ITALY: Grand Delights PART II

NAPLES–Compania

City of Naples, the Bay, Mt Vesuvius

City of Naples, the Bay, Mt Vesuvius

The panoramic tour of Naples does much to eradicate the judgement of too many visitors that the city is a “hole.” The stops for photographs help us see the beauty of the city, the Gulf of Naples, and the spectre of Mt. Vesuvius (referred to as “the friend” by many Napolese). Our magical bus driver for the grand tour, Raffaele, from Naples, gets us through the traffic as only a native to the city can. We cannot believe how cars, trucks, and buses have to wrestle with Vespas (with as many as three passengers on the back of the scooters) winding wildly through traffic and skipping red lights.

Sorrento–Campania

Sunrise at Sorrento

Sunrise at Sorrento

The twisting, mountainous roads to and from Sorrento offer spectacular landscapes and seascapes. Sorrento has its own charms that make it the important resort community it is.

ISLE OF CAPRI


The ferry ride from Sorrento to Capri was uneventful for our group, but the boat ride around the Isle of Capri offers special perspectives on this famous rock of an island. Sailing around the island offers peeks into grottos that others chose to swim through to explore interior ponds. We looked in vain to see any sandy beaches on the Isle of Capri. We finally broke down to hobble over a stony beach to the waterside to plunge into cold, salty water for a refreshing swim.

CALABRIA REGION

Leaving Campania for Calabria

Leaving Campania for Calabria

Mountains of Calabria

Mountains of Calabria

Heading south toward Sicily, the drive through the Calabrian region is a bit long by bus, but worthwhile for noting the changing geographical features of Southern Italy from familiar landscapes associated with northern and central Italy. Mountains on both sides going south have unusually fertile, lush orange and olive groves despite the lack of rivers and streams. The water sources to nourish the orchards and crops must come from artesian wells, cisterns, and subterranean waterways and caves systems. We understand the numerous caves among these mountains have been traditional hiding places for criminals and kidnap victims. Desert conditions intensify as we cross the countryside and even more so in Sicily. Elaborate irrigation systems allow for every conceivable crop to flourish.

ISLAND OF SICILY

TAORMINA, Sicily

TAORMINA, Sicily

The island of Sicily is beautiful from start to finish. Seaside communities such as Messina, Taormina, Agrigento, Syracuse and Palermo please the eye as mountains are juxtaposed to the seasides of sandy beaches. Interior places such as Mt. Etna (the highest volcano in Europe) or the rolling hills surrounding Piazza Amerino are welcoming and rich with vegetation.

MT. ETNA, Sicily

Initial view of Mt. Etna volcano

Initial view of Mt. Etna volcano

After recent lava flow

After recent lava flow

Mt. Etna offers spectacular views from the top of the long and winding road up the mountain, of the surrounding towns that skirt the bottom of this great, active volcano, and of the seashores beyond. The climb is significant: our tour bus can get us half way up the mountain; a gondola takes up another quarter of the way up; a all-terrain jeep-bus takes us to the highest point on ash (not paved) roads; a guide takes us walking just below the summit (well into the clouds and cold with winds blowing the clouds so that we have a clear view). The ascent is so slow and revealing of lava rivers from previous eruptions, that we realize eruptions are unpredictable with every step we take over warm ash and around smoking fissures. Witness the building buried in lava from an eruption in the last five years.

By the time we are in the middle of our journey through Sicily, travel fatigue and information overload create doubts about what more we can handle in the final days of the second week. Thankfully we push on for there is much to see and remember. An impressive superhighway speeds our bus through the Sicilian countryside. The only thing is: every so often the highway seems to end. The bus moves onto a paved shoulder lane for a minute or so and then continues along a finished expressway. Politics apparently is the culprit. Depending on the party in power (socialist, conservative, or the mafia), road construction seems to stop and start and end.

SYRACUSE, Sicily

Grotto is quarry for stones for Amphitheatre

Grotto is quarry for stones for Amphitheatre

Greek ampitheatre facing stage and harbour

Greek ampitheatre facing stage and harbour

Our guide in Syracuse offers an interesting historical context to make our stroll memorable through the Greek theatre (which is circular for meetings and theatre in the round) and the amphitheatre (which once held audiences of thirty to forty thousand to watch trilogies of Greek tragedies). The amphitheatre offers glorious views of the harbour as dramatic background to the stage.

I am fascinated that people can carve a piece of wood into recognizable and beautiful art pieces. Learning how Athenian prisoners found themselves in the quarry at Syracuse chiselling stones to be used in the theatre and the amphitheatre defies comprehension. A unique grotto from antiquity, named Dionysius’ Ear by a visiting Carrivagio a few centuries ago, set up a challenge for the Canadians touring the site. The grotto is a short, but high tunnel which Carravagio noted offers extraordinary acoustics. The guide encouraged one of us to sing a song so that we could appreciate how sound carries here. One brave soul sang out in a beautifully controlled voice the national anthem of Canada. Dionysius would have been pleased.

AGRIGENTO, Sicily (The Valley of Temples)

The Valley of Temples is one of the most beautiful places anywhere. The big picture is this: a modern city called Agrigento sits on a hilltop which towers over the Valley of Temples. The valley is a plain with rich grasses and mature trees across this flat space. The valley, in turn, towers over a valley below it that stretches out to a beautiful seascape.

