Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006
Sailing in Odysseus' Tracks (Part 1)

I promised to tell you more about our sailing trip in the Greek islands, so here I go: After completing our journey to Greece, and a good night's sleep in the Ionian Star Hotel, we were ready for our sailing adventure. It was Sunday morning, and the previous crew had just abandoned our boat. The cleaning crew was hard at work, and we still had some shopping to do, since the stores had closed their doors practically on our noses the evening before. (Note to self: Stores in Greece close at 8 on Saturdays). This delayed our departure slightly, but it wasn't a big deal. We bought tons of drinks as well as snacks and some food. We didn't envision eating on board very much, but it is never a bad idea to have some "crisps" (as my british friend Neil likes to call snacks) on board.

We left the Lefkas marina at about 4pm on Sunday. We motored out the Lefkas ship channel and were off to our sailing adventure. At first, there was not much wind, so we decided to go for a quick swim at a lonely little cove on the mainland. Ah! What a treat after a hot day in the busy town of Lefkas (which, BTW, seems to be bursting at its seams... it was much busier than I had previously seen it). After a few hours of R&R, we set out again, and for the first time had enough wind to sail. I haven't sailed in years, but after banging my head on the boom once or twice (do you know why the boom is called a "boom"? Because that's the sound it makes when you bang your head on it.... hahaha... very funny. I dare you to laugh if you are a tall guy...), we were going quite well zipping down the Ionion Sea at a whopping 6 knots (7 mph!).

That night we docked on the town "quay" (this is a sailing term for the "dock") in Mitakas on the Greek mainland. This is a tiny town, and we were the only boat there. This photo is taken from a little restaurant where we had some beers and "meses" (little snacks that usually involve fish). Our boat would be the one with the mast :-)


A little later that evening we walked two houses down the beach to a restaurant called "Thomas". If you ever are remotely in that area, I can only recommend that you stop by there, as we had what turned out to be our best dinner of the trip (and we had no shortage of good food either). We had big shrimps, Mediterranean cod, gavros (small fried fish you can eat with the bone), but the best of all was the grilled octopus! I never liked octopus very much, but I now changed my mind! This octopus was awesome. Very very tender, with a little bit of grilled crunchy outside. It was so good in fact, that we ordered a second portion of it. Even Neil remarked that it was "thoroughly enjoyed by all" which is high praise coming from an Englishman.

We spent a calm night in Mitakas, with practically no wind to speak of. This also made for a very hot night, which made it hard to sleep. Some of us even took to a midnight swim.

The next morning, we set out towards Ithaka, the home of Odysseus, the mythical greek hero. (Yes, he was the one who had the idea with the trojan horse and he also killed the Cyclops). On the way however, we stopped at a bay in Kalamos, where we once again enjoyed a nice swim and snorkeling. We anchored in about 30 feet of water and I took it upon myself to dive down along the anchor chain and swim all the way to the anchor. Seeing as how we had 150 feet of chain out, I didn't quite make it, and boy, was it cold down there!

That afternoon we sailed on to Ithaka. We enjoyed great sailing winds. Some of it was upwind, and for a few minutes, we even sailed with our deck in the water, it was going so well. For the non-sailors: sailing boats lean over quite a bit, especially on upwind - that is against the wind - courses. On our boat, the deck is about 3-4 feet above water, but when it leans over in strong winds, it can sometimes lean over so much that the deck is in the water... which is great fun for those who like it. We had a blast. And do not fear: Sailing yachts practically never tip over.

We spent the night at the village key in Kioni on Ithaka. There were a few boats there, and the village is rather small, so we couldn't dock at the key directly, but we had to lay out a long line and go on shore with the dingy (the small boat one tows behind).Here's a photo from Kioni:


We had another great dinner, and another quiet night. It was hot again, so I slept on deck. They say "the stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas", but you "ain't never seen no night-sky like in Greece"! It feels like you can reach up and touch a million stars. I enjoyed sleeping on deck that night, even though it got hot in the morning a lot earlier than I would have liked. So we got up in search of breakfast, which we found in the form of some nice fresh bread we got at the only store in town. Unfortunately, our quest for some Gyros was unsuccessful for the second day in a row.

The sun came on strong pretty early that day, so we decided to sail away and find a nice bay as quickly as we could. It was rather windy that day and we made good progress on our way to a bay at the very northern tip of Ithaka. There were a few other boats there, but it was not too bad. We had some nice snorkeling (by Mediterranean standards) and we introduced our skipper Neil to the subtleties of Sudoku, which he despised. The bay we were at had a small island in the middle of it with a small church on it. Here's a photo of that church, with our yacht in the background (a little hard to see):


Note: If you enter this bay, be careful as there is a nasty reef at the northern entrance.

Later that day we sailed on to Fiscardo at the northern end of Kefalonia. This is a must-see spot for everyone who sails the Ionian Islands. It is also a very busy spot, and by the time we entered the port, all the nice spots were already taken. In fact, we had to get off our boat by way of another yacht, but hey, that's all part of the sailing experience, right?

