Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nafplio: Intro to Greek Vegetarian Food

Nafplio has a great number of restaurants and cafes that cater to tourists.  Many have water views or are "on the square".  I decided to go for the food.  The first night we went to a family restaurant, Kastro Karima.  We liked it so much that we ended up going every night.  Each time we ate by ourselves.  From our previous experience, I know Greeks don't eat until 10 pm.  Between laundry, blog, and homework, we cannot stay out late enough to run into them.

At Karima's more than half of the menu are vegetarian.  Each night we ordered three or four menu items.  We did not have to repeat anything, except for when we liked the fried cheese puffs so much, we immediately ordered a second plate.  Not an expert of Greek cuisine, many dishes were new to me, though the tastes were familiar.  The proprietors seem very kind people.  They brought us cold water and complimentary desserts.  The food is delicious and satisfying.  After the first day, we didn't even bother to order bread, considering our mule takes a lot feed.  For around 15 euros a meal, I feel like they are doing us a kindness rather than us giving them business.


On our last day in Nafplio, we made an outing to Epidavros, famous for its theater.  Another beautiful day to be wandering outside.

Our table at Karima's with Fried Eggplant and Greek Salad with Feta.Restaurant Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinegar and Feta. Yum!
Arugala Salad with Feta - Restaurant Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Cheese Puffs, Boiled Greens Salad, and Briam (baked layers of potatoes and veggies)
Restaurant Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Iman (Eggplant Layers) and Fries
Iman (Eggplant) and Fried Potatoes - Restaurant Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Mashed Fava Beans with Garnish.
Fava Bean Spread with Garnish - Restaurant Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Fried Cheese.
Restaurant Kastro Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Dessert - Restaurnat Karima - Nafplio, Greece

Dessert - Restaurant Karima - Nafplio, Greece

The Ancient Theater at Epidavros.
Ancient Theater - Epidavros, Greece

The Stadium with its 180-meter straight track - starting line in foreground.
Stadium - Epidavros, Greece

Sun-Ling studies a well preserved Corinthian capital in the site museum.
Epidavros, Greece

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nafplio & Mycenae


Everything we read about Nafplio raves about it.  If we had been here in the summer, I might have tagged it a tourist trap.  Being here off season and during the week is magical.  I'm trying to decide whether it bumps Dubrovnik down on my list of favorite small towns.

Nafplio has a very special setting to start with, by the sea, on a peninsula, on a hill, beneath a wall.   The surrounding fortification makes it all the more surreal.

The old town is full of narrow streets with mix of Venetian and Ottoman buildings.  For a town this size, we would have normally walked every street three times.  Walking around here we are constantly coming across new streets that take us by surprise.  I am convinced that Nafplio is growing streets on us in real time.

Above all, there are still enough local residents around to make it real.  There are popular bus services, a huge twice-weekly (Wednesday and Saturday) market in one of the parks right outside the old town, and a school where children are heard playing.


Today's excursion took us to another 3000+-year old site, that of Mycenea.  The highlight for me was the beehive style tomb.  The whole site, the fort, the museum, and the tombs made me feel very humble, even as a Chinese.  At the same time, I cannot help but wonder how can such a sophisticated people not achieve continuous civilization?!

The town of Nafplio has a seaside promenade on three sides. The southern side is below the Acronafplio cliffs with view of the sea and the Palamidi Fortress. The other sides face the harbour. Here are some shots from today's evening walk.

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio, Greece

Nafplio, Greece

The Ottomans built several mosques in Nafplio that are now cultural centers. This fountain and several others date from that time.
Nafplio, Greece

And some shots from Mycenae.

Outside the tomb known as the Treasury of Atreus.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

And inside.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

And some shots of the Mycenae fortress.

A view of the fortress from below - it's on top of the lower hill.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

Approaching Lion Gate.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

The massive Lion Gate.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

Grave Circle A.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

There are 99 steps down into the fortress cistern. We stopped at the first turn - about 25 steps.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

And last the view from the top of the fortress.
Mycenae - near Nafplio, Greece

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Nafplio: Forts

Yesterday we arrived in Nafplio in a gray drizzle.  It was pretty chilly.  We made our home at the Hotel Polyxenia, exactly the kind of place we like; old building, family-run, personal and genial, sincere not obsequious.

First thing in the morning we got a lift from our proprietor Maria to the site of Ancient Tiryns (we had originally planned to walk the 4 kms) . While the site is small, the great size of the rocks and walls from 14-13 centuries BCE are amazing.

