Perivolakia Gorge

We searched around us, looking for the telltale red dot or arrow on a rock, which signified that we were still following the path.  With each steep climb and descent the four of us would look at one another, no one wanting to be the one to suggest turning back.  I mean, Laura’s dad, a retired guy in his 60s, had finished the climb.  We couldn’t back out – right?

Pete and Laura, a British couple we had met in the pool of our condo complex a few days earlier, had invited us along for an early morning climb through the gorge.  They had attempted to hike this path a few years prior on another visit to Crete, and after being taunted by Laura’s dad that they hadn’t finished the trek on their previous attempt (when he had done it easily), were determined to finish this time.  After 2 hours of hiking through sage bushes and climbing over rocks, the sun and heat started to really get to us.  The village of Pefki, which supposedly lay at the top of the gorge, seemed no closer than it had at the start of our hike.  Fatigued, sweaty, and hungry, the four of us decided to turn back.  How had Laura’s dad made it the whole way anyhow?

I know now that her father did not in fact finish this climb – we were in the wrong gorge.   I discovered this after the fact while googling the Pefki Gorge to see how far we’d made it along the route.  Only when I saw photos of a lush landscape of pine trees and a river did I realize that we were in the wrong place.  The Pefki Gorge, with the quaint village of Pefki at the top, was actually several miles in the opposite direction from the hike that we embarked on.  The four of us were in the Perivolakia Gorge, a much drier, more difficult trek that looked nothing like the images of the Pefki Gorge.  Funny that there could be two gorge hikes so close to the tiny town where we are staying, but nevertheless, it’s true.

Unlike the Pefki Gorge, the Perivolakia Gorge is rather dry.  The base of the gorge is full of dry brush plants and a few flowers, all of which smell amazing.  We caught whiffs of mint and sage as well as several different floral pollens, all of which explain why the honey around here is so complex and delicious.  Several mountain goats appear to live in the gorge, munching on the plant life high up on the gorge cliffs.  Above you can see two goats on a tiny little ledge having a snack.  The four of us nervously watched them for a good 15 minutes wondering if they were going to take a fall.  The ground beneath one of them slipped a bit, sending rocks falling down into the gorge below, but I can say with certainty that mountain goats are every bit as sure footed as their reputation claims.

About halfway into our journey, Pete and John climbed up to one of the caves to take a break.  There were several places like this dug out of the rock walls.  It reminded me a bit of Petra (though clearly not nearly as impressive.)

Some of our hike included a very clear trail, but many spots had us climbing up and over boulders.  In one spot, a kind soul had propped up a ladder to get us over a wall of rocks.  As we climbed higher and higher, we began fantasizing that there was a huge slide at the top that we could ride back down.  No such luck.Satisfied with the morning’s physical activity, the four of us returned back to our condo complex for a jump in the pool to cool off, followed by a long leisurely breakfast out on our balcony.  Unfortunately, it was Laura and Pete’s last day in Crete, otherwise we surely would have spent more time hanging out with these two – they were a lot of fun.  Perhaps John and I will try doing the Pefki Gorge on our own before we leave Crete.  Now that I know what to look for, maybe we’ll actually start in the right place.

Month Fourteen Recap

Where We’ve Been

UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece.

The Highs
  • Petra.  Even though my camera battery died, I still loved photographing this World Wonder.
  • Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  Such an impressive and beautiful building, even if it is a little over the top.
  • The people of Jordan.  I’ve never met friendlier, more helpful people anywhere in the world.  Unbelievable.
  • Watching John roll down a sand dune in Wadi Rum.  He was laughing so hard and having so much fun.
  • Enjoying amazing scenery and food in Crete.  We like it so much, we’ve decided to stay a whole month.
The Lows
  • Tear gas in Turkey.  We really have no one to blame for this but ourselves for not watching the news more closely and trusting someone else to look out for our safety.  Not our shining moment.
  • Inability to get my head around 5,000 years.  That’s how old the Pyramids of Giza are, which is most of what makes them so impressive and important.  Unfortunately, my little human brain simply cannot fathom that much time, which meant I couldn’t really appreciate the splendor of these ancient ruins.  To me, ‘old’ is ‘old’, which means I put things like Angkor Wat (built in the 1200s) on par with the Pyramids (built in 2660 BC.)  It’s totally inaccurate, completely unfair, and unfortunately true.  Ancient world appreciation fail.
Things I’ve Learned

To be honest, I’ve learned too much this month.  I can’t even think of something trivial enough that I could write just a brief paragraph about it here.    You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

What’s Up Next

Greece, Italy, and HOME!  We’re planning to return to the US at the end of July!

