Mykonos: Armchair Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

Peggy and I are continuing to self-isolate ourselves, as are so many of you. Medford, Oregon, the medium sized town where we do most of our shopping, is on the edge of becoming a coronavirus hotspot. (Nowhere is safe.) We have zero desire to go there and have enough food— and wine— that we don’t have to for a couple of weeks. I even have older blogs to repurpose. (Grin.) Something like 900. I’ve been blogging for 10 years. Last week I re-posted a blog on the Greek island of Corfu. Today is Mykonos. Stay safe.

The area known as Little Venice is one of many charming sites on Mykonos.
The area known as Little Venice is one of many charming sites on Mykonos. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

The maze-like town of Mykonos (Chora) was designed to discourage invasion. It was easy for invaders to get lost in the narrow, winding streets that ran into other narrow, winding streets that ran into other narrow, winding streets.

Modern day invaders, otherwise known as tourists, also find it easy to get lost. But that’s half the fun. Except for finding a restroom when you really, really need it, there is no danger. You can easily spend an hour or several wandering along the town’s crooked roads and paths. There are beautiful white buildings slathered in stucco to admire, shops to explore, and cats to photograph. You may even find a Greek musician playing the bouzouki, a mandolin-like instrument that produces what most people think of as Greek music.  Picture Zorba dancing.

White is the common color for buildings on Mykonos, Santorini and other islands of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea.
White is the common color for buildings on Mykonos, Santorini and other islands of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea.
One of the main streets in Myconos.
One of the main streets in Mykonos. This road is freeway size in comparison to most routes through the town.
Routes through Mykonos are much more likely to look like this.
Routes through Mykonos are much more likely to look like this. Note the blue trim used to add color to windows and doors.
This blue Mykonos door is decorated by a cactus.
This blue Mykonos door is decorated by a cactus.
My wife Peggy on the right and two of our traveling companions, Kathi and Frances stand in front of another blue door.
My wife Peggy on the right and two of our traveling companions, Kathi and Frances stand in front of another blue door.
Bougainvillea seems to be the flower of choice in Mykonos.
Bougainvillea seems to be the flower of choice in Mykonos.
A street musician entertained us by playing his
A street musician entertained us by playing his bouzouki…
And a cat confiscated a cafe chair for its mid day snooze.
And a cat confiscated a cafe chair for its midday snooze.

We managed to get both lost and separated. There was no hope of finding each other in the labyrinth, but fortunately we had a plan. We would meet at the island’s famous windmills. Long since retired, five of them remain hunkered down on a ridge south of town. Mykonos is noted for its winds. The locals even have names for them based on their intensity: bell-ringer, chair thrower, and knock you off your horse. We experienced a brief example of chair thrower but fortunately missed knock you off your horse.

The windmills used cloth sails to capture the winds and run mills for grinding grain. Local bakeries then turned the grain into sea biscuits, aka hardtack, which is flour and water baked several times into a consistency of hardness just this side of rock. The value of sea biscuits is they are basically indestructible. Before modern refrigeration, they were used on long sea voyages. Throw in a lime plus a generous dollop of rum and it was dinner. Producing these ‘delicacies’ was the island’s main industry.

One of the windmills of Mykonos. Dark clouds brought brief rain and a "throw a chair" wind.
One of the windmills of Mykonos. Dark clouds brought brief rain and a “chair thrower” wind. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
Three of the five windmills.
Three of the five windmills.

Following the coastline back into town we came upon Little Venice (pictured above), a community where sea captains of yore built mini-mansions perched on the ocean edge. Since it neither looks like Venice nor has canals, my thoughts are its name is derived from its proximity to water. Either that or a real estate agent was involved. The community is quite colorful, however. I’d be glad to call it home.

Mykonos has some 70 churches to meet the needs of its 7000 residents, which seems like a lot. I am reminded of the number of Baptist churches found in the rural South of the United States. When I was traveling through East Texas on my bicycle in 1989, I estimated there was one for each family. The Mykonosians had a unique use for their churches, however. They enshrined the bones of their dead relatives in the walls. I doubt the Baptists do this but it might give new meaning to the old saying, “the family that prays together, stays together.”

