Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mannum, South Australia

I recently spent a day in Mannum, a picturesque country town nestled along the banks of the River Murray in South Australia. This three minute video uses photographs, video footage and sound to 'paint a picture' of this delightful town, which is less than 90 minutes from the centre of Adelaide.

In the video can be seen two ferries used to transport vehicles and pedestrians across the Murray 24-hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year. House boats are available for hire in Mannum and other towns along the river, and are very popular with city dwellers and visitors to the region. The area is a bird watchers delight with all manner of native birds calling the river or its environs home. 

Most of the bird sounds on the video belong to the native, Major Mitchell Cockatoo, large white birds that nest along the river in their thousands. Also seen in the video are several pelicans, and the numerous seagulls which, despite being many miles from the ocean, seem to have also made the area home.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Greek Island Cooking

A month ago, in a post called A Picture Worth a Thousand Words, I wrote about working through my collection of 35,000+ images and videos in an effort to cull them down to a more useable number. Thankfully, that process is now done (more or less), and having reduced the number of files down to a manageable(?) 21,000 or so, I am now looking at ways to use some of those photographs and video clips.

Photographic eBooks
In an attempt to make use of a thousand or so photographs, I have started working on a series of ten eBooks utilising images from ten cities or countries. These include New York City, Paris, London, Tucson, and Savannah. The Greek island, Ikaria, and the South-East Asian country, Cambodia. In addition, I am planning photographic eBooks for the Australian cities; Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. 

Whew! I have got my work cut out for me, I know, but it is either that, or stop taking photographs completely. The eBooks will eventually become available via iTunes for a very nominal fee. 

Cooking Videos
I have been making short videos and posting them to my YouTube Channel for a number of years. In the past couple of days I have made two more videos for my Irene’s Kitchen series. Irene Gevezes, my sister, has been living on the Aegean Island of Ikaria since the mid-1970s, and over the years she has become a formidable cook (among her many other talents and skills). The island has gained a reputation over the past ten years or so as one of just five of the world’s Blue Zones, areas of the world where people live measurably longer lives than most of the world’s population. 

In the two videos, Irene prepares Mayirio and Soufiko, two traditional Greek island dishes that should especially please all vegetarians. Check them out and give them a try.

The first dish is for Mayirio

Mayirio is a mixed vegetable stew containing pretty much any vegetables you care to include. As Irene says in the video, traditionally the main ingredient is string beans, but she also added carrots, zucchini, egg plants/aubergine, spring onions and green peppers.

Irene prefers to use fresh tomatoes in her cooking rather than tomato purée, but had to use purée since she only had one tomato to add to this recipe. Irene also prefers to use coarse salt in her cooking, as she does here, but regular cooking salt can be substituted.

As always, Irene never measures the quantity of her ingredients precisely. Years of cooking for a large family has given her the experience to know the quantity to include in any particular meal she prepares. Having said that, as prepared by Irene in this video, there was more than enough Mayirio to feed four people. Coupled with other side dishes, the quantity prepared would have also been enough for up to six people.

3 Carrots
1 Large Zucchini
3 Aubergine/Egg Plant
6 Green Peppers
1 kg String Beans
Spring Onions
2 tomatoes or tomato purée

3-4 Cloves Garlic
1 cup of water
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
tomato paste/purée

Please watch the video to see Irene demonstrate and discuss the cooking process.


In this second video Irene prepares Soufiko.

3-4 Cloves Garlic (or to taste)
2-3 Onions
3-4 Green Peppers/Capsicums
2 Aubergine/Egg Plant
1 Zucchini
2-3 Potatoes
Tomatoes or Tomato Puree
Condiments to taste
Olive Oil (for frying)
1/2 cup water 

Please watch the video to see Irene demonstrate and discuss the cooking process.

NOTE: Irene cooks on an electric stove. If you are cooking with gas, adjust your heat settings to suit. At the very least, heed Irene’s warning when she says that the dish is prone to sticking and burning if the heat is too high. Hence her warning to keep a close eye on the pot during the cooking process.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Air New Zealand ‘Middle Earth’ Video Goes Viral

Screen grab from the Air NZ safety video

If you have not seen it yet, here is the Air New Zealand in-flight safety video that is going viral right across the internet and social networks everywhere. Marketing itself as the 'official' airline of Middle-earth, Air New Zealand has gone all out to celebrate the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

The safety video includes Elijah Wood and Sir Peter Jackson as well as several Air NZ flight crew members and cameo appearances by by Sylvester McCoy, Dean O’Gorman and Weta Workshop co-founder Sir Richard Taylor.

Air New Zealand are promoting the film, directed by Taika Waititi as, "The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made." Hyperbole, certainly, but a lot of fun just the same. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

36 Hours in Athens

Changing the guard, Greek Parliament Building
The New York Times, has been running a regular series of travel columns under the heading ‘36 Hours In…location name’, the latest of which is ’36 Hours In Athens’.

Having spent some time in Athens recently, I read the column with great interest, and I am happy to confirm that not only is the city slowly emerging from years of economic decline, but so too is the rest of the country.

As for the New York Times’ suggestions, they cover a good range of experiences, given that they are trying to squeeze a reasonable number of locations and activities into 36 hours. If I was going to add anything, I would suggest that while you are visiting the area around Monastiraki, you walk up to Syntagma Square and watch the changing of the guard in front of the Greek Parliament building.

