30 November 2008

the douro valley

Port wine starts here, in the Douro Valley. After the grapes are harvested and crushed, the juice spends the winter in the valley, then makes its way downriver to the warehouses in Porto where it gets blended and aged.

The terrain of the Douro Valley is difficult, and the soil very rocky. The steep slopes require major terracing, and the poor soil doesn't allow much to grow other than grapes, olives, and almonds, all requiring roots to reach deep down to find water—some extending more than 50 feet through fissures in the schist.

I took the train into the Douro to the town of Régua (also called Peso da Régua). It was rainy and I didn't have a car so I couldn't explore the countryside, but there was a small (and interesting) museum on the Douro Valley and port wine that kept me occupied for hours. The train ride itself, though, winding alongside the river, was worth the trip alone.

[Note: I've given up trying to get this thing to upload my video of the train ride, so have posted stills from it instead. Click on the image and you'll see a larger version.]

seagulls and such

porto and the douro

28 November 2008

porto, portugal

Today finds me in Portugal, land of a thousand tile patterns. These tiles are my new favorite thing. And to top it all off, I'm in the city of Porto, home of port wine. Mmmm.

last visit to perugia

Perugia has been my crash-landing pad between jaunts (a free bed—errr, blanket on the floor—thanks to my sister's study-abroad semester). This marks my last Perugian breather, though—for this trip, at least. Final destination: the Iberian Peninsula.

22 November 2008

λόφος, δέντρο, πέτρα, θάλασσα (hill, tree, rock, sea)

On the advice of my domatia owner, Dimitri, I spent my afternoons in Nafplio exploring the coastal walks. A paved walk follows the edge of Nafplio's little peninsula from town and ends at the pebble beach just behind the hill. Another (unpaved) path leads from this beach, continuing southeast along the coast to a larger sandy beach, 3 km away.

Dimitri tells me that he walks this path every morning, and indeed, the locals were using it throughout the day as their jogging/walking/romantic stroll route. When Dimitri first told me about the walk, he tried to explain how great it was in his halting English: "Hill, tree, rock... sea," was the best he could do, but in the end, it's probably the best description possible, because that's exactly what it is. Walking the path, there is nothing but hill, tree, rock, sea... and sky.

Μυκῆναι (mycenae)

The morning of my second day in Nafplio, I took a bus to the ancient ruins of Mycenae. I won't outline Mycenae's history here; suffice it to say Mycenae was a central power of ancient Greek civilization, ruled by the likes of Perseus and Agamemnon, chronicled by Homer in his epics.

21 November 2008

palamidi fortress

The Palamidi Fortress, overlooking Nafplio and the surrounding gulf, is by far my favorite ruin. It was built by the Venetians in the early 18th century, and consists of multiple (at least five) bastions. After climbing the 860+ stairs up the hill (that's just to get to the entrance gate; once inside, there are many more stairs, depending on where you'd like to go), you're free to explore the whole expanse of the fortress on your own (and at your own peril).

Wandering around was so much fun (many of the bastions are well-preserved, and still have rooms and tunnels and such to poke your head into) that I made a video for you to join in. Prepare yourself for some jostling; it's quite difficult to keep the camera steady while scampering over 300 year old cobblestones.

λουλούδι (flower)

Nafplio is a two and a half hour bus ride from Athens, in the Peloponnese. The chatty Greek woman who sat next to me on the bus informed me that Nafplio was Greece's first capital, after its independence from the Ottomans in the late 1820s, until 1834, when the capital was moved to Athens. 

Prior to all of this, Nafplio was a major stronghold for each occupier, of which there were several throughout its history: the Byzantines, the Franks, the Venetians, and the Ottomans. The architecture of the old city center has a lot of Venetian influence, and is incredibly picturesque. There are flowers, um, everywhere. The last photo above is of a street drain. Clogged with flower petals. Not garbage, not stinky brown sludge. Flower petals.

20 November 2008

Ναύπλιο (nafplio, greece)

Greetings from Nafplio. I arrived last night in the dark, and woke up this morning to a sunny (albeit a bit chilly) morning, finding myself on the coast, overlooking tiled roofs, with two fortress ruins towering above me. So far, so good.

18 November 2008

greek donkeys

Before they built the cable car in the late 70s, the only way up to Fira from the old port down below was by donkey. Of course, now the donkeys are mostly for the tourists, but even without riders, donkeys still make their way up and down the caldera multiple times a day, bells tinkling. I have no idea what the man says when he answers his cell phone, but it's probably to the effect of, "Oh, nothing. Just riding a donkey."

