Friday, January 31, 2014

Kos, the town

Our last full day in Kos is so leisurely that I think it makes my leg muscles twitch from inactivity. Expecting cloudy skies (we got 'em!) I left this day wide open. If it rained, I would not be disappointed. In the end, it did not rain and we concentrated on giving ourselves a closer inspection of Kos, the town.

So, appreciating the mostly cloudy but nonetheless beautiful sunrise...

Kos, Greece-1.jpg

...we slowly went down to breakfast (a repeat of all the others we've had here)...

Kos, Greece-3.jpg

...and then I proposed we visit the Casa Romana -- the largest Roman villa in Greece. Mosaics, fountains, that kind of thing. At least that's what the guide book tells me. It also tells me that it reopened in 2009 after a period of restoration and that it is open to the public from Tuesdays through Sundays.

So explain to me, please, why it is, in fact, closed. You cannot, I know you cannot. In the same way that the desk clerk could not explain to me why the Ciao pizzeria was closed a couple of days back, and in the same way that no one could explain to me why the ad hoc skating rink in the middle of the town square here is closed today. Nor when it would reopen. Maybe at 11. Or the afternoon. Or the evening. Or maybe not today. (Yes, I surely would have skated in the middle of the town square here, what with fifty degree temps and no sign of snow anywhere, not even in the mountains. Instead, we watched the poorly insulated compressor work its tail off trying to keep that ice on the rink in a skateable condition. With no one skating on it.)

Some things just cannot be explained.

So what photos do I offer you? Well, of our walk through town. I seem to have focused on pairs of men, pairs of women. In the first photo, do take note of this unusual feature of Kos sidewalks: trees take precedence! Walking can be a challenge if you stubbornly want to retain the right of way and someone is coming from the opposite direction. A second thing to note -- the prevalence of black attire.

Kos, Greece-7.jpg

Kos, Greece-8.jpg

Kos, Greece-12.jpg

Kos, Greece-21.jpg

The last photo well describes our own walk through the ancient agora: or, the ruins of the ancient agora. I have mixed emotions about this place. The old stones, pillars, foundations are so overgrown with grass and weeds that on the one hand I want so say -- get some goats out here, quick! -- but from another perspective, I'm thinking -- maybe this is how I should take it in? Crumbling, overgrown, a pile of rubble with grasses threatening to cover it completely. Something so insubstantial as blades of grass with a few dandelions, covering an entire site of a civilization that is no more. Isn't that a more accurate rendition of a historical reality?

Kos, Greece-24.jpg

Kos, Greece-31.jpg

We walk back to our hotel with the perfect view onto the sea and I do yoga by the window, keeping my focus on the still waters.

In the late afternoon, we venture out again, this time along the shore, away from Kos town center and toward the rather stately marina. As usual, Ed takes the time to describe to me the various boats and their idiosyncratic features. I want to tell him -- no more travel means no more admiring boats in stately marinas, buddy! But I stay silent.

Kos, Greece-46.jpg

We cover the whole terrain, every boat, every last rich person's sailing dream and then we continue on to the repair center, where boats are whipped up into shape, paint job and all...

Kos, Greece-53.jpg

Contrast this wealth-driven paradise with a photo of Kos strays...

Kos, Greece-39.jpg

And, too with this photo of a man on a bench by the water. He sensed that we were English speaking. When we passed him, he shouted out a greeting. His dog wagged his tail. We petted the dog. The dog wagged his tail more forcefully. The man's face broke into a wide grin and he said with pride: Demi. Name is Demi. Demi wagged as if there was no tomorrow.

Kos, Greece-56.jpg

In the evening we say good bye to Greece by going across the street to Avanti -- a nice Italian pizzeria. I know. It makes no sense and I will surely miss the fresh fish when I leave this place. Still, a pizza tasted so good...

Kos, Greece-60.jpg

Ed can't resist it either and so we eat for once together, in step, as if this was like any other meal on any other day back home.

Tomorrow (Saturday) we ferry over back to Turkey and then we fly back to Istanbul and then we hope for just two days to get decent weather because we have some more outdoor stuff to do and it just wont do if it rains crazy rains (which are indeed in the forecast). I know my posting schedule is off. You'll forgive me. You always do and I'm so very grateful for it.

to get away

It sounds like you're trying to escape your surroundings when you dream -- "ah, to get away!" But it means different things to different people and to me, it's always been synonymous with seeing something new. Ed tells me my palate of experiences is actually the same -- only the setting changes. And that's not entirely false. I venture out and take note. One difference between him and me is that I think I learn by observing and listening. We both like to read, but beyond that, he'll tell you that he learns by doing. Something's broken, he'll take it apart to understand why. Or he'll take on the IRS code to figure out a tax advantage. Or he'll put himself in a strange environment and try to figure out how best to get by,

Me, I'm happy to walk, look, and listen.