Scrunched between Little Venice and the harbor is the Church of Panagia Paraportiani, the most unusual church on the Mykonos. Once upon a time five different chapels existed side by side. Then they morphed together into what has become one of the most photographed sites on the island, with reason. We contributed our share of picture-taking.

The Church of
The Church of Paraportiani of Mykonos.
Another view of the church.
Another view of the church.

The small harbor area of Mykonos definitely fits the description of picturesque. It was our last stop (except for lunch) on our way back to the ship. That’s where we met Petros the Pelican.

We have this photo of Petros on our living room wall.
Petros playing ghost? Or possibly drying his wings cormorant style.

Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the local fishermen had taken the day off. We satisfied ourselves with admiring the boats. The area also features a small beach that would be crammed with sun worshippers in the summer. Now all it featured was golden sand and blue sea.

Idle fishing boats in the Mykonos harbor.
Idle fishing boats in the Mykonos harbor.
The golden sands and blue waters of the Aegean Sea of the small beach in Mykonos.
The golden sands and blue waters of the Aegean Sea of the small beach in Mykonos is a good place to end this post..

WEDNESDAY’S BLOG: Santorini. I’ve posted on this more recently but this beautiful island is always worth revisiting.

Corfu: Armchair Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

A view of Corfu with its multi-colored buildings and tree covered hills. I took this photo looking down from the Old Fort.
A view of Corfu on a misty day with its multi-colored buildings and tree covered hills. I took this photo looking down from the Old Fortress.

Seven years ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Europe and cruised the Mediterranean along with her brother John, his wife Frances, and two of their friends Lee and Kathi. Now that our wings are clipped due to coronavirus, I decided a little armchair travel might help satisfy my thwarted desire to travel. Instead of ‘wandering through time and place,’ I am wandering in place. You are invited along…

“The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring.” Lawrence Durrell

I was visiting the Pioneer Bookstore in Placerville when I was first introduced to Lawrence Durrell and the Greek Island of Corfu. The bookstore was a favorite hangout of mine during my senior year in high school in 1960 and George Yohalem, the owner, had become a mentor, helping guide my 17-year-old mind to a number of good books.  He and his wife Betty had retired to the foothills of California after long careers in Hollywood where George had worked as a screenwriter and she as an actress.

I had picked up a new book that had just arrived and read the first couple of pages. Since it looked interesting, I carried it over to George for advice. “It’s quite good,” he had told me, “but don’t tell your mother that I recommended it.” That caught my attention.

The book was “Justine” by Lawrence Durrell. The quote above is the first line in the book and Durrell is describing Corfu. He had lived there from 1935-40 and fallen in love with the island. “Justine” became one of my first ventures into serious literature and definitely my first venture into erotic literature— thus George’s admonition. The book transfixed me, not so much by the sex (well, maybe a little), but by the sheer mastery of the language and the sense of the exotic. I was picked up and dropped into Corfu and then Alexandria… the main setting for “Justine” and the other three books in the Alexandria Quartet. It was magic.

Durrell wasn’t the only author to find Corfu a touch exotic. Homer had the ship wrecked Odysseus land on the island during his long journey and Shakespeare used it for the setting of Prospero’s magical realm in The Tempest. In Corfu’s long history Corinthians, Romans, Venetians, French and English had occupied the island as a gateway to both the East and West. At one point, the feared pirate Barbarossa laid siege to Corfu and succeeded in enslaving a substantial portion of its population.

Corfu’s location in the Ionian Sea sets it apart from its Greek cousins Santorini and Mykonos in the Aegean Sea. We found no more sparkling white washed buildings perched on treeless terrain. Corfu is an island covered with over a million olive trees and its buildings are multi-hued with a well-lived-in look. Two massive forts serve as bookends for its main town, also known as Corfu. We wandered through its winding narrow streets, visited an Asian museum housed in a colonial British mansion, checked out a Greek Orthodox Church, and climbed the steep hill to the top of the Old Fortress overlooking the town.

