The Clock is Ticking…

H  ow did the holidays get here so fast?

A  few weeks ago we were eating turkey

P  retty soon the stores were filled with Christmas

P  iles of gift catalogs throughout the house

Y  esterday we hung the lights outside

 

H  ow will we ever be ready in time for Christmas?

O  n December 17th we are leaving for Germany

L  ots of things to prepare for our trip

I   f only the next few days would slow down

D  estinations: Berlin, Dresden, Weimar

A  lot of miles to travel to see people we love

Y  es, it’s the trip of a lifetime

S  ee you in 2016!

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Teaching and Terrorism

Emotions and thoughts have been swirling through my mind since I heard about the acts of terrorism in Paris this past weekend. Paris is a city I love dearly, having lived there for over a year in the 70’s in my mid-twenties and returning many times to visit.

I first began reading about the banlieues (outskirts or suburbs) of Paris about a decade ago. This was not the Paris I first experienced. It had become a city of haves and have nots, with the native insiders living within the city and the outsiders/immigrants relegated to substandard lives on the outskirts of the city. These outsiders burned cars and trashed their neighborhoods as a way of expressing their frustration and anger.  Eventually things returned to the status quo and their frustration was forgotten.

This past year the news of the violence that took place at Charlie Hebdo, the French newspaper whose cartoons mocked the Muslim extremists, reminded us of that anger. The lives of several French cartoonists and journalists were taken in another outburst of hatred toward French culture. The world responded with sympathy (“I am Charlie Hebdo”) and a renewed vow to celebrate “free speech.”

But this past weekend’s events, in which local terrorists took the lives of over 100 Parisians, remind us again that this hatred is not dead. More extreme and widespread violence has just begun, and we are now wondering what to do next to contain or combat extremists throughout the world.

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This is where teaching comes into the discussion. I am so proud of my profession; moreso than ever. In the United States teachers are the ambassadors of plurality, seeking to find ways to assimilate and educate our newcomers as they arrive at our borders and in our airports.

This is not to say that all teachers welcome undocumented immigrants and their families; prejudice and scorn often rear their heads in faculty lunchrooms. But even those who do not appreciate our tolerance for immigrants understand that our nation was built on their efforts and continues to flourish in many ways because of them. They also understand that building a wall is not the best way to solve the immigrant dilemma.  Supporting the assimilation of immigrant children and their families into our culture is how our nation will continue to sustain its principles of freedom and equality.

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I have often questioned my own beliefs as a teacher of English to immigrant students over the past several decades. But I have always come to the conclusion that becoming more understanding of people from other cultures, while helping their children to become better educated and assimilated, is the only way to continue to build a foundation of trust and strength.

I am particularly proud of my fellow English as a Second Language teachers.  We are often not held in high regard in our own schools or communities because of the controversial work we do, but we are the best advocates in our educational system for making sure that all children have equal access to a good education. Education is terrorism’s worst enemy and the best weapon we have for preserving our values.

A Dust of Snow and a Dose of Nostalgia

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is going Christmas shopping with my Mom. We were poor but well cared for. I am the eldest of 8 children, so the gifts were modest and chosen carefully. Every year we’d drive to a nearby town where there were many mom and pop shops offering the goods we needed such as gloves and scarves, socks, underwear, ties, pajamas…the practical gifts.

It was a big privilege, or at least it felt like it was, to be included to do the gift shopping with my Mom. There weren’t many things we did together, just the two of us, so it felt like a big deal. I thought about this annual excursion just the other day as I wandered through the endless aisles of Macy’s trying to find similar gifts for members of my family. It just wasn’t as much fun doing it alone, in a big department store, without my Mom. Hence the trip down memory lane.

My next door neighbor, a member of the “millenial generation,” shops for everything online. I’ve done a little of that myself this year to spare myself needless running around, but it doesn’t compare to my memories of shopping and conferring with my Mom about how to make the best choices with the least amount of money.

