The Sahara and Us Morocco 2011

Friday, May 31, 2013

Kissamos and Tertsa

Christina Beach Hotel pool

Kissamos is at the top northwest corner of Crete. Crete is the largest Greek island and a strategic place from a military background. Hitler during WW2 met tremendous resistance here from the Greeks and the allies used it in the fight against Rommel in Egypt. Kissamos is a laid back beach town with access to the west side beaches and is only 38 kms north of Chania. It offers a great alternate location to stay while visiting. We also found out that once a week (Thursday) a ferry goes from here to Gythio on the Peloponnese peninsula and  is a day ferry instead of an overnight from Heraklion to Pireaus. It is 1/3 the price, and completely bypasses the Athens corridor. It is a great alternative.

Church built into Rock Cave
Our hotel (The Christina Beach Hotel) was excellent with a top floor sea view/pool view from the room. We lazed around the pool while working out the kinks from our Samaria gorge hike and then walked 6 kms to the Port of Kissamos, where we discovered this neat Orthodox church built into a rock cave along the side of the road.







We had been invited by some HU members, Jen and Rog Preston to come and see their eco-village just above the village of Tertsa in southwestern Crete and we made our way there across the Amari valley. After a gorgeous lunch stop  on the west side of the island, facing the Libyan Sea, Libya /Egypt border being 200 kms away, we arrived at their place about 4:00 pm. 

Lunch on the Libyan Sea

Sandra Jen and Rog
The village, currently a collection of 5-6 restored ruins, is powered solely by solar and wind power with a fuel source of LP gas for cooking.

They are retired school teachers with a rich history of experience teaching in foreign countries and between drinks, and a wonderful supper prepared; we didn't stop the visiting until midnight.

They have purchased several small apartment ruins which they have rebuilt into their own residence and a guest suite, complete with Olive trees, and other fruits. They were very gracious hosts while we were there and Rog and I had so many similar hands on experiences that allowed us to instantly relate.


Many thanks for your hospitality!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Samaria Gorge

Signage at the top of the Mountain gorge
How quickly?


Each trip we plan at least one challenging hike and this year is no different. The Samaria gorge hike is in a National Park by the same name and is a gorge that drops some 1200M. from snow level in winter to sea level in about 16 kms. Probably the most technical hike we have ever done since for easily ¾ of it you have to position each step since you are walking down rocks that have become polished over time, or rough skree.
Rough trail but the there is a handrail in places

In addition, the logistics of getting to, and returning from the hike are a challenge, a special bus has to be caught from downtown Chania (only 2 per day) which takes you slightly over an hour to climb into the mountains. Then you hike down to a remote beach community that is serviced by a once daily ferry/barge that arrives at 17:30 hrs. But it may not arrive at that time, that’s just approximate. Once it arrives, as with ours it still had 2 more pickups to make along other remote beach communities before arriving in Hokra Stadion, that has a newer road into it. There you catch the last bus back to Chania. It waits until the ferry gets in and delivers its passengers. Our ferry was supposed to arrive in Hokra approximately 18:10 but didn’t arrive till 19:
Creek Crossings
30. Then you hike up a hill to the bus get on and wind another 1 ¼ hrs. back into Chania. We arrived back in Chania at 21:30 hrs. and were quite tired. Sandra and I both discussed the fact we couldn't do bus trips or transfers etc. Too much queuing, waiting, and then the rides put me to sleep. I'd never see anything, but I'd be well rested.

waterfalls
But the hike was worth it. Scenery that compares to Kootenay National Park around Radium Hot Springs, pure spring water that just emanates from the rock and is so cold, compared to the 30+ C temperatures you are hiking in. We packed in 2 ½ litres of water and splashed and drank easily another 3 litres while on the hike.
Gorge Walls
The level of expertise hiking was surprising, from some people who it seemed it was their first hike, and had some real struggles, to some who walked down like they were strolling in town. We’d recommend that people do some preparation before a hike like this and get some 7-10 km walks in, like we do around Ladysmith, a perfect training ground for this. There are many nationalities represented in the hiking entourage as well.
All Nationalities here


Samaria has been lived in since pre-historic times and there is a settlement
Settlement remains from 1200 BC
about 6 kms up the gorge from the beach that can be seen. Wild goats called Agrimli’s can be found wandering the cliffs and settlement areas today. They are the largest wild mammal on Crete.









