Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Greek Isles: Amorgos

My last post found our group of intrepid travelers arriving on the island of Amorgos in the wee hours of the morning, uncertain as to what they would find when they woke up the next day. Here's what my mom and I saw when we opened our eyes....

the beautiful blue Aegean, sparkling in the morning sun. Isn't it pretty? I never got tired of looking at it during the five days we were there.

We stayed at the wonderful Aegialis Hotel & Spa, where they made us feel welcomed and pampered.

Breakfast view at the Aegialis Hotel & Spa

The breakfasts were AMAZING! I've never seen such a lavish spread. There must have been a hundred different things to choose from: breads and pastries, savory dishes, fruits and veggies, cheeses, yogurt (and what wonderful yogurt it was!), nuts, honeys, jams & marmalades, fresh-squeezed orange juice (my favorite), and even rice pudding!

Our classroom overlooked the pool, with views to the nearby village of Aegiali and its picture-perfect beaches.

Often, when we were painting there in the late afternoon, one of us would suddenly look up and notice that a spectacular sunset was developing, so we'd all jump out of our seats, dash to find a good vantage point, and start snapping photos. Here's one of my favorites....

One feature of a Blue Walk tour is that it includes an optional walk each day. For our first walk on Amorgos, we didn't go far, just down the hill into the little town of Aegiali, passing this cute guy along the way...

plus a chapel,

a beach,

and a cute outdoor cafe.

We ended up at this beautiful spot...

where we did some onsite sketching.

Our time on Amorgos was a mix of class time (sketchbook journaling, painting lessons, & demos), day trips to interesting places, optional walks & hikes, onsite sketching, and free time to do as we pleased.

Our second day on the island, we all walked up the hill from the hotel to a tiny chapel built into the hillside.

Jeannette and Suzy, our tour guides, told us that in Greece, landowners can get a tax deduction for having a chapel on their property, so you sometimes see them in the oddest places, like on a hillside with no houses or people in sight (but lots of goats!)

After walking up all those steps to the chapel, it was an easy downhill stroll to beautiful  Levrossos Beach...

We waded in the water and looked for sea glass and other treasures.

I could have stayed there all day, but I had to get back to teach a class in the afternoon.

We took several day trips on Amorgos, winding through the rugged landscape to visit interesting places like an herbal distillery in Langada.

There, we met Vangelis Vassolos, a devoted herbalist who shared with us how he distills essential oils from the local herbs that grow wild on Amorgos.

His whole talk was interesting but what impressed me most was the way in which he and the other islanders live in harmony with their environment, treating the earth gently, and appreciating and using what it provides for them.

Another day trip took us to the town of Chora where we hiked up the 300 "donkey steps" (steps that are deep enough to accommodate a donkey's four feet) to the Hozoviatissa Monastery which has clung to the cliffs above the sea since 1017 A.D.

There were so many pretty scenes in the town of Chora itself....

See the doorway at the end of this alley?

That's the restaurant where we ate lunch that day. We sat on the open-air porch up on top, and I had a delicious dakos salad...

A dakos salad has crusty stale bread with juicy tomatoes, soft, creamy feta, kalamata olives, herbs, and capers

Since I have to eat gluten-free, I brought along some leftover bread from the loaf of GF bread the chef had made me for breakfast at the hotel. I thought I might want to eat it with a salad at lunch. But when I looked at the menu, I got the brilliant idea to ask the owner/chef/waiter at the restaurant if he could make the dakos salad for me with my GF bread. He was happy to accommodate. I had been drooling over other people's salads all week - now I finally had a chance to try it for myself. I did a quick sketch of the lunch in my journal and titled it "B.Y.O.B", then dove right in. Wow, was it ever yummy! And the waiter even took a couple of Euros off my bill, because I brought my own bread. Not necessary, but so sweet of him.

The inside of the restaurant was pretty cool, too....

I did a sketch of one of the alleyways in Chora before we had to leave. We had lingered so long over lunch that I only had about 15-20 minutes to do a very quick pencil layout and then ink it with a Platinum Carbon pen before I had to dash to the shuttle bus.

I can't wait to bring it to life with watercolor!

Another day we had a field trip to the tiny village of Tholaria where I did a sketching lesson on location. We drew and painted two different doorways, one very old and one newer.

Even our tour guide, Jeannette, got into the spirit of things and did a sketch. But notice my mom off in the corner with her book - try as we might, we never can convince her to pick up a pencil. :)

We all agreed that the old doorway was much more interesting to draw and paint than the new one.

There were no activities scheduled for our last afternoon on Amorgos, so I walked down to the beach and spent some quiet time just walking along the water.

