Just wrapped up a really wonderful visit with Lisa, which included 7 days here in Crete, 5 in Santorini and one day/two nights in Athens.
I've always loved Lisa's laid back attitude, ability to look on the bright side, and "trooper" mentality. She exhibited all those characteristics with aplomb when faced with the monster that is my pull-out sofa. Although she did experiment with the air mattress and one of the outdoor loungers (the first made her feel as though she were on a raft, and the latter seemed to have brought a rather large creepy-crawly in with it which skittered across her sometime in the middle of the night), she ultimately braved the sofa bed, and did so cheerfully. (Note: I looked up "aplomb" on Dictionary.com to make sure I was using the word correctly here, and was very amused to find that one of its definitions is "the perpendicular or vertical position".)
I posted an earlier picture of a sunset at Falarsana. This is me watching that sunset.
Local red wine, or what I've heard referred to as "brown village stuff", at one of the restaurants in Kastelli. It can be quite vile, as was this particular strain, but not so bad that we were unable to finish the 1/2 carafe.
Boureki is a rather common Greek vegetable pie made with zucchini and potatoes, with many regional variations. It doesn't feature on many menus at Greek restaurants in the States, and Lisa had never heard of it and wanted to try it. We passed up our first opportunity at a restaurant on the Kastelli waterfront because Merit and I had eaten there once before and weren't all that impressed. However, there was a very friendly waiter who took us back to the kitchen to show us the "beautiful boureki" as he called it, and we told him we'd be back later to try some. All summer long I found it offered at almost every taverna I visited, but apparently it's also somewhat seasonal and takes a lot of time to prepare, so when we began asking for it we were told by every other restaurant that they did not have any (I assume the decreased tourist traffic doesn't warrant the time or effort at this time of year). We finally found a place in Kolymbari that had it, although I'm damned if I can remember the name of the place.
I had wanted to take Lisa to Don Rosario's, an Italian restaurant on the Rodhopou peninsula, but when I phoned them for reservations on Tuesday they informed me that they were only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at this time of year. So we called back on Friday morning and made reservations for 9pm that evening. We were the only ones there. We enjoyed a very nice meal in spite of the feeling that we were holding up the two wait staff from getting their weekend underway, and it was indeed a pleasant change from the usual taverna fare. No brown village stuff here, we shared a bottle of '04 Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, one of my favorite "every-day"wines. The grilled vegetable appetizer kicked ass.
Fast forward to Santorini, which I know Lisa had been looking forward to for a number of reasons, one being that she would no longer be subjected to the crazy driving habits of the Cretans (and those of her host who has picked up a few of the same habits). The ferry arrived around 10pm, and after checking into our hotel we looked for someplace nearby to have a late dinner. We passed up several very expensive venues close by in favor of a reasonably priced place that was offering just a few items from the menu at this late hour. We happily settled in to our meal of moussaka, stuffed tomatoes and peppers, and the obligatory (really!) 1/2 carafe of red wine. We were about 3/4 through our meal when the happy, young, energetic wait staff informed us that they were leaving for the evening, but that we were welcome to stay and finish our meal. Which we did. In the dark. By ourselves. Fortunately there was enough ambient light (the dining area was outside) that we could see what we were doing, but we were both completely amazed and amused at having been left alone in a dark, empty taverna to finish our wine. It was an interesting experience.
Lisa + sofa on balcony + sunshine + caldera view = One Happy Camper.
Just a picture I took while walking around Fira, the town we stayed in on Santorini.
Enter the Cutest Cat Ever. We had stopped into a pretty little garden area attached to a shop selling icon art, and Lisa immediately spotted this adorable little fluff-ball. The owner of the shop laid claim to the kitty, and told us that her name is Floupy-Floupy. We thought that was a stupid name, so we gave her our own name, Κηπος (pronounced "Keepos"), which means "garden" in Greek. It was so fun to watch the other tourists (mainly female, but some male too) go completely ga-ga over Kηπος when they walked in and saw us holding her. A few days after visiting the shop, we decided to go back and say hello to Kηπος again (Lisa actually seemed to be having kitten withdrawal at this point) but when we arrived at the garden, we saw only a couple of bowls that looked like they contained kitty food/milk at one point - but no kitty. So we meandered around the garden for a bit, and Lisa suggested that we just ask the owner where the kitten was. I, however, felt guilty about asking the woman without actually purchasing something from her, so I picked up a small depiction of the Madonna & Child for my grandmother and then we moved in. As I handed the woman my euros for the purchase, I casually said in Greek "Hi...where is Floupy-Floupy?" She pointed to a tiny box on the chair right under our noses, and there she was, all curled up in a little ball sleeping. Lisa TRIED to be nonchalant...she tried so hard just to reach into the box and quietly pet her, but no more than ten seconds passed before she had scooped her out of her bed and was holding her. So we stayed for a little while under the slightly baffled gaze of the owner, and finally put the kitty back into her bed, which she promptly jumped out of in search of food. Ultimately we were just happy to know that this woman actually was taking good care of her. I am still a little concerned at how closely I was considering perpetrating a "catnapping". And not in the sleepy sense of the word.
