A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about buildings

Chania, Crete

An hour from Rethymno, Chania is Crete's second largest city and certainly more beautiful than Heraklion. There is an old Venetian port with a lighthouse and ancient walls, as well as an even older part of the city with narrow alleys, and stone and cement houses, a few of which have a second floor of wood in the old Turkish style.

Lighthouse and outer wall, built in 1538 to fortify the city
large_215239DB9756A7119CEF63DADF5127F7.jpg

large_214F017AC9845B04D573F6A7FB884BFF.jpg

The port area is a busy place with restaurants, many now just opening for the season, cafes, bars, and tourists from various parts of Europe. The weather has improved significantly, and for the most part, the days have been bright and warm, though often with a stiff breeze over the water.

Ancient mosque no longer in use by the waterfront
large_2151314B07D4466E79F8D1EB4532C7A0.jpg

Old buildings and the port chock full of boats
large_2153531CFB86A1A3009C7C22090A0914.jpg

The high snow covered mountains are visible over the ancient walls, and provide a stunning backdrop to this lively place.

Picture taken from outer wall.
large_IMG_0028.jpg

People continue to be friendly, and the food is nothing short of fantastic. After just a few days, some of the shop and restaurant owners are already recognizing us and saying Yasou, hello, or Calamara, good day, not squid, although we had some delicious stuffed squid the other day. The restaurant where we had it is owned or managed by someone who looks like a cross between Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. He stood out in front, trying to drum up business, as do so many of the restauranteurs, and he made a big deal over us when we told him we were from New York. It didn't take long before he belted out New York, New York, and then I Left My Heart in San Francisco. Of course we had to eat there after that, and were glad we did, returning a couple of times for more seafood. On the waterfront, where Tony Bennett's place is located, there are number of excellent fish places, especially as you walk further down into the inner harbor area. Every one of them gives you raki and desert, free of charge, and meals are a very leisurely affair.

Looking up at waterfront promenade outside Tony Bennett's restaurant
large_IMG_0007__1_.jpg

Most days we have spent walking and looking at the old walls and alleys, and often just sitting and reading by the waterfront. We found some Minoan ruins, some of which are 5000 years old, and we learned that parts of Chania have some of the oldest Minoan sites in Crete.

214CF52CF0D1FE49245DDCAE2FE185A2.jpg

In our meanderings, we also discovered a very local place in a non-touristy part of town, with the unlikely name, in English at least, of Chicken LTD. Great veggie options, salad, and boureki, Greek pie, which is not a dessert, but a full meal somewhat like chicken pot pie, only better, with veggies and cheese. Unlike most of the waterfront places, there were few foreigners eating here, perhaps because of the location and the prices, cheap.

Olive oil container at Chicken Ltd.
large_214B9E4CD88D3EC2755236BFA19E4712.jpg

It's all Greek to me on the chalkboard menu at Chicken Ltd.
214961EAD4A39AE6C28D6F641253C6C8.jpg

Our restaurant meals have also been supplemented by Michaelis, who runs our tiny three room guest house. He brings us something homemade and organic every day.

All of the Greek street and city names that have been translated into English letters are still impossible to pronounce, and there seems to be no consistent spelling. Most have at least 10 or 15 letters. Even Chania, relatively easy to say, can be spelled without the C , ie, Canea, Hania, etc.

One of the main shopping streets with an impossibly long name
large_214E0D9D9A177502D114181DA21DEE8A.jpg

It was with some trepidation that we decided to rent a car once again, as this will give us the opportunity to travel up to to a few of the smaller villages in the hills, and we will keep it for our time in Paleochora, as we have a week there. Perhaps the GPS will be more effective here than in Italy. Vamos a ver.

We continue to be impressed with good spirits of the local people, who are always eager to communicate, and luckily for us, many speak English well. Yes there are some beggars on the streets, but not that many considering the economic situation. Folks have told us that Crete is doing better than other places in Greece, particularly Athens, perhaps because it has a strong agricultural base and tourism remains fairly robust. Some of the younger ones have relocated here because there are more jobs.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:51 Archived in Greece Tagged buildings food photography cities_postcards Comments (1)

Heraklion, Crete

We seem to have a serendipitous knack for arriving in places during times of celebration. Heraklion, the largest city in Crete is very lively today, as this is their Independence Day, when the Greeks defeated the Turks some 200 years ago. Despite the less than ideal weather, everyone is eating and drinking outside, and very friendly. The owner of a restaurant saw us glancing at the food, and offered us a taste of charcoal broiled octopus, and some of the local hooch, raki.

