Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

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A Road Trip to Greece: From Patras and Galaxidi to Kallidromo and Lichadonisia

A friend’s wedding in Partas, Greece’s third-largest city, brought us back to Greece at the late August. Still summer, sunny and hot, the plan was to share with our friends their wedding day joy and happiness, and then to take a short road trip while enjoying the beach and sun. We left Athens early in the morning and instead of taking of the fast motorway, we chose the old national road. It is longer than the motorway but it runs along the coastline through small seaside towns and picturesque villages. It is therefore, more interesting. That is, after you pass through Aspropyrgos and Elefsina. The region around these two cities, about 20 km from Athens, is one of the biggest industrial zones in Greece, home to petroleum refineries, quarries and steelwork plants.

Ancient Corinth

 

 

Our first break was in the Ancient Corinth, an important city-state during the Hellenistic and Roman times. The most remarkable monuments in the archaeological site which lays on the northern foothills of the Acrocorinth hill, are the temple of Apollo and the Ancient Agora. It certainly worth a visit.

Derveni

Derveni

Our next break was in the seaside village of Derveni about 140 kilometres from Athens. Derveni in the Turkish language means narrow passage and indeed the village is located in a narrow strip of land between the mountain and the Corinthian Gulf.  In the interwar period, Derveni was a prosperous town and the central station of Greece for the transhipment of goods abroad by trains and boats to Itea. The visitors can still admire the view of traditional houses built of stone, wood and red tiles.

 

Patras

We arrived at the outskirts of Patras, late in the afternoon. Patras is a busy, chaotic city. Because of its position and its port, it was called Greece’s Gate to the West. The heart of the city is the enormous central square, Plateia Georgiou, named after King George I of Greece. The square was built under the Ioannis Kapodistrias government as a part of the 1829 plan to rebuild the devastated centre of Patras after the Greek War of Independence.  The low town and the square was designed by Stamatis Voulgaris, one of the first architects of modern Greece, in the form of a European city, and reflected the commercial and intellectual life of Patras.

We chose to stay in Psathopirgos, a small, quiet village with a long beach and clean waters, located just 8 kilometres outside Patras, facing the amazing Rion-Antirion bridge, one of the longest cable stayed deck bridges of the world that connects Peloponissos with Sterea Ellada.

Axaia Clauss winery

You cannot leave Patras without visiting the oldest winery in Greece.  Around 1860, the Bavarian Gustav Clauss purchased 60 acres of land in the area of Riganokampos just outside Patras. Gustav’s initial interest was in blackcurrants, but he also planted a few black vines, indigenous in North Peloponnese, as a hobby. The local history says that Gustav fall in love with a beautiful young lady, with dark (mavro in Greek) eyes and hair. Her name was Dafni. Unfortunately, Dafni died very young and when the inconsolable Gustav produced his first sweet, fortified wine, he named it Mavrodafne (Mavro and Dapfne). The winery’s beautiful old stone buildings provide a lovely setting and a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and the city of Patras.

Galaxidi

We preferred to take the ferry to cross the narrow stretch of sea between Pelopponesos and Sterea Ellada. Not only because the toll fare in Rio-Antirio bridge is expensive (€13.20), but it was also a good opportunity to enjoy the fantastic view of the bridge from below. The ferry costs only € 6.50 and it takes about 35 minutes to do the crossing.

Our next stop was Galaxidi, a historical small sea-side town, and one of my favourite little corners in the world. Galaxidi, with its beautiful stone houses, and its small two harbours, is one of the prettiest sea side towns in the mainland Greece. In the past few years, and due to its proximity to Athens, Galaxidi has become a popular weekend destination, but it is still a tranquil place, even during the summer months. Walking around in the narrow cobblestone streets you get the impression that time ceased at the time of its prosperous period, between 1830 and 1910, when Galaxidi was a major maritime power.

