Greece: Back to Basics

Greece: Back to Basics

SLOW TRAVEL #2

The first Greek island I visited more than 35 years ago was Poros. I had spent some time in Athens and jumped on a ferry that was a kind of hop on hop off boat for the times. We passed Aegina and then Poros came into view. It had only taken about an hour to reach it from Piraeus and it nudged close to the mainland.

A busy little sun-soaked port with cafes and their lined up seats facing outwards crowded the immediate arrival location. The buildings and the ‘ring-road’ spread out left and right and petered off to quieter sides of the island. Beautiful, young people of the hippie persuasion strolled the waterfront and in the cafes, the waiters bustled while serving cold beers and ‘coka’.

Disembarking, us newbies were welcomed by a gaggle of locals with an offer of ‘zimmer’ which is German for room. I was often mistaken for a German in those days.

Travelled light in the 80s, two woven bags and a tiny purse – things have changed; door leading to my ‘zimmer’.

We chose to go with a little bloke with a great smile that lacked teeth but had a certain rackish charm.

The ‘zimmer’ was a tiny annex up a few stairs. The whitewashed room fitted a double bed up against a wall with just enough room to slide two backpacks under the bed. Outside were two chairs and a tiny table, and beside it a toilet with a cold shower in the same room. And at the equivalent drachma (pre euros) of $2 a day, perfect. I loved that little room and we stayed on Poros for two weeks during September. Blazingly beautiful days, riding bikes around the island to secluded beaches, drinking far too much beer and wine, partying into the early mornings and adopting the sensible habit of a daily siesta. We would come across basic little stalls boldly calling themselves ‘tavernas’ where, for a few drachma we ate grilled sardines, salad plumped with fat slices of fetta dripping in oil from Kalamata and thick chunks of crusty bread straight out of the village oven.

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My ‘donkey speak’ was not so good. But this one understood Greek ‘yassou’.

This was my first taste of slow travel – even though I didn’t know that then. Before Poros it was the Acropolis, the Parthenon, city ruins, museums and concerts – moving to the fast pace of Athens. After it was buses down the Mani peninsula to Kalamata and Githio, exploring Sparta, in and out of tiny Peloponnese villages – always moving to the monumentum and frantic music of the young, curious traveller.

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Mama ran the bar!

What I learned on Poros was to enjoy the daily rhythm of sitting on the zimmer steps for an hour or so in the morning, eating yoghurt and honey and sipping grainy, strong Greek coffee and waiting to see the donkey begin its morning walk up the hills to deliver bread to the houses stepped up high and glinting their existence to us mere mortals below.

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Hand washing always up to speed while travelling. 

Slow and steady as that donkey, I did a lot of sitting and taking life in. Just being there was enough to satisfy my soul.

I have never forgotten my early days on Poros and in Greece before I worked and lived there, and discovered other magical and mythical places of Ellas.

At Poros port and right, a later visit to Sparta – check out the crowds!

I returned to Poros in September this year to spend a couple of days on my own – bit of a nostalgia trip and a longing to be slow again in Greece. I knew I couldn’t recapture my youth or even replicate my time or experiences before, and I felt a little nervous and was prepared to be disappointed.

The fast ferry took only 40 minutes and I alighted at the same spot I did all that time ago. There wasn’t anybody touting to sell me a ‘zimmer’ but all ok as I had booked like the grownup I am these days.

I decided to sit and have a coffee and drink in my surrounds. I looked across the bay to the mainland to the town of Galatea, Once a few houses and great swathes of orange groves  creeping up the steep sides of the hills. Now – all built up with white, cream and blue houses and the groves had been diminished by development.

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In front of me I smiled while watching the local taxi drivers with their feather dusters brushing the dust from their vehicles. I took the slow road to my hotel.

Ensconced in a large room with air con (something I didn’t have in the hot ‘ol days) I proceeded to try to extract a pigeon that was stuck behind the glass doors of the fire-place. It didn’t seem too distressed and once I extracted him he hopped over to sit in my suitcase.

During the next two days I walked and talked, I talked and talked, dragging out my rusty Greek. I ate fish, salads and delicious Greek cakes. Dinner alone was not uncomfortable as the older I get the more I like my own company.

I searched for my old digs but couldn’t find the ‘zimmer’. I caught a taxi around the other side of the island to visit the monastery and then walk down to Monasteraki beach, where I had it to myself except for two cheeky dogs who set up shop under my day bed. I swam and then dozed and the day, and indeed my world had slowed down to a gentle pace. The music of the day was just a light strum on a bouzouki.

