Birds, butterflies, and beautiful scenery

This is a short mid-week blog because we will be out of touch with the technological world for several days. We are all excited about traveling into the Amazon – something we only dreamed about until now.

Hike with Filipe

We have done a lot of hiking in Ecuador and are often tired by the end of the day. Twice we have gone on  birding hikes and have seen a lot of beautiful and sometimes rare birds. This week we hiked the trails of “The Yellow House” property. This ‘homestead’ has an interesting history if you wish to read about it.The Yellow House Trails

Wednesday our friend Filipe took us on an amazing walk through the rain forest where he and his wife, Alison, have undertaken a conservation project to plant trees on approximately 40 hectares of land outside of Mindo which was previously cleared for pasture. They are working with a German University to study the return of species now that the trees are growing.

Filipe planted this fast growing tree three years ago

An amazing view over the valley

On Valentines day, everyone was wishing us “ Feliz dia de amor y la Amistad”. Many local residents now know we are staying in Mindo and greet us with lots of questions. Of course their questions are all in Spanish so Marilyn has to interpret what is being said. I, on the other hand, am doing great with various gestures and the few words I’ve picked up. “Buenos días, Cómo está usted, Mucho gusto, Dos cervezas por favor”.

Eating fresh fruit

There are many small markets in Mindo but we also buy some of our fruit from vendors selling off the back of their trucks. I assume they are driving into Mindo from surrounding farms. In addition to melons, fresh picked bananas, fresh strawberries and pinapple, we’ve also sampled a variety of fruit unique to South America. Many of these contain a soft fleshy fruit that you break open and suck off of large seeds. Tasty.

Ochotillo fruit is very popular

As I mentioned before, February 19 is election day in Ecuador. The law states that no alcohol can be served on Feb 18, the day before the national election. (Fortunately, we are well stocked with wine and beer).

electioneering Ecuador style

The election is for President and all 137 seats in the National Assembly. It is mandatory that all citizens 16 years and older vote, punishable by a fine for failure to do so. There are 7 candidates running for President and to win a candidate must get 50% of the vote. If none of the candidates gets 50% on the first ballot they have run-off elections until a winner is declared. (Seems like an idea the US might want to adopt).

On Thursday we went to Mariposas de Mindo which is the top spot for butterflies in all of Ecuador. We saw over 25 species of colourful Lepidoptera as the more than 1200 butterflies flew all around us. The star of the show was the electric blue morpho.

We are heading to Banos in ‘The Orient’. “The Orient” is the name given to the region encompassing the Amazon. Banos is famous for its thermal hot springs bubbling out of the side of the  Tungurahua volcano (5,023 metres above sea level).  We intend to soak up the warm waters and get a massage from one of the many spas.

Tungurahua volcano when it erupted

In 1999, the volcano erupted and 25,000 townspeople were evacuated. It has erupted several time since with the latest in 2016. Tourists are warned to check conditions before traveling to the area. Too bad, we already booked it and are looking forward to sitting in the hot pools of water.

Starting tomorrow, we will head to Quito and then on to Banos where we will spend two nights (a five hour trip). On Monday (Feb 20) we’ll travel from Banos to Tena (4.5 hours). Here, we’ll get picked up in a canoe and be taken to our lodge in the Amazon.

My selfie in the sun

Last night as we walked to a restaurant, we saw four young girls filling up water balloons at a community tap. This is a sort of preamble to ‘Carnival’ which will be held across Ecuador from Feb 23 to Feb 28. In addition to dancing, parades, art, etc., everyone gets doused with water and sometimes other liquids. The kids with the water balloons didn’t care that I was a tourist and bombed me until I was soaking wet. Such fun – but I’ll get even!

NEXT BLOG SUNDAY FEB 26 AFTER WE RETURN FROM THE AMAZON

 

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Over the hills we go….

We have been hearing about the snow and nasty weather all across Canada so I’m almost reluctant to say how beautiful it is in Ecuador. Every day, the sun shines throughout the morning before clouds move down from the mountains in the afternoon. This is the rainy season which keeps everything so green and lush. The daytime temperatures are in the mid twenties……lovely!

We are all happy about our decision to anchor ourselves in Mindo. This small town of about 3,000 people is friendly and safe with  all the amenities and plenty of adventure activities such as zip lining, hiking, birding, etc. Located in a mountainous watershed, the Mindo valley has two of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. Depending on the specific area around Mindo, we are between 3000 and 11,000 feet above sea level. Aside from a few minor symptoms in the beginning we have not had any real real problems with altitude sickness. Once and a while I feel like I need an extra breath.

We have had some interesting conversations with ‘the locals’ about politics and the economy. Mindo has an ever expanding tourism industry and, for the most part, seems fairly prosperous. However, like any developing Country it has its poverty. February 19 is election day in Ecuador and there are plenty of competing posters around town. The current President is not running after being in power for more than 10 years. Apparently, election day is filled with lots of dancing in the streets so we are looking forward to that.

We went on a birding outing this past week. It was a full morning hike high above the town which started at 5:20am. Yaros drove us to the first site where we hiked into the dark forest to a small shelter….and we waited. Wow, our first sighting was of a crazy looking bird called the Cock of the Rock

Cock of the rock.

Eventually, we were joined by a few small groups of ‘birders’ who take bird watching very seriously.They were mostly Americans but some Canadians and all very nice people. Marilyn and I had a great birding experience with some biology students and professors in Costa Rica and really enjoyed the experience. One woman let me use her binoculars which made me realize how crappy mine are. Time for a new purchase when we get home.

Each day, we do a bit more exploring around Mindo which has a lot of side streets and roads heading out of town. One of our walks took us over a small bridge where we discovered a small hostal (Spanish spelling) advertising ‘happy hour’. When is ‘happy hour’ I asked. “All the time”, Henry, the owner replied. Needless to say we took advantage of the situation.

Happy Hour

We also discovered a bar with some live music. Two of the musicians were from Venezuela and one from Ecuador. They play a few times a week so we will be going back. All the music was either Colombian, Venezuelan, or Ecuadorian and involved a variety of instruments. I wonder how long it will be before Marilyn joins them on stage (ha ha).

Live South American music

We’ve been cooking a lot of our own meals in our house but once in a while we eat out. This past week, we went to the only Chinese restaurant in town. Chinese food varies depending on what Country you happen to be in and this was no exception. It was all very tasty but the sauces were quite different from what we get in Canada. A fun part of ordering though is getting past the language barrier. We, and the owners, ended up laughing a lot as we tried to figure out what we were eating. Once again, Marilyn’s Spanish was a life saver.

Yummy Food

On Friday we hired a driver to take us on a tour. Marilyn did the research on where we should stop along the way as we headed to a more northern part of Ecuador. Our final destination was an overnight stay in Otavalo.

Along the way, we stopped at the ‘Middle of the World’, a government owned park that pays tribute to the Equator. We stood on the yellow line painted on the ground that is precisely at the Earth’s midpoint – 0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds.

Middle of the World

…….only it turns out the real middle of the World is a few hundred feet further north. This error was discovered after the invention of GPS technology. Oh well…..exciting none-the-less.

Remember in my last post when I showed a picture of us making Empanadas? Turns out I am now addicted to these lighter than air pastries filled with cheese. We ordered them at a shop at the Middle of the World and got some that were absolutely huge.

