31 October 2016

Internet Security while you travel

Secure Internet

Using public WiFi for banking or opening your password manager is not a good idea. What you need is a VPN - a virtual private network, like Tunnel Bear. With the free version, you get 500mb free each month which is plenty if you only use it for banking. All you do is select the country you are in, there are many to choose from and click it to "on". Wait for it to log on and it will let you know when it is safe to start surfing in private. You can then open your password manager and banking websites. Just remember to turn it off when you have finished your banking or closed your password manager, or you will use up your quota.

Password Manager

When every website requires a different set of rules for making passwords it becomes impossible to remember them all. A password manager means you don't have to write all your usernames and passwords in a file or book. The main programs that are usually recommended are: 1Password, LastPass and Dashlane - the last 2 have free options. These programs can generate new secure passwords so that you can update your old ones.

Now all you need to remember is one password, and make it a good one!

26 October 2016

The Belle of the Islands

Santorini (Σαντορίνη)

Santorini is also officially known as Thira, so if you are trying to book a ferry, you need to look for Thira.

The original name of the island was Kallístē which means "the most beautiful one". The name Thera - Greek (Thira - English) was reintroduced back in the C19th, but people prefer the colloquial name of Santorini. Santorini is a contraction of the words Santa Irini, Saint Irene was the name of the old cathedral in the village of Perissa.

It sits on a volcanic caldera which has been filled with seawater.

We stayed in two places on the island, in Oia on the western tip and the main town of Fira. It's very easy to navigate around as there is one main walking street through town.
--> In hindsight, I would have just stayed in Oia or tried another island as Fira is just too busy and not very pretty. Our hotel in Oia was a cave hotel and we were right at the tip of the island.

The weather on Santorini was much better than Mykonos and the first day was sunny in the afternoon. Then the weather got colder and we had to put our t-shirts and shorts away. The days would start out nice and then in the afternoon it would cloud over, as the sun would set it would disappear behind the clouds.

On our second day we took the local bus down to Fira and walked back the 9.6 kms along the coast back to Oia. With a bit of a stop on the way in Imerovigli as we met an Australian from Gippsland who wanted us to share his bottle of wine with him. We said no at first not wanting to intrude but after the second request we relented and had a great few hours. We got back to town just as the rain started, had we stayed any later we would have been drenched.

You could really tell it was the end of the season. On this walk, the further we were from the main towns, we saw many of the hotels with their windows boarded up and their swimming pools emptied.

Our final ferry trip back to Athens was rough as well. We were up on the second floor and the spray from the waves obliterated my view of watching the horizon a number of times. Lots of people were sick due to both the movement and the cabin being hot. Both of us had taken tablets and were fine. My tablets worked wonders although I still had to keep my eye on the horizon.  I would hate to think what it would have been like if the boat had not been a catamaran as they are the most stable boat.The ferry gets in at 5pm but it had left 30 minutes late and added another hour onto that so we didn’t get in until 7.30pm. Our driver was nowhere to be seen and it was freezing. We had no choice but to grab a cab, which our hotel reimbursed. The next morning while getting something to eat and money from the ATM we realised that the port wasn’t that far away. We had all day to get to the airport as our flight didn’t leave until 4pm. There was an airport bus (X96) five minutes from our hotel, so we took that to the airport.

Drying the octopus naturally makes them more tender

From Athens we took an Iberia flight to Madrid which is supposed to take three hours, but somehow we did it in just over two; that must have been some mighty tail wind.

Related Posts:

1. Athens - Greece - The First Democracy
2. Olympia - Let the Games Begin
3. Delphi - Ancient Delphi
4. Meteora - The Stone Forest
5. Mykonos - Those famous Windmills
6. Santorini- you are here

23 October 2016

Those famous Windmills

Mykonos (Μύκονος)

Our ferry

I thought it would be easier to go to the islands by ferry, no waiting around in airports etc. I chose the fastest catamarans that are actually made in Tasmania, the SeaJet2 which takes only three hours from Piraeus to Mykonos. It leaves at 7am in the morning and gets in at 10am, so we grabbed some breakfast on the boat. Even though we arrived early, our room was available so we were able to check in straight away.

 As a precaution I took a Bonine motion sickness tablet before we left and it worked brilliantly. It was a little rough and Lindsay even complained of not feeling well and he never gets seasick. There is a faint smell of stale cigarette smoke even though you aren't allowed to smoke on board.


The Island isn't very big and the streets are narrow cobbled laneways without names. Even armed with a map it’s difficult not to get lost in the old town of Mykonos, the streets are like a maze and you find yourself walking in circles but you can’t remember when you saw that shop or that church, or was it a different church? There are so many and many things look the same.

