Colors of Santorini

Kalispera, good evening,

Tonight is my last night on Santorini. It’s the first night without thunder. The weather has been bad so I’ve not been able to take the boat tour to offshore islands, swim through thermal springs, or sun at its renowned beaches, all things one dreams of doing here. But the peace, the spectacular view, and the end-of-season rates compel me to stay an additional day. So, yes, you could say it calls to me.

This is interesting because the two most frightening events on this trip have occurred here, a chest-splitting storm and an ‘elemu-clenching bus ride.

Imagine the drive to Sandy Beach, sections are like Hāmākua Coast, only you’re in a bus going 6oMPH driven by a swarthy single-syllable grunter, and road is half as wide, and the cliffs are 4 times as steep, and there’re no guardrails. That was the bus ride from Fira/Thira/Thera (pronounced both ways, spelled all three ways in Latin, but Greek spelling has ‘theta’, ‘θ’ as its first symbol) to Oia (EE-ah, no glottal stop).

The main volcano erupted about 1630 BC in what is called in all accounts a cataclysmic event causing its collapse and a huge tsunami leaving an archipelago of islands surrounding a big lagoon where a crater once stood. As you might imagine, the water is quite mālie, or calm. The bays tucked in against a couple different places of this main island Santorini are like Kamohio, but gi-normous.

Actually, the name Santorini is Roman in origin. At somepoint they renamed this island of Fira/Thira in honor of Saint Irene.

Although it’s a volcanic island, it isn’t as fertile as those of us from volcanic islands might imagine. It’s less like Kona Coast and more like Kaena Point or between Hālona Blowhole and Koko Crater Rim. There is no grass, even in people’s yards, and mostly cacti and succulents like ‘akulikuli, and beach heliotrope, but less green.

I wondered about the water source. I haven’t seen any catchment tanks. Is there cap rock, a water table? I still don’t know, but today, I passed a de-salinization plant on the way to Oia.

So is the volcano extinct? Dormant? Nope. It last erupted in 1950.

Okay, leaving Santorini in the afternoon.

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie (c)

Tweets for 2009-10-25

  • Rainy all day, but for the view and quiet time, i think I'll stay an extra day in Santorini. #

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Tweets for 2009-10-25

  • Rainy all day, but for the view and quiet time, i think I'll stay an extra day in Santorini. #

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Kalimera kakou,

Most are aware of the the acropolis of Athens, but there are other acropoli throughout Greece so one must distinguish:  Acropolis of Lindos, Acropolis Athena, Acropolis at Mycenae and so forth.

Any English speaker can figure out Greek by looking at the root words.  As the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding pointed out, you can link any word–except, perhaps, kimono–to a Greek one.  Actually, about 3500 English words are easily linked to Greek ones (the majority others to Latin).

Acropolis means ‘highest city.’  Metropolis, megalopolis, politics, policy, etc. all come from ‘polis’  meaning ‘city.’  And the root of words like acrobat and acropolis is, to my surprise, not ‘akro’,  but ‘akron.’

Huh?  Akron?!  Why, then, is the city in Ohio, altitude 955 feet, named Akron?  And its county is Summit County.  Known for rubber tires and the first Alcoholics Anonymous, now I know that it’s perched on a summit.  Interesting…

Anyway, the Acropolis of Athens is best known, day and night images shown round the world.  The Parthenon,  built in 5th century BC, is in the 3rd phase of a 10-part renovation.  Still dramatic as it oversees a population of 5.5 million.

The one in Mycenae is much more ancient, dating back to 1600 BC.  It flourished during the Bronze Age and many of its relics were bronze and gold.  It is most famous for the nearby Mask of Agamemnon, though it’s said to post-date the actual years of Agamemnon’s life, and the Lion Gate, one of the earliest large sculptures in history.  Mycenae’s excavation was undertaken by a German archaeologist named Schliemann.  Consequently, signs are in Greek and German there and busloads of Deutsch-speaking tourists visit.

Both of these acropoli are designated World Heritage sites.

