This is our Journal, which we mostly wrote on the trip, and tried to fill in a bit in the several months we've been back. It was started by Barbara, and Robert's parts are in italics. There are a few holes in the Journal, and probably more than a few glaring errors - if anyone either on the trip or not would care to help us fix things up, we'd love to hear from you! I'm happy to share our photos - let me know if there are any for which you'd like printed or emailed copies. Or, we could put some or all of them on CD (there are 800 left after deleting 400 of them; about 100 photos are included in this journal) and send it off. These photos are mostly scenery and artifacts, but we have a lot more with people in them and are happy to share those also, and if anyone on the trip is willing to do the same in return, that would be great!
Thank you very much to Betty Allen, who gave me all her photos direct from her camera, and to Ken McFarland, who sent several really good ones. Note the credits in the lower left corners.
To get back to the Blog which Barbara wrote during the months leading up to the Greek trip, click HERE. It includes references and links for books, movies, TV shows, music, language & alphabet aid, etc.
WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY, May 2-3, 2007
We left the house at 3 pm, taxi to the airport, everything went well. We ran into Gill Charters, Jane Angstrom & Chris Gallagher, who turned out to be on our same flight. Took off at 5:30, flew overnight from Logan Airport in Boston to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. We had plenty of time, but first had to take a bus, a long time walking to our next gate. I was also looking for an electrical outlet to charge up my computer. We met up with the 3 others, and sat in a very nice cafe, having very flaky croissants and very rich espresso, while I charged up and did email (I'm trying to send the last of the Marches chapter to the others on the Aonghas Grant committee). We took off at 9:30 am, flying over eastern France, Switzerland, Northern Italy, the Adriatic Sea, the Dalmatian Coast, the Peloponnesos, and into Athens. We were met by 2 taxi drivers who took us to our hotel, the Royal Olympian Hotel, near the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, and near the Acropolis. On the way from the airport, we passed a big quarry, a big stadium, and saw our first glimpse of the Acropolis. Absolutely thrilling!
We checked into the hotel, then bounced right out to take the subway to the Archaeological Museum. It looked a little bit not-quite-kept-up from the outside, but on the inside it was truly spectacular. Many many artifacts which I have known from Latin books and slide exams, they feel like old friends. And they are beautifully displayed, nicely annoted, and perfectly lit. The Mask of Apollo, the Peplos Kore, Zeus throwing the lightning bolt, etc. Plus some more-recently-excavated items from Akrotiri on Thera - dolphins on big vases, boxing boys, etc. I was stunned. We were allowed to take photos without the flash, so we have lots of nice remembrances from the national museums.
We met back at the hotel with about half the group, and walked over to the Plaka for dinner. Sitting at 2-3 tables outside, live music (bouzouki and guitar) and 3 dancers in costume. I sat with Marty King whom I hadn't seen in a long time. I had spanakopita, Marty had dolmades. I also learned the Greek word for olives - elias. After dinner we meandered the streets a bit, then I got separated from the group and got lost. I thought Robert left with the group, and later on Robert said he thought I left with the group! I was afraid to walk back by myself - I might get even more lost, but finally I did walk back and after several wrong-ways I found the hotel. I get lost so easily! Got an internet card and did a couple email things. We were both actually really sleepy, so slept a good 7 hours on the hard beds.
FRIDAY May 4th, 2007 -- ATHENS, LAVRIA, HELLENIC BEAUTY 1
Next morning we all checked out, met in the lobby at 9:30, got on a tour bus which took us first up to the Acropolis. Nice tour guide for the day named Gabriele. She took us round the Acropolis, giving us quite a lot of history at different points. The three main structures up there now are the Propylion (Entrance Gate), the Parthenon, and the Erychtheum. The Caryatids - καρυατιδες - are the 6 ladies holding up the roof on the porch of the Erychtheum. There are other Caryatids, but these are the famous ones. The ones actually on the Acropolis are all replicas. One of the originals is part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, London, and the other five are in the Acropolis Museum. The Greeks are hoping to get all the Elgin Marbles back some time soon. I've seen these several times in London and love seeing them any time, any where. They're beautifully displayed in London, and London is a lot easier to get to, but I should think if the Greeks want them back, they should go back. Being up on the Acropolis is a monumental experience, to see such a peak and trough of human history (building these was a peak, bombing them was a low point). We can walk all the way around the two large buildings, but can't go in; haven't been able to for decades. Right now there is massive restoration going on; the columns on the north face of the Parthenon were about to collapse, so they have been re-done first. The whole structure is covered with scaffolding. Yet the absolute greatness is almost overwhelming.
