Sunday, 24 November 2013

a city for all ages

The ferry to Chios leaves at night so we say farewell to Stavros and roll down into the city centre.  After talking a lot the previous evening we have been considering staying until Monday, but the cheap hotels here sound lousy.  We are unsure what to do, but as we cycle along Gayle realises that neither her front derailleur or rear derailleur are working.  Fire the mechanic, I say.  I know what the problem is - all our brake and gear cables and housings need replacing.  I was hoping to do this job in Istanbul, but Gayle's gears have become more and more unreliable.  With not cycling so much recently the cables have got worse.  So we check out a hotel near to the central market.  It turns out to be perfect for us - at a price we can afford.  The neighbourhood is a bit funky and run-down but fine. And now we have a few more days to enjoy the big city excitement and some time to sort out the bikes.

The largest green spaces in the city are around the Acropolis, which gives the ancient city and the tourists a bit of a breather from the city traffic.  Stavros had told us that traffic has reduced a bit since the crisis hit and that cycling has become more popular, not just for economic reasons.  We spot a couple of 'fixies' outside shops.  Not everyone is broke here.
the anti-fascist movement continues

We wander up the pedestrianised road that curls around the Acropolis and climb a small hill beside it.  It's hard to imagine when you gaze across the urban sprawl that this city was little more than a village when the Greeks won independence from those pesky furniture salesmen, the Ottomans. 

looking over the ancient agora and across the central district
The Bike Bit: Technophobes look away now. We come across a bike shop by chance and I ask the man about cables and housings.  He tries to sell me pre-cut housing "standard length" and talks to me like I'm a Bike Idiot.  I am a Bike Idiot, but I don't want to be talked to like one.  I instantly dislike the man and remember my old friend's salesman's spiel "People Buy People".  I walk off offended.  The next bike shop I try is selling fixies.  Great.  I know I'm in the wrong shop, but can they recommend one to me?  They can.  The mechanic in the third shop is friendly and normal and I like him.  I had initiallty thought of installing the cables myself, and the mechanic suggests I bring the bikes so that he can cut the housings for me to fit, but Gayle likes the idea of the mechanic doing it.  Come to think of it, so do I.  So Alex, the mechanic at Podilato, gets to work.  He soon identifies a problem with Gayle's bike that I had suspected but was unsure about - a bent hanger on the rear derailleur. It snaps when he tries to straighten it with his special hanger-straightening tool.  I'm glad I'm not doing this.  Finally we depart with bikes that feel brand-new, so thanks Alex.

The rains return to the city.  When it rains here it doesn't drizzle like England, it's a deluge of biblical dimensions.  It's Sunday morning and we are checking out the flea market.  We wander out past the ancient city cemetery and find ourselves at the perfect destination for a wet Sunday morning - the city Industrial Gas Museum.  We enjoy it.  The place produced gas from coal to supply the city until 1984 in a site that looks distinctly Dickensian.  It's now a museum and hosts events.  As the rain hammers down and thunder rumbles all around we seek shelter in a charity sale.....and emerge half an hour later with five books.  We must be bonkers - we have e-readers now. But these were bargains, honest.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

a city of all ages

Stavros had suggested we take the metro line 3 from Piraeus port into the city, but as the ferry pulls in to port and we stagger off bleary-eyed at just after 5 in the morning we reckon we'll have no problem reaching his appartment before he leaves for work at 10.  Stavros is our Couch-Surfing host in Athens and he's kindly replied to our request at fairly short notice.  We are heading to the island of Chios but from Naxos that would either involve a bit of island hopping on ill-timed ferries or a journey via Piraeus.  When the possibility of visiting Athens cropped up, we both got excited. And here we are in Piraeus port, all bleary-eyed and excited. It's not cold but there's almost two hours before sunrise so we park ourselves outside the port police station and doze on a bench.  Around 6 it starts to rain, but there's shelter outside a ticket office so we brew up and have breakfast before deciding that we really ought to get going.  So off into the rain we ride.  