I love the acropolis in Lindos on Rhodes, which I’ve already written about.  All else being similar–sanctuary of Athena, rebuilt after one or more destructions, geographic prominence and so forth–it may be due to its seaside location.  It balances on a bluff overlooking the ocean making the ascent and the view quite dramatic.

More on heights later when I put my thoughts together about the monasteries.

 Acropolis at LindosAcropolis at MycenaeAcropolis in Athens at night

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie           (c)

On a ledge

Usually love thunder and lightning.

But I am perched on a ledge of a cliff as steep as north shore Moloka`i

It’s 10:30
Sleep is impossible in this war zone of the gods.

Lightning grabs my head and forces me to look outside
At the offshore volcano
Whose eruptions are described as cataclysmic,
That last erupted in 1950.

Rain pours
Down the steps toward my clay abode
Room #113
Two throw rugs block the crack between door and floor
Already wet.

The lights have already flickered a few times.
I have a large candle
But no match.
I could use a smoke about now.

My things are in the center of the room now
My shutters are closed.
My valuables are gathered
Should I need to run.

Who needs two adrenal glands?

Close the bowling alley already.
Divert my attention
A poem, a game.
What are you wearing?


EPILOG:  Wrote this earlier tonight during an episode of nerves.  Still raining, but it no longer feels like the side of the cliff is going to slide down…or blow up!


Kim Ku’ulei Birnie     (c)

Turkey – Ephesus and Flying Carpets

Aloha to all from Santorini,

Kane and Zeus have been introduced and are having a powwow or tete-a-tete or halawai or something for there’s thunder aplenty, lightning illuminating the offshore volcanic crater and rain that pours into  my window if I don’t close my shutters.  Walked around Thira for about 20 minutes before the heavens opened.

I realized that my Turkey stories need to be separated from those of Patmos, so I include them here separately.

 Ephesus, TurkeyEphesus, TurkeyNike swish found in teh folds of her gown

EPHESUS, TURKEY – 18 October

 Barely two hours out of Patmos, the ship pulled in to Kusadasi, a port in Turkey.  Kus-Adas means bird-island, and there is one off shore, somewhat like Mont St. Michel, but smaller.

A 20-minute bus ride landed us in Old Ephesus, EFF-eh-soos.

Ephesus dates back to 10 BC, re-established in about 600 BC, and finally re-settled as Ephesus around 300 BC.  It is the third of three historical settlements in this area known for the worship of Artemis.  St. Paul is said to have sent some important letters to the Catholic church in Ephesus and, although ruled by Romans just before Christ was born, it was an early hub for Christians who co-existed with pantheists.  St. John, whom we have recently learned about in Patmos, was from Ephesus, and there are numerous letters to his followers in Ephesus from Patmos during his exile.  It served as a turning point as Christianity slowly took hold in this area of the world. 

There is healing temple marked with a staff of Asclepius, across the marble way from the pharmacy.  Hadrian, one of the first physicians practied in Ephesus and, understanding that disease was being brought in on trade ships, is credited for draining Kusadasi Port 3 times–I think this makes him the first epidemiologist.  We saw numerous temples, arches and other memorials.  There is the classic relief of Nike, goddess of victory, with the “swish” preserved in her flowing gown.

Our guide was a delightful, innocent-looking Turkish man named Kamber, who invited us to call him Kam.  He was full of stories and anecdotes and we let group after group pass us as he regaled us with more history and mythology.  I believe he was the only tour guide who took his group to the public toilets.

Kamber on the public toilet, Ephesus

Apparently this was also a place to meet and to socialize, a place where deals were made, such as the golf course or ‘awa bar today.  In fact, there was a corner of this great room where musicians regularly entertained the “patrons.”  With up to 30 or 40 holes carved in marble, men conducted their business.  A sophisticated aqueduct system washed it all away.  In this era BTP (before toilet paper), sponges from the sea were attached to wooden sticks and used where needed.

Kamber particularly liked to quote Heracles:  To be a master one must first be a slave.

