Family Tradition

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This month’s wine writing challenge is Traditions, and I can’t think of a better way to honor tradition than to tell you how I got into drinking wine. Really drinking wine, that is–not the sneaking sips out of everyone’s glass when nobody was looking drinking wine…

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Picture it: Holland 1994 (and before you write in correcting me that it should be The Netherlands, please know that I lived in the province of Zuid-Holland, so…Holland).  I was a Rotary International exchange student. Even though “no drinking” was one of the five major rules of being an exchange student, I had the great fortune of having host families who took that to mean no excessive drinking when they were not around. Nearly every evening meal included libations of some sort (beer was an equally popular choice). My counselor’s family preferred beer and sweet sherry. My first host family loved white wines, especially white Burgundies.  My second host family prided itself on serving the appropriate drink for whatever dish or course, such as the occasion required. For the record, I never appreciated this until our 12-course Christmas dinner, with–oh yes!–12 different wines and apperifs! But it was my third family who taught me about wine and thus, my third host family is why we’re here today.

When it came to wine, my third host family only drank two kinds: Champagne and wine from the Rioja. My first night in the house, my host father took me to the wine cellar and asked me to pick something to drink with dinner.

I was at a loss. First of all, I am from a family of beer and whiskey drinkers. The wine drinkers (at least when I was growing up), leaned heavily towards the sweet stuff and I certainly didn’t see anything that looked like it was sweet. Secondly, I was wracking my brain to remember everything my second host mother lectured me about in terms of pairing wine with food, but I COMPLETELY forgot to ask what was for dinner. However, both of those were trumped by my awe of staring at the most wine I’d ever seen in my life outside of a wine or liquor store.

Uhhhhhh……

Uhhhhhh……

Uhhhhhh…..

Finally, I grabbed the nearest bottle to me and held it up for inspection. Hmmm…it was red and from Spain and I was quite sure I wouldn’t like it, but I was committed to my choice.

I held it high, like a trophy I had proudly won!

My host father asked why I picked that one.

I hung my head and lowered the bottle.

Ik weet het niet.

I don’t know. I shrugged, he chuckled, and we went back upstairs with my prize bottle, where he made me open it so it could decanteren.  What?  So it could…what?  More chuckling.

Breathe!  It needs to breathe!

At this moment, I was starting to panic that I selected a $300 bottle of wine.  My host mother sensing my panic, assured me that I made a good choice, as it was the house favorite and not to worry, she was sure they still had 5 or 6 cases left.

I’m sorry, 5 or 6 what?  Yes, yes, I knew what a case was, but the thought that anyone would have multiple cases of wine at one time and then have numerous cases of THE SAME WINE…and then to think to that they had a particular amount left, but not even be sure?!?

I was stunned.  I was flabbergasted.  I.WAS.SPEECHLESS!

My host father decided that he would take me under his wine wing and teach me all there was to know about wine.  He and my host mother patiently answered a plethora of questions about wines and grapes and buying and collecting and serving and tasting and on and on until finally I asked about their wine room and how they kept it so well stocked.

Oh you know, we make a trip to Spain every year.

He said it with such aplomb and nonchalance that I was picturing all of Europe flocking to the south to stock on on wine. I was–at that very moment–planning my move to the continent!

So you just drive the car to Spain, load up, and drive back?

Well, we stop in Champagne on the way back as well.

I’m sorry.  You drive the car to Spain, load up on wine, swing by Champagne buy a bit more and then come back?

HA HA HA HA…of course not.  We take a trailer, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it.  That’s why we have the big BMW.

So let me get this straight.  You hook a trailer up to the car, drive to Spain, load up on wine.  Drive to Champagne, get more wine and then drive back?

More or less, yes.  We love Spanish wine–and well, who doesn’t love champagne?

You are certainly right about that [champagne].  Wait, wait, wait.  Start from the beginning, alstublieft.