Fiscardo is a very cute port. Bigger than Kioni the previous night, but still cute. Especially if you get a spot on the old town key. Unfortunately, I don't have any good pictures of Fiscardo, since we simply got there too late. Here is one I tried to take of our yacht on the key:


This evening we had the worst meal of the trip. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Ironically enough, it was the most expensive meal of the trip, since we ate at the restaurant of a Greek celebrity cook (whose name I forgot). Nevertheless, the stay in Fiscardo was still very nice. It was also a bit windier that night, so we finally got a good night's sleep in our "regular" beds.

So much for the first part. More about the excitement on the remaining part of the trip tomorrow...

Posted @ 4:54 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (2066)

Sunday, August 27, 2006
A Journey to Greece

A journey. People hardly ever engage in true "journeys" anymore. We go on trips, sure. But it is mostly about getting on a plane, be bored for a number of hours, and then you get off at your destination. But to me, a real journey is different. When you go on a journey, the trip in itself is noteworthy and exciting. It takes more than a few hours too, and I imagine a journey to involve multiple stops and multiple means of transportation.

Ellen and I just engaged in a true journey. We traveled from Houston to the island of Lefkas in Greece where we are sailing on a yacht this week (more about that later). Our trip took us out of Houston and into Munich on a regular old flight. We then drove on to Austria, where we spent the night at our second home. We weren't there long though. In fact, less than 10 hours. The next morning we drove on to Italy where we had booked passage on a ferry to Greece. There really was no easy way to fly to Lefkas from Houston. At least not at a reasonable price, so we decided to take this option instead.

Here's a picture of the ferry just before we got on:


Going out of Venice is rather cool. I recommend that if you ever want to go to Greece on a ferry, take one that leaves out of Venice. When you leave port, the ship actually goes straight through down-town Venice on the largest of the canals. (I know many Americans just imagine Venice as being "one the waterfront", but Venice is basically built on top of the water with all the streets being replaced by waterways called "canali". It is really cool!). Here is a photo of a little church (all these pictures are taken from the ferry as we went by):


Here is a shot of the "Campanile" (the tower) and the "Doge's Palace" (right) and "Piazza San Marco" in between, with the little "gondolas" (the typical venician boats) docked in front:


This is another shot of the same scene:


The ship we were on is of course not just a ferry like the ones that would take you across a lake or a river. It takes just under 24 hours to go from Venice to Iguomenitsa (in Greece). This means that the ferry is relatively big. It also offers some entertainment and dining options. Nothing really fancy, but it helps kill some time.

We had booked the ferry somewhat late and were lucky to get tickets during the busiest part of the season. However, we only managed to secure tickets for the car and deck-passage for two people. All the cabins were taken, which means that we had to sleep on deck. I actually wasn't too mad about that. When I was younger, I used to drive to Greece a lot (via ferry) and due to budget restrictions, I always booked deck passage only. So I thought it was a bit adventerous and sleeping on deck reminded of the "good old days". Here's the little niche we carved out for ourselves on deck (Ellen is sitting on her sleeping bag):


Sleeping on deck was fun, and with the time-change and all, we were very tired and had no problems going to sleep. However, later that night, the wind really picked up and howled through our sleeping bags at what must have been 50 knots. It was a little like camping on mount everest (well... the way someone who never did that would imagine it, I suppose). So for a while, we didn't get too much sleep, but it was still fun thing to have done.

The next day at noon (now 2 1/2 days out since our departure in Houston), we arrived in Iguomenitsa, which is Greece's most northern port on the western mainland. Here is a last shot back after getting off the ferry:


Lefkas, our ultimate destination is another 1 1/2 hours south. We continued on immediately, and I discovered to my surprise that a last hurdle (a small ferry across the sea in a town called "Preveza") was gone and replaced by a tunnel. It shortened our trip quite a bit, but in a way it also takes away from the unique journey.

In Lefkas, we pretty much immediately went to have our first "Gyros" (pronounced "year-os"... not "Giro" as usually hear it in the US) which was amazingly good (which is also a big difference between the original and the US version). I spent a lot of time in Greece in the past, and having the first real greek meal really made it feel like coming home. Awesome!

Later that afternoon, we went to the beach to cool down a bit. The beach in Lefkas that I knew from the past looks a bit different now since most of it has been washed away by a big storm. Nevertheless, it is busier than ever. Especially kite-surfing has taken off here:


That evening, we went to a greek taverna in Lefkas called the "Light House". It has one of those great greek gardens that you could sit in forever and drink Retsina and order one dish after another. Some of my local friends don't like it so much, because the food tends to be not quite as authentic as elsewhere, but I still like it, and the garden is just awesome:


That night, we went to bed pretty early. We were lucky to get a room in a hotel thanks to our friend Neil. Getting a good night's sleep in an air-conditioned room was pretty awesome after 3 days on the road with hardly any sleep.

The next morning, we started to stock up on food and drink as we were getting ready to board our yacht which was to be our home for the next days. The boat's name is Queen (the font in which the name is written makes it look a little bit like "Queer"... not that there is anything wrong with it). Here she is:


Right next to Queen is our friend Apostoli's little party boat:


This is quite fun, but I will tell you about our boating adventures tomorrow. Or the day after. Or maybe later. Time just has so little meaning in Greece...