Greek politicians in ancient times who settled in Agrigento set out to build a series of temples here that would outclass the temples of Athens and Delphi. Unlike the Temple of Athena atop the acropolis in Athens and the Temple of Zeus below the acropolis, the setting in Sicily evokes a sacredness of place, such as we might feel in the Garden of Eden if we could be transported there in time and space. Late afternoon is kind to the ruins of sandstone. No cold marble here. Warm, vulnerable structures are spread apart on this green campus inviting all to see and reflect upon past people, events, and communities. Thoughts turn to the blinding ambitions of the political leaders who centuries before demanded the construction of these public buildings.

The restoration of the Temple of Concordia from 500 B.C. makes visible the perfection that was impossible to replicate in the restoration of the vainglorious Temple of Heracles. The plan for this last temple was more elaborate than for any structure in antiquity. The partially recovered pieces of the giant Atlas figure (one of many once used to hold up the temple’s roof) lies fallen on the dusty, brown earth (again, no marble here) creating profound pathos and contemplation of the futility of human vanity. The scene echoes the criticism in Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” In that poem, Ozymandias, a vainglorious leader in the ancient past had a monument of his likeness constructed to last forever. Years later, only “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/Stand in the desert” along with a pedestal which boasted the following words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The paradisal setting of the Valley of Temples, by contrast, infuses the ruins and modern viewers with more sadness than criticism.

PIAZZA AMERINO, Sicily (Roman Villa from 400 A.D.)

Piazza Amerino beckons visitors to see the fascinating restoration of a supremely luxurious Roman Villa. Recognized as a World Heritage Site, the Roman Villa is well worth a study of lively marble-tiled mosaics along the animal-themed corridors of the rich, and the remarkable geometric-designed floor tiles on the corridors used by the slaves.

The 4th century A.D. villa contains within its walls large reception rooms, numerous family rooms and guest rooms, gymnasia, a basilica, entertainment rooms, hot and cold running water, and huge kitchens appropriate for a great country estate.
The floor tiles in the women’s gymnasium offer a startling image of how life has not changed—or how the past comes full circle in modern times. Six or seven different women in bikinis are shown playing a variety of sports: running, volleyball, aerobic exercises with hand weights. There is even an image of a woman being crowned with a laurel and handed a flower bouquet for her victory in a competition.

PALERMO, Sicily

Palermo, Sicily’s largest city, deserves time. It is a glorious city embraced by high mountains and the sea—as has been the case in many places we visited throughout Italy. The world-famous Byzantine mosaics of the cathedral at Monreale that we visited just outside Palermo may be outdone by the chapel at the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo itself. The Arab and Norman architectural elements in the city’s buildings are striking contrasts to the many Greek and Roman structures throughout Sicily. Our encountering of gorgeous 18th century buildings in neoclassical style drove home the point of this marvelous city. Spend time here.

Time ran out for us. As much as Sicily and all of Italy delighted us over two weeks of the Grand Tour, our farewell luncheon of Sicilian cuisine signaled the end of our wonderful trip.

Italy: Grand Delights PART I

My wife and I encountered the charms of Italy ten years ago during a tour titled “Romantic Europe: Paris to Rome”. So the surprises in Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Rome this year were few. It was the hilltop towns of Siena, Assisi, and San Marino and all of Sicily that delighted us in unexpected ways. Books and films set in Italy do raise expectations sometimes that are likely to disappoint. Eat, Pray, Love, for example, regardless of the obvious differences between story and reality, nonetheless, raises an expectation for travellers of experiencing first-rate food every day, a rekindling of faith, and fresh intimations of romantic love. Romantics beware: delicacies, spirituality, and passion are not guaranteed in Grand Tours of Italy. Every stop on our current Grand Tour of Italy from the top of the boot to the toe enriched our souls through the beauty of the landscapes and seascapes, the architecture, the sculptures and paintings, the food and wine, and the insights into the ancient and modern history of the country. The sketchy notes that follow trace the itinerary of our recent two-week journey.

ROME

Trevi Fountain

Rome springs to life in the September sun. Our hotel is in walking distance of Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navoni. Strolling past high-end shops and people-watching along the way make every step worthwhile. Even getting lost, heading back to our hotel at night because we stopped at the gelateria after dinner, has its rewards. Under the stars, Trevi Fountain takes on new life. The lighting on the sculptures of water gods and horses and rockery at night highlight so much detail lost in the daytime sun. During the day, Trevi Fountain feels crowded; at night the blazing splendor helps you forget the crowds are there.

SIENA—Tuscany

Piazza del Campo

The drive north into Tuscany becomes fascinating with the tour guide’s succinct, helpful mini-history of the hilltop towns. Siena does not disappoint. The surprise is the town square is a circle, a “campo.” Stopping at a café on a hot afternoon is great entertainment: first, we watch young people stretching out on the sloping campo as if suntanning at a beach; second, we engage an employee of the café on her break in conversation about the cost of living in Siena, why shopping in Florence is so good, and recent legal cases headlining local newspapers. As we chat, we look onto the campo at the centre of Siena. The campo has a ring of cement columns, four or five feet tall, around the perimeter. The marble walking path on the outside of the columns just in front of the cafés becomes the sand-covered track for bareback horse racing twice in the summer. Citizens and tourists pay a lot of money to watch the race, standing room only, from the centre of the campo (on the inside of the columns). The two races are taken very seriously by the various parishes in Siena and much civic planning goes into arranging the races and the accommodation for so many visitors. Pope Benedict requested a ticket for one of the races but had to be refused because of the burden of security on Siena’s busiest days of the year. I love it: you’re the Pope and you can’t get a ticket to the races!