The streets of Piraeus aren't how I imagined it in my head when I had plotted a route to Athens.  We are immediately heading uphill when I thought we'd have a nice ride along the coast.  The rain is belting down and it's a bit hard to start consulting our various maps, but an old man we ask confirms that we're going the right way.   Now when we stop at lights the water runs over our feet.  At the bottom of another hill there's the smell of raw sewage as the drains can no longer cope with the downpour.  It's 7.30am and rush-hour.  Traffic is clogging the roads which have parked cars on both sides.  Fortunately every driver treats us kindly and gives us room to squeeze past, or waits patiently if we slow them down.  Perhaps it would be different in the madness of a summer heatwave, but right now on a dark and wet November morning everyone seems pretty chilled.  We get out of Piraeus and eventually find the right road into Athens.  The clock is ticking.  It stops raining.  We get lost.  We find the right road.  It starts raining.  The road is closed.  We are hurtling along with all the taxis and buses when Gayle screams out to me: "Look!!!"  Oh, hey, it's the Parthenon on our left. It's 9.45 when we get into the residential quarter we want and the road suddenly veers upwards.  It's at this point that Gayle's gears fail.  She has to push.  We are hot and sweaty and soggy and late when we reach Stavros's but he has patiently waited in for us.  Relief.

After a hot shower and a short kip we feel bold enough to venture into the centre.  The afternoon has turned out nice and we walk around the old part of town below the acropolis.  The streets are not so busy, the air is clean after the rain, there's a handful of tourists about.  We join them outside the parliament to watch the changing of the guard by the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard are wearing the highland uniform of independence fighters from the 1820's - a short kilt, wool stockings and pom-poms on their shoes.  It is clear that being on duty here is some sort of public punishment.  Those stockings must itch in the summer.  And then, of course, there's the silly walk, made famous by Monty Python.

Turn a corner in Athens and you almost trip over Antiquity, as it lies sprawled in the road before you.  Hadrian's Arch now has a main road right past it.  It's taken our visit to Greece to understand how great an influence Classical Greece had on the Romans.  I'm still amazed at the realisation that the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, used the Greek language, not Roman.  There's a temple in a field, some foundations below the street level, an 11th century church around the corner, a mosque outside the metro station.  The ruins and the buildings tell the story of Athens' topsy-turvy history. 

On our second day we walk through a couple of contrasting neighbourhoods on a route recommended by Stavros.  We begin in the posh neo-classical neck of the woods, with embassy flags waving here and there, designer shops glittering their pearls and flashing their furs and outrageous clothes at us.  The locals are well-heeled and everyone stands to attention when a military band plays the national anthem at a parade.  The road then segues into the bohemian quarter where the buildings are decorated in graffiti and the cafes proliferate.  You can get a takeaway coffee for a euro these days - while our guidebook tells us that here you will find the most expensive coffee in Europe.  As Stavros has already remarked to us, the worse the economy gets, the more cafes open.

Greece has a long pedigree in cured meats.  In 431BC the Greeks famously defeated the Persians in the Battle of Salamis.
The highlight of our trip here is the visit to the Archaeological Museum.  The collection here is understandably large, varied and impressive.  It's also well-displayed.  There are finds from Mycenae, discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876, a German archeologist who, as Stavros puts it "found the truths that appeared in the Greek stories and myths" - he discovered Troy and Mycenae because he believed the stories in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were based on actual events.  At the time this was revelatory. In another room there are beautiful Cycladic finds over 4000 years old.  And then a flurry of bronze and marble sculptures from Ancient Greece.  Minoan frescoes. The finds from a shipwreck carrying Greek art to Rome around 200 BC, when the Romans were buying up everything they could get their hands on from Greece.  This shipwreck contained some geat sculpture, but Stavros' favourite piece is the Antikythera Mechanism.  This is hailed as the 'first computer'.  On the sea bed they found a collection of gears - fragments of metal - that have now been identified as a device that indicates the constellations and movement of the moon on a given date or vice versa.  The design and use of highly-sophisticated gearing is far beyond the known technology of the time and probably would not be matched for centuries. Great stuff.  The unmissable museum leaves us exhausted but sated.

the Cycladic "Thinker" is quite clearly on the phone - another piece of ancient Greek technology lost for centuries
In the evening we chat with Stavros.  He tells us that Athens, which we like immensely, is much better than two years ago.  He seems disappointed how the protests have now died down.  As an Erasmus student he studied in my home town of Manchester for 6 months.  He seems equivocal about his time there.  On his first night, like a true Greek, he went out after 11pm to see what was going on.  After walking a while in the wrong direction, away from the city centre, he was stopped by the police who suggested he might not want to be there and drove him back to the campus.  He travelled a lot around Britain and preferred everywhere else he went to Manchester.  After university and a few years as a computer programmer he found himself teaching at a primary school.  He loved it absolutely, but could never find a full-time permanent job.  He trained and taught supply for a few years, at one point having concurrent jobs teaching at primary, secondary and undergraduate level.  He came to the capital about four years ago when the crisis was taking hold - he could see that his job prospects were dim with the government being forced to cut public spending.  Now he's back computer programming but you can tell he'd rather be teaching children.