The wonderful Benaki Museum is also nearby, and well worth a visit, but then the more you move away from the suggested itinerary and locations contained in the New York Times article, the more you might as well put together your own ’36 Hours in Athens’schedule.

Here is a short video that accompanies the New York Times article:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words

River scene, Cambodia
If ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ then thirty-five thousand pictures must be worth thirty-five million words! Maybe that explains why I haven’t been writing too many blog posts recently. Let me explain.

After four extended trips since 2008, that have taken me to America and Greece three times, France, twice, and England and Cambodia once each (as well a two week visit to Sydney, and six or seven month-long visits to Melbourne, Australia), I had amassed an enormous number of photographs and videos.

How many? More than 35,000 (4,000 of which are video clips). No, that larger figure is not a typo. Thirty-five thousand! Since my return in August from my last trip to Greece and France, I have spent more hours than I care to think about slowly going through my files and folders culling as many extraneous images as possible. I am now down to around 22,000 files. A few of them are now illustrating this post.

When I mentioned the number of files on my Facebook page, and wrote about the task of sorting through and deleting the doubles and the duds, one of my acquaintances left the following comment: “You can take so many pics you don't see anything.”

Largs Bay sunset, Adelaide
To which I replied, in part: “You are right of course…one of the problems/benefits of modern digital cameras is that they make it easy to take thousands of photographs, unlike the old 'analog' cameras that restricted you to shooting a maximum of 36 photos per roll of film.”

And therein lies the problem―or part of it. Modern digital cameras do in deed make it too easy to take hundreds, and even thousands of photographs. Older cameras, with their restrictive 12, 24, or 36 image rolls of film, forced photographers to be a lot more careful and choosy about the photographs they took, and the way they captured them. Because of these limitations, photographers spent a lot more time setting up and composing ‘the shot’, making sure aperture, f-stops, and ISO settings where just right. Even then, until they had a chance to get their rolls of film developed, often weeks later, there were no guarantees that the final results would be what they wanted.

Thankfully, digital cameras have freed us from many of these issues, providing us with the ability to quickly see if our images are good, and if not, to immediately keep shooting until we are satisfied with the results. Digital cameras also make it easy to shoot dozens of photographs of the same object, all in a matter of minutes, or even seconds. Obviously, given this ease of use, it doesn’t take long to accumulate hundreds (or thousands) of photographs, especially during long extended trips.

Stop And Smell The Roses
View from Koskina Castle, Ikaria
But there was something else bothering me about that Facebook comment. Hidden in my friends response is the implied criticism that many modern travellers (including myself), are so busy taking photographs that we don’t stop to truly see and appreciate the things we are trying to capture on film or video. And he is right.

I personally, am well aware of this potential problem, and always try to allow time to just sit and look, to observe and contemplate, and to find space in my travels to be grateful for the opportunities I have had that brought me to a specific location, at that particular period in my life and journey. This is probably the major reason I like to travel for extended periods involving months rather than weeks. It is also the reason I have returned, two, three and even more times to countries and cities I have previously visited.

There are a lot of travellers who are intent on visiting as many countries as they possibly can, simply so they can boast about the number of places they have been to. Getting to know the people and the customs and culture of the countries they visit, is not why these people travel. They are simply collecting stamps in passports, and those ubiquitous, “This is me in…” photographs.

Bastille Monument, Paris
I never have been, nor will I ever be that type of traveller.

Living In ‘The Moment’
In my reply I also wrote: “One of my travel fantasies involves travelling with no camera at all, but I don't know if that is ever going to happen.”

While there have been days during my travels when I have chosen to leave my camera behind at my accommodations, I doubt that I will ever have the confidence in my aging memory banks to not have a camera at all for the duration of a trip. And while I understand the concept of ‘living in the moment’, of trying to focus all my senses on what is going on around me at any particular moment in time, there is also a joy and pleasure in trying to record and capture those moments in a more tangible and permanent form.

We live in an age when literally billions of images have been uploaded to dozens of popular photo sharing sites such as Flickr, Instagram, 500px, Pinterest, and many others. In the time it has taken you to read this far, several million images will have been uploaded to Facebook alone.

The other factor I did not mention is that I have travelled extensively since rekindling my travel bug in 2008. In fact I even surprised myself when I added up the weeks and months I have ventured overseas.

  • March 11, 2008 - October 5, 2008 [seven months]
  • June 29, 2010 - March 7, 2011 [eight months]
  • July 30, 2012 - October 24, 2012 [three months]
  • April 28, 2014 - August 20, 2014 [four months]
Water Tower, Sydney
This is a total of around 22 months of travel outside Australia. And this does not include approx six month's house sitting in Melbourne over the past six or seven years, or the two weeks I spent in Sydney in 2009. 

All this travel adds up to almost 30 months away from ‘home’ since March 2008. Thirty months ‘on the road’ presents a heck of a lot of opportunities for taking thousands of photographs―and take them I did.

How many photographs are too many? Can you in fact, take too many photographs during your travels? Does the world really need another image of the Eiffel Tower, or the Empire State Building, or other well known landmark?

I’d love to know what readers think about this issue. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Year In Paris and New York City

Today I turn 66, (Happy Birthday, Jim).