A Day in Delphi

Tell ye the King: the carven hall is fallen in decay;
Apollo hath no chapel left, no prophesying bay,
No talking spring. the stream is dry and had so much to say

Delphi is about one and half hours away from Galaxidi.  It was thought to be the centre of the world, the site of the omphalos, the ‘navel of the world’. According to the legend, when Apollo slew the monstrous dragon-serpent Python, his body fell into a fissure at the centre of Delphi. The Oracle of Delphi – the priestess Pythia – sat over the fissure and the fumes that arose from the decomposing body of the Python brought her into a trance-like state. Recently, the scientists have learned that the fumes were actually ethylene, a gas with hallucinogenic effects, coming from a chasm in the intersection of two major fault lines. The temple of Delphi lies exactly on the intersection of these two fault lines and the nearby rift of the Gulf of Corinth, one of the most geologically active sites on Earth.

The pantheon of gods and goddesses had a powerful presence in the lives of people.  The Greeks honoured and feared them. The magnificent temples represented their desire to pleased them. Delphi was the chosen place of Apollo.

The archaeological site is situated in a magnificent natural setting between two rocks in the Mt. Parnassus. The view from the theatre down the mountainside is truly spectacular.

Mt Kallidromo – Molos – Lichadonisia

From Mt Panassus in Phokis we drove to Mt Kallidromo in southeastern Phthiotis. Kallidromo is beautiful and interesting mountain with particular aesthetic values and ecologically sensitive areas. We crossed the narrow mountain pass of Kallidromo, between the villages of Modi and Reggini and we found ourselves on the other side of the mountain, at the Maliakos Bay.

We spend a couple of days in Molos (disclosure: I was born there), a village between the mountain of Kallidromo and Maliakos bay, exploring the surrounding small villages, the beaches, and the thermal springs of Thermopylae, known for the treatment of rheumatic conditions.

If you ever find yourselves in the area do not neglect to visit the Folklore Museum of Molos, housed in the old elementary school (also my school when I was young). It is a small treasure with material that has been gathered with the constant effort of the Cultural & Folklore Society and the kind contribution of the citizens and families of the village and of the wider region.

Our last destination, before we return to Athens, took us to Lichadonisia, a cluster of seven volcanic islets in Maliakos bay. Lichadonisia, according to the legend, took their name from Lichas, the friend and servant of Hercules.

Deianeira, the wife of Hercules, was very jealous of him. One day while she was walking alone across the river, the centaur Nessos, attacked her sexually. When she shouted for protection, Hercules shot a poisoning arrow into the Centaur’s chest from across the river. While he was dying, he told Deianeira that a robe anointed in his blood would work as a love portion for her husband. Deianeira believed him and saved some of his blood.

One day that Hercules was preparing for a trip to Cape Cenaeum, the northern cape of Euboea, Deianeira  gave him as a gift a tunic poisoned with Nessus’ blood. When Hercules wore it, it stuck on him and caused to him pain so horrible that went mad and in his anger he killed Lichas. Lichas body pieces fell around and Neptune transformed them on islets.

It is a wonderful story, but in reality Lichadonisia emerged after a big earthquake thousands of years ago. The main feature of the islets is the black rock that encloses the small sandy bays with the crystal clear waters. Nowadays, Lichadonisia are uninhabited, nevertheless until the 1970s three families lived in one of the two biggest islets, Manolia. The second biggest isle is called Strongyli. Remains of ancient settlements also found in couple of the isles. There are no hotels or other facilities in Lichadonisia; the visitors can spend the night in Kamena Vourla or in the fishing village Agios Georgios, in Euboea.

 

 

 

8 days 7 cities: A Motorcycle Road Trip in Europe

Touring with a motorcycle is a challenging experience. Physically and emotionally. It involves a combination of anxiety and exhilaration. It can be exhausting and liberating the same time. It is fun and adventurous. A motorcycle allows to connect with the world, to become one with the surrounding environment. You see everything, you smell everything, you feel everything. It is nothing like travelling by car or train. It is also much more affordable.

Grand Place, Arras, France

First day of the tour. We crossed the channel and by afternoon we were on Arras, a cultural, beautiful, cobbled medieval town in north France with a spectacular architecture. The Flemish Baroque façades of the brick buildings that are lined in the Grand Place are unique.  Between the squares along the Grand Place there are lots of little beautiful cafés serving croissants and  delicious tarte tropézienne. Arras is also the home town of one of the most influential figures of the French Revolution, Maximilien de Robespierre.

