Thursday, October 13, 2011

On the lighter side with Tonya and Liberty- The REAL top 10 rules of driving in Greece

1. Stop signs are.... always optional.
2. It IS ok to put a baby on a motorcycle without a helmet and a seat. On your lap holding them with one hand is the preferred way.

3. Dont know how to drive a stick shift? No problem: just rev the engine up higher and dont shift out of first gear.

4. Is there a 500 ft drop 6 inches off the side of the road? That is ok, you can still drive a little faster around those hairpin turns.

5. You can stop anywhere at anytime if you just put your flashers on.

6. Yes, 6 mopeds do fit in one parking spot. In fact, you dont even need a parking spot. Feel free to go ahead and make your own.

7. Speed limit? Make sure to always go over the given number by at least 30km/hr.

8. When driving, always answer your phone by yelling, even if your fellow passengers cant tell that your phone even rang.

9. Your horn can be used for beeping at anything.... literally anything.

10. Is there no room for your Asian friend in the car? He will always fit in the trunk.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Welcome to Santorini...

We arrived at Santorini in the middle of the night. When you first pull into port all you can see is blackness with tiny lights that look like they are floating far away high above where you are. I thought to myself that there was no way we were really going that high, were we? All of us fit nicely into a hotel vehicle and headed up the winding drive of the mountain.

It was almost terrifying to do at night because everything is black and you weave back and forth so much you feel like you are going to fall off the side of the world. Every couple of minutes we would weave above our boat and we watched as it got smaller and smaller until we couldn't believe that it was the same boat we arrived in.

Our drive deposited us at our hotel where we got the privilege of carrying our cumbersome suitcases down a decently large flight of stairs. Our rooms are located right next to each other and are lovely to look at. In the morning after a tasty breakfast we ran up and down stairs until we saw it- our first view of the Caldera. I'm quite sure we have the hotel with the best view of Santorini. We are on the side of the cliff overlooking the water and the small islands that are found in the middle of the crescent bay. On either side of us, we can see small villages sitting on the cliff.

We head out to explore later for lunch and we walk a supposed half mile that takes us more like a half an hour-all down hill- to the village of Fira. We have lunch at a Rotarian"s cafe and start the grueling walk back UP the hill to our village of Firostefani. We weave in and out of tourists quickly because our goal is to watch the World Championship of Free Running/ a.k.a. Parkour.

If you are not familiar with this it is an amazing thing to see- 15 world champions from 11 countries will compete. The basic concept is they creatively travel down over houses, fences and other various things to a certain ending pad within 2 minutes. They do this by running, flipping, twisting and moving in all sorts of ways that most people cannot do. Our hotel is a perfect location to watch and we stand outside for over an hour watching the athletes compete.

After watching the competition, we head down to dinner again and this time it is night- and the lights on the side of the mountain are indescrible. The colors are just so pretty that you can't even explain. I truly believe that this is one of the most beautiful places in the whole world.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Patmos...

Today, we woke in anticipation of the District Gathering. Here on the island of Patmos, some 35 Rotarians gathered to share in one anothers company and to honor the work of the Hellenic Roatay Club, district 2470. Our stay in Patmos was very lovely. The hotel was very modern and had amazing accommodations. We were joined by many familiar faces from the Rotary club in Athens.
During the District Gathering, we had the opportunity to share our presentation and paint a clearer picture of what life is like for us in the states. Were joined by the Bishop from the Monastery of St. John on Patmos Island, the monastery that overviews the cave of the Apocalypse (where John wrote the book of Revelation.) At the end of the gathering, we also had the opportunity to trade one of each of our banners. There was representation from the Caro, Frankenmuth, Saginaw, and Bay City Clubs. Displayed on one wall of the conference room, were many banners that had been exchanged in previous years. Our banners from our local district 6310 soon joined the likes of representation from all over the world.

Our meeting was followed by a fabulous dinner with our excited Rotary hosts! Great food and drink always spur engaging conversation and help to open doors of opportunity for our colliding cultures to learn more about one another.  After dinner, we were presented with an official certificate, complete with your names on them, to represent that we had been a participant in their District Gathering. Once again, the hospitality was overwhelming and appreciated. Our time here in the Greek Island is going by so fast, and we continue to enjoy EVERY moment and EVERY person that we are connected with through Rotary.

A New View – Rhodes

The economic troubles of Greece, thus far, have been somewhat hidden, with the exception of closed buildings in Athens, we as a group have yet to really experience a country in distress. Our time in Rhodes however, did give us a small glimpse into the future of Greece, and their working class citizens. Costas, our Rotarian guide, was gracious enough to educate us on the social, economic, and political environment of Rhodes and Greece. As we toured the Old City of Rhodes, we were met with many closed signs; the public sector was on strike.