I am spending the day preparing for a house sitting stint for a home owner heading to Europe for the next six weeks. While she is away, I will house sit and care for her home and much loved feline companion. Two days after the owner returns, I will begin house sitting another home―this time for a period of almost three months. This house sit includes a very active dog that loves to chase balls and run on the nearby beach. Both these homes are within thirty to forty minutes of the apartment I live in.

So why am I house sitting for the next four to five months when I have a perfectly good place of my own to stay in and look after? Because from time to time I like to get out of my comfort zone. Because I want to challenge myself. To remind myself that despite my 66 years, there is still ‘life in the old boy, yet’. And because I want to show my friends, my family, my nephews and nieces, and anyone else who feels stuck in a rut, or afraid of trying something different, that they can challenge themselves at any age to break out of their own particular comfort zones, and try something different.

During the 1970s, I spent five and a half years living and working in London. Each summer I would head into Europe and generally end up in Greece where I have extended family (my parents were Greek). Little did I think, after I returned to Australia in September 1976, that 32 years would pass before I would once again venture away from Australian shores.

Thirty-two years!

Now I am making up for lost travel time. I have travelled to Europe and/or America every two years since 2008, and I am not done yet.

At the end of August, I returned from my latest trip―a four month extended stay in Greece and Paris―infused and excited by the idea of again spending a year living in one of the worlds great capitals. While I was in Paris, the thought occurred to me that I was free to spend the rest of my life pretty much anywhere I chose to live. It might be Adelaide, my home town, or it might be Paris, London, New York City, Berlin, or somewhere else.

Since this idea hit me in Paris, the ‘City of Lights’ was my first choice. Now that I have had time to think about it, I am still excited by the challenge and prospect of living there. I am also exploring the possibility of spending a year in New York City. Having been to New York three times, I would dearly love to spend a whole year there. Even though I have already spent a total of almost five months visiting New York City, I am not done with that most amazing and exciting of cities by a long shot.

Heck. Why not spend a year in Paris and New York City?

Why not, indeed?

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being retired, and even those of us who are, don’t always have the freedom to pull up stakes and move away from hearth and home for twelve months. Or for greater or lesser periods. However, I firmly believe that we all have many choices available to us throughout our lives, and that we can choose to take the easy way, the comfortable way, the safe way, or we can choose the way ‘less travelled’.

After the idea to spend a year living in Paris or New York City fired my imagination, I wrote in my travel journal:

Life is short.
The clock is ticking.
If not now
So do it now.

Love The Life You Live
            ―or Change It.

At sixty-six years of age, life does indeed seem short, and the clock is definitely ticking. It may take me another year before I finally sort out all the details for my yearlong Parisian or New York sabbatical, but I am working on it. I’m working on it. Watch this space.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Cost of Four Months Travel

Parisian river scene
 I recently returned from an almost four month extended vacation spent mostly in Greece, but with a two week side trip to Paris, France. As near is I can calculate it, my total costs for this trip were just under $7,000 (Australian dollars). Incredibly, this figure is pretty much what I would have spent if I had stayed at home in Adelaide, Australia.

By way of explanation: Transport includes all public transport (taxis, buses, trains), excluding ferries and flights; Eats includes meals out and snacks; Groceries includes purchases made at local supermarkets in Greece and Paris; Recreation includes visits to museums, galleries and other landmarks. It also includes shared family meals which I hosted and paid for; Other includes purchases that did not fit neatly into other categories. Finally, Bank Fees on overseas purchases and ATM withdrawals have all been lumped into this category. Here is a breakdown of my trip expenses (figures in Australian dollars):

Accommodations             $1526.40
- AirBnB, Paris         $779.00 (10 nights)
- Palace Hotel           $270.50 (4 nights)
- Delfini Hotel          $476.90 (10 nights)
Tower of St. Jacques, Paris, France
Flights                              $2013.97
- Emirates                 $1619.91
- Air France              $394.06
Ferries                             $225.00
Transport                        $127.37
- Greece                  $46.02
- Paris                     $81.35
Eats                                 $697.92
- Greece                  $390.27
- Paris                     $307.65
Groceries                       $552.39
- Greece                  $481.89
- Paris                     $70.50
Shopping                       $536.50
Recreation                    $762.64
- Greece                  $644.79
- Paris                     $117.85
Other                            $386.95
- Global Rorting      $18.22
Bank Fees                    $154.15         
TOTAL:                       $6983.29

Clearly, some of the costs in the above breakdown overlap with other categories. For example, I could have added bank fees (Currency Conversion Fees, etc) to their associated purchases, but I liked the idea of separating these costs out from everything else. Also, my hosting and paying for several family gatherings at restaurants could have gone into the Eats category, but I saw these as separate from meals and snacks I bought just for myself.

‘Global Rorting’ is my not so tongue in cheek name for Global Roaming fees imposed by all telecoms providers on travellers using their mobile phones outside of their home networks. Travel blogs and websites are full of horror stories about people who have returned home to find massive phone bills waiting for them, because they used their phones while travelling.