Greece….At Last

During my senior year in college, my sister Jen and I planned a trip.  We traveled many times together (to places like China, Brazil, Argentina, and Scandinavia), but for this trip we had our sites set on Greece.  Together we planned a ten day journey that included a few requisite sightseeing days in Athens followed by ferries to the islands of Santorini and Mykonos, where hotels boasting cliffside pools and relaxing terraces awaited us.

On the day of our departure, just after my college graduation, I got a stressful call from Jen.  She was flying from Denver (and I from St. Louis), and we were set to meet in New York before flying into Athens together.  Her morning departure had been cancelled, however, due to mechanical problems with the plane.  The airline couldn’t get her on another flight to New York that would arrive in time for our flight to Athens, which departed 8 hours later.  While I was en route to the St. Louis airport from Columbia, Missouri (about 2 hours away), I frantically called travel agents and airline helplines to try and sort out the situation.  She furiously fought with the ground crew at the airport, trying to get on any flight on any airline that would get her to New York in time.  Despite both of our best efforts, we could not get her on a flight in time to make our connection.

The airline’s best advice was to send my sister two days later on the next available flight, meaning she would arrive in Athens just as we should have been departing for Santorini.  (I, on the other hand, would have to continue on our itinerary as planned because my flight schedule was still intact and the airline was not responsible for rebooking me.  The idea of touring around Athens alone for 2-3 days was not appealing.)  But our hotels had been pre-paid and her vacation days had been pre-booked, and we could not change our plans so last minute.

With heavy hearts, we decided this trip was not to be.  Before I had even made it to the airport, I called our travel insurance company and cancelled our trip for a full refund.  Jen, who is highly skilled at getting what she wants from Customer Service Representatives, rose hell at the airline counter at DIA and had the money for both of our tickets refunded on the spot (which the travel insurance people later told us never happens), and later wrote a scathing letter that prompted the airline to send us each $300 flight vouchers.  Even with the full refund, however, we were both sorely disappointed that such a small setback cost us our Greek vacation.

Ever since that ill-fated trip, both Jen and I have felt a little bitter toward Greece – it’s the one that got away.  Jen put that bitterness aside last year when she and her husband visited Santorini as part of their honeymoon.  I finally made peace with Greece when we arrived in Crete last week.  Above is the view from the rooftop of our apartment building in Crete.  With views like that, it’s hard to harbor any bitterness towards this country.  I may be 8 years late, but I’ve finally made it.

Now if you’ll please excuse me, its time for me to go eat a boatload of Greek Salad.

Thirty

The following conversation between John and I on the day before my thirtieth birthday practically defines the phrase “luxury problems.”  It went something like this:

John:  What do you want to do for your birthday?

Me:  I don’t know.

John:  What if we went to Greece for your birthday?

Me:  We’re going to Greece anyway, whether it was my birthday or not.

John:  Umm…we could go on a boat tour of Istanbul and call that your birthday celebration?

Me:  We’re going to do that anyway, too.

John:  Well, I guess your birthday is just going to suck this year because your life is already too awesome.

Yup, ridiculous.  This is the kind of problem I don’t mind having.

After much discussion, I decided that we should ring in my third decade with champagne and cheesecake, simply because we never have them and it might make the occasion feel special.  However, trying to find either of those items in Istanbul turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Not wanting to spend the evening hunting down two things that I had chosen on a whim anyhow, I opted to go local.  We had a delicious dinner at a Turkish restaurant nearby, and then with a half bottle of Turkish red wine and two pieces of Baklava in hand, John and I climbed the stairs of our hotel and sat on the rooftop to enjoy dessert with a view.  It largely resembled a night spent on the rooftop just a few days earlier, but I didn’t care.  Who needs ‘special’ when every day looks like this?  (Besides, it sure beat the pants off the way I celebrated twenty nine.)

