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Poznań

I can’t believe I haven’t written this blog since we got back from Crete. Although record heat waves, the continuing debacle in Ukraine and various other topics deserve to be written about, I have become lazy. Anyway, here we are on vacation again, although a short one, just a 3 day weekend but, living in the heart of Europe, we are absolutely surrounded with beautiful, interesting, and convenient tourist destinations. This time we chose Poznan, Poland, just a 6 hour drive, with a couple of short stops.

I thought ‘What a dull choice, there is nothing to see of importance in Poznan.’ I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Last night, after we got here, we walked around Old Town (under construction), saw a couple of fountains, a couple of castles, a whole bunch of interesting old buildings and some parks.
This morning, we decided to try the hotel breakfast. At first, it seemed a bit sparse, and there were problems with the coffee maker, but there were many little oddities (pickled mushrooms), and we did not go away hungry, for sure. Then we went back into town and toured Tumski Island, with an ancient Cathedral (I hesitate about entering Cathedrals when they actually have a service going on, as they did, but my wife is not so bothered), a museum which we did not visit, a cafe where we had lemonade and a blueberry cream cup (similar to one we’d had at breakfast), and an old chapel which actually served as a very cool museum, they had a 5 minute film on a loop in the floor. I had not realized that Poznan was at one point the capital of Poland, a critically important European city back in about 900. We then found the building with a very cool mural painted on one wall, and one which makes music when it rains, both of which looked much cooler when I saw them posted on Facebook but still, it was a very interesting, artsy neighborhood. Then we went to the botanical gardens and I was knocked out. It was larger than Prague’s, I think, with a lot more ponds and fountains, and it was free, which Prague’s is not. We followed that with a trip to the Palmiarnia, a series of greenhouses with thick, tropical foliage. It had really started raining by this point, so it was good to be inside for a while. Then, we started looking for some place to have dinner. Our first choice was a place we noticed last night, very good prices for a large plate of spaghetti, but they didn’t have a toilet which, by that point in our travels, was an absolute necessity for at least two of us. So, after a bit more trudging about the under construction old town square we wound up at a pizzeria where the prices were O.K. and they had normal facilities.
Tomorrow will depend on the weather a bit. If it’s sunny, we want to go swimming, if it’s cloudy, we’ll go hiking in a nearby national park, if it’s raining we may have to think of something else.

In any event, I highly recommend Poznan. If you’ve never been there, you should go.

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Home

The trip home was long and a bit exhausting, but we are back in Prague now and I’m re-adapting to old habits quickly, and planning on a poetry reading this evening.
On the twisty, narrow, mountain road up from Elaphonisi, we faced off against a parade of traffic in the other direction, mostly cars but also the occasional tour bus, all no doubt heading down to the wildly over-rated pink sand beach. We stopped in a little town which I think was called Boulgari, or maybe Voulgari, I don’t know and couldn’t find it on Wikipedia. The idea was to just find a kitschy souvenir shop for some last minute kitschy souvenirs, but what we walked into was more of a gallery. The proprietor was a short, old Greek man with a long, gray beard who would have been right at home in Middle Earth, and the shop had old coins strewn across the ground out front and into the road, and driftwood all over the place. Almost all of the stuff, ranging from very small to quite large, lawn statue type things, was made from wood.
We had lunch in Chania, and briefly revisited the port market, and then it was time to return the car. The airport was just across the parking lot from there, but since we had to have the car back at three and our flight was at 6:30, we had quite a wait.
The first flight was to Munich, and we had to wear masks, German law. I was hoping they’d serve us a meal, which would have given us an excuse to remove the masks in flight, but all we got was a small bottle of water. Of course you could take the mask off to drink, but they were actually fairly strict about the mask thing, with the flight crew regularly telling people to put their masks back on. Our flight from Munich to Prague had a couple of delays and three gate changes, and then the same issue with the masks which led to a moment of panic as I’d lost mine but we found a spare. It was almost midnight before we got home.
It took a moment when I woke up this morning to remember where I was.