I got around this potential problem (just $18.22) by using Skype as much as possible, and by using my phone only when I absolutely had to. As soon as I had used my phone to make a call, I would turn off Global Roaming to ensure there was no chance of incurring costs and charges I was not prepared for. If you don’t have Skype installed on your smartphone or tablet device do so at the earliest opportunity. Calls to other Skype users are free―even if those users are on the other side of the planet. And calling people who are not Skype users incurs a fee that is a fraction of what your phone company charges, so do yourself a favor and install it now. Even the app is free.

Statue of Apollo, Versailles, France
An additional word or two about the Accommodations and Groceries expenses may be in order. Firstly, Accommodations. Clearly, since I only paid for a total of 24 nights in hotels, I must have had other sleeping arrangements in place for my remaining three months, and in deed I did.

I am lucky enough to have extensive family connections in Greece where two sisters and their extended families now live. Hence, I was able to share my time between both sisters at no cost in terms of accommodation. However, I did of course contribute financially in other ways while staying with family, either by hosting and paying for the already mentioned family gatherings, or by paying for petrol, groceries (other than my own), and for a new digital television and computer desk for family members (both Shopping expenses), and for other items.

As for Groceries: For most of my time in Greece and Paris, I lived in accommodations that enabled me to cook my own meals, thereby saving me a small fortune by not having to eat out at restaurants and cafés all the time. To clarify, most of my stay in Greece was spent in a self-contained studio apartment owned by family members for which I paid no rent, which obviously kept my accommodation costs to a minimum. A good example of how costs can add up quickly can be seen by comparing the Eats figures. I spent almost as much in Paris ($307.65) over two weeks as I did during 14-15 weeks in Greece ($390.27).

Of course, not all travellers have the luxury of free accommodation available to them when they travel, so I am extremely grateful to my sisters and their families for making my stay not only affordable, but the absolute delight it turned out to be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Another City, Another Scam

Back in January 2011, I wrote about a Gold Ring Scam I fell for while visiting Paris during the winter of 2010. Recently, I was reminded of the following scam I fell for while visiting New Orleans in 2012. Apparently, it is a well known scam in the city, but unfortunately, I had never heard of it.

While out walking one day I was approached by a local person of doubtful character who complimented me on my boots! I immediately sensed that I was about to be scammed by a panhandler for a dollar or two, but this guy was better than most. He wanted to guess, with absolute certainty "Where you got your boots." I tried to ignore him, and said there was no way he could know where I got my boots, but he was insistent, so I let him guess, since he was quite persistent, and didn't seem to be able to take "No" for an answer.

Sucked in again, Jim!

Of course, he knew exactly where I "...got my boots."

"You got your boots on your feet!" he crowed triumphantly.

With that, he bent down and smeared some gunk on both boots and then insisted on cleaning them for me - for an 'donation' of course. I wasn't too happy about the scam, but took it in good humor when I realised he wasn't alone, and that a couple of friends were providing back up for this con man.

However, my good humor quickly soured when he (and his friends) tried to scam me out of $20 for the so-called 'shoe cleaning', I baulked and gave him $9.00 in small bills, which he happily took. I did have a $20 note, but I was not going to give him that if I could help it. I suspect that if I had only given him $5 he would have been just as happy with that, but what the heck.

I paid because, just like the gold ring scammer in Paris, I should have known better, but despite my Scammer Alert warning system, I still fell for his patter, and for that I needed to pay for my stupidity. I also paid because I had a feeling that his own 'good humor' and that of his friends might also have turned sour very quickly, and I was in no position to defend myself against three men.

Next time - and there will always be a next time - I hope I have the presence of mind and the good sense, to simply ignore the scammer and walk away before they have time to launch into their well rehearsed patter.

By the way, I was in Paris again just last month, and the 'Gold Ring Scam' as I like to call it, is still going strong. This time I was approached by some guy trying to con me while I was visiting the Eiffel Tower, but of course he went away empty handed.

And while I’m at it, if you ever go to Paris, watch out for the young women (and they always seem to be young women), who claim they are collecting money for institutions providing services for people with disabilities of one sort or other (mostly for the deaf or deaf-mutes). Some of them even pretend to be deaf-mutes themselves, but watch them long enough and you will see them talking together as they go about their lucrative ‘business’.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hey, Pablo, What’s In A Name?

I quite like how the French don’t just give you street names, but also include information about the people the streets are named for. For example Avenue De Camoens, is named for the Portuguese poet Luis De Camoes, whose monument stands on the street bearing his name.

I can't explain why the street name includes the letter 'n' in his name, while the monument does not (maybe it is a grammatical thing), and neither do I know why the French have honoured De Camoes in this way, but then why not?

According to Wikipedia Luís Vaz de Camões is considered Portugal's greatest poet. His mastery of verse has been compared to that of Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil and Dante. He wrote a considerable amount of lyrical poetry and drama but is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), and the influence of this work is so profound that Portuguese is called the "language of Camões." As if that is not honor enough, June 10, the day of his death, is Portugal's national day.

Meanwhile, the Quai Louis Bleriot (below) honors the French aviator by that name who was the first to fly a plane across the English Channel in 1909, thereby winning a monetary prize of one thousand pounds put up by the England’s Daily Mail.

Rue Degas (below), is named for Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917). Degas was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance, with more than half of his works depict dancers. He is also regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist.

Antoine Dubois was a French surgeon (chirurgien) whose main claim to fame seems to be that in 1811 he was given the responsibility of delivering the child of the Empress Marie-Louise. Following the successful birth of Napoleon II, the Empress's baby, Dubois was given the title of "baron". He is also credited with making improvement to a number of surgical instruments, including a forceps.