FLORENCE—Tuscany

Michelangelo's DAVID

Admittedly Michelangelo’s “David” is the “whole package” in Florence. Impressive as the replica is on top of the hills overlooking the city or the copy in Piazza Della Signorio near the Uffizi Museum, the original at the Accademia is the world’s most famous sculpture because it is a feast for every eye from every angle. Dazzled by the brilliant accomplishment of Michelangelo, we move forward on the streets of Florence only to encounter a new phenomenon as we turn a corner. On posts probably set up for chaining bicycles, we see lovers’ locks (padlocks) attached any whichway by couples who wish to offer a sign of total commitment to one another. Police try to remove the locks overnight.

CHIANTI WINERY—Tuscany

Hostess talks Vino

Visiting a Chianti winery, Fattorio il Poggio, just south of Florence became an unforgettable evening. The charms of our hostess prevail through the informative walk into the vineyard, the stop in the processing room for olive pressing, the casual insights shared on pine nuts and bay leaves and pistachio trees on our way to the tables set up for wine tasting and dinner. Oh, what a party: superb wines, fine olives and olive oil dips, lively discussions on the merits of each wine, music that whips everyone from the tables, winery staff joining the festivities and starting “bunny hops” out of the dining room into the evening darkness under umbrella pine trees and into starlight winding our way back to our tables.

VENICE—Cannaregio district

Bridge over Cannaregio Canal

Bridge over Cannaregio Canal

In Venice, our most northern stop, we are disappointed that our hotel at the centre of the city is overbooked, but delighted with the first-class dining at that hotel after our sail around the city and our ride in the gondola. Hotel Bonvecchiati hosts what turns out to be the major highlight in Italian cuisine on our tour. As if the dinner experience is not enough, we stay in a renovated convent in the Cannaregio neighbourhood that is most pleasant and modern and convenient. The next morning our guide meets us at our hotel, leads us on a walking tour few people take, and offers many insights into the charms and challenges of living in this historic city. We meet locals going to and from work, labourers plying their trades along the canals, locals dropping into small cafês and shops. We seem to be the only tourists in Cannaregio. We enjoy a pleasant rest in the Jewish Ghetto, where we see one of the first banks in Venice and learn how Napoleon enabled the Jewish community to become a vibrant section of the Cannaregio district. The guide comments on and answers questions about all we see along the way of our forty-minute stroll to the Rialto Bridge, Saint Mark’s Square, and the Grand Canal.

SAN MARINO–Republic near the Adriatic Sea

As we start our southern journey through Italy, who would believe the oldest and the third smallest republic in the world after the Vatican and Monte Carlo, is San Marino, seated at the top of one of the mountains along the Appenine range, the “spine” of Italy. This gem, south of Venice and east of Florence near Rimini on the Adriatic Sea, offers easily the most beautiful landscapes—morning, noon, and night.

ASSISI–Umbria

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

On our way back to Rome for the start of the second week of the tour, we stop at Assisi, the home of Saint Francis, the patron saint of Italy. The initial view of Assisi, nestled in the middle of a lush, green hillside, is unforgettable. In the rain, a pink texture comes through the stonework of the town; in brilliant sunshine, the consistency of the sand-coloured stone of the houses and public buildings integrates elements of medieval and renaissance and Romanesque architecture seldom seen anywhere. As we leave a place of sacredness to the Italian people of faith, the organic unity of the whole town makes it stand out as a jewel in the Umbrian countryside.

POMPEI–Campania

The surprise of Pompei, lost to the world in the 79 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, is the effect of the restoration on visitors. As interesting as the tour guide is on the past and present history and restoration of this extraordinary place, I am stunned by the reality that ordinary people once lived in ordinary houses we see, worked at the various business places, and walked the stone streets we are walking on. I still feel the stones of the roadways, I recall impressions of two-story villas, bakeries, gymnasia, colossal temples, and the brothel frescoes. During the visit itself, the real horror of what happened to the parents and children and the animals as a result of the catastrophe shut me down emotionally, suffocating the words of the guide, blocking the warmth and brilliance of the sun. I should have bought the brochure on Pompei: today I just might be able to absorb the details

Book Club Ratings

BOOK SHELF

Books rated by the Men’s Book Club,

Patty’s Pub, Ottawa

2009-2010

What is America?………………………… Ronald Wright                    9/10

The Hour I First Believed ……………… Wally Lamb                         8/10

Champlain’s Dream…………………….. David Hackett Fischer     9.2/10

Pompeii…………………………………….. Robert Harris                        7/10

White Tiger……………………………….. Aravind Atica                        9/10

The Bishop’s Man……………………….. Linden McIntyre                 7.8/10

Glass Castle………………………………..Jeannette Walls                   7.5/10

Indian River………………………………..John Dunphy                        10/10

Mister Pip…………………………………..Lloyd Jones                            7.5/10

Run ……………………………………………Ann Patchett                           8/10

Book Club Ratings

BOOK SHELF

Books rated by the Men’s Book Club,

Patty’s Pub, Ottawa

2008-2009

World Without End…………………………………. Ken Follett                                                7.7/10

Perfect Heresy………………………………………… Stephen O’Shea                                      8.5/10

The Empire Grill ……………………………………….Richard Russo                                         7.7/10

The Codfathers ………………………………………..Gordon Pitt                                              6.2/10

The Book of Negroes………………………………… Lawrence Hill                                           9/10

Medeci Money …………………………………………Tim Parks                                                   2.3/10

DeNiro’s Game………………………………………… Rawi Hage                                                   7.3/10

Middlessex…………………………………………….. Jeffrey Eugenides                                     7.8/10

The Host ………………………………………………..Stephanie Meyer                                       7.0/10

Secret River …………………………………………….Kate Grenville                                           8.7/10

Blog #10 You Can Go Home Again

And love every moment of it!