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Last Day

The vacation is almost over. Tomorrow morning we will drive back up to the north coast, turn in our rental car, and catch a flight to Prague, via Munich. We have seen most of the things we planned to see, done most of the things we planned to do, and eaten everything we wanted to eat plus discovering a couple of new things. So, today was sort of a winding down day.
We had breakfast at the restaurant down the hill, which was not particularly good value for money but it was a bit comical. The owner greeted us, wiped down the table and then disappeared. For about 10 minutes, and we were the only customers in the place. It was weird, and we were starting to wonder if we should leave, when a young girl, with a baby, pulled up on a moped. She explained that the guy didn’t speak English, so he’d called her.
After breakfast, a dip in the pool, and a morning of not doing much at all, we drove to two beaches we’d heard about. Lagoons, really. It was sea water, but calm, and the second one in particular (the White Lake) was surrounded by spectacular rock formations. Then, we went for lunch, and I finally got to order some taramosalata which, unsurprisingly, nobody else in the family liked.
After that, we stopped at a mini-market to get some stuff for spaghetti at home for our last dinner, and some road snacks for tomorrow, and then took a walk to a monastery which wasn’t far off.
Home again, we had spaghetti for dinner as, once again, we watched the sun set into the western sea. After that, Helena and I walked back downhill to catch a last look at the rocky coast before darkness set in, and that’s where the funniest thing of the day happened.
“Is that a cat?” she said, and sure enough it was, one small cat, sitting amidst the rocks and the salt water pools between the rocks, the kind of environment where ships wreck, pirates fear to tread, and people should not go without proper footwear and even then, carefully.
“I do believe it is,” I said.
“Do you think he knows he to get back?” she said.
“I’m sure,” I said, but I wasn’t sure at all.
“I’m going to take a picture,” she said.
She pointed her phone in the rough direction of the cat and it took off like a shot, two or three steps to shore, skipping stone to stone as sure footed as could be, a couple more steps up the beach, running like the wind, up to the road, around the corner and completely out of sight, all in about two, maybe three seconds, tops.
Don’t worry about the cats. They know how to get out of whatever spot they’re in.

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Livadia

What a day. The drive here was kind of nerve wracking, twisty mountain roads at points narrowing to one lane, but with traffic in both directions. Beautiful, but scary. We went through a tunnel, for instance, which was pretty much exactly the width of a car, and had a traffic light at either side to let the traffic move through.
We’re staying in a town called Livadia, and I’m not sure you could even call it a town. There are two restaurants, one which specializes in breakfasts, and we’ll probably try that tomorrow, and the place where we ate today, which seemed like it was in somebody’s back garden, and probably was. I’m pretty sure that the family sitting at the long table were the owner’s family. They were there when we got there, there when we left, and seemed at home. The only other people there were two old Greek gents, who seemed to be just having drinks, and knew everybody. There are seven or eight places similar to the one we’re in, “Sunset Apartments,”scattered up and down the hillside, and maybe the same number of private residences, which look a lot more run down.
We have a pool, a spectacular view of the ocean, which we are close enough to hear, and we’re very, very happy with our accommodations. We watched the sun setting into the ocean from our balcony, and it was spectacular.
But…one of the reasons we chose this place was it’s proximity to the Pink Sand Beach at Elafonisi, which we thought was a must see. It’s basically a lie. Sure, there’s something a little bit pinkish to the sand right along the water’s edge (it’s ground up shellfish), in the right light, with a bit of imagination and preconceived notions, but as soon as it washes up onto the beach and the water runs out again, it’s the same color as sand everywhere. It wasn’t a bad beach, quite sandy, very shallow water, nice for little kids, but horribly commercialized with so many deck chairs it was hard to find a place to put down a towel, and it’s the first time in Crete I’ve seen a pay toilet anywhere.
So, if you’re going to Elafonisi, and expecting to see an actual beach made up of pink sand, forget about it. It’s a lie.

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Ierapetra

Yesterday was a road to the lovely south coast town of Ierapetra, and I have no trouble recommending it to anyone visiting Crete. It’s a bit out of the way, which may be why it seemed so devoid of tourists. The market street was essentially empty and even on the beach and in the sea, most of the people seemed to be Greek. All the kitschy souvenir shops were there, and lots of restaurants, but they were largely empty. The water was calm, and lovely, and very clear.
There weren’t a lot of tourist sites. We walked to the end of the beach to see the old fort, which was basically a wall that was having some work done on it, and then we saw a sign pointing to ‘Napoleon’s House.’ Well, that sounded worth seeing. There was a lady sitting at a desk near the front door and I didn’t want to pay so I said let’s go, but Helena asked how much it cost and it was free so I felt a bit foolish but we went in anyway. It would have been absurd for them to charge, but I’m kind of surprised they even had an attendant on duty. One plain room downstairs, with a sign explaining the history, in English and in Greek. One room upstairs, just a wooden floor, no furniture at all.
The story is that the French fleet, on their way to Egypt and lost in the fog, stopped for fresh drinking water, and one man stayed ashore and was given a tour of the island and dinner in a local’s home and stayed the night. He had a boat meet him in the wee hours of the morning and was gone by daylight but left a note, in French, saying ‘If anyone asks who the foreigner was, I am Napoleon Bonaparte.’
Then we went for lunch and, as usual, it was an absolutely huge amount of food. I even gave a couple of pieces of Souvlaki to the little begging dog who, I’m assuming, belonged to the owners, because he was clearly not a stray. The zucchini fritters we ordered as an appetizer were great and the sampler plate, which we had not ordered, was pretty great, too. That happens fairly often here, that they bring out something extra, for no reason at all.
On the way to Ierapetra we had passed an archaelogical site but by the time we saw it we had zipped by the entrance, so we stopped on the way back but the entrance was closed. So, we spent the evening exploring Minoan civilization on Wikipedia. Who says travel doesn’t broaden the mind?
Today is another road trip because we are once more changing locations, to a place in the southwest called Livadi, where apparently they have a beach with pink sand. I’m looking forward to seeing that.

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