E38AD89C9E48BA1E7027576EAE4A2143.jpg

large_IMG_0477.jpg

We stopped to hear some music being played by some young people in a small piazza. It was all acoustic, with several lute like instruments, and mandolins, or similar sounding, and a small drum. Another young man, Migueles, told us that they were playing to raise money for a friend who needed an expensive surgery for an aneurism. We made a small donation, and then continued to talk with him. He helps to run an adventure travel agency in Crete, which takes tourists on hikes and sea kayaking around the island. He also has a brother who lives in Denver, and has been to the US on a couple of occasions to visit and travel.

large_IMG_0467.jpg

The next day, also cloudy, windy and rainy, although the worst of it held off until we completed our visit to 2000 BC Knossos. The Capital of Minoan culture, which predates the Greeks by a 1000 years or so, was home to more then 100,000 people, and the residence of King Minos. Knossos is also said to be home to the Minotaur, who was locked in a labyrinth until he was slain by Theseus. On arriving, we met a young Indian couple from Mumbai, although they have lived in Cambridge, near Boston for the last 8 years. And of course, the conversation first revolved around the snow in Boston this past winter, as well as our visit to south India last year.

Many parts of the ruins were reconstructed by Evans in the late 19th century, but it is still difficult to get a sense of the grandeur of the place as much of it is incomplete.

large_E1F1AB8F9FB76097A9CB300939AA9767.jpg

large_E1F0A59CD0A582A8C85EF3A78A669E82.jpg

There are some frescoes, also reconstructed from small pieces found on location, and these help to show how advanced Minoan culture was at that time.

large_E1F39CF0AA2E665C51754CA8913166E1.jpg

large_E1F2AE6F0CCCE466DC69E50F11299A47.jpg

We continue to find the Cretans a very friendly bunch. For example, we stopped in a small cafe for cappuccino, and they gave us a big plate of cookies, no charge, to go along with it. Faces light up when we attempt to say hello and thank you in a botched form of Greek, and all of the staff in our hotel, as in Victoria Inn in Athens, are helpful and engaging.

Although we have only spent a few days in Greece, it is easy to see that they are much less concerned with appearance than the Italians. As in Italy, most stores close in mid-day for several hours, which is when the biggest meal is consumed.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:41 Archived in Greece Tagged buildings tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (3)

Athens, Greece

In Athens we stayed outside the downtown area in a small hotel, close the the business school of the University. However it was a short subway ride away from Monasteraki and the old city. The modern city has been built around the Acropolis hill and the Agora, the center of the city during Greek and Roman tImes. With the economic crisis of the past several years Athens has clearly come upon hard times. There is graffiti everywhere and many buildings in disrepair. Some students at the University told us the unemployment rate for young people is more than 60%. All of this makes Athens rather a depressing place, especially in some locations. The only major site worth seeing is the Acropolis and the area immediately around it. We had heard this from friends who had been there a few years earlier, but it was our feeling as well. On the other hand, the food was decent and the baked goods excellent. One bakery near our hotel had a round thing made with fila dough and something like Romano cheese. It looked suspiciously like a bagel, only it tasted better. I had one nearly every day we were were in town. What will happen now with Greece and the euro seems to be anyone's guess. The few people we have talked to seem to be all over the map as to what should happen. Whatever it is, I fear Greece and especially Athens will remain in the economic doldrums for quite some time.

Our first stop was Syntagma Square to see the government buildings and the changing of the guard.

IMG_0358.jpg

large_B143A1F39B3A7C0B21BEDD455CA439A3.jpg

The National Archeological Museum was well worth a visit.