Here I was at a podium in my hometown of Saint John, N.B. last week. At the back of the Saint John Free Public Library’s main room was my brother Mike (my best fan), my niece Carolyn (who got me into the writing kick in the first place), “cousins” Fred and Anita, schoolmates from elementary and high school, my roommate from first year university, friends I see most years when I return home for a visit, and friends I had not seen for half a century. There were friends of my brothers and sister and parents. There were members of my extended family who once lived in my family home. There were complete strangers from a cruise ship stopping by to see a book launch for a local author’s book called Indian River.

Because I developed my working career out of town, no one had really seen me speak in public nor had they read a word I had written. But they were there. Waiting for me to introduce myself to them as a writer. I was so emotionally lifted by their presence, so grateful that they took the time to come out on such short notice. The friends I asked to round up supporters came through. I had an impressive audience.

The reading selections drew their attention, made them remember their own experiences, made them laugh, and made them curious. Just what I wanted. Then they came up to buy my signed copies. What more could one ask for? The book launch went well.

That was not all. I went to my first high school reunion, fifty years after I graduated with a class of fine fellows from Saint Malachy’s High School in 1960. About one week before returning to my hometown, Canada 411 helped me connect for the first time in over forty years with the one classmate I spent the most time with in my high school days. We chatted on the phone, but he would not be at the reunion he thought. At least we had reconnected. At the Alumni dinner, however, he turned up. We sat together, caught up as much as we could, and chatted with five of our classmates from the past. The next night, we went to The Inn at Shadow Lawn for a reception and dinner party for twenty-five classmates and some of their partners and some friends of our class. Conversation flowed easily, noisily, and happily. For the most part, we felt at home with one another. The cement of good friendships still held. And at least two of the people at the book launch two days before had finished reading my book already and loved it.

Earlier that day, my brother hosted a party of family and friends and neighbours that was thoroughly pleasant and I felt at home again.

When I first arrived in the city earlier in the week, I spent four days with my brother. We chatted, he prepared seafood chowder and a superb breakfast, we did some errands, we watched some World Cup Soccer, we visited the cemetery. We laughed, teased one another, and enjoyed each other’s company. Quality family time. Felt like home.

MORE POEMS WITH PORT

FRIEND TO THE END

Shutters never closed;

sunrise-white curtains

cut the dazzle of first light.

Mid-morning

sun on our backs

down to and up from

the village.

Mid-afternoon

sun sautes,

tans us to gold.

Monochromatic,

sunset skies

help us ignore the chill.

Festival of stars and

phases of the moon

accompany our nightcaps.

Shutters still open

Last sight

amber lights

ascend to mountain villas.

LISBON

Took a bus to Lisbon

early Sunday morning.

Toured the world-class city

And palaces of kings,

Verdant gardens, and boulevards–

Imitations of opulence

on the Champs Elysee

or  Versailles.

Portuguese splendour, however, a very poor cousin.

Rossi Square, the tramway, the Funicular,

The walking streets, the Fado Club,

The nocturnal , downtown taxi ride

Serve the city better.

Made a stop at Sintra.

What a difference here!

Driving up the mountains,

our bus squeezes by

the rambling gypsy market.

Glimpsing gracious dwellings

among flowering trees

on slopes

fascinated.

Stopping at a café

with a blossoming

pink magnolia,

tasting almond pastries,

sipping good white wine—

giddy with joy.

Through the village,

exploring quaint shops,

taking in

the royal summer palace,

savouring sights

of blue Azulejos-tiled walls

in glorious living and dining rooms

(luxurious, but not excessive),

glancing up to see the

Moorish fortress wall

crowning the village,

Looking everywhere—

enchantments.

Driving back to the Algarve,

Sintra is gleaming still,

Estoril beaches are shimmering with spring,

And even Lisbon has its charms.

Through the windows of the bus,

darkening Algarvian countryside–

with its orange groves and corktree farms,

its rice fields and the vineyards—

naturally presenting itself

to heavy eyes

at the end of our day.

A sadness slides through

the windows of the bus:

the people desert the vineyards;

the people are emptying

the countryside

taking the bus to Lisbon

early in the morning.

BRIDGING THE GAP

From our sundeck

we face North Africa.

The head defines the major gap.

Eons ago, teutonic plates shifted,

separated Africa from Europe.

But the Sahara feels so close

when the sun

in the morning

warms us from curling toes

to the hair on our heads.

Our eyes even believe they see

the African coast—

not just a cruise ship

traversing the horizon.

Regardless,

the man in Silves

at the fossil shop

offers much to think about.

His shop full of fossils from Africa,

from the Sahara Desert

where the sands used to rest

2000 feet below water,

where fossils had been cast up

the effluence

of volcanic

eruptions.

The fossil man from Silves

has made a life of searching

for these pieces from the past.

He skillfully cuts open

stone

shaped

like big round seashells—

Amethyst inside.