I loved our stay on Amorgos. Since the tourist season was waning, we practically had the place to ourselves. We had time to enjoy long leisurely meals, take in a spa treament or two, sketch, go for walks, and see some incredible sights. But now it was time to move on...

time to toast the sunset once more and get ready to catch the early morning ferry to Naxos.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about our time on Naxos and Santorini!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Highlights from Athens

Here's a sight I never thought I'd see in person...

Yes, that's the Acropolis all lit up against a darkening sky. And me? I was sitting on a comfy sofa at a rooftop restaurant, drink in hand, chatting with my students and watching the sun set behind the Parthenon. I felt like shouting, "Pinch me! This can't be real!" (In fact, I think I did say those exact words to my friend, Wendy.)  When I did a report on Greece in the 6th grade, and when my dad brought me back a doll from Greece in the 1960s, and when I studied Greek architecture in my college art history class, I never dreamed I would be sitting where I was in 2017, looking out at the real thing!

I had arrived in Athens on September 30th after completing my workshop in Tuscany. My mom and I had taken the train from Florence to Rome, then caught a flight to Athens, arriving on a cool, rainy day. The next morning, we walked around the historical center of the city, seeing the sights and getting the lay of the land. Imagine our surprise when we happened to glance down a side street and saw this...

No, not the guy on the scooter...the Acropolis! Right there, looming over the ever-expanding megalopolis of Athens. Almost everyone on this tour told me the same story, how they were strolling around town and just casually glanced over and thought, wait, what's that? Oh my gosh - it's the Acropolis!

There's just something so surprising about the juxtaposition of ancient and modern in Athens.

The huge Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, built in the 19th century, looms over the tiny 12th century Church of Theotokos.

You can hardly walk a block in the downtown area without seeing ruins of one sort or another.

During the three days I had in the city before my workshop began, we managed to squeeze in most of the main tourist sights, like the Plaka, the National Gardens,

the Parliament Building and changing of the guard.

And, of course, I had to hike up the hill to do some sketching at the Acropolis.

My favorite spot was the Porch of the Caryatids (lady columns)

Aren't they elegant?

I loved the hour that I spent sketching by myself on the Acropolis. Even though there were hundreds of other tourists there, when I was focused on sketching the Caryatids, it was as if I had the place to myself. Sketching does that for you - it filters out the noise and lets you experience a place in a personal way.

Of course, my visit to Athens wasn't all peace, harmony, and sunsets over the Acropolis. There was also traffic...

Scooters are everywhere in Athens!

graffiti (LOTS of it!)...

and crowds...

Next time I won't visit the Acropolis at 10 am, the busiest visiting time for large group tours!

But that's the way it is in any city, and Athens is certainly no exception. I found lots of things, though, that charmed me and brought a smile to my face, like this cafe with hats for lampshades...

or this one that I sketched as my mother and I were having dinner across the way.

More funky lampshades, this time Victorian-style.

I enjoyed my time in Athens, but after the rest of the group arrived on October 3, I was ready to move on to the islands. We caught the ferry for the island of Amorgos at 5 pm on the 4th.

The Greek ferries are huge, holding hundreds of passengers plus cars and freight. To be more comfortable on the eight-hour ride to Amorgos, we all upgraded to sleeper cabins.

Isn't this cozy? :)

After we got settled in, we gathered on the aft deck to watch the sunset.

During my time in the islands, I almost felt like I'd joined a cult of sun worshippers, so enamored were we all of watching that big yellow ball sink into the water each night.

I can't believe I managed to capture this shot!

It just never gets old, does it?

A group of us gathered in the first-class lounge (a Blue Walk tour is first-class all the way!) where we worked on our sketchbooks, chatted, had a drink, and got to know each other better. I brought five of my sketchbooks along on this trip to use as examples when I teach, and some of the ladies enjoyed looking through them, asking questions about techniques and process.

Lounge area on the ferry

Then it was time to tuck myself in and try to get a little shut-eye...

but remember how I said in my last post that I can never sleep on airplanes? Well, I found out that the same holds true for ferries. :(

We arrived in Amorgos around 3:00 am and trundled our weary selves off the ferry and into a waiting shuttle bus, then made our way up the hill to the Aegialis Hotel and Spa where we would spend the next six nights. Despite the late (or early!) hour, we were welcomed in the traditional Greek manner, with a small glass of raki liqueur. The full moon sparkled on the waters of the bay below us, and we could see a hint of the surrounding landscape, but everything else was shrouded in darkness. It was time to rest. All would be revealed in the morning.

(And in my next post!)

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