Well, it started over 30 years ago–on our honeymoon.  We drove to Spain and just fell in love with the wines from Rioja.  On that trip we came back with a couple of cases of tempranillo, and since it was our honeymoon, we stopped in Champagne on our way back and got a few bottles of champagne as well.  We loved that trip so much, we decided it would make a great yearly trip.  So, every spring on our anniversary we would get in the car and head to Rioja for wine.  Soon it became our little tradition.  Every year , however, we came back with more and more wine.  Finally, we just stopped pretending and stressing about getting it to fit in the car and bought a trailer.  Of course then we needed a bigger car to be able to pull it back through the mountains.  Now there’s no stress, a lot of room and we are able to purchase enough delicious reds, whites, and bubbly for the whole year, and in the process, get a vacation.  Beautiful country, beautiful wife, beautiful wine–life doesn’t get any better than that.

No…no, it certainly does not.

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The Palace of Sultans

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Built between 1460-1478 for Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, Topkapı Palace is definitely one of the crown jewels of Istanbul’s glory.  The sprawling grounds have amazing views of the city, but with every amenity available inside, there would have been no reason to leave the grounds! Sultan Mehmed spared no expense in building his dream home–complete with a church, a library, audience chamber, and a harem.  Of course wanting to contribute the grandeur, subsequent Sultans since Mehmed have built, rebuilt, and added to the palace grounds and structures.  The result is varying architecture throughout the palace grounds. Again, there wasn’t enough time to see everything, which meant picking and choosing.  The only thing I’m sad we didn’t get to see was the Sultan Robe collection.  There simply wasn’t enough time, as the line for that exhibit was approaching 2 hours, and so we decided to use that time strolling the grounds and visiting all the other exhibits.

The Imperial Gate and main entrance to the palace

The Imperial Gate and main entrance to the palace through the outermost wall

The Gate of Salutation that separates the First and Second Courtyards.

The Gate of Salutation along the inner wall and entrance into the Second Courtyard

looking across the courtyard at the Hall of Justice

looking across the courtyard at the Hall of Justice

Imperial Divan

Imperial Divan

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the detail of the ceiling of the Imperial Divan

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tile detail along the walls and ceiling

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The Gold Window behind which the Sultan would sit when he wanted to hear the affairs of state, but not be seen

all the doors along the Imperial Divan were decorated...

all the doors along the Imperial Divan were decorated…

...and the windows too!

…and the windows too!

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Kubbealtı, where the Imperial court was held

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The Gate of Felicity and entrance into the third courtyard, which were the private areas of the palace and entry through the gate was only with approval by the Sultan himself.

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the doorway of The Gate of Felicity

outside of The Audience Chamber

outside of The Audience Chamber

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main entrance to the Audience Chamber, where the Sultan received visitors

detailing of the tile of the entrance to Audience Chamber

detailing of the tile of the entrance to Audience Chamber

a look down at the cafe on the palace grounds--with stunning views of the Bosphorus

a look down at the cafe on the palace grounds–with stunning views of the Bosphorus

The Conquerer's Pavilion, which housed the Imperial Treasury

The Conquerer’s Pavilion, which housed the Imperial Treasury

of course, I loved the decorative sidewalks!

of course, I loved the Pavilion’s decorative sidewalks!

one of the water fountains around the palace grounds

one of the water fountains around the palace grounds

wash basin in front of the Enderûn Library, aka Library of Ahmed III

wash basin in front of the Enderûn Library, aka Library of Ahmed III

inside the reading room of the Enderûn Library

inside the reading room of the Enderûn Library

nothing like a selfie while in a palace!

nothing like a selfie while in a palace!

potted plants and flowers lined the sidewalks...

potted plants and flowers lined the sidewalks…

the huge tree lined sidewalks

…along with huge trees

walking back to the Salutation Gate

walking back to the Salutation Gate

I know I could have stayed there for hours exploring, as there were a lot of areas of the palace grounds that we didn’t get to visit.  Unfortunately and all too soon it was time to go–after all, we had much more to see!

the view from across the Bosphorus

the view from across the Bosphorus–pic courtesy of Istanbul Top 10 (click pic to go to their website!)