Like so many before me, as I get older I have developed telescopic vision and can more easily remember the “good ol’ days” than what happened yesterday, or ten minutes ago. And. yes, there is definitely a touch of nostalgia associated with those memories. I remember being dead tired after our shared shopping expedition, walking from store to store at dusk, in the cold, cold air and sometimes snow, examining the goods carefully, feeling good about finding “just the right whatever, for whomever.” I felt so grown up.

It was a much less materialistic time in our nation. A gift was chosen lovingly after seeing it, touching it, and imagining it on the person it was meant for. Although the gifts were fewer and more humble, part of the measure of their worth was how much effort was spent in finding just the right gift for someone. I miss those days and am glad I was young at a time when gifts were either handmade or hand-selected.

Here is a small, seasonal poem that touched my heart today as my daughter and I took a walk several days after our first winter snowstorm.

Dust of Snow
BY ROBERT FROST

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

(from A Poem a Day website)

Hope your holidays are good ones and your memories are even better!

Barbara

Next week: Our final stop on our autumn vacation in Greece…the island of Crete, home of the Minotaur!

Sailing Around Santorini: A Once in a Lifetime Event

Our final day on Santorini, the second stop on our island-hopping Greek vacation, came all too quickly, but we had decided to do something really special. We bought tickets to sail on a two-masted schooner around the caldera created by the volcanic eruption on Santorini.

Our first stop was to be the still-active volcanic island of Nea Kameni where we would leave the ship and climb to the top of the volcano.

At our second stop on the smaller island, Palea Kameni, we would swim to shore to bathe in natural hot springs, then swim back to the boat. Our third, and final stop, was to the island of Thirassia where we would anchor and take a short plunge once again into the Aegean, then back onto the boat for dinner and the sunset.

“The island group of Santorini- Thira, Thirasia and Aspronisi-is what was left over from the last major volcanic eruption 3,600 years ago. The volcano erupted at a time when the island was inhabited by a prosperous civilisation similar to that on Minoan Crete. The island inhabited during the late Bronze Age…formed a solid (rounded) mass from Faros to Aspronisi. From a small opening between Faros and Aspronisis, the sea flowed into an inner caldera at whose centre the peak of an underwater volcano similar to that of today’s Palea and Nea Kameni jutted out….

Between 1600 BC and 197 BC a series of periodic submarine effusions led to the creation of a large underwater volcano whose peaks are the Palea and New Kameni islets. the first emergence of an island from the sea was documented in 197 BC by the great Greek geographer Strabo.

Eight more eruptions have been documented from then till today…which formed the Palea and Nea Kameni islets, the youngest landform in the eastern Mediterranean. After the last eruption of Nea Kameni in 1950, the Santorini volcano remains dormant till today.” (This information was taken from ‘Geothira’ a guide to the National Geological Park of Nea Kameni.)

This excursion to Santorini’s nearby volcanic islands was the highlight of our stay on Santorini. The guidebooks are not always right, but this was a highly recommended activity and we were so excited about it both before and after the experience. The boat itself was a beauty, made of wood, large enough to contain approximately 50 people on deck, and fully loaded with sails and all the pulleys and ropes you might expect would be needed to sail a boat of this size. Everyone got on board, found a perch and settled in for a beautiful afternoon.

At our first stop, we were greeted by the sight of a pure black, lava-rock landscape. The path we were to follow went straight up the volcano.

I had my doubts as to whether I could climb to the top, and the continuing heat did not help my cause. Most of the people on our boat had already set out for the top as I lingered behind. I encouraged my daughter to continue without me, as I stopped for a breather on a small bench with a kooky palm-tree umbrella providing the shade. I chatted with a French woman (in French) for about ten minutes, then decided I really did not want to miss the opportunity to climb the volcano, so off I went. I climbed slowly but steadily, knowing I had to get to the top before the group decided to come down. We had a deadline to meet back at the bottom of the trail to reboard our schooner.