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As the hovercraft pulled way from Poros and I was leaving I felt sad, only because i wanted more time here. I was and am happy for the visit, and grateful that the more things (and me) change, the more we stay the same.

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Poros highlights:

  • Stroll through the traditional town’s labyrinth with pretty shops and neo classical architecture.
  • Explore the alleys and walk up to the clock tower for a wonderful view of the island and the mainland opposite.
  • If you have a car or can catch a cab, visit the Lemon Groves. It’s not actually on Poros but across on the land of Trizinia. If you are there and the mere hint of a breeze wafts past you, that’s probably a mythical zephyr reminding you that once the Gods looked over these orchards – and perhaps they still do.
  • The monastery in eastern Kalavria, Poros was founded in 1720 and its precious carved wooded screen was constructed in Cappadocia in the 17th century. After the visit, settle into the old-school cafe and sip on locally made lemonade in the shade of the plane trees. Fill your water bottle with cool water from the monastery’s spring.
  • Don’t miss out on a slice or two of the famous galaktoboureko (semolina custard wrapped in crispy pastry).IMG_3203

Writer Bev Malzard will visit Greece again and will slow down to almost ‘stop’. She’s working up to writing more memoirs than meanderings – but it could take a while – most people involved are still alive and might sue her . . .

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Hanoi – Shining Ritual

Hanoi – Shining Ritual

I do love a bit of tradition, especially tradition that has a gentle message. Recently while staying at the elegant Metropole Hanoi hotel (Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi), just strolling through the corridors of the original building (built in 1901 by the French colonists) you can see and feel the essence of Indochine and hope to understand this (first) luxury hotel built in the city.

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The hotel has a few famous ghosts that shuffle through the corridors when the lights go off and guests are tucked between their immaculate cotton bed linen. Rich dark brown timbers creak mildly underfoot in the rooms and the walls wear the patina of stories told and sold.

Author of many fine books, Graham Greene including The Quiet American spent time here (Suite 228)working on his books and watching the last days of the decline of French colonisation and CIA intrigue. This book and the film has endured and like the French (here from 1887-1954) has left its mark on Hanoi.

The hotel has also outlived its original owners, the colonisers, the CIA, the Japanese, the Chinese, Americans, Australians and all others who came to snatch a slice of Vietnam.

The Metropole Hanoi is a much-loved hotel and I met a man who had been staying here annually since the early 80s. He recalled then that there was a food shortage, and the staff of the hotel were too shy (call that scared) to talk to guests because of the culture of spies that flitted in and out of the shadows as Vietnam began to consolidate as a communist country after a bloody and bitter conflict that lasted from 1955-1975.

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There’s a short tour to be had at the hotel where much of the past is recorded in panels. There’s the famous image of Jane Fonda and her visit here with an anti-war message and also Joan Baez stayed here and was present during a hideously long bombing raid across Hanoi over Christmas in 1972. The United States Airforce unleashed Operation Linebacker II, its most intensive bombing campaign since WWII.

Baez and the hotel staff spent 11 nights of the bombardment in an underground bunker crammed with 40 people.

This small network of cells (below) is under the hotel’s back courtyard and was only unearthed during renovations in 2011. Now there’s a new and sad tradition that invited guest into the bunkers narrow rooms where they listen to a crackly, fuzzy tape recording of the bombing and the screams of a mother calling for her son.

Baez based her famous anti-war song Where Are You Now My Son on this incident and partly recorded it in the shelter. The music is punctuated by the thumps of bombs hitting the ground.

Vietnam has weathered many a squall and indeed centuries of storms – and lives and thrives to move on.

The Metropole Hanoi has withstood much and has kept its sense of style, its good manners, and is a shining example of what true hospitality is.

The Shining Ritual

And talking of shining, one of the charming traditions carried out every day at the hotel is the Shining Ritual.

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The Shining Ritual indicates Sofitel’s refinement and unveils the secret of excellence through recurrent cleaning and polishing of the Sofitel Legend nameplate located at the hotel entrance.

Every day, hotel staff perform the Shining ritual using a red velvet towel and green tea to clean the brass plate and the bronze gong. In the past, only Royal families had access to velvet, a material symbolising luxury, elegance, quality and beauty. Red is the colour of luck, happiness and success. Green tea, besides having healthy benefits is also a cleaning agent in Vietnamese households.

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The Gong, a musical instrument used by most highland ethnic groups in Vietnam, is believed to link people to the spiritual world and is also representative of Vietnam culture as a whole.