He diligently polishes

tiny

sardines

caught in volcanic flow

in a vertical school.

He rubs so hard

the skeletal

spines

of the fish

leap white

from the

black onyx

column.

Perhaps it is the fossil man

who makes us feel the nearness of Africa.

A lifetime spent

sailing between the Algarve and Morroco;

winning the trust of Africans who see him

as a brother in love with their fossils;

and he respecting their knowing

where to take him hunting,

their helping him return his findings

so he can make

jewels

for the world.

Blog #9 WHY LESS IS MORE

W

We planned a trip to Greece a few years ago. It was more than we needed, perhaps, but it was what we wanted. We couldn’t afford that trip, so we waited. Friends did go on the equivalent of our dream trip to Greece. They loved it, but they felt they paid far too much money. So this year we planned again and settled for a less-expensive trip. We got more than we expected.

 

Travelling with “Transat Holiday Tours” from Montreal to Athens, we found ourselves surrounded by three hundred other tourists with a trip itinerary tailored to their wishes. We shared expectations and on the flight back to Canada, we traded highlights and disappointments. These conversations convinced us we enjoyed more for a lot less: we had chosen the appropriate itinerary to bring us home satisfied, yet with some change in our pockets.

 

We started with a visit to Athens for three days. The city tour of temples to Athena (The Parthenon), Zeus, and Hephestus, the Olympic stadium, the Plaka (an attractive food, booze, and shopping district), the National Museum of Archeology turned out to be a wonderful precursor of the whole trip: ruins of interest and significance, active walking, casual dining, endless shopping, and dramatic land and seascapes.

 

We left the big city for a four-day cruise among select Greek Islands.   A sunset visit to the Island of Mykonos took us walking along beach front cafés, a fishing-boat harbour, expensive jewelry shops, pelican “dances,” bougainvillea-roofed tavernas, and the first of many glorious sunsets highlighting traditional Greek Orthodox churches, windmills, and one striking, unconventionally-designed church—the most-photographed church in Greece.

 

We woke from our first night at sea in Turkey, docking at Kasudasi and taking a bus trip through the countryside to the second most important historic site in Turkey (after Istanbul). We drove to Ephesus, the most significant commercial centre after Rome by the time Christ was born. Some of us took a slight detour into the mountains where we enjoyed a sanctuary in nature at a tiny chapel located where Mary’s house is believed to have been located. St. John took Mary here to live out her life after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The bus ride down the mountainside gave us our first impression of Ephesus. The ruins trace a city of antiquity with remarkably recovered amphitheatres, government centres of debate and decision, hillside-embedded housing, commercial storefronts, public latrines with running water, water fountains, a spectacular library, with adjacent walls donated by a Roman Emperor that lead to the Agora and the twenty-four thousand seat amphitheatre for the people. With a final glance from the top row of the theatre, one can see along the Harbour Street to what was once the shores of the Aegean Sea. We finished our stop in Turkey back at Kasudasi, visiting a carpet factory and the Turkish bazaar. We then embarked on a short cruise to the Island of Patmos for the afternoon. Just a word of caution about shopping in Turkey: North American banks are very nervous about financial transactions in countries not in the European Union. Keep your bank in the loop about a stop in Turkey.

 

Patmos, reputed to be the holiest island in Greece (by the Greeks) and cited as the most idyllic island in the world (by a UN report), can be as little or as much as you wish. Some relaxed at the beach; others journeyed to the top of the mountains to visit the grotto where St. John wrote his Book of Revelations, to explore the monastery where the treasury museum was worth visiting, and to let the imagination embrace the myth-related islands surrounding Patmos.

 

We cruised to Rhodes where the colossus once stood hundreds of metres above sea level at the entrance to the harbour until an earthquake destroyed the huge statue in 255 BC. Our excursion across the island led us to Lindos, a spectacular, historical seaside acropolis. The ruins of the acropolis are gracefully set on the highest cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea far below and peaceful St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul disembarked and preached to convert the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rhodes to Christianity. Back in the city of Rhodes, the busy Turkish bazaar is nestled inside kilometres of medieval walls built by the Crusaders. The blend of Christian and Islamic architecture is at once comfortable and appealing.

 

The cruise for us ended at the Island of Crete, where we booked into a resort along the northern coast of the island about twenty miles from Heraklion—the major commercial port where the cruise ship had docked. We opted to enjoy the resort with its seaside and pool swimming possibilities, cosy accommodations, well-stocked bars, and excellent dining rooms. The Silva Beach resort is set up in a village-layout where all the walkways by the villas have flowering shrubs and fragrant seasonal flora at every step and every glance . We strolled the shopping streets along the seaside [Good buys in Crete in October as the tourist season is drawing to a close.] and on the hilltops near the resort. Others rented cars to tour mountain villages in the interior and charming ports along the coastlines of Greece’s largest island.