Finally, Rue des Grands Augustins is a street in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement. It is said that Louis XIII received the sacrament in Rue des Grands Augustins, one hour after the assassination of his father Henry IV. A notable resident of the street was the artist Pablo Picasso who lived here from 1937 to 1948. It was here that Picasso painted one of his most famous and monumental works, Guernica.

So what's in a name? Many things. Most of us (including myself), pay little or no attention to street names. They are seen only as guides that help us get to homes and businesses, monuments and landmarks, restaurants and cafes, hair dressers and chemists, and many other destinations. Without them, it would be impossible to find our way through modern cities like Paris, London, New York City and a thousand others. Surely even modern aids such as online maps and GPS navigation systems would be useless without street names.

So take a few minutes now to think about the name of the street where you live. If your street is named after a person, look the name up and try and find out why this man or woman is being honored in this way. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer in Paris, France

For the past six days I have been on vacation in Paris from my vacation in Greece. That is to say, my two week side trip to the City of Lights, comes after the eleven weeks I have already spent on the Aegean Island, Ikaria.

It has been a real pleasure to renew my explorations of this wonderful city, in which every street must surely have an amazing history of its own. For now I will simply add some photographs of my wanderings around the city.

Above: Funeral monument at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, and below, detail from the same sculpture.

Below: house boats line the banks of the River Seine.

I wonder if these can be hired for short term accommodation?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Metropolitan Museum (NYC) Free Publications

Screen shot of MetPublications Portal
During my 2010 visit to New York City, I paid a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (colloquially called the ‘Met’), and made a point of visiting The Cloisters, that branch of the Met Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The Cloisters was a short 10-15 minute walk from where I was staying in Washington Heights. I wrote about that visit here, so I won’t cover old ground today. Instead I wanted to let you know about a treasure trove of online publications that all art lovers, visitors to New York, and New Yorkers themselves will surely want to explore further.

Like the online publications collection available at the Getty Museum website, the Metropolitan Museum has also made available hundreds of publications through their own online portal via the MetPublications section of the website.

MetPublications is a portal to the Met's comprehensive publishing program with 1,500 titles, including books, online publications, and Bulletins and Journals from the last five decades. Current book titles that are in-print may be previewed and fully searched online, with a link to purchase the book. The full contents of almost all other book titles may be read online, searched, or downloaded as a PDF. For the Met's Bulletin, all but the most recent issue can be downloaded as a PDF. For the Met's Journal, all individual articles and entire volumes can be downloaded as a PDF.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but when 1,500 publications from one of the world’s leading art institutions are made freely available to anyone with an internet connection, that constitutes a real treasure trove. Back in 2010, I was completely unaware of this resource, and anyway I didn’t have an iPad which would help me make the most of that knowledge―even if I did know about MetPublications. However, now I do have an iPad, and I do know about the Getty Museum publications and those from the Met Museum, so lately I have been making up for lost time by downloading and reading some of the catalogues and bulletins from both organizations. By the way, you don't need an eReader to access these publications, they can be downloaded to your laptop or desktop computer as well.

The Unicorn Tapestries
Which brings me back to my visit to The Cloisters. There are some unique and priceless works of art on display in The Cloisters, and probably none more so than the seven Gothic Unicorn Tapestries the building is famous for. I was familiar with the tapestries (which depict the Hunt For The Unicorn) in a very general way, and as much as I enjoyed seeing them, my visit suffered from a lack of real knowledge about the background and history of these magnificent works. Even worse, I had absolutely no way of ‘reading’ or understanding the importance of the hundreds of individual images woven on to these treasures.

Thankfully, all that changed after I discovered MetPublications and the numerous catalogues and bulletins available there that examine the Unicorn Tapestries in great detail.

I know, I know, you could argue this information came four years too late, but when I return to New York City next year, and return again to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to The Cloisters, I can assure you I will be much more knowledgeable and informed, not only about the tapestries, but about many other works of art, and the buildings that house them.

I will review some of the publications I have downloaded at a future date. In the meantime, why not check out both the Getty Museum and The Met Museum, and see what exciting treasures you can discover for yourself.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Photo: Aegean Moon

Click to view larger size
I almost missed this event last evening, but I just happened to be outside when I noticed the full moon rising over the Atheras Range on the Aegean Island of Ikaria. I immediately grabbed my camera and tripod and shot a series of images as the moon, bathed in the golden glow of a disappearing sun, slowly ascended into a cloud free night. My humble Canon PowerShot SX20 was barely up to the task, but I'm grateful for the shots I got. Tonight there will another full moon, and again I will be out trying to get better shots.

By the way, in case you hadn't noticed, today is Friday, 13th. Meetings between the full moon and Friday thirteenth happen very rarely. Apparently there will not be another rendezvous between the full moon and Friday 13th until 2049! I hope you paused to enjoy today's meeting.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For Whom The Bell Tolls

The Byzantine church of Agia Sophia, at Kampos, Ikaria.
 “… never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
~ from Meditation XVII, by John Donne

The above words (part of John Donne’s, Meditation XVII, published in 1624), were the first thing that came to mind when I woke up early one recent morning to the tolling from the solitary bell attached to the belfry of the Byzantine church of Agia Sophia, in Kampos, Ikaria. The mournful toll of the bell, at intervals of 4-5 seconds each, announced the passing of a local islander. More to the point, because the Ag. Sophia church was being used to bring notice of the death to the surrounding community, it meant that someone in Kampos (or a relative of someone in the village), had died.