Death mask of Agamemnon
large_B14F7D35FA148AB77AC75D64F947FDFE.jpg

But not surprisingly, it was the Parthenon, now under reconstruction, that we found most interesting. What I didn't know was that the city was sacked by the Persians in 480AD and the Acropolis destroyed. So this is clearly not the first time it is being reconstructed.

large_B14B83D3F0297B4C5963A86CE337D849.jpg

large_IMG_0390.jpg

large_IMG_0391.jpg

View from the top of Parthenon hill
large_IMG_0403.jpg

Outdoor theater on Parthenon hill
large_IMG_0385.jpg

The Agora, the area around the base of the Parthenon, which has several old buildings and ruins, also provides a look into ancient Greek culture.

large_IMG_0438.jpg

large_B14D4E40EE3D8FB2A07D86D9BF8C0098.jpg

Looking up at Parthenon Hill from the Agora
large_IMG_0412.jpg

After walking around the extensive grounds of the Agora, we had built up a powerful thirst, and stopped to sample the ouzo at this factory in the old city.

large_B144BE22F220C153C4EB95A0517236A6.jpg

Posted by jonshapiro 13:39 Archived in Greece Tagged buildings tourist_sites cities_postcards Comments (2)

Mt. Aetna and Siracusa (Sicily)

To get to Sicily we took the ferry to Messina, which was quick and easy.

large_IMG_0150.jpg

Then we drove on to Nicolosi, near the slopes of slopes of Mt. Aetna, which took hours in a driving rain. The main problem was that google maps didn't seem able to find its way on these crazy Italian roads, where there are more roundabouts than you can shake a stick at. The major roads are fine, but as soon as you get off of them, the GPS gets lost, and it doesn't help that the name of the same road seems to change every few miles. At any rate, it was cold and damp when we arrived, and so we left a day early and drove to Siracusa.

We were lucky to get some nice views of the mountain, totally snow covered, as the weather cleared overnight.

large_45CF1F46BF481D032E67CF440010B410.jpg

In the more distant view, you can see smoke rising from the top of this very active volcano
large_45CFCEA3CB5CB2506965C77F6DD1F6D6.jpg

Siracusa turned out to be a delightful city with a mostly restored old section, Ortigya, about a ten minute walk from our B&B. Ortigya is on a small island separated from the rest of the city by a causeway. We spent most of the day there just wandering its narrow alleys and piazzas, going to the papyrus museum, and later to a crazy puppet show, in Italian, which didn't seem to make a lot of sense even when we read the plot in English.

Houses and sea wall near papyrus museum
large_IMG_0206__1_.jpg

large_45D927A60506838612B971C5E1D8C9FE.jpg

large_45D5ED4DAA42B073C354BAF5E8F070FB.jpg

large_45DB5897E8D6E343C601FB66022208A3.jpg

large_IMG_0210.jpg

Siracusa has a long history of several thousand years. The Greeks occupied the place for quite some time around 1000 BC to 2 or 300 BC. In fact there is still an ancient Greek amphitheater where aeschylus' plays are performed as they were during Greek times. Aeschylus lived here for a while, as did Archimedes. Siracusa was a major maritime power and Greek city/state. Eventually it was taken over by the Romans, and then the Arabs, and finally the Normans who came in around 1000 AD.

The Duomo, the towns most famous cathedral, is built on top of the columns of the Temple of Apollo, which dates to 600BC. The old columns of the temple are still quite visible, and the building is, in a word, magnificent, both inside and out.

large_IMG_0163.jpg

Side view with columns still visible on the outside
large_IMG_0192.jpg

large_45D8100FF9DA1102148ACEC6726B2B8C.jpg

Inside the building
large_45D2E18405F7B76EF9012C452AC4F022.jpg

Inside of dome,
large_45D3CF37F8ECF97CA97B47F00C286693.jpg

Not quite Michelangelo, but almost
large_45D4B372B2BBC9807912233734D0FC6D.jpg

Our B and B, Siracusa, is newly opened by two very friendly women, one of whom speaks some English. We spent some time talking with them at breakfast and soon they felt like good friends. We are very happy to be staying here, and they invited us back for breakfast on our return trip to Rome in a week or so. Nanette even arranged for an inter-cambio over skype with one of the women.

Nanette with our hostess' showing off breakfast pie
large_45DD635FEDD3116CD64C3C87CCD0E240.jpg

Posted by jonshapiro 06:31 Archived in Italy Tagged mountains buildings cities_postcards Comments (1)

Trinidad, Cuba

Hostal Margaritas, Trinidad

Picture postcard cute, Trinidad is an almost fully intact colonial city of about 30,000. It feels a bit like San Cristobal de Las Casas in Mexico, with hills and cobblestone streets. Of course, that was close to 40 years ago. Plaza Mayor has been almost fully restored, and is the center of tourism in town, of which there are plenty. In seems almost everyone who comes to Cuba stops here, mostly Brits, French, Italians, Spaniards, and a smattering of Canadians. The are also plenty of Jinteros, touts, who seem more aggressive than elsewhere in Cuba. People are still friendly, but they are clearly a bit jaded with all the tourists around, and are quick to overcharge for agua and comida, especially around the plaza.

