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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USA: What’s bolder than Boulder

USA: What’s bolder than Boulder

I had five hours to spend in Boulder, a city in the grand state of Colorado in the USA. What to do? I couldn’t give you a full-on review of a city I had not explored, nor had been there before. What I did know: it’s a city of just 103,000 residents (almost a third of whom are students at the University of Colorado at Boulder), it has a reputation for packing  punch.

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At 5,430 feet (1657 metres) and generally sunny, it’s a spectacularly beautiful destination that’s been smart (and pioneering) about growth and preserving open space, so it’s a magnet for athletes, bohemians, hipsters, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts of every ilk.

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With a progressive dining and brewing scene, it’s a breeze to eat healthily and drink locally. Even outdoor music is better in the Front Range: you won’t regret splurging for a concert ticket at Red Rocks, just to the south.

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I won’t go into the hiking, biking, climbing and all outdoorsy activities that are everyday jaunts for the Boulderites (Bouldonians?) as I don’t do outdoors very well. (See link at end of story for more local info.) As I was coming into town I had a total moment of excitement and knew what this Boulder post was to be about – TEA.

My preferred tea late at night cosied up in my bed in Sydney is a brew called Sleepytime Tea by Celestial Seasonings (this is not a sponsored post). We drove past a sign saying Celestial Seasoning – yippee.

Oh joy, the building/factory was open for tours – yes! And it was free. This is the home of my tea!

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Celestial Seasonings is in the northeast of Boulder and looks like any other productive, immaculately clean factory – BUT – it smells so good. Just like a freshly opened box of Sleepytime Tea.

Our devoted tour group donned fetching blue hairnets and began the walk. We watched our fave teas being mixed, packed and boxed. (Apparently, and I concur, it takes three seconds for a machine to wrap a box and 10 minutes to get it off.) And when we walked into the Peppermint room, our eyes began to sting and our lungs began to sing with the sharp, pungent aroma of the precious peppermint oils exuding from the herbs. This room is mostly locked down as the oil could permeate the flavours of the other herbal and fruit teas produced here.

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The company tries to be as sustainable as it can be and the tea bags no longer have strings and the actual bags that contain the tea are biodegradable and one of our guides said she packs her used bags around her garden plants to hold water and dissolve ethically.

A few tasting sips and a major purchase of boxes and away we went most happily. On the driveway out of the complex I saw my first Groundhogs . . . too cute.

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There was a foodies market on in town so we meandered among the food and produce stalls. And in keeping with the tea theme we visited two tea shops (what is it Boulder, craft beer in competition with the humble cuppa?).

We saw the large tea/cafe emporium, Boulder Dushanbe Tea house that is most exotic but packed to the teapot brim on market day.

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So into the main mall here for an elegant tea experience at Ku Cha House of Tea. We settled on an ethereal white tea that was delicate and totally tea-zen.

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So, this busy bee little city with its outdoorsy attitude and athletic ambience can turn on the tea charm, and sit quietly and contemplate the Colorado big sky and the art of sipping a cheery brew.

Writer Bev Malzard has just finished her tea that she purchased in June. Damn! Best head back to Boulder, sooner than later.

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Visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/lifestyle/vacation-ideas/things-to-do-in-boulder/

Visit: www.celestialseasonings.com/visit-us/

Visit: www.boulderteahouse.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get outta town – or slow travel on weekends

Get outta town – or slow travel on weekends

SLOW TRAVEL #1

Winter in Australia – all over Australia – is not a hardship. Maybe down south there’s snow and drizzle but rarely does it lock residents in their homes for too long.

Now I can only speak from my base that is Sydney, Yeah, Sydney people are pretty much big sissies in the winter from June through to August.

And even though I like to get out and about for walks I admit to taking the easy way out on a chilly day – fire on, tv on, locked in.

My partner and I decided last year to get out of town on the odd weekend the rediscover regions within a couple of hours drive time or even a cheap flight away.

