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Articles Blog

Filtering by Category: The Med

Venice, Italy

Karyn Planett

Venetian Treasures  

It was Truman Capote who quipped that "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one go." It brings you ever so much pleasure. And much of the pleasure is derived from the treasures you bring home from your visit to this magnificent city.

Venice was long an artistic enclave among European cities. Though the Venetian merchants lost a share of their market at the turn of the 16th century, their city enjoyed enormous wealth. Along with this wealth came prestige. Members of nobility were increasingly dedicated to a life of luxury which included a firm dedication to the arts and letters. Poets and painters journeyed to Venice. Intellectuals sought refuge here after the fall of Constantinople, thus forming an indelible cultural base. Among the notable masters of the time were Aldo Manuzio the famous printer, The Bellinis and the Vivarinis, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno, and Montegna and Carpaccio who created the Venetian school of painting. Tiziano, Giorgione, Veronese and Tintoretto joined the others. Composers and musicians, the finest in their field, followed to provide entertainment in the palatial chambers lining the Grand Canal. It was a world of supreme elegance. 

Master craftsmen joined these artists, bringing with them laces and leather goods, silks and delicate blown glass objects. For, as with the arts, members of nobility demanded nothing but the finest quality craftsmanship and set a standard that remains in place to this day. As one who enjoys such quality, you'll be pleased to peruse Venice's finest display cases and tasteful showrooms for traditional items.    

Blown Glass 

The origins of this art form are lost forever. However, the craft was perfected on the tiny island of Murano. While you can see blown glass demonstrations throughout Venice, you can visit an actual factory on Murano. Here, the artisans plunge long blowpipes dipped in molten glass into furnaces which glow from the heat. The men blow through the pipes, increasing the size of the shape, then twist, turn and trim the glowing glass molding it into a variety of forms. You can purchase everything from small, inexpensive pieces to elaborate, exquisitely ornate chandeliers. The factories can ship these items directly to your home so you avoid the dilemma of transporting such fragile cargo.

Lace 

Early lace-workers lived on the island of Burano. They worked tedious, long hours creating elegant tablecloths, beautiful shawls, and ornate collars to be worn with dresses. Today, you may purchase any of these items at one of the many lace shops near St. Mark's Square. Delicate handkerchiefs make lovely souvenirs and are lightweight and unbreakable - the perfect gift for someone back home. 

Leather

The Europeans have long been in love with quality leather pieces, and none more so than the Italians. They are willing to spend a small fortune for an elegant handbag or a handsome jacket for they know, if properly cared for, these items will last a lifetime. The Italian designers offer fashion pieces from this season's collection, as well as standard styles. You need only feel the softness of the hide to know you'll be purchasing the finest quality available. Gloves make wonderful gifts and are relatively inexpensive. Wallets and passport portfolios are also very nice. While you're at it, wouldn't you love a new briefcase from Venice?

Playful presents 

Gondolier dolls are wonderful gifts for little people back home, as are their traditional velvet slippers with rope soles. Venetians love fantasy and nothing is more whimsical than the papier-mache carnival masks whose prototypes date back to the 17th and 18th century. You can find everything from the devil to the loveliest princess. 

Should you walk away from Venice empty-handed, it will matter not. For it is sure that your heart will be filled with memories to last a lifetime. As Marcel Roust wrote in his letter to Madame Strauss, "When I went to Venice - my dream became my address." 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett

Valencia, Spain

Karyn Planett

Fact or Fantasy? 

Aragon, El Cid, the Holy Grail, the Crusades, paella, the America’s Cup. What a tasty mélange of history and culture Valencia offers for our maiden call. From the Roman founders in 137 BC to the victorious Swiss-based Alinghi team in 2007, foreign conquerors have come and gone, leaving behind the rich tapestry that defines Valencia as a consummately Spanish city. 

El Cid Campeador 

El Cid “The Champion” was a real man whose storied career as a fighter and military leader is greatly infused with legend. Born Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, son of a Castilian noble family, he became chief general for Alfonso VI during reconquista (the crusade to reclaim the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors) only to be later exiled by this king. El Cid fought as a mercenary for both the Muslims and the Christians before being returned to favor seven years later to help save Alfonso from the jaws of defeat. 

In the Battle of Graus, in 1063, he earned the sobriquet “El Campeador” when he killed a Knight of Aragon in single combat as both armies looked on. During his many military campaigns, El Cid read aloud from the writings of famous Greek and Roman generals to inspire his troops. He was also known to seek input from the ranks regarding battle tactics, an early form of “brainstorming” that lead to some inventive strategies. 

Following his recall by Alfonso, El Cid led a combined army of Christians and Moors in wresting Valencia from Ramon Berenguer II of Barcelona. The Cid became a virtually independent ruler of the kingdom until he was killed by a stray arrow during the Berber siege of Valencia in 1099. Even then, the legend grew, as his wife was reported to have strapped his lifeless body to his warhorse and sent him back to the battlefield, inspiring his troops to repel the invaders. 

Paella 

Valencia is generally acknowledged as the home of paella, possibly the most widely known Spanish dish. Paella has its own legends regarding the origin if this name. One of the oldest involves the servants of Moorish kings who gathered up leftovers from royal banquets that went straight to a large pot. In fact, the Arabic word for “leftovers” is close enough to support this version. 

Another explanation is based on the Spanish para ella, meaning “for her”, which reflects the fact most paellas are made by men in a once-a-week favor to their wives… like hamburgers. 
But the generally accepted version is the Catalan word for “frying pan” referring to the essential piece of equipment needed to prepare this dish. In fact, the world record paella was made in Valencia in1992. That paella pan measured 20 meters in diameter and served some 100,000 people! 

Las Fallas

Valencia is home to one of the world’s most original festivals celebrating St. Joseph’s Day in March. It features political satire, pyrotechnics plus neighborhood-scorching bonfires and, like Rio’s Carnival, it occupies some of the participants for an entire year.           

During that year, each neighborhood holds fund-raising paella feeds to raise money for their falla, a giant (often several stories tall) effigy of a well-known local or international celebrity or politician. Crafted in paper mache by local artists, they are often in bizarre, gravity-defying poses. Some 500 fallas are paraded through the neighborhoods during a two-week period leading up to the grand finale when the firecracker-loaded figures are set ablaze and a huge street party brings the festival to a close.           

“Why tell me about a festival that’s already happened?” you ask. Valencia’s museum dedicated to Las Fallas is open year-round, if you’re interested. 

Other Sites And Sights 

Should you like your culture neatly packaged, Valencia is your kind of town. Dozens of museums feature everything from fine arts, archaeology, and Valencian history to ceramics, rice, and bullfighting. Then there’s the fabulous City of Arts and Sciences, which contains a performing arts center, an oceanographic park, a planetarium and IMAX theatre, as well as a science museum. The entire complex should first be enjoyed from the outside as it features some of the best modern architecture in this part of the world. Renowned Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava created this marvel. 

Valencia will also reward those keen on discovering the sights on their own. Barrio del Carmen’s narrow streets are a walker’s paradise with centuries-old buildings. Valencia’s many squares offer shady benches for people watching and the Turia gardens is a meandering public park in the former Turia River bed, diverted in the 1960s to avoid flooding. 

However you decide to spend your day, Valencia is a city that will invite you back for more. 

                                                                                 Karyn L. Planett

Trogir, Croatia

Karyn Planett

Pirates Of The Adriatic

Let’s see… take a sliver of water like the Adriatic Sea, combine it with high value maritime shipping, hiding places in lawless lands, and friendly communities with goodies for sale and you have a recipe for… pirates!

From Viking days to the present, these ingredients have ensured an active nest of pirates along the Adriatic’s Dalmatian Coast. From the Croatian island of Rab in the north to the Gulf of Kotor in the south, this area ranks alongside other pirate hangouts often celebrated in story and song—the Caribbean’s Port Royal and Tortuga, the Barbary Coast, and Madagascar. From the 10th century until the 18th, this stretch of water harbored ne’er-do-wells of every stripe who preyed on merchantmen as savagely as any of their better-known brethren.

Dalmatia

The Dalmatian Coast is a crazy-quilt of coves, channels and over one thousand islands. The topographic characteristics making it ideal for today’s sailors, cruisers and island hoppers also made it a perfect haven for yesterday’s pirates. From ancient times the area came variously under the control of the Romans, the Byzantines, even the Mongols. In more recent centuries, it was claimed by the Ottomans and Austrians. But the one constant during those centuries was the Venetian Republic. The merchants of Venice were the Olympic-level traders of their day. Unfortunately, their most lucrative markets were in the farthest corners of the Mediterranean and, to reach them, Venetians had to traverse the entire length of the Adriatic. Nearly 500 miles long and only 90 miles wide it was a perfect hunting ground.

The Omis Corsairs

Well, who wouldn’t want to be called a “Corsair”? It sounds so romantic, so swashbuckling, so… datable! These privateering guys were amazing sailors and even better shipbuilders. They piloted a special ship called a Sagitta (the Arrow), designed to strike quickly then retreat into the safety of nearby river channels where larger vessels were unable to pursue them.

The Corsairs ruled the sea lanes of the Adriatic for more than three centuries, right under the noses of the occupying Turks and the more powerful Venetian naval forces. They were supported and protected by a family of ousted but outlaw Balkan dukes. Completely unrepentant, the pirates from the Croatian port of Omis attacked ships from Venice, Dubrovnik and Kotor. They seized the Pope’s galleys and even had the temerity to attack vessels carrying Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. So effective and elusive were they that their favorite targets eventually agreed to pay a tribute for each and every vessel passing through Omis territory. And the modern tollbooth was born.

After a couple of centuries growing fat and happy with this easy money, the Omis Corsairs were finally cut off by the Venetian navy in 1420. Even so, it took 24 more years for them to be forever silenced.

The Uskoks

As the Ottoman Empire spread throughout the Balkans, remnants of subjugated communities were forced west to the shores of the Adriatic. Christian Serbs and Croats developed into excellent guerilla fighters and were soon “hired” by the Austrian Empire to provide a paramilitary buffer between themselves and the expanding Muslim invaders. The guerillas adopted the name Uskok, meaning “turncoat” or “ambusher”, which pretty much described their tactics. They preyed on Ottoman settlements but when their Austrian “salary” began to dry up, they turned to piracy.