Ecuador is filled with both dormant and active volcanoes and we got to see a few geological reserves along the way which are the direct result of past eruptions. Puluahua Reserve is a ‘caldera’ (massive depression) resulting from an eruption dating back to 500BC. This particular volcano destroyed many cultures when it erupted. Today it is a rich farming area and a peaceful, awesome sight to see.

Overlooking Puluahua

Panoramic view of Pululahua

Crater lake at Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve

We drove through many small villages before arriving at Cotacachi, a small town specializing in hand-made leather goods. It reminded me of the time I drove to Tijuana which is also famous for its many leather shops.

Town of Cotacachi

Leather goods shop selling locally made leather products

By mid-afternoon, we arrived in Otavalo and settled into our Hostal Riviera Sucre. Marilyn found this place on the internet and we were so pleased with both its location, its charming courtyard, and old style rooms. Hostal Riviera Sucre is the oldest hotel in Otavalo built more than 150 years ago. It was also just a short walk to the centre of town and the world famous market area.

Hostal Riviera Sucre

Hostal Riviera Sucre Courtyard outside our room

The market in Otavalo is huge with local artisans coming from the surrounding region to sell their many items including weaved blankets and clothing, musical instruments, and various specialty products. Very few people speak English but all appreciated Marilyn’s attempts to make us understood. Here we saw a lot of people dressed in traditional indigenous clothing.

Once again, we found the local residents to be extremely friendly. They have such patience when trying to communicate and are always smiling. Bartering is acceptable but Marilyn and I always operate on the principle that we want the price to be fair for the vendor.  I think we accomplished this with the many beautiful purchases we made.

Fruit market in Otavalo

In the market, we bought a beautiful oil on canvas painting from a fairly well known artist names Carlos Pontreras Ojeda. For a long time, we have had one bare wall in our kitchen because we have been waiting for just the right painting. Now we have found it. It is no exaggeration to say it is going to really, really, really, brighten up our kitchen. No picture – you’ll have to visit us in Hawkestone once we get it framed and hung.

Museo de Tejidos el Obraje

Marilyn and I both love museums, art galleries, etc. even though I can move through them much faster than she can. In Otavalo, we went to the small Museo de Tejidos el Obraje operated by eighty year old Luis Maldonado. Luis is a lifelong weaver who has assembled a room full of antiques which demonstrate traditional methods of local textile production. He showed us the various stages from cleaning and carding wool to spinning, drying and weaving it on pedal and backstrap looms. It was quite fascinating to see the many innovative methods used when modern-day tools didn’t exist.

Loom demonstration

It has been so much fun traveling with Jim and Patricia. We like doing so many of the same things. We’ve also been playing a lot of euchre. Next week we are taking another trip which will take us through the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Banos and eventually on to the Amazon.  Adios Amigos!

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Ecuador

As they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The people of Ecuador don’t need to worry…their first impression is amazing. We arrived in Quito after a short stopover in San Salvador. It was midnight when the plane arrived but our taxi was waiting for us. Due to a slight communication problem, the taxi driver was only expecting 2 people instead of 4 and had a fairly small car. Not to worry….he was able to jam most of our luggage into the trunk and the rest we put on our laps.

Lobby of the Casa Montero

We stayed in Quito for the first two nights at Casa Montero which was recommended by our friend Alison. What a lovely hotel. It is a UNESCO heritage site due to the fact that it was the first International Hotel in Quito. It is located in ‘old town’ Quito. We got lucky to discover on our second morning that a festival of sorts was happening in the town square right outside our hotel with a variety of traditional dancers performing.

Open air bus tour

We decided to take an organized tour around Quito on a ‘hop on – hop off’ open air two decker bus. It was a great way to explore Ecuador’s capital city. Quito has a lot of historic sites and very old churches from the days of the Spanish colonization. Here are just a few of the places we explored.

Art Gallery

Iglasia de la Compania de Jesus church (Started in 1603 and finished in 1765)

Statue of Virgin Mary towering above Quito

On Friday we hired a driver to take us to Mindo – our rented home for the next month. Although most people we’ve met don’t speak English, Marilyn has been able to converse quite well in Spanish. Our driver, however, was a young man named Christian who studied in the US, so we learned a lot about area from him.

Our home in Mindo

We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at our house in Mindo but we were all excited to see what a great home it was. It is located right in the middle of the town and close to all the shops. We’ve been out exploring and getting to know some of the shopkeepers.

Main Street of Mindo

Mindo is small town (about 3000 people) located in the ‘cloud forest’ about 2 hours west of Quito. A lot of tourists come to Mindo because it is in the rain forest and has a lot of activities including, hiking, bird watching, zip lining, tubing, waterfalls, chocolate production, etc. On our first full day in Mindo, we took a chocolate tour and learned how chocolate is made. It is an interesting process starting with the fruit from the cacao tree.

Cacao Tree

Cacao fruit cut open

After seeing all the stages involved in making chocolate, we sat down to a taste testing of chocolate in various stages of the process. We joined Alison’s tour group for dinner and were invited to come along for the making of empanadas (a cheese filled pastery deep fried in oil)….very yummy.

Tasting the chocolate

Anna Gabriella showing us how to make Empanadas

Marilyn making her Empanada

Here are some pics from around Mindo

Wood fired pizza in Mindo

Park in downtown Mindo

Today (Sunday Feb 5) we got up early and took a taxi to the Santuario de Cascadas. This is a network of waterfalls joined by hiking trails. It was a fairly arduous trek through the rain forest but quite enjoyable and refreshing in the cool waters of the stream coming down from the mountain. To get to the trails we took a ‘rail car’ high above the rain forest.

One of 5 waterfalls on our 4 hour hike through the forest

 

 

It is also election month in Ecuador as people go to the polls to elect a new President. I’m hoping to find out more about Ecuadorian politics to write in my blog.

Presidential elections poster

As mentioned, Mindo is quite renowned for it’s many species of tropical birds. We have booked a guide to take us birding on Wednesday from 5am until 10am. We are also planning to take a trip to the Amazon jungle later in our stay.  I’ll post more about our adventures in Ecuador next Sunday or Monday. Stay tuned.

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Road Trip to New Orleans 2016

When Marilyn and I decided to take a road trip there were a few choices. In the end, we decided to drive to New Orleans with numerous stops in between.  On Monday May 31, 2016, we headed to the US via Buffalo – our first stop The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Soon after crossing the boarder, we realized it was Memorial Day in the States. All along our route, we experienced American patriotism with flags flying from every window and porch. At one stop (for an ice cream cone) we happened upon a parade of pick up trucks all adorned with American flags. Memorial day truckWe didn’t book any hotels/motels in advance so there was no urgency to be anywhere on a particular day. We also took advantage of discount coupons at the State Welcome Centres.  Except for our two night stay in New Orleans, our motels cost on average between $50-$75 per night USD. This included a hot breakfast at each place we stayed and most  had a pool and fitness room. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with MarilynWe made it to Richfield Ohio on the first night which left us only a short drive from Cleveland and our first stop – The Rock and roll Hall of Fame. It was well worth the visit. What a great trip down memory lane.Rock and Roll insideThe next day we arrived in Louisville Kentucky for a tour of the Muhammad Ali Centre. This too was a great museum filled with information about Ali’s childhood, boxing career, humanitarian work, and his life overall. Needless to say, we were shocked to hear of Ali’s death just two days after our visit to his hometown. Muhammad Ali CentreWhile driving through Kentucky, we came upon the numerous bourbon distilleries south of Elizabethtown. This is also the vicinity where Abraham Lincoln was born although he only lived in this area until he was 7 years old.  We decided to stop for a tour of one of the bourbon distilleries and it turned out to be quite interesting. There are two reasons why bourbon is famous in this particular part of the south – spring water and lots of corn. Bourbon tanksHuge vats of bubbling yeast mixture are at the start of the brewing process. Once it has fermented, the bourbon is stored in barrels in huge house-like structures. These buildings contain up to 2500 barrels of bourbon. Whenever a barrel is removed from one side of the building, it is necessary to remove one from the other side as well. These building have been known to tip completely over sideways. In addition, there are lots of stories of fires destroying thousands of kegs of bourbon. Once a fire starts, it is almost impossible to put it out. Water spayed on bourbon merely creates flaming rivers which can spread to the next building.