 

The stopover at the resort in Crete prepared us up nicely for our fast-trip to Santorini, the most picturesque island on our itinerary. We were ready to enjoy our four days on the top of a volcano crater. The side of the island facing Crete (seventy kilometres away) is notable for sheer cliffs extending four hundred metres up from sea level. Perched on the cliff top, the main city of Fira (where our upgraded Majestic Hotel was located) is modern and sophisticated; its white houses, tavernas, and hotels stand out in sharp contrast to the black volcanic cliffs and soils. The curvature of the island is the caldera, the inside slope of a volcanic island mass. After a series of eruptions every twenty thousand years, what is left is the outside wall of a circle facing into a water-encircled top of a volcano—now an island a few metres above sea level.   Through the millennia, the volcanic mountain has sunk hundreds of metres straight down into the sea. That tiny island just breaking sea level is all there is to see of the original volcano. This is all to say that the reality of the volcano and the beauty of the setting are the focus of every café, terraced home, store, walking street, and church. The fascination of Santorini grows out of the juxtaposition of the fearful and the beautiful wherever one looks. There are enough distractions in the bustling life of Fira to play down what the eye sees below the caldera. When one reaches the village of Oia, a hauntingly attractive village, the essence of Santorini emerges from the drenching sunlight when you start to feel that the painter behind every paint stroke of white or blue had one eye on the surface being painted and one eye on the volcano.

 

More time in Santorini offers more pleasure and reflection than is possible if one opts for a bigger trip on land (to Delphi, for example) or to more islands (there are hundreds of them). Because of its deserved reputation as a special island, no travel agent wants to leave Santorini out of the tourist’s itinerary. The result for too many goes something like this: one spends four hours in Santorini with a ride up the cliffs in a cable car, a walk through the shops, and a hop onto the bus back to the fast boat.

 

Starting with the excitement of Athens, appreciating the novelties of the island cruise, relaxing in Crete, and ending with a four-day stay in Santorini, we experienced an unforgettable, affordable, satisfying trip to Greece.

e planned a trip to Greece a few years ago. It was more than we needed, perhaps, but it was what we wanted. We couldn’t afford that trip, so we waited. Friends did go on the equivalent of our dream trip to Greece. They loved it, but they felt they paid far too much money. So this year we planned again and settled for a less-expensive trip. We got more than we expected.

Travelling with “Transat Holiday Tours” from Montreal to Athens, we found ourselves surrounded by three hundred other tourists with a trip itinerary tailored to their wishes. We shared expectations and on the flight back to Canada, we traded highlights and disappointments. These conversations convinced us we enjoyed more for a lot less: we had chosen the appropriate itinerary to bring us home satisfied, yet with some change in our pockets.

We started with a visit to Athens for three days. The city tour of temples to Athena (The Parthenon), Zeus, and Hephestus, the Olympic stadium, the Plaka (an attractive food, booze, and shopping district), the National Museum of Archeology turned out to be a wonderful precursor of the whole trip: ruins of interest and significance, active walking, casual dining, endless shopping, and dramatic land and seascapes.

We left the big city for a four-day cruise among select Greek Islands. A sunset visit to the Island of Mykonos took us walking along beach front cafés, a fishing-boat harbour, expensive jewelry shops, pelican “dances,” bougainvillea-roofed tavernas, and the first of many glorious sunsets highlighting traditional Greek Orthodox churches, windmills, and one striking, unconventionally-designed church—the most-photographed church in Greece.

We woke from our first night at sea in Turkey, docking at Kasudasi and taking a bus trip through the countryside to the second most important historic site in Turkey (after Istanbul). We drove to Ephesus, the most significant commercial centre after Rome by the time Christ was born. Some of us took a slight detour into the mountains where we enjoyed a sanctuary in nature at a tiny chapel located where Mary’s house is believed to have been located. St. John took Mary here to live out her life after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The bus ride down the mountainside gave us our first impression of Ephesus. The ruins trace a city of antiquity with remarkably recovered amphitheatres, government centres of debate and decision, hillside-embedded housing, commercial storefronts, public latrines with running water, water fountains, a spectacular library, with adjacent walls donated by a Roman Emperor that lead to the Agora and the twenty-four thousand seat amphitheatre for the people. With a final glance from the top row of the theatre, one can see along the Harbour Street to what was once the shores of the Aegean Sea. We finished our stop in Turkey back at Kasudasi, visiting a carpet factory and the Turkish bazaar. We then embarked on a short cruise to the Island of Patmos for the afternoon. Just a word of caution about shopping in Turkey: North American banks are very nervous about financial transactions in countries not in the European Union. Keep your bank in the loop about a stop in Turkey.

Patmos, reputed to be the holiest island in Greece (by the Greeks) and cited as the most idyllic island in the world (by a UN report), can be as little or as much as you wish. Some relaxed at the beach; others journeyed to the top of the mountains to visit the grotto where St. John wrote his Book of Revelations, to explore the monastery where the treasury museum was worth visiting, and to let the imagination embrace the myth-related islands surrounding Patmos.

We cruised to Rhodes where the colossus once stood hundreds of metres above sea level at the entrance to the harbour until an earthquake destroyed the huge statue in 255 BC. Our excursion across the island led us to Lindos, a spectacular, historical seaside acropolis. The ruins of the acropolis are gracefully set on the highest cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea far below and peaceful St. Paul’s Bay where the apostle Paul disembarked and preached to convert the hearts and minds of the people of ancient Rhodes to Christianity. Back in the city of Rhodes, the busy Turkish bazaar is nestled inside kilometres of medieval walls built by the Crusaders. The blend of Christian and Islamic architecture is at once comfortable and appealing.

The cruise for us ended at the Island of Crete, where we booked into a resort along the northern coast of the island about twenty miles from Heraklion—the major commercial port where the cruise ship had docked. We opted to enjoy the resort with its seaside and pool swimming possibilities, cosy accommodations, well-stocked bars, and excellent dining rooms. The Silva Beach resort is set up in a village-layout where all the walkways by the villas have flowering shrubs and fragrant seasonal flora at every step and every glance . We strolled the shopping streets along the seaside [Good buys in Crete in October as the tourist season is drawing to a close.] and on the hilltops near the resort. Others rented cars to tour mountain villages in the interior and charming ports along the coastlines of Greece’s largest island.