The most magical place for me in Corfu was the Old Fortress. Dating back to ancient times, the Venetians updated it in the Fourteenth Century. In this photo, Kathi Saage walks around a corner of one of the tunnels leading through the fort.
The most magical place for me in Corfu was the Old Fortress. I was fortunate to capture Kathi’s silhouette as she walked through the tunnel entrance. Dating back to ancient times, the Venetians updated the fortress in the Fourteenth Century.
I loved how the fort seems to be an organic part of the hill.
I loved how the fort seems to be an organic part of the hill.
This photo and the next, both by Peggy, also capture the ancient feel of the Old Fortress on Corfu.
This photo and the next, both by Peggy, also capture the ancient feel of the fortress.
This probably served as a a gun placement in the fort.
This room probably served as a gun placement in the fort. The clock tower peaks out on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
The clock tower located on the Old Fortress of Corfu.
The clock tower. The sky provided a dramatic backdrop.
A final view of the Old Fort. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A final view of the Old Fort looking Irish green. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A Corfu Street scene. Once again we enjoyed the narrow, car-free streets as we did time and again in Europe.
A Corfu street scene. Once again we enjoyed the narrow, car-free streets as we did time and again in Europe. Peggy’s brother John and his wife Frances are walking in front of us.
Another view of Corfu buildings with their shutters and balconies.
Another view of Corfu buildings with their shutters and balconies.
Peggy found this pigeon hanging out on the broken shutters of an abandoned building.
Peggy found this pigeon hanging out on the broken shutters of an abandoned building.
Lamp posts don't get much strange than the one we found outside of Corfu's Asian Museum located in an old British mansion.
Lamp posts don’t get much more strange than the one we found outside of Corfu’s Asian Museum located in an old British mansion. Does it qualify as art, or just weird?
The Asian Museum, BTW, includes an excellent collection of art, as represented by this painting.
The Asian Museum, BTW, includes an excellent collection of art, as represented by this painting.
The adventure involved in travel is experiencing new sites and cultures. This was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church we walked into.
Part of the adventure in travel is experiencing new sites and cultures. This was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church we wandered into.

There are some things that I am almost guaranteed to photograph when I travel…

Gargoyles...
Gargoyles…
ColorfulfFruit markets...
Colorful fruit markets…
My obligatory cat photo. I caught this guy sleeping on the seat of a motor bike at the entrance to the Old Fort on Corfu. It may be a new definition of contentment.
And animals… I caught this kitty sleeping on the seat of a motor bike catching some rays at the entrance to the Old Fortress. She may be a new definition of contentment. It’s a good place to wrap up today’s post.

FRIDAY’S POST: We made it up to Crater Lake National Park last week, practicing social distancing the whole way. Snow added to its natural beauty.

Oia, Santorini… A Photographer’s Paradise

Oia is built on a cliff that drops off a thousand feet into the Mediterranean Sea. Its colorful buildings with their unique architecture and the beauty of the area combine to make the town truly unique.

Oia is built on a cliff that drops off a thousand feet into the Mediterranean Sea. Its colorful buildings with their unique architecture and plunging stairways combine with the beauty of the area to make the town truly unique.

Fira, the administrative center of Santorini, is a pleasant town and definitely worth wandering through. It is filled with shops selling everything from cheap souvenirs to fine jewelry, all of which are designed to separate tourists from their euros. But that’s OK, Santorini makes much of its living off tourists. What most impressed me about the town was its small but excellent Museum of Prehistoric Thira. I’ll blog about the museum next week.

What I am going to do now is make the short trip from Fira to Oia, which is arguably one of the most attractive towns in the Mediterranean, or anywhere. Oia, BTW, is pronounced EE-ah. As the daughter of a friend reminded me, it sounds like something Eeyore might say minus the donkey emphasis.