Inside a Bourbon Storage building

Inside a Bourbon Storage building

Bourbon storage building

Bourbon storage building

Up to this point, our GPS had been extremely helpful in finding the back road sites. However, she started to go a bit crazy in Kentucky and eventually just died. Turns out she only had maps for Canada and bordering States. We were planning on buying a newer model anyway, so we decided to find a Best Buy (which would have been much easier with a GPS). As luck would have it, we saw a huge Best Buy sign just as we got near to Bowling Green Kentucky. Problem solved (temporarily as it turned out). Cave entranceThis picture above was taken at Lost River Cave near Bowling Green, Kentucky. There are a lot of caves in this area but we chose to explore this one because you get on a boat and travel down a river inside the caves. There are a lot of stories about the caves so it turned out to be a history lesson as well as a great adventure.

Next stop…Nashville.Grand Ole Opry outside bobI’m not much of a country music fan but Nashville is famous and live music is great no matter the genre. We took a tour backstage of the Grande Ole Opry which was quite interesting. In 2010 the Opry was flooded and it was interesting to learn about the damage done and the repair work required to get it opened again. M at Grand Ole Opry doorsGrand Ole Opry auditoriumAfter finding a motel, we enjoyed a swim in the outdoor pool before walking down to Broadway Street. This is where all the musicians and singers play in hopes of making it big. Every few feet there is another bar with live music. The street is packed with people and it has a great “party’ feel. We met some folks from Norway as well as a few Americans while making our rounds. Band playing NashvilleThere really isn’t any place like this in Canada but the US has a few cities where music is the major industry. These include Memphis, Austin, New Orleans, etc. The picture below is a view of Broadway in Nashville from a roof top bar. This particular place had three levels and a live band playing on each level. Broadway St NashvilleKeeping with the themes of ‘history’ and ‘music’ our trip took us to Memphis and a tour of Graceland. I’ve wanted to go to Graceland ever since Paul Simon released his Graceland album in the mid 80s. There really has never been another performer like Elvis. In truth, Graceland was smaller than I imagined although the house is set on a beautiful piece of land. The home is furnished much like Elvis left it and also serves as a museum to his accomplishments and awards. He too was a generous person supporting numerous worthy causes. Graceland sign

Graceland the house

Graceland back of house

Graceland LivingroomWe took a number of back roads during our trip and one site we found was the Greenwood Plantation in Louisianna. Until the civil war, 750 slaves worked the cotton and sugarcane fields on this 12,000 acre plantation. This particular plantation has been used as a setting in 6 movies so now we have those to watch as well. Plantation HomePlantation Home insideAfter touring through this majestic home, we were able to wonder around the grounds. However, the tour guide suggested we keep an eye for snakes. “What kind of snakes?”, I asked. “Oh just about every poisonous snake you can imagine”, she replied. We didn’t walk all that much….took the car instead.Plantation bob in car

Plantation groundsOne more overnight stay and we were on our way to our final destination – New Orleans. Just one problem…our brand new GPS wouldn’t turn on in the morning. Once again we were looking for a Best Buy. Fortunately, we saw one right next to the highway on the outskirts of Baton Rouge. We got a hassle free exchange and continued on our way.

So far our accommodation had been inexpensive and gas prices were unbelievable. We filled up a couple of times for $2.00 per gallon….yup…per gallon. On our travels we heard the Astor Crowne Plaza hotel was a good place to stay in New Orleans and another couple who lived in New Orleans told us about Preservation Hall. Crowne Plaza HotelThe picture above is of the street in front of the Crowne Plaza hotel. There is no parking at the hotel so it is necessary to use the valet. However, it is a complete zoo on the street as people try to stop and unload their luggage. What was amazing is that nobody seemed to care that the street was jammed up in this way.

Our room was quite lovely but much more expensive than any other place we had stayed. It cost us $301 CND for the Saturday night and $207 CND for the Sunday night. Valet parking was $42 per day.

The French Market

The French Market

The hotel was indeed in a great location on the edge of the French Quarter. We actually walked around this and some other areas several times, taking in all the great music which was happening everywhere. To be honest though, Bourbon street was not our favourite. Although it is quite famous, it is dirty and smells. We much preferred Frenchmen’s street for music and food as it was much nicer. NO band playingAs I mentioned before, we heard about Preservation Hall and decided to check it out. We are so glad we did. In fact, we went back the next night as well. Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to “preserve, perpetuate, and protect,” traditional New Orleans Jazz. It’s a small venue and nothing fancy but the music was amazing.

Inside Preservation Hall before the music started

Inside Preservation Hall before the music started

They asked that no pictures be taken during the performance so the above picture was the best I could get. NO Jackson's squareNew Orleans is beautiful city and all the people working in the bars and restaurants were extremely friendly, happy, and helpful. Marilyn tried some of the local dishes but I didn’t have the courage to try foods named craw fish, gumbo, jambalaya, etc. Still, we ate well and enjoyed the uniqueness of southern and Cajun food. NO houseWe took a bus tour of the city which took us to areas where the devastation from Hurricane Katrina was the worst. It is sad to think of how many lives changed due to the storm. The house pictured above is called a ‘double shotgun” home. The homes in this area of the city are often long and narrow due to the width of the yards. Since taxes were collected based on ‘frontage’, people chose to build this way.  In these homes, one room leads into the next from the front to the back of the house. This home is a ‘double’ shotgun home because it has a wall down the middle and houses two families.

Cemetery in New Orleans where bodies are buried above ground

Cemetery in New Orleans where bodies are buried above ground

Although we drove a different route home, we didn’t really stop much on the return trip. We had entered the States through Buffalo and returned to Ontario via Detroit. We were gone for 10 days and traveled through 11 different States. We met some nice people along the way, heard a lot of great music, and learned a lot of history. Traveling in the US isn’t much different from being in Canada but there are certainly some differences when it comes to the southern states. Y’all cum back now!

 

 

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Summer’s End

I wouldn’t normally be so pessimistic as to call August 27th the end of summer but it is darn cold out and the dock in Hawkestone is empty. School has also started for Marilyn and I’m back at teaching. It does seem like ‘summer’ is over.

