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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Through Lavoix

Cross-posted from Borderline

The first weekend in Geneva was spent exploring the Swiss side of the Geneva lake. The guidebook was full of praise for Lavoix, a wine region between Lausanne and Montreax, so we took the train to Cully and started from there.

A pedestrian road winds through the wine villages, each a few kilometers away. The view is fantastic--on the one side, wide expanses of neatly-ordered vines, and on the other, a view on the lake and the Alps in the distance. The houses are few and far between, which makes the landscape even more beautiful.

We passed through the village of St. Saphorine on our way to Vevey. Although quaint and picturesque, it would not have been different than any of the others we walked through had we not glanced at one of the local restaurants and noticed a menu of 150CHF. That was a no-nonsense introduction to Swiss prices that took some time to sink in. For the record, we went to Vevey and had a gyros for 15CHF.

I could not pass up an opportunity to take a photo of some boats. When you see them like this in a small marina, you could be forgiven for thinking you are somewhere by the sea.

And if you don't own a boat, you can always get on one of these regular cruisers--the view of the mountains is even better from the water.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Stop on Via Ignatia - Kavala

There is a place in Northern Greece which I think is largely underestimated: Kavala. For the last 20 years Bulgarians visit regularly Greece and I haven't heard anyone say any words of praise for this cute little town.

For the first time I went to Kavala in 1989 with my parents as a part of a fantastic two-week tour of Greece. This was only two months before the Berlin wall came down and it was my first trip to the 'West'. All I remember from Kavala are lots of tears from a dramatic dispute with my parents whose cause I have totally forgotten. I remember it was very dramatic though. I have a nice fhoto with my father in front of the Turkish (and not Roman) aquaduct which I would have scanned if I had access to it.

Old Town

I hadn't been to Kavala ever since as somehow my international travels did not involve Greece. However, this summer I went there twice within a month and I liked it a lot. This is the main town in Aegean Thrace or Eastern Greek Macedonia - a 50-60 km band of land that is squeezed between the Bulgarian mountains and the sea. The famous Roman Via Ignatia linking Istanbul to the Adriatic and then Italy runs there. It was the main road linking the Western and the Eastern Roman Empires and later Constantinople and the rest of the Eastern Roman Empire (nowadays Greece).

Sunny Street

After driving along the road from Thessaloniki east along a totally empty motorway (built with EU Structural Funds) one descends for several kilometres across the city neighbourhoods to the port.

Town seen from ferry terminal

Kavala streets are full of life as, obviously, having lost their jobs, many Greeks spend time in cafes. The streets are busy but still the Thessaloniki hustle and bustle is missing which is nice. I feel that many young people just go down from their homes on the hills to the port to mix and enjoy the sea. It must be a bit harder to go back home after several ouzos. In the evening families walk along the sea and kids eat grilled corn and sugar cotton.

Street behind the port

In the past Kavala was Roman and then a part of Byzantium of course but the current flavour obviously comes from the Ottoman times. The Ottomans even constructed the aqueduct so all was not black and white at that time.

Kavala was also a target of Bulgarian appetites as it was occupied both during the WWI and WWII for three years. Because of love for Goethe and Shiller Bulgaria was always on the wrong side of the combatting alliances so they were the bad guys. This time I came upon a sign on a building explaining how the Bulgarian fascist occupiers tortured Greek resistants there. I can believe it.

I am sure there were tactical reasons for this occupation but maybe it also symbolized the longing for the Southern Sea. Hungarians have the same thing for the Adriatic: they find it really unfair that even a small part of it does not belong to them.

Street in the old town

Unfortunately we could not explore properly the old town because of the heat and the ferry to Thassos which was leaving soon.

After Bulgaria and Greece opened a new crossing point in Zlatograd, Kavala becomes easily accessible, even for a day trip or a weekend, for those who live in Central Southern Bulgaria. The road is indeed winding but it crosses the Southern Rhodope mountain which is equally beautiful on the Greek side.

Ferry's going away to Thassos

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Doors, Walls and Pubs

Don't ever tell me that English society is founded on democratic principles stemming from Magna Carta that progressively evolved over time. This is the official view.

In my opinion English society is founded on three major pillars: doors, walls and pubs. I discovered this secret during a trip in Peak District in June. I was told this from above. I wish I could do a PhD on the topic but I have to wash the dishes later.

If you go hiking in Peak District get ready for opening and closing doors. These are really good, stable doors with a cute closing mechanism that makes a nice 'clic' . I suspect producing doors in the UK is a serious business listed on the stock exchange. Forget about blue chips. Focus on doors, field doors.

A door to be opened and closed

I presume that opening and closing doors is a symbolic act all British kids exercise since tender age. Imagine the positive impact on their minds, imagine the problem solving skills this develops - one always breaks away from closed spaces, one always finds solutions. And then one carefully closes the passage to the past and continues forward until the new obstacle comes.

Properly working doors also strengthen your belief in the system. Things are not falling apart as the pessimists predict. These are not doors that are drooping sadly, difficult to close, bloated by the rain. These are lean, clean doors that make clic, clic, clic.

Wall and a bee-hive

I don't know if you ever thought of that but doors in the fields live in harmony with walls. You need a wall to have a door despite the saying that in some countries laws are like locked doors in an open field.

I think that in the UK, walls delineate private property which, they say, is very very important. It is important because it created the illusion of immortality. Otherwise, it also gives incentive to work a bit more.

Walls also keep sheep from straying away in the wilderness or into some motorway. And no one wants to see sheep invading the cities.

Playful steps and a wall

The interaction between private property and doors is called 'right of passage'. It is a fundamental English law giving the right of the public to cross private territories. Isn't it the pinnacle of civilisation? Have your own land, work it, improve it but please be kind enough to let all good willed wanderers cross it. I read somewhere that the public path was crossing a house and the owners of the house were obliged to let people pass. - Good morning, how are you? - I am going to my toilet and you? - I am on my way to the market?

No kidding, a good balance between private and public interest is quite important, isn't it?


According to my well-founded, scientific theory pubs are the third pillar of English society. Last but not least. Besides being places where people vent off some of the miserable steam gathered during the day old pubs are a symbol of continuity. Look at the picture above where the owners of the pub are written on the beams. They went on until early 18th century. I noticed that in the beginning they stayed for 30 years and with time the period decreased. Is this acceleration of time? Or....was business simply bad so they had to move to door making?


This has never happened to you, right? Watch out next time, please!

Many walls and many doors in Peak District