For the rest of the 16th and 17th centuries, Uskok pirates had free rein up and down the Dalmatian Coast stealing from Turks, Austrians, Venetians, just about anybody who happened to cross their path. But these pirates were more like the Vikings than the Johnny Depp sort. They continued to raid ashore as well as at sea, using the quick hitting strikes they’d learned against the Turks.

Eventually, the Venetians, Ottomans and Austrians united against this common nuisance. Once again, it was left to Venice, the dominant sea power in the Adriatic, to clean things up. They soon rooted out the pirate dens and, in an unusually humanitarian solution, resettled the pirate communities far inland and far from their old stomping grounds.

Trogir

Every island and port city along the Croatian coastline has its pirate heritage and tales. And Trogir is no different. Situated on a small island only 27 miles west of the capital city of Split, a stroll through the historic center of Trogir—a UNESCO World Heritage Site--will thrust you back to the time of the Venetians, Ottomans and Habsburgs. The walled medieval city shows beautifully preserved Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque buildings and is described as the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex in Central Europe.

Look closely at these ancient walls for you may find evidence of a long ago pirate attack.

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Sarande, Albania

Karyn Planett

A Balkan Success Story

Sarande sits squarely astride the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, directly across from the Greek Island of Corfu, in an area known as the Albanian Riviera. Oh, you didn’t know Albania had a “Riviera”? Well, who can blame you? Until the 1990s this country was all but closed to western visitors. In fact, for much of its history, Albania has been out of step with the rest of the world.

In the 15th century, an Albanian warrior named Georgi Skanderbeg fought off the advances of the Ottoman Empire when Eastern Europe was knuckling under to Turkish rule. After World War I, Albania aligned itself with Italy instead of the other Balkan states in Yugoslavia. During World War II, when virtually all of Axis-occupied Europe was persecuting Jews, Albania provided safe harbor for them. When the post-war European communist governments began to move away from strict Marxist-Leninist doctrine toward peaceful coexistence, Glasnost and Perestroika, Albania aligned itself instead with hard line Chinese Communists and slammed shut its doors to the developed world. And in 2007, crowds in Tirana actually gave a warm welcome to George Bush, the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country. 

Somehow, through all this zigging when everyone else was zagging, Albania has emerged from its isolation a stable, democratic, economically healthy member of the world community. 

So, welcome to the Albanian Riviera.

The Dragon Of Albania 

Georgi Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) actually began his military career fighting for the Ottoman Turks instead of against them. His father, John, was lord of Middle Albania and put up a fight against Turkish incursion. The Sultan, displeased, nabbed his three sons as hostages to ensure the lord’s loyalty. Georgi converted to Islam and attended military school in Turkey. His service for the Ottoman Empire was so impressive he was compared to Alexander the Great. In 1443, Skanderbeg defected with 300 troops to Albania, where he united the Albanian princes, built fortresses, trained an army, and used his country’s mountainous terrain to full advantage in waging a successful guerilla war against the Turks until his death in 1466. 

King Zog 

Born Ahmet Zogolli to a Turkish ruling family, the future king was educated in Istanbul, saw service in Europe in World War I, and returned to politics in Albania in the 1920s. In 1928 he was crowned King Zog, an unfortunate name that sounds vaguely like a comic book hero. King Zog became something of a royal dandy having acquired several exotic habits during his European service including smoking up to 200 perfumed cigarettes a day. With no links to European royalty, Zog was never accepted as part of the ruling political elite. During his reign, he survived 55 assassination attempts, married the Hungarian-American Countess Geraldine Apponyi de Nagy-Apponyi, and produced a son and heir, Crown Prince Leka, who provides a beacon of hope to Albanian monarchists wherever they may be. 

Enver Hoxha 

Albania has the distinction of being one of the first countries occupied by Axis powers at the outset of World War II. For five long years Albanian partisans resisted their occupiers, eventually becoming the only Eastern European nation to oust the Nazis without Soviet assistance. 

As leader of the Communist Labor Party, Enver Hoxha became head of the new People’s Republic of Albania for the next four decades. He was the architect of Albania’s isolation from the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, as an admirer of Joseph Stalin, Hoxha adopted his hero’s most repressive measures. To his credit, though, he helped transform Albania from a semi-feudalized society into an industrialized 20th century nation and set the stage for his country’s “coming out” in the 90s. 

Forty Saints 

Sarande offers an excellent base for exploring this still relatively unknown country. Among its features are the remains of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with evidence of human habitation dating back to the Stone Age. A synagogue from the 5th or 6th century AD was uncovered in 2003, the first of its kind discovered in the area. It offered a rich trove of mosaics depicting items associated with Jewish holidays. One of the more unusual offerings of the area is some of the 700,000 one-man concrete pillboxes commissioned during the Hoxha era. They were designed to be portable enough to set up as a defensive perimeter against whatever threats the government might discern at any given time. Local artists have transformed many into colorful modern icons. 

Oh, if you happen to discover why the town was given a name that means “forty saints” do let the rest of us know. 

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Sanary-Sur-Mer, France

Karyn Planett

French Connection 

It’s a bit difficult, one must say, to avoid the temptation of referring to this little port, “portette” perhaps, as a jewel in the French crown. Sanary-Sur-Mer is a brilliant emerald of a town in the Côte d’Azur’s shining necklace of polished gemstones. World travelers certainly cluck about and have probably already graced the true headliners … Cannes, St. Tropez, Monte Carlo … with their presence. However, few outsiders will ever stumble upon Sanary-Sur-Mer for it’s a mere speck of real estate clinging to this nation’s celebrated Mediterranean shoreline. Count yourself among the lucky ones who’ll stroll along the tree-lined waterfront past the brightly-painted pointus fishing boats, bobbing on the sea in cadence with the slap of the waves, rhythmically heralding your arrival. You mustn’t forget to don your crisp summer linens, grab your expensive handbags, and tuck behind your oversized designer sunglasses. This is, after all, a “see-and-be-seen” destination. 

What’s To See? 

Your options really are either to stroll about this tiny town or to journey beyond for an exploration of some of the more-famous destinations. Should you choose to remain in Sanary-Sur-Mer, begin your day with a poke about the morning market sampling local cheeses and aioli, admiring the rainbow of fresh flowers, and enjoying playful banter with a local fisherman who’s hoping to sell all of today’s catch. Be sure to enjoy a flakey, fresh-from-the-oven croissant with creamy butter and a brush of locally-made framboise jam. You’ll have time to walk it all off before sampling a Provençal rosé and bowl of traditional bouillabaisse, complete with a steaming hot baguette. 

The local people might suggest you step into the Chappelle Notre-Dame-de-Pitié, which dates back to 1560. As the name suggests, even to non-French-speaking visitors, this is a tiny little chapel with a modest interior. Perhaps it is this intimacy that makes one appreciate how it has served this fishing community for more than 450 years. The chapel seems to stand a silent vigil, one that was used to observe anyone approaching from the sea, then announcing their arrival with the church bells. Also, lighting a fire, the faithful from even further afield could respond to the alarm. From this vantage point, you can see the offshore islands of Point Negre, Embiez, Rouveau, as well as the jagged shores of La Cride identified by its red rocks. 

On a larger scale, there is the Église Saint Nazaire, known for the works of master Jean-Baptiste Garrigou, the powerful frescoes, and an organ with 24 stops and a trio of keyboards. (It is also claimed that this extraordinary pictorial work was designed by Ferdinand Bernhard.) The highly-acclaimed Garrigou was selected by Father Adrien Arnaud to incorporate Orthodox iconography with the neo-Byzantine structure, creating an elegant marriage of the two components that illustrates the intended spirituality. Also in the church’s spotlight is the church organ, as mentioned, built by Pascal Quorin in the year 2000. The worshippers claim its extraordinary sound that fills the naves and domes is ideal for religious inspiration as well as classical concerts. 

As the waters around Sanary-Sur-Mer are rich with the submerged remains of Roman and Greek vessels, archeological artifacts and valuable treasures are occasionally found by divers. It’s claimed by some that this little port was the birthplace of modern scuba diving. In fact, Jacques Cousteau once owned a home here that he called “Villa Baobab” and a handful of underwater movies were filmed in this very bay. There’s even a Frédéric Dumas Historical Diving Museum housed in a 13th-century medieval watchtower. Visitors should confirm opening hours before visiting the museum. You’ll discover that Dumas, Philippe Tailliez and Jacques-Yves Cousteau were the three accomplished divers who were lovingly referred to by locals as Les Mousquemers, The Musketeers. 

This little town also grew in importance when it was granted a “Station de Tourisme” to attract visitors from the US and Europe whose itineraries included the French Riviera. In turn, the literati and glitterati began arriving in the 1920s, many of them ultimately taking political refuge here. The 1931 novel Brave New World was penned by Aldous Huxley while staying near La Gorguette. (Note some experts believed he wrote the book in England.) 

The Beaches 

It’s no surprise the beaches are glorious, but glorious with a twist. While it’s claimed that Sanary-Sur-Mer enjoys 280 days of sunshine per year making it one of France’s sunniest destinations, the sunshine is often ushered in by the winds, the big winds. The Mistral, in fact. These are the chilly winds that rip down from the Alps through the Rhone River Valley to the Mediterranean into the Golfe du Lion reaching speeds of 55 miles per hour and more. There goes the hair. These winds are taken into consideration while designing buildings, open-air bell and clock towers, and more. Plus the Mistral is depicted in traditional images with men clutching their beret-style caps and leaning decidedly into the wind. For many it’s a drama, for others it’s a bother. For windsurfers who gather here from around the world to literally fly across the waves on these strong winds, it is a dream come true.           

What’s Beyond? 

With more time and adventure in your soul, you can zip over to Toulon a mere eight miles away. Marseille … 30. Aix … a bit beyond. Remember, always, that if you do head out that you’re back aboard before the ship sails. You wouldn’t want to miss out on what’s next on the agenda.

                                                            Karyn L. Planett


Ponza Island, Italy

Karyn Planett

Prison Or Paradise?

February 11, 2009. CBS News.