We had an amazing summer with lots of travel, time with family, and several music events. Our last trip was to SK to attend Malcolm and Jen’s wedding, visit with friends and relatives, and spend some quality time with Marilyn’s mom.

Pelicans on Blackstrap Lake

Pelicans on Blackstrap Lake

We rented a car at the airport which I had previously reserved. The guy said we have a ‘Soul’. I wasn’t sure what he meant but Marilyn said ‘We’ll take it”. After a bit of clarification we did decide on a Kea Soul. Apparently the Pope used it when in Korea so it only made sense that we have one although I might have preferred a car called ‘heart’.

Our Mustard Soul

Our Mustard Soul

Yup….it was mustard yellow. At first, I wasn’t too keen but it actually has some nice features and drives well. I really started to like it when I could find my car in the mall parking lot without having to sound the horn.

After a nights sleep in Hanley, we drove to Saskatoon to help Margie host the rehearsal dinner in her back yard. It was quite nice and we got to see the wedding party and some of Jen’s family.

Rehearsal Dinner

Rehearsal Dinner

On Friday we drove into Saskatoon again to help with deliveries and some other tasks. We drove into Saskatoon on Saturday for the wedding and again on Sunday for the traditional gift opening. Even though we hadn’t gone anywhere, we racked up over 900 km on the rental.

Malcolm and Jen and the wedding party

Malcolm and Jen and the wedding party

Malcolm and Jen have been dating since they were 14 years old. They have grown up together, been best friends, and own their own home. Now they are married and make no secret about the fact that they are ready to start a family.

my selfie

my selfie

The reception and dinner was a lot of fun with a great meal (Jen’s family are Italians), lots of conversation with relatives and strangers, and a dance that went well into the night.

Reception and Dinner

Reception and Dinner

The reception was held in the Western Development Museum and everyone was able to wander throughout the museum after the dinner. The museum is set up like an old western town and we’ve been to it a few times in the past. It’s a must see when visiting Saskatoon.

The Main Street of the Western Development Museum

The Main Street of the Western Development Museum

We stayed in Hanley the entire time with Marilyn’s mom. She has done a great job with her yard and has a lot of lovely flowerbeds and a vegetable garden. We also played Chinese Checkers which is quite popular in Hanley.

Front of Marg's house

Front of Marg’s house

Marilyn and her mom playing chinese checkers

Marilyn and her mom playing chinese checkers

We went out to the cabin on Section 10. Marg painted the floors since we were there but not much else has been done. It actually looks a bit abandoned. A bird got into the cabin and made a nest on the ceiling fan so there was a bit of mess to clean up.

The cabin now

The cabin now

Marg needed an old board for a project at the Senior’s Centre in Hanley, so I drove out to the homestead where there are still two of the original buildings where Ed was born.The road isn’t a serviced road so I took my time avoiding deep ruts and looking out for wet spots. The soil here is called ‘gumbo’ and when it gets wet it is like being stuck in a drum of oil. The rental car managed okay but I was a bit worried.

On the road to the homestead

On the road to the homestead

The whole time we were in SK it was very hot and this day was no exception. I was drenched by the time I got the board off which was held on by several long nails at each stud.

The homestead

The homestead

Most people don’t appreciate the beauty of Saskatchewan. I too had driven through it many times without really stopping. Now I love the Province and wish my camera could capture what my eyes really see. Here’s a couple of pictures but they don’t do it justice.Prairie Landscape 2

Building and fieldOn the last night of our trip we went out for dinner with two of Marilyn’s friends from high school  (Heather and Cynthia) and Cynthia’s husband Jim. It was at a place called Earl’s which is very popular. The food was great and we had a great time. At the end of the dinner, Jim and I sat at one end of the table and visited while Marilyn, Cynthia, and Heather sat at the other end doing a lot of laughing.

Dinner with Jim, Cynthia, and Heather

Dinner with l to r Cynthia, Heather, Marilyn, Bob, Jim

Right after we returned we went to Amy’s cottage with Amy, Larry, and Amy’s son Jeremy. We have been going to this cottage for many many years and it is always a highlight of our summer. The weather was great and we got to swim, jump off the rock cliffs, slide down the waterfall, and climb Bear Mountain. We also had a few drinks…..yeah I’m pretty sure we did.

The dock at Amy's Cottage

The dock at Amy’s Cottage

The Jumping Rocks

The Jumping Rocks

I’ve written a few blogs this summer to summarize some of our adventures in 2014. This is my diary of sorts but I also hope it introduces my readers to some new information about places and people. Yup, it seems like summer is over and we are harvesting our garden to prove it.

Marilyn preserving tomato sauce

Marilyn preserving tomato sauce

Bob getting apples ready for freezing

Bob getting apples ready for freezing

I hope there are lots of sunny days left because there is an awful lot of work to do before it turns cold.  Time will fly by I’m sure and the next think ya know it will be Christmas. I hope I have a few interesting blogs before then though.

HOW MANY FROGS CAN YOU SPOT IN OUR POND?

pond

Now can you see some?

Now can you see some?

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Happy 65th and other stuff

We arrived back from Japan and both Marilyn and I experienced some serious jet lag after being up for more that 24 hours straight. We should have been eager to go right to bed but our bodies kept saying it was only mid afternoon. As a result we stayed up through most of the next night as well. That was Wednesday and on Thursday July 31 we had tickets to see John Couger Mellencamp at the casino with Dave and Leanne.

Dave and Leanne relaxing in our gazebo

Dave and Leanne relaxing in our gazebo

Mellencamp was a bit of a disappointment. He was having trouble with his voice so his concert only lasted an hour with no encore. That didn’t stop us from having fun though. We all did some gambling and drinking and got home around 3am. We took a taxi out to the casino at a cost of $55 one way and that was a very good idea and made us very good role models for any youth who may have noticed.

Mellencamp was also a lot older looking than I imagined he would be. I guess I just got his youthful image stuck in my head. Still it was great to hear some of his hits performed live such as Hurts So Good, Jack and Diane, Pink Houses.

John as I remember him

John as I remember him

Couger Mellencamp today

Couger Mellencamp today

Marilyn and Leanne went to bed when we got home but Dave and I stayed up until the sun came up over the lake. They had to be in Whitby for 9am for their son’s game (lacrosse I think). Wow….such troopers. Meanwhile I got to do my second “all nighter” in three days.

By the way, John Couger Mellencamp was born in 1951 and those songs I mentioned were hits in 1982. All in all he had 22 hits in the top 40 throughout his career.

Smokey Robinson at Casino Rama

Smokey Robinson at Casino Rama

On Friday we went back to the casino to see Smokey Robinson and were blown away by his band, back up singers, dancers and over-all broadway type show. His voice is as good as ever it seems despite him being 74 years old. He sang for more than two hours and did so many of his hits.

On Tuesday (my birthday) Marilyn and I went to Niagara on the Lake for three days but first I want to talk about another group we saw when we came back home. The Moody Blues….. famous for songs such as “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin” were on tour and we went to see them on August 8th. Once again we got to hear some ‘old dudes’ still rockin’. It was a great concert that had the older audience on its feet.

Moody Blues in their youth

Moody Blues in their youth

Moody Blues today

Moody Blues today

For those who are interested, the Moody Blues started back around the time of the Beatles and had their first big hits in 1967.

