Tuesday, 24 March 2020

COVID-19: Whistler, British Columbia & Canada shutdown...

Illustration for The Tyee by Christopher Cheung. The Scream via Wikipedia, public domain; mask image via Wikipedia, public domain. https://thetyee.ca/News/2020/03/27/Coronavirus-Curated-Top-Links-March-27/

March 15th: Vail Resorts shuts down all of its ski resorts in North America, including Whistler-Blackcomb. (Within a few days afterwards, pretty well all ski areas in B.C. also shutdown.)

A sudden, surprising end to the ski season.

But that's nothing compared to what's happening across Canada and around the world, as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.

Borders are closed (including all "non-essential" travel across the USA-Canada border). We, like almost all Canadians, are keeping our distance from others (physical distancing), going out only for required food (and liquor 😉) shopping.

(Well, David has driven down to the boat a couple of times; but still keeping isolated.)

Our plans to sail North on Pelagia this Summer would seem an excellent way to self-isolate (even our doctor thinks so), but...

Communities up-and-down the B.C. coast are circling-the-wagons and telling non-residents to stay away. Anchoring in coves away from communities should be fine, but we do have to re-provision, get water (though there are streams) and fuel up.

So, plans this Spring-Summer are truly "written in the sand at low tide". Still some time to go. We shall see.

Until then, we are trying to stay healthy, and wish the same for all others!

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The skiing is good... despite Vail Resorts (owners of Whistler-Blackcomb ski area)

Whistler peak, February 12, 2020

Mid February and the skiing is good.

LOTS of snow fell in January (after almost none November & December).

Weekends (especially holiday weekends such as this weekend) are quite crowded -- welcome to Whistler -- and Vail Resorts (owners of Whistler-Blackcomb) are not making a lot of friends with "locals" (Whistler, Sea-to-Sky area, Vancouver)! A current change.org petition, with nearly 9000 signers (to date), shows how upset people are.

Vail tries to suggest this is all due to the poor start of the season snow-wise (it was terrible until the first days of January, with little snow, little open and huge Christmas crowds), but those who live here know that's not the reasons people are so unhappy with Vail Resorts. Checkout the comments in the petition to see the many reasons.

We live here, so we make the best of it (such as staying away from the hill on a holiday weekend!)....

And it's so much better than living in the city!

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Ski season 2019-2020 begins

Opening day: November 28, 2019, Blackcomb Mt
Well, not such a great beginning.

We are both still hacking and coughing with terrible colds that just won't go away.

There's no natural snow for skiing; just man-made.

But always optimistic! (Look where that got us the last two seasons....)

Fingers crossed for more snow and good health this season!

Monday, 18 November 2019

Last days in Greece... Delphi, Athens and home

Temple of Apollo, Delphi
[Sorry for our delay in getting this post out. The flights home were filled with coughing, sneezing people. We arrived home in Whistler and within 48 hours were stricken down with debilitating chest and head colds. The joys of travel!]

Arriving on the Blue Star ferry to Athen's Port of Piraeus from Syros, we hopped on the metro out to nearby the airport to pickup a rental car for 4 days. Already familiar with the metro as we had spent 3 nights in Athens at the start of this trip (and used it back in 2015), all went smoothly.  Getting the car near the airport meant we would avoid Athens traffic (mostly) and save a 30€ charge for pickup at other locations (the metro cost 1.40€ each). We hopped in the car headed for Delphi and promptly got lost.

A few minutes with our smartphone maps app (MAPS.ME, free maps and works great for driving directions) and we were properly on our way.

Delphi is a few hours drive North of Athens, up in the mountains with Mt. Parnassus (2457m) towering overhead. We arrived just as it was getting dark, where our nice little hotel upgraded our room to one with a view to the valley (and sea) below.