The stopover at the resort in Crete prepared us up nicely for our fast-trip to Santorini, the most picturesque island on our itinerary. We were ready to enjoy our four days on the top of a volcano crater. The side of the island facing Crete (seventy kilometres away) is notable for sheer cliffs extending four hundred metres up from sea level. Perched on the cliff top, the main city of Fira (where our upgraded Majestic Hotel was located) is modern and sophisticated; its white houses, tavernas, and hotels stand out in sharp contrast to the black volcanic cliffs and soils. The curvature of the island is the caldera, the inside slope of a volcanic island mass. After a series of eruptions every twenty thousand years, what is left is the outside wall of a circle facing into a water-encircled top of a volcano—now an island a few metres above sea level. Through the millennia, the volcanic mountain has sunk hundreds of metres straight down into the sea. That tiny island just breaking sea level is all there is to see of the original volcano. This is all to say that the reality of the volcano and the beauty of the setting are the focus of every café, terraced home, store, walking street, and church. The fascination of Santorini grows out of the juxtaposition of the fearful and the beautiful wherever one looks. There are enough distractions in the bustling life of Fira to play down what the eye sees below the caldera. When one reaches the village of Oia, a hauntingly attractive village, the essence of Santorini emerges from the drenching sunlight when you start to feel that the painter behind every paint stroke of white or blue had one eye on the surface being painted and one eye on the volcano.

More time in Santorini offers more pleasure and reflection than is possible if one opts for a bigger trip on land (to Delphi, for example) or to more islands (there are hundreds of them). Because of its deserved reputation as a special island, no travel agent wants to leave Santorini out of the tourist’s itinerary. The result for too many goes something like this: one spends four hours in Santorini with a ride up the cliffs in a cable car, a walk through the shops, and a hop onto the bus back to the fast boat.

Starting with the excitement of Athens, appreciating the novelties of the island cruise, relaxing in Crete, and ending with a four-day stay in Santorini, we experienced an unforgettable, affordable, satisfying trip to Greece.

Blog #8 Ted Kennedy Came to My Grad

In May 1964, Commencement Day at Saint Dunstan’s University, a small Catholic institution in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada, became a little more exciting as the procession of grads, staff, and honorees climbed the steps to enter the hall for the ceremonies. A glance over the shoulders of the seventy plus graduates caught the gleaming smiles of young Senator Ted Kennedy as he responded to the adoring crowds. He was there to receive an honorary doctorate and to address the graduates.

His address highlighted why he was so willing to join the Class of ’64 in its celebrations. First, he outlined the historic connection between PEI and New England that went back to 1900. As a Senator with political blood in his veins, he knew his constituents well. The Speaker of the House of Representatives was John McCormack, born in Souris, PEI. He knew also of the migration of Maritimers for generations to the Boston States, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or simply Massachusetts. He commented on his delight to learn that nearly 25% of SDU’s enrollment that year was American. (Primarily students from Maine but some from Massachusetts and other states as well.) Second, Senator Kennedy reminded his audience that President Kennedy had been unable to accept his invitation to come to SDU when he had been Senator. Ted Kennedy was there to fulfil a wish his brother had before higher office called him to serve as President of United States. Third, he welcomed the opportunity to speak to Canadian audiences to thank them in a public way for the condolences and prayers they had extended when the Kennedy family and the American people attempted to cope with the assassination of the President a few months before.

History has shown that Ted Kennedy was a remarkably engaging public speaker throughout his career from his time as a thirty-year-old new Senator to his final year as the third longest-serving Senator in American history.

Meeting Senator Kennedy offered insight into why he became such a successful politician in his forty-seven years as a Senator. In time, we learned that he had vision, communication skills, determination, wit and humour, a passion to serve, and an understanding of the power of compromise. He had human frailties and endless charm. But what I learned personally, from my encounter with Ted Kennedy in May 1964, was that he possessed a compelling quality to be a careful listener with a caring way with others he had just met.

After the commencement, the honorees met with senior staff and the senior class executive in a small reception. The Senator was introduced to about fifteen people. I was one. As photographs were being taken, he said, “What are your plans for next year, John?” I responded that I was accepted at graduate school for an MA in English.” As I was answering, I could see my mother (on crutches and recovering from a broken ankle) was now in the room and I gave a subtle wave to a beaming, proud mother. Senator Kennedy turned to me and said, “Is that your mother?” I replied that it was. The careful listener and caring person spoke above the chattering crowd, “Mrs. Dunphy, would you join us for the next photo.” Now how could any person listen to names when introduced to numerous people and recall them at will within minutes without prompting? Only a special politician.

All of you would recognize the handsome young Senator and the woman in crutches in the photograph in my office. I am the one in the cap and gown.


Blog #7 My new old Hero!

Just finished reading David Hackett Fisher’s Champlain’s Dream. For the first time in years, I have a new hero–Samuel de Champlain.   I knew Champlain explored the Maritimes and the Saint Lawrence River and gave many place names to Canadian locations. He was the superb explorer he gets credit for, and so much more. His achievements and the person he proved to become makes him a hero for all times.