Monday, 18 November 2013

nesh in Naxos

Our ferry ride through the southern Cyclades islands takes us to Naxos, the largest of them all. On the boat we meet a couple of young Australians who have been travelling from Morocco, across Europe, and are on their way home via Nepal and Thailand.  They are going to another island for some beach time "because we're Coasties".  They seem to have booked everything in advance, including a 10 day trek in Nepal.  They tell us of a website where they got a good deal in Athens ending up at a 4-star hotel.  Great. Smashing. Super.  I'm thinking about this as we roll out of the town in search of a camping spot.  The day has an autumnal feel about it as the sun hangs low and casts a soft light across the fields.  We pitch our tent on the edge of one, at the end of the airport runway, cook our tea and snuggle up in our sleeping bags.  Who needs a 4-star hotel?

Hora old town
Just before sunrise we are treated to a light show in the tent.  Great flashes light up every few seconds.  The thunder rumbles soon afterwards and the heavens open.  Big fat raindrops splatter the tent.  We try to ignore the lightning and sleep a bit more.  But then the wind gets up.  Our tent is very waterproof, but it's a tunnel.  This means you have to pitch it into the wind.  Well. last night there was no wind to speak of, but this morning, in the storm, we find we are side on to the wind.  And we both need the toilet.  To add to our woes, the field we are pitched in is sandy, and finally the pegs can't hold the tent anymore.  I'm not sure I can hold on much longer either. Three pegs ping out. It is still raining but at least the thunder and lightning has finally passed over.  We quickly repeg the tent and decide to pack up. I go off to dig a hole and refill it. It feels odd to be wearing waterproofs again.  And on it rains.  (A day or two later a friend writes and tells us that he's looking forward to reading about our travels once we leave Europe.  He finds the photos of Mediterranean sea and landscapes all a bit Conde Naste. I know what he means - large parts of Europe are picture-perfect.  But gin and tonics on the yacht at sunset hasn't been our experience of it either.  I'll be thinking of Conde Naste now, everytime I dig my morning hole and hunker down over it.)
Cycladic laundry

We are incredibly blessed with good weather.  Today it rains almost continuously.  We can only recall New Year's Day being this lousy so far this year.  We cycle back to Hora, the main town where we arrived yesterday, eat breakfast in the shelter of an empty shop, and then head to a cafe on the seafront by the port.  Get on the internet and check the weather forecast: more rain and storms, then check out that booking website the Aussies told us about.  Sure enough, there's a few cheap places in Hora.  We mark them on the map and go and look.  There's only one where we can raise anyone, having no mobile phone.  Vassily tells us he's the "Big Boy".  He organises bookings, makes breakfast, drives the car, manages everything.  We haggle for a room with a kitchenette and get a good price.  It turns out to be a good move - the weather stays foul for a couple more days.  Then it turns cold.  This isn't a 4-star hotel but it feels like luxury.  We are not cycle-touring, we have unspokenly decided. Maybe we are going soft. 

too much football as a young lad weakens the knees

One morning, when the clouds are not so low, we set off on a day-ride up into the hills.  We want to find the kouroi abandoned on the hillside.  Naxos marble was renowned in classical Greek times and quarried in the hills here for years.  Often rough cuts of statues were made out of blocks in situ before then being transported to their destination for finishing off.  Two kouroi, statues of young men over 5 metres in height, didn't get off the hillside before they broke, so we have come to see them where they still lie. Showers come and go, but the ride is fine and the land is green and fertile - a real surprise to us.  The kouroi are located close to each other and happen to lie in the same position.  There's a bit of blurb about them at the site.  Apparently the quarrymen who cut them were much derided and ridiculed.  So they gave up cutting marble and took to writing poetry set to music.  It didn't really work out for them until a wise old man suggested they name their group after one of the local insects.  And lo! overnight they became a popular hit across all of Greek civilisation.  And all went well for them until fame, fortune, drugs and drink led to them falling out and disbanding.  And no more was ever heard from The Caterpillars.