As I took my final steps to the top, I spotted my daughter and waved to her. She joined me and we quickly circled the perimeter of the top of the volcano, stopping to enjoy the magnificent views of the Aegean, and to examine the volcano-monitoring equipment perched at various spots on the volcano.

We also saw the sulfurous fumes emerging from fissures in the lava indicating that this volcano is still alive and kicking. The predication is that it may become active again in about 20 years!

We quickly descended the trail and made it back to the boat with plenty of time. I felt very proud of myself, indeed.

Next we sailed to our first swimming spot; a natural hot springs at the foot of another volcanic island. The ship could not get very close to the beach due to the rocky shore, so our only option was to climb the boat ladder and push off into the sea, or dive from the boat. Again…I wasn’t sure if I was really up to the task. We had been warned that the currents were very strong and that only people who knew how to swim would be encouraged to swim to shore. We were each provided with an Aegean-blue colored “noodle” to help buoy us in the water.

I stepped off the ladder and plunged into the sea, not expecting to go under but I did. I popped up gasping and tasting the very salty water and began paddling as fast as I could toward shore. All around me the ship’s passengers were bobbing up and down in the sea on their noodles. When we reached the rocks, we had to crab-crawl over them using our hands and walking very slowly because they were very uneven and slippery. At that point I noticed big smiles on everyone’s faces as they crawled over the rocks.

Then I spotted my daughter who had already made it to shore, covered with mud from head to toe from the natural hot spring! I really wished I had a camera to capture that moment. Everyone was rolling around in the mud, smearing it on their bodies, and laughing. Then we all kinda’ reversed our direction to crawl back over the rocks and out to sea to rejoin the boat. The swim was not easy! I don’t think I would have made it without the noodle, for sure. But again, I felt very proud of myself for having succeeded at this second challenge at my delicate age.

We headed toward our final stop, a small picturesque port nearby. We anchored a bit offshore and were permitted to get back into the water to swim around the boat while the crew began to prepare our dinner. They fired up the portable grills and we jumped back into the water which was crystal clear, and surprisingly devoid of any sign of life beneath the surface. My daughter wore her goggles so she could spot some local fish…but there was nothing.

Back up the boat ladder, with the gorgeously tanned captain helping each of us ladies back on board. Everyone went back to their original spot and began changing out of their bathing suits for dinner. Watching everyone change behind towels was very amusing, and there was a general vibe of goodwill spreading throughout the ship.

We lined up for our grub which included chicken or pork kebabs, many kinds of salads, pita bread, dips, olives and Greek wine. Hungry after our adventures, everyone eagerly devoured the delicious food and settled in to watch the legendary sunset over the island of Santori.

Suddenly, the sound of live music wafted over the deck and we saw one of the crew members standing in the middle of the ship, playing some beautifully mellow jazz tunes on his saxophone.

The captain suddenly appeared to let down the sails since a breeze had suddenly arrived.

As the sun went down everyone became silent as they lapsed into private daydreams about the incredible day we had all shared on this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As we headed back to port, the lights began to twinkle on top of Santorini until the island appeared to be covered with sparkling jewels above us.

The sun had set, the breeze was soft and warm, and our final excursion from the island of Santorini had been perfect.

Hope Is a Thing With Feathers…and So Is a Turkey!

Instead of continuing today with my tour of the Greek Islands, I will deviate in honor of Thanksgiving. In the midst of housecleaning, food shopping, making plans for Thanksgiving, my daughter and I decided to take a quick walk in the late afternoon along the shore of our nearby harbor. We’ve both been juggling some chronic health issues and have both been feeling depressed by the tidal wave of accusations of sexual misbehavior so prominent in the news recently and the generally depressing state of affairs in the country….

Today I will celebrate our afternoon walk together. It was restorative and uplifting in ways we hadn’t expected. I am sharing with you the Emily Dickinson poem, Hope Is a Thing With Feathers. You’ll soon see why.

