Drawing Inspiration from the Masters

Wander the endless and cavernous halls of the Louvre and you just might run across a similar scene... an artist meticulously replicating a famous master.

Of course, you don't have to visit the Louvre. This lonesome canvas was in a small museum in Chartres...


Back road finds...

You never know what you'll find on a back road. This 1960s Oldsmobile was parked next to a shack of a house at about 11,000 ft. near Breckenridge, Colorado.


Three Must-See Beaches in Karpathos

I'm not about to post any breaking news... in fact, what I'm about to share with you will be shared by anyone who lives on or frequently visits Karpathos. There are all kinds of beautiful beaches on the island... Diakofti, Damatria, Christou Pigado, Lefkos but there are three that are absolute no-brainers:
Kyra Panagia

We had a chance to visit all three during our visit and loved all of them. We would probably give the nod to Apella as the most beautiful, even if it is the most remote. Nonetheless, you can't go wrong with any of them. Each has their own feel and all three provide "thrilling" car rides.

Let's start with Apella...
Take a look at that first picture - that's Apella as seen from the main road. Wow... I mean wow. The water is simply beautiful - nice and calm, shallow and so clear. There are plenty of rocks for snorkling and wading around and the setting is just dramatic - jutting cliffs to the left and right and a valley rising up behind the beach. It's a wide beach with quite a few sunbeds and plenty of space to stretch out. I really liked the pines in the area - gave it a different and greener look than what many are used to in Greece.
You can rent two sunbeds and an umbrella for 6 Euros from the gentleman at the base of the steps to the beach. He'll guide you to where you should set up camp. There's really nothing located directly next to the beach but you can walk a couple of minutes up the main road to a nice little taverna with a beautiful view. Parking is mostly on the side of the road - no real parking area like you'll find in Achata or in "town" like in Kira Panagia. Just squeeze your car where it will fit (and hopefully turn around). My advice, find a way to turn around and park it pointing uphill so it's easier to get out after you've baked in the sun.
Then there's Kira Panagia...

Everyone loves taking a picture of the church overlooking Kira Panagia. It's really a very scenic spot. What I liked about it was not only the gorgeous beach but the smattering of hotels, houses and tavernas located by the beach. It looks like a very nice place to stay for a few days. The set up in the steep valley just really made an impression on me. Personally, I would love to stay at the hotel next to the church. What a view!

The beach is nice and wide with plenty of sunbeds for rent. I don't know if anyone ever came and asked for us to pay for ours... maybe they weren't paying attention. No tavernas are directly on the beach but you'll find one (Olive Garden) near the church, a place to get a drink at the hotel above the church, a mini-market on the main road and probably a couple of other options. The beach is a mix of sand and rocks and the water is nice and calm, with a beautiful blue color. A great spot to take a dip and, who knows, maybe stay a little longer.
Finally we have Achata...

One of the intangibles I really liked about Achata was the drive to the beach. Achata is the closest of the three to Pigadia. The 4 km drive from the main road snakes through a pretty valley flanked by soaring cliffs. The valley, more gentle than the drives to Kira Panagia and Apella, is dotted by small agricultural plots, wild oleanders and scores of olive trees. There's something more peaceful about it the drive and the cave-riddled cliffs are a sight to behold.

The drive eventually opens up to Achata - a rocky beach lined with umbrellas and two tavernas. The water, unlike the other two, drops off faster so you'll notice just a few steps will have you wading in deeper water. The water also tends to be a bit more active although still a beautiful turquoise color. Two sun beds and an umbrella are only 4 Euros each. For my money, I'd choose the beds run by the taverna on the left (when facing the water). They are newer and the taverna offers a reasonable menu in a nicely restored boat house. The owners are friendly and the pergola is a great spot to catch an afternoon Greek coffee. You'll also have a shot at some afternoon shade when the sun starts shifting in the sky whereas the beds on the right side stay exposed much longer.


Aegean Village - a Karpathos Gem

It's partially a mystery to me why it's so hard to find information on the Aegean Village on the island of Karpathos. Partially because most of what is out there is in German, Dutch or Swedish... not in English. Then again, given that nearly all English-speaking visitors to Karpathos have ties to the island (ancestors, 2nd generation Greeks, etc.), most of the people visiting the Aegean Village are much much more likely to come from Stockholm or Roskilde than anywhere in the U.S.