Old Church

Once you get to the remote community there is evidence of an old castle, a bridge that is constructed very much like the Stari Most at Mostar, and an old Greek Orthodox church. High on the hill protecting the gorge are the remnants of an old castle as well.
As we leave by Ferry

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Difference Between a European Heaven and a European Hell:



In a European Heaven-
  • The French are the cooks,
  • The English are the police,
  • The Germans are the mechanics,
  • The Italians are the lovers and
  • The Swiss organize everything.

In a European Hell-
  • The English are the cooks,
  • The Germans are the police,
  • The French are the mechanics,
  • The Swiss are the lovers and
  • The Italians organize everything!

I wish they'd consider the Greeks in this one.

credit goes to this blog

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chania



Chania is about 138 kms west and north of Heraklion and a port town of its own. It as well was a Venetian port, and is a very beautiful place. A walled city, Venetian fortress, and a waterfront that just begs to have supper at, which we have.

Heraklion Crete

Venetian Fortress in Heraklion


Situated in a bay near the centre of Crete Heraklion was a Venetian port with Fortress. It is now the Capital city for Crete and a major port and commercial centre. It still has its artifacts and has a mixed commercial and leisure marina side to it.
We took the old Town walking self-guided tour that eventually led to the museum  and entered to see some beautiful sculptures and frescoes saved and partially restored. This was free!
Sculptures from Knossos Palace
2000BC Fresco
Then after wandering around we decided to go for  a late lunch and were lucky to have selected a Greek tavern that had only Greeks ( and us) in it. The food, virtually all fish, was excellent. The place is called Tabepna Oyzepi, and is on the corner by the Venetian castle and small traffic circle there. We had our favorite grape leaf wrapped cabbage roll type things with curry and sour cream, and Sandra had the Shrimp Saganaki and I had the Mussels Saganaki. Done quite differently from each other, both were excellent. The Mussels, the largest and most tender I have had were fabulous, and then they brought fresh watermelon for dessert and Grappa, a Schnapps’ type liqueur which you drink from a shot glass, with a refillable container, ice cold, while you eat the watermelon. Amazing! Did I mention we went back and had a long nap!

Now we head for Thira ( Santorini)

Oia at dinner

Santorini is an island rich in history. First, in the 2nd century BC it was a single island with a volcano that erupted so violently that the area directly outside the core collapsed into the Aegean Sea and 5 separate islands were formed. It is thought to be one of the possible “Atlantis” city locations. The main island now is in the shape of a crescent and it is stunning.
You first arrive at a ferry port some 1000 vertical feet below the modern day living space of Santorini and snake up a brutal little hairpin turn road to reach just outside the town of Fira (Thira).  The villages, all white, look like snow on the tops of the cliffs. From there to the northwest is the village of Oia out on the far northwestern point of the island, and to the south west the ancient site of Akrotira, where there is an archaeological dig and site to visit in place. They refer to it as the Pompeii of Greece. It is a very worthwhile site to spend time at. Also, adjacent to Akrotira is “red Beach”
Red Beach
a small cliff type beach that has red stone backdrop to it.
Halfway up the crescent on the east side is Perissa , where the famous ‘Black Beach’ is. The sand here is a black giving it its name. Apparently it is the party area of Santorini. We watched two overweight girls stroll down to the shore, and enter the water only to float around on their backs drinking Mythos ½ litre beers, and it was noon! I guess they have to draw attention to themselves one way or another. It worked.
We had chosen to stay in the Oia area, since there was a B&B that had a good review and it was the terminus point for a
Black Beach sans beach bunnies
hike that we considered doing. The B&B was full, but they recommended Maria’s Place, which is run by Anna. This is a very nice B&B run by a very hardworking lady who will do anything for you. Ask her anything about Greece and she knows about it. We’d highly recommend this place, wonderful pool and location as well.
Oia, as we found out is also the most photogenic location on the island with its steep-to stacked accommodations, a street walk done in marble, and great restaurants as well as the home of Hong Kong wedding pictures. We noticed one after another Asian couples getting photos taken  there while we visited. Anna explains that about 6 mths before the actual wedding, a group of  7 Asian couples will fly as a charter with a photographer, make-up artist, and two wedding dresses, suits and party dresses there and get their photos taken, then at the actual wedding these photos will be shown in a slideshow to everyone in attendance.