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

**************************

The first birds we spotted on our walk were a couple of Buffleheads in the distance bobbing up and down in the harbor “like bathtub toys” as my daughter likes to say. It was good to see them back in the neighborhood.


(Martha’s Vineyard Gazette)

After having walked only a short distance farther along the shore, we noticed a very large and unusual bird on the raft where the double-breasted cormorants usually hang out. We had neglected to bring our binoculars, so I squinted as best I could to try to capture the most visible characteristics of the new bird so I could find it later in my Birds of North America guide.

About ten minutes later as we continued our walk, we saw near shore a handful of Brants…then suddenly saw there were dozens, maybe even a few hundred of them floating on the tidal currents. I’ve seen Brants before, but never in these numbers. We really enjoyed watching the flotilla which was very actively squawking and dining on the local sea grasses.

Floating on the edge of the cloud of Brants were a dozen or so very large and stately mute swans, floating gracefully like tall ships in the harbor.

At that point, we turned ourselves around and headed back home. We were thankful for the beauty we had witnessed, for the cyclical return of some of our favorite winter birds, and for being fortunate enough to live so close to this lovely New England harbor. Yes, today, hope was a thing with feathers that arrived just in time for Thanksgiving so I could share it with you to boost your spirits in the days ahead.

And, by the way…the unusual bird was a female Great Cormorant, a bird I have never seen before in this harbor and one I “hope” will visit us again soon.

Happy Thanksgiving fellow Slicers!

Spectacular Santorini!

(Map above: What to do and see in Santorini, Huffington Post)

The guidebooks tell you to be sure to approach the Greek Island of Santorini from the water as the view of the island from the sea is spectacular. We were traveling from Athens to Santorini by ferry when suddenly, there it was! What looked like snow capping a volcanic ridge were the white stucco houses of the towns of Santorini spread across the ridge, sparkling in the sun. Truly a magical place.

Our journey to Kalisti Hotel began with a bus ride from the new port up, up and up along a winding, narrow road with spectacular views of the sea around us. We arrived at our hotel which was located on a small and busy local street. At first we were a bit disappointed; there was nothing special about the location, whereas other tourists on the bus had been deposited at cliffside hotels with spectacular views.

Upon arrival, we were shown to our room which was devastatingly disappointing. It was dingy, dark and depressing…and below ground. I made a beeline for the front desk and complained that I hadn’t traveled all the way to Santorini to be put in a dungeon. I told the desk manager I felt like I was being punished. She listened, then told me we would be upgraded the following day to a better room. Believe me, it was no fun to spend even ten minutes in that room! We were off to a bad start.

That, thank goodness, was the low point of our stay. After a leisurely lunch by the pool as we waited for our “dungeon” to be ready, we took a late afternoon stroll through the nearby streets. We walked only a few blocks before we came upon the main drag: a marble pathway that follows the ridge of the volcano from the town we were in, Fira, to the northern end of the island, Oia, approximately six miles away.

The view from atop the cliff, almost 1000 feet high, was breathtaking. Small, white stucco dwellings with cobalt blue rooftops crowded the steep cliffside. The Agean Sea looked like a painting: the water was sparkling blue with an occasional sailboat passing by.

There were islands in every direction we looked, part of the caldera that was created when the volcano upon which Santorini is built erupted in 1630 B.C., then collapsed creating a huge basin. A tidal wave caused by the eruption devastated the Minoan civilization in Crete (which we will visit next), south of Santorini. Gazing upon this remarkable sight, it takes a huge stretch of the imagination to imagine the destructive natural forces responsible for the creation of this magnificent place.

The caldera path was, of course, crowded with tourists, even in late September. We continued on it for a while, torn between the views of the Aegean and the lure of the shop windows and cafes.

Back at our hotel we asked the staff of the front desk for a suggestion for dinner. We were seeking, of course, a place with a view of the water. The recommended place was a tiny restaurant with a view of the sea; a little less spectacular than we had hoped for, but sufficient. Dinner was delicious; the service was super friendly. We relaxed; things were looking up.