The economic problems that Greek labor force faces are not new. The public sector is overpaid, the private sector is overtaxed. Rhodes however, still has a booming tourism industry that supports and sustains a large percentage of their GDP. Anna Moody, an inspiring entrepreneur, provided us with a visual metaphor for the economic problems of Greece:  "There was a bag of sweets. And there was a group of kids."

Anna went on to explain that 16 or so years ago there were very few mortgages in Greece; if a family built a house, they did so one floor at a time as money was saved. Very few regular people had a real concept of credit and suddenly from everywhere it was available with no need to pay off in sight. So people bought, and built and lived, but the due date was just around a bend and suddenly, for many at least, money was due for things that were no longer worth the money owed on them. The available cash to spend had temporarily increased, but the actual income of the average person had not.

With these issues in mind, we pushed through the picturesque Old City, trying to find something that was open to the public. Marios, our second Rotarian guide, suggested that we visit The Monastery of Filerimos, which turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences and sights of Rhodes.

“The Monastery of Filerimos in Rhodes Greece: The Monastery of Panagia Filerimos is located on a hill above Ialyssos, about 10 km from Rhodes Town. The monastery is dedicated to Virgin Mary the Life-Giving Source (Zoodochos Pighi) and its architecture is much different than the usual monasteries in Greece. It was constructed of stone in a Gothic style, on the site of an older Byzantine monastery.

The monastery was built in the 15th century by the Knights of Saint John, who had conquered the island that time. Inside, there was the holy icon of the Virgin Mary that the Knights had probably brought to Rhodes from Jerusalem. When the Ottomans conquered the island in 1523, the Knights left and took the icon with them. After floating in Italy, Malta, France and Russia, this icon is today hosted in the National Museum of Montenegro.

In the region around the monastery, there are the ruins of a baptistery in the shape of a cross, the remains of Ancient Ialysos and an underground church of Saint George that dates from the 14th century AD. From Filerimos Monastery also starts the path to Golgothas. On top of this path, up on a hill with amazing view, there is a huge cross, while on the one side of the path, there are engravings that represent the Passion of the Christ.”

To view the pictures please visit:
    Rhodes Filerimos Monastery, Greece by Information about the Monastery of Filerimos in Rhodes - Dodecanese - Greek islands with also travel information: History, museums, festivals, maps, pictures and Rhodes hotels.

  • Monday, October 3, 2011

    Excursion to Lindos

    We were picked up at a nice relaxed time of 11am by Costas and Stalios to take a tour of the west part of the island of Rhodes. We stopped at a few photo ops along the drive and each of them were breathtaking. The bright teal color of the water, long beaches and ruins scattered throughout were great.

    We visited the Temple of Apollo, the staduim and theater in Rhodes and then drove to Lithos, one of the ancient cities on the island. When we got to the base of the Acropolis in Lindos we noticed that there were a TON of stairs to climb and it was a hot day.....then we saw the donkeys!!

    We took the donkeys to the top of the mountain, through a small village, then right on the edge of the cliff before making it safely to the top. It was an awesome experience that we were all hoping we would have the chance to do!

    The Acropolis is on a cliff 410 feet above the village. We saw the ruins of the Temple of Athena from the 4th century BC among many other ruins and excavations. After walking back down to give the donkeys a break we went to lunch at Abanthe, a seafood restaurant  near Lindos, right on the beach.

    We started by walking to the cooler and picking out which fish we wanted them to prepare for us. Costas picked three of the best ones and they came to the table still looking like a fish. It was interesting and a little queasy for me to look at but it tasted so incredible! It just melted in our mouths.

    TJ and Steven even had the luxury of eating a fish eyeball. Next thing we know a great selection of liquor bottles came out for us to sample from. My favorite was the Mastika which is only made on the island of Ios here in Greece. Unfortunately we can't get it in the States. I just might have to get a bottle at the duty free shop so my friends at home can share the pleasure of it's flavor!

    Before heading back we took a quick swim in the Mediterranean. It was so clear they could even see the bottom at 15 feet deep! (I don't go out that far!) We had some free time before dinner and walked through Old Town which is a fortified part of the city. The cultural places/arheological sites were closed because it was after hours but there were tons of tourist shops up and down many of the pedestrian roads. After a quick stop on a boat store (an actual boat that you walked onto to shop) we were picked up by our buddy Zack for dinner.

    The Rotaract President, Mika, met up with us and we had a great traditional meal at a very small, quaint restaurant that seemed to be in a residential area. We had some new food items like beets, spicy garbanzo beans, mini-shrimp that are only available on one island here in the world (Symi) and cannot be forzen to be eaten elsewhere, and zucchini blossoms stuffed with feta and fried, and pumpkin balls (like a round fritter). It was all so good! Then to top the night off we stopped for gelato at what we were told was the best gelato place in Greece. Yum!