We finally arrived at the great forum….. In particular, there are statues of four muses/goddesses:  Wisdom, Justice, Intelligence and Science.Cuertes WaySymbol outside a store in the marketplace indicating proprietor is Christian-friendly, Ephesus.EphesusScienceAthena is everywhereJusticeGreece 2009 791Celsus LibraryAncient depiction representing a round Earth beneath this foot.Greece 2009 776

The piece de resistance was the great amphitheater.  Beautifully preserved, it has exceptional acoustics and accommodated 55,000 spectators.  It took me less than five minutes to get to the top of the stands.

 Stadium at Ephesus, capacity 25,000Praying I don't fall backwards from top of Ephesus stadium.Stadium at Ephesus from the TOP!


Welcome to Turkey


The end of this historic afternoon was surreal, a scene out of a Steve Martin skit.  We were taken to a fancy carpet shop in Kusadasi, a jewelry store downstairs and a showroom upstairs.  Guided by olive-skinned young men wearing collared shirts and gold chains, we were directed upstairs, seated on a large U-shaped couch, and served warm apple cider.  A spokesman—perhaps he could be compared to a hired auctioneer—began to tell us about rugs made in Turkey.  Again and again he emphasized how superior rugs made in Turkey are compared to those made in Persia and other places.  Why?  Because, Turk style is “double-nutted” unlike the others’ “single-nutted” methods.  This means there is a double knot that anchors the threads to the mat so that the more you pull, or vacuum, the stronger the knot.  Carpets that go bald are likely single-nutted rugs that gradually lose their threads with wear and tear. (See video)

With barely time to contemplate the benefits of double-nuts, the spokesman, flanked by two young Turkish men, snapped his fingers and as he described each large rug, the boys whipped out rugs in our direction that appeared as if they would roll right over us, but, indeed, stopped inches away.  Carpet after carpet, rug after rug, double-nut after double-nut, they flew at us, in an assortment of colors, styles, designs and quality.  And then to fulfill our Aladdin fantasies, the spokesman asks, “Have you ever seen a flying carpet?” and as he spoke his assistants each flew a 3×5 rug into a perfect spiral landing at our feet to a chorus of oohs and aahs.  I expected to hear the voice of Robin Williams as the genie. 

An excellent and far more reverent article can be found in the NYT.

At the conclusion of the presentation that eventually informed us that Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Euros, dollars or pounds would all be accepted, and that all purchases would be shipped for free, the auctioneer called upon his staff to assist us, rich and hypnotized clients.  Out from behind the screen come not two or three, but I’d say 20 salesmen—only men—to assist us with our purchases.  Smartly, each homed in on a middle-aged married couple, which freed me up considerably.  I could listen to the individual pitches, make comments, and touch the carpets with little hard sell in my direction.  But they have to try.  As I made my way to the exit admiring this rug and that one, a salesman asked, “Which do you like, Mademoiselle?”  I simply opened my arms to the room replying, “I like them all!”  Another attempt or two, but I was finally released with a smile and a thank you to make my way downstairs.Carpet salesmen, KusadasiRolling out the Turkish carpetsTurkish carpet

Flying carpets, Kusadasi

One last gelato before boarding the ship.

Kusadasi Port

Fishermen, Kusadasi

Bird Island, or Pigeon Island


BYE-BYE Kusadasi…bye-bye Aquamarine

Leaving Kusadasi, TurkeyBye-bye Kusadasi

P.S.  photos are taking a painfully long time, so will be publishing notes and photos separately sometimes.  Keep checking back, if you’re interested in more photos.  Or for quality, see those by Kalei & Alohalani.

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie     (c)

Hawai’i in Santorini

Hawai`i flag, Hotel Kavalari, SantoriniKalispera from Santorini…in real time. 

Arrived in Santorini today.  didn’t realize how long the ferry took:  left at 7:25 this morning and got in shortly after 3 PM.  Stopped twice:  Paros and  Naxos.  It’s kind of an overcast day, as the photos will show.