“Three men and three women have just spent two weeks living in pods 30 feet under the Tyrrhenian Sea.” 

The six divers were reported to have spent 70 percent of their daytime hours in the water, the remaining time in four diving bells anchored to the sea floor in a bay on the Italian Island of Ponza. 

“Why?” you might ask. 

Well, the diving is supposed to be spectacular here. And Ponza, along with its neighboring island of Ventotene, has a long history as a place of exile and imprisonment. But the reason you’re here is because this may be one of the last undiscovered (except by Italians and they don’t come until July) islands in the Mediterranean. In fact, the island’s natural beauty above the waterline makes one wonder why anyone would want to spend two weeks under it. 

The Sorceress And The Seductress 

Ponza is said to be the island once named Aeaea (pronounced as written … aeaea), winter home of Circe, a goddess of magic described in Homer’s Odyssey as “the loveliest of all immortals”. Her particular skill was to lure men into an advanced state of enchantment, then turn them into animals. Whisk. Just like that! Odysseus was, of course, able to foil her scheme and turn her skills to his advantage in finding his way back to Ithaca. 

The Emperor Augustus, who often vacationed in Ponza, had a very naughty daughter, Julia. Her behavior led to a series of embarrassing trysts with high-ranking Romans, which led her father to exile this wayward child to nearby Ventotene. She was sequestered in a sumptuous villa separated from the island’s population by a DMZ of sorts, across which no man was to venture under pain of death. Or worse. She died there ten years later having, it is said and against all odds, borne a child. Clever girl, this Julia. 

La Lucia And Il Duce 

There were other folks of note, as well. La Lucia, for one. An early symbol of women’s rights in Italy, she was the nineteenth century heroine named Lucia Rosa. She was in love with a simple farmer but promised to a wealthy merchant by her unromantic father. Lacking the tools today’s teenage girls have to stand up to unflinching parental pressure, she threw herself into the sea off the northwest side of the island and that was tragically that.

Fast forward to the 20th century. Ponza’s long history of isolation and detention made it the inevitable favorite as a prison for political opponents of Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime. Appropriately, Il Duce himself was imprisoned here for a brief time after his arrest and before his undignified execution. 

The Name Game 

Luckily, Ponzites have made it easy to relive these moments of its turgid past by naming various points of interest after the protagonists of these melodramas. On your way to see the Lucia Rosa Stacks marking the spot of her swan dive, or Circe’s Grotto (Grotta della Maga Circe on the road signs), you might meander past Ulysses’ Cave, Madonna Cliffs, Pilatus’ Caves (after Pontius Pilate), or Pope’s Point (Punta Del Papa) and wonder what fascinating stories might have led to their immortalization in the island’s topography. 

That topography is, of course, what makes Ponza the paradise that draws all those Italians who’ve discovered its charms. Leave it to these handsome Italians to know charm when they see it. The crenellated shoreline hides a grotto, a cave, a craggy cliff, or a spectacularly private, reachable-only-by-boat beach around every corner. In fact, the best way to “do” the island is probably by boat. They’re numerous and captained by locals anxious to please. If you’ve had enough of the sea at this point, there is a convenient road from Ponza Town in the south to La Forna, the island’s only other town, in the north. But don’t drive yourself because the stunning views will distract you as you wind around the twisty roads.

Swept Away

Like so many seaside communities that have become off-the-beaten-path retreats for Romans, Neapolitans and Milanese, Ponza is a study in the contrasts that make these port towns so… Italian. From the working-class fishing fleet in the harbor, a few streets up into the town will bring you face to face with shops featuring the same toney brands you’d find on Rome’s Via Veneto. The town abounds with restaurants and hotels featuring drop-dead views and delightful consumables. A drink on one of the pool terraces at the Grand Hotel Chiaia de Luna is its own reward. The island produces its own wine from a region called Punta Fieno, which is the natural accompaniment for the island’s tempting cuisine. Try the lenticchie alla ponzese (lentil soup), followed by rabbit, topped off with the seafood special that could only be featured in a paradise with such a dark side—Moray eel. Buon appetito!

                                                                               Karyn L. Planett

Patmos, Greece

Karyn Planett

A Christian Landmark

Every vacation should include at least one pilgrimage, whether it’s to a world famous beach, a written-up-in-every-magazine restaurant, or the atelier of your favorite haute couture designer. Patmos is a delightful little island in the heart of the Aegean Sea offering some dramatic beaches, plenty of people-watching tavernas, a selection of Patmian shops and boutiques, all finished off with the opportunity for an honest to gosh religious pilgrimage.

Saint John 

The star of the show is John of Patmos, ascetic cave dweller and visionary, a.k.a. John the Divine, John the Seer, John the Revelator, John the Theologian, and the Eagle of Patmos (though there is no evidence he could actually fly). He is, however, widely credited with authoring the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, and is regarded as a prophet and saint by many Christian denominations. 

For the sake of clarity, this particular Saint John is not to be confused with Saint John the Apostle, Saint John the Baptist, or Saint John the Evangelist author of the Gospel of John. Confusion reigns because, over the years, the Church has named no fewer than fifty-four Saint Johns (not including Jill). Religious scholars quarrel over whether these Saint Johns are all different people, so you can be forgiven a bit of head scratching. Then there’s Saint-Jean; Sant Joan; San Juan; San Giovanni; The Knights of St. John; St. John, New Brunswick… but we digress. 

The Book Of Revelations 

Now that we know who we’re dealing with, on with the story. 

This particular John lived in a cave on Patmos, possibly exiled there by persons of authority. Patmos, you see, is between Rome and Ephesus hence a pilgrim’s steppingstone. While in this cave, John claimed to have experienced two “revelations” or visions. The first was a sort of test revelation during which John was instructed to give a message to the Seven Churches of Asia, which referred to the seven communities of Christians living in Greek Asia (now Turkey). The message was along the lines of, “pay attention to what I’m saying.” 

The story of the second revelation occupies the bulk of the book and provides its alternate title, “The Apocalypse of John”. This vision was truly apocalyptic as it basically described the end of the world ruled by Satan, destroyed by the Messiah so that peace might reign foreverafter. 

The Book of Revelation has a checkered history when it comes to Biblical scholarship. John’s vision is considered a divine revelation by most Christians and—here’s a good one—Rastafari! How they square this story with Haile Selassi, reggae, and the spiritual use of cannabis is another whole article.

Theologians are a little fuzzy about when this apocalypse was meant to happen. Estimates range from the first century AD to sometime in the future, so best stay on your toes. Details are always a little hard to pin down when stories have to survive several millennia of translations and rewrites. On top of that, John actually dictated the whole story to a scribe named Prochoros who’s depicted in a mosaic above the entrance to the cave where it all happened, and who knows how good he was?           

The “Jerusalem of the Aegean” 

So, here you are in this tiny little harbor village, staring at an imposing Monastery looming high above. Realizing this is a place of serious Christian pilgrimage, and armed with the knowledge you now have, do you make the trek up the hill, sit in the picture-perfect plaza drinking coffee from a briki pot, or head to the beach?

Absolutely. All of the above. It’s a quick trip by taxi up to the Monastery of St. John, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, then a lovely walk down. Constructed in the late 11th century, the monastery looks, for all intents and purposes, like a military installation rather than a place of religious retreat. It was built in that manner to protect inhabitants from pirates and the Turks. Inside is a maze of courtyards, stairways, galleries and terraces leading to the frescoed Chapel of the Theotokos and the religious artifacts of the Treasury.

On the way down the cobblestone path leading to town, you can pause at the actual Cave of the Apocalypse to see if there might be a leftover vision or two, then get a scooter and go to the beach, and finally have a stroll around the village, baklava in hand. 

Pocket-sized Patmos, only thirteen square miles small, is one of those rare destinations where you don’t have to choose between the highlights. Everything can be done in one nine-to-five day. 

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett


Palamós, Spain

Karyn Planett

Viva Costa Brava

Olé! Viva! Celebrate the good life, Spanish style!

You’ve come to the land of superlatives. Sibilant superlatives. Sand, as golden as a summer sun. Seafood, plucked from the Mediterranean in the form of jumbo prawns, anchovies and monkfish. Sherry, rich in sippable flavor, handcrafted in the neighboring wineries. Saffron-laced paella, a staple here of short grain Spanish rice garnished with everything fresh and in season. Serrano ham, smoky and thinly-sliced served with pimento-stuffed olives and manchego cheese. And a finger-foodfest known as tapas that are snacks served up in every eatery from here to the French frontier.

Oh, by the way, the biggest “s” of all is “soccer”. Just know, though, that here it’s called futbol and the Spanish are mad for it. Crazy mad. Their national team is currently ranked first in the world.  And they even built a stadium in nearby Barcelona that is third largest in the entire world behind only Sao Paolo, Brazil and Mexico City. Remember, though, that those are massive megalopolises. Barcelona, on the other hand, seems an absolute village in comparison for it is home to a mere 1.6 million fans. And be forewarned -- each and every one is a rabid fan.

So, viva Costa Brava. Viva Catalonia. Viva Palamós and all who come to sample her many pleasures.

You’re Not The First, You Know

Others came before you, especially as the French Côte d’Azur became more and more crowded with holidaymakers. Sunseekers sought new getaways and it was about then, in the 1950s, that Spain’s decision makers addressed this need. Hence, the Costa Brava was born. Actually… born. Spain believed that if they built it, the people would come. And they did. So hotels sprang up, marinas were strung along the seafront, golf courses were designed and a new chapter was written in the book of world-class destinations. 

But even these thonged throngs who chartered in for the week weren’t the very first to visit. The Greeks and the Romans padded through in their thongs, but this time it refers to their sandals not their swimming costumes. They erected temples and marketplaces called agoras. The Jews were here, as well, and their history is preserved in a neighboring town called Girona. The Christians constructed monasteries where their faithful were lost in silent prayer. Today, one such structure in Peralda houses the private collections of the Segue Family that includes not only 80,000 books and fine wines, some dating back to the 14th century, but rare pieces of art as well. Visitors are welcomed to the Peralda Castle Museum for a detailed examination of this celebrated collection.