View from hotel room in Delphi (Gulf of Corinth in distance)
Next day, we first toured the excellent Delphi Archeological Museum, in order to get a better understanding of Dephi. We then toured the archeological sites. We were impressed with the museum, and with the dramatic physical setting of the site. But one definitely should tour the museum first. Unfortunately, our arrival at the archeological site coincided with many tour busloads of tourists, daytripping from Athens. It was mid November and definitely too crowded; imagine July-August high season. (Recommendation: stay in Delphi, or nearby Arachova, and visit site early before busses arrive, or early afternoon after they leave to return to Athens!). We got away from the crowds by walking 800m over to the sanctuary of Athena Pronoia, where the "Tholos" is located
The Sphinx of Naxos (Delphi Archeological Museum)

Treasury of Athens (Delphi) built to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
The Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronoia (Delphi)

We enjoyed our short visit to Delphi (considered to be the centre of the world - - omphalos - - in the eyes of the ancient Greeks; sorry Toronto, sorry NYC 😉). The archeological site was fascinating (albeit crowded); the small nearby town of Delphi was very nice, with good, fairly priced tavernas, good hotels and dramatic views.

We had the car for another 2 days, and we were at a loss as to where to go. We didn't feel like more sightseeing. Actually, we wished we were still in Ermoupolis on Syros.

In the end, we decided to check out the untouristy island of Evia, not far from Athens. As it turned out, Evia was so untouristy, the locations with hotels were mostly closed down for the Winter. We did find a hotel in the ancient spa town of Loutra Aidipsos, though we didn't find the town so interesting (and it was somewhat run down). We did find the sights across Evia interesting (and the driving sometimes challenging, as Evia is quite mountainous). Nevertheless, we decided to get closer to Athens on our last day with the car, so we headed to the beach and harbour town of Nea Makri, 25 km from Athens. We were very pleasantly surprised by Nea Makri, and wished we had spent out last 2 nights with car there: nice beach, nice harbour and many good tavernas. And our little hotel was great. Maybe next visit.

We had two final nights in Athens. Time enough for our last good Greek food and wine and time to see a large protest (very common in Athens). We had a 7am flight to Frankfurt then on to Vancouver. All went well in the travel (or so we thought, until we came down with colds) and we were happy to be home.

Demonstration November 17, 2019 marking the November 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising

Sweet indulgence: one last piece of "chocolate salami"...

It was a fantastic trip -- we loved Greece!   Now, time for diets!

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Ermoupolis and Syros Island

Ermoupolis harbour (Syros Island) at night
We arrived in Ermoupolis at about 10pm; the harbour was quite spectacular at night, overlooked high over the town by two brightly lit churches. It had been a long day, so we were too tired to explore even a little bit. Happily, our little hotel Ostria was right across the street from the ferry, and Jessica the hotel owner was waiting for us. Our room, overlooking the harbour with a small balcony, was large, bright and comfortable, and had a small kitchen.

The next day, exploring Ermoupolis a little, we knew we would stay longer; we ended-up staying 7 nights (and later wished we had stayed longer).

Panoramic view of Ermoupolis town and harbour

We chose Ermoupolis because we read it is a beautiful (small) city with a vibrant local scene and very few tourists. All this turned out to be true. Ermoupolis is the administrative hub of the South Aegean islands; it is also a ferry hub, and has a large shipyard. So the town does not depend on tourism. It is a remarkably beautiful town, with streets and stairs (many, many stairs!) made of marble. The harbourfront is full of tavernas, cafes and travel agencies (selling ferry tickets). Behind the harbourfront are narrow streets filled with shops and tavernas... as well as more stairs. Unlike on other islands, almost all shops, cafes, and tavernas were open (i.e., not closed for the Winter). And the prices were low.

The stairs typical of Ermoupolis
Fruits and vegetables shops

Fish shops
Ermoupolis City Hall on Miaoulis Square (Statue of Admiral Miaoulis in front)

The Cathedral of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas), patron saint of the city

Syros is a fairly small island, with numerous very small villages and a few beach developments. However, there are no large resorts on the island, thus few tourists. Being November, the beach villages with small hotels were mostly empty (though we did see a few swimmers).

We did get out of town for some walks. 