Quite windy that day
Sandra’s brother Robin commented that Santorini is very touristy, and we certainly agree, but the setting is breathtaking, a one of a kind place, and the weather save for the high winds that developed, was wonderful.
If you plan to go, plan an overnight excursion from Crete. 





Another danger that exists on Santorini is the 2 class driver system, the Greeks on one hand who are assassins behind the wheel and those who come and rent the tiny under-powered quads or micro cars and who stop and block traffic any time they perceive a possible threat. Word to the wise, know your driving capability, and if you can’t drive like them, then use their excellent public transportation system, which many do. I think I just confessed to being an assassin?? No I am not like them, but I’m not timid either.
Bells in Oia
One thing we have come to learn after making the crossing to Crete now, you cannot count on the ferries. Our 5:50 pm ferry actually began loading at 9:30 pm due to wind delays. It was a large Cat ferry (Sea-jets) and we watched earlier as another Cat ferry (Golden Blaze)
Golden Blaze fixing chafed lines see white buildings
at top of cliffs look like snow
had such a fiasco loading and leaving the port that was swamped in waves breaking all around. It broke gear, chafed through lines etc. etc.
On ours, they were a bit more organized, but as it arrived there were people who got off the ferry and kneeled down and kissed the ground. I thought OK, this is going to be a rough ride. Then the crew had to drag some passengers luggage off so they would follow since they were fearful (rightfully so), of the bouncing down ramp. Then I was instructed to be the first up the ramp and told to go fast since it would be wet. Just moments before I was readied to go up the deck it would not drop to the level of the quay, about 6-8” above then they released the hydraulics more, and I was told to go. I accelerated up to some applause only to nearly run over an Asian man who was struggling with a crew hand that came right in front of me on the top of the ramp because he did not want to get off. Fortunately I still have excellent reaction times.
The sailing to Crete was very rough with a large number of people taking and using Barf bags. Sandra sat in amusement, I read my latest Michael Connelly novel (The Poet) then napped and we arrived in Heraklion at 12:30 am. We were supposed to arrive at 8:10 pm. fortunately I had made a last minute booking and we drove to our hotel and got in bed. There is certainly benefit in being tried and true sailors. Sandra asked if we had any Rum later, her favorite drink after a hard sail.
Just ask Anna Anything
Our apartment in Blue
Stunning in the Sun
Windmills were commonplace

Drive from Prevaza to Athens (With an Ode to BC Ferries)



The drive from Pervaza to Athens requires you to drive under a part of the Med at a narrowing point on the coast. There is a large bay inboard of the Greek coastline here and it creates a very beautiful barrier to coastal access. I’m not sure when the tunnel was built but it sure is cheap to pay the toll on a moto .70 cents E instead of 3.2E for a car. Even a better discount is the Korinthos bridge, the vehicle in front paid 13.20 and we paid 2.20.

The road is marked as E55 and for a bit we seemed to be on some goat trail, not sure if the GPS took us there on a ‘shorter route’ calc or not. I did get back on the more main highway in a bit and headed on it to almost Agirnio when a free Autobahn section opened up on the way to Antirrio the north end of the bridge. We enjoyed this for a while but what was most interesting is the beautiful country that is in this area. As we got closer to the bridge a gorge opened up to the east that was every bit as gorgeous as the Red Rock Canyon near Grand Junction, Colorado.

