Category Archives: Beauty Around the World

The Eagle’s Nest of Santorini and the Holy Chapel of Nektarios

Oia on the Greek Isle of Santorini, is both an area and a village.  The village is known as “the eagle’s nest” because it sits 490 feet atop  the volcanic caldera formed by the Santorini Volcano “Thera”
(which erupted 3,600 years ago) and caused such a tsunami  that some believe it is the source of the mythology surrounding the legends of Atlantis.  Oia is also the oldest settlement in Santorini and one of two harbors.   Today, there are over 70 churches in the Oia area,  and I want to tell you about our visit to one of them:The Holy Chapel of St. Nektarios.  This lovely chapel is part of the Roman Catholic “Prophet Elias Monastery,”  which was built in 1712 and dedicated to the Prophet Elijah.  The monastery was built at the top of Mount Prophet Elias
(the highest point on the island of Santorini, nearly 1900 feet), and it originally served as a fortress to protect the villages below. For the first 200 years, the monastery also served as an important source
of commerce and education,  although it eventually lost most of its commercial and political influence.  Today, the monks engage in meditation and in making
prints, candles, shoes, and wine.  The Holy Chapel of Nektarios also hosts collections
of rare, hand-written books and Byzantine icons.  Our guide took us there in time for a picnic lunch of roasted corn  in their lovely courtyard, which overlooks the entire island.  It was peaceful and calm, and the monks were gracious hosts.  It reminded me of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Michigan’s U.P., where we’ve often stopped at their Jam Pot Bakery for refreshments
(like muffins and thimble berry jam…
although in Santorini we snacked on sesame-covered peanuts and fruit drinks). Also, “our” monastery in Michigan is built on the shores of Lake Superior,  not on a mountain top in Greece surrounded by the Aegean Sea!  I did not hear the gospel while we were visiting, but standing on the top of the mountain in this inspiring setting, I remembered these words from the scripture:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” (Isaiah 52:7).

May all who know the good news proclaim it  from the mountaintops and valleys of our lives, whether we’re at home or abroad!

(All the photos were taken during our visit to Santorini while cruising a couple of weeks ago. What a gorgeous island! It has been used as the setting for numerous movies and listed among the world’s top islands by various sources, including BBC, U.S. News, and Travel + Leisure Magazine. In 2015,  Condé Nast Traveler listed it as #12 out of the top 20 islands in the world. Definitely worth a visit!)

 

Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι): Santorini’s Balcony of the Aegean

There are two communities in Santorini that are especially beautiful.  Today I want to share photos from Imerovigli (Ημεροβίγλι),which is also known as the Balcony to the Aegean, because the town sits high up on the cliffs  with perfect viewing of the sapphire waters and glowing sunsets of the Aegean. (We were back on the ship by evening, but even there the sunsets were lovely.) Imerovigli is also recognized world around because of the Church of Ai-Stratis, which has been loved, photographed, painted, (and even memorialized in a nursery mural) by various family members and friends!  Imerovigli only has 470 permanent inhabitants,  but their narrow streets are crammed with many thousands of visitors yearly!  Homes are built around the caldera amphitheatrically in the “Cycladic” style, typified by glistening white homes and blue-domed churches.  In the late 1800’s, wealthy ship captains built neo-classical mansions  into the sides of the cliffs,  and you can still see the succession of homes built above each other. The houses are painted with white lime wash so that the rainwater  which falls over them and runs down can be collected and used in their homes. Of course, they also paint their homes colorfully for aesthetic purposes.  I was amazed by how clean, new, and beautiful everything looked! Our guide explained that in 1956 there was a terrible earthquake  that just about destroyed everything on the island. Rebuilding has been a huge job, but what a beautiful community they have now! I would say they met their mountainous challenges and conquered them!While meandering through the byways of Imerovigli,  we noticed an irresistibly appealing book shop. The shop had words of wisdom written without and within. And, some words were even written on the bookshop:
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”  Have you met any new mountains lately?And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord‘s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it” (Isaiah 2:2).