Gabriele told us the traditional story of the founding of Athens. Two gods, Athena and Poseidon, were invited by the people of the town to compete for the honor of being the patron of the town. Poseidon struck his rod on a rock, and a spring of water appeared; he promised plentiful water. Athena pointed her staff, and an olive tree sprang up. Athena explained that the olive tree would give the people knowledge and peace, also income from olives, olive oil and wood. The people wanted the water, but were intrigued by the knowledge, and chose Athena. The people named their town Αθηνα after the goddess, and the town grew into a great city which later dominated the entire Mediterranean Sea. In Homer Athena is often referred to as "Gray-Eyed Athena." The leaves of the olive tree are gray on the underside, and standing under a tree one feels the presence of Athena and all those "eyes."
Then a short-ish bus tour of the center of Athens, various government buildings and the like. Some buildings were called "neo-classical." Gabriele said that if most of the neo-classical buildings hadn't been torn down in the 1950s to make way for cookie-cutter apartment buildings, Athens would have been one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. After Independence (from the Ottoman Turks in 1847), some effort was made to "design" the city as a capital city. Avenues were laid out, etc. It was designed for 400,000 inhabitants; it now has 4 million. Pretty crowded!
Then the bus went out of the city, along the coastline, to the far southern tip of Attica, to Lavria (Laurium) (where the ancient silver mines were). No more mining for a while now (since the 1950s?). Laurium is kind of becoming an alternate port to Piraeus. Just before we leave the city we stop at a street corner and pick up Dmitri, who will be our Tour Director on the whole boat trip. He gives us a bunch of tips about life on the schooner. Gabriele remains with us down to the boat, then she leaves; but she will pick us up at Piraeus after the boat trip and will continue as our Tour Guide for the Classical Sites part of the trip. We are very glad to hear that we will see her again: she speaks fluently and spontaneously of 3,000 years of history, archaeology, art, religion, politics, geology, botany, agriculture, architecture, language, economics, from pre-history right up to the present moment. Gabriele is truly incredible!
We stop just before Lavria to look at a pretty cove town and pillars of a temple to Poseidon, then drive the last few minutes right up to our boat at the dock in Lavria. It's such a nice pretty little boat. We wonder if we will all fit in it. We unload our luggage onto the dock, and get back on the bus to drive round to some tavernas on another part of the Lavrium cove. We can see our boat across the way. It is still very pretty, lots of wood, 3 masts. It looks low in the water. Then we split up into smaller groups and go to various tavernas for lunch (while our luggage is being taken off the dock into our rooms - nice system!). We sit with Calli, Michael, and Rosemary and Robert of Vancouver. I have two white dishes, along with white-ish bread -- tsatsiki and hot spicy cheese. They're both good! They were both appetizers and I thought they'd be small. Robert and Calli had Greek salad, each with a huge slab of feta cheese on top. Michael had little fish and chips. He said they were quite yummy.
Then we bussed back to the boat and entered! Got our room assignments. Robert's and my room is next to Ken's, below the main cabin. A nice double bed against the right-hand wall, with enough room for the entrance door and the bathroom door to open and that's about it. The bathroom has no shower per se, but a hand-held water sprayer, and the whole bathroom is the shower with a drain. Don't like the bathroom! (The bathrooms in the other rooms are very nice, and I'm invited by several people to partake of their showers.) The mattress is nice, not too hard, but too thin! I'm actually sleeping on the wood. Youch. But I do like the room, especially having a double bed and a porthole.
A little meeting/lecture in the lounge, for safety, and other questions. We meet Captain Dmitrios, Elena the Steward, Alex (her husband) the Chief Steward, and Vilma. There's also the cook, and other boat-steerers. Then we all gravitate to the front deck. The crew has put out delectables (sausages, dolmades, crudites, olives), and is serving us ouzo mixed with water, so it's cloudy. Good thing we got lunch out of the way! We are very happy being here all together, on the deck of this beautiful boat, perfect weather, plying the Aegean islands. I got out the map and asked one of the crew which islands were out there. He directed me straight into the wheelhouse and Capt Dmitrios. The Captain marked out our entire route in pen, and signed and stamped it! Yeaaaa! (On the second-to-last-day of the trip, I lost it! Waaaaaah!) We have a couple of hours up there, then the wind comes up and it's a little cool. Robert and I came downstairs, got our instruments tuned up, and played a bit. Starting with Samiotissa. Dmitri recognized it