σκύλος (dog)

My last day on Santorini, I headed to Perissa, at the south of the island, to check out the black sand beaches. This was my beach buddy. He joined me on the bench I was sitting on, and then proceeded to accompany me for the rest of my wanderings around Perissa—even sat with me at the bus stop for the half hour wait. I called him "Dog."

fira (of santorini)

Fira is the capital of Santorini, and sits at the edge of Santorini's giant caldera. Apparently the island used to be in the shape of a circle, but then around 1500 BC, the volcano (which is still active; it's that island in the center of this picture) erupted and formed the caldera, swallowing much of the center of the island, and turning it into the crescent shape it now is.

17 November 2008

Σαντορίνη (santorini, greece)

Santorini, island of cliff-hugging white-washed towns, black volcanic sand beaches, and breathtaking sunsets (or so I'm told... the sunset weather did not quite cooperate with my schedule). The top photo is from Oia, the town of sunsets, the photo below is from Fira, Santorini's capital, and my home base.

greek dogs and such

My first two nights in Greece were spent in cloudy Athens. In Greece, there are loose dogs everywhere. Usually large loose dogs. I'm not sure if they're all strays, or if their owners just let them run free during the day, but in any case, they spend their time alternating between lying on the sunny sidewalks playing dead, and following random passersby around, presumably looking for handouts. This particular dog pictured was neither large nor leash-less, but it was entertaining.

Also pictured is, yes, the Parthenon.

Ελληνική Κουζίνα (greek cuisine)

Mmm, Greece. Mmm, gyros.

Souvlaki, gyros, the thick yogurt, the greek salads, tzatziki, moussaka, not to mention the various pastries... it's easy to eat well (and pretty cheaply) in Greece.

12 November 2008

saħħa, malta

My last Malta post. How sad. I got back into Perugia late last night. Next stop, Athens! Above: the Maltese cross.

more maltese buses

Malta's main bus terminal never failed to confuse me. Even when I had an idea where the bus I was trying to catch was, I still ended up walking around in circles before finding it. The "terminal," located just outside of Valletta's main gate, is basically a giant, round parking lot with three concentric circles of (moving) buses radiating from a giant fountain (of Triton) in the center. Presumably the bus numbers work their way around the circle in numerical order, but in walking it multiple times I have failed to find much logic to it. This doesn't mean that the wanderings aren't enjoyable, however, especially when one has an imqaret in hand, a Maltese fried pastry with a warm, date-filled center.

This bus was the last one I rode on Malta. From the outside it looked like the average elderly bus, but the driver must have just recently pimped his ride, complete with leopard-print upholstery and orange skylights, which made the whole interior glow (an effect that is unfortunately lost in this low-quality video). Add to all this the middle-aged driver's spiked hair (which I also did not get in this video), and the new James Bond theme song blasting on the radio, and my last bus ride proved highly entertaining.

10 November 2008

malta limestone

In its many forms: Hagar Qim, one of the prehistoric temple ruins; Birgu, the Order of the Knights of St. John's capital city before they built Valletta; one of the thousands of stone walls criss-crossing Malta's countryside. Did I mention that there's lots of limestone?

maltese fishing boats

Traditional Maltese boats are even more colorful than the buses. As far as I can tell, there are at least three different types of boats: luzzu, dghajsa, and kaajjik... but I'm not sure which one of those this boat is. In any case, they're used for fishing and ferrying. This boat was in Marsaxlokk, Malta's largest fishing village.

maltese buses

Buses on Malta are white and orange and of varying ages. Apparently most, if not all, buses are privately owned, usually by the person behind the wheel. In effect, some buses have names: "Paradise Garage," "Lady Jane," "Love of My Life." 

On a related note, a bus ride costs €0.47. That's 47 euro cents. Unless you're going farther, in which case it costs you €0.54. Most prices in Malta seem to be in these odd numbers, probably due to the fact that Malta just switched to the Euro in January, but that's just my guess.

09 November 2008

fort st. elmo

Fort St. Elmo (and whatever building is across the street from it) in Valletta, Malta

merħba minn malta (hello from malta)

This weekend finds me in Malta. I didn't quite plan on coming to Malta, but found myself with a few days up for grabs, looked up flights on a whim, and the next day arrived in Sliema. Today I wandered around Malta's capital city, Valletta, and the much older, quieter city of Mdina. I'm not really exaggerating when I say that everything is made of limestone: buildings, city streets, field fences, everything. Globigernia limestone, to be exact.

07 November 2008

manarola, cinque terre

A (stitched) panorama of Manarola in Cinque Terre.

l'ombrello giallo

Is it still considered eavesdropping if you can't understand what's being said? Either way, I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I just liked her yellow umbrella.

06 November 2008

cinque terre

This is the end of a week's stay in Cinque Terre. The weather report before I came promised a pretty bleak week, but I've had at least three gorgeous days of full sun, so in the end I've been able to enjoy the area under all circumstances, from hiking the complete coastal trail in lovely sun to cuddling up with endless cups of tea, listening to the rain from our little hostel's terrace overlooking Riomaggiore. Need I say it has all been very relaxing?