Art and The Artist

Perhaps the area’s most famous artist is none other than Salvador Dalí. Quirky genius that he was, he found a place called Púbol to his liking. It was here that he and his wife Gala accepted the challenge of refurbishing a 14th century castle that became their abode in 1970. Dalí’s bride of nearly 50 years died in 1982 and is buried on the castle grounds that today are part of a museum. Open to the public since 1996, it is called Gala Dalí Castle and is considered Dalí’s last workshop. In the courtyard there is a stone-lined swimming pool with an array of sculptures dedicated by the artist to the German operatic composer Richard Wagner.

While there are two other Dalí museums in the region, this serves as a window into the artist’s final days and his devotion to his wife who preceded him in death by seven years. Plan your visit wisely as tickets are very limited.  

Capital City Girona

Art and soccer not your fancy? Then travel to Girona, the regional Catalonian capital surrounded by massive medieval walls. Churches are the order of the day here with the soaring Girona Cathedral the most impressive. A picnic along the Onyar River, beside its brightly-painted houses, is a must followed by a stroll through Independence Square. You’ll feel history envelope you here like an embroidered silk shawl draped with such flair around the shoulders of Spain’s loveliest ladies. 

Meanwhile, Back In Palamós

It’s probably siesta time when the shops are shuttered and the restaurants are lively with conversation and laughter. Pensioners turn into human sundials in the parks, skooching from one shady bench to the next. Schoolgirls giggle at the beach. And handsome guys walk by looking… well, quite macho. Another afternoon lazes by as it has for centuries. And those who aren’t here in Palamós are probably in neighboring Tossa de Mar, an anciet city 28 miles away, now busy with visitors who lounge on the beach beside a medieval castle. Or, there’s Lloret de Mar just beyond Tossa de Mar, where high-rise hotels ring the white sand beach that is a staggering 1600 yards long. Tossa is often awarded the coveted “Blue Flag” for cleanliness and the water is absolutely transparent. For the record, the sangria here is chilled perfectly, and prawns the size of a dockworker’s thumb are served piping hot.  

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Monte Carlo, Monaco

Karyn Planett

Where Fairy Tales Really Do Come True

Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a very handsome prince who lived in a storybook castle that clung to the rocks overlooking the bluest of seas. He lived there all alone and was quite sad for he had no one to love. Then, one day, a truly beautiful woman visited his enchanted land. She had hair of gold and a face as lovely as he’d ever seen. She was a famous American movie actress who was adored by all. The prince showered her with love so she came to live in his tiny kingdom as his beloved bride.

The year was 1956. The handsome prince was Prince Rainier. The actress, of course, Grace Kelly. And due to this joyous marriage America’s eyes turned toward the royal couple of Monaco and lived out this dream come true along with their Princess Grace.

The Riviera

Monaco, which covers only a three-mile stretch of the Mediterranean coastline, is a miniature constitutional monarchy whose entire country could fit into New York City’s Central Park. In fact, it’s so tiny it could fit into half of Central Park. During rush hour, buses can travel the full length of the country in a mere 20 minutes.

Like a pearl in the necklace that adorns the Mediterranean Riviera, Monaco has held a fascination for jetsetters and glitterati for generations. It has all the amenities to cater to their every whim: a breathtaking sea, a fantasyland-style palace, a nail-biting Grand Prix, no taxes and a world-famous casino where fortunes are won... and lost.

Many people visit Monaco. Some even stay. However, few can boast they are actual citizens of this playground by the sea. To become a Monegasque citizen is most difficult. Even those born and raised in Monaco are not automatically eligible for this country’s citizenship.

The Grimaldi Reign

Many foreign conquerors ruled this land, including the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, to name a few. And each ruler left an indelible mark on this fabled city. Then, in 1297, François (The Spiteful) Grimaldi successfully captured this barren area from the established government. He completed this task after escaping the civil war in Genoa, disguising himself as a Franciscan monk and seizing the fortress in Monaco. This deed firmly established the Grimaldi dynasty, which has continued its reign over these eight centuries.

Prince Rainier III was a direct descendant of the Grimaldi family and the thirty-first heir to their monarchy which began at the close of the 13th century. With the Prince’s death in 2005 and the ascendancy to the throne of his son Prince Albert, it is difficult to imagine that the Grimaldis won’t be ruling this land for many generations to come.

The Casino at Monte Carlo

The renowned Monte Carlo Casino was established by Monsieur François Blanc in the year 1863. Its architecture features vaulted and gilded ceilings, crystal chandeliers and trained croupiers as fine as any in the world. Hundreds, even thousands of euros are won and lost over games such as chemin-de-fer, baccarat, trente-et-quarante, boule, craps, roulette, blackjack and vingt et un.

As the celebrated story goes, Charles D. Wells, a British gambler, succeeded in breaking the bank at Monte Carlo. The year was 1891, and in those days individual roulette tables had a fixed bank of money. When the dealer was out of money, the bank was “broken” and the roulette table was then draped in a black mourning cloth for a period of time while the dealer replenished the money supply. It is said that Mr. Wells did indeed cause the tables to be draped, not once but several times. This feat elevated Mr. Wells to a celebrity status and his winnings inspired the song, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”

Curiously enough, all Monegasques are forbidden from entering the casino’s game rooms, and only foreign visitors with passports are permitted in the casino.

Fairy Tales Don’tAlways End Happily

Princess Grace met a tragic death while driving on the Moyenne Corniche in 1982. The Grimaldi family, as well as all of Monaco and America, mourned the loss of their wonderful Princess. In her absence, her husband and three children carried on all official duties required by their royal positions.

Even after the recent death of Prince Rainier, the magic of the land does live on. Today, Monaco is well established on the map of fun-loving, pleasure-seeking, sun-splashed pretty people who flock to this toy kingdom which lies wedged between the Alps and a sea of bobbing yachts. It is truly regarded by all as the gem of the Mediterranean.

                                                                                  Karyn L. Planett

Kotor, Montenegro

Karyn Planett

It’s A Small World

Kotor is a destination of small delights, much like a display case sparkling with estate jewelry. Should you, veteran traveler that you are, pause long enough to sample this medley of delights, you’ll soon discover they all add up to one gloriously satisfying adventure. This is to say that Kotor is a very special destination. In fact, it’s so extraordinary that only a few years back, the Washington Post called it “the next small thing”.

Towering Peaks, Too?

Well, actually, Montenegro isn’t only... small. It also boasts the obligatory towering peaks. Yes, it’s true. They form the country’s rugged spine creating a natural barrier between the southernmost extension of the Adriatic’s Dalmatian Coast and the interior. This geographical barrier was only recently pierced by a tunnel thus providing easier access to the capital city, Podgorica. Nature also engineered some overhanging limestone cliffs that create a fjord-like entry to the Bay of Kotor and cast nearly daylong shadows for the town of Kotor that rests at the head of the bay.

The history of Montenegro is a twisted tale of Greeks, Slavs, Romans, Venetians, Goths and Turks, so Byzantine—so Balkan—that it would be impossible to do it justice in this brief article. Suffice to say that recent history saw the country align itself with Serbia following the breakup of Yugoslavia and essentially close its doors to the outside world. In the 1990s and earlier this decade it survived primarily as a lawless haven for smugglers and a variety of mafia organizations. In 2006, the citizenry took control back and voted for independence from Serbia. Since then, a reawakening as “the next Croatia” has provided significant momentum to a revived tourism industry and a rediscovery of Montenegro’s many treasures.

Kotor Makes The Top Five

The old town of Kotor is considered by many as Europe’s best-preserved medieval city. A whole day can easily be spent wandering its narrow alleys, climbing ancient stairways to neighborhood squares (Trg od Oruzja or Square of Arms is the main one), and poking about the churches, palaces and local markets. Keep an eye out for the 12th century Sveti Tripun Cathedral, the Prince’s Palace, Napoleon’s Theater, and the Maritime Museum housed in Grgurin Palace.

The face of Kotor can be attributed primarily to the Venetians who dominated the Dalmatian Coast from the 15th to 18th centuries and Kotor rose to maritime prominence on the coattails of the powerful Republic of Venice. The old town is surrounded by an impressive sixty-foot high, thirty-foot thick, three-mile long wall started in the ninth century and “completed” a thousand years later (like your kitchen remodel). Not unlike Dubrovnik, you can feel the sense of security medieval citizens must have enjoyed when tucked inside this massive fortification. The Lion of Venice guards the main gate on the seaward side and promises the very Venetian clock tower, palaces and piazzas within.

Following a serpentine path from the eastern walls up 1,350 steps to the Fortress Sveti Ivan will put you 900 feet above the bay with a spectacular view of the surrounding coast. From here you can imagine the sailing fleet—pride of Kotor—that once had primacy in this section of the Adriatic, and provided many of the old galleys, instruments and engravings you see in the Maritime Museum. Note there are no services on this path, so take water… and your camera.

The Bay and Beyond

The Baroque village of Perast is a nearby, nearly abandoned (just 400 people) town on Kotor Bay that was once home to wealthy families that made the sailing fleet so successful, and vice versa. It’s a place of former glory and once-luxurious Venetian palaces, many abandoned remains of twelve clans that flourished here during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

A bright jewel in Kotor’s crown is the island of Gospa od Skrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock). This island was built entirely of ballast stones brought by sailors from Kotor and Perast. These rocks form the base upon which a church, famous for its 68 Tripo Kokolja paintings, was built in 1630 to honor an icon of the Holy Mother of God found after a ship wrecked near the island. Each July ceremonial stones are brought from Perast and added to the island.

Perast and Gospa od Skrpjela can both be visited as part of regular daily cruises offered from Kotor or by taxi boats available in the harbor. (Just be mindful of the timing.) Budva, a 2500-year-old town; Lastva, 1,000 feet up from the sea; and Montenegro’s former capital city Cetinje are all worthy of a closer look, should your schedule permit.

Montenegro and Kotor are still making their way to most people’s “Been There” list. So, enjoy it now and cherish the bragging rights that go with being first on your block to “discover” this little jewel of the Adriatic.

                                                            Karyn L. Planett

Koper, Slovenia

Karyn Planett

Istrian Insight

“All roads do not lead to Rome.”

So says the Slovenian proverb, and … well, that’s to be debated. But, you’re only here a short time so why not just accept this bit of posturing and explore Koper instead.