We crossed the bridge which is always windy and then chose to drive the toll highway to get us into Athens earlier in the afternoon. This section is cheap to drive but is in disrepair so it’s not the best. This section is on the Peloponnese peninsula side and again the gorges that opened up were very pretty, another looking a lot like a larger Dinosaur Park area of Alberta.

We decided at a break in the riding to go to the ferry terminal first to get our tickets for the morning ferry, and the GPS waypoint was dead on, led me right there but the afternoon was very hot, must have been mid 30’s in Athens. Tickets 103E in hand for a 7:25 am ferry to Santorini we headed on to Glyfada where our planned hotel for the night, Blue Sky was. We had stayed here in 2011 so we’d head back again. This was the only thing that didn’t work. Theris success led to a full house so they recommended another hotel in the area, the London Hotel. We drove there,  both skeptical  and the first room they showed us on the 3rd floor was close to a guy that looked long term and kept his door open and played music.
So we asked about a room on another floor, were showed 1 on the 4th floor #414, which was good and we showered and changed and I filled the bike with gas, assuming that fuel prices on the islands will be expensive. We then headed to a restaurant in the downtown area of Glyfada and Sandra had stuffed peppers and tomatoes again, and I finally had Moussaka. Hit the hay at 9:25 for a 5:25 wake up call. Room was 55E, paid in advance for a rear facing room with breakfast but we had to get up before breakfast so we asked and she told us that they’d have something for us.
Sure enough at 5:45 am, we came down, the frt desk guy took us to the breakfast room, served us cold meats cheeses, fruit, yogurt and Cappuccino’s. We were very impressed. We’ll have to give the hotel a good review on Trip advisor.
Our drive to the ferry terminal went off without a hitch as well. The streets were very quiet and we got there even before the 1 hr request time, boarded and watched as the last minute rush ensued.
The ferry left exactly on time and then went to Paros first, dumping people off, whipping cars and freight off quickly and all without tying up, then loaded and off we headed to Naxos where they did the same thing. We lost a lot of passengers to Naxos, but since the ferry does a loop we picked up a fair amount as well.  Finally Ios where the ritual was once again repeated. Each of these islands are very small and rural in nature. The draw here is the remoteness and their beaches.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lefkada

Porto Katsiki
So we have been in our great hotel for 2 days now and found a great place to eat Elena’s. Actually it’s Statros, his name but she does the cooking, and she runs the apartments they have next to the taverna.
Gorgeous Scenery


And she promised if we came back another night she’d prepare her stuffed paprika’s ( peppers) so we extended our stay. Her Chicken Souvlaki, and pizza with salad was excellent so there was no risk. That gave us the plan to head to Lefkada island for the day. Massimo had recommended seeing it and it’s easy to get to. The concierge at the hotel provided lots of good local knowledge about the island and generally placed where things were and we set out to explore. Sure lucky having the Strom as some of the steep back windy sections of old rock are not very navigatable without a dual purpose bike.
Out to the Point

We made our way down checking out a number of places, but the one that awestruck us was Porto Kitsiki, a cliff beach hidden on the far south peninsula of the island. We took our bathing suits, changed and enjoyed the whole afternoon on the beach, eventually making ur way back through Vasiliki, and Nidri before heading back.
Blue Cave




















Lefkis canal
Lefkis, the village you enter when arriving on Lefkada island was a Venetian port in the middle ages. So the architecture you will see is that of Venice. The old areas are silting in with sand and it provides quite the contrast. 