Walkabout in Istanbul

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We did a lot of walking around (and there were like 30 in our group, so I’m sure we were quite the spectacle!), but it meant for a lot of great shots of the city.  I could babble on and on about all the things we saw, but really the best part about it was just taking in the sites of this amazingly beautiful city.  And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let them do the talking!  Enjoy 🙂

colorful houses

colorful houses

A view from an overpass

a view from an overpass

down the streets we go!

down the streets we go!

the obelisk at the Hippodome

The Obelisk of Thutmose III, originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor around 1490BC–Theodonsis The Great had it brought over to Istanbul in 390AD.

base of The Th Obelisk

the base of The Obelisk

The German Fountain, commemorating the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898

The German Fountain, commemorating the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1898

In the Hippodrome--although there wasn't a chariot or horse to be seen!

in the Hippodrome–although there wasn’t a chariot or horse to be seen!

what's a trip to Istanbul without a magic carpet speech?

what’s a trip to Istanbul without a magic carpet speech?

one of my favorites, however, I wasn't interested in schlepping a big ol' rug around for 17 days!

one of my favorites, however, I wasn’t interested in schlepping a big ol’ rug around for 17 days!

One of the 3,100-ish mosques in Istanbul

one of the 3,100-ish mosques in Istanbul

A street sign on the way to the palace

a street sign on the way to the palace

An information booth

an information booth

Tulips...

tulips…

...tulips everywhere!

…tulips everywhere!

Amazingly Bazaar

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Well, it certainly would not be a trip to Istanbul if you didn’t go to the bazaars!  Yes, there are numerous bazaars in Instanbul.  Bazaar literally means market and there are many to be found.  We went to the two most famous: Kapalı Çarşı and Mısır Çarşısı.

The Kapalı Çarşı, or Grand Bazaar, was just that: GRAND.  It was an enormous web of stalls, selling everything from handmade objects to jewelry to tshirts.  If you didn’t find something, you definitely weren’t looking hard enough!  My only complaint about the Grand Bazaar is that we weren’t given any time to look around.  I know we were on a tight schedule, but it should have allowed for us to get lost in the throngs on stalls. Then again, perhaps if we had–we might still be in there looking!

Grand Bazaar entrance...well, one of many!

Grand Bazaar entrance…well, one of many!

color everywhere!

everything everywhere!

rows and rows and rows of stalls

rows and rows and rows of stalls

exiting the Grand Bazaar, heading to the Egyptian Bazaar...

exiting the Grand Bazaar, heading to the Egyptian Bazaar…

...and of course, more stalls along the way!

…and of course, more stalls along the way!

so many pretty--and breakable--things!

so many pretty–and breakable–things!

The Mısır Çarşısı, or Egyptian Spice Market, was tiny in comparison.  However, there seemed to be miles and miles of spices of every variety–if you can name it, you could find it.  But the best place?  The best place was right by the north eastern entrance: a little old man selling the best Turkish Delight I have ever eaten.  It was everything you wanted–soft, chewy, slightly aromatic, and with a hint of flavoring that you could tell was real–not artificial.  Our wonderful keeper of the Turkish Delight let us sample the flavors–knowing full well that we would happily purchase whatever we tasted. April and I definitely disagreed on the best flavor, but that’s okay because everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion.  Unless your opinion is that rose Turkish Delight from the Mısır Çarşısı is the best, then you would be right! 🙂

Our only shot of the Egyptian Bazaar...we were way too distracted by the spices and Turkish Delight!

Our only shot of the Egyptian Bazaar…we were way too distracted by the spices and Turkish Delight!

and what's a trip to a market without a flag seller?

outside of the Egyptian Bazaar–what’s a trip to a market without a flag seller?

After we finished at the bazaars, April and I were given a few hours of free time while others in our group went on a cruise on the Bosphorus.  We went back to both bazaars for a much closer look.  As time grew near for us to meet our group, we walked along the Bosphorus and enjoyed people watching.