Our second day in Fira began with a lovely breakfast, followed by relocation to a much nicer room. We decided we would spend the better part of the day making the bus excursion to Oia, at the northern tip of the island, to have dinner and view the legendary sunset.

First we wandered around the shops in Fira for a while, then headed for the bus station to join the other tourists hoping to have the same sunset experience in Oia. We had another reservation for dinner with a sunset view made for us by the hotel: one less thing to worry about and a nice service offered by the hotel.

The bus ride was long and winding but the scenery was amazing. There were parts of the island that were less than beautiful; they were usually the parts where the residents of the island live or work. Between towns, the views of the sea all around us were entrancing. The bus dropped us off in the center of town. This once important and wealthy commercial center was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1956. Again, that natural catastrophe was hard to imagine, since the town seemed completely intact.

Oia was really crowded, but that didn’t stop us from wandering up and down the narrow streets taking in the sights. It was amazing to see the cave houses built into the sides of the cliff walls, many of which serve as fancy tourist hotels with mini-sized pools overlooking the Aegean.


We did some shopping, then headed toward our restaurant as the light began to slowly fade. We did not want to miss the famous sunset!

Our restaurant was tiny, and situated in such a way that we had to lean out over the deck to glimpse the sunset. I had hoped for a more direct view, but we were glad to just have a place to sit, eat and relax. The food was delicious and the hosts were extremely hospitable. The long-awaited moment finally came. The sun began to set, but just as it turned pink/orange a huge raft of clouds drifted in and completely blocked it.

The clouds stayed and the sun never reappeared. It was so disappointing we had to laugh. The restaurant manager then took out his iphone and showed all the guests how the sunset is supposed to look from a picture on his phone.

The bus ride back to Fira was unforgettable. We had a complete madman for a driver. For some inexplicable reason he began shouting as soon as he fired up the engine, yelling things at tourists outside the bus and people inside the bus. The guide who sat hear him seemed unperturbed, so I hoped this was his typical behavior, and not something to be too worried about. We were glad to get off the bus alive!

The next morning at breakfast, our waitress, when told this story, said, “Oh, I know him. He’s the best driver on the route.” Again, this made us laugh. Although Oia did not live up to its reputation, we had a relaxing time there and still laugh about the non-sunset and the life-threatening bus ride back to our hotel in Fira.

Next week: On our final day on Santorini we booked a daylong sail and visit to nearby volcanic islands. It was worth traveling to Greece just for this adventure alone!

A Miraculous Poetry Reading

How do you take a group of immigrant students ages 16 to 20, from India and Latin America with limited education backgrounds and turn them into poets within a week’s time?

This was the challenge I had created for myself last Spring when I applied for a grant from the NYS Council on the Humanities to support a weeklong workshop that would introduce English as a New Language (ENL) students to the genre of poetry, and specifically the poetry of Walt Whitman. These eleventh-graders will be taking the 11th grade New York State English Regents Exam at the end of the school year, and they will be expected to have enough familiarity with poetry to analyze a poem and write about it despite that fact that not one of them had ever read a poem, much less talked about or written one.

This was a tall order for them and for me!

I believed that my workshop would accomplish several things at once. It would be one of the several initiatives undertaken during the year to reflect the Walt Whitman Birthplace Site’s (WWBS) focus on “diversity” in the year 2017. It would expose underprivileged llth grade high-school students to ideas and skills they need to pass the Regents and graduate from high school. It would encourage English as a New Language (ENL) students to develop a voice in their writing that would give them the confidence they need to move forward as students. And finally, it would give the students an opportunity to become more visible in their school community.

Having applied for and received, by early fall, a small grant from the NYS Council on the Humanities, I got to work. A local school district, its ENL administrator and an ENL teacher agreed to collaborate with me. The summer came and went. We resumed our connections in early fall as I began to plan how we would introduce Whitman and his poetry to the students.

I came up with the idea of “insider and/or an outsider” as a way of engaging students in a discussion of Whitman, who was regarded in his time as both.