Writer Bev Malzard, stayed two nights in the divine Metropole, enjoyed a feast of a breakfast and an afternoon tea to write home about – which she will do as soon as she has shed the three kilos that curiously attached to her body after a three-hour High Tea. Mon dieu!

He insisted he was the most handsome of the two? You choose. I know I made my choice.

 

Nevada USA – vintage all the way

Nevada USA – vintage all the way
It couldn’t be further from Las Vegas than from here to the moon. But hey! this hotel is looking very Nevada-ish old-school neon with extra curricular enticement. Before walking through the doors of the historic Hotel Nevada & Gambling Hall I’m stepping on the stars in the footpath. Wayne Newton, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper and other Hollywood and Las Vegas notables. This was surprising as Ely is a bit off the beaten track and certainly not in the grand five-star food chain.

The hotel was built in 1926 (six storeys too) and was the first building in the state to be fire-proofing.
Rooms were rented for $1.50 and up – touted as all with private toilet, ’85 per cent private baths’.
Prohibition was still in effect and the hotel entertained with bootlegged refreshments and you could have a punt all day.

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Ah, the heady days of ‘Bathtub Gin’ made from raw alcohol, water and flavourings and the gentle tipple of  ‘White Lightning’ supplied by the locals made for an interesting aperitif or two!
The hotel is as she was all that time ago. OK modern appliances and all that comes with the 21st century but is hasn’t been tricked up at all – in fact it’s a classic, historic, atmospheric mess.
Walk in the door and the pokies (slot machines) are winking and blinking, paraphernalia of the past Wild West and Wild Rocker days adorn the walls and lots of wonderful nostalgic black and white images crowd the walls.

I enter a small lift and am deposited on the third floor for my room – damn, I don’t get the Jimmy Stewart room.
Small room (as they were built almost 90 years ago); get my WiFi mojo happening and cosy up on my bed with a few chains hanging over it – more rustic décor than S&M.

A great sleep and down to a full-on Nevada breakfast – I’ll have the lot’. Gotta love American breakfasts – this meal would take me out rustling cattle, fighting a range war, starting a gold rush and back home again for a barn dance – yeeha!
Many of the rooms have nameplates including John Wayne – this hotel was a stopping overnight place as the starts from the 30s onwards would be motoring to Sun Valley and other holiday resorts.
If you are ever in this neck of the woods – check out Ely, as it’s got a wide-street, quiet nights kind of appeal – it’s High Desert country and most of the downtown buildings have quaint painted murals  depicting the city’s colourful history of pioneers, miners and the Pont Express AND . . .

the rich railroad history is classic here. You can even have a holiday and pay about $800-900 for the privilege of working on a classic loco – for train buffs this is holiday Nirvana.

The Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark is the last of its kind – the sole survivor of the grand era of railroading in the Silver State. But there’s no death throes here – it’s a living, breathing, operating railroad. No pretty glass cases here holding polished remnants of machinery – this is get down and dirty, gritty equipment in the vast complex of buildings.
There are four original steam locomotives, six original diesel locos, and more than 60 pieces of original rolling stock – the oldest piece dates to 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant sat in the White House (and not on a $50 bill).
Climb aboard and travel back in time – the train’s waiting for you.

You can have Railway Reality Week – to work on the Railroad, for a hands-on experience for around $US999; a Winter Photo Shoots special – witness railroading as it was last century and photograph century-old original steam locos pulling vintage freight and passenger cars, around $US500.
Ely is in White Pine County, in the heart of Nevada’s scenic heartland – founded in 1970 as a trading post called Murry Station, and eventually grew to be one of the country’s major copper mining regions.

It’s located at the crossroads of US Highways 50, 93 and 6.

www.nnry.com and the facebook page for the railway is www.facebook.com/nnry1 and on check out www.youtube.com/nnry1Happy trails and Rails . . .

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Track for the Nevada Northern Railway was laid over a century ago, connecting one of the largest copper mines in North America to the Transcontinental routes to the North. Today, several of the original coal-fired standard-gauge steam locomotives that were ordered and delivered new to the railroad over a century ago are still in operation!   The Nevada Northern Railway is the best-preserved example of a standard-gauge short-line left in North America.

Come to Ely, NV and immerse yourself in historic railroad experiences:

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Tasmanian ancestral home beckons

Tasmanian ancestral home beckons

It was a dark and stormy night. How often do you get to say that and it’s true?

And it was a dark and stormy night as Hobart, the Tasmanian capital was lashed by one of the worst storms in decades.

We drove from Freycinet into Hobart as the weather picked up momentum – rain and wind worsening as we closed in on the city.

And then to find our accommodation. The gps took us up a winding road and we were high above the city that was starting to look like it was disappearing under a blanket of swirling mist.