Galata bridge: connecting two continents

Galata bridge: connecting two continents

at the time we surmised this said no swimming or jumping, but according to Google Translate: "It is forbidden to keep fish in this area"

at the time we surmised this said no swimming or jumping, but according to Google Translate: “It is forbidden to keep fish in this area”

even if the sign was about jumping or swimming, we wouldn't have wanted to with all the jellies in the water!

even if the sign was about jumping or swimming, we wouldn’t have wanted to with all the jellies in the water!

the lower level of the bridge was filled with restaurants

walking along the lower level of the bridge

and there were plenty of food carts

there were plenty of food carts

and this...boat/restaurant

and this…boat/restaurant

It was rather bizarre to sit on the shores of the river and look out onto…Europe.  Even today, it still seems strange that not only a country, but a city can sit on two continents. But perhaps that is part of the charm that is Istanbul.

a look at Europe from Asia

a look at Europe from Asia

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque

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Also known as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built from 1609-1616.  While seven years may seem like a long time, when you arrive and realize how enormous and intricate it is, you’ll be impressed that it only took seven years!  In fact, it makes the neighboring Hagia Sophia look tiny in comparison.

It was quite humbling being in such a beautiful and awe-inspiring place.  The pictures below, however, do not do it justice.  That certainly is not a dig at April or my photography skills.  They cannot convey the craftsmanship poured into each of the 20,000+ tiles that cover the interior from floor to ceiling or the time spent creating over 200 stained glass windows. But even more simply than that, they cannot convey the serenity one feels while being in such a majestic place.

The impressive front shot

the impressive front shot

one of six minarets (first one mosque in Turkey to have that many! There is actually only one more in Turkey that has 6.)

one of six minarets.  it is the first mosque (of only two) in Turkey to have that many!

Walking through the outer wall and into the courtyard

walking through the outer wall and into the courtyard

another minaret

another minaret

ceiling decorations of the courtyard walkway

ceiling decorations of the courtyard walkway

Taking off our shoes.  There was also a basin, should anyone want to cleanse themselves (usually arms, feet, and head) before entering for worship.

the entryway where we were asked to remove our shoes. there was also a basin, should anyone want to cleanse themselves (usually arms, feet, and head) before entering for worship.

The doorway where we entered

the doorway where we entered

The main dome ceiling--all tiles in the Blue Mosque were hand painted!

the main dome ceiling

all women had to keep their heads covered

keeping our heads covered

even the pillars were tiled

even the pillars were tiled

A close-up of some of the stained glass windows

a close-up of some of the stained glass windows

The Women's area of worship.

the Women’s area of worship.

the intricately designed tiles were floor to ceiling

the intricately designed tiles…

a close-up of the tile work

…and a closer look at the detailed work

The main floor has a huge space for worship surrounded by walkways to the other parts of the mosque.

the main floor has a huge space for worship surrounded by walkways to the other parts of the mosque.

After we were finished–and because it was right there–we went to have a look at the famous Hagia Sophia.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for a tour, but the gardens were quite spectacular!

The gardens between The Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque

The gardens between The Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque

The fountains in the garden.

The fountains in the garden.

well-sculpted mushroom trees

well-sculpted mushroom trees

A side shot of the Hagia Sophia

A side shot of the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Part 1 of 78.

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Just kidding! I mean, I could easily do it AND provide you with at least 3 pictures per day…but I shall refrain, simply because well, there is a great big world out there to explore!

Our first day in Istanbul was all ours. So once we got to the hotel and unpacked our things, we grabbed our cameras and went exploring! While we tried to blend in as much as possible, we obviously didn’t do a very good job because random people would stop and ask us where we were from. And before we could even answer, they would start guessing–as if they had a bet with the coffee shop guy next door. English? Nope. Australian? Nope. German? Are we wearing socks with our sandals? I mean, nope. South African? Nope. New Zealand? Nope. Canada! Closer, but no. Finally, they would throw their hands in the air, which would give us the opportunity to respond with [at the same time] The United States and Texas [because yes, I’m that kind of Texan!]. We usually got puzzled looks, followed with a “we usually don’t get Americans visiting here.”  Ah, well…we’re excited to be here and they sure as heck don’t know what they’re missing!

