Greece, Symi: Sea to Sky

The beach at Nanou is popular with visitors to Symi, not least because it is served by high-speed taxi boat and has a taverna under the shade of tamarisk trees.  I don’t do beach-days, I get bored and end up climbing the cliffs (literally) but I have walked there from Horio a few times and met up with others for the ride back on the boat.  I generally only do it if asked by friends to show them the way because the path down from the ridge top is not very pleasant – loose shale, insecure footing, slipping and sliding ….. not fun.

But this time, friends wanted to do it in reverse.  Taxi-boat to Nanou and walk up.   Then on up to the mountain-top monastery of Stavros Polemou.

An added incentive was that we would be passing the Skordhalos cave soon after starting out.  Passing it on the way down and the incentive to get down to the taverna for a beer after 3 hours walking in the heat overcomes the desire to explore the cave.

The cool in the cave was a welcome respite from the hard toil uphill, the decision to resume the upward toil deferred as long as possible.  It’s entirely in pine woods with no breeze, temperatures near 40 degrees ….. so quite draining.

After scrambling up and over the construction waste from the ridge-top road which has destroyed the path, a short rest and then through cypress woodland to link up to the path to the monastery of Panagia Panaiidi and the dramatic crag-top monastery of Stavros Polemou, once a defensive and signalling location used by the Crusaders.

Then back to Horio via the remnants of a stone-built kalderimi not destroyed by the ‘tarmac’.

Take a look at the route:  https://www.relive.cc/view/e1342066981

 

While you’re here, why not take a look at my book, ‘Greece Unpackaged: travels in a foreign language’ available from Amazon on Kindle

Front Cover

 

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Greece, Symi: back to the Neolithic

Finally made it back to Greece.  Two months later than planned but it was great to be back on Symi.

Up in the mountains, temperatures in the thirty’s, pushing up to 40, very pleasant breeze, minimum of 5 miles every day trekking around the piece of hot rock which is Symi.

The island has an ancient history, some periods of which attract more interest than others.  There are remains on the ground which can only be guessed at in terms of what little is known about life in far-off days.  It’s interesting to try to piece it together.

One interesting route is via Nimborio to what I think is a Neolithic platform high on a craggy ridge.

Nimborio, a corruption of ‘Emborio’, meaning trading place or market, (from which comes the English word ‘emporium’) is at the head of the next bay round from the main harbour of Yialos.  Apparently, it was the main settlement in Roman times.  Boats could beach there and a small quay was built.  My guess is that the stone-paved quay at the northern end of the bay dates back to that time and may be the original construction.

Behind the bay at a slightly higher level is a mosaic floor, not as well preserved as those on Kos but the pictorial representations can still be clearly seen.  Some of the stones and pebbles on the beach are not from local geology.  Some are the black volcanic rock from Nisyros used to make basins, a fragment of one of which can be seen in the castle above Toli Bay a couple of miles away.

From the far end of the beach at Nimborio, a well-marked but rough path climbs, in places very steeply, up towards the tiny church and monastery of Agios Nikolaos Stenou. Before it reaches the monastery, it splits, the left-hand side continuing to the church, the right-hand fork winding around and following the ridge top.  Narrow and unmarked, this path is clear and easy to follow because it’s used by the farmer from the col at the end of it to take his honey by donkey down to Nimborio.

Before dropping down to the farm in the col, in the crags above on the right, are the two features of interest.  On top of the first of the two crags, reachable by scrambling, is a dolman-like structure, similar to but much smaller than the ones found in Wales.  The second has a rock platform built into the teeth of the crag.  The platform can be reached but involves a bit of mild rock-climbing.to reach the top.

 

Finally, a Symi sunset from the balcony

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Say it with flowers

Sadly, I have been revisited by the misfiring which struck at Easter 2016 (see).  It has now been sorted and I’m firing on all cylinders again.  But it prevented my return to Greece for Easter this year ….. and then prevented my return early May.  All being well, I hope to get back to Symi early June.  But who knows?  As I have so often quoted from the Book of Proverbs: “A man’s’ mind plans his way but the Lord directs his steps”.

In the meantime, rather than simply sitting on my London Derrière (well, South Wales derrière, I have no connexion whatever with London), I have been keeping as active as possible, albeit struggling to get up and down the garden.

The result is that I have been around for more of the Spring in the UK than usual.  And how bizarre it has been.

Go back to last Autumn and the fabulous colours in the garden.  The ground in my ‘Acer Glade’, planted ready for my decrepit old age, was a mass of colour.

18Autumn12w0211In response to record breaking high temperatures for winter months (peaking in Mid Wales at over 20 degrees for the first time ever in February), daffodils and crocuses put on an early display, overlaying autumn leaves now a uniform, crisp brown.

19UK014w0509Then on 4 April, the morning I was due to drive 200 miles north to see my daughter, I opened the bedroom curtains to the completely unexpected sight of snow.  A few inches and still falling heavily.  Not a huge amount like 1 March last year when The Beast from the East met Storm Emma, depositing 8-foot drifts on the ridge behind the house, or again two weeks later when Spring turned into Winter.  But enough to delay my departure. The irony was that a few days earlier I had taken tender plants over-wintered in the Blue House and conservatory and set them in their summer positions outside.  Pelargoniums and prickly pear cactus covered snow look all wrong.