Following our discussion, students would be asked to reflect for a few moments on whether they themselves felt like insiders or outsiders and to write a few sentences about their feelings.

Day one was very challenging. The students were noisy, rude, disrespectful and didn’t do any work that day. We barely got through the worksheet I described. I thought about giving up. After a brief pow-wow with my co-ENL teacher, we agreed to forge ahead, with stricter behavior controls. In retrospect, I realize the students, who had never met me and knew nothing about me, were “testing” me.

Because none of these students had prior experience with poetry, we had a lot of ground to cover in a short time. After two more sessions of one-to-one writing support and feedback with the students, most of them had produced what could be called a poem written in the style of Walt Whitman’s poem, “Salut au Monde” (selected by the WWBS as their theme poem for the year) which begins…

SALUT AU MONDE!

O TAKE my hand Walt Whitman!
Such gliding wonders! such sights and sounds!
Such join’d unended links, each hook’d to the next,
Each answering all, each sharing the earth with all.

To facilitate their work, we lifted two lines from the poem which began “I see….” and “I hear” to create a scaffolded worksheet. Limiting the scope of the poem to details from their daily lives that they see and hear would enable them to write “in the style of” Whitman’s poem.

“What do you see Walt Whitman?
Who are they you salute, and that one after another salute you?

I see a great round wonder rolling through space,
I see diminute farms, hamlets, ruins, graveyards, jails, factories,
palaces, hovels, huts of barbarians, tents of nomads upon
the surface,
I see the shaded part on one side where the sleepers are sleeping,
and the sunlit part on the other side,
I see the curious rapid change of the light and shade,
I see distant lands, as real and near to the inhabitants of them as
my land is to me…”

“What do you hear Walt Whitman?

I hear in the distance the sounds of children and of animals early
in the day,
I hear emulous shouts of Australians pursuing the wild horse,
I hear the Spanish dance with castanets in the chestnut shade, to
the rebeck and guitar,
I hear continual echoes from the Thames,
I hear fierce French liberty songs,
I hear of the Italian boat-sculler the musical recitative of old
poems,
I hear the locusts in Syria as they strike the grain and grass with
the showers of their terrible clouds,
I hear the Coptic refrain toward sundown, pensively falling on the
breast of the black venerable vast mother the Nile…”

On the fourth and final day of the workshop, the students took a field trip to the actual birthplace site to deliver their poems to an audience comprised of teachers and administrators from their school, other educators and, of course, each other.

They were first given a short tour of the Whitman birthplace which fascinated them. They were curious about the household objects used in the Whitman household and asked many questions about them.

After a quick lunch, they delivered their presentation. I held my breath as each student walked up to the podium and delivered his/her poem.Their fellow students were amazingly quiet and respectful of their peers and each poet was given resounding applause. Their delivery was quite touching and the audience was visibly moved. The students were beaming with relief and self-satisfaction.

During the Q and A session that followed, members of the audience gave the students nothing but positive feedback and encouragement for their bravery. Before they left to return to school, souvenir programs were given out, hugs were exchanged, and as I said goodbye to each of them, I had tears in my eyes. A miracle took place today; each student shared his/her observations of their personal experiences as an immigrant in their new country, and by so doing each student became an “insider” and a first-time poet.

I am hopeful that their success in meeting the challenges of this assigned task will make a difference in their self-confidence, help them to develop a “voice” with which to tell their own stories, and allow them to see themselves, perhaps for the first time,as capable of academic achievement in their school community and their lives.

Delos: Island of Dreamers

My daughter and I recently visited Athens and several of the Greek islands of the Cyclades. On our last day of visiting Mykonos, we made the highly recommended side-trip to the island of Delos. We are both very interested in archaeology and ancient ruins, and we were told that Delos was once considered one of the most important religious sites in Greece as it was the legendary birthplace of Apollo, god of music and light. For us it was a no-brainer. It was a quick half-hour journey by ferry to the island. This very dry, rocky island is like an open-air museum of antiquity; there were ruins visible in every direction.