And here we are. At Corinda.

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This glorious old home was built by Alfred Crisp, a well-to-do timber merchant who rose through the social ranks to become Lord Mayor of Hobart.  And when Julian Roberts and Chaxi Afonso Higuera recently bought Corinda in Hobart’s Glebe, they were doing much more than simply acquiring a new business. Alfred Crisp was Julian’s great, great grandfather, so when the opportunity presented itself Julian brought Corinda back into the family.

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After the Roberts bought the Victorian property, which was built on land previously used for a convict-run vegetable garden, they spent several months refurbishing and adding their personal touches. Guests stay in sumptuous heritage rooms featuring exquisite joinery crafted from fine Tasmanian timbers, such as huon pine and blackwood, as well as luxurious textiles and one of a kind antiques.

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We fell in love with Corinda straight away, and not only because we were given shelter from the storm.

We carried our bags upstairs to the sound of our footsteps clashing with the well-trod stairs, just a few creaks to remind us that our feet were among hundreds that had climbed up over the years.

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We could hear the rain pounding the windows as the wind from the south punished the front of the house. Our bedroom was warm and cosy and the bathroom was a stylish addition to the closed-in side verandah. And that’s where the force of the weather showed itself. The wild wind had found tiny openings and was pushing the rain under the door and between the window panes.

It’s an old house and is in excellent repair but this crazy storm tried every trick in the book to disturb its equilibrium.

And the best it could do was to try to flood our bathroom, but we stopped it in its tracks with old school shoring up – towels. And that did the job.

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It was hard to leave our room as we had settled in but we had to head down town for a dinner. We parked in the Salamanca area and ran through mad rain til we reached our foodie destination. It wasn’t until after dinner that we realised that we were in a critical situation – the road was beginning to flood. We shot through then!

The next day as we loitered over our eggs and bacon and barista coffee we heard the news that the roads were closed, and the schools in the immediate vicinity of the city were closed too.

The storm had run its course and left a heap of damage behind. I wonder how many storms Corinda has witnessed – and survived to tell the tale.

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Next night we decided that the house was too good to leave so we had drinks in the elegant drawing-room. Without a reservation desk and staff bustling around, it feels as if you have the grand home to yourself, we didn’t but it seemed so.

We even had a pizza delivered to Corinda rather than leave our precious comfort behind.

While Julian and Chaxi were new to Corinda, they are far from new to hospitality. Between them they have more than 20 years’ experience in hotel management, gained in establishments in the UK as well as Australia. Now settled in Tasmania, they’re using that experience to their advantage on home ground. For example, they source the finest local produce for the Corinda breakfast table. Guests can wake up to fresh free-range eggs and organic bacon, served with home-made bread and locally produced jams.

The property is famous for its lush landscaping, with many mature trees and shrubs as well as European-style parterre areas. The garden has always been maintained in the style in which Alfred Crisp created it and provides a verdant outdoor setting for weddings and other events (weather permitting). Group walking tours of the garden can be booked on request.

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Corinda is the perfect base for those wanting to explore Southern Tasmania’s world -class attractions including MONA and World Heritage-listed Port Arthur. Corinda’s sister property, boutique country house hotel Brockley, is situated on the spectacular East Coast of Tasmania, and is ideal for those wanting to extend their Tasmanian break to include Maria Island and Freycinet National Parks.

We continued the act of loitering around the breakfast table, having yet another excellent coffee. Then out for a drive to Richmond for a little more history and hopefully, a sunny day. And it was.

Writer, Bev Malzard was a guest of Corinda. And it wasn’t her who ate all the nuts at the bar in the drawing-room . . . or maybe it was.

www.corindacollection.com.au     www.brockleyestate.com.au

Note from the owners

‘We’re excited about welcoming guests to Corinda, which truly epitomises the beauty of unspoilt historic Tasmania. It’s our ancestral home, so we were thrilled to be able to buy it, bring it back into the family and refresh it.  Now that the hard work is done, we’re looking forward to sharing Corinda’s heritage and history with our guests.’

Special offer: Guests can stay for four nights in the house and only pay for three from April – October 2018. Direct bookings only and date exclusions apply. Please check www.corindacollection.com.au for more information.

Cooking School: Later in 2018 Corinda will be launching its cooking school where classic, authentic Spanish/Canary Islands cuisine including paella will be shared the way they should be. Recipes Chaxi learnt sitting on her grandmother’s knee will a part of the curriculum. Lunch will be served in the dining room at Corinda with Tassie fine wines to accompany the feast.

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