Tulips, which had made an early start, were capped with snow.

A week later they were basking in warm sunshine.

There was no more snow after that but temperatures fluctuated every few days from shorts-and-sandals weather to back to winter-wear as chill winds caused havoc.  Nevertheless, spring had arrived and plants and wildlife put up with the vagaries.  A collar dove persisted in sitting on her nest while the male brought the occasional twig for the ramshackle construction.  Dutch iris, rescued from my in-laws garden half a century ago still thrives.

May has continued much the same with plants flowering in the garden which I normally miss because by now I’m usually in Greece.  So, here’s a sample of Spring flowers in the garden rather than a Greek island. Wild garlic covered an ever-bigger area.  Aquilegia spreads further every year as I shake the rattling seed-heads around the garden.

…….. and I may even get to harvest some of the fruit before I leave.

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Greece

Unfortunately my planned return to Greece has been delayed because of health issues.  Not sure yet when I’ll be heading back as I’m resisting the urge to go back and become a health tourist again.  The World Health Organisation puts the Greek health service a good few places above the UK which seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of over-management and inefficiency.  The Greeks sorted out the issue for me at Easter 2016, the NHS came in on the tail end of that 3 months later.  I have no idea why Brexiteers are fixated on stopping health tourists coming to the UK.

Anyway, enough of grumpiness.  “Greece Unpackaged”, my book on independent travelling in Greece, is now on special offer with Amazon for a week.  You can buy it for £0.99 until Saturday 20 April.

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Canadian Rockies: what to do when you’re not skiing

Spring is on its way and I’ll soon be heading for Greece again, but before I get there, a last look back to winter and the Canadian Rockies.

One of the great things about Banff, apart from the skiing, is the opportunity for trekking winter trails and snowshoeing.  I generally avoid skiing at weekends because the slopes are busy with Calgarians who come up to Lake Louise or Sunshine Village for the day.  I don’t want to get in their way when I can enjoy the good snow for the rest of the week.

A forecast of heavy snow on a Friday is a guarantee that half of the one-and-a-quarter million population of Calgary will be on the road for the hour-and-a-half trip well before sunrise, having mysteriously developed some form of ill health overnight and phoned in sick.

When more than 70 cms of snow fell in 36 hours the Trans-Canada Highway must have been nose to tail, the car parks and approach roads blocked by cars desperate to offload their powder-hungry cargoes, the lift-lines snaking hundreds of metres long and the slopes a blur of Olympic wanabees and never-befores.

I’m told it was so.

Me?  I went snowshoeing up the frozen Bow River in snow varying between a foot and unknown depth because my snowshoes kept me floating on the upper layer. No sun, because it was snowing most of time but fabulous because there was obviously no-one ahead of me.  There is something magical about making ‘first tracks’ in virgin snow and I was doing that for over three miles upstream.

Not that there was any sign of a stream until I reached the confluence with Sundance Creek, three miles from where I set off.  There, a thermal spring keeps a narrow channel of water open, meandering from side to side.  I had to cross it at some point.  Back-tracking onto the Bow beyond the holes of open water, I picked out what I considered to be the best crossing point up the Creek.  Too far for a stride even of my long legs.  I had to jump.  Ever tried taking a run-up and jumping in deep snow in snowshoes?  My right heel crashed through the edge of the ice but the crampon-like grips at the front dug in.  I threw my weight forward onto my left foot  ….  and crossed dry and unscathed.

I was well pleased.

It had been tiring walking up the deep snow on the river, lifting feet high at every step. Great to be making fresh tracks but hard work.  So, I decided to return on the Sundance Trail, used by cross-country skiers and snowshoers and so hopefully a little more compacted and less strenuous.

But before that, I sat on the bank of the river, in the snow, and munched on a Kashi bar.  In front of me as I relaxed, was the pyramidal Mount Edith, nearly lost in the swirling snow.

The walk back was certainly less strenuous.  A few people were coming the other way on snowshoes, finding it hard work, trying to look bright and cheerful.  Then, looking nonchalant as another couple approached, I stepped off the trail into thigh-deep snow to explore a photo opportunity presented by an area of open water. One of my many non-appealing traits, I do sometimes, too often, feel and look smug.

Another couple stopped as I looked at the river below marked by only one set of tracks.  “I wonder who that was.”  they said.  “Me!”, I replied, a bit embarrassed by my hubris.  There were no-one else’s tracks on the river all the way back.

As I got back towards Banff, it stopped snowing and the lenticular clouds over Mount Rundle were dramatic. The scale of it reminds you of your insignificance.

Next day, Saturday, I walked the well-trodden path to Bow Falls.  There was less ice on the river than usual but the falls were largely frozen, water tumbling through the snow-covered ice. From there I took the trail along the bank of the Spray River, again fairly well trodden as far as the footbridge across.  Then, continuing up-river I was on virgin snow again but this time on a narrow path between the river on my right and the steep quarried rockface on my left.