Posted @ 9:11 AM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (36)

Sunday, August 06, 2006
Hiking in Austria (Schwalbenwand)

As regular readers of this blog know, Ellen and I recently were in Austria. Lots of exciting stuff happened. In fact, so much so that I didn't have time to blog about them all. Here's something that is even worth blogging about a few weeks after the fact:

Right from our home in Austria, we can see lots of mountains, as we are really surrounded by mountains 360 degrees. One of them looks fairly gentle and appears to be a leisurely hike, so we decided it would make for a nice 5 or 6 our hiking trip. Here is the mountain as seen from our home:

It is a grassy and "tree-y" sort of mountain, unlike most of the other mountains there that are rugged and rocky, which makes it a much easier climb.

We didn't walk all the way from home though. Instead, we drove to Thumersbach (across the lake from Zell am See) and up the mountain a little, to cut out the first 2 hours of boring hike. We thus only hiked the remaining 2 or so hours, which was plenty on a very hot day. The actual route took us up the right "edge" of the mountain as seen in this picture (or perhaps even a little bit from behind). If you are familiar with the area: Drive to Thumersback and into the valey, then up the mountain on the left-hand side. There is a restaurant and organized parking there. (This is also a good mountain-biking route for good bikers). Doing this turns the entire trip into a 5 hour affair, so it can be done relatively easily in an afternoon. (I am not much of a morning-hiker...)

It ended up being a great hike actually, first through the forest, then up over alpine meadows, and finally all the way to the summit. It wasn't overly steep, although a very good exercise. Perfect for people used to hiking. We like to hike, but are not much about climbing with ropes and such. For someone who has never hiked in the alps at all, I would recommend to take it a bit easier for the first hike though.

Here is a picture Ellen took of myself at the summit:

It is amazing how mountains are always a lot pointier at the top than they look from below.

Here's a picture I took of Ellen:

How is that for mountaineering?

BTW: This is a great mountain for taking these sorts of pictures, because the way the terrain is, you can actually walk away from the summit a little bit and still get a good view of it from a similar elevation level. So it is possible to take pictures that almost look as if they were taken from a helicopter passing by...

We had great fun that day. On the way down, we stopped at the lake in Zell am See for a refreshing swim and some ice cream, before we drove back the 10 miles to Saalfelden to marvel at "our mountain" from our terrace...


Posted @ 4:01 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
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Sunday, August 06, 2006
The Lion King

Last weekend, Ellen and I went to The Lion King (the musical) together with some friends here in Houston (Houston as a substantial and active theater and arts scene). I like going to musicals and to the theater every now and then, but for some reason, I wasn't overly excited about this. In fact, it is probably fair to say I was dreading it. "It's a kid's thing..." I thought, "why would *I* want to see it?". I didn't tell Ellen though, and I just quietly went along...

As it turns out, I could not have been more off target with that assessment! The show was spectacular and time flew! I can only recommend it to everyone. Even if you are not a real theater-going person, give this one a go. And bring the kids - sure - they will have a blast too, but it isn't really a "kid's thing". This isn't "Beauty and the Beast". This is much more of an adult production. It is one of those things that are just great for everyone, with jokes and humor and entertainment for every age group. It is one of the rare performances (or movies for that matter) that achieve this feat.

I was particularly impressed by how they portrayed all the animals. I really didn't know what to expect there ahead of time, but assumes it had to be childish. Instead, the animals were spectacular. I especially liked the Giraffes, but all the others were great too. The costumes are quite elaborate. Watch the actors very closely to see how complex some of their performances are.

Here are some photos on disney's Lion King web site (referenced in... not copied):

Pride RockZazuTimon and Pumbaa

The music of course is great. No need to talk about it here. You are probably familiar with at least some of it, whether you know it or not.

This was one of the most enjoyable theater experiences I ever had. It got me thinking about going to the theater more regularly...

Now go, get your tickets!


Posted @ 1:13 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (11)

Saturday, August 05, 2006
Fun With English...

English isn't my first language (German is... since I am Austrian... well, that is another case of two countries separated by a common language, but that is a different story...). But anyway: English always amazes me. Here are some examples that always crack me up. Ellen sent those to me, and she got it from someone who knows I am amused by this (and I added a few of my own). Here we go:

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;
yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

If I spoke of my foot and show you my feet,
and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
and the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
but though we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim.

Some other reasons to be grateful if you grew up speaking English:
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert...
7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
8) At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got number.
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
22) I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.
23) The airplane sharply banked over the bank that was built on the river bank.
24) There were too many boats to count by twos.
25) They're going to meet their children there by the church.

Screwy pronunciations can mess up your mind! For example.
If you have a rough cough, climbing can be tough when going through the bough on a tree!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple, nor grape in grapefruit.
English muffins weren't invented in England.
We take English for granted.
But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly,
boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?

If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

Ship by truck and send cargo by ship?

Drive in a parkway, but park in a driveway?

Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

If Dad is Pop, how come Mom isn't Mop?

But you know what: German is even worse!


Posted @ 11:02 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
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