John Donne
Like most people familiar with the above quote, I had never given much thought to those lines from John Donne. I was knew them to the extent that I knew the writer Ernest Hemingway had quoted Donne for the title of his 1940 book, For Whom The Bell Tolls. I also understood that the phrase, and the larger passage it comes from, is one of the most quoted of John Donne’s writings, and that it refers to death and loss, and the interconnections between the living and the dead. Here is the full paragraph:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Until I woke to the sound of the tolling bell, I had assumed the custom had long since slipped out of usage, and that other more modern means of informing people of someone’s passing must surely now be in use. But of course, I was wrong.

I must admit that I was not prepared for the emotional impact the tolling bell had on me. The older I get, and the closer I get to my own demise, the more I am conscious that the clock is ticking, and that time is slowly running out. Not just for me, but for all of us. While no one wants to be reminded of this obvious fact, and while most of us are happy to ignore the obvious as much as possible, the solitary tolling of the church bell, was a stark reminder that life is short. So, don't ask "...for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

More Information
Gutenberg: John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions…

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This Island Life: Briam

Traditional Greek dish called Briam
Another recipe prepared by my sister, Irene Gevezes, who lives on Ikaria, an island in the Aegean Sea. This simple, easy to prepare dish using zucchini, potato, and tomato is called Briam. Preparation time should be no more than ten minutes, while baking will add another hour or so. Eaten with a traditional Greek salad, Briam makes a perfect summer meal. Enjoy.

Ingredients Used in This Dish:
2 Zucchini
8 Potatoes
3 Cloves Garlic
1 Tomato
Salt and Pepper
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Water

Large baking dish
Preheat oven to 200°C
Bake for approx one hour or until potatoes are cooked.
Feeds 4-6.
Note: Irene uses and electric cooker.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Website of The Week: Coursehorse

Composite image of Coursehorse home page
I recently discovered the wonderful Coursehorse website, which acts as a clearing house for dozens-if not hundreds―of organizations offering lectures, classes, walking tours and courses* in three major American cities: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago (a recent addition).

Coursehorse boasts that more than 40,000 courses are accessible via the site, and I am not about to argue with that claim by trying to count their current offerings.

Some courses are for one-off talks, while others are scheduled across several weeks. Some of the courses are free, but the vast majority have a fee attached which may be as little as $10, while many others run to several hundred dollars. The most expensive course I saw during my trawl through the website was for the iPhone/iPad Programming with Objective C Basics course which cost $3,419. Mind you, this intensive seven day, Monday to Sunday course runs from 9:00am to 6:00pm each day, so some might consider this a pretty good investment of their time and money. For all I know there are even more expensive courses available through the site.

Something For Everyone
There are eleven major categories of courses on offer through Coursehorse: Art, Acting, Cooking, Dance, Fitness, Life Skills, Language, Music, Professional, Tech, and Kids. However, within these main categories there are hundreds of sub-categories that must surely offer something for everyone. Make sure you check out the Deals section for courses that are offering discounts to course participants. These can result in substantial savings if you find exactly what you are looking for.

Coursehorse Vs. Coursera
I should point out here that Coursehorse is not to be confused with Coursera, a site that acts as a clearing house for more than 600 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Everything offered through Coursera is accessed and studied online, while all the courses available through Coursehorse require participants to attend a lecture hall, college, museum or gallery in person.

If you live in New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago, why not check out Coursehorse and sign up for one of the many courses on offer? If you are visiting one of these cities, taking a class or short course is a great way to experience a different side of life in one of America’s major cities.

*Note: While a range of one-off lectures, classes, walking tours and courses are offered through Coursehorse, I have elected to use the word courses throughout this post for the sake of clarity.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hotel Delfini, Piraeus, Greece

After my fourth or fifth stay at the Hotel Delfini, at Piraeus, I decided it was high time I wrote a review of the establishment. Since I have stayed at the hotel on each of my three visits to Athens, you might assume it is a great hotel to spend a night or three at. While I won't say it isn't a nice hotel, it is far from the best hotel in Piraeus. I'm not even sure if it is the best of the bad hotels in Piraeus. Still, for €35.00/night there are surely worse places to stay while waiting for your ship to come in―which is exactly what I was doing, waiting for a ferry to take me to the island of Ikaria.

The Delfini has 51 rooms, two elevators, and a large guest lounge which doubles as a breakfast room, and internet café. A menu in each room offers a number of snack items that are apparently available for purchase, although I never ordered anything from the menu, so I can’t say how good any of these snacks might be. Also, I don’t know if menu items are made fresh on the premises, or if they are made to order and delivered via one of the numerous cafés close to the hotel.

Here’s what the hotel itself has to say about its facilities:

Hotel DELFINI and its staff promise a pleasant and enjoyable stay. Its comfortable rooms, which are furnished with great taste, and decorated with simplicity and worm [sic] colourings, guarantee absolute relaxation and peace. No matter how tired you might be, in our hotel you will find the calmness and the quietness you need. Our rooms are equipped with all modern amenities (Satellite TV, direct external telephone line etc).

