A WALKING HOLIDAY IN NAXOS

Some years ago I partook of a wonderful holiday in Naxos, the largest but least touristic island of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, where with some friends we walked the ancient Donkey trails. And because of it being spring time, the whole of the island was covered in the blooms of wild flowers and herbs, a wonderful sight to behold! The fragrance of Oregano, Thyme, Chamomile, Lavender, and Melissa were a daily delight.

The island is also very rich in archaeological finds and remains as it has been lived on constantly for the past 3000 years.
Simple but beautiful Byzantine churches and monasteries are to be found all over the island, many containing icons of great artistic value, covered in gold leaf and intricate painting, some are also half covered in silver to protect the paintings. The architecture of these churches, while simple, I found very graceful and atheistically pleasing, painted in brilliant white with some of the domes in Greek blue, and the older ones, of which we saw quite a few, are built in natural stone, even the roofs are.

The highest mountain on the island is called Zas and is 1004 metres high; I only ever saw it with its head in the clouds. Some people believe that Zeus was born here while others think that he was born on Crete and grew up here. Naxos is supposed to be the island where Theseus left behind the Cretan princess Ariadne after she helped him escape from the labyrinth where he had killed the Minotaur. Ariadne is then supposed to have fallen in love with Dionysus. Mythology abounds in the Greek islands and it was just lovely to see with my own eyes things that I would have read about long ago.

Gosh, the food was marvellous and I enjoyed eating every Greek dish. So I had lots of salads made with organic and sun ripened tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers and covered in the most delicious local feta cheese and olive oil. Then there were the goat and lamb dishes, the bean and tomato dishes, absolutely mouth watering, and always the fried potatoes.
People are fond there too of sweet things, lots of honey and sesame seeds and almonds, all this baked scrumptiously wrapped in filo pastry and served with strong Greek coffee in tiny cups. My favourite was some sort of sweetmeat covered in powdered icing sugar and with a delicate flavour of pure rose essence. Not to forget the drinks, the Ozo I found overrated and did not take to, but there is another drink, a liquor made from the leaves of a tree, a hybrid between lemon and grapefruit, it is called Citron and pronounced Kitron, they come in three different colours, supposed to be three different strengths but the Naxiots were unclear which colour was the strongest! I fancied them all as this drink gave me a nice gentle sense of lightness of being.

The meal that I can remember as being the most wonderful, we ate at a tavern in a remote village after a long strenuous walk through the mountains. Rosemarie, our guide, knew the people and we were all welcomed with open arms. The nice woman of the house served us a lovely goats stew flavoured with the sort of aromatic herbs we had been walking through, there were long, podgy, green beans in a tomato sauce, potatoes fried in olive oil and rice wrapped in olive leaves and tasting real good. This same lady happen to be very fond of roses and not only did she have lovely old scented roses in vases all over the place, they were also on the napkins and tablecloths.

The town of Naxos or Hora as it is called and where we had our accommodation is built on a hill forming a natural acropolis, on top of which is a fortress, dating from the occupation by the Venetians. Along the sides is a labyrinth of streets, narrow and stepped, the houses are a brilliant white and the doors and windows blue, arches are everywhere and some are very low so that even I had to bend down to pass through them. Here and there geraniums and bougainvillea flowers throw a lovely dash of added colour making the whole a beautiful place full of photo opportunities. Word has it that the town was built in this way to fool the pirates and give the town folk the chance to escape when being attacked, apparently the arches connected from house to house, who knows. It is a delightful town and I got lost several times in the labyrinth but enjoyed finding my way out again eventually.

One of the first days we passed the main Greek orthodox cathedral, built on the site of an earlier small church (Zoodochos Pighi), it took its present form in 1780-7, and it is dedicated to St.Nicodemus the Athonite and to St.Nektarios. Large quantities of materials from ancient temples were used in its construction! Its solid granite pillars are supposed to have come from the ruins of Delos. Anyway, we were curious as to what was going on inside as we could hear the singing of a low male voice. At our entrance we were invited in to take part of the baptism of a child. The priest, with a long white beard, was singing and doing his rituals. There was the scent of incense, and candles were lit all over the place. The child was totally undressed as it would then be dressed in a whole set of elaborate new clothes. The church looked interesting; it was covered in icons some of which were exquisite art.

Along the promenade there were the many restaurants, most of them for the tourists but some were clearly the haunts of the locals, mainly the men sitting drinking their Ozo and talking, or is it philosophising, while overhead the octopus were hanging to dry on wooden sticks in the sun.

The walks took us over hills and rocks and through meadows and even over a small river in one valley. The views were magnificent, especially the white villages hugging the mountainsides, Filotis being one of the nicest and nearest to Mount Zas. We passed the olive groves along the valleys. And went along the rocky mountain paths were we would come across herds of goats, we also saw ducks and a lone turkey. We noticed that there are very few cattle here on the island.
There was a lot more that we were delighted to see; there was the Kouros, an ancient statue never fully erected and still lying in its ancient quarry. The marble quarries and the emery and obsidian stone. The ruins of the temple to Demetre. The colour of the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. The interesting looking moths, butterflies, lizards and beetles. The beautiful sunsets. The lovely little shops full of copies of artefacts, some of which I saw in the local archaeological museum, very ancient remnants of life in Naxos and the Cyclades.

