find the beauty in the everyday life, the routines and rituals we sometimes take for granted while in perpetual motion.
You see, as if for the first time, pieces of colored laundry blowing in the wind as they hang out a window on a second story apartment and windsurfers in the middle of the afternoon leisurely surfing for hours.
You can close your eyes and just inhale the different scents as you just ride along. All of this occurring as “your driver” follows a sketchy map that a local gave you so that you can have tapas for lunch at his favorite lunch spot.
We tend to spend our lives being the driver; navigating through life; planning, working, and thinking we have to be in full control of every situation. When we live our lives in this way, we miss the opportunity to breathe and enjoy the hundreds of beautiful moments that are present in every day. How nice it is to be “the rider” to be able to breath fully, to see heaven in the grains of sands and wildflowers and to know that even if our routines don’t change much day to day, our perspective can.
So, yes Lois, we are learning some life lessons. Ones we hope to carry with us all the days of our lives.
And by the way, we are as we speak, in a C-130 on our way to Sicily by way of Scotland.
You ought to see the view out the side window……..