MY BIRTHDAY

For my 65th birthday Marilyn and I traveled to Niagara on the Lake for three days. What a story-book village NOTL has become. It is full of beautifully restored buildings from the early 1800’s, has a charming down town with great restaurants, and everyone seems so friendly…..cars stop to let you cross the street.

Just one of many beautiful building in NOTL

Just one of many beautiful building in NOTL

We stayed at a bed and breakfast which Marilyn arranged. It is called Amarula House and has three rooms all named after African animals. Turns out the owners, Dean and Lynette are originally from South Africa. We got upgraded from the Zebra Room to the Cheetah Room after Lynette had a cancellation. It was really quite lovely and spacious. There was also a pool but we were too busy to find time for a swim.

Inside the Cheetah Room -going out for dinner

Inside the Cheetah Room -going out for dinner

There were three American women staying in one of the rooms and we had some great conversations. They were all elderly, traveling companions, and described themselves as feminists and ‘left-wing’ Obama supporters. Needless to say we got along fabulously. All of us had attended the same play – Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw so we also discussed the play in great detail.

One of three theatres of the Shaw Festival

One of three theatres of the Shaw Festival

I read a lot of George Bernard Shaw when I was in University but this is only the second time I’ve been to the Shaw Festival. Shaw (1888 – 1950) was, of course, an Irish playwright, novelist, journalist, etc. who was an ardent socialist and often wrote in support of equal rights for men and women and other important social topics.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

We rented some bicycles on Wednesday and did a self-guided wine tasting tour. We had all these free tasting coupons so we mapped out our route and started out around 10am (it’s never too early to drink fine wine I always say). What a great way to enjoy the Niagara wine district. The land is also flat so it is not a strenuous bike ride from winery to winery. We actually traveled about 30-35 km and thanks to a network of great bicycle paths, the only thing we really had to worry about was other people on bikes who were also a bit tipsy.

Approaching Peller Estates Winery

Approaching Peller Estates Winery

One of many stops along the way

One of many stops along the way

We also took a little side trip to see the Falls. Since living in Livingstone Zambia which is 12 km from Victoria Falls, we often refer to Niagara Falls as perspiration ..ha ha. Niagara Falls has grown a lot since we were there last but it is still just one big amusement part. Bob and Marilyn at falls

Niagara hype is everywhere

Niagara hype is everywhere

We did drop into the Fallsview Casino just to see how it compared with Rama. I played Roulette for about 15 minutes, won $250 and left. I seem to be on a roll these days. My last four trips to a casino over the past three months has netted me over $2600.

Although it was my birthday  (which was officially celebrated from August 5-8 this year), I think Marilyn got it mixed up. On the way back to Hawkestone we stopped at the Apple Store in Newmarket where she bought a new Apple Mac Book Pro for her graphic design course. Do you have any idea how much they cost?……wow. Mac Store

We had a laugh at the Apple Store because it was the second place in a row that seemed to be run by kids. Yup everyone there is pretty young. We had the same thing happen at a brew pub in Niagara region which also seemed to be run by people barely old enough to drink.

MORE MUSIC

Hawkestock at Rob and Kelly's

Hawkestock at Rob and Kelly’s

Rob and Kelly held their annual Hawkestock music fest at their house on August 9. As always, it is great music, good food, and lots of fun conversation.

Music and dancing at Hawkestock

Music and dancing at Hawkestock

We are flying to Saskatoon on Wednesday for a week. Malcolm (our nephew) and Jen are getting married on the 16th. It will be nice to see everyone again. I’ll write a blog when we get back so you can check back if you so desire.

HOPE EVERYONE IS HAVING A GREAT SUMMER.

 

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Having fun in the Heat in Japan

We arrived in Japan on Thursday, July 17 to discover just how hot it gets in Japan in the summer. The temperature was over 30C and a few days later it got as high as 37C. Fortunately, Sean had some good plans in place to help us deal with the heat. After our first night with Sean, Makiko, and Julian, we rose to catch a train to a large annual beer fest featuring hundred’s of craft beers.

Sean and Marilyn enjoying some local beer

Sean and Marilyn enjoying some local beer

Inside a large stadium, there were displays and ample supply of beers for sampling in a glass given at the entrance. It didn’t take long to forget which beers were our favourites although we did go back to some more than a few times. Several Japanese people came up to engage us in conversation despite the language problems. I guess beer helps break down such barriers no matter  where you are.

Making new friends

Making new friends

Sean, Makiko and Julian have moved to a different location since we visited in 2012. There home is now in the city of Wakayama. It is a short walk to Julian’s new school and a short drive to Makiko’s University. Sean has a longer commute now. On Sunday, we spent the afternoon playing tennis with Julian at his school grounds. He’s been taking tennis lessons and is quite good. We also went to his tennis club on Sunday afternoon and played doubles. It was quite hot in both locations.

Playing tennis with Julian at the school

Playing tennis with Julian at the school

Grampa tennis at schoolOn Monday, we took a train trip with Julian and Sean to a beautiful beach in a coastal town called Shirahama. The beach has the most amazing white sand and it was great to cool off in the water throughout the day. Shirahama also has a lot of other attractions so we took in a few of these as well.

Shirahama Beach

BeachBeach Marilyn and Julian in the sand Beach Sean and JulianWe stayed two nights in Shirahama which gave us time to take in some of the other sights. Energy Land is a very cool place for both kids and adults. It has a lot of “optical illusions”, fitness challenges, etc. Having Julian along made it even more fun. He’s a great little traveler and he has such a great sense of humour. energy land plane

Grandma isn’t really this tall…….Energy world

We aren’t really off the groundenergy world 2

……and Julian isn’t really inside a mouth.Energy world 1

 

Across the street from the hotel was an Onsen (or Sento). These names refer to public baths with a hot springs. I took advantage of this each morning to limber up the muscles and take part in a piece of Japanese culture. These baths date back several hundreds of years before people had their own private baths at home. However, the tradition continues.

Upon entering the bath, the women’s section is denoted by red cloth over the door to the right whereas the men’s section has blue cloth over the door. Inside, there is a changing room with lockers. A further room behind a sliding door has a row of showers with small stools on which to sit, small basins, soap, etc.

Inside a public bath

Inside a public bath

Once you have soaped yourself up and rinsed off, you enter a hot springs to soak. Each morning when I went, the place was quite busy and it seems quite a social experience. The hot springs were actually on the second floor of the building and the glass windows opened up to a view of the beach. If I lived in the area, I would definitely buy a membership.

Sand Cliffs and Pirate Caves

A short drive brought us to two tourist attractions.  The Senjojiki sand cliffs have been eroded over thousands of years and reminded me a bit of Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia with the waves crashing onto the shore. Sand cliffs 1 sand cliffs Sand cliffs M S J

Sandanbeki Dokutsu (Sandanbeki Cave) is located inside the Sandanbeki Cliff, a limestone rock with 50m high cliff faces protruding into the sea near Sandan town. The cave inside the rock, a karst cave enlarged by the work of the waves, was once the hideout of pirates. It was once the secret base of the Kumanosuigun pirates, who hid their ships inside the cave.

Pirate Cave

Pirate Cave

The cave is located at sea level, but it is entered from the plateau above. A 36m high elevator brings visitors down into the cave, which is actually a kind of pirate theme park. While the museum is more or less a presentation of legends and Medieval weaponry, the cave itself and the closeness of the sea makes the visit a unique experience.