We walked back to Nafplio by olive and orange groves to the Palamidi Fortress  high above town.  We took the set of steps at the edge of old town up, enjoying spectacular views of the sea, the town, the other two forts (above town and on the little island).  At the top, I pulled out our money to buy the tickets.  The ticket seller had a look at John and asked his age. The sign there clearly states that EU citizens 65 years are good for the 2-euro discount admission.  When the guy got back John's age - well below 65, he asked where he is from.  US is obviously not in the EU. The guy decided to give John the discount in any case.  At first we thought that John's habit of forgoing shaving on the road served him well.  Later we decided the guy wanted to reward John for walking up.  At that rate, if any of the old guys and ladies from our hiking club walked up, he probably would let them in for free. Actually we didn't even want the discount. We normally like to complain about admission prices and save whenever we can, but here we decided the Greek government can probably use our contribution. In two days of sightseeing, we have spent 36 euros on admissions without a second thought, not including the 2 euros we just saved.

Palamidi Fortress turned out to be well worth the regular 4 euro admission. We can see the fort from our balcony; we have been to more forts than I care to visit.  This fort is huge - I cannot remember another fort that's even close. The two of us had a great time climbing around and taking in views.

Another day of kind Greeks, almost more kindness than I can take.  Too soon to change my mind?

The main gate at Tiryns.
Ancient Tiryns - near Nafplio, Greece

Rooms inside the fortress walls.
Ancient Tiryns - Near Nafplio, Greece

The king's palace at Tiryns.
Nafplio, Greece

Tiryns Walls.
Nafplio, Greece

Walking the rails back to Nafplio.
Nafplio, Greece

View to Nafplio.
Nafplio, Greece

Inside Palamidi.
Nafplio, Greece

View to the southeast from Palamidi.
Nafplio, Greece

View back to Nafplio.
Nafplio, Greece

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Obligatory Athens

I was not impressed with Athens when we were here in 1996 for four days. Athens is supposed to have improved, especially from hosting the 2004 Olympics, but so have I - I have been a lot more places since then. Therefore, our only agenda items were to check off the very top attractions that we missed the last time: the National Archaeological Museum, the Sunday Changing of the Guard, and the Acropolis Museum (which everyone raves about). A busy day! We also managed to squeeze in the Rick Steves' Athens City Walk audio tour - quintessential Rick. I have not changed my mind about Athens either. We are moving on tomorrow.

The only thing that surprised me was how friendly people are - not what we remembered: tired-of-tourists-Greeks. Did they have a change of heart? Or is it the result of their bad economy? I know I am a hard customer to please. From walking around today, many cafes/restaurants were bustling, but some were not. I reserve my assessment on the state of economy for now.

The Parthenon Gallery at the Acropolis Museum is full scale.
Athens, Greece

View of the Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum.
Acropolis Museum - Athens, Greece

Changing of the Guard.
Athens, Greece

Ancient bronze horse with jockey at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Bronze Horse with Jockey - National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece

Poseidon - National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece

A great view of the Roman Agora thanks to Rick Steves.
Roman Agora - Athens, Greece

And we ended the day with a tasty veggie burger and salad at Avocado Vegetarian Restaurant.
Salad and Veggie Burger - Avocado Vegetarina Restuarant - Athens, Greece

Not to mention the afternoon snack: our first vegetarian souvlaki of this trip.
Veggie Slouvlaki - Athens, Greece

All of the photos are here.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Installed in Athens

Our Aegean Airlines flight left on time.  When we arrived at the new (still new to us) Athens Airport, we breezed through immigration.  A few minutes later bags started to come out.  As we held our breadth, our two bags came out one after another, with handwritten tags - no wonder we were worried.  It was 5:58 pm local time; six hours behind schedule

The 6:05 pm X-95 (express bus to city center) pulled out two seconds after we stepped on.  There was none of the weekday traffic jam on this Saturday evening.  We arrived at Syntagma Square 45 minutes later.  After a quick round of hotel searching, we are now installed at one of my top two candidates (the other one was full) in a suite (a separate sitting area).  The terrace outside our room has an Acropolis view.

Hello from Heathrow

We are unexpectedly killing time in London's Heathrow airport thanks to Friday afternoon thunderstorms on the east coast of the US. Our flight from Raleigh to Newark was cancelled thus our Raleigh-Newark-Munich-Athens itinerary became Raleigh-London-Athens.

Yep, our trip is off to a less than perfect start. Thursday night while we were busy working on last minute to-dos, an item fell out of the freezer-side of the fridge and broke a piece of the automatic door closing mechanism. Luckily I had been working on a door closing problem with the fridge-side door a few days before and had learned enough from that experience to jury-rig the freezer door shut. Whew! A proper repair will have to wait until we return.