A short distance further upstream and an even narrower trail climbs up the steep slope to join the higher level ‘Spray River Loop’, a broad trail flanked by trees and used by cross-country skiers as well as trekkers.  With periodic detours through the trees to the top of the cliff and views down to the river below, I headed back to the Bow Falls.

The car park was now nearly full.  Though in the shade from the low-angled winter sun, scores of people posed for photos with the frozen falls in the background or looking down the valley to the Fairholme Range still gleaming in the sunlight.

Sunday, I opted for an easy start by ambling along the main street, Banff Avenue, to the river bridge, then along the broad path flanked by expensive houses most of us can only dream about, to the new footbridge and back to the hotel.  That was enjoyable but not really enough.  So I went up Tunnel Mountain.

At 1,690metres, about 300 metres and two-and-a-half kilometres above the town, it’s a short but fairly strenuous walk.  A measure of the attitude of locals is that on Sunday afternoons there are scores if not hundreds of people on the trail.  This is an outdoor persons’ town.  All ages, most walking, many with dogs, some running.  In places the path is built up on the downhill side like a Greek kalderimi.  Well used, there is no need for snowshoes but cleats are a definite advantage, especially on the way down.

I sat on the slabs of rock at the top in sunshine, munched a Kashi bar and reminisced about a great three days trekking. Back to skiing on Monday.  Someone has to do it.

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Canadian Rockies: snow, ice and steam

Again, first the festive stuff:  A belated New Year to all.

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I’ve been doing more trekking than usual thanks to a bug which I picked up on the flight and which kept me hotel-bound for a while.  However, unable to just sit around, I went out each day for longer and longer walks on some of the many winter trails, increasingly strenuous as the effects of the bug receded.

A nice easy walk is along the Bow River to the Canoe Basin (deserted now the river is frozen over) and then upstream on Forty Mile Creek on the ‘Fenland Trail’. The Bow is frozen across its whole width at this point but the faster flowing Creek has thinner ice where the two merge, with evidence of at least three people being overconfident and having fallen through.

The Creek still has stretches of open water with many trees fallen across it.  It froze while the level was still high but now it has dropped there are sheets of ice suspended in the air and in the afternoon, when the temperature rises slightly, there are cracking sounds like rifle shots as another section succumbs to gravity under the weight of recent snowfall, followed by an unearthly shuddering sound as the remaining ice readjusts.

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The Bow frozen across its width

 

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Thinner ice at the confluence with Forty Mile Creek with holes where people fell through

Another day, with more energy, I followed Forty Mile Creek and used the footbridge to cross it and turn left to walk on the frozen Vermillion Lakes.  Shallow and with very little movement, the ice is always trustworthy on the lakes but following the unusually warm weather (temperatures up to minus 4) I was suspicious of it at first.

It turned out to be as reliable as usual.  Under cloudless blue sky the views across the flat expanse of white to the mountains were cliché breath-taking. As always, close to the edge of the lake it was important to watch out for open water, for two reasons.  First, near open water is where the ice is thinnest.  Second, because that is where some of the best photo opportunities are.

The open water is from thermal springs which emerge from the mountains and flow into the lake.  As they mix with the cold water their effect is diminished but close to the source they create a unique micro-habitat of both flora and fauna.  On the surrounding vegetation the water vapour freezes in microscopic ice crystals.

The largest area of open water is towards the furthest end of the Second Vermillion Lake.  I found it a number of years ago and at that time there was no sign of anyone having visited. Now there is evidence that a local tourist guide is driving visitors here along the Vermillion Lakes Scenic Drive and escorting them down to the photo opportunity.  Which is pretty dramatic.

Push through vegetation beyond the edge of the lake and there is a large open pond directly fed by a thermal spring.  Steam rises off the surface.  Again, this is a unique habitat and I have seen fish and bird life, though on this visit it was too shy to submit to being photographed.

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Christmas in the Canadian Rockies

First, lets do the festive stuff:  Happy Christmas to all.

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Climate change is having weird effects.  There is no doubt that this is real winter but not as icy or snowy as in the previous eight years. In 2010 temperatures were below minus 20 for the month I was here for the first time.  Nasal hairs developed icicles as we crossed the car park.  Last year heavy snowfall meant deep deposits when we arrived, refreshed regularly.

This year there was heavy snowfall at the beginning of October followed by a partial thaw.  There is certainly nowhere near as much ice on the Bow River as normal.  A friend of ours was going ice-fishing and went through the ice into the water as soon as he stepped onto the river.  No snowshoeing up the river for a while yet.  The ice sheets have been broken up and piled up downstream. A grizzly bear was seen wandering around town in early December, long past its bedtime.

There is enough snow for very good skiing but it could do with refreshing and there is none in prospect.  Sunshine Coast, one of my favourite runs at Sunshine Village, has the tops of small trees poking through the snow.  I didn’t realise there were any trees there.

Walks are good but no need for snowshoes or even cleats.  Tunnel Mountain, Bow River Falls, Spray River Loop.  All very enjoyable

Not as much snow and ice as usual.  Still, who is complaining.

Below a melange of images from the first few days.  (Just showing I know some posh words).  A striking difference in colour from the previous blog post.

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