    Lindos, Rhodes, Greece

    "The experience of this sweet life..."
    Dante's Divine Comedy

    The day started in ruins. Well, adjacent to ruins: The ruins of the ancient acropolis of Rhodes and the nearby stadium that has been partially restored for continued use by the community. ( I never quite realized how massive such stadiums were until we walked this one which we were told was not actually that large.)

    We were to drive the area with Costas and Stelios to see a few of the interesting points of Rhodes. ( Insert fact that the latter has a Jack Russel terrier and his name went by so quickly that we were either going to be calling him Stale Toast or Russel. He chose Russel.)

    We wound through the island hearing history and lore and stopped briefly to take a moment with a view of a tiny, tiny church on a steep, steep hill seemingly in the middle of nowhere...but isn't it always seemingly in the middle of nowhere that one generally finds God because there is less competition? This church is a site of pilgrimage that is walked by women experiencing difficulties in pregnancy.

    They come here to pray to the Worthy Mother that they have a child or that they have a healthy child or that they experience fewer difficulties in their pregnancies. It is sometimes comforting just to know one is heard, but it is said that every woman who makes the pilgrimage has her prayers not only heard, but answered; this makes the long, difficult climb worth the effort.

    After more bends and hills we topped a rise in the land that gave us a view straight out of a story book: The acropolis of Lindos rises like a jewel held in place by the close-gathered white houses at its base and the whole arrangement is set in rocky, rolling hills that give way to the blue sea.

    This was about the time that Liberty announced she was not climbing another endless set of stairs to see a ruin.Period. When Russel suggested we could be carried up by donkeys, Lib relented and - accompanied by the strange sounds the donkey herds made harassing us up the acropolis - we were free to watch the landscape unfold below us until we reached the top of the acropolis to explore the ruins and only be able to grin at the beauty below us.

    The walk down from he acropolis took us through narrow, winding, sometimes-covered streets lined with houses and shops and paved in elaborate patterns of smooth pebbles standing on end.

    After the fashion of every wonderful thing in Greece, a meal awaited us:

    Abanthe is a fish tavern near Lindos with a crisp, sleek white-and-blue design (the blue and red fish indicating the mens' and womens' rooms caused a chuckle) and a reputation for excellent fish.

    We were allowed to the cooler to choose our lunch which was so fresh their eyes were still plump and clear and they were still slick from the sea. We had a fish called Rofos that lives among rocks and must be shot to be killed making it scarce. The flesh of the Rofos was tender, mildly flavored and bright white with a network of delicate black veins. The fish was prepared by bringing a stock of greens and vegetables to a boil, dropping the fish in to steam and taking the water off boil letting the heat slowly cook the fish for an hour.

    As we waited for our fish, we had chick-pea fritters, hot freshly grated garlic on green beans, grilled sun-dried octopus with a balsamic reduction, a large salt-cured fish grilled and wonderful with ouzo, fired potatoes, dolmades (different here in being cooked with dill and lemon and stuffed with rice and mincemeat) and a salad of peppery roquette, cured peppers and olives unique to this village.

    When the fish for the main course arrived we were all quite mellow with food and drink (Costas did say, "Here in Greece you are a little dizzy all day.") and Costas and Russel decided that TJ and I should have the delicacy of the fish eyes. It was not just like chicken and had a bit of a crunchy collar from the socket, but the taste was interesting enough and the Rofos was incredible.

    A swim in the sea after lunch guaranteed that we didn't sink into a nap (Lib and I having a bonding moment in the changing hut). On the drive home - with Tonya, Liberty and Russel in that order in the middle seat of the vehicle - Liberty suddenly perked up looked sharply at Russel and asked (regarding a smell):

    "Is that your gum?!"

    Russel: (Looking frightened and rapidly spitting out the open window) "No!"

    Amid roars of laughter we were pulled over by a policeman proving a point: One in one million speeding drivers in Greece does, indeed, get a reprimand.

    All in all, a very memorable day.
    (Steven Magstadt)

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    Syros Photography Club

    Jeanna, TJ and I got to attend a meeting of the Syros Photography Club. They are a hobby club that meets once a week and learns from professional photographers, completes picture assignments and shares ideas.

    We were only there a short time, but being the photo buff that I am, I was pretty excited. One of the members put together a slide show of Syros photos that she had taken of key places around the island. They were very pretty pictures capturing clouds and sunsets that I wish that I would be here long enough to see. We then took a group photo (hello, we were at a photography club) and bid them goodbye. It was a short and sweet vocational visit that I am glad we could make time to do.