I came home very energised and happy, and with lots of photos and some stone samples. On our way back we stopped for one day in Athens and visited the Acropolis. I must say that I was surprised at the effect it had on me, I was very impressed. We also saw the change of the guards which I thought was very funny! We saw the remains of the temple to Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. Our hotel was very close to this area and the evening of our arrival we hung out in the colourful Plaka district, little streets, some paved in marble, full of life, shops looking vibrant and lively and very full of all sorts of souvenirs but also local produce and stunning Greek tunics and other clothing and jewellery, they were pulsating with the laughter of Greeks and tourists alike all of whom seemed excited to be alive! There was music, and in line with Greek tradition, carnations thrown all over the place.
There is lovely architecture to be seen here too in the houses, so this is a great place for an evening walk.

This visit to Naxos and Athens took place many years ago but I still have great memories of the beauty and the sheer delight of seeing some of the monuments that I had read about. It is another one of these places where I can go in my mind and be delighted.

THE BURREN ~ COUNTY CLARE

Some while back we drove through the area of county Clare called The Burren. Geologically speaking this is a fascinating place, also for botanist. This area is known for and covered in karst, limestone that is so weathered and cracked that several small plants and flowers grow in the cracks, some of the plants are only found in the Alpine and Mediterranean regions of Europe. Now we did not do any trekking or hiking, we just drove through the area and mainly looked at the interesting landscapes. Partly along the coast, and partly inland.

So here is a photo of what the limestone hills look like in the Burren, it is beautiful and to me it looked like it had been snowing. It’s very impressive though to think of the actual limestone exposure, quite amazing in fact.
On this small stone beach I found different rocks, some where large slabs I could walk on, others were pebbles and still others were small crumbled rock.

A typical and fine example of Karstic landscape. Karst is a special type of landscape that is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks, in this case limestone. Whole landscapes are formed in this way and the Burren is one of those areas, as seen in the photo below.

We decided to stop for lunch in Kilrush at a traditional Irish pub for some much needed nourishment.

The name ‘Burren’ in Irish is Boireann, meaning “great rock”.
Interesting rock formations.
Even though County Clare, and especially that part which is called the Burren is very rocky, there is a softness to the landscape and some of the hedgerows were showing a lovely autumn-like abundance of ripe fruits. The colours were brilliant.
Hawthorn, blackberry, and some black berries of which I am not sure what they are, in full ripeness.

This is just yet another part of Ireland that’s nice to explore. There is plenty of interest there for anyone liking or studying geology, botany, or archaeology. We did not even scratch the surface. I hope it gave people a taste though.

THE TOWN OF HERTFORD

Some weeks ago we had occasion to visit the town of Hertford in England, it was a family visit but I was able to slip out for a few hours of town exploration which I greatly enjoyed because Hertford is such a lovely and picturesque place, so much of interest to see, a market town originally, most of the centre of the town is a conservation area, and this was plain to see in the many lovely facades of historical buildings. I felt a friendly and pleasant atmosphere there, people young and old looked carefree and happy that morning, it was the weekend. At first I crossed a little bridge over the river Lea, this river looked more like a canal actually, and it had some colourful narrow boats moored along its sides. Turning the corner I came upon a few market stalls selling local produce, nice one I thought, it is always good to see a market, it gives a homely feeling. I walked on just looking at the variety of town buildings, this must have been in the main street. I liked the facades of many of the buildings, highly decorative and a great variety. Turning back on my steps I decided to explore some of the many charity shops which in itself is a relaxing and nice thing to do, the thought in the back of my mind is always something like “I might find a lovely bone china cup in blue and white, or a precious book”. Anyway I knew very well that I could buy nothing as we were coming back from Gozo with three suitcases that were bulging as it was, end of story. But I did buy a book, it turned out to be the read of the year so far for me, I am enjoying it tremendously. It’s a biography cum garden history cum social history of a place in Shropshire called Morville and the author is Katherine Swift.
So far so good, walking on towards a church tower in the distance I then decided it was too far and turned back into the centre of the town where I saw more interesting buildings like the Old Cross Wharf of Nicholas lane. The Mill Bridge Rooms, this forms part of a 19th century Seed Warehouse. What’s very interesting about this place it that there is stored there a rare 4th century Roman Corn Dryer, that’s something I’d like to have seen all right. The Green Dragon Vaults – The Green Dragon Inn: The original inn existed already in 1621. And several other buildings. Very noticeable were some of the shapes of the roofs, I just loved them. There is an interesting museum too but I only got as far as the hall and talking with the people inside there, hoping to have time to visit later on but did not manage that.
In every shop I entered I found the people friendly and chatty, this is always a good way to glean information but there is also an excellent Tourist Office which was also exhibiting some paintings at the time.
A good all round and very pleasant visit it was, adding to the already lovely welcome we received from Ian’s daughter, all of which made for a wonderful experience.  A place I would love to return to for sure as I don’t think I saw half of it yet.

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The river Lea and the Old Barge Pub on Folly island

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The Old Cross Wharf, historically used to as kiln, grain store, cart shed and tally house, more info on it found at https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1268795

Some beautiful decorative plaster work, this is called pargetting.

Here seen are the Mill Bridge Rooms and a photo of the Green Dragon Vaults/hotel

Some of the shopping areas and the market stalls

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This building across the river Lea here is quite distinctive looking, it is the other side of the Old Cross Warf above, but looking at it from across the river.  Cool!

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The Old Cross Library, this building was constructed by British architect Reginald Blomfield.

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Along the river Lea, or Lee.