On our first outing, we took the local bus to Galissas Beach, only to discover, too late as we exited the bus and the bus started driving away, that everything - - 100% - - was closed for the Winter. Oh well, we'll start walking... after about 15 minutes of walking, a nice local woman stopped her car, invited us in, and drove us to a point within 3 km of Ermoupolis. It was all downhill so we had an easy walk.

Our second outing, we decided to climb the steps up to "Ano Syros", the original 13th century Venetian settlement of Syros. This hilltop settlement is formed around a Roman Catholic Capuchin Monastery. Ano Syros is densely built, with a maze of narrow alleyways built on a steep hill, often with beautiful views down to Ermoupolis. (The main town of Ermoupolis, mostly Greek Orthodox, did not exist until the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s, when it was populated by refugees from other Greek Islands. It became the leading commercial and industrial center of Greece, as well as its main port (until later eclipsed by Piraeus)).

Ano Syros (photo fom Vrodados Hill, Dili)

View from Ano Syros (Ermoupolis below)

Narrow "streets" of Ano Syros

On our 3rd outing, we took a bus to nearby Azolimnos Beach, a small beach village, with the intent of walking from there to Vari Beach.
A little less than 10 km, it was an enjoyable and easy hike with good views. At the end, we discovered our bus schedule was wrong and we would have to wait 2+ hours until the next bus. However, Jessica had told us just to call a taxi. We did, it came in less than 10 minutes, and returned us to Ermoupolis for less than 10€.

Looking back to Azolimnos
Walking towards Fabrica

Panoramic view of Varis Bay and Beach

Varis Bay

Varis Beach (end of hike)

After 7 nights in Ermoupolis, we decided to head back to the mainland for our final 6 nights in Greece. We had one last dinner in Ermoupolis, saying goodbye to its many cats. We quickly missed both (Syros and its cats).

The well-fed cats of Ermoupolis...

The plan was to pick up a rental car near the Athens airport, and head to the ancient site of Delphi. One last dip into classical Greek history.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Escape to Paros

The narrow alleys of beautiful Parikia (Paros)
We escaped Santorini - - in case it wasn't clear, we really disliked Santorini's main towns of Fira and Oia - - by taking a Blue Star ferry to the island of Paros, about 3 hours away. The Blue Star ferry certainly was faster, newer, larger and cleaner than the Prevelis (although the Prevelis had better, less-expensive, food and drinks).

Blue Star ferry coming into Parikia, Paros

We arrived in Parikia (Paros) just as the sun was setting. The core of the small town is all white and blue, with pedestrian-only alleys (due to their narrowness) going every which way. Easy to get lost (briefly). We saw no other tourists as we first rolled our suitcases through the main "square" (it was more round than square). Lots of locals (mostly men, as usual in Greece) having their coffee frappes. Clearly, we had escaped the overtourism of Santorini. Being early November, many (most?) of Parikia's shops and restaurants had closed down for the Winter. So, obviously, there is tourism here in the Summer.

Fortunately for us, there were still more than enough tavernas and coffee shops open to keep us happy, as well as many locals still giving a buzz to the town. Just no tourists (well, we saw a few).

Parikia's Harbour (Blue Star ferry just docking)

Parikia (Paros)       

Parikia Town, from Livadia Beach

We did a short/easy half-day trip to the small neighbouring island of Antiparos: taking a 15-minute bus ride then a 10-minute ferry ride. Antiparos was very cute. But it was 80% closed-up for the Winter. Quite deserted except for a few locals. We found one taverna open, who happened to be hosting a large wedding luncheon. We had a wonderful meal, probably benefitting from the extra food prepared for the wedding feast. After lunch, we headed back to Paros.

Coming into Antiparos

Antiparos: very cute and very quiet (in November)
Unfortunately, we were not very happy with our "1-bedroom with kitchenette" accommodation: too small (the bed was in the kitchen!), too dark, and too funky. So, as much as we liked Paros, we decided to move on to Ermoupolis, on Syros Island.