Seems to me like a lot of Americans are missing out on an amazing island. For those of us who like to go to places taht are off the radar, that's a good thing. Karpathos is stunning... you'll find beautiful beaches, tidy mountain villages and extremely warm people. In the meantime, Americans and other tourists queue up for dinner in Santorini and Mykonos, paying inflated prices for subpar service. No thanks. I'll stick to an island like Karpathos and in particular to a hotel like Aegean Village.

So, what made the hotel so special? First off, the view... amazing! The hotel occupies a perfect spot on a promontory overlooking Amoopi. To the right is a rock outcropping that frames the area and to the left are the various beaches of Amoopi. A stunning one sits just below the hotel... a two minute walk from the pool area. Beach beds and umbrellas are available for 6 Euros a pair for the day.

The hotel has an on-site restaurant serviced by a friendly crew of Scandinavians - mostly interns and employees from Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. Given their clientele, they can speak to clients in their native tongues although most conversations are in English since clients also come from Italy. The restaurant also serves breakfast and the bar/restaurant stay open until midnight. Charles, a Swedish chef who previously worked on a cruise ship, mans the kitchen and offers daily specials for lunch and dinner.

The hotels grounds are immaculately maintained. All rooms face the Aegean and have spacious balconies or terraces. Rooms are comfortable and include A/C, satellite TV and tidy bathrooms with showers. Some rooms are larger (the bungalows) to accommodate families traveling together. Most have twin beds (as is the standard in Greece) but some come with doubles. Just ask. Other perks include wireless access and computers for guest use although wireless works best in the lobby.

The beach below the hotel

...and a smaller, hidden nook in Amoopi

Manolis, the owner, truly cares about his guests. We really enjoyed his hospitality and the way he made us feel at home. In part, we keep asking ourselves, why did we come back? So many Greek Americans move to Karpathos and never leave. I understand why...

Our gracious host

Pigadia may have more restaurants and nightlife... Arkasa may be a quainter town... but Amoopi offers several great beaches, shelter from the strong winds, a handful of tavernas and a highly recommended Aegean Village hotel.

A Better Meal than Gyros and Souvlaki

Most people who visit Athens - whether for a night before heading off to an island or for a week in the city - opt to stay somewhere close to Plaka. The area is charming, walkable and in the shadow of the Acropolis. There's plenty of life and for someone new to Greece, it makes for an easy introduction to the city of Athens.

With the area's popularity comes a touristy side. Food is often marked up and restaurants tend to focus on the more common Greek fare... gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita and moussaka - Greek meals known worldwide. Unfortunately, that means that a vast majority of tourists miss out on more typical Greek meals. They tend to stick to restaurants with pictures of food and marked up prices. It's a shame because there's much more to be found.

I'll fill you in on a restaurant that doesn't fit this bill. While it's not necessarily a secret, it appeals to Greek tastes, has reasonable prices and is off the beaten path for tourists. The restaurant is Mani Mani.

Now... let's start with some background. What does Mani mean? Mani is a region in the Peloponnese in Greece. As someone told me in Karpathos, it is a hard region with hard people - in part because of tough geography and climate. So, Mani Mani focuses on food from this region. In fact, you'll find more dishes like rooster and less (none) like souvlaki.

Anything you order, be it an appetizer or a main course, can be ordered as a half or full order. We started by splitting three appetizers - haloumi (the best we had in Greece), typical Mani sausages with orange essence and a type of fried dough with a local hard cheese. We then ordered dishes that both centered on rooster - my wife had a Greek pasta with rooster, asparagus, mushrooms and sundried tomato and I had rooser served on top of a small Greek pasta. Both were great. Add a glass of wine and our meal was under 30 Euros, less than we would've spent at a touristy restaurant.

Mani Mani is only 5 minutes by foot from the new Acropolis Museum but feels like it is a world away. Located at Falikarou 10 in Makrigiani, Mani Mani is on the 1st (2nd floor) of a restored building. You won't spot it if you aren't looking for it so look for the street level sign and the lit up windows up top.