When I thought to book passage to Kos in the winter, I imagined that there would be hikes to take in the off season. All those mountains! Lush landscape, stretches of seaside, quiet villages where you can see year round inhabitants making a life for themselves even when tour boats stop coming and vacationers disappear. This is what I love to photograph and take note of on Ocean.

And to our amazement, we are gifted another sunny day. Here, you can see the skies just before dawn cracks the day wide open and gives us that coveted sunshine:

Kos, Greece-3.jpg

After breakfast -- large one for Ed, modest for me...

Kos, Greece-5.jpg

...I ask at the desk: where might we hike?
She points out on the map interesting things to see in Kos town. Understandable. "Hike" is a term that connotes different things to different people. I push a little: we love nature. We love long walks. Maybe outside the city -- can we find places in the countryside,  where we wont find many cars? Quiet places?

Well, after several attempts, it becomes clear that our sincerely anxious to please desk person is not a hiker, not an outdoors person at all. The only solution is to rent a car and make our own way up the mountains where the villages beckon and the winding roads may lead to winding paths.

Car rentals on the island are, in the winter, ridiculously cheap and informal. A guy comes over with a car, takes in $40 worth of fees and hands you the keys to a bright yellow Kia. Of course. Who is going to steal a car here? The island is only 30 miles long and maybe 4 miles wide. Nowhere to hide.

Our destinations are not that distant: I've set my mind on the villages of Zia and maybe Pyli and whatever else we can find up there, underneath the Kos summits.

Kos, Greece-14.jpg

Some twenty minutes later, we park the car (in Zia) halfway up the mountain and set out on foot.

In the summer time, these mountain villages expect and want visitors. There are maybe half dozen shops and as many tavernas waiting for them. Most are closed now. The place feels quiet. With only the occasional person out and about. A priest, for example.

Kos, Greece-17.jpg

And a dog. Because as soon as we get out of the car, we are greeted by one. Lets call him Kossie. He figures prominently in our day and he deserves a name. (He's not a stray: he has a collar and a screw cap with written information inside, presumably about the owners, but, it's all in Greek so we are left to invent our own story about his life.)

Kossie is so friendly that I swear, I have almost decided to get a Kossie lookalike for the farmhouse. What, I travel too much? Well, I have a stay at home guy now! My hypothetical pooch shall have a babysitter in my absence! Yes, there's the matter of Isis. Hmmm. I'll give that some thought. Following pooch credentials required: super friendly dog who likes cats and people!

Okay, let's snap back to reality here.

We pick a road that goes up. I mean, it's not as if there are many roads to choose from: one that goes up, one that doesn't.

And it's beautiful -- a forested road that has no traffic. Kossie leads the way!

Kos, Greece-21.jpg

After about a mile or so, there is a dirt track that branches even more steeply uphill. Perfect! Kossie watches carefully which way we choose and lunges forward as soon as we turn uphill.

Kos, Greece-26.jpg

And now the forest thins out a little. We hike through terraced olive groves...

Kos, Greece-39.jpg
(with pale green and silver leaves)

...past an occasional farmhouse, always with chickens...

Kos, Greece-41.jpg
("did you see a dog just gallop by? Yes? Me too!")

 ...and every once in a while, views to Kos town, to the sea, to Turkey.

Kos, Greece-68.jpg

Kossie is delirious with joy. His small body seems so well toned, so perfectly strong. Mountain life is good for frisky dogs! And when we pause, so does he.

Kos, Greece-37.jpg

Still, after about an hour and a half into our hike I start to worry that we are taking him away from his home. True, we're not enticing him, but he follows us each time we make a turn and as we climb further up the trail I think -- might he lose his scent back? How far will he go with us? Is he ours forever and ever? Blissful thought but, realistically, no pajamas. Kossie is our one-time hiking companion. Not even occasional. Just this once. Ours for a morning, to savor and then to remember.

And then we come to a surprise: a fence running across the dirt road. Just like that. We inspect it closely to make sure it's not merely for sheep or other such animals. It's not. Solidly fastened on all sides. Ed suggests there might be a tear off in the forest, but I refuse to pass through.

And so we turn back.

And Kossie spins around and heads back with us. Only when we come to fork in the road, he wants to go left. No no, Kossie, we came this way!
He follows us, but reluctantly.
I tell Ed -- it's a short cut! He knows the shortcut. 
Sure enough. We let him lead us and he brings us back to the village of Zia.

