On Preparing to Travel

At long last, a postponed trip to Greece is here. The last throes of planning, list-making, and researching are done. I have tickets for everything I need to have tickets for. I’ve made a copy of my passport, left itineraries for my loved ones, just in case. I even got travel insurance.

I’m travelling to a brand-new place for me, Greece, specifically the island of Crete. I’ll be doing some touristy, sight-seeing things like taking a Cretan cooking class and going to visit the Palace of Knossos, and visiting a Hammam. I’m also (this will sound antithetical) gearing myself up to slow way down. I’ll be turning off my social media, disengaging from my life here in the States. I’m genuinely sorry I will miss a couple of weeks of celebrating your birthdays on Facebook.

I’m a fairly relaxed traveler these days. While I like to do a lot of advance planning (as in, I started using Duolingo to learn Greek a couple of years ago, and I love staring at maps and bus schedules), over the years my desire for a don’t-miss-anything trip has vanished. I’m looking forward to simply wandering the streets of the ancient cities of Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. To staying in a stone house built into the side of a fortress and a 15th century Venetian palazzo turned into a hotel.

Old places resonate with me. There’s something about touching stones laid by people hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years ago. Seeing art created by artisans long turned to dust, but what they made, how they saw the world, is still here. It makes me misty. I’m looking forward to wandering twisty streets that evolved from animal trails, poking my head into odd shops, having a beverage in a tiny tavern, or trying a new dish.

The other non-touristy part of this trip will be ultra-active. My friends and I are travelling to the south of the island, to a tiny village called Loutro. It’s only accessible via ferry or walking. No cars. Cash only, too, no ATMs. Side note: I got my Euros, which are different colors and sizes for different denominations. I wish American money was like this.

During the second week, my friends and I will join with some other folks to do a SwimTrek trip. We’ll be swimming in the Mediterranean sea daily, around 2-4 miles a day. There will be boats if we get tired, or just don’t feel like swimming further, so still a vacation, not an Olympic event. There will be villages to explore, castles to climb to, and walks along the coast. The village we are staying in is right on the E4, the long hiking route that traverses Europe. It’s also near where Paul washed ashore in the 1st century as he travelled the known world spreading the gospel. We’ll be swimming off of that beach.

It will be quiet. I will be in my own little room overlooking the sea. There will be coffee, and I will keep a travel journal. This is my idea of heaven.

To prep for the trip, I’ve been swimming, of course. I am a pretty strong swimmer, kind of metronomic as in once I start up, I just sort of… keep going at a measured pace. It’s a different kind of swimming in the ocean. You’re more buoyant, which is nice, but no walls to turn off of, no convenient straight line to follow beneath you. Waves and sea creatures will keep it interesting. I haven’t been able to practice those things. No open water swimming here in Texas that I’ve taken advantage of… there are alligators in all the lakes here, and ehhh… I’d frankly rather swim with sharks, not that there are very many of those where we will be.

I’ve also been walking and laying out, so I have a nice base tan. I know, I’m so old school about that. At least I wasn’t laying out with baby oil, a foil reflector, and my Tab cola sitting next to me. I’ll use reef-safe sunscreen during the swims, and wear a hat, I promise.

As always, I am waiting until the last few hours to pack. I’ve made a list though. I’m going carry-on, and if anything is forgotten, you can just pop into one of those shops and purchase it. My kindle is loaded up, although I am giving hard consideration to toting a hefty paperback (IQ84) as well, just in case it craps out. My sons have assured me I can just use my phone, no real need to get a Greek sim card, and instructed me where to turn roaming on and off so I don’t get a surprise bill later.

I’ve also pre-loaded next week’s blog, in keeping with my promise of writing one a week for at least a year, and I got out a short story to a dark mermaid anthology I’m hoping to be part of. Book 5 of the Darkwood series is still in progress. I’d wanted to have the first draft done before leaving, but didn’t quite make it. It will still be done before the end of the year, I promise.

For now, Kalispera!

On Stargazer and Making Pots

Meet Stargazer.

She’s at best estimate around 5,000 years old, and from the area we currently know as Turkey. Thirty of them have been found over the years, artifacts from the Chalcolithic period, or Copper Age.

I saw her at the Cleveland Museum of Art several years ago and fell in love. It’s the way she’s looking upwards, see? Up at the stars, up at the gods. Just looking up. It’s hope and wonder all swirled together in a hand-sized figurine carved into translucent marble by someone 5,000 years ago. That I feel connected to this figure, to that artist ignites wonder and hope in me, too.

Like, maybe everything will turn out okay.

Now meet my Stargazer.

My wonderful husband knows how much this figurine resonates with me and commissioned this Stargazer from our friend Ruth, who is a potter. Ruth and I met several years ago open-water swimming across one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA. Lake Watauga is situated in the upper reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the TVA plan to prevent flooding downriver. It’s a deep, clean lake with very large fish in it. And the old town of Butler at the bottom of it.

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She and I and some other intrepid women would swim a few miles across the lake and back once or twice a month when the water was warm enough to get in without a wetsuit. It’s a wild, untrammeled area. One time we had to tread water for fifteen minutes at the end of our swim waiting for the bear that was sitting on the little jetty where we’d left our towels to amble away. While there’s not much talking while swimming, you do chat before and after. At the time we met, Ruth was working in a health food store, and had set up a tiny potting area in her apartment.

That was what she wanted to do, you see. Shape clay into beautiful and useful things. Be an artist full-time. It seemed out of reach, but she opted to trust me, joined me doing Arbonne for a while and got enough financial flexibility to move to an artist colony up in Burnsville, NC. She met her husband, also a potter. Now she does what she loves. She’s happy, and those who are the beneficiaries of her work are also happy.

I love that story. It fills me with wonder and hope, all swirled together.

You can find Ruth’s beautiful pottery at: https://www.thevillagepotters.com or at https://www.RutkowskyPottery.com