Inside the Pirate Cave

Inside the Pirate Cave

Engetsu Island

Engetsu Island is an interesting rock formation at Shirahama. The rock formation is made of sandstone which makes it vulnerable to erosion. When we were there, work crews were doing some shoring up of the centre to keep it from falling apart.

Engetsu Island

Engetsu Island

 

Heads in billboardJulian has been such fun while we travel. Unfortunately, Makiko had to work until the weekend. We’ve eaten most meals at home but have also enjoyed some fantastic dining in some very unique Japanese restaurants.

Conveyer Belt Sushi Restaurant

These restaurants offer a huge selection of sushi dishes that go past your booth on a conveyer belt. You can also order food by pushing buttons and these dishes come to your table on a different conveyer belt. When finished, you toss your plates down a shoot where they are counted. Each dish is basically Y110 so the total bill is the number of dishes times Y110. Sushi belt restaurant

Cook Your Own

There are several restaurants where you can cook a variety of dishes on your own right at your table. We ate in one in Kyoto where it was like a fondue and the one in the pictures below has a hot plate built into your table. Lunch

Lunch Sean

Sushi, of course is the popular food in Japan but like all cosmopolitan cities, there are lots of other foods as well. Italian is also popular. The display below is something you see outside of many restaurants. These ‘rubber’ molds of various dishes actually look quite appetizing.

Also not real food

Not real food

Not real food

Also not real food

There are many, many castles in Japan and we visited a few in 2012. However, there is also one in Wakayama just a short walk from Sean and Makiko’s. This particular castle dates back to the fifteen hundreds. It is situated on a large tract of land right in the middle of the city with a moat and plenty of trees.

Wakayama Castle

Wakayama Castle

On Friday we traveled to Kyoto. It is one of the busiest tourist areas in Japan so there is some English spoken but still not that much. Makiko’s parents also drove to Kyoto to spend time with us. We always have such a fun time when we meet up as we did in 2012 and when they visited us in Hawkestone a few years ago.

From l. to r. Sean, Marilyn, Makiko, Seiko, and Susumu

From l. to r. Sean, Marilyn, Makiko, Seiko, and Susumu

We spent Friday evening together and on Saturday we went to the Sushimi Inari Shrine.

Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto Shrine  famous for its thousands of vermilion tori gates which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

Map of Shrine grounds

Map of Shrine grounds

There are numerous torii gates which mark the approach and entrance to the shrine. At this Shrine they are made of wood and painted bright orange and black. These days, individuals or companies can purchase them and get recognition on them. The larger ones cost Y1,300,000 (approx. $13,000).

Torii gates in long rows showing the paths

Torii gates in long rows showing the paths

One of many fox statues

One of many fox statues

Shrine

Bob and marilyn at shrine

It was a long hot climb to the top of the mountain

Taking a rest on the way to the shrine at the top

Up, up and more up

Up, up and more up

Grandpas at the top

Grandpas at the top “We made it”

Just some of the strange things on the streets of Japan

Just some of the strange things on the streets of Japan

Sean has been an excellent tour guide and we just keep seeing more and more of Japanese culture. We went to a huge summer festival where we saw the most amazing fire works display. Tens of thousands of people attended so there was a major traffic jam getting back home. The many people who rode bikes had the best idea.

Waiting for the fireworks

Waiting for the fireworks

 

Just a few of the many bikes ridden to the festival

Just a few of the many bikes ridden to the festival

We also went to an aquarium in Osaka – apparently the largest in the world. It was indeed huge and it is hard to believe there are so many different fish all over the world as well as a lot of very strange animals.

Julian touching sharks and stingrays

Julian touching sharks and stingrays

Giant deep sea crabs -mmm good

Giant deep sea crabs -mmm good

Chrysaora Melamaster

Chrysaora Melamaster

Cassiopea sp. jelly fish

Cassiopea sp. jelly fish

Just outside the Aquarium we rode the giant ferris wheel. There are a few such ferris wheels in Japan but this has to be one of the tallest. It gave us a great view over the city as we took one of the glass bottom cars.Ferris Wheel

Family photo

family photo 1

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My week in the Dominican Republic

Getting ready to go to the Dominican

Getting ready to go to the Dominican

We’ve had one heck of a lot of snow and cold weather in Hawkestone this year so when the opportunity came to head south I took it. Paul’s brother Peter has been staying in an apartment in Juan Dolios for most of the winter and Paul decided to visit for two weeks. I was only able to go for one week but getting some sun was worth it even though a week is a short time to experience a foreign country. Still, it was a great time and I did get to see some of the southern coastal cities and countryside. I was also keen to experience “Carnival” which was taking place in Santo Domingo.

Arriving in La Romana to 30C

Arriving in La Romana to 30C

Peter’s apartment is located  between Santo Domingo and La Romana on the south coast. The area has a permanent population but many people come for weekends from the larger cities, especially Santo Domingo. Therefore, the beaches are quiet throughout the week. Guide books suggest you ‘bring a book’  if you are a tourist planning to stay in the area.

 

The view from my room

The view from my room

The apartment building has four units but only two were being rented out and the one had a person who left frequently for days at a time. Each night the windows were left wide open and (as you can see) the ocean was so close, the waves ‘sang’ me to sleep. What a great location on a beautiful beach which was practically ours alone.

View from the livingroom

View from the livingroom

Although my visit was short, we packed a lot into a few days. Peter, knows his way around and understands the culture as only someone can who has spent a long time on the island and he was an amazing “tour guide”. His friend Mav, who is Haitian but has been a resident of the Dominican for several years, also spent most of his time with us while I was there. This was so helpful in making connections by bus for our various day trips.

Mav (originally from Haiti)

Mav (originally from Haiti)

The bus system in the Dominican is excellent. We never waited longer than 5 minutes and for a few pesos we rode to the cities of Boca Chica or Santo Domingo.

Waiting for the Carnival Parade to start in Santo Domingo

Waiting for the Carnival Parade to start in Santo Domingo

I avoided the water from taps or ice cubes and stuck to drinking mostly Presidente beer. As a result, I didn’t have any health problems and had a nice buzz on at the same time. I’d say that is very clever traveling.

Carnival is held each weekend during the month of February and culminates with the giant festivities and parade on the last weekend of February. Santo Domingo has the largest parades and we attended it after taking in some of the sites around this big city. Colonial square has a lot of museums and historical sites and boasts the ‘firsts’ in the ‘new world’….first cathedral, first city, first university, etc.

Carnaval costumes Carnaval costumes 2 Carnaval costumes 1A group of kids on roller blades were entertaining the crowd at Carnival until the police came and made them go elsewhere.

Roller bladers

Rollerbladers

Rollerblader jumping over a row of other kids

Rollerblader jumping over a row of other kids

Of course, Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit the Dominican and Haiti. He called the island “La Espanola”. He soon enslaved the local peoples from the ‘Taino” tribe. After so many died from the diseases of the Spanish as well as hard labour, Columbus needed more workers. That’s when he started bringing slaves from Africa. The Taino people were eventually completely wiped out.