We chose not to hire a guide so we could go at our own pace. We enjoyed our leisurely, though sometimes challenging ramble up the rock-strewn dusty hills through the ruins of what was once a thriving and very active town. The homes were built very close together and many shared common walls.

We peeked into many former dwellings which now seem very small and claustrophobic. But there were many pleasing surprises.

Suddenly a statue would appear in a space that was once an elegant home; often that statue would be headless. Peeking through what was once a “window” opening in a wall, one could see, in the shadows, a floor mosaic, faint in color, but well preserved, attesting to the artistry of the local inhabitants.

As we climbed higher up the main hill of the island, we came upon the ruins of former temples and a vista of the islands and the surrounding Aegean that was breathtaking.

Although it was quite warm that day, and we were parched, we managed to spend about three hours walking through most of the significant ruins on the island. Once the center of an Apollo cult, sadly, the temple of Apollo is now completely in ruins, as is the area adjacent to it. But if you closed your eyes for a moment, you could almost imagine the splendor that once existed.

Our last stop on Delos was to see the “lions” of Delos: Five of the original nine lions sculpted from marble (facsimiles of the originals now in museums) line the Terrace of the Lions, a 50m-long promenade that leads to the Sacred Lake. Sadly, there is not much left of the lions, but enough to indicate how important this island once was as a sacred place of worship for the Greeks.

Exhausted from walking in the heat, we never made it to see the actual “sacred lake” which is now merely a slight depression in the earth, completely dry.

We felt very pleased with ourselves for having made the decision to visit this World Heritage site. It is worth mentioning that “for a few decades in the fifth century B.C., Delos was important enough to be the headquarters of the Delian League, the confederation of Greek city-states, and the repository for it’s treasury. By 100 B.C., under Roman occupation, Delos had a cosmopolitan population of 25,000, drawn from throughout the Mediterranean world; its market sold 10,000 slaves a day.

It even had a second robust act, developing under the Romans into a flourishing center of trade, with a huge slave market, on the shipping routes between the Aegean world and the Middle East. Delos was gradually abandoned, however after most of the population was massacred in a wave of attacks beginning in A.D. 88. Except for occasional visits by Venetians and crusaders, the temples, mosaics, and shrines were left to the elements….”
(Frommer’s, Athens and the Greek Islands 2017).

Even with the extensive ruins that remain, it takes a huge stretch of the imagination to imagine Delos as having been an active trading center and religious site. The hills and ruins of Delos are completely silent and you can hear only whispers of what once was. As we sailed away from Delos we took a last look at what almost seemed like a mirage.

On the return trip we were both silent, deep in thoughts about our experience on the island.

Back at the wonderful Hotel Leto, we prepared to leave Mykonos. Our stay here went quickly, but it was totally satisfying. We wouldn’t at all mind returning to Mykonos one day…but next time we’d do more relaxing and swimming!

Next stop: Sensational Santorini!

The Magic of Mykonos

(The photo above is the area where we stayed (to the left) on the coast of the Old Town of Mykonos.)

So much depends on circumstances. The first island we visited following our 1 1/2 days in Athens was Mykonos. We had been told that “it’s not a very pretty island;” “it’s mostly a party island;” ” make sure to see the windmills.” That was about all we knew about Mykonos before we actually got there. None of the negative comments were true for us, and the windmills were quaint and lovely. (You can see them to the right in the picture if you look closely.)

We were lucky: we had reservations in what, for us, was the perfect hotel. Hotel Leto sits along the main promenade of the Old Port, which leads to the Old Town of Mykonos… a mere 5-minute walk. Separating the grounds of the hotel from the promenade is a five foot stucco wall that nicely obliterates the view of thousands of tourists streaming past the hotel on their way to and from the Old Town on their way to and from their cruise ships. Yes, that’s me enjoying the view from the gate of the hotel.