Kos, Greece-76.jpg

Kos, Greece-73.jpg

Kos, Greece-84.jpg
(an old woman eats a meal outside)

Kos, Greece-90.jpg
("you pet that dog rather than me?")

Kos, Greece-94.jpg
(plucking a chicken for dinner)

And we linger there because the sun is just so heavenly and you can drop a big load off your shoulders when the peace of this hillside village settles in and the world seems like such a kind and loving place.

Kos, Greece-100.jpg

Kossie ambles off to be with his own kind. And we're back in the car, heading toward the next village -- Pyli.

And we pass fields of the wild anemone that grew so relentlessly around the ruins of the temples. Here, they grow among the ruins of old farmsteads.

Kos, Greece-111.jpg

...and we pass churches, and goat herds and their herdsman, and blooming almond trees too.

Kos, Greece-105.jpg

Kos, Greece-108.jpg

Kos, Greece-119.jpg

And so it doesn't matter that Pyli is a bit of a bust. Not worth a pause (sorry, Pylians -- I'm sure it's a great place to live!). Because the road to it was heavenly!

So where to now? It's early afternoon -- why not cross the mountain ridge and get to the other side of the island? What's it like there?

Kardamena. That's the village on the southern shore. It's bleak there now! A long row of mostly closed tavernas. Shuttered stores in need of a paint job. Ed asks if it's that way because of the off season or because of hard times and I have to say, it looks like it's a little of both.

Kos, Greece-140.jpg

On the upside, if you throw your gaze at the fishing boats, you will be mesmerized. It's delightful out there, on the waterfront.

Kos, Greece-136.jpg

The boat owners really do tend to their vessels.

Kos, Greece-144.jpg

When they are not tending to their nets.

Kos, Greece-130.jpg

We spin back to our side of the island (passing the sheep, always the goats and the sheep...)

Kos, Greece-155.jpg

...and pick up the main road (which, rather unimaginatively is called the Main Road, but in Greek) that runs from one end of the island to the next.

And then we're done.

Though it is his (newly established) bedtime, Ed does not fall asleep. It's as if he doesn't have to anymore. His own weight has been lifted. And in the evening, we go out to a Taverna and he doesn't eat anything (all that breakfast!), but I do: veggies and fresh red mullet from the seas.

Kos, Greece-162.jpg

And cookies at home. Yes, you need sweet treats to add balance to everything else that comes your way. Yay sweet treats. Yay Greek cookies.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

in the meantime

There comes a time when I need to push the bulk of a post onto the next morning. Most of you wouldn't have noticed the switch. Ocean readers tend not to be up searching for a post before daybreak. Still, I'll put up four photos from today for those of you who are here and reading.
So, in a capsule:

Kos, Greece-35.jpg

Kos, Greece-102.jpg

Kos, Greece-126.jpg

Kos, Greece-151.jpg

Still curious? Come back later in the day! I'll surely have finished writing it by then.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

sunshine, with just a few clouds

Turkey gave us one perfect weather day and now Greece is offering us hers. When you know that's what's in store, you set your expectations high. You want such days to be absolutely flawless and of course, they can't be that. You'll see -- mine had its bumps. But here's the truth: if ever I am to recall beauty in a setting,  with that perfectly warm wind, that blast of long awaited sunshine, surely I'll recall this day.

Kos, Greece-2.jpg
at sunrise

Breakfast at the hotel was unfortunately abundant and Ed heaped his plate high enough for me to know that there would be no dinner for him tonight. He is happy with this pattern and it seems it will stick for at least this trip.

Kos, Greece-7.jpg
this, BTW, is my plate, lest you think I eat small portions

Kos, Greece-10.jpg
waiting for me downstairs

After, we set out to hike to the archeological site of Asklepeion. These ruins of temples, sanctuaries and baths date back to the period just after Hippocrates established the first school of medicine here. The place is so special, so renowned, that many would say Kos is worth a visit for this site alone.

It's about a four kilometer hike, mildly uphill, but that's hardly the issue: the problem is that for the first half of it you have to share the narrow road with traffic. Not continuous, but steady enough. It really is so unpleasant that you want to write a letter to someone high up suggesting a public works program that would construct an independent path to the site. Or at least a sidewalk.

So that's a shame. Once we were out of Kos the town, however, the cars virtually disappeared and the walk took on all those stellar moments when you think all good things have aligned themselves to give you this one beautiful, sunny day.