I’m not too sure about the “worm” colourings, and since the “etc” at the end of that quote leaves a lot unsaid, let me elaborate further.

FACILITIES: The rooms at the Delfini tend to be small and cramped, and they all seem to have an overpowering smell of stale cigarette smoke clinging to the walls and furnishings. From my experience, asking for a non-smoking room makes no difference. All the rooms I have had cause to stay in reek heavily of smoke, and all are supplied with ashtrays.

Room 44 beds
Looking towards balcony
Furnishings are plain and functional. A couple of low single beds with cheap springy mattresses, a bar fridge and small analogue television, a plain wooden wardrobe, a couple of small bedside cabinets, and an even smaller table and that's about it.

Analog television
Bedside cabinet and bar fridge
Oh, my room had a phone as well, but inexplicably this was located high on a wall in the bathroom. It sat fixed precariously above the toilet bowl, and to this day I don't know if it worked or not. The shower alcove in room 44 was tiny, and I had to squeeze by the washbasin to reach it.

Phone high above toilet bowl and tiny shower alcove
Happily, room 44 was air conditioned which must be very handy during the height of summer. I did turn the unit in my room on, and it seemed to be working as designed.

At least the air-con unit is new and works
As previously noted, there are two small elevators to lift guests and their luggage to the higher floors, while the Internet cafe does double duty as the breakfast room.

WIFI: The hotel offers free WiFi although the higher your room, the poorer the WiFi reception. During this stay I was in room 44, which was on the sixth floor, and while I could log into the WiFi connection the strength of the signal was very low. Actually, to be honest I should have written "when I could log into the WiFi...," because I soon realized that WiFi at the Delfini was so slow and the connection so intermittent that it was all but useless and more than enough to try the patience of Job all over again. Even moving down to the lounge/breakfast room didn't make any real difference to the strength or quality of the WiFi connection.

Entrance and free-standing wardrobe.
BREAKFAST: For five euros (approx AUD$7.50), you can help yourself to a smorgasbord Continental Breakfast that may include eggs (hard-boiled or fried but not necessarily both); bread, sliced ham, cheese, tomato and cucumber; cereal including muesli and corn flakes; jelly/jams, yoghurt, fruit (canned), and tea and coffee. And help myself I did. I figured a hearty breakfast could get me through most of the day, thereby saving me the extra expense of a midday meal.

A room with a view of the harbor
LOCATION: The one thing that keeps me coming back to the Delfini is the proximity of the hotel to the harbor, which is literally about a hundred yards away across the busy Akti Posidonos road. Also just down the road is the terminal for the main rail line that leads directly to the heart of Athens. Oh, and if you are flying in to Eleftherios Venizelou Airport, you can jump on the X96 bus, and for five euros that will bring you right in to the heart of Piraeus.

My Rating
Facilities: C+ (low pass)
WiFi: D (for Dismal)
Breakfast: A (Pass)

7, Leocharous Street
Piraeus 185 31

Phone: +30 21 0417 3110
Fax: +30 210 4173510
E-mail: info@hotel-delfini.com

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Review: Wild New York

I am slowly working my way through the pile of books I left behind in Greece following my 2010 visit to America. One of these is Wild New York: A Guide to the Wildlife, Wild Places and Natural Phenomena of New York City by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson.

What a fascinating read Wild New York turned out to be. Essentially two books in one, Wild New York examines the human history of New York City, as well as the natural history waiting to be discovered in each of the five boroughs.

Wild New York includes:
  • Dozens of  Wild Facts describing the city's worst snow storms, the best places to watch the sunset, the rarest animals, the highest points, the healthiest forests, and the hottest spots for bird-watching
  • Fascinating biographies of the city's animals, from the much maligned pigeon and the dreaded rat, to falcons nesting on Park Avenue and sharks lurking off Coney Island
  • A history of the city's 1.1 billion-year-old geologic past, including the unearthing of a mastodon's 10,000-year-old bones in Manhattan
  • Sixteen pages of color photographs showing rare views of New York City and its wildlife
  • Directions for 33 walking tours in parks and wildlife refuges throughout New York City with 18 detailed maps to help urban eco-tourists find nature in the city.
Speaking of walking tours: during two of my extended visits to New York City I have been lucky enough to stay in Washington Heights, within easy walking distance of two of the parks mentioned in Wild New York―Fort Tryon Park and Inwood Hill Park. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a copy of the book with me on my walks through these parks which meant I often walked right past geological formations and historical landmarks completely oblivious to their existence and importance. Wild New York includes walking tours for both these parks, as well as two walking tours for Central Park and numerous other locations.

If I have any complaints about Wild New York, one would be the format of the book, which in the hardcover version has dimensions measuring 9.1 x 7.4 inches. This makes the book somewhat bulky and inconvenient to tote around the city comfortably if one wants to use it ‘on location’.

Although completely understandable, given the 1997 publication date, another complaint is the absence of internet addresses for the many organizations and individuals mentioned throughout the book. Wild New York is crying out for an updated reprint that would solve this issue. Better yet, an updated Wild New York would also be available as an eBook making the information in it even more accessible to the urban explorer.