The grounds of the hotel are serene and lovely. There is an enticing salt-water pool as the centerpiece, tables and chairs strategically placed nearby for those who wish to snack or dine, and plenty of chaise lounges for those who wish to just be lazy and sunbathe. The palm trees scattered on the lawn lend a tropical ambiance, as does the steadily blowing soft breeze. I felt like we’d arrived in Paradise. The stucco wall served to enhance this feeling of peace and isolation.

Our room was lovely and came with a balcony looking over the pool, the palms, the stucco wall and the sea. As I gazed at the view, I truly felt like I was in the Carribean which I had visited long ago. Everything about Hotel Leto was relaxing. This allowed us to put all our energy into seeing the sights of the island. As I said earlier, circumstances are important and they definitely made our stay on Mykonos very pleasurable.

Within ten minutes of our arrival at the hotel, my daughter and I changed into our bathing suits and plunged into the Aegean Sea, lapping at the edges of the promenade. There were several local senior citizens bobbing in the small waves. Athens had been so unexpectedly hot that we were grateful for our dip. The tiny “town beach” was not very photogenic, but it was clean enough to swim and cooled us down considerably.

We spent our first night on the island strolling through the labyrinth of narrow streets in the Old Town. My daughter fell in love with the very narrow, winding streets, the charming balconies filled with exotic, colorful flowers, the many boutiques selling arts and crafts and fashions which are extremely well crafted and lovely. It is a shopper’s paradise.

We ate at a local place, Taverna Niko’s, recommended by our hotel staff, which turned out to be a very popular place with both tourists and locals. The tables and chairs lined up along the narrow street were completely filled by the time we finished dinner. The food was tasty, Greek comfort food. I had grilled fish; my daughter had shellfish pasta.

As we strolled home along the promenade back to our hotel, we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets either of us had ever seen. After the sunset the sky turned neon orange, with a bright crescent moon sitting overhead. We were already in love with Mykonos.

On our second day we did a lot of walking around the island. Our goal was to reach the famous windmills of the island and to see Little Venice. Once again we ventured into the labryrinth of streets in the Old Town which we hoped would lead us to the windmills. After a few wrong turns which only served to prolong our lovely walk, we arrived very close to the area known as Little Venice. It is basically a shoreline lined with restaurants whose outdoor dining areas abut the sea. Waves were actually washing up on the pavement so we had to step carefully and quickly to continue our walk to the windmills. It was fun, but hardly compares to the real Venice.

We spotted the windmills and began the short climb up the hill toward them. The windmills were once used to grind the grain for the islanders, but are no longer functional. There are five of them standing in a row like sentinels overlooking the seacoast.

Unlike the windmills of the Dutch style we are used to seeing in the New England area, these windmills are rigged together with rope and spokes that make them look like giant spiderwebs. They are whitewashed with thatched rooves in varying states of disrepair. Only one was inhabited; the others stood forlornly as reminders of a distant past. There were tourists everywhere swarming around them, but they somehow managed to look charming despite the multitudes.

Did I mention the hill where the windmills sit is one of the driest places I’ve ever been? Everywhere we walked we kicked up dust which made me think about how precious any source of water must be on these islands.

After a long afternoon of walking and sightseeing we hurried back to the hotel hoping to relax around the pool. But Mother Nature had other ideas: the wind began to pick up and suddenly the air became cooler. We reclined on our lounge chairs for as long as we could, and then retired to our room to change for dinner. Another leisurely stroll into the Old Town brought us to the strip of seafood restaurants situated along the coast. After walking back and forth several times, and being solicited by at least a dozen young men trying to talk us into eating at their restaurant, we settled down and had another delicious seafood dinner.

We did not participate in any of the famous nightlife on Mykonos where discos apparently stay open all night during the “high season.” But it was now mid-September, so I’m not sure how much nightlife was actually taking place. We ate dinner and went to bed by 11pm, to prepare for what would be a rigorous final day. We were going to visit the sacred island of Delos, not far from Mykonos.