Kos, Greece-13.jpg

 Kos, Greece-14.jpg

Kos, Greece-16.jpg

Kos, Greece-26.jpg
ah, the Kos cows

But Ed and I did chat about these European trips that (quite literally this time) so put him to sleep in their gentle quietness, their predictability, their lack of great risk. Unless he has a change of heart in the months to come, I think he's ready to retreat from travel for a while. My occasionally traveling companion suddenly became a stay at home guy forever. And hearing that surely put clouds into that otherwise luminous day.

Then, too, there were the cat ladies. From Hungary, though they live in Kos now. Daily, they drive up to feed the cats of Asklepeion.

I paused to chat with them for a while and whoa, did that ever create for them an opportunity to vent about (in their opinion) the Greeks' attitude toward stray animals!
In Turkey, they tell me, people put out fresh water for the strays. They neuter the dogs, put clips on their ears and send them out again. People create makeshift shelters out of plastic tubs. Here, they hate the stray cats and they shoot them, claiming they are ridding the community of a nuisance. What nuisance are these cats here, in the ruins of Asklepeion?! They don't jump on tables and steel food! They mind their own business!

I recalled our Bodrum hotel owner feeding the kitty that did come in through the window. I suppose it would be unpleasant to have a cat come in regularly and take food from your kitchen counter... Still, shooting the cats hardly seems right.

But let's pause for a while with all these bumps and hiccups from today. Let's focus on the greatness of seeing Asklepion on a January day when the place was so empty that you could claim it as your own. In the vast quiet, I offer you just a few images. Starting with an overview (beyond the ruins, you can see the town of Kos and, of course, Turkey across the sea):

Kos, Greece-70.jpg

Kos, Greece-34.jpg

Kos, Greece-47.jpg

Kos, Greece-59.jpg

Kos, Greece-67.jpg

Kos, Greece-36.jpg

After, we walked up the road some more and somewhere in this stretch I managed to lose the cap to my camera lens. That's significant because Ed had just tied it to my camera two days ago. Clearly not securely enough. And puff! It's gone. The third lens cap to go since I bought the camera not even a year ago!

Kos, Greece-84.jpg

And while searching for the cap, we stumbled over a dead lamb in the fields and that surely was sad. As was the walk back, when a cat sprang out from the side of the road, dashed in front of a car and got hit for his efforts. He screeched, but sauntered away, though surely that must have been in a different life!

I mean, I tell you, if it doesn't stop hiccuping out there, I'll have to hold my breath and count to ten or go to sleep as early as Ed does and hope that tomorrow blooms bright and effervescent. Let's look for some tranquility there, in the Kos mountains.

Kos, Greece-102.jpg

Kos, Greece-115.jpg

Okay. We are back in Kos town by about 4 pm and I decide that I should eat then, with Ed keeping me company (though not eating), rather than dragging myself out in the dark of the night in search of food alone later. In asking for fresh seafood, we are directed to a place which has a name that translates (we're told) to Fisherman's Daughter. A very blue kind of place and I mean that to be a compliment.

 Kos, Greece-129.jpg

We sit outside because the indoor clients were ignoring the smoking restrictions and I order yogurt, a salad and octopus.

It's the season! -- our waiter tells us. My portion is so big that I am happy to see a cat come by to aid me in finishing it all.

Kos, Greece-133.jpg

Kos, Greece-136.jpg

Our waiter is friendly and speaks nearly perfect English.
Where did I learn it? I lived in Chicago for seven years when I was a young man. I worked in a Greek restaurant there. I loved it!
Why did you come back to Kos then?
My wife. She missed her family, her life here. I would like to go back to Chicago, but I'm old now. Never mind -- I have three daughters, three successful daughters -- a psychologist in Athens, an architect in Kos and a teacher in Kos. My wife, she died thirteen years ago, but I married another woman -- a younger one and you know what? We have a daughter too! She is eight and she goes to school where my other daughter teaches.
All those girls! I smile.
Yes, I tell my friends I have the secret ingredient for girls. If they know someone who wants a daughter, send her over to me and I will make her one!

Now there's a man who does not let hiccups ruin his day!

The sun is setting by the time Ed and I come back at the hotel. Oh, what, a funeral across the street? I can't tell. Women wear black here even more than they do back home.

Kos, Greece-140.jpg

Kos, Greece-141.jpg
sunset, which looks remarkably like a sunrise, don't you think?

After such a long walk, I am not surprised to see Ed doze off. I wonder why I myself am not tired. I offer no answers here. Not any, not today. We are who we are. That we connect in some brilliant fashion with our partners, our families, our friends -- that is a minor miracle and something to remember on sunny days that come with their share of hiccups.