Wednesday, August 23, 2006
In between Greece and Wales the kids spent a week, for their second year, in sailing camp. They really enjoyed it, and while I don't think they have become exactly sea worthy they're certainly far ahead of any nautical aspirations I may have had in my youth. The only boating I did as a kid involved a 6' boat and a pair of oars.
Alex is clearly enjoying the best part of sailing camp - the ice cream they give them when they graduate.
After Crete we briefly returned to Stockholm to enjoy some of the fantastic weather which was a fairly steady phenomena all across Sweden through June, July and most of August. But duty called upon us to venture to Wales for a visit to our new "caravan" and some surfing.
The location we operate from is on the Gower Penisula, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary as the first place in the UK to be named a place of outstanding beauty. While some of the photos may not adequately convey its splendor, I assure you it is breathtaking.
The first photo, as you may have guessed, is the controversial "caravan". Also known as the trailer, that thing, and a host of unmentionables, it served us well during our two weeks there.
The initial journey was the kids and myself, sans Sofia. After traveling to Heathrow, Paddington, and then Swansea we darted off in our rental car as my brain tried to again adjust to narrow lanes and being on what is frankly, the wrong side of the road.
The weather had been sunny until we got to Swansea were there was some cloud cover. But upon reaching the beginning of the Gower penisula, the rain began. So as I fumbled around looking for the windshield washers, face pressed next to the glass, dodging the occasional sheep and cow, enjoying the lively traffic hand gestures the Welsh give special enthusiasm to, I began to contemplate two rainy weeks in 400 square feet of aluminum with three energetic 6-year olds.
With this thought in mind, I pulled into a Tesco and filled a shopping cart with a startling quantity of beer, wine, cider, scotch and a random bottle of vodka. Nick Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas" would have been telling me to stop. Along the way I cheerily added a few frozen pizzas and snack with which to bribe my young tribal travel companions.
My arsenal thus acquired, I returned to the road for the final white-knuckled few miles. "Why white-knuckled"? you might ask. When the mirrors on either side of your car are within a few inches of the hedge, and encounters with surfers traveling rapidly in the opposite direction are frequent, the grip on the steering wheel approaches a force equal to the weight of the car squared, times the number of children screaming.
In spite of some interesting motorized physics experiments, we arrived, stirred but not shaken.
The rain continued to fall as I called Sofia, who at that junture was probably having to surpress her laughter with a large pillow. The weather in Sweden was great I was informed, and with that she wished me the best of times (Very cruel) and was off to enjoy her solitude. During a subsequent call to my Welsh friend Steve, I was encouraged to believe that the weather was, in fact, temporary. Given a dozen prior journeys to Wales, doubt was my constant companion.
Yet, in the morning the clouds had parted and the sun was shining. Blazing in fact. Once the kids were up and dressed I gave them a tour of the grounds. They loved the playground, the sand dunes, the beach and most of all the store at the top of the hill, and its endless supply of candy.
That afternoon we took an extended walk on the beach during which the kids tossed at least fifty starfish back into the water that had been washed ashore in a storm. When Erika ran up to me holding only a dismembered starfish leg; inquiring about its likely survival, I realized it was probably time to head home.
Showing that grit for which I am famous, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to the restaurant in the caravan park for pizza. They graciously agreed.
After our culinary outing, the kids settled in for a movie and I, in turn, for a beer. We were content.
The short version (for which I'm sure you're thankful) is that we had amazingly cloudless skies during the entire trip. Temperatures approached and breached records on several of the days we were there and we went through two bottles of sunblock inside of five days. Sofia arrived at the end of the first week and despite some initial misgivings ended up having a great time. We all enjoyed it so much that next year we are going for three weeks. Best of all - every one was consistently getting up on their surfboard by the time we left.
The balance of the photos...
2) Sunset from our patio
3) Erika and Alex enjoying one of the seemingly endless sand dunes
4) Dad showing the kids the finer points of billiards
5) Alex about to surf
6) Karl riding away
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The day after the kids got out of school we jumped on a flight to Chania, Crete. None of us had been to Greece before so we were all very excited.
We arrived at almost 11pm, and since we were some distance from the airport, I arranged to have the rental car folks escort us to our rental house in Gavalohori. This ended up being a life saver as we had several miles of twisting and turning up and down hillsides until we got to our house.
When we arrived I was stunned. Generally rental homes which look nice online, look good when you get there, but there is always a mental depreciation calculation made beforehand to avoid being disappointed. This house was absolutely great. In addition, they really went the extra mile to look after us. If you are ever headed to this part of the world I recommend you check them out at www.eladin.gr.
Aside from the photo of the house:
1) The kids looking out at the beach and sea at Almirida. We snapped this while waiting for what ended up being among our best meals in Crete. There is a cautionary tale - in Crete, at least where we went, check out the restaurant before eating there. We found the quality of food and service to be highly variable.
2) The kids playing in the sand at Georgiopoulus. We spent three days at this beach, finding it a little more fun than Almirida, with more dining selections and more to do. Not that the kids noticed the difference much. Although, they do remember the first restaurant we went to and have spoken about it numerous times since. FWIW - there is a small restaurant right on the river (which runs into the sea from behind the beach). The restaurant looks cool and peaceful, which it is. However, the service can only be measured with a calendar, and the food was of a flavor and consistency that could be surpassed using a boiled stone. When your six-year old children tell you that the french fries are bad, there is a serious problem. On a positive note, we did find some lovely places just up the road along the boardwalk with excellent service and food.
3) This is another photo of the kids is from the beach at Georgiopoulus. An excellent beach with dramatic hills to the west and a clean river running diagonal to the beach and cutting across it to the sea. In the interest of doing something new and fun we got the kids inexpensive rafts that they used to float down the river into the sea (and then run back up and do it - again and again...)
All in all a great trip. One of the highlights, for which I could not get a decent photo, was a midsummer celebration they had in the village the final evening...
We were going out that evening to a taverna, where we had become friendly with the staff, one being an Aussie woman and the other a Swedish woman. Our kids had wanted to go there to play with their children. When we arrived to the town square they were building small fires in the road for the children to jump through (much safer than it may sound) as the adults looked on and listened to a small ensemble play Greek folk music feverishly in the background. The frenetic combination of the kids running around, the music, and a large dose of ouzo made for a magical experience. It was capped off with a midnight race up the very steep hill to our house, after which we all had a dip in the pool, dried off and promptly collapsed into our beds.
Speaking of "life" - I think we treasured ours much more after making a daylight trip back the airport. The twists and turns we so breezily sped through on our way to our village were all at the edges of steep unforgiving cliffs. Needless to say, our journey back took a little longer than our evening arrival.