First house built by Columbus

First house built by Columbus

Chris's office inside his 'palace'

Chris’s office inside his ‘palace’

View of the port from Chris's house

View of the port from Chris’s house

The first Cathedral of the new world was  started in 1512 and completed in 1540. It is an impressive building and one marvels at the construction considering the tools of the day. However, I also couldn’t help feel for the many slaves who must have toiled and died during the construction. The Cathedral is even bigger than I’m showing in the pictures below. There were chapels constantly added over the years which extend out from the side walls.

Cathedral from the outside

Cathedral from the outside

Cathedral from the inside

Cathedral from the inside

We went to Santo Domingo on two occasions – once for Carnival and once for the hell of it- so we actually got to see a lot of the city. There are the typically crowded ‘market’ streets, poor areas, rich areas, and tourist areas. Traffic is a bit of a nightmare and I never did quite figure out how they decided who had the right of way apart from who was the biggest, the fastest, or the bravest. Here are a few pictures I took around the city.

China town market in Santo Domingo

China town market in Santo Domingo

Side street in Santo Domingo

Side street in Santo Domingo

Presidential palace/legislature buildings

Presidential palace/legislature buildings

IMG_7457The Taino people eventually rebelled against the colonists and one such uprising was headed by a chief called Caonabo. In one of the museums we visited, we saw early Taino artifacts and a statue of Caonabo. He was eventually captured by Columbus and sent to Spain along with other captured Taino people. The boat carrying Caonabo capsized on the way and Caonabo drowned before he could be put on “display’.

Bronze depiction of Chief Caonabo

Bronze depiction of Chief Caonabo

We also took two trips to a much smaller ‘beach’ town named Boca Chica. Sadly, Boca Chica has a bad reputation for prostitutes. It’s not the prostitutes who are so bad but the creepy older male tourists who come for the sex. Everywhere, there are a lot of old white guys with young attractive locals on their arms. There are also a few older (mostly unattractive) white women with young Dominican men as well but not nearly as many.

Boca Chica's main street at night

Boca Chica’s main street at night

Boca Chica has a beautiful beach and lots of interesting shops and restaurants. At night, the street is closed and all the restaurants put out tables and chairs on the street. There is lots of music playing and a large crowd of mostly locals in the main section of the town.

The beach at Boca Chica

The beach at Boca Chica

On our second visit to Boca Chica at night, a friend of Peter’s named Victor acted as our guide to take us to some “salsa bars”. This took us out of the downtown area and into some truly ‘local’ areas. We stopped at a a pool hall where I got in a couple of games and also provided a few laughs for my Dominican opponents who forgot to tell me about a few ‘local’ rules to the game of eight ball. I thought I had won and would have in Canada. However, I wasn’t in Canada was I?

The Pool Bar

The Pool Bar

Mav and Victor

Mav and Victor

 

Lots of motor cycles in the Dominican

Lots of motor cycles in the Dominican

Like I said, I saw a lot thanks to Peter and Mav but it was still only a small portion of the island. The weather was hot and sunny every day and we did a lot of drinking, tanning, swimming, snorkeling.

The apartment from the beach

The apartment from the beach

Paul in the window of the apartment

Paul in the window of the apartment

On the roof to watch the sunset

On the roof to watch the sunset

Peter and Paul at the back of the bus (where they belong..ha ha)

Peter and Paul at the back of the bus (where they belong..ha ha)

Our beach

Our beach

Peter on the beach in Boca Chica

Peter on the beach in Boca Chica

Thanks Peter and Mav…..it was a fun and interesting week away from the harsh winter of 2014.

Sand crab having fun under my beach chair

Sand crab having fun under my beach chair

Replenishing our fluids

Replenishing our fluids

 

Holding down the fort

Holding down the fort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New visitors and more fun on Naxos

Agia Mamas is one of the oldest churches on Naxos

Agia Mamas is one of the oldest churches on Naxos

We all take a lot of pictures on our digital cameras but it always surprises me just how many I take each week on Naxos. Today, I downloaded 331 pictures starting with our hike in Melanes last Saturday with Manolis and Maria and ending with our drive to the Naxos airport with Rob and Kelly.

Hiking with Manolis and Maria

Hiking with Manolis and Maria

Manolis and Maria have been friends of ours since 2000. Marilyn and Maria walked each day on the beach when we lived here before. Manolis is a doctor who now has his practice on Paros (the island next to Naxos) but they still make their home in Naxos. They took us out for the day last Saturday for a hike which lasted all afternoon and ended with an amazing meal in Melanes (a small village).

At Kourounohori with Manolis and Maria

At Kourounohori with Manolis and Maria

Rob and Kelly and Amy and Val arrived on Monday after having spent two nights in Athens. We picked them up at the airport and, after dropping off their bags at Rena Valetta, we could hardly wait to start showing them around. There is so much to do and see on the island and we knew our time was limited.

l. to r. Amy, Val, Marilyn, Kelly and Rob at the airport on Naxos

l. to r. Amy, Val, Marilyn, Kelly and Rob at the airport on Naxos

When Marilyn and I travel, we are always interested in meeting people in different countries. Our friends from Canada had a great time this past week getting to know our friends on Naxos who have been so generous with their time and have opened their homes to all of us. Here’s a few pictures which will try to capture some of that generosity.

OUR FRIEND NIKOS OPENED THE CASTLE AND GAVE US ANOTHER TOUR.

Nikos and Marilyn

Nikos and Marilyn

Singing in the Castle grand room

Singing in the Castle grand room

Amy on the Castle balcony

Amy on the Castle balcony

VISITING WITH STEPHANOS AND KATARINA IN FILOTI

While driving through Filoti we saw Stephanos and Katarina out for a walk and stopped to say hi. They immediately invited us back to their home for food and drinks. Later, Stephanos took us to the old home of Katarina’s late aunt which is located at the very top of Filoti.

Rob and Stephanos talking about gardening

Rob and Stephanos talking about gardening

Descending to a room below in Katarina's late aunt's old home

Descending to a room below in Katarina’s late aunt’s old home

Group photo from a roof top high above Filoti

Group photo from a roof top high above Filoti

SPENDING TIME WITH ANDREAS AND NELLY

Everyone had a lot of fun meeting Andreas and Nelly and they had fun with our friends from Canada. Andreas and Nelly invited us to a picnic at their country garden where they have grape trees, fruit trees, olive trees, and chickens. Nelly cooked an amazing meal over an open fire while we all sat around enjoying the tales of Greece as told by Andreas.

 

A picnic hosted by Andreas and Nelly

A picnic hosted by Andreas and Nelly

We invited Andreas and Nelly over to Rena Valetta for dinner

We invited Andreas and Nelly over to Rena Valetta for dinner

A night of celebration and song at the home of Andreas and Nelly

A night of celebration and song at the home of Andreas and Nelly

OUR FRIEND KATHY OPENED UP HER ‘FOLK ART MUSEUM’ AND GAVE EVERYONE A TOUR

Kathy, who came to Naxos on holiday from Australia, has spent the past 37 years on Naxos. It is a familiar story – meet a Greek guy, fall in love, get married, and start a family. Kathy and her husband started a museum a few years ago which is open for tourists in the summer high season. Kathy opened it for us and gave a tour of so many interesting artifacts and stories.

tour of the folk art museum

tour of the folk art museum

Kathy's home

Kathy’s home

We took everyone to Moni Fotodoti which is the monastery Marilyn and I visited earlier during our stay. The last time we were disappointed to find the doors locked since all churches were open in 2000 when we lived here. We’re not sure what has changed but it seems many are now locked (if only for the off season). However, we had the most incredible luck. A woman from the village Damakos, which is about 2 km away in the valley, was there lighting the candles which she does each day. She let us wander around inside.