The weather hasn’t be cooperating and while we got a sunset on the first night, it wasn’t behind the windmills like I would have liked. The following night I wanted to capture the scene at a different angle but the cloud cover was low and it hid the sun as it went down.

You will notice that the food is about double what you paid on the mainland because (a) it's on an island but also because (b) they only have part of the year to make their money. No freebie deserts here which we had been given on the mainland.

If you ever get annoyed about about sales tax in your own country, compare it to Greece's 24% sales tax - ouch.

Mykonos is known for it’s wind which is why they built the windmills which ground the grain. The day we arrived was sunny enough to enjoy a drink down by the water in the afternoon. But the rest of our stay was extremely windy and the water was so choppy that they cancelled all the ferry trips to the nearby island of Delos.

Fisherman mending his net
No names on the streets, bad luck if you have to come all the way back again
Parking is at a premium, no wonder they have such small cars and they all have dints in them

Related Posts:

1. Athens - Greece - The First Democracy
2. Olympia - Let the Games Begin
3. Delphi - Ancient Delphi
4. Meteora - The Stone Forest
5. Mykonos - you are here
6. Santorini - The Belle of the Islands

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20 October 2016

The Stone Forest

Our mainland route
Driving from Delphi to Metéora we went through farming country. Cotton, crops and sheep. There is cotton all along the highway because the trucks that carry it from the farms are cages and the holes are about 7cm (3”) so it escapes as they drive along. Only one toll booth today with no-one manning it. It didn’t like my coins and we fed it much more than it needed while the cars behind us were getting frustrated at having to wait.

Metéora (Μετέωρα)

The Stone Forest
Varlaam Monastery
We had trouble finding the town let alone our hotel. Our GPS wouldn’t bring up Kalambaka. It turns out it can be spelt three different ways. We drove through a town about 21kms from where we needed to be to try and get WiFi because I had forgotten to take a screen dump of the map near our hotel but now we also needed to find the town. I had seen a sign but graffiti made it difficult to see where it was pointing. We double parked like the locals, found an open network and found our route. Maybe if we put in Metéora… and hey presto it said “Metéora (Kalambaka)” who knew? The address of the hotel just said a road and wasn’t very helpful, and thankfully I was able to find a local who not only was helpful but she knew the hotel. A very nice hotel, she said, it’s in Kastraki. Actually it’s between the two towns. Drive through town, up the hill and it’s on your right, signaling with her left hand. Left? Yes, left. And there it was, easy when you knew where. Our spacious room was lovely with double glazed French doors leading onto a private balcony with views of the huge rocks that are Metéora. I love the doors and windows they have in Europe where you can open them two ways, vertical and horizontal.

Great Meteoron Monastery
We only had two days here and the weather for our second was forecast to be raining with thunderstorms. After lunch we drove around the monasteries taking photos of outside. Lindsay didn’t want to do anything much as he was tired from driving the past few days or maybe I should say the last six months.

St Stephen's Monastery
The monasteries, retreats and caves of Metéora were built as hermits cells for the Orthodox monasticism since the 11th Century on top of a few of the thousand or so vertiginous rocks which look like a forest of stone from afar. The rocks were formed in the tritogenic period 60,000 years ago. It is believed that monks have been in the area since 950AD.

St Nicholas Anapafsas Monastery
A monk called Athanasios built his first monastery on the rock called Platylithos which is 413 metres above Kalambaka. He called the rock Metéora which means “in the air” as it looked like it was suspended between the earth and heaven. He built a few cells and invited 14 monks from surrounding rocks to form a brotherhood. When he and his son died they were canonized as saints, which led to Metéora becoming the centre of monasticism and Orthodox religious life. Two hundred years later Varlaam’s monastery was built on the rock opposite and over the centuries a few more were built to accommodate the growing numbers of monks. There used to be about 24 in the area but now there are six that you can visit. The Monastery of the Transfiguration – the Great Meteoro was built before 1382 and is by far the most impressive. At one stage it held a hospital for sick monks downstairs and upstairs an area for looking after the old ones. At one stage it had up to a hundred monks living there. The only way up to the monastery was by suspended rope ladders; the steps that exist today were only built in the 1950’s.

Monasticism declined after the C17th and the number of monasteries diminished.

Roussanou Monastery
We also went to St Stephen’s but it wasn’t nearly as impressive. After exploring the monasteries we had been told to visit the Byzantine Church in town. The trip there was more interesting than the church, which like the monastery churches, you couldn’t take photos in. High on the hill of the town, we had to drive up steep, narrow streets that looked like they were made for donkeys. Coming down we took a wrong turn and ended up in a road that had subsided and was only narrow enough to walk, we reversed only to came across another car, we didn’t have to reverse very far but at least we could. In other places it would have been impossible.