And of course, we eventually arrived at a winery. Three actually. The first was the wine museum which is attached to Koutsoyiannopoulous Winery, makers of Volcan wines, which really is quite interesting if you ignore the wines they offer for tasting at the end of the tour. They've got a whole underground cavern filled with artifacts from wine-production past, as well as depictions of the same which are represented by slightly creepy, mechanically operated figures featured in around 26 different "scenes". This is the second time I've visited this place, and while I find the wines they offer for tasting to be mediocre at best, the museum itself is quite worth the 6 Euro entrance fee in my opinion. The picture here is of the tasting room at Boutari. I had some preconceived notions about Boutari before coming here due to my bias against mass production but the man who led the tastings, Stavros, totally impressed me with his knowledge and ability to work a rather large, unexpected crowd of visitors at the end of the day. We ended up buying three bottles there - a white blend called Seladia made of Assyrtiko, Athiri, and one other grape I can't recall, their 2004 Reserve Xinomavro, and a 2005 Vinsanto dessert wine. We drank the white while watching the sun set one evening, and I've brought the other two home with me. A few days later we combined a trip to the village of Oia with the nearby Sigalas Winery, and while the person conducting the tastings here was nowhere near the caliber of Stavros at Boutari, we tasted several really nice whites and ended up taking two with us (again, one for the sunset and one for me to lug home). We drank the lighter style Assyrtiko/Athiri blend, and I took home the 100% barrel aged Assyrtiko, which had a good bit more body. Oh! Almost forgot because I don't have any pictures of it...Lisa and I also visited Nostos Wines while she was here in Crete. Nostos was the place that I was hoping to "intern" with this past summer but it never worked out. On this visit, however, I did get to finally meet Alexandra (the daughter of the owner who is pretty much running the business end of things) and we had a really enjoyable visit with her and their hyper-active dog Jack, who jumped all over me with his muddy paws several times. We each purchased several bottles there also. I am set for the next few weeks on very good quality wines:-)
Some donkeys trekking up the many steps from the old port below, as viewed from our balcony.
Here are a few photos of our "room" on Santorini at Nefeles Suites. As I mentioned in a previous post, we got upgraded to a really beautiful suite since it's the slow season and it was unoccupied. I really loved this hotel, and would definitely stay there again if I could afford it.
A view into my bedroom from the second story loft landing.
The living room
A view through the front door of our balcony and the caldera.
We came across this bookstore when we visited the picturesque village of Oia on the north end of the island. Great bookstore, lots of interesting titles, and a very comfy atmosphere.
Just some more photos from our visit to Oia.
Lisa working her way around a fruit fly in her wine...
Just having fun with the sunset on the balcony...
We were sad to say goodbye to Santorini, but it was nice to be able to visit with Mike in Athens, who very kindly picked us up from the ferry and spent the next day touring around the Acropolis with us, driving around showing us the various areas of the city, and then taking us (along with one of his friends) to the mall where we caught "Julie & Julia" at the cinema. Apparently everyone else had the same idea - it took us almost half an hour to get into the parking area due to the incoming traffic. We wrapped up later that evening with some drinks at a cafe near our hotel, and then poor Lisa had to catch a taxi at 4:15am the following morning to make it to the airport for her flight home.
I took the overnight ferry from Piraeus to Heraklion and was very comfy in one of the cabins, which was as nice as any cruise ship cabin I've encountered. Fortunately the weather cooperated for my 2 1/2 hour drive home from Heraklion, and I enjoyed the view of the mountains with the sun rising behind me as I headed west.
I did manage to contract a case of ring worm somewhere along the way but that's not surprising...it had been a while since my last skin affliction and I suppose I was overdue:-/
I'm back home in Crete now, it's been raining solidly for the last day and a half since my return. Everyone keeps saying how badly we needed it, so I'm happy for the trees and other plants, but it's keeping me very sleepy and unmotivated, not to mention that it's really difficult to dry clothing while it's so damp. Oh well, I've got a big, fat, warm kitty cat on my lap right now, and a cup of tea so I won't complain.
Wrapping up, I just want to say thanks to Lisa for spending her vacation with me. She's a dream "guest" and I hope she had as nice a time as I did.