I could write an essay here about how amazing my 29th year was, but I think we all know it’s been incredible.  No need to rehash the obvious.

To catch our flight to Crete the next day we had to wake up at 2:30am, so there was no late night birthday partying, which was just fine with me.  After the sun set at 9pm, we headed straight to bed, like the responsible thirtysomethings we are.

Istanbul

If the city of Istanbul had a theme song, it would be “I’m Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO.  The beat fits perfectly for zipping around the city streets in a taxi, cruising along the Bosphorus on a boat, and even riding to the airport at 3am (we heard the song played in all of these instances.)  It’s also just a fitting slogan for the city itself:  Istanbul is sexy.  And it knows it.

After months spent in developing countries, John and I felt a new appreciation for how amazing Europe is.  We’ve both been to Europe before (a couple of times), but this time we couldn’t help fawning over the pristine cobblestone streets, lovely landscaping, and general wealth and splendor that European cities exemplify.  Istanbul technically borders two continents with half of the city falling into Asia and the other in Europe.  Technicalities aside, though, the flavor of this city is decidedly European.The Bosphorus Bridge connects the European side of the city to the Asian side.  Upon completion in 1973, it was the 4th longest suspension bridge in the world.  Now it stands as the 21st longest.They don’t build big castle-like forts like this in Asia…very European.
Of course there are mosques everywhere, providing a unique Islamic twist on the standard cathedral-filled European city.  Just like in the Middle East, the call to prayer fills the streets five times per day from hundreds of mosques.  The Blue Mosque (pictured below and above) is a stunning example of the beautiful architecture of these buildings.

Inside the huge domes, its colorful and light.  For the first time on our trip, it was John (not me) that didn’t have on appropriate clothing to enter the religious site.  I’ve gotten used to decking out in Muslim-friendly attire, but John’s shorts were deemed inappropriate.  (He could have rented a sarong of sorts, but he chose to stay outside and enjoy the outer courtyard instead.)

My Muslim-friendly attire looks very much like what a Hollywood starlet would wear when trying to hide from the public (it’s the cheap sunglasses that pushes it over the edge.)  John liked it so much he insisted on taking about 15 photos of me.
Across a fantastically well-landscaped and delightfully clean square, lies the Hagia Sofia.  We lounged on the grass in the square for hours, relishing in the delight of curated public green spaces.  You just don’t find things like that in the developing world.
A restaurant on the square offers daily whirling dervish performances with live Sufi music.  The guy is really just spinning in a circle for about 5 minutes at a time, but he brings an art to it.During our visit, a farmer’s market set up around the corner from our hotel.  I wish we would have been able to buy and cook some of the wonderful produce.  (I know, I’m food obsessed.  Produce is just so pretty!  I mean, have you ever seen such shiny eggplants??)If we had stuck to our original plan and stayed in Istanbul for a month, I would have bought armloads of stuff at this market.  (Don’t fret on our behalf – we’re eating our bodyweight in fresh produce in Crete as I write this.  There is no suffering here.)Another place I would shop if we were staying in Turkey for a month: the Spice Bazaar.
Teas, spice mixes, dried fruits, nuts, exotic spices…they have it all.Oh yeah, and rows of Turkish Delight.  I didn’t care for it, but it was satisfying to finally know what it is (did anyone else ever wonder growing up why that kid in The Chronicles of Narnia books was so obsessed with Turkish Delight?)Even with that whole tear gas incident, Istanbul still ranked high as one of our favorite cities.  It’s just that sexy.  I guess I’ll just have to add it to the ever-growing list of places we can’t wait to return to.

If earlier in this post you thought to yourself, “Shouldn’t the theme song for this city be Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might be Giants?” you are awesome.  (Or you are Erin, which is also awesome.  Hi Erin!)  That song danced through my head all five days we were there.  If you weren’t thinking that, or you don’t know the song, go listen to it now, or watch the Tiny Tunes video of it.  It will be in your head for the rest of the day.  You’re welcome.