the disappearing hills of marble

We continue uphill and around the hilltops that are still being quarried today for their marble.  The hills appear to be diminishing from the top down.  We loop back around and head back to Hora through some very attractive valleys.  En route we come to a small church that hasn't had a coat of whitewash for some time.  It might be because this one was built in the 4th century, with add-ons in the 7th and 12th centuries.  An odd old lady is looking after things on the door.  Inside there are the usual icons, and some very faded frescoes.  One side chapel is full of old spare furniture, a few teacups, a mop and bucket.  Remarkable.

Hora is quiet but pleasant.  We wander the warren of streets in the old town on the hill.  Across a causeway are the ruins of a small temple to Apollo.  A northerly wind blows across the seafront. We try to make use of the wifi in our room to plan ahead, check ferry routes and timetables, look at the journey across Turkey.  And then we have an "Oh bugger!" moment.  Somewhere we had read that tourists can stay in Greece for 90 days without a visa.  We arrived here at the beginning of September and are planning to meet our travelling American friend Jeff in Lesvos, on the 10th December.  That means we will have overstayed our 90 days.  But we can't remember if our passports were swiped when we arrived in Greece from Albania.  Land borders all seem to merge into one.  Sometimes they take our passport and swipe it, sometimes they take a look and wave us through.  Oh bugger.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

location, location, location

We like Iraklion for the main reason that it does not exist for tourists.  It's Greece's fifth largest city although that's not saying too much, as probably half of Greece's population is in Athens.... The city centre is a maze of narrow streets choc-a-bloc with parked cars and traffic.  There are also quite a few pedestrianised streets to give everyone a breather.  We've come here to visit the ruined Palace of Knossos and then to catch a ferry to Santorini.  We luxuriate in the comfort of a hotel room.  When did we last sleep in a bed? At Peter and Linda's about six weeks ago.  My scabby wounds are smelling.  I check up on the internet for diagnosis and treatment advice.  I pass out.  When I come round I recall reading the words "gas gangrene" and the novels of Pat Barker flashing across my mind.  However, the antibiotics are easy to buy over the counter here, so I am crossing my fingers.

Readers of this blog may have noticed a distinct lack of interest on our part in classical Greek historic sites.  We could  have visited Delphi and Olympos if we had set our mind to it.  Maybe it's because we know too little about Ancient Greece.  Maybe it hasn't captured our imagination sufficiently.  Because imagination is probably what is most required to visit the ruins here.  Not surprisingly, there's not a lot left standing.  However, now here we are at Knossos, the capital of Minoan civilisation.  This is the oldest known European civilisation, existing at the same time to the Egyptians in their prime and long before the classical Greek period.  It consisted primarily of a collection of city states on Crete. Around the late 1800s a German archaeologist found something of interest at Knossos, but an Englishman, Evans, beat him to a deal with the Turks to start excavating here.  Evans uncovered a large palace/temple complex, some of it with well-preserved frescoes.  But most of it was a pile of old stones.  Evans then creatively began to rebuild the site, with a dash of concrete here, a splash of paint there, and went about naming the rooms.  The reconstruction is probably a textbook case for students of archaeology on how not to proceed.  But hey, it gets the punters in.  So here we are, with only a few others, wandering around, looking into The Queen's Bathroom, admiring the recreated Prince of Lillies fresco, and pondering the Throne Room (I was disappointed to find that this was not, as I had hoped, the King's Lavatory.)  The Minoan civilisation ended abruptly, for unknown reasons.  The generally accepted theory is that a nearby volcano erupted spectacularly and the ensuing tsunami and fall-out finished them off.

Minoan olive jars - they grew big olives
That volcano eruption left the remains of a huge caldera poking out of the sea forming a crescent shape chain of small islands.  The largest is Santorini.  Arriving by boat the visitor is rewarded with wonderful views of the caldera and the cliffs on the edge of which sits the main town of Fira.  At least you would if you didn't arrive at nine o'clock at night.  We are instead rewarded with blackness, streetlights floating up above us in the sky and the steep switchbacks that lead up the cliff face.  Happily at the top we find a small church and an empty field next to it.  We pitch immediately and fall asleep.  In the morning we finally get the view, and ultimately this is what Santorini is all about: The View. It is sublime.