Old Venetian Castle

New Islands beget summer cabins


As luck would have it Elena and Stratos had company and by the night was over we had way too much Ouzo.
A Toast

Stratos and Elena

Albania



Our route out of Montenegro is a backdoor road to a small border crossing at Muriqan and we literally had to take a goat trail again to accomplish this task. Along the way the road turned to gravel, donkey’s had broken their tethers and were wandering around, and close to the border, Montenegrins’ were displaying Albanian behavior by dumping their trash and rubble just off the road into Albania.
Now Albania was a communist dictatorship for quite a while and it’s apparent that everything was very poor. The road network was terrible and according to some most travelled by horse and cart. In fact we saw a lot of horse and cart traffic still. Our friends Mike and Ruby reported terrible roads in 2006 when they went through, but some recent reports were more favorable so we had picked a route and wanted to get to southern Albania in 1 day. On entering the country some of the first practices I saw were farmers dumping animal manure into a water source just outside Skhoder. They dumped it there because the road facilitated an easy dump of an embankment.
Next, chaos on the roads. As we drove people had pretty much disregarded any rules of the road, vying for position whether they were in their lane, you were in front or behind or were going to turn.
We were told about the great A1 roadway, a stretch of autobahn road that would take us quickly to Tirane. That was true for what was still in place but some is damaged to the point people are now driving down the other side where they can find passage. And on our side I was travelling at 110 kph when a pothole opened up and I could do nothing to avoid it. It was so jarring I worried about damaging a rim, fortunately that didn’t happen.
As we looked off to the side both of us saw the same thing, an eastern European Morocco in many practices. When we stopped 2 gypsy children came out of nowhere ( maybe a pothole) and began pestering us for food. We had by this point decided to actually drive through so we were sharing 1 banana and a granola bar that was our ‘lunch’ at 3:45 pm. So we weren’t about to give it away.
Everywhere you looked you could see they dumped their garbage into gullies, and there were many ½ built or vacant buildings all over. One industry that has cropped up is the Car Wash (Lavange). Borne from all the exotic cars that have surreptitiously found their way to Albanian shores , there is a need to wash them, since half of all roads are gravel and ½ the people who live adjacent to these roads under construction turn a garden hose onto their stretch so that they can keep dust down, so you go wet, dry wet dry for miles and miles. The bike is  filthy at the moment.
Just outside Vlore we were told by a local that the new road SH4 was new and good so we decided to take it to Girokaster and then perhaps go down to Sarande that way. Well about 45 kms into the 130 km stretch the road turned to gravel, then worse, like an Alberta forestry road after washouts, then worse with trucks there to repair them hung up or broken down in the middle preventing larger vehicles from getting by without falling off an embankment or hitting the vehicle that was stuck. Honestly it was that bad. We picked our way through, encouraged by small amounts of pavement that only left us in 4-500 meters. In fact some of the drop offs were so bad I nearly hung the bike up on them, and then you would get 6-8” high ridges running parallel to your direction but squeezing you off the road unless you jumped them, which we did. By Girokaster (110 kms) we decided we had had enough of Albanian hospitality and would head instead over the border into Greece, which we did. Originally a 410 km day turned into 500 plus kms, and easily ½ on gravel or broken roads.

We have now since been rewarded by heading quickly this morning down a beautiful high mountain Greek road to the shores of Kanali near Pervaza, where we have an idyllic 4 star hotel on the beach with everything imaginable including a Greek breakfast for 55 E. We could never leave!
View from our 4 star hotel outside Pervaza

Montenegro


Pivaska Canyon Road, near Durmitor NP

After watching the weather, and taking a rain day in Sarajevo we decided to head for the Pivaska canyon road. The forecast was for it to get better as the day aged.
The route takes a high pass over some mountains toward Foca and it was here we encountered some rain, with it quitting after we came down the pass from the top. Well prepared for it, the rain was of no bother at all and by Foca I installed our helmet cam for what lay ahead. The road from Foca to the Montenegro border does become a goat trail, complete with goats and a herder, which we hadn’t seen since the French Alps in 2011.
The border crossing was one of the easiest yet, complete dispelling a number of  comments written by some on the H U site, one specifically about the Eco-tax, and another that EU insurance doesn't cover Montenegro. Now the fun began. A warning on the highway to drive carefully.
Well the Pivaska Canyon route follows a canyon to Niksic and along the way goes through about 100 tunnels. As I watched the video briefly to get to tunnel 47, a spectacular hole in the rock that then there is a tunnel bored into lower, I was pleased that we had put up with the gravel in sections leading to the border.
The ride into Niksic was otherwise uneventful and after a break we decided to head to Oshrog Monastery, an Orthodox monastery built into the mountain and containing to large cave
Oshrog Monastery
openings within it.
This road proved a challenge with its twisty back route nature but we were up and back down in likely 1 ½ hrs. total and then onto Pervast.
Now Pervast had been recommended to us as a good place to stay from a location standpoint, which we agree with, but the accommodation there leaves a lot to be desired. We finally settled on the Hotel Admiral, just because it was the only clean place in town. There was a Konoba close by that we ate at that was very good though, the waiter grilling my chicken fillets on the open charcoal that the “lamb under bell” was also available on.






