Sunday, July 31, 2011

Searching for the Minotaur

First impressions can be easily jaded. A 2-hour high speed boat ride from Santorini dropped us off in Iraklio, main city of Crete. It was Friday night and the town was bustling.  Car horns, scooters and trucks all played a part to rudely bounce us out of island slumber.  A walk through the pedestrian town center brought us into the middle of a political rally.  Loud speakers blared and flags waved.  Should we have left the peaceful slumber of Santorini?

For years, I have hoped to visit Crete and specifically tour the ruins of Knossus, home of the Minoan civilization and the legendary King Midas.  The next morning, we found the correct bus and were heading our of Iraklio to the ruins.  The bus steadily picked up more and more people until the end, where we joined the throngs of tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the mythical minotaur - at least that's what I was hoping for...

Site of Knossus

From Greek Ruins

The state of Knossus left me with a question that I returned to multiple times while visiting other ruins.  Should ancient ruins be left as they are found or reconstructed? In the early 1900s, a British archaeologist named Sir Arthur Evans came to Crete and began excavation.  As he uncovered ruins, he rebuilt areas according to his interpretations.  Is today's Knossus similar to the original or widely different according to the vision of a wealthy Brit who "discovered" the ruin?  Regardless, we enjoyed walking through and thinking about life in the time that Greek gods mingled with mere mortals. 

Famous dolphin fresco

From Greek Ruins

Huge urns over a storage / water? area

From Greek Ruins

Bull Fresco

From Greek Ruins

My one true disappointment of the visit was that there was absolutely no mention of the minotaur.  Maybe we should have joined the massive groups and followed along a yapping tour guide.

Travel Tip to those visiting Crete: Visit Knossus and get out of Iraklio the same day.  It is logistically easy and Crete is awesome when away from the city.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Oia Sunset

Long scooter ride through windswept hills
Sand blown in our faces
Heading to Oia to explore winding streets
We bid farewell to Helios as he parks his chariot in the west.

From Greek Trip - Santorini

Exploring Santorini

"Where do you live?"
"You must be used to scooters then.  But the people there - they are crazy! They drive everywhere," exclaimed the scooter-rental guy as his arms made giant back and forth motions.

With this exchange, my driver's license was collected and I zipped away to pick up Krista so that we could find out what this volcanic island had to offer.  Scooter rental places abound on the islands.  A person can relatively inexpensively rent a small (80cc) scooter for the day.  Larger scooters are also available but these leaf-blower sounding machines do the job just fine.  For those with two-wheeled phobias, plenty of knobby tired 4-wheelers may be rented.

Krista and I quickly put our little Vitality to the test by forcing it up insanely steep switchbacks (these roads would make a Taiwanese surveyor proud) to Ancient Thira.  Perched on the southeastern side of Santorini, these ruins are the remains of an area first settled in the 9th century BC.  We wandered in and out of homes, an agora, a theatre, up a hill to the gymnasium and enjoyed stone columns throughout. I am always amazed when looking at stone carvings centuries of years old.


From Greek Ruins

great seats for a show - ancient amphitheatre

From Greek Ruins

After our culture stop, it was time to explore black and red beaches.  Santorini's past includes violent eruptions and it is easy to see the remnants of a mighty volcano.  The beaches were formed of volcanic rock.  Some are more pebbly but in other places the ocean has worn the rock down into sand.

From Greek Trip - Santorini

Overlooking the volcanic crater of Santorini - the scooter finally rests.

From Greek Trip - Santorini

Early Santorini

Waking up. Wind rustling the palms
outside.  Sunlight reflecting
off white walls. Ocean
haze in the distance.

From Greek Trip - Santorini

Escape to the Greek Islands

Travel days always seem to go on forever.  At 4:00 am, we sprung out of bed to be chauffeured by Jeremie and Ingeborg to the Geneva airport.  Flying within European Union countries is simple as passport controls are no longer used.  The empty stands that once held glaring border officials are now firmly shut as passengers stream by.  However, airport security manages to continue being a pain as we again found ourselves chugging liter bottles full of water so they would not be confiscated.

The flight from Geneva to Mykonos was stunning. Taking off with views of the Alps, we were later treated to the contours of Italy, Greece and the Greek Islands.  Sparkling blue water extended forever.  White caps, seen from the airplane window, gave an indication of the potential winds to come...

Arriving at Mykonos, we had lots of time to burn before our ferry departed for Santorini so we wandered the narrow streets.  At noon, residents and tourists were just beginning to stir, leaving the narrow streets mostly empty.  Twists and turns in the city maze made it easy to get lost and each corner brought visual delights.

From Greek Trip - Mykonos

The travel day was still not over as we began waiting for the 4:00 pm ferry.  We spent a good portion of time sitting in this cafe sampling the not-so-pleasant Greek coffee and listening to the wind hammer the sides of the cafe.

From Greek Trip - Mykonos

Only 15 minutes late, the catamaran-type high speed boat cut through the choppy seas for the "old" harbor.  Bumping elbows with wheelie-bag tourists (does anyone remember the lessons of walking in lines from grade school?), we finally boarded and began the two-hour trip to Santorini.

Santorini was once a massive island that blew its top - a theory is that this explosion helped bring the end of the Minoan civilization.  Today, the ocean water fills the volcano's caldera.  First impressions are spectacular. The harbor is at the base of steep cliffs - imagine being inside the volcano - and a road zigzags up to the rim.

From Greek Trip - Santorini
Sailboat inside the caldera

"One, two, we go!" were the last words we heard as mobs of Greeks descended upon us holding photos of their domantias.  The calls of balcony views, a swimming pool and quick access to town won us over.

From Greek Trip - Santorini

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Les Grangettes

Tucked away between wooded hills and a sparkling lake, this tiny village in the Franche-Comte region of France will not show up on most maps. 

From Les Grangettes

(View from my parents' to the end of the rainbow.)

The church bell marks the hours that lazily slide by on summer days as the melody of cow bells announce the location of various small cattle herds moving between milking stations and the lush pastures.  These cows, with help from age-old recipes, turn the wild flowers and grass into one of the finest cheeses in the world - comte.

For more than 10 years, I have visited my parents in this mountainous region and look forward to each trip.  While relaxing, there are many things to do beyond drinking wine (great but unknown wines are produced in this area) and eating cheese.  Bike rides around the lake, canoe trips across the lake and hikes in the mountains easily fill the days.  For us, Les Grangettes is a welcome place of relaxation and laughter as we enjoy the summer.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


We're gone for the summer.  Shortly after the end of the school year, we trained to Taipei and flew to France.  A week in Les Grangettes (where my parents live) found us jostling elbows with many Liebards at a family get-together to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary.  Congratulations!

Then, we were back at the airport for the Greek islands.  Lots of stories coming.

Right now, we are again in Les Grangettes after a week of hiking in the Southern Alps and in a few short days will return to Taiwan.