Fira is a collection of typical Cycladic white square houses, now overrun with hotels, restaurants and cafes.  In fact Fira seems to have lost any authentic attributes entirely, but what a location.  From here you get the most wonderful view of the caldera, the black and red layers of rock jutting abruptly from the sea, and in the centre a little mound of lava where the volcano has bubbled up again. We find the campsite which is closed, but the owner seems happy to let us stay, and there's plenty of hot water in the shower, so we're happy.  It means we don't have to do our sight-seeing with loaded bikes.  A cruise boat arrived last night and so the town is alive with ageing Americans and British, young Japanese, and assorted other nationalities.  Hmm, maybe 'alive' is the wrong adjective.   We walk along the caldera rim to the next village perched on a high point.  With our backs to the volcano we can see the rest of the island sweeping down to the sea.  It would have been once all fields, but is now peppered liberally with new build - houses and holiday homes and ugly mini-estates of identikit "cycladic" appartments for tourists.  I glance at a cafe menu - 4 euros for a coffee.  Sorry, I mean 4 euros for a Nescafe.  But of course, you're paying for The View.

The next day we take our bikes and cycle up to the north end of the island and the large village of Oia.  There's a different feel to this place.  It feels much more authentic, even though there's still been enormous tourist development here.  Lots of shops, cafes, hotels, but all done much more tastefully.  The buildings all seem quite old and the village has a more organic feel.  Around the twisting back lanes there are still a few old ruins.  And a few old buildings too.  The cruise ship passengers are all pottering about, but we find out from some that the ship only has 2000 passengers, not the full cohort of 5000.  We eat our picnic near to an English woman on her phone home: "and if she goes in one more jewellery shop, I swear I'll kill her......" Cor, we'd hate it here in season. But today we love it.  We want to live here. Except maybe after a week or two we'd get bored.  I wonder what the locals make of The View after all this time living here.

Out of season travel around the islands is a bit awkward.  Ferries run less frequently.  We opt to take a small ferry on to Naxos which leaves at 9 in the morning so that we don't arrive in the dark again on another island.  This boat only goes once a week, so after three nights here, we find ourselves winding our way back around those hairpin bends to the port.  The small ferry turns out to be a big bathtub.  It's mostly Greeks who board and everyone but us heads for the lounge which is curtained and has five televisions on showing the same rubbish.  We sit on the top deck and sunbathe. Naked. It's a lovely spot to enjoy the crossing.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

end of season

The clocks change just before we leave Paleohora.  We have passed the Autumnal Equinox and the days are shorter.  But the clock change is the tricky thing for us - now the sunrises just before seven, which is fine, and it is setting just before six, which is lousy. If we want to camp wild then we have to start looking usually an hour before sun down just to be sure we have enough light to pitch.  It's always been a bit of a game this.  If you don't want to be seen camping, and we don't, then the dark can be good.  But then we need to cook and need light.  So the dark nights will mean longer nights in the tent and using up the torch batteries.  There's a new moon too, which seems to bring a change in weather - or is that an old wives' tale?


We take a new road that climbs out of Paleohora up to a high point and then turn back down towards the sea on a dusty dirt road to take us to Elafonissi beach.  The beach is in the south west corner of Crete and has developed a certain amount of fame.  We know we're on the right track because there's a steady trickle of very slow rental cars coming the other way - this is a shortcut.  We descend down to the beach hoping to find water.  Behind it the land is covered in poly-farms - large structures full of plants and roofed in polythene.  It's a big operation here.  We ask a young man for water and he takes us back to his pre-fab room and gives us a bottle.  He's from Morocco, working on a farm.  Down at the beach there are plenty of rental cars - there must be more tourists here than anywhere else on Crete.  It's the end of October.  We spot a Swiss camper van.  Despite the "no camping" signs they've stayed three nights and not been troubled, so we pitch discreetly along the beach.