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And we even ventured further than an urban adventure close to home.

Last year we flew to Melbourne and hired a car to take us the Ballarat for two nights so we could do the Silo Art Trail drive out through the western district and the Mallee. What a trip. Silo Art Trail couldn’t have been a better day – crisp cold, sunny and low flying clouds on a forever horizon.

And the experience of the illustrated silos fed our addiction to wall/outdoor art (see blog ‘Where the art is’, June 5, 2018 and ‘Painting the Town Red, June 10. 2017).

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The following day in Ballarat was crap weather, so we visited the Art Gallery (regional galleries in Australia are inspirational and impressive), grabbed lunch and went to the local movie house – a classic cinema built in the 1930s and renovated with love. After watching a blockbuster film we headed to a splendid restaurant (yes, in Ballarat) Catfish, a lauded foodie haven. And owners and chef Damien and Danielle Jones have just closed Catfish and will reopen as ‘Mr Jones’ – serving refined rustic!

A drive to Melbourne airport next day, a flight back to Sydney and we’d had an amazing weekend.

Ballarat movie theatre, a local cafe and black swans on Lake Wendouree.

Another getaway was a drive to Wisemans Ferry, a gentle area of the historic and beautiful Hawkesbury River. A day was spent walking the old convict road, reading up on the past, and taking the three-minute ferry across the river. We drove on to St Albans, a remote settlement with a pub that has tales to tell of convicts and early farmers’ trials and tribulations.

(Read Kate Grenville’s book The Secret River about a 19th century story of the region.)

Our weekends are sometimes ’half weekends’, such as a trip out west of Sydney to eat classic Vietnamese food for lunch in Cabramatta and another day in Windsor, a town that has fascinating convict buildings and a bustling brunch and lunch society.

Recently we did a three-day escape from the big smoke. A drive out of town to the Blue Mountains and across the Great Dividing Range and landed at Jenolan Caves, the old Caves House continues to have repairs done and the canteen is now a groovy café and offers up good coffee and tasty lunchtime fare. But the sight of Caves House makes one delirious with speculation and imagination – wondering how the heck this came to be. The little settlement is remote from every big town with one road in and one road out – and if the weather is bad – there’s no way out for a few days.

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We took a tour though the cold caves and it was marvellous. The stunning caverns that have seen tourists and Victorian adventurers scrabble through, then walk planned paths gaze in awe at the natural architecture of millions of years’ worth of evolution and grand design wrought by time and water.

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There are some wonderful nostalgic photographs of guests here from way back where we see woman in long skirts, blouses with leg-o-mutton sleeves and wide brimmed hats, men in coats and ties and hats – all ready to clamber over rocks and indoor ‘climbing walls’.

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The following day we drove to Kanangra Boyd National Park. This has to be one of my fave natural views in the world.

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The long plateau of sandstone juts out into Kanangra Valley that has undulating, and wonderful folding green valleys below where in a long gone past indigenous tribes trod the nomadic trading route.

We sat looking over the splendour of this vast park – unsullied by crowds, roads and development. Please let it stay that way.

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Kanangra Plateau.

A drive on to Bathurst, a university town and under a big blue sky, typically really cold during winter. A dinner at a great surprise of a restaurant – Dogwood – an Aussie take on the best of American classic food, I went for the gumbo and the ‘dog’.

So, how about making a plan? Get outta town for a couple of days, change your routine and rediscover the geography of your youth or discover an urban treasure or country town within a few hours’ drive from your front door.

As we grow older time seems to be moving faster – let’s halt its progress and advocate for ‘slow travel’ close to home.

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Happy weekend travels (or sneaky weekday getaways.)

Where do you like to ‘get away’ to on weekends not too far from home?

Writer Bev Malzard is in search of the Best Pie, or Vanilla Slice in country towns. Every town or village has a window sign at the local bakery shouting its winning achievements. She keeps taste tasting along the way and quite frankly still hasn’t had the ‘best’ yet. She continues her quest.

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