My recent blogs about my Peace Corps experience in Africa have been long on words and short on photos. That’s about to change as I make why way through the Mediterranean. Oia is best enjoyed by being there, but if you can’t be, the next best thing is through the eye of a camera.

Each of my next three blogs will provide a different perspective on the community. First, I am going to provide a general overview including buildings, animals, flowers and other miscellaneous items that caught our attention. (Peggy took several of the photos.) Next I will focus in on Oia’s unique churches. I’ll finish by looking at stairways and doors, which might seem strange… but don’t miss it. Enjoy.

Another view of the town that provides a perspective on how it clings to the cliff. The whitewashed buildings reflect heat from the intense summer sun.

Another view of the town that provides a perspective on how it clings to the cliff. The whitewashed buildings reflect heat from the intense summer sun.

The rounded roof of this home is typical. Once these homes provided housing for poor sailors. Now they provide housing for millionaires. Another note on these downward trending homes. One person's patio becomes another person's roof.

The rounded roof of this home is typical. Once these homes provided housing for poor sailors. Now they provide housing for millionaires. Another note on these downward trending homes. One person’s patio becomes another person’s roof.

While the sailors lived in their homes on the cliff, sea captains built mansions on top.

While the sailors lived in their homes on the cliff, sea captains built mansions on top.

I would have happily bought this colorful home. Darn, where's my million dollars when I need it.

I would have happily bought this colorful home. 

Peggy captured this artistic shot from Oia looking down on the Mediterranean.

Peggy captured this artistic shot from Oia looking down on the Mediterranean.

I mentioned the unique doors found in Oia. These are color coordinated.

I mentioned the unique doors found in Oia. These are color coordinated.

Retired windmills are found on both Santorini and the island of Mykonos.

Retired windmills are found on both Santorini and the island of Mykonos.

This sphinx in Oia provided an artistic touch and seemed right at home.

This sphinx in Oia provided an artistic touch and seemed right at home.

Peggy discovered this sculpture on the side of a building in Oia. Everyone should have a goal in life.

Peggy discovered this sculpture on the side of a building in Oia. Everyone should have a goal in life.

This restaurant sign promised a leisurely meal.

This restaurant sign promised a leisurely meal… or was that poor service?

Dogs ran free in Oia. We found this one climbing about on walls before he settled in for a nap. All of the animals seemed well fed and happy...

Dogs ran free in Oia. We found this one climbing about on walls before he settled in for a nap. All of the animals seemed well fed and relaxed around the tourists…

Maybe too relaxed. (grin)

Maybe too relaxed. (grin)

There was no relaxation for this mule. He and his buddies were carrying debris being generated by a construction site down the cliff. These guys literally ran us off the road.

There was no relaxation for this mule. He and his buddies were carrying debris being generated by a construction site down the cliff. These guys literally ran us off the road.

I discovered this colorful plant and couldn't resist taking its picture.

I discovered this colorful plant and couldn’t resist taking its picture.

Event the souvenirs featuring Santorini were colorful.

Even the souvenirs featuring Santorini were colorful.

One of the narrow walkways we followed through town. The lack of people was indicative of the fact we were traveling off season. Instead of 3 or 4 cruise ships in port, there was only ours.

One of the narrow walkways we followed through town. The lack of people was indicative of the fact we were traveling off-season. Instead of 3 or 4 cruise ships in port, there was only ours.

I'll close this blog with a final shot of Oia. The blue domed building is one of the towns many beautiful churches, which I will feature in my next blog.

I’ll close this blog with a final shot of Oia. The blue domed building is one of the towns many beautiful churches, which I will feature in my next blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let the Cruise Begin: Santorini… A Magical Greek Island

Buildings cascade down the cliffs on the Greek island of Santorini located in the Aegean Sea.

Churches, homes, shops and hotels cascade down the cliffs on the Greek island of Santorini located in the Aegean Sea.