His start in the region of Saintonge along the western coast of France helped him develop personal qualities that helped him throughout his life and career. Love of camaraderie, joie de vivre,  and sense of humour characterized the personality that took him through successful encounters with people in the courts of France and Britain as well as on the shores of the St. Lawrence in New France. His experience as a soldier in the civil wars in France at the turn of the 16th century taught him that although courage and skill with tactics, strategies, and weaponry will get you through warfare, it is facing the reality of the futility of war and destruction that will get you through life. So his positive personal qualities along with wisdom made Champlain effective in human interactions throughout his whole life.

As a child and adolescent, he learned navigational and leadership skills in seafaring that saw him survive numerous trans-Atlantic voyages without ever losing a ship. His intelligent loyalty to King Henry IV of France and subsequent rulers and courtiers (like the formidable Richelieu) taught him diplomatic skills he needed in exploring, settling, building, maintaining, and governing New France.

Any lesser person could have the skills and personality of Champlain, but his consistent strengths as a visionary, communicator, and humanitarian transcend so many famous leaders.  For example, when he started to develop New France, it became clear to him that the tribal warfare among the Indians was destructive for human society.  He consistently negotiated with native leaders honestly and nobly until trust became the foundation for peaceful settlement along the St. Lawrence.  Despite the numerous setbacks, Champlain would go back to the basics: tell the truth, govern by law, fight, when necessary,and negotiate for peace.  As chief magistrate in New France, he was judge and jury for murder cases between rogue Frenchmen and native people.  He successfully turned the native people away from a principle of revenge toward some semblance of Christian justice.

Champlain never lost sight of his vision of New France based on respect for individuals, caring for his charges on land and sea, peaceful sharing of land and resources, tolerance and respect for religious practice, responsibility in honest negotiation for the welfare of all. New England, New Spain, New Netherlands demonstrated smaller visions in their interactions with the native people and early settlers in the New World. Even France may have lost the vision at times, but not Samuel de Champlain. Persistence and determination as an explorer and leader paid off in the end. Settlement in New France did prosper and grow, while other European attempts failed and went badly askew. In his early years in New France, his efforts at achieving goals were tempered by a strong scientific attitude regarding agriculture and horticulture and map drawing. In later years, his flexibility and respectful approach to the native people won him great affection and support needed for successful settlement to match his vision for New France.

If one were to Google Samuel de Champlain, one would find six million pages. Over four hundred years, sixteen generations have had their say about Champlain. Fischer’s account benefits from all the books and words written about Champlain in the past. What impresses me is the combination of traits and skills that were tested throughout Champlain’s life in Europe and the New World.   The humanity of Champlain becomes clear as we discover that he was a person who loved and lost and loved again, who sought justice with insight and good heart, who led wisely whether or not he was morally supported or understood by his European superiors, who lived out his dream with imagination, dignity, and intelligence along with the virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Champlain rises to heroic status in my mind because he was able to lead with integrity without falling for the temptations of greed and ambition and pride when most of his contemporaries did fall. He becomes heroic in his humane treatment of others who were vulnerable or weak. Perhaps he proves most heroic to those who knew and loved him and those who are just getting to know him in modern times by demonstrating how one uses persistence to do good by being good at everything one does.



Blog #6 New Book Launch

My first book launch went very well.  I sold all the books I had.  About 60-70 guests came to Patty’s Pub, formed social groups, ordered food and drinks to entertain themselves for a half-hour while I sold and signed books.

First good decision was choosing a space that is conducive to conversation and listening.  The friendly atmosphere and service by the pub staff made for a pleasant gathering.

Second good decision was to have my son, his wife, my two grandchildren involved and responsible for the sale of books.  They handled money, record of sales, signings to the correct purchaser, delivery to the tables of the signed books.  That meant that the author was free to prepare the oral presentation, mix with guests to welcome them, and to explain how to purchase the books.  It also left my wife free to host people, introduce guests to one another, and to enhance the friendly atmosphere.

The third good decision was to rent a standup microphone, two speakers, and an amplifier for the sample readings  which could be heard in the room by all guests seated.  The rest of the bar (two other rooms) still had access to the washrooms, food and drink service, and lively conversation without the author’s guests straining to hear above the voices of the other patrons.

Fourth decision that helped the presentation was practice on the author’s part and a dress rehearsal.  In the dress rehearsal I dropped my notes and lost my place more than once.  So I typed the selected passages I intended to read on a space smaller than the page of the book and attached the typed passages and introductory comments on the top of pages in the book.  I placed the typed notes on every right page and made the notes stop at natural breaks.

Finally, in my rehearsal someone suggested I use a map to help guests unfamiliar with the setting written about in the book.  I used a travel map and yellow post it notes to identify the changing places of the setting.

I limited the readings to twenty minutes which left ten minutes for questions.  They were solid questions which I was happy to address.  That half hour created lots of lively conversation for the remaining hour and enough time for me to sell and sign the rest of the books.  In the end, the reviews of the book launch were positive.

Blog #5 New Book Release

Interesting how childlike the feelings are when your first book is published.  You smell the ink as you flip the pages, touch the cover, and look at the cover up close and from a distance.  I admit the book seems to be a long-sought treasure to be cherished and enjoyed again and again.

Hope my readers of Indian River see, hear, and smell what my words hoped to create,  feel the changing emotions of the people in the stories, become involved in the conflicts as they intensify and become resolved, and think about the various  issues as they appear in the lives of believable people.