As we started wandering, we realized our hotel was literally right around the corner from Taksim Square.  Oh sure the taxi driver pointed it out as we drove through it, but we didn’t realize just how close until we were walking!

A view from the hotel

A view from the hotel

as we wandered down the street from our hotel, we realized we were right next to Taksim Square

walking up to Taksim Square

down the street from our hotel

looking out from Taksim Square

Taksim Square

The Republic Monument Taksim Square

Taksim Square: the tulips were in bloom and they were gorgeous (hint: expect to see many more pics of tulips!)

Taksim Square: the tulips were in bloom and they were gorgeous (hint: expect to see many more pics of tulips!)

A busy thoroughfare where we just got lost in a sea of people

After Taksim Square we weren’t sure which way to go, so we decided to follow the sea of people down this busy thoroughfare.

We had no clue what was behind these gates, but--if the gates were any indication--something impressive!

We had no clue what was behind these gates, but–if the gates were any indication–something impressive!

Afterwards, we had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.  While there was a lot of pointing involved–the food was delicious and of course, it wouldn’t be complete (for me, anyway) without a Turkish coffee.  I know, I know I’ve already shared this picture with ya’ll before, but it was a monumental occasion!

My very first Turkish-in-Turkey coffee!!

My very first Turkish-in-Turkey coffee!!

It was a great day–although April will be the first to tell you that I was a party pooper and went to bed waaaaay too early!  c’est la vie! 🙂

Istanbul, An Introduction.

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I’m not sure why, but I’m having a hard time writing about Istanbul.  If I have to be perfectly honest, I think it’s a combination of several things.  Such as (thanks for asking!) being scared I’m going to miss something, as well as trying to figure out how to cull down all my photos (I’m on my 3rd cull thus far and I still have over 75 pics!).  And probably the biggest concern is being scared I’m not going to do it justice.  You see, I think Istanbul is one of the most beautiful, most magical places I have ever been.  I’m not sure why.  I’ve been to beautiful and exotic places before, but none quite like this.  At least for me.  Perhaps there is some magical city out there for you, but for me it is the place formerly known as Constantinople.

So stick around and let me take you to my Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

 

 

 

The Big Island

9

Remember when I said that I did NOT want to leave Simi?  Well, multiple that by 100 and that’s how I felt about Rodos (aka Rhodes).  It is the largest island in the Dodecanese.  It is home of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and its Old Town is listed on the World Heritage Site.

Now, before I begin the barrage of pictures, please note: a lot of these don’t have captions.  It is because either the pic speaks for itself OR I have no clue/can’t remember what it is…[it was a lot to take in!]

We sailed into the harbor, where Colossus once stood, and once we docked, we walked to the nearby market area.

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We weren’t quite sure what we were going to do, however, we came across a trolley tour and decided it was a good way to get our bearings and see a large chunk of the island.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

No one could explain why there was a big ball of rocks...

No one could explain why there was a big ball of rocks…

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

Local school kids stopped playing to wave hello!

Local school kids stopped playing to wave hello!

A look at the coastline from the trolley

A look at the coastline from the trolley

After the trolley tour had ended, we then wandered through the huge city walls and into Old Town.  Old Town was quite expansive and we literally spent the majority of the day strolling down the cobblestone streets, peeking in shops, and admiring the old architecture.

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We found a spot for lunch and thought it best to have an authentic Greek Gyro.  It was an experience because, well, it was filled with fries!  A bit odd, at first, but eh…you just learn to roll with the punches!  Oh and sorry, no pic of the gyros!

Again more wandering–this time through a more residential area.  We both admired the plethora of decorations we found on the doors.

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We even found a quiet park–an oasis within an oasis, if you will.

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After we were sure that we had seen all of Old Town, we then went outside the Old City walls into the newer parts of the island.

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Of course, it didn’t matter where we went–my favorite things were the patterns in the cobblestones!