I am normally not the cruising type; it’s too social, crowded and regimented for the part of me that demands solitude, wide-open spaces, and independence. Still, when my brother-in-law, John Dallen, sent my wife Peggy and me an itinerary of a 32-day repositioning cruise he was planning to take with his wife Francis, I was intrigued.

The cruise included visits to a number of Mediterranean ports I had always wanted to see and a voyage across the Atlantic I had never made. It sounded like an adventure. It also took place during our Twentieth Anniversary and Peggy, unlike me, loves to cruise. It seemed like a great way to celebrate. We signed on the dotted line and sent off our deposit.

Our ship, the Crown Princess, anchored in the caldera located off Santorini.

Our ship, the Crown Princess, anchored off Santorini. The island behind it is a small volcanic island.

Over the next couple of months I will blog about the journey we just completed. Join us as we visit the Greek islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu, stop off at the historic sites of Pompeii and Ephesus, scale the walls of Dubrovnik, and explore the cities of Athens, Venice, Rome, Florence, Barcelona, Cannes and Lisbon. I’ll conclude with our brief stopover on the Azores Islands and trip across the Atlantic.

I will also describe shipboard life where food was served 24/7, our bed was always made, and entertainment was just a few floors away. Be warned, though, the trip wasn’t all four-course meals plus dessert; there was also the Noro-Virus that reached red alert status and forced employees to wear rubber gloves, rolling seas that threatened to dump us out of our bed, the guy who dropped dead in our dining room, and the daring Coast Guard rescue off of Louisiana.

Cruise ships sell luxury and visits to exotic locations. This is an inside view of the Crown Princess.

Cruise ships sell luxury and visits to exotic locations. This is an inside view of the Crown Princess.

I am going to start this series with the Greek island of Santorini rather than Rome where we began our cruise. Santorini is more personal, easier to comprehend, has an intriguing history, and is exactly what I imagined a Greek island to be. In 2011 Travel and Leisure magazine declared it the World’s Best Island. Rick Steves, the renowned travel expert on Europe, said, “If you can’t snap a post-card quality photo here, it is time to retire your camera.”

A post card type photo of a church in the town of Oia on Santorini

A post card type photo of the Church of St. George in the town of Oia on Santorini

Santorini is located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea southeast of Athens. Once upon a time it was a huge volcano, now the island is part of a large caldera. When Santorini blew its top somewhere around 1600 BC, it was one of the largest volcanic explosions in the last 5000 years. Effects were felt as far away as China where crops withered. The resulting tsunami destroyed much of the Mediterranean’s Bronze Age Minoan civilization. Legend is that this destruction included Atlantis. In fact, the ruins of Akrotiri on Santorini are considered a prime candidate for being the Lost City.

Excavated ruins of the ancient city of Akrotiri on Santorini are a candidate for the lost city of Atlantis. If so, this mural taken from the ruins may show a resident of the Lost City.

Excavated ruins of the ancient city of Akrotiri on Santorini are a candidate for the lost city of Atlantis. If so, this mural taken from the ruins may show a resident of the Lost City.

Arrival in Santorini by ship quickly reinforced that we had sailed into a caldera.  Everything was up. Fira, the islands administrative center, was perched above us on top of daunting cliffs a thousand feet high. Getting to the top involved hiking, riding a donkey or taking a tram. Riding the donkeys sounded romantic except we would end up smelling like donkeys and not able to sit down for a day. Walking had more appeal but then we would be dodging Donkey poop. We opted for the tram. Once on top, we were prepared to explore.

Looking up toward Fira our options were to take the tram or follow the zigzag trail.

Looking up toward Fira our options were to take the tram on the left or follow the zigzag trail in the center of the photo.

We wisely chose the tram.

We wisely chose the tram.

Looking back down the donkey trail toward the dock from the tram.

Looking back down the donkey trail toward the dock from the tram.

NEXT BLOG: The Santorini town of Oia, a photographer’s paradise.