The beach is lovely but we are on the move. We're taking the coastal road along the west coast and back to Hania.  The route takes us into a gorge before climbing out and onto a high road that skirts the hills on the western coast.  The views are dramatic, the road is empty, the cycling is great.  Some of the houses in the villages look like they've been left untouched from the war.  It's unusual to see old houses here - most villages seem to have new(ish) houses built with brick or breezeblock, not so pretty but usually bigger.  We camp in an olive grove - a nice spot just below a chapel.  Only in the wee small hours I hear someone walking on the track by the chapel.  Their torch light hits the tent and returns for a full sweep.  They say nothing.  I nudge Gayle awake in case they approach, but we hear nothing.  Weird?  An hour later we hear two gun shots down the hillside - hunters.  

Down at the north coast in Kissamos the campsite has closed and the sea is foaming and crashing on the beach.  A strong wind blows. Here we find a place to camp in an olive grove behind a wall of bamboo - perfect shelter from the wind.  Further along the coast the tourist strip is now deserted.  Shops, bars, tavernas all closed.  There are a few locals around, but these villages that merge into one long development seem empty.  Even Hania looks quiet.  How things change in just a few weeks. The campsite here is still open, just.  Everything is closed up bar the toilet block and the kitchen.  We stop a couple of nights and on the second night are joined by a French couple just arrived in a hire car and Tomas, a young stray from Stockholm, who is trying to hitchhike around Europe.  He is 20, worryingly skinny and not dressed for life on the road but for a night on the town.  We hope he goes home before Christmas but his plans are vague.

Our ride continues along the north coast to Rethymno, with a detour to the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda.  The graves are mostly of British, Australians and New Zealanders.  A Polish airman.  An Indian sailor.  About 2000 died defending the island when the Germans invaded by air in 1941. 
We pass through some old villages off the main road. The central mountains loom before us and a thunderstorm crashes through the valley below.  We find another olive grove to camp in down at sea level - everything is soggy and wet after the storm.  In the morning the weather is dry but there are plenty of clouds around.  We have a wander around Rethymno's old town and seek shelter in a cafe when the rain starts.  Lunch is eaten on the promenade in the sunshine.  It's that kind of mixed weather.  Along the sea front is another strip of empty tourist hotels, shops and bars and fur shops. Fur shops? For the Russian tourists? 
anti-fascist stencil

We turn south inland and start climbing sharply into the mountains.  After a tough climb we then drop down to a big reservoir which isn't on our map.  It's getting on, so we camp by a chapel built above the reservoir by the water company.  It's in a grand spot and we pitch in the lee of the church as the winds are coming off the mountains behind.  The ground's a bit soft and it proves our undoing.  In the night the wind gets up and starts gusting, slamming the tent and rattling it from both ends.  Some pegs come out of the ground.  We tie the tent to the bikes but the buffeting is rocking it too much.  Fortunately the church door is unlocked and there's enough floor space for us to lie down and sleep, so we pack up, bring our mats and sleeping bags in and take the tent down.

a church, typically in the middle of nowhere

The morning brings rain and wind - not a favourite combination.  Our plan is to cycle around the south side of Crete's biggest mountain and then cut north to Iraklion, but the cloud is down and the way looks grim.  We take our time over breakfast but nothing changes, so eventually we decide to return the way we came to the north coast and take the old road along the north side of the massif.  The route turns out to be lovely - through old villages, climbing slowly and then into a verdant gorge.  One night we camp in an olive grove that has had the ground turned over.  At sunrise there's a thunderstorm and the ground turns to mud.  We spend a bit of time afterwards cleaning up and having breakfast at a nearby chapel.  This one has a cemetery so there's a handy tap.  We see small churches everywhere in Greece, dotted across the landscape.  Some are locked but many are left open.  We always keep an eye out for them at lunchtimes and evenings.  

The road to Iraklion culminates in a climb to a pass through a lovely valley and then a big downhill.  This was the old main road on the island but a new one has been built right on the coast and so the villages we pass through seem all but forgotten.  It's good farmland with plenty of vineyards and lemon groves as well as the ubiquitous olive.  Tall trees stand dramatically out above the land.  The autumn colours are vibrant when the sun is out. The men in these parts all look swarthy and tough, have curly hair and drive pickup trucks.  The old women are uniformly in black.  

I am looking forward to Iraklion as we have decided to look for a room for a couple of nights.  About four weeks ago I clumsily raked my shin down a pedal which left me with two nasty looking scabs.  They seemed to be healing okay but in the past few days an infection has started and my leg has swollen.  I want a bed with clean sheets, I want antibiotics, I want a rest!  Happily, Gayle is in agreement and we find a good cheap room in the old town.