The Gargoyles in Notre Dame in Dijon, France

Second day of the tour. We moved further south, towards Dijon, the capital of Burgundy region. A medieval city, famous for its mustard and of course, the wine. Everything in Burgundy is about wine. Surrounded by farms and vineyards, Dijon has a sense of mystery. It’s perhaps its narrow streets or the gargoyles that are staring down from the Church of Notre-Dame.

Mont Racine, Switzerland.

Third day of the tour. We left Dijon and France driving towards Switzerland in the region of the three lakes, Biel, Neuchâtel and Murten. Our destination was the bilingual town of Biel/Bienne. An interesting linguistically divided city, where German and French are equally spoken. Sitting on the northeastern shores of Lake Biel is the metropolis of watchmaking and in the Omega museum you can learn all about watches. To arrive there, we crossed mountains and forests, valleys and beautiful villages populated more by cows rather than by people

Fourth day of the tour. Riding the Jura Mountains, in the north side of the Western Alps, in Switzerland. One of the most amazing and, at the same time, terrifying ridings we have ever done. Still, the scenery is grand and breathtaking. Dark green hills, majestic trees, beautiful medieval villages.

The old town of St. Ursanne at the river Doubs,

We stopped for a while at the beautiful old town of St. Ursanne at the river Doubs, a cute medieval small town full of lime trees. We then crossed the Black Forest towards Germany. Our forth destination is the town of Gengenbach, on the western edge of the Black Forest. We spent the night in a small hotel just outside the town.

Baden Baden, Germany

Fifth day of the tour.  Fifth day of riding and our muscles can tell the difference. Legs and butts were getting sore and the heatwave that hits north Europe did not help. First stop of the day was the city of Baden – Baden, the historical spa city in Germany. A beautiful city full of cafes and art shops. We then moved to Wissembourg, an old bilingual town in the borders between France and Germany and from there we got the road D3 towards Saarbucken. It’s an amazing route exactly at the borders. Hilly forests, sleepy villages, some part of France, others of Germany. After a while we could tell which village belongs to which country, but this a story for another time. Our destination this evening was Luxembourg City.

The cute coffee-bike in Luxembourg City

Sixth Day of the tour. We spent the morning in Luxembourg City, the busy, internationalised, tiny, capital city of Luxembourg. Due to heat wave and the noise, it was uncomfortable to walk around but we were able to see the remnants of the old fortress in the old town, to walk for a while under the arches and admire the impressive seventeenth century Notre Dame Cathedral.

Numar, Wallonia, Belguim

We then drove towards Belgium, in the riverside citadel of Namur, the  capital city of the Wallonia region. Namur, is a charming, lively city, citing at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers. Final destination this evening was Brussels where we had the opportunity to meet good friends.

Bruges, Belgium

Seventh Day of the tour.  After a short stop in Ghent, we drove towards Bruges (Brugge in Dutch). If you are looking for a fairytale town, you will find it here, in West Flanders. Bruges is so serene and beautiful, you can just walk in its streets for hours, admiring its grace and style. I would like to see more of Bruges, to explore its art scene. I would like to see it again in the winter when everything is silent and icy and in the spring when the daffodils are blooming.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges was the final destination of our road trip. The final day, is the return date. In the past 8 days, we crossed 5 countries. Our butts and legs are sore, we suffered from the extreme heat, we are tired, but we enjoyed it immensely.  And, we are already thinking our next road trip.

 

 

18 days in Peru

Hitting the slopes in Val d’ Isere

We arrived in Val d’Isere on a cold and snowy Sunday afternoon. A typical day in Val d’ Isere. We were looking forward to a week on the slopes, to have some rest and to get a taste of a winter in the Alps.  It was one of those holidays where everything just went perfectly; the flight to Geneva was smooth, the transfer to Val d’Isere, a bit less than three hours, comfortable, the chalet we were staying, beautiful, the food delicious, and the weather (for the most part) fantastic.

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 We stayed in Chalet Mathilda, which is located in a quiet location, only a short walk from the centre of Val d’Isère, with easy access to the slopes. It is a spacious and chic chalet, service is akin to that of a five-star hotel and wellness facilities include an indoor swimming pool and a steam room. A big, comfortable, open plan living room and dining area with wonderful views in the village and the mountains and an authentic stone fireplace, makes you feel like staying in an original alpine chalet.