First, though, consider the geography. Koper sits smack on the coastline quite near the Italian and Croatian borders. In fact, if you’ve got a map handy, you’ll discover that Koper is on a Slovenian appendage capping Istrian Croatia. Italy in general is north and west, and Venice in particular is due west. Austria is north, the Adriatic Sea is southwest, and Croatia lies to the south and east. This puts Koper right in the crosshairs of trade routes between major Central European cities and their bountiful trading partners in Asia. A couple of other interesting facts is that Koper is the most important and largest port in the country, which is not too surprising when you discover the Slovene coastline is only approximately 25 miles long. The country’s tiny little stretch along the sea is disproportionate to the interior of the country, which is rather sizeable at 7,780 square miles. Actually, some claim the word Slovenia stands for “small seaside state. 

Well, it might be small but it’s worthy of a closer look, certainly, and that’s exactly why you’re here.

Important Details 

Koper, in truth, faces the Gulf of Trieste, named after the Italian city a mere pizza-throw away. Originally, this was an island but today is a peninsula instead. You’ll discover most Koper residents speak some Italian in addition to Slovene. This bilingualism is important because trade between Venice and Koper has been in existence since 932. In fact, Koper once served as the capital city of Venetian Istria.

The townspeople knew success and the city flourished until the beginning of the 18th century when neighboring Trieste established itself as a “free port”. Within a short period of time, commerce was wiped out along with Koper’s traders.

But this city had known setbacks before. Her citizens suffered and died by the score during the 16th century when plagues swept across her narrow lanes and neighboring countryside 

The heavy hand of war found its way to Koper, as well. When the guns of WWII were finally silenced, this area was incorporated into Zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste under the watchful eye of a UN Peacekeeping Force. Being in the minority, the Italians picked up their belongings, packed up their possessions and departed the city that had been their home. In 1977, Zone B was formally transferred to the Socialist Federation of the Republic of Yugoslavia, Zone A (Trieste) to Italy.

Your journey here occurs at an auspicious time. 2011 is the twenty-year anniversary of Slovenian Independence and her people are proud of the last two decades. The events that led up to this independence are revealed in the discussion of the Ten-Day War. Your guide will fill in all the details but suffice to say that the European Community formally recognized Slovenia in January 1992, with acceptance into the United Nations only five months later. Formal entry into the European Union came in 2004.

Now, The Sites of Koper

Your time is limited so plan your day accordingly. There’s not one moment to take in the country’s interior hiking trails, pristine lakes, forests, mountains, caves and the like. Koper can fill the time nicely especially if you start in Old Town. It’s just up from the marina area along Kidriceva Ulica. Say that three times!! The center point is Tito Square, or Titov Trg as it’s known locally. The Town Hall draws your eye immediately so have your cameras at the ready. Then take in the Praetorian Palace, dating back to the 15th century. You’ll notice the façade is decorated with coats of arms. This affirms the fact the building once served as the mayor’s palace. Next, tilt back to see the heights of the bell tower, dating back to 1463. Once a component of the city’s defenses, it was transformed into a bell tower for public religious observance.

The Loggia took on its current form in the late 17th century. Look for the terra-cotta image of the Virgin Mary placed there in 1555 to remember the plague victims.

St. Mary’s of the Assumption Cathedral was built in the early days of the 12th century and is undergoing renovation. Da Ponte Fountain is fashioned after Venice’s Rialto Bridge and dates back to 1666. 

“Pray For A Good Harvest But Keep Hoeing”

This local proverb says it all. Try the pickled cabbage soup called jota or the corn soup known as bobici. The country boasts three winegrowing regions and offers a fine Malvaziji white wine or a good ruby red called Teran. For a culinary souvenir, pick up some course sea salt from the local saltpans, once an industry whose product was considered white gold.

                                                                        Karyn L. Planett


Kefalonia, Greece

Karyn Planett

Ionian Escape

To get our geography straight, just know that Argostoli is the capital city on the island of Kefalonia and has been since 1757. Kefalonia is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea and has been probably since before anyone was around to write about it. The Ionia Sea is, by definition, that body of water with Italy to the northwest, Sicily to the west, Albania and the Adriatic to the north, Greece to the east and the Med proper to the south and has been since time began. And, it’s been a hot spot for jetsetters who’ve come here for the sand and sea since the Romans first stepped ashore in designer sandals and tone-on-tone togas.

Kefalonia, for those wanting more details, is also spelled Kefallonia, Kefallinia, Cephalonia and a host of other versions. No matter how you spell it, it is the largest of all the Ionian Islands at about 300 square miles. And Argostoli is the largest of the island villages counting just about 15,000 residents. Many can be seen in the breezy afternoons strolling along the palm-lined promenade, a street paved with small sea pebbles. Others see and are seen at the tavernas and eateries ringing Plateia Valianou, a popular square that comes to life as the sun wanes. Everyone looks tanned from their days at Sami Beach, a clam’s throw from town and noted for its enviable “Blue Flag” rating. These beach-going sun worshippers also build up their appetites shopping along Lithostrotu or walking briskly in the Napier’s gardens that loom above the square.

Mother Nature’s Nod 

For starters, just know that more than half the island’s total area is covered with olive trees. Someone counted them and there are in excess of one million trees. That’s great news for chefs, cooks, foodies, and diners who have a taste for Kefalonian olive oil. You’ll discover it on every table in every restaurant absolutely everywhere. So, too, the local wines from vineyards draped across the rocky hillsides. Fabulous. But Mother Nature wasn’t satisfied with the bounty of so many trees and vines. She also sculpted the island’s perimeter with white sand beaches like Myrtos Beach that locals claim is number five on the world’s best beaches ranking. Still not satisfied? She threw in caves and lakes and mountains and forests and a backdrop that was absolutely ideal for small enclaves and whitewashed villages dotted here and there. Let’s look at the natural wonders first.

What comes to mind immediately is the Melissani Lake. Quite close to the tiny community of Karawomylos, experts claim this cave and its luminescent lagoon are 40,000 years old give or take. Only 500 feet in length, it’s small but mighty magnificent because shafts of sunlight zap down to illuminate the brackish water lake. In fact the phenomenon is so magical it literally seems to float your boat, should you choose to explore by rowboat rather than from the viewing platform.

When the explorer Ioannis Petrocheilos had a good look at the cave in 1951, he discovered an ancient lamp. Eleven years later, more artifacts were discovered representing the Minoan people and their presence. In fact, the image of the god Pan appeared on several. He’s depicted with nymphs and, for this reason, the cave is also known as the Cave of the Nymphs and named for one in particular, Melissanthi. What’s really curious about this cave is its location .. some 500 meters from the sea.

If this isn’t enough, there’s also the powerful interior of the Drogarati Cave. The deep recesses are some 200 feet down from the cave’s ceiling and the constant dripping over centuries has decorated the cave with eerie-looking stalactites and stalagmites. Just know that these features grow only about ½ inch every 100 years. In summertime, people gather for wonderful concerts in the Chamber of Exaltation, or Sala of Apotheosis. The cave was discovered three centuries ago and has only been open to the public since 1963.

From The Hand Of Man

Kefalonia has been home to mankind since Paleolithic times. Islanders built homes and houses of worship, cultivated gardens and fished the seas. Little remains from early times due to a powerful earthquake in 1953. Virtually every town and village suffered varying degrees of devastation, Argostoli as well. Thankfully, the tiny town of Fiskardho was spared and still features colorful 18th-century mansions ringing the little harbor. This is a blessed curse for it is often the destination of tourists visiting the island, crowding streets during peak season. You shouldn’t experience this reality for you’ve come at a quieter time.

Another town of note is Sami, the setting for Louis de Berniere’s 1994 work “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” Relive this romantic tale over a plate of sofrito (a tasty veal dish) or a spicy local fish specialty known as bourdetto. Or, perhaps you can flip through some pages of Homer’s writings to determine if Kefalonia is the true Ithaca. It’s worthy of some debate while dining.

                                                                              Karyn L. Planett

Ibiza, Spain

Karyn Planett

You Say Ee-beez-ah, And I Say Ee-beeth-ah

Yet in Catalan, it’s Eivissa. So there you have it.

Just know that whatever you say, it is hot hot hot here in this little dollop of Heaven known as the Balearic Islands. Hot as in… look good and take a good look at all that eye candy strutting about like wafer-thin waifs catwalking at those trendy Paris Fashion Week blowouts.

So, whether you’re a Brit, a Spaniard, or a visitor from afar it matters not one whit what you call this trophy island when you step ashore into the swirl and twirl of sizzling days and even sizzlier nights. This is a hot spot and playroom for fat cats and big players who’ve just stepped ashore, toned and tanned, from their mega-yachts. This is your day to join in the party of free-spirited revelers that’s been going on much longer than it takes you to say … ohmygoodnesscanyoubelievesheworethatlittlenothingintothisrestaurant. Even a fellow named Norman Lewis wrote about all this in his 1959 piece, The Changing Sky.  He said, “Annually Ibiza’s Bohemian plant is pruned back to the roots, and with each new season it produces a fresh crop.” That’s your cue to go forth and blossom.

On Another Note

Certainly you can party away the day along with the tribe, or you can explore the other face of Ibiza. The old one. So, begin in Dalt Vila, so worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage nod. You know, according to some historians, this island was first settled in 654 BC by the Phoenicians. The Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians, Vandals, Byzantines, Moors even the Norwegians all left their marks here over time, for the Balearic Islands (that’s Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, Formentera, and a few others) served as important Mediterranean trading ports. Today, Ibiza is considered a member of the Balearic Autonomous Community for Spain, a province really. 

Imagine, all this fighting over a jagged bit of rock not even 250 square miles big. You could squeeze ten Manhattans here and still have room for a teeny bikini or two.

Well, all this tugging and pulling by distant powers left a rich mixture of residents (not counting the famous ones like Sid Vicious and Orson Welles) as well as languages. Elvissenc is the traditional dialect heard not only on Ibiza but also on neighboring Formentera. Having said that, virtually every language is spoken here by visitors from the world over who have longed to spend a few days on Ibiza.