On the positive side, the chapter detailing 33 parks, nature areas and wildlife refuges in Wild New York provides a comprehensive overview of the whole city. All the major parks are of course examined here, from Central Park and the New York Botanical Garden to Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Less well known is the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge adjacent to JFK airport, and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Staten Islanders may be familiar with the Staten Island Greenbelt, but how many other New Yorkers (let alone visitors) have taken the time to visit there? Or Alley Pond Park in Queens? Or Breezy Point, and Plumb Beach?

The good news is that Wild New York makes it easy to visit these places by providing clear ‘How to get there’ details for visitors using public transport or their own vehicles. Having said that, another criticism comes to mind regarding the walks detailed in the book, and that is the lack of information about the walking distances involved. It is not always possible to know whether to allocate one hour, three hours, or more for some of the suggested walks just by looking at the maps. Nor is it always clear if the terrain is flat and easy to cover or hilly and harder to negotiate. An updated reissue of Wild New York would hopefully address these concerns and the others previously mentioned.

Despite my caveats, I discovered a wealth of interesting facts and historical information about New York that was previously unknown to me, and I would venture to say that even long term residents of the city will discover much about their home within the pages of Wild New York, that they are completely unaware of.
“Whether a native New Yorker or visiting from out of town, if you have the interest or the inkling to find hundred foot trees, tidal pools, salt marshes, Native American caves, hilltop vistas, or even just learn which wildflowers grow between the sidewalk slabs or which trees are tough enough to stand up to the stress of city life, this book is for you.”
~ Vincent M. Silenzio on September 26, 2000 (Amazon Review)
I suspect Wild New York has been long out of print, and your best bet for finding a copy is by scouring your local bookshop or online via Amazon or Abe Books, both of which have copies available.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pumpkin & Fennel Pie (Greek island style)

Portrait of Irene by Bill Cook
My sister Irene Gevezes has been living on Ikaria, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea for almost 40 years. Among her many skills and talents, Irene has become a formidable cook and during a previous visit to the island, I filmed Irene as she prepared a number of traditional Greek dishes including purslane salad, lemon-peel spoon sweet, and goatsmilk cheese.

Now that I am back on the island for an extended stay, I have started filming more recipes with her, and these will be added to my YouTube channel as each is completed.

In the video below, Irene is making a traditional slice, or pie, using ingredients sourced mostly from her home garden. Even the grated goats milk cheese she uses in the pie is made from the milk she gets daily from her own goats.

Pumpkin & Fennel Pie
Main Ingredients:
Pumpkin, fennel, spring onions, silver beet, plain flour, two eggs beaten, grated goat milk cheese.

Herbs & Spices:
Mint, lemon balm, turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper, 8g yeast,

Water, olive oil, vinegar, Raki or Ouzo as needed.

Preheat oven to 180C (Irene uses an electric oven)

I am not going to give a detailed description of the preparation and cooking processes here. You can see those in the video. I will say though, that the whole process―from 'go to whoa'―will take several hours, which includes preparation and cooking time.

Early in the video I say to Irene that she has not "measured" any of the ingredients. Of course, throughout the preparation and cooking process Irene does measure the ingredients, although not by weight. Mostly she is measuring by quantity. For example, we see a large colander full of fennel, and a large orange plastic bowl full of diced pumpkin and chopped silver beet leaves. Also, when Irene places all the ingredients into the large saucepan it is filled to the brim.

If you are going to make this pie, or slice, don't worry about preparing too much filler or pastry. As Irene points out in the video, she simply freezes any excess filler and pastry for later use (the left over pastry makes a great pizza base as well).

If you don't have access to homemade goat milk cheese (and how many of us do?), substitute grated feta cheese, mozzarella, or other white cheese of your choice.

Finally, in the early part of the video Irene uses the expression "wilt it" while preparing to cook the fennel. What Irene means by this is to simmer the fennel (and later the pumpkin) on low heat until thoroughly cooked.

If you have any questions. Don't hesitate to ask them via the Comments section below. I will pass them on to Irene and add the answers in the same manner.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Photos: Ikarian Landscape

Is this the way Greek legends and myths are created? On seeing the stark, forbidding landscape on the southern windswept side of the Aegean island of Ikaria, my nephew, by way of explanation told me that local lore had it that when God finished creating the world he dumped all the left over stones and boulders on Ikaria. Walking over and around some of the thousands of massive boulders that dot the landscape here, I can well believe that story.

It takes a hardy people to create a life out of this landscape
Moon rocks have got nothing on this rock strewn landscape
How many years did it take to create this monster?
Many boulders are larger than the average American SUV―and God knows they can be massive! The largest of these monsters dominate the landscape like nothing else on the island, and one can only guess at the eons it must have required for the combined effects of wind and rain, and heat and cold to wear down and smooth the surface of the largest boulders.

Putting them in perspective
Boulders bigger than your average SUV
 One of the strangest rock formations is that seen in the image immediately below. The locals have dubbed this the 'cannon', due to its obvious similarity in outline to military weapons of this type. My comment on seeing this was, No wonder the Turks have not invaded Ikaria, if they can see this with binoculars from Turkey, they will think it is a massive cannon of the type used during the Second World War, and stay well away! 

The 'cannon'
I'm sure I will return to this theme of the Ikarian landscape in future posts as I wander further afield across the island.
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