Visiting Magnificent Santorini

The Greek Isles deserve their reputation for mythical beauty,  and of all the Greek Isles, I think Santorini is the most famous and splendid.  What I didn’t realize is it that Santorini is actually a group of  islands. It is a volcanic caldera
formed by one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions some 3,600 years ago.  The steep cliffs are nearly 1000 feet high  and the lagoon over 1,300 feet deep! The day we visited, it was a cloudless 80° with a soft wind blowing—a perfect (but typical) summer day!  Temperatures range from about 49-82°F year round,  and there’s nearly always a breeze blowing.  In fact, winds from 35-61 mph are not uncommon, so all their grape vineyards sprawl flat on the ground to keep from being destroyed by the winds! Our ship, the MSC Sinfonia, anchored in the lagoon,  and everyone had to “tender” (take a ferry from the ship) to Skala Port. There is a donkey trail  between Skala Port and Fira, the town built atop the cliff there,  but to save time, energy, and Alan’s allergic nose,  we zipped up on one of their efficient cable cars, which gave us breathtaking views of the area for miles around! Although it would have been pleasant to spend the day exploring Fira,  the most famous areas are Imerovigli and Oia, considerable drives from Fira, so we hired a very good-natured taxi driver
who was willing to stuff all eight of us into his van.  Per hour, this was by far the easiest and most cost-effective way  to tour a large group (especially with small children),  and our knowledgeable driver gave us phenomenal driving  and walking tours  of some of the island’s most picturesque places.

Well, I’ll have to share the rest of our adventures in Santorini tomorrow, because my time is up! At noon on Thursdays (EST), I join a prayer meeting at the Aqueduct Prayer Center. If you ever want to join us, here’s the link:

https://aqueductproject.org/prayer-center/

(then click where it says to click for the “live video conference call”). Anywhere in the world there’s internet, there’s potential for a prayer meeting together! Let me know if you want to join!

Meanwhile, I just finished praying with Catherine through Psalm 92, and I want to share two verses of that beautiful psalm with you as today’s benediction: “For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O LORD, how great are thy works!  and thy thoughts are very deep” (Psalm 92:4-5). Remembering the beauty of Santorini makes me very glad, and I know His thoughts are deeper than the deepest harbor!

A Blissful Day in Dubrovnik

Until my son Joel had a housemate from Dubrovnik a few years ago,  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never even heard of it.  It is an amazingly beautiful seaport along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia,  and as it turned out, this was both Alan and my favorite day of the cruise,  which is why I’m telling you about it first instead of last!  Although it only has a population of about 43,000,  Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site  and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Mediterranean Sea. After visiting…I totally agree with the world of tourists! 🙂 It took us about a half an hour on a bus to get from the ship  to the center of the Old City,  and it was such a gloriously balmy day  that by then it was time for our daily gelato break.  (Italian gelatos make American ice cream look a little lack luster.)  Thus fortified, the kiddos were brave adventurers…with one caveat.

As an FYI if you travel there: Stop at the ATM before leaving the town square for some Croatian kuna (about 7 to 1 on the American dollar). Our toilet attendant would not accept Euros and expected payment per person to use the W.C. (water closet), so be advised! A kindly Englishman took pity on our crew, bless him!

So, happily reconstituted, we were all ready for a big day of exploring. Just a few blocks up the road from the fortress is a gorgeous maze of old streets, and beautiful buildings. The streets are lined with shops, musicians, and street vendors selling their wares. Old City Dubrovnik is clean and beautiful… even the pavement shone like glass!  Like all world-class cities,  the streets were also lined with beautiful flowers and appealing outdoor cafes. In the heat of the day, we decided it was time to find the beach. Banje Beach is one of the most beautiful Mediterranean beaches I’ve ever seen. The water was cool, clear, and just perfect for swimming! It was so warm that we all got to swim for as long as we wanted to, and after swimming, we could search for beautiful bits of sea glass on the shore. They had lovely, free changing rooms (and bathrooms!), and all in all, I think it was a 5-star experience for all of us! My mother traveled all over the world, but my mother-in-law used to say,
“If I want to know what some country is like, I’d rather look at a picture book!”

To each his own! If you ever get a chance to go to Dubrovnik, I hope you take it, but whether or not you enjoy adventuring, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our adventure. I hope you’ve also learned a little bit more about this unique and lovely city in the incredibly wonderful world that God has given us! the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (Isaiah 41:20).