Our ferry to Syros didn't leave until 8pm, so we checked our bags and hung around the town and beach. Going out for drinks at sunset, then to a recommended taverna for dinner - - yes, rough life! - -  before our  short (1.5 hour) ferry trip to Syros.

Drinks (what else: Ouzo!) at sunset in Paros

Sun setting over distant island (Serifos or Kythnos?), taken from Parikia

Next stop, Ermoupolis. Our favourite island "city"!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Off to Santorini

Looking back at Oia during Oia-to-Fira hike (Santorini)
We decided to check out Santorini. Everything we'd read told us two certain things, and one possibility: (i) Santorini is spectacular (it is!), (ii) Santorini gets incredibly overcrowded and is ruined by overtourism (in our mind, Santorini is a posterchild for the negatives of overtourism), and (iii) hopefully, by the end of October/early November, Santorini is not over-touristy (unfortunately, not in our experience).

But first we had to get there.

The F/B Prevelis is an older ship (built in 1980, which seems old compared to other ferries). Photos on the Anek Lines website show a sparkling interior; as we were to find out, the interior has seen a lot of wear-n-tear, there's rust,, and the shine is ooff. (These photos are kinda like looking at a lot of budget and midrange hotel websites; what you see is often not reality.)

As we noted in our last post, we chose this route because it had a good arrival time in Santorini and because we could see several other islands along the way. Before booking, we had read one comparision that really put the Prevelis in a positive light compared to the Blue Star Ferries. After booking, and after Stathis our Rhodes hotel manager said "it will be an adventure...😉😉", we did more research. Turns out the Prevelis is usually late, getting later and later after each island stop. Our hotel in Santorini also said it is also always late. The hotel also seemed to suggest they would only wait up until 12 midnight. (Turns out Blue Star Ferries are in lovely shape, are faster, and mostly ontime; not sure though what our hotel would have said about a 2am arrrival. We now believe arriving at such a late hour and the hotel would have accommodated us. But we didn't know that 'til later.) To try to "lock in" our arrival at the hotel, we had them arrange a driver to pick us up at the Santorini ferry... for a whopping 35 euros.

To give some time to sleep during the 14-hr trip, we booked a 2-bed cabin on the Prevelis. We did use it, but didn't really need it as there was plenty of room around the boat. (It also didn't help that ferry staff smoking in their cabin nearby ouurs droves us out for air a couple of times (smoking in Greece is a REAL problem!).)

Freshly-squeezed orange juice in lounge of Prevelis

Okay, in all fairness to the Prevelis: (i) it is a hard-working boat (it has a tough schedule to follow), with little rest between journeys, (ii) Ferry staff were good to us, (iii) although the self-service restaurant opening times confused us, we had good meals (lunch and dinner) at a decent price (perhaps 10% more than in Rhodes), AND, the most important, (iv) WE ARRIVED ESSENTIALLY ON TIME (perhaps 15-minutes late)! So the Prevelis worked out for us!

Stops along our Prevelis journey:
Nimporio (Halki Island)
Daifani (Karpathos Island)
Karpathos Town
Anafi (arrived in the dark)
Santorini (arrived in the  dark)

We're going on a cruise! Leaving Rhodes Town on the Prevelis

"Our" beach: Elli beach

Arriving Nimporio, on Halki island

Tiny Nimporioo (Halki) is beautiful (not much else on this small island just off the island of Rhodes)
Much activity when the Prevelis arrives (Halki)
Daifani, Karpathos Island: Didn't look so inviting to us

Karpathos Town: Much larger than we expected; it looked interesting

Kasos seemed too isolated (on October 31) to us

We also stopped -- in the dark -- at Anafi's port (the main town is high up; we could see its lights).

We arrived in Santorini's main port at about 10:10pm (only 15 minutes late). Our driver waswaiting for the 9-km drive (35 euros; C$51!). All our worrying was for naught.... Our little hotel (and room with kitchenette) was lovely (Alonia Studios). We settled in for the night.