large_IMG_0184.jpg

large_594CF8DBD7BD4E5AB93B6172F66F83D5.jpg

large_IMG_0158.jpg

Step away from the center of town however, and life proceeds in typical Cuban fashion, with buildings in need of major repair, horse carts and bicycles, tiny tiendas and mercados, etc.

large_IMG_0217.jpg

large_IMG_0172__1_.jpg

large_IMG_0239.jpg

59506F78C1335B51A74A14C5037CFB6A.jpg595A38AB9CD9A1097BD459603D914ADC.jpg

We have spent the last few days wandering around, sometimes with our friend Terry, and sometimes not. We have eaten a couple of tasty meals here at our Casa, and then last night, based on the advice of our casa's dueno, we found Restaurante San Jose. Excellent Cuban food at reasonable prices. We had to wait, but it was worth it.

One of the oldest churches in town, now just a shell
large_59584BFCF4E01E5E54E791FB904838FF.jpg

On one of the days we took a short hike up one of the colima's (hills) on the edge of town. We walked up to the cell tower/radio station, and got into a lengthy chat with the caretaker. He took us to the roof of one of the buildings for a panoramic view of the city, sea on one side, mountains on the other. As a largely self-educated black man, he confirmed the presence of racismo here, and was not sure that even if the embargo is lifted entirely, that the common people would benefit. Of course, the hombres de negocios, businessmen, will profit, he said, but probably not guys like him. He had similar complaints about the government as most of the folks we have talked to, but again, it was even handed. He told us about the free medical care, education, food allotments, etc. that the government provides. We spoke with him for quite some time, and he let us know that most Cubans are very interested in reading, and line up for books at the library or when there are book fairs. Although a compesino, he was very well informed about what goes on in the world, more than you can say about his counterparts in the United States.

Yesterday we took the 2 CUC tourist bus out to the Ancon beach. Said to be the best beach on the Caribbean side of the island, it was nice, though not perfect for swimming because of the seagrass which started close to shore.But no matter, as it was too cold to swim, at least for us. There were several large and expensive hotels nearby, but we spent an enjoyable day lying on lounge chairs, in the shade of umbrellas made from palm leaves.

large_IMG_0212.jpg

After dinner, in my endless quest for rumba, we wandered up to Casa La Musica, which is an outdoor venue just off the plaza. not a casa at all, Although not strictly speaking rumba, which has been variously defined, it was a hopping place with a very good band, that had several congas and timbales, trumpet, singer, electric base and piano etc. We met a young Belgium couple there, intentionally, as we had run into them earlier in the day at the beach, and who we had previously met at Zunilda y Raya's place in Cienfuegos. It wasn't long before Nicholas and I were buying each other mojitos, with his girlfriend Caroline keeping up without any problem. Actually, they had a few rounds before we got there.

There were some incredible dancers in the crowd, almost all Cuban, who were moving in perfect sync to the music. It inspired me to consider taking lessons once again when we return to New York. It seems that Cubans know intuitively how to swivel their hips, and it is easy to believe, as the book I just finished reading about cuban music suggested, that Elvis had seen a Latin movie in the States, and copied his moves from the movie. There was one old guy there, probably in his 70's, who was dancing expertly with a few women less than half his age, and he had no trouble leading them around, twisting and turning them with his arms, sometimes more than one at a time. A placer para mis ojos. And then there were a couple of white folks, also our age, who knew how to dance to this afro-cuban stuff. Spaniards? Possibly.

After an hour or so, another group came on, all black this time, with even more drummers and singers, along with costumed dancers. They sang in a combination of Spanish and African, and although clearly done for tourists, they were damn good. I felt, really for the first time, that I was getting to hear some of the music that I was hoping for in Cuba, which until now has eluded me. It was a mixed crowd of locals and tourists with a very nice vibe. We stayed two hours before walking home. The music seems to start earlier here than in Habana, which is a good thing for us older folk, though I could have stayed even longer. Tomorrow it's back to Habana for a night before heading to Europe.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:55 Archived in Cuba Tagged churches buildings people postcards Comments (4)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 13) Page [1] 2 3 » Next