Inside the monastery

Inside the monastery

Moni Fotodoti

Moni Fotodoti

Dome from inside the monastery

Dome from inside the monastery

Moni Fotodoti from the path to the village of Damakos

Moni Fotodoti from the path to the village of Damakos

On Wednesday, Rob and Marilyn played a gig at The Jazz Bar to a full house of revelers.

Rob and Marilyn at the Jazz Bar

Rob and Marilyn at the Jazz Bar

Jazz Bar Crowd

Jazz Bar Crowd

 

The weather has been nice but a bit windy and therefore it has felt cooler. However, we did get to the beach where everyone got a chance to hunt for Naxos eyes and on another day we spent most of the day on the beach when the sun shone all day and there was no wind. Our white skin was a bit sensitive to the rays after a Canadian winter.

Hunting Naxos Eyes on the beach

Hunting Naxos Eyes on the beach

We drove to Filoti on Thursday to a community celebration which takes place each year just before lent. There was free wine and food and lots of Greek dancing.

Celebration in Filoti

Celebration in Filoti

Young girl dressed in traditional clothes for the Filoti celebrations

Young girl dressed in traditional clothes for the Filoti celebrations

The stores and restaurants are starting to get ready for the tourist season which will start in April. A man named Nikos was working inside his jewelery and gift shop while we were walking through old town. All four women bought bracelets with naxos eyes and then decided to take a photo.

Bracelet photo shoot

Bracelet photo shoot

The Naxos Eyes bracelets

The Naxos Eyes bracelets

Amy and Val caught a Ferry to spend two nights on Santorini before flying back to Canada. After they left, we took Kelly and Rob on a hike to Kourounohori which is an old Jesuit retreat which is ruins. Manolis and Maria took us there the week before and we were amazed at the structures. It is really starting to crumble and some people want to restore it but apparently they can’t find out who owns it. It could be Jesuits who came from anywhere in Europe.

Jesuit retreat also used as a school for mathematics

Jesuit retreat also used as a school for mathematics

Kelly at Kourounohori

Kelly at Kourounohori

Exploring the Jesuit Retreat built several hundred years ago.

Exploring the Jesuit Retreat built several hundred years ago.

Rob and Kelly left for Athens this morning (Saturday March 9) and will fly to Canada tomorrow. We are staying on Naxos until Tuesday in order to say goodbye to our friends and tidy up Rena Valetta. We arrive back in Canada on Wednesday March 13th.

Apollo's Gate at the entrance to Naxos port

Apollo’s Gate at the entrance to Naxos port

While we were here, Marilyn’s uncle Wayne from Toronto, passed away. Marilyn jokes that she always had a crush on her uncle Wayne and Mel and Wayne said Marilyn has always been their fourth daughter (they have three others – Lisa, Leanne, and Nicole). We have spent many wonderful times with the whole family and were so sad to hear about Wayne’s death. Marilyn was able to record a song which is being used as background music for slides which are being shown at the funeral. We wish we could be there with the family but will visit as soon as we get back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dumper or Dumpee

Dionysus God of Fertility and wine and divine intoxication

Dionysus God of Fertility and wine and divine intoxication

Of all the gods which have existed and do exist, I think the Greek gods were the coolest. That’s because they interacted a lot with humans. I really wish they hadn’t got bored and left Earth. It isn’t the same without them.

There are so many great stories and one of my favourites involves Ariadne, Theseus and Dionysus.  I especially like the possible twist to the the story in terms of who got dumped. Theseus, of course, is well known for the time he slew the Minotaur on Crete. Greeks had been bringing humans for sacrifice to the Minotaur for many years and quite frankly Theseus was getting a little tired of it. Unfortunately, Theseus didn’t really have a plan and would have ended up as hamburger except for one thing…………

Theseus and the Minotaur

Theseus and the Minotaur

This isn’t the best picture of the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur but Theseus was naked when he entered the maze and I didn’t want my blog to offend anyone. Theseus was …..well let’s just say….manly.  Anyway, it was actually Ariadne who helped Theseus. She was the daughter of King Minos and half sister to her ugly brother the monstrous Minotaur. Ariadne gave Theseus some golden thread to unfurl as he went through the maze. After he killed the Minotaur he used the thread to get back out. Okay, not all that amazing as a plan but it worked.

Ariadne had a good life but........

Ariadne had a good life but……..

There are probably a lot of reasons why Ariadne betrayed her father (the King) and her (monstrous) half brother but as you can see in the picture above, she looks kinda bored. When she saw Theseus’ big ship she wanted to get off the Island of Crete so part of the deal was that Theseus, if successful in killing the (monstrous) Minotaur, would take Ariadne as his lover. So far so good………

The monstrous Minotaur

The monstrous Minotaur

Now here’s where it gets interesting. While sailing home, Theseus docks at Naxos Island. This could easily be to get some food since Naxos is an agricultural island. It’s unlikely it  was for any tourist attractions because as far I know they hadn’t been developed yet. However, there is another theory. It is possible that Theseus stopped at Naxos to get Ariadne off his boat after realizing it was a bit crowed for the two of them. Well, that’s Theseus story anyway. But take a close look at the picture below and you might guess where this story is going……

Who's that up in the clouds?

Who’s that up in the clouds?

That’s Dionysus sneaking around up in those clouds and it is quite possible Ariadne, seeing a chance to hang out with a god may have actually dumped the mere mortal Theseus. Maybe it was Theseus who ended up crying. Regardless, Ariadne ended up with Dionysus and Theseus (possibly distracted) forgot to raise the white sails so hid father committed suicide ….but that’s another story.

Bizantine Church

Bizantine Church

I spent most of the past week marking mid-term papers but Marilyn and I got out for a drive on Thursday. We discovered this Bizantine church after a short hike from Apiranthos which is a village in the middle of the marble mountains. There are so many of these ‘treasure’ dotted around every part of Naxos.

Inside one part of the church

Inside one part of the church

Many of these old churches are in ruins. Some have frescoes which were plastered over by invading cultures and competing religions but the plaster is now falling off and once again revealing the paintings.

Another part of the church

Another part of the church

What was really exciting on Thursday though was finding a castle I’ve been searching for during the past few weeks. I know it isn’t easy to lose a castle but there was one I visited a lot when we lived on Naxos in 2000 and I just couldn’t remember where it was. We took a narrow dirt road off the route to Mount Zas and lo and behold there it was. I particularly like the medieval look and spooky tree in the front.
On road to Fotodoti

 

Castle of Fotodoti

Castle of Fotodoti

Unfortunately, they have done a lot of renovations to this castle which is also a monastery. In 2000, it was always open but now it is locked. Still, its a cool structure and a fun drive and hike. Castle at Fotodoti close up Castle at Fotodoti with MarilynRob, Kelly, Amy, and Val will be arriving on Monday. We’ve been trying to decide where to take them since there is far too much to see in just a few days. I’m sure they’ll be pleased with some of the excursions we have planned. I’ve reserved a min-van so we can all travel around the island together.

 

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