Then Friday we sat at RDU for 4 hours while our original flight was delayed, delayed again, then cancelled. Luckily we were re-routed to Athens via London. So 4 more hours at RDU waiting for the RDU-London flight to leave. Of course Sun-Ling had packed a huge lunch bag for us so we were definitely not hungry. ;-)

Then once at Heathrow we had to work through a computer glitch at the Aegean Airlines transit desk to avoid an extra $50 baggage fee each. Yikes!

So finally we can relax for a few hours before our fight to Athens. But we don't know if our bags will be on the carousel in Athens. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Journal Details

It's the final week or two of packing before we start our trip to SE Europe. I'm not completely packed but I do have a brand new notebook ready to become my first journal of the trip.
I'm kinda particular about the type of notebook I use. It will be my constant companion, reference, and project during our travels. On our last trip I filled up 4 notebooks.  I started the trip with a new notebook, but the rest were bought on the road. 

The perfect notebook must easily move in and out of the front pocket of my day pack and thus be not  much larger than 6" x 8.5" and not be spiral bound or have clasps. I've found that a 6 x 8.5 with a saddle stitched or stapled binding is perfect; bigger, it would not fit in my pack; smaller, and I'm barely able to write more than a few words per line.  And about 100 sheets of paper (200 sides) is the best. More than that can be too heavy, especially if it's hardcover notebook. Typically a notebook will last a month - about 3 pages a day.

Lines. I prefer lined sheets to blank, and prefer lined or blank over quad-rule, but all three will work. I also like sheets that have some sort of header at the top where I can write the date and place. Several recent notebooks have had little weather icons on the header that one can circle to indicate the weather for the day: sunny, cloudy, rain, etc. Neat!

Lugging the notebook around in my day pack allows me to write any time there is a break in the action: on a plane or train; in a restaurant. In addition new friends can add  their contact info and the occasional doodle. But usually I write every night after dinner, shower, and laundry are done and in between uploading photos to flickr and blogging.

I write on the right-hand side page only with a  mechanical pencil with  .5 mm soft lead. Black or blue pens work as well as long as they don't bleed through the page.  Initially I  leave the left side page blank anticipating corrections and additions. Also I bring a small roll of scotch tape to turn ephemera into memorabilia.

My first notebook for this trip was bought in Mexico during the final week of our last trip. It's a purple french ruled stapled notebook (cuaderno franc├ęs grapa), 15.5 cm (6.1 inches) x 2 cm (8.3 inches), has 100 lined pages (hojas rayadas), and is made by Scribe ( I'll buy subsequent notebooks in local stationary stores as we go. It's a great way to meet folks and learn a bit about local culture and language.

Here's a journal page from March 2012.

[Thanks to Jay, who is a fan of Stapled Rhodia notebooks,  for the question that inspired this post.]

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Our Mobile Kitchen

While we relish new foods that we encounter on our travels, at times eating vegetarian can be very frustrating. I cannot count the number of times I wished we ate chicken. Life would have been an order of magnitude simpler!

Over the years we have assembled our little kitchen-on-the-road, even did a little upgrading recently. We mainly use our kitchen in a few circumstances:
  1. Our hotel does not include breakfast. We have concluded that eating breakfast at the hotel, instead of going out for breakfast, saves a lot of time and effort, otherwise we may not get going until after 10 am. So we eat in using the pot and electric coil to heat water and make instant coffee in the mugs to go with pastries or breads bought the night before
  2. We cannot find vegetarian food at restaurants, markets, or stalls. This mostly happens in very small towns. So far, we have made instant noodles in the pots and guacamole in the pots and pot holders. I don't know what we'll need to do this trip.
  3. We have a long train/bus ride. We always bring our own food. John likes having sandwiches. We use our knife and cutting board to make cheese/cucumber/avocado sandwiches. 
  4. Sometimes I think we need more protein. We make hard boiled eggs in the pots.
This may seem like a lot of work, but actually life on the road is very simple -- keep our stomachs full, keep ourselves comfortable (clean, warm/cool), have good shelter (clean bed, bathroom, WiFi) -- that's it! This is why I love traveling.

2 x 28 oz (800 ml) titanium pot/mug with insulating base and lid
2 x  8 oz (200 ml) double-walled stainless steel mug with lid
2 x  6-inch titanium sporks
1 x pair collapsible chopsticks
1 x dual voltage immersion water heater
1 x Swiss Army Picnicker pocket knife with locking 4-inch blade
1 x small cutting board

"If one travels, one eats." - D.H. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia (1921)

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