Arriving Santorini in the dark, we could see nothing. So next morning, we got out for a walk over to the edge of the "caldera" (Santorini is an extinct dormant volcano) and took a look: the views were pretty nice.

Our first Santorini view: looking up to Imerovigli from Firastefani

Looking down from Fira to old port (where cable car and donkeys start their climb up)
After our "oohs" and "ahhs" looking over the edge, we walked down to the main town Fira (we were staying in Firastefani, about 5-10 minutes walk from Fira). Suddenly, we were in crowds of tourists and multitudes of tourist junk stores. It was November 1st and supposedly uncrowded due to off-season, but in our view it was overcrowded and tacky. Then we started looking at "taverna" menus: prices were 2-3 times the prices at Rhodes (and often higher)! Yikes! Toto, we're not in Kansas any more.... We knew right there and then that 3 nights/2 days were all we could take of this overpriced, overtouristed place. Others may love it, but we hated it. We made plans to escape to another island.

Fira's main street

Even off season, when cruise ships arrive, Santorini (Fira & Oia) feels crowded
Turns out we had two cruise ships arrive, making it feel busy. We also learned that "real" cruise ships are still not our thing. (Thinking kindly of you F/B Prevelis!)

Cruise shippers being led around in a tour group in Fira (1 of 8 groups we saw in 15 minutes)
We did our research and found two tavernas outside of Fira that were decently reviewed with prices only a little above Rhodes' prices: fo one of them we had to walk up 20 minutes. None were in Fira.

Our next day, we had an excursion and hike planned. We would take the local bus from Fira to Oia, then do the 9+ km hike along the caldera rim back to our hotel in Firastefani. We could have booked a hiking company for 70 euros each (includes transport, guide, water and "snack"), but instead we made our own lunch, brought our own water (Santorini water is undrinkable; you have to buy bottled.... FYI. water on Rhodes was usually drinkable and OK.) then paid <3 euros each for the bus.

Fira-Oia hiking map: simple, clear, straightforward trail (NO guide required!)

Thirty minutes later, we got off the bus in Oia (about 11 am). We made away over to the caldera edge, and were immediately swamped with selfie-taking tourists. (I know, we take selfies too, but usually with few others around.) As usual, in our haste to get away from the hordes, we took no photos within Oia. But we do have nice shots of Oia from outside of Oia.

To be honest, the hike was pretty good, and the views were indeed absolutely stunning. Pretty easy, although it was hot with little-to-no shade, and no watering spots until we reached Immervigli. It took us 2.5 hours, excluding a sandwich break in the shade (which was rare). It is rocky, so running shoes or boots -- no open-toe sndals -- are recommended. There NO dangerous or tricky parts. About 5 minutes out of Oia, the crowds thinned considerably (guess cruise-ship folks and fancy-hotel guuests don't like to hike). Although the trail was busier than we like, it never felt crowded (after leaving Oia).


Further along the trail, looking back at Oia (OK, enough of Oia)

Trail always good, sometimes level but often up or down (yes, that's Michelle, she's always ahead when it's hot)

Half way, one could hitch a ride oon a vaccinated and insured donkey
Said vaccinated, insured (see the sticker on license plate?) donkey
We dd have an option for a donkey ride half way, but we declined. [Actually, there is considerable controversy concerning mis-treatment of donkeys who carry cruise-ship passengers (many way too heavy for donkey) fom the cruise-ship terminal up to Fira. Don't ride the donkeys! Walk up yourself or use the cable car!]

Yes ,we do selfies (we didn't have the $800/night for the fancy place behind us)

Michelle contemplating walk (Oia far in the distance)

Near the end: Immervigli looking down to Fira
We had a good dinner on our last night (well, 1 excellent and 1 "ok" dinner) in Santorini.

After 3 nights/2 days, we happily got on a Blue Star ferry leaving Santorini to go Paros (with a brief stop in Naxos). The public bus from Fira to the ports cost us 4.60€ for the two of us (compared to 35€ for driver on our arrival).