Bay of Kotor
Today, we spent a lazy morning getting ready, then headed into Kotor, an old walled city and another WHS ( of course). Actually there was a scene in the James Bond movie Casino Royale that had the Chief of Police of Montenegro arrested for drug charges. It was filmed in the square just after entering the old walled city. Since our friends Rick and Debbie will be here in a couple of weeks on a Cruise ship we wanted to get a report together for them. They should really enjoy the day trip there.
Casino Royale Scene


















We then headed on to our destination for the day, another 25 kms away,  Sveti Stefan, an Adriatic Sea based beach town where we will get a chance to soak up some rays for a couple of days before tackling the roads of Albania. Stay tuned for more fun. Our B&B is Villa Drago, another excellent choice by Sandra.


View from our Balcony Sveti Stefan
View from our Window in Perast

Without a doubt our 2 days at Sveti Stefan and Villa Drago were top notch. We had room #3 which provided a great view over the Adriatic, and the small island which has now become private. The Villa Drago  is run by a family and they could not do enough for you. At one time we left our room to buy some stuff for breakfast the next day and when we came back they advised us they had a workman in the room fixing the bathroom door which wasn’t working. They offered us wine and beer and a seat on their patio. So while we waited a couple of Scotland came by and took a room so we were speaking with them about their travels. At 28 yrs, they had traveled a lot. The staff then brought out 8 puff icing sugar desserts, small like a donut, and served them to us for the delay as well. They were utterly fantastic. We were sad to have to leave there but Albania needs crossing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina Food

Mixed Grill Meal in Mostar at Hindan Han


OK, let’s talk something more uplifting like food.
One of the things we love about travel is the opportunity to try the cultural ethic foods of the regions. Here in Croatia (Hrk) and Bosnia i Herzegovina (BiH), they have many Slavic cultural dishes.
In Rovinj, Sandra was the first to try Cevapi,
Cevapi
which is sausage like shaped small meats of a mixture generally of beef and lamb mixed, (shaped by hand) and grilled. It was very good, and while I had an excellent Italian pasta dish, Sandra always shares so I learned to like this as well and have had it since.
In Mostar  we tried  two dishes on subsequent evenings, the first a mix of meats from Bosnia (this was what was left on the shared plate after we both helped ourselves) and secondly a mixed Bosnian dish called Mostar Servrhan, which was cabbage rolls with a minced meat filling (called Japrak), stuffed peppers, cevapi and potatoes. It was absolutely excellent and very reasonably priced.
Japrak

















Bosnian (pervakas) bakeries sell a great snack food called Burek which can be a pastry filled with lamb meat, spinach, or a goat’s cheese which is slightly sour, almost like cottage cheese. It can be had for breakfast, lunch or a snack and if very reasonable priced.
Burek















And today in Sarajevo, afraid that I was going to miss my “grilled meat” meal,
Spit roasted lamb with sauerkraut and burek and bread
as we drove back from the Tunnel museum I spotted a grill, a ½ block walk from our Pension, so we just headed over there and had a dish very similar to this, it included sauerkraut with spicy peppers ( amazing), burek, grilled lamb, and bread with huge beers, the only way to eat this dish.