But if you want even more Ibiziana, play the soundtrack from the 2012 movie The Dark Knight Rises. Kudos to you if you remember there’s a song entitled “Bombers Over Ibiza” and it’s got a great beat and easy to dance to.

Here’s another interesting bit of trivia, though please ask a local whether they think it’s true or not. Some claim that after the North Pole and the Bermuda Triangle, Ibiza’s tiny Es Vedrà Island is the most magnetic point on earth. It’s just a rocky chip of land jutting out of the sea really though it was large enough to be used as a backdrop for some of Hollywood’s Bali Hai. Ah, we digress.

Getting Serious About Time Ashore

You can start with a stroll past the 16th-century walls of the “upper town” of Dalt Vila. Built by Philip II, these stone structures are powerful indeed. Overlooking Ibiza Town, Dalt Vila retains its medieval feel and architecture. The Gothic-style Cathedral of Santa Maria dates back to the 13th century and is noted for its baroque nave. The area known as Sa Penya is a maze of winding passageways with worn-with-time pavers underfoot.

Further afield are the tiny villages of Santa Gertrudes, San Lorenzo de Balfia with traditional houses called casas payesas, and Santa Eulalia, home to the Spanish Impressionist Joaquín Sorolla. Other villages of note are Es Cubells, among the smallest, and San Jose with its Church of Sant Josep de sa Talaia. Another place worthy of a visit is Santa Eulalia, long important to painters and writers who stroll the seafront promenade and wile away the afternoon in the central square.

Should you need some sustenance from all these adventures ashore, simply sample little nibbly bits called tapas, traditional guisado soup, paella (that glorious serving of saffron rice with seafood or meat cooked slowly in its own rich broth), or something called sofrit pages. This is a typical Ibicenco serving of lightly spiced meats and sausages cooked with garlic, potatoes, and a light dusting of cinnamon and saffron. Thanks to the Phoenicians who introduced several varieties of grapes including tempranillo, monastrell and malvasía, there are fine wines to be had. Sangrias are also nice on a warm afternoon. So, too, fresh juices known as granizados that are equally refreshing.

Mustn’t push away from the table, though, without a bit of greixonera pudding or a type of cheesecake called flao that’s served with herbs and honey. All too soon it’ll be time to return to the ship and that dreaded treadmill to undo the hedonistic damage done ashore here in that temptation known as Ibiza.

                                                                             Karyn L. Planett 

Castellón de la Plana, Spain

Karyn Planett

Spain’s Orange Blossom Special

This off-the-beaten-track port, Castellón de la Plana, is found along the stretch of the Spanish coast called Costa Azahar. Azahar is the translation of “orange blossom” or “orange tree” in the local languages. Remember, everything is written a few different ways here. Costa means “coast.” So here you are on the Orange Blossom / OrangeTree Coast of Spain where not so many travelers come. Over the years, yes, but all too often today’s travelers end their journey at Valencia, about 40 miles away. You, on the other hand, will be among the select few to add this notch to your travel belt. Good on you.

So Where Are You?

Spain. Goes without saying. On the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula in something called the Valencian Community. Castellón de la Plana is the capital of the Castelló Province and is a city steeped in time. It’s also called the Province of Castellón by her people. This province covers an area approximately 65 miles long and is very mountainous. These rugged mountains are known as the Desert de les Palmas Mountains and they form a dramatic backdrop and setting for some wonderful hiking and other outdoor adventures. Those with GPSs will be absolutely thrilled to record that, while here, they’re standing smack on the Prime Meridian. Turn north, drive 1000 miles, and you’ll run right into Greenwich, England.

The city of Castellón de la Plana dates back to the 13th Century and is, as you guessed, lined with orange trees. The sweet scent of orange blossoms wafts on the springtime air and would be a delight should you come back for a visit at that time. As the city is rather small, it’s quite pleasant for strolling and taking in the place and pace of it all. The Old Quarter is a wonderful starting point. It’s rich with history but people-watching is also a pleasure especially in the plazas. There are several to choose from -- Plaza de la Pescaderia, Plaza Mayor, and Plaza de Santa Clara with its Gothic as well as Renaissance architecture.

Of course the landmark centerpiece of it all is the bell tower, known as El Fadri. Dating back to the 16th century, it’s designed in an octagonal shape with bells that ring out on the hour and also peal to announce important events.

The people of Castellón shop and sip coffees along Avenida Rey Don Jaime or at Plaza de la Paz. If they meet for a hearty meal or even a quick snack of tapas, they’ll often select from the regional favorites that include fish, fish, more fish, and some meat. Sardines and anchovies, prawns and shellfish, seafood paellas and grilled fish are featured on most menus. So, too, something called tombet del maestrazgo, a type of soup. But, for dessert, there’s turrón a delectable sweetie made of nuts, sugar, honey and egg whites. What’s not to like?

On market days, the locals visit Plaza de Santa Clara, an open-air square with a more contemporary feel. For sport or a brisk walk they’re keen on Ribalta Park. And, speaking of sport, golfers might already know which famous golfer on the circuit today was born right here in Castellón de la Plana. If you guessed Sergio Garcia you were absolutely correct.

Further Afield

There’s Valencia, 40 miles away. This magnificent city has all the trappings – the Generalitat Palace, the 14th century Serranos Towers, and something called La Lonja del la Seda, which was the old silk exchange and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sailors will remember that Valencia was also home to the 2007 America’s Cup race, considered by boating enthusiasts to be sailing’s most prestigious regatta.

Cavers will take to St. Joseph’s Cave in the Vall D’Uixó. These caves contain Europe’s largest navigable subterranean river that measures 1.7 miles long. If that’s not enough, there are also Palaeolithic paintings adorning the cave walls suggesting these caverns were inhabited 1000 years ago. An underground cruise in a small but steady boat that drifts merrily along is just the ticket.

If a mountainous setting is more your thing, there’s Peñíscola. It is a hugely popular destination in this province due to its unique setting. Peñiscola is surrounded by the sea on three sides and is, therefore, called the “Gibraltar of Valencia”, without the Barbary apes. High atop its craggy ridges sits the Templar Knights Fortress, a structure that once was home to Pope Benedict, lovingly nicknamed “Moon Pope”, who was headquartered here while battling to unify the Catholic Church.

Your battle today is with the clock. It’s time to discover exactly which of the Orange Tree Coast’s many offerings will be your pleasure. Whatever it is, do enjoy. 

                                                                                    Karyn L. Planett

Bonafacio, Corsica

Karyn Planett

Rugged Beauty

Corsicans are a tough lot. Often stout, always respected, unfailingly as rugged as their mountainous maquis terrain. They’re revered and renowned for their courage and conviction to all they call their own. Their land. Their family. Their island. Their history and heritage.  The people of Corsica live, breathe and celebrate their nationalistic pride in all they do. That evidence swirls all around, enveloping visitors like their national flag.

And Speaking Of Corsica’s Flag

Called the Testa di Moru or Tête de Maure, the Moor’s Head features a distinctive profile of a black Moor, often sporting a white bandeau, also called a tortil. Some historians report that it was in 1762 that the great Corsican patriot Pasquale Paoli declared this the official emblem, representing an independent Corsica. Today’s depiction shows the man wearing the bandeau as a headband though initially it served as a blindfold. Some will tell you this represents freedom from slavery. Others say it confirms the Corsicans’ clear view. And there are those who claim it was actually imported by the kings of Aragon. As with so many bits of history we encounter in our world travels, the origin of the flag is debated. No matter which theory you support, you’ll soon discover this bold image is indelibly tied to this island and her people.

The National Anthem

The Corsican national anthem, Dio vi Salvi Regina, was written by Francesco di Girolamo in approximately 1675. A Jesuit priest and missionary, canonized by Gregory XVI in 1839, his musical composition is really a hymn to the Virgin Mary.

Traditional music heard on the island is considered polyphonic, meaning “of many voices.” Often, men can be heard huddled together lifting their voices in chorus literally calling on their forefathers to guide them. With luck, you’ll be able to hear some of this magical music.  

Corsu is the Corsican language and is taught in the schools. While the language sounds very different from Italian to the untrained ear of an outsider, the written word is much closer. For the record, French is the island’s official language. This language carousel happened because of the island’s proximity to her powerful neighbors. The island of Corsica is a mere 105 miles across the sea from the French mainland and only 55 miles from Italy. Sardinia, for the record, is a mere seven miles away.

Corsican Cuisine

A mighty cuisine from a meager chestnut grows. Along with the mulberry, fig, olive and grape vine, the chestnut was planted long ago to sustain islanders from food shortages. Meat dishes include local wild game, for example, wild boar served as a stew called Tianu, and farm raised animals such pigs whose diet consists mainly of … chestnuts. Stewed with red wine, or drizzled in pibronata sauce, the meat is delicious. A glorious specialty called caprettu is a leg of lamb that’s been dotted with bits of garlic and drizzled with a type of bacon grease, called panzetta, cooked directly on the glowing embers. A prizzutu smoked ham or figatelli sausage is always a family favorite. Local wines complement these fine offerings. Many come from the Figari Plain.

The standard offerings the sea, especially lobster, is complemented with trout and eel cooked atop glowing pebbles. Aziminu is a tasty fish stew that resembles bouillabaisse. And locally-grown tangerines find their way into many Corsican meals. A fine sheep-milk cheese is called brocciu and serves as an ingredient in many dishes. And a chestnut flan caps many meals.

A Bit About Bonifacio and Its Surrounds

The town itself is really two towns in one. The first is Old Town (Vieille Ville also called la Haute Ville). Much of it dates back to 828 AD when it was founded by Count Bonifacio of Tuscany, with important religious sites all around including the Church of St. Marie Majeure, the St. Francis Convent, and the St. Dominique Church from 1270. Of course, it’s hard to escape the nod to Napoleon Bonaparte who was born in Corsica though in Ajaccio, 80 miles away. A maze of narrow streets threads through Bonifacio’s Old Town, the centerpiece being the Place d’Armes. There’s also the area close to the harbor, known as la marine. Beaches, marinas and waterfront eateries are a definite lure. Limestone cliffs loom above topped by the 9th century Citadel walls. These cliffs are dotted with caves including the Grotto Sdragonatu where some claim the opening in the dome overhead mirrors Corsica’s contour. The Old Town and the sea are connected by the Staircase of the King of Aragon, cut directly into the stone façade.