Hawaiian flag outside my window, Santorini

Upon my arrival to the Hotel Kavalari, the proprietor noted my Hawai’i address, waxed poetic about how beautiful is my home, and immediately upgraded me to a room with a view.  A view of the crater, offshore islands…and the Hawaiian flag he has permanently posted!

It seems Fanos, said proprietor, has a friend with the College of Art at UH.  He spends some time in Honolulu but his favorite place to stay is in Kīhei, Maui and his favorite volcano is Haleakalā.

Small world!


Kim Ku’ulei Birnie     (c)

Tweets for 2009-10-23

  • Back in Athens in so-so portside hotel. Better go eat now, get back to my room early. #
  • Up and repacking. Catching a ferry in an hour. #

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My Big Fat Greek Itinerary

Aloha mai kakou…I am winding down my days in Greece.  I have always been a good postcard writer.  I send short notes during even the shortest trips.  I don’t know if this has diminished because I’m become lazy or because of e-mail.  When my daughter and I backpacked through Europe in 1992, we sent postcards faithfully, especially to family.  My Grandma Birnie posted a map to her wall and with the arrival of each postcard, she put a colored pin in the map, following our route.  Sometimes the postcards crossed in the mail, but each was dated, so she was able to keep track.

With this trip, we thought it would be fun to blog.  I’m not quite a week behind the journalling, still ahead of any postcards that might have been sent, yet I feel terrible about not being quite current.  That’s the fallout of a Facebook-o-file.

Here’s the rundown:

  • 15 OCT          Arrive Athens
  • 16-19 OCT   CRUISE:  Mykonos-Rhodes-Patmos-Ephesus
  • 19 OCT          Athens
  • 20-23 OCT   BUS:  Corinth-Epidaurus-Mycenae-Olympia-Peleponnese-Delphi-Meteora-Athens
  • 24-26 OCT   Santorini
  • 26-27 OCT   Fly or ferry to Roma

At the conclusion of our 4-day trip to Olympia, Delphi, Meteora, etc., I sat on the bus, highlighter in hand, and compared maps with all the other grandmothers so that we’d have accurate maps to show anyone who shows a glimmer of interest when we return to our respective homes.

On Day 1, we traveled 412 kilometers, 273 on Day 2, 340 on Day 3 and 456 on Day 4.  The total driving time is close to 1350 kilometers or, I’m told, 900+ miles.  However, the walktime is considerably less at–can it be–barely over two miles.

But it can’t beat the feeling of joy and appreciation upon arriving home, being invited to dinner at your grandmother’s, and finding her map of your trip on her wall.

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie     (c)

Patmos & Ephesus

 Aloha e na hoa heluhelu…I am actually sitting in a semi-decent hotel in a seedy area in Piraeus near the seaport.  Tomorrow morning I leave early to catch a ferry, so instead of staying in Athens proper, I have saved myself the morning time and come here tonight.  Wish I could’ve caught a ferry tonight!

Meanwhile, before I fall too far behind in the blogging…


PATMOS – 18 October

Were it for not for a chance wait-in-line at DaVinci Aeroporto with a nun from Waialua, I would not know the significance of Patmos

Apparently John the Theologian, not to be confused with John the Baptist, was exiled to Patmos in 95 A.D. when he fell in disfavor with some Turkish ruler. Although this ruler was assassinated 14 months later, the time spent was all John needed to earn him sainthood.  While living in a cave and sleeping on rock ledges, John heard the thunderous voice of God.  He dictated while a scribe wrote it all down and today it’s called the Book of Revelations. 

I still would not do well with a Jeopardy column on Book of Revelations, but I was impressed by the grotto and the reverence demonstrated there.

Our visit was on a Sunday morning and all the locals are in their Sunday finery.  Still, businesses open early for us and we visit sacred places on the holy day, though remonstrated to be a little quieter while services take place.  Later, I learn that tourism is the #1 industry in Greece, and it makes more sense.  Not that I think visitors should trump local practices, but I now comprehend why the locals accept what to me feel like intrusions.

EPHESUS, TURKEY – 18 October

coming soon