Holy Trinity Monastery
I was so glad that we took some photos on the first day as the fog and mist rolled in as we were arriving and it was nearly impossible to get any photos let alone see the cars in front of you. There are many stray cats and dogs in Greece and the dogs seem to think it’s a good idea to sit in the middle of the road.

A fire in one room heated the one above by this ingenious ceiling. This has been rebuilt as the original one fell into disrepair, otherwise it would have soot all over it.
Inside the chapel
Incredible detail in the ceiling
Even if you are cut off from the rest of the world, you still need wine
The rain started later in the day and continued through the night and next day. The thunderstorms disrupted the power and the poor cooks in our hotel had to prepare breakfast by emergency lighting and candlelight. They gave us tea lights for our tables which you had to take to see what food you were actually putting on your plate.

The Kitchen, the walls were covered in soot
The drive back to Athens was pretty straight forward even though our GPS couldn’t find the address – again. The highway was single lane for most of the way and only turned into a dual road when we got onto the toll section. As the GPS didn't recognise the address we had for Avis, we put in Syntagma Square* as we knew how to get from there to Avis. To return the car we had to drive through the railing panels along the road onto the footpath. The Greeks are actually very courteous drivers outside the city. We do however have a few observations to share: Speed signs are just advisory, double lines means pass when it’s safe, and the pedestrian crossing just marks a good spot for you to cross but don’t expect the traffic to stop for you.

* yes, the same one in the new Jason Bourne movie

The town below
Diesel is cheaper than petrol here, just under a euro a litre, a bit more than we are used to paying in the US but about the same as home when you convert the currency. There are many motorbikes which are convenient for parking and fuel consumption, but unfortunately the 2-strokes add to their pollution problems. The pollution was doing terrible things to the old buildings let alone what it must have been doing to the residents themselves. They have reduced their pollution in the past few years by restricting access to the city on certain days with odd and even number plates but some people get around this by having two cars.

Related Posts:

1. Athens - Greece - The First Democracy
2. Olympia - Let the Games Begin
3. Delphi - Ancient Delphi
4. Metéora -  you are here
5. Mykonos - Those famous Windmills
6. Santorini - The Belle of the Islands

19 October 2016

Ancient Delphi

The countryside from Olympia to Delphi through the mountains is gorgeous. Terracotta roofed houses surrounded by olive trees and Mediterranean Cypress aka Pencil Pines. The cypress grow on slopes and in valleys that have rocky and usually limestone soils in areas with hot dry summers and winter rain. Unlike the ones in Italy, these have a fair bit of the trunk showing like a normal tree, whereas in Italy the “leaves” go fairly close to the ground. The grey of the olive and the dark green of the cypress make a great contrast, but there isn't anywhere to stop to take a photo. Many of the roads outside the city have very wide shoulders and slow movers will drive partially in this lane to let you partially share the other lane to pass them regardless if there are double lines or traffic coming the other way.

Freeway signs in Greek and English-Greek, check out the word for exit.
The highway signs to minor towns are now only in Greek, in the Greek Alphabet, as well as some of the highway signs, so I hope they aren’t saying anything important as we have absolutely no idea what they mean.

Delphi Δελφοί

Temple of Apollo

Delphi is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the influence it had on the ancient classical world.

Athenian Treasury

The ruins in Delphi are in two places, not far from each other. The town isn't very big and you can tell that the tourist season is getting to the end as there aren't that many people around. Down at the archeological site, there are a few but not that many. It is only about a kilometre down the road but as there is a fair bit of walking around to do on a steep hill, we drove. There isn't a lot of parking down there but at this time of year, it wasn't a problem.

The Ancient Theatre
A play was put on here in 1930, back then the back of the stage was still standing. I hope everyone brought cushions to sit on.

Stadium used for the Pythian Games
The first one has the usual temples and is much more interesting than the lower site. It also has an amphitheatre and running track for the games that were held here every four years.

The Tholos

The second area has the Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronoia. Three of the columns have been restored which make up the most photographed monument of Delphi.

The lower section overview
The museum has many of the same things that they found in Olympia pottery, helmets, leg shields, rifles.

Two brothers renowned for their strength
The facade of one of the temples

During the 1500's a town was built over the ancient site and people used the marble columns as part of the structures for their houses. It stayed that way until the late 1800's. The residents refused to move and it wasn't until an earthquake occurred which crumbled their houses that they agreed to be moved to a new location as they were promised a new town. Only then could the site be excavated.

It's just amazing that any of these remain and how many must have been taken.

The bronze Charioteer is one of the best known statues, though his chariot seems to be missing along with his left arm

Related Posts:

1. Athens - Greece - The First Democracy
2. Olympia - - Let the Games Begin
3. Delphi - you are here now
4. Meteora - The Stone Forest
5. Mykonos - Those famous Windmills
6. Santorini - The Belle of the Islands