The village of Sartène, between Ajaccio and Porto-Vecchio, speaks to the medieval times and man’s early conquest of the island. Their motto is “Sartène is the most Corsican of the towns in Corsica.” Tight alleyways lead to the Clock Tower, one of its highlights.

Corsicans will welcome your return visit when you have time to delve more deeply into the island’s history. Till then, you’ll have to savor the sampling afforded by your brief visit to Bonifacio.

                                                                             Karyn L. Planett

Almeria, Spain

Karyn Planett

Spaghetti and Strawberries

What? You’ll see later. But for now, enjoy this interesting quote by Gerald Grenan from his 1957 piece South from Grenada.

“Do you know what other Spaniards call it (Almeria)? They call it el cula de Espana, ‘the bum of Spain’, and though I regard that as an insult to me personally, because it is directed at my city, I must admit that they’re not far wrong.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sixty plus years later, those Spanish critics are dead wrong. Almeria is now more about real “bums”, all tanned and toned and lovingly brushed with the strong blush of Costa del Sol’s faithful sun. Sure, Almeria isn’t as famous as other Andalusian resort cities. But, it’s been dear to the hearts of powerful people throughout the ages including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Christians, and Northern European snowbirds. In fact, mankind carved out a meager existence here as long ago as 2000 years before Christ walked the earth. Europe’s largest Bronze Age settlement is actually found nearby. So, too, troglodyte villages called casas cuevas in Spanish. Resembling Star Wars-type cave houses, these curious structures are literally carved into the cool stone cliffs yet feature front doors, windows, tiled roofs, even chimneys. Barrio de Chanca is the site of Almeria’s such homes.

But Wait, There’s More

Almeria town is also unique in that its architecture and culture are so Morocco-esque. It’s considered to be Andalucia’s most “African” city on the sea. All this becomes palpable when wandering through the looming Arab fortress called the Alcazaba that once was the shelter for more than 20,000 soldiers. It was the project of Cordoba’s caliph Abder al-Rhaman III during the first half of the 10th century. Featured in the Alcazaba’s interior is Ermita de San Juan, a small chapel transformed by Catholic Monarchs from a mosque. In 1489, the Catholic Monarchs succeeded in pushing out all Muslims from Almeria.

Outside all this is a massive wall, the Muralla de Jairan, built in the 11th century by Almeria’s first taifa ruler. Its design for the northern face of the Alcazaba drops down into the adjacent valley while on the far side, it goes up the Cerro de San Cristobal.

Traders left all this behind, departing Almeria with precious cargoes of gossamer silk delicate as butterfly wings. This shimmering fabric was woven from slender silk threads of Alpujarras’ silkworms. Merchants grew rich, houses befitting these grand men were built, and Almeria prospered.

Not long after, a massive earthquake flattened the city. In 1524, craftsmen began to construct the city’s imposing cathedral under the watchful eye of Franciscan Bishop Diego Fernandez de Villalan. His remains rest in the cathedral in a tomb. The cathedral is noted for its ribbed Gothic ceiling and strong fortifications designed to ward of North African and Turkish pirates. In the old city, there’s also the Parish Church of Santiago Apostol, built in 1559.    

History buffs will want to visit the ruins of Tabernas Castle where Ferdinand and Isabel sought refuge in the hills during the Siege while citizens of Almeria suffered below.

Did I Mention Flamingoes?

Oh, yes, there are flamingos, pink ones, at Cabo de Gata. Pink flamingoes and saltpans were once the order of the day here. All around this area are chiseled rock outcroppings descending down to sculpted coves and almost untouched sandy beaches. This nature reserve attracts visitors though limited access helps preserve its peaceful tranquility. Another peaceful spot in the area is something called Desierto de Tabernas Natural Area. This is, truth be known, Europe’s only semi-arid desert, which brings me to that which you’ve been dying to know about, the spaghetti and strawberries bit.

The Tabernas Desert looks just like the Wild West. America’s Wild West where the good guys were hunky, the women … loose, and the bad guys wore black. Well, anyway, this desert was the location for many important blockbusting films like Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns” including “A Fistful of Dollars”. Others shot here were “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” as well as “Magnificent 7.”

“How I Won The War” was also filmed in Almeria. That brought John Lennon here in the Fall of 1966. And, yes, you guessed right. Between takes, Lennon wrote and cut the early recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” If you’re a huge fan, ask locals about El Zapillo Beach and the Santa Isabel where this famous Beatle and his first wife Cynthia stayed.

And, they weren’t the only stars casting long shadows in Almeria at day’s end. Clint Eastwood did. So, too, Raquel Welch but her shadow was lots curvier which kinda brings me back to the intro about the bum. See, all things in life ultimately do come full circle.

                                                                                       Karyn L. Planett

Agios, Nikolaos, Crete

Karyn Planett

The Myths and Minoans of Crete

Think of Agios, Nikolaos as merely a gateway to what is special about Crete. Crystal’s Shore Excursion Department has offered a variety of tours focusing on the Minoan culture, which flourished on Crete centuries ago. But why? What makes the Minoans worthy of such attention? Let’s start with the fact that the Minoans were Europe’s first civilization. A civilization, as distinguished from a tribe, is generally defined as a complex society, which includes the practice of agriculture and the presence of cities. So the society known as the Minoans existed from roughly 2700 to 1450 BC when the Mycenaean Greeks came to dominate the island.

Minoan Culture

The Minoans were a mercantile people, trading with mainland Greece, Cyprus, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and as far away as Spain. Their influence on the development of the Greek culture was in some ways greater than the Greeks on theirs.

One of the more interesting cultural “practices” was that of pederasty, used as a form of population control. Young men would take older male “lovers” in order to form relationships, which researchers believed to be erotic but not conjugal, that would distract them from the inevitable outcome of a heterosexual union. Think of it as a curious type of birth control.

It must be noted that Minoan women may not have been fully supportive of this plan so they usually wore robes open to the waist, leaving their breasts exposed. Nonetheless, the Greeks adopted pederasty and it became part of the legend of the Spartan armies. The soldiers of Sparta are the original Band of Brothers, said to have fought more ferociously in defense of their comrades because of the homosexual bonds that existed among their ranks. They are also often depicted fighting in the nude, a choice that seems to have spilled over to less warlike competition during the early Olympic Games.

Minoan Life

The Minoans were accomplished builders. Stone-paved roads connected their cities; their palaces were multi-story affairs with complex interiors. Homer recorded that, at height of the Minoan period, Crete had ninety cities. The palace sites of Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros probably governed different parts of the island. At those sites and in the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, you’ll find evidence of Minoan art, preserved mainly on pottery since other media will not have lasted, and Minoan religion. They worshipped goddesses almost exclusively perhaps because their contact with real women was so limited.

What you won’t find is knowledge of the spoken or written language of Minoans. Although more than 3,000 tablets have been discovered, there is as yet no reliable way to translate them. Consequently, much of Minoan history is consigned to myths later recorded by the Greeks.

Minoan Myths

A myth is a verbal history. Myths substituted for history books before there were written languages.They also served to explain things that the ancients found unexplainable. Much of the history of Crete is contained in the myths surrounding its earliest cultures.

One of the best known is the myth of the Minotaur. This is an X-rated tale that starts with King Minos who possessed a snow-white bull, which he meant to sacrifice to Poseidon. While he was procrastinating, his wife fell in love with the bull. She had a wooden model of a cow constructed, climbed inside, and proceeded to seduce the white bull. (Hard to imagine this is just a made up story, isn’t it?) The product of their steamy union was the part man, part bull called the Minotaur.

Now, this Minotaur was a fairly rambunctious youth, so Minos had an elaborate maze constructed to keep it under control—designed incidentally by the famous architect Daedalus who also designed milady’s voluptuous cow. Clearly, he was drinking out of both sides of the cup. The location of this maze, known as the Labyrinth, is generally thought to be on the same site as Knossos. It is the most visited place in Crete, though most visitors don’t know as much as you now do about why they’re there.

And The Rest…

The remainder of Cretan history is much less distinctive, as the island became a pawn in the battles between a succession of Mediterranean and European powers. At one time or another the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Venetians, Ottoman Turks, British, Italians, and Nazi Germany each held sway over the island. Crete has officially been part of Greece only since 1913 but because of the island’s unique origin, its population continues to cultivate a bit of the individualism that characterizes other Mediterranean island cultures like the Corsicans and Sardinians. It may be the only place on earth where proclaiming, “I’m a Cretan”, can be done with pride.

                                                                                  Karyn L. Planett

La Spezia, Italy

Karyn Planett

Italy’s Walk of Fame

You are now in Italy’s “Walk of Fame.”  Like in Hollywood.  There are star attractions all around.  And your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to choreograph this day, to write your script, to shine the spotlight on your favorite scene.  La Spezia is like the entrance to a movie studio’s back lot with storylines being played out all around. 

Lights, Camera, Action

Let’s get a little more serious now.  You’ve got just one day in La Spezia to squeeze in as much as you possibly can.  Of course you can remain in the port city, if you wish.  It’s ideal for those, say, intrigued with maritime history as well as contemporary naval operations.  The city hosts the Italian navy as well as their navigation school.  For most, though, it’s the action just beyond the bend that’s beckoning.  And there’s lots of it.  Select wisely because the cameras are rolling and the clock is ticking.

Art Aficionados

Should culture be your greatest temptation, you must journey inland to Florence, an academy award winner all its own.  Michelangelo’s statue David announces your arrival.  Center stage at The Gallery of the Accademia di Belle Art, this Renaissance masterpiece was sculpted from 1501 to 1504 out of a single piece of white cararra marble.  Michelangelo, by the way, was only 26 years old when he tackled this herculean project.  The magnificent Duomo with the adjoining Baptistery and Giotto Bell Tower are all absolute musts.  So, too, a gelato at one of the many ice cream stores that breaks down the will of the wispiest Hollywood starlet.