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A road trip in Wales

Wales is not very well known to travellers. Yet is it is one of most beautiful places in the UK, with three national parks that protect an impressive 20% of Wales, including precious landscapes, habitats, villages and heritage sites. Our plan for this road trip was to explore the two biggest National Parks in Wales, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia and drive our motorbike to two of the most memorable and picturesque routes in the U.K., A470 through Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountain road (A4069) in Powys.

We spent the first night in the village Llangross which sits at the foot of the Black Mountains within the Brecon Beacons. It is home to lake Llangorse (Llyn Syfaddam in Welsh). There is a rumour that is home to Gorsey the lake monster who feature in a poem as early as the 15th century by the Welsh bard Lewys Glyn Cothi. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him.

In the local pub meanwhile there was a peculiar system of food ordering where each table would order its food, prepared and served before the next table could order. But then again, there were only five tables. The menu was available only on chalk boards, 17 to be exact, but small ones.

The mountains of Snowdonia provide some of the most dramatic sceneries in Wales and thousands of hikers arrive each year to hike up Snowdom massif (Eryri). Starting from Llanberis, we crossed the glacial valleys and through Capel Curig we arrived to Betws-y-Coed, a pretty Victorian resort in the Conwy valley.

Gwydyr Forest Park which encircles the village of Betws-y-Coed lies in the heart of the Snowdonia. The walking trails allows the visitor to explore the lakes and the mountains of this old mining landscape. Mining and quarrying have been a major part of Snowdonia’s history, and literally has shaped the landscape that we see today . Almost all the lakes in the forest were created to serve the mines.

One of our favourite destinations was Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid in Welsh meaning Lake of Serenity), in Gwynedd. It is the biggest natural lake in Wales and a protected wildlife site, popular to watersport enthusiasts, because of the winds which sweep through its mountain valley setting.

The scenery is so beautiful and serene, one can spend hours just sitting with a book at the edge of the lake watching the changes in the colour of the water and the sky. Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake Railway), one of the old little mining trains of Wale, is still in use offering a nine-mile round trip around the lake.

Accommodations

Dolgun Uchaf

Located in the middle of Snowdonia, it is an old Quaker building with beautiful views in a great location, ideal for hiking and mountain biking. Just half an hour walking for the town of Dolgellau.

Glan Y Gro

Glan y Gro is situated in a secluded position on the shore front of Lake Bala, you can’t be any closer to the lake really, with stunning views across the lake and hills beyond. We loved the view of the lake and the peaceful surroundings and the breakfast was delicious.

Bage Pool

Bage Pool, a 16th century farmhouse of great character situated in a quiet location in western Herefordshire’s Golden Valley, on the Welsh Borders, just 5 miles from Hay on Wye, the famous second hand bookshop town. Fascinating property and  thousands upon thousands of books.

 

 

Myths and dragons in Ljubljana

SAMSUNG DIGITAL MOVIEIt was the Greek historian Zosimos that first made the connection between Ljubljana (Emona in the old days) and the Argonauts. After stealing the golden fleece of a ram from King Aeetes, Jason and his Argonauts fled from Colchis, but instead of finding an outlet to the Aegean sea, Argo accidentally sailed into the Danude and not being able to turn back, the Argonauts continued to sail on the Danude and onward to the Sava River. Finally they entered into the Ljubljanica River, where a violent storm threatened to crash Argo against the cliffs in Veliki Močilnik. But the brave Jason struck his strong fist against a vertical wall and managed to anchor the ship. The track of his fist can clearly be seen in the rock above Velika Ljubljanica.

The dolls in the river

As if that was not enough, they came across a terrible fire-breathing dragon that lived in a marsh near Ljubljanica. A fierce battle took place at the end of which the fearless Jason slew the terrible monster. To this day, the dragon is standing proudly on the castle tower in Ljublana’s coat of arms.

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The Triple Bridge. Jože Plečnik designed it in 1932. His work had a great impact on the identity of the city of Ljubljana.

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Under the stern look of Tito at Brdo Park. Brdo Castle (Grad Brdo), a Renaissaince castle, built in 1510 by the Governor General of the Austrian Province of Gorizia and after passing through the hands of numerous owners, became one of the official residences of Josip Broz Tito. Today is used for official functions.

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