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All too soon, our time in Rhodes had ended. And you should know that if I had found a place that was for sale/rent, I just might be sending you this from Rhodes.

An Active Volcano and Generations of….What?!?!

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According to Greek mythology, when Poseidon took a part of Kos to throw at the giant Polybotes to stop him from escaping, the island of Nisyros was created.  But we were not there for Greek Mythology.  We were there for a volcano.  An active volcano.

And what does one do when on an active volcanic island?  They drive to the crater, of course!

Now, I should also mention that we nearly did not make it to Nisyros, as it was so windy and the waters were so choppy we had a very difficult time docking.  In fact, only one person made it to shore before the rope broke and we started drifting out to sea.  After about 30 minutes the winds died down enough that we managed to securely dock and everyone made it to shore (although, I think we all said a secret prayer that we could get back aboard later in the day).

As per usual, nothing formal was planned for the island.  There were a couple of shops near the dock, but nothing to keep us entertained for the 5 or so hours we would be docked there.  There was one couple, Brian & Ruth (also on the Turkey part of our tour), who decided to rent a car and invited us along.

Everyone assured us that it was safe to visit the volcano, as it had some activity a while back, but hadn’t erupted in “a very long time.”  Well, that’s reassuring (NOT).  My thinking is that if it has been a very long time since eruption, then it was due.  And of course, my first thought was:  who’s going to look after the Princess if this island suddenly reenacts Mount St. Helens or Pompeii? FYI, I’ve since looked it up–the last eruption was in 1888. Up we drove on narrow, winding roads to the middle of the island, following the signs to the crater, until at last we found it (kind of hard to miss, actually).

At the crater

At the crater

The crater

The crater

A closer look at the side of the crater

A closer look at the side of the crater

A brave restaurant at the crater

A brave (or crazy) restaurant at the crater

Hi from The Crater--wish you were here!

Hi from The Crater–wish you were here!

After the crater we drove all around the tiny island (the area of the island is 19 square miles).  This took a lot longer than you’d think since the roads were full of twists and turns and, well, we had no clue where we were going.  At one point, we got out just to have a look at the flora (the only fauna we saw were goats!).  The most striking thing about Nisyros were the intricate terraces all throughout the island, created in order to grow things along the steep mountainside.  The confusion, however, is when you’re staring out of the window concentrating on not getting carsick from the windy roads and the Western Australian driver is talking about generations and generations of, well, to me it sounded like terrorists.  I honestly spent the better part of an hour thinking “what the hell is he talking about terrorists for??” and then I realized: TERRACES.  Generations and generations of TERRACES!  oh.  right.  that makes much more sense.

terraces

terraces

lots of terraces

lots of terraces

a side view

generations and generations of terraces!

typical (to me) Greek house

typical (to me) Greek house

wondering where this road leads?  A dead end.

wondering where this windy road leads? A dead end.

the town, which we didn't go to because the road in was closed and well, we had no idea how to get in!

the town, which we didn’t go to because the road in was closed.  We drove around thinking we’d find another entrance, but instead hit the end of the road (aka the sea!)

One of 4 monasteries on the island

One of 4 monasteries on the island

no idea what these were, but they were beautiful!

no idea what these were, but they were beautiful!

the lavender was in bloom and spectacular!

the lavender was in bloom and spectacular!

trees don't care about trifling things like walls...

trees don’t care about trifling things like walls…

rocky coastline

A not-so-inviting coastline

Finally the time had come to return the car and head back to the boat.  Of course, the wind picked up again, which made for exciting (read: nerve-racking) time getting back aboard!

All hands were on the plank to make sure no one fell overboard!

All hands were on the plank to make sure no one fell overboard!

I think the locals were taking bets on whether anyone would fall overboard!

I think the locals were taking bets on whether anyone would fall overboard!

But we all finally made it on and were soon back out in the Aegean Sea, sitting down to dinner, watching a beautiful sunset over the horizon.

No pictures of the gorgeous sunset, but here's another of a house we saw!

No pictures of the gorgeous sunset, but here’s another of a house we saw!