Engineering Nuts

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is definitely your cup of tea.  Truth be told, the 900-year-old Cathedral and Baptistery, are worth the journey alone.  You know, though, that absolutely everyone comes to Pisa to see the star attraction, the Leaning Tower.  Technically, it’s called the bell tower, or campanile in Italian.  And it does lean, as advertised, approximately 15 feet, or 10%, off vertical.  Curiously, it took more than 200 years to build with construction commencing in 1173 and being completed in 1399.  If anyone asks, there are 297 steps up a well-worn spiral staircase to the very top.  People who climb to the top get to reward themselves with a real pizza.  Oh, it’s 297 steps down, as well.

Romantics

For you, there is Cinque Terra.  Even the weariest wanderer will buckle from the sight of this gem, these five micro-villages sprinkled along the rugged Italian Riviera.  The name Cinque Terra actually means “Five Lands” and aptly marries a string of five terraced, pastel-colored villages with something called Via Dell’Amore.  This “Path of Love” is decorated with hundreds if not thousands of padlocks carrying the names of lovers who’ve trekked this path to declare their love for each other, sealing their vows with these padlocks.  Romance aside, this little path of wonders is so magical it has received the coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition.

History Buffs

Lucca.  Lucca is your destination.  Wrapped in the embrace of a 17th-century wall, this powerful stone structure is the ideal place to get an overview the city.  Wanderers spot such important landmarks as the church of San Michele in Foro, Piazza Napoleon dating back to the days of Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, and the imposing Cathedral of St. Martin.

Foodies

Time is short, the choices are many.  And your waistline should be of no concern today for you are on vacation.  Seafood is the centerpiece for most meals including Ligurian anchovies, mussels, octopus in regional olive oil with a splash of lemon, and a hearty frutti di mare with everything from cuttlefish to clams.  Freshly-harvested crab is found on most menus.  Grilled local fish like dorado (orata) and sea bass (branzino) are often served as a tasty and healthy main course.

Veal and rabbit are favorite meat dishes with the usual complement of olives, garlic, vine-ripened tomatoes, and basil.  Basil, in the form of yummy pesto, also finds its way into the traditional focaccia so loved by us all.  This unleavened flatbread can be enjoyed fresh from the oven with cheese, meat or vegis inside.  Pesto is a proper partnership of basil leaves, the best olive oil money can buy, a toss of pine nuts, a dusting of parmegiano cheese, and a generous helping of garlic all mixed together.  It’s a showstopper when served with fidelini, a regional pasta.  Mushrooms, chestnuts, grapes, zucchini, and artichokes from nearby farms round out many a menu.

The time for you to choose what your pleasure will be is now.  But choose wisely for the clock ticks religiously in this part of the world.

Limassol, Cyprus

Karyn Planett

Cypriot Centerpiece

“Cyprus remained in my mind … much as heaven does in the minds of respectable people, as a place I should shortly go to, though I made no preparations for getting there.”

So said W.H. Mallock in 1889 In an Enchanted Island.  But, unlike the author who penned this quote more than a century ago, you have indeed made preparations for getting there.  Cyprus is truly in your travel sights and with good reason.  There’s sun and sand and beaches and natural beauty just waiting for you when you come ashore.  And, since this may be your first call to the island, let’s get a few facts and stats under our belt.  The capable guides will fill in all the ancient history, so let’s focus now on other details.

Today in Cyprus

Cyprus is a member of the European Union and has been since 2004.  It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean with its capital in the city of Nicosia.  And, just as a point of reference, Cyprus is approximately the same size as Connecticut.  You’ll find English spoken across the island, a reminder of the period of time from 1878 until 1960 when Cyprus was under British administration.

Literary buffs might remember the names of two important writers Costas Montis and Demetrius Gotsis.  Sports fans will certainly know the name of a colorful and entertaining tennis player currently on the circuit … Marcos Baghdatis … whose smile lights up arenas worldwide.  Anyway, that’s enough of that so let’s segue into the important information of where to go, what to see, and what local delicacies might satisfy your palate once you’re weary from sightseeing.

Where Your Wandering Should Lead You

The choices are many.  You can stay in the town of Limassol and explore there or travel a bit out of town for some of the highlights.  Kolossi Castle is only about 9 miles away and a popular destination.  Surrounded previously by fields yielding everything from cotton to olives even wine grapes, this 15th century castle is considered “military architecture.”  Archaeologists claim its present structure masks an earlier one from two centuries prior.  And, within these unadorned, simple stone walls lived the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, later the Knights Templar.

Aphrodite’s Rock, also known as the Rock of the Greek or Petra tou Romiou, is another visitor’s must-see.  Though not of towering proportions, it is nonetheless filled with intrigue.  Ask one of the locals to fill in the blanks of Aphrodite’s birth and how this rock plays into that story, as details are a bit too spicy for this presentation.  But, for the record, Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty and sexual rapture as well as the patron of Cyprus hence her other name Cypris, or Lady of Cyprus.  And, if that’s not enough, she was also known in Roman mythology as Venus who possessed extraordinary beauty and was the object of great affection not only of mere mortals but of many gods, as well.  When you hear the minutia you’ll remember that she floated ashore in a scallop shell, the subject of Sandro Botticelli’s 1485 The Birth of Venus.

From birth to death, another story lives on in Cyprus.  This one about Saint Neophytos.  Considered a hermit (maybe he heard about Aphrodite’s father), he spent 45 years living in a cave he carved from stone, it is said, with his bare hands.  While not digging other caves and avoiding pilgrims who sought him out, he wrote many important pieces including Concerning The Misfortunes of the Land of Cyprus.  Egkleistra, the lowest of the caves, is open to visitors interested in viewing murals and frescoes from the 12th to the 15th century.  The Ayios Neophytes Monastery dates back to 1159 and today serves as a museum filled with important artifacts.  It is found just beneath the grottoes.

Where Your Food Lust Should Take You

Well, after you’ve finished sightseeing and shopping for copper, embroidered linens, and colorful pottery (all island specialties) you might want to step into a waterfront taverna to fortify your body.  Some local dishes that are as good as it gets include souvlaki, an island delight; a smoked pork loin called lountza; a minced meat pastry thing called sheftalia; any catch of the day; something known as loukoumades that’s basically a thigh-busting puff cloud dipped in local honey; a slice of halloumi cheese; all enjoyed with some local wine or zivania schnapps.  You’ll hear about Commandaria, considered “the oldest named wine still being produced.”  Perhaps you’ll share a glass with friends to celebrate your visit to Cyprus.  And maybe you can write a story entitled Concerning The Fortunes of the Land of Cyprus highlighting your time ashore.  It’s a thought.

Navigating Navplion, Greece

Karyn Planett

Or………

Naviplating Navglion.  Or, Nafigatin’ Nafplio.

Oh, it’s all so confusing when you travel the world and things just don’t seem to be the way they’re supposed to be.  Like the spelling of the name of the place you’re visiting, for one.  And, writing the letters differently so they look like, well, Greek and you won’t even have a clue anyway unless you pledged some college fraternity or sorority way back when.  Zow, what’s a traveler to do!

In this case, you’ve got two choices.  You can lay low, so to speak, by staying at sea level exploring the waterfront haunts and footpaths that circle the hills.  Or, you can literally take the high road and scale the peak that looms menacingly overhead.

You decide.

A Quintessential Resort

There are those who regale the glories of Navplion and recommend you spend your precious hours here, especially if you have only one Greek destination to visit.  Why?  Well, for starters, because the seafront collection of Venetian villas and stately mansions whisper sotto voce of an elegant past.  Add to that a jumble of comfortable walking streets, the obligatory seafood eateries, a smattering of tasteful boutiques, a sunny beach or two, and a fortress like no other towering above.  History, as well as those who wrote the chapters, left a long tale to tell.  Just ask any of the 14,000 worry-bead-clicking Greeks who call Navplion home.

A Thumbnail Sketch

Geography played an important role in Navplion’s history.  It lays a mere four miles across the Argolic Gulf from Argos, all in the Peloponnese.  For the record, this port has enjoyed a major role in sea trade since the Bronze Age.  The more contemporary story relates that late in the 14th Century Navplion fell to the Venetian leaders.  It was the Turks, however, who ruled the area from 1540 until 1686.  For the following quarter century, the Venetians returned to power.  It was during that time that Navplion was called Napoli di Romania (adding more confusion as alluded to in the opening paragraph).  Never mind.  The Turks returned to rule until 1822 when the Greeks seized the reins of power yet again cementing their position by naming Navplion the Kingdom of Greece’s first capital.

As a result of this tumultuous power-grabbing scenario, the tiny town was reinforced with three, count them three, fortresses.  First and foremost, the mighty citadel of Palamidi.  If your calves resemble Lance Armstrong’s you might wish to climb the 857 (some say 999) steps up for an up-close-and-personal inspection of Palamidi.  Completed in 1714, after three backbreaking years of labor, the Venetians saluted Palamidi as their military masterpiece.  See for yourself the meters-thick walls, bastions, prison cells, and cobbled walkways.  Thankfully, taxis stand at the ready to take you to the top should a Herculean trek not be in your game plan.

For the record, Palamidi served as a prison and until 30 years ago was still garrisoned.

Itching for more?  There’s the Akronafplia Fortress, Navplion’s oldest of the trio of castles.  Guidebooks point out portions dating back to the Bronze Age.  For the record, during two decades ending in 1956, the castle served as a prison for political prisoners.

If you’ve still got energy, there’s Bourtzi, a tiny island fortress approximately 600 yards offshore.  It, too, was the work of the Venetians.  Called the Sea Castle (Castel da Mar), it dates back to 1472 and was the work of Bergamo architect Antonio Gambello.  When the Turks held this fortress, they strung a chain to the pier from Bourtzi to further strengthen their position.

It Screams “Ice Cream”

The sun shines tirelessly in Greece and your day ashore should be no exception.  Part of the joy of exploring exotic destinations is, let’s be honest, eating.  Staikopoulou is a shady street resembling something like a gourmet eat-a-thon.  Fish fresh from the sea, vegetables from local farmers, herbs from the countryside, and chilled wines from regional vintners are displayed for all to see.  The aroma of grilled meats wafts on a sea breeze.  And the gelati recipes left behind by the Venetians provide the finest, creamiest ice creams this side of Venice.  Be sure to order a triple scoop, especially if you made the climb up to Palamidi.  For the others, a single scoop will have to do.