Enjoying our Italian Relations

With Michael (our second-born) and his wife living in Italy,  there’s been cause for super fun travel this summer!  First, Carleen (who is the wife of Aaron, our first-born)  went to visit with their kids for awhile.  These are two very brave women,  touring around with 8 children,  making home made pasta together,  and generally having a marvelous time catching up with each other!  Then, Aaron came to join the party.  The two families had lots of adventures together  as well as some double family touring. In Rome they were able to visit many historic sites,  including the Vatican and various museums,  and—of course—they feasted on some of Italy’s fabulous cuisine!  🙂 The day Aaron’s family left,  Alan and I went on a cruise with Michael’s family.  So, for the next couple of weeks you may be seeing lots of photographs  from Italy, Greece, Croatia, and the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea… as well as hearing tales of travels with four little ones in tow!We had a truly delectable time,  and I hope you enjoy sharing in our adventures  as much as I’ll enjoy recounting them!  “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart:
for consider how great things he hath done for you
” (1 Samuel 12:24).

(All photos used compliments of my wonderful sons and daughters-in-law…and mostly the gals, I think! Blessings! You kids are super!!)

Meditating on the Nature of God via “Andie’s Isle”

I rarely share videos, but this one, forwarded to me online, filled me with such a sense of peace and awe that I wanted to pass it on. If you can indulge in five minutes of nature photography and some encouraging thoughts, please visit “Andie’s Isle” for a gorgeous journey into the beauty of God’s creation on earth:

http://www.andiesisle.com/thenatureofgod.html

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
” (Psalm 29:2)

 “For the Beauty of the Earth*”

1. For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

2. For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

3. For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind’s delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

4. For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

5. For thy church, that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
her pure sacrifice of love;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

6. For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.”

(* Originally composed by Folliot S. Pierpoint, 1835-1917; there are several variations, but this is the version with which I’m most familiar.)

The Inimitable Biltmore Estate

At 178,926 square feet, the Biltmore—the Vanderbilt family’s 8,000 acre estate— ranks as America’s largest privately owned home, and I’ve wanted to visit for about 50 years, particularly after hearing the rumor that we’re related by marriage to the Vanderbilts (many cousins-removed ago). In the early 2000’s (at the height of our family’s musical ministry), I was negotiating with the Biltmore to sing gospel music there one Sunday afternoon           (which they still do, by the way),  although one of my closest friends ended up planning her wedding for that same weekend, and being in the wedding preempted everything else! Nevertheless, the mystique of America’s grandest estate nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains hovered like mist in the back of my mind, and last May, after visiting many of the gorgeous châteaux along the Loire River in France, several of which were the French Renaissance inspirations for the Biltmore,    such as  Château de Blois,        Château de Chenonceau,         and Château de Chambord,         I realized that a trip to the Biltmore was still on my unconscious bucket list. So, when we attended a conference this May just 15 miles from the Biltmore, you can imagine my excitement to see this romantic tribute  to America’s Gilded Age!  Yesterday I shared photos from the gardens (in conjunction with thoughts for pondering how to overcome your past and fulfill your potential),  but today I want to share a few photos from the inside of this grand home,  which would have made a worthy location for Downton Abbey! The Biltmore Estate has 250 rooms,  including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces,  a dining room table that can seat up to 64 guests,   and many novelties for the 19th century,  such as  a 70,000-gallon heated indoor swimming pool  and one of the nation’s first bowling alleys to be installed in a private residence. Only half of George Vanderbilt’s collection of 22,000 books can fit in his library, and while we were visiting, their was a special exhibition of costumes  and information related to movies that have been made  from some of the many first-edition classic books owned by the Vanderbilts. The Vanderbilt family still live in and operate their estate,  but unlike many European grand estates and palaces, the Vanderbilts allow visitors to take photographs of all the home’s treasures,  including many beautifully preserves tapestries  and gorgeous paintings.  On a sunny day, like the day we visited,  one could easily spend their entire day touring the home,  enjoying lunch at one of their stable-turned restaurant venues,  and exploring their vast gardens.  Although we loved visiting, Alan and I both left thinking
how happy we are to live in our snug little “Tanglewood Cottage.”  I’m not even sure “I want a mansion, just over the hilltop.” Do you?  Actually, I don’t care where I live, just as long as it’s with Jesus!

Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

“Mansion Over The Hilltop”

“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined.

Don’t think me poor or deserted or lonely
I’m not discouraged I’m heaven bound.
I’m but a pilgrim in search of the city
I want a mansion, a harp and a crown.

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we will never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.” (Ira Stanphill)

(All photos, except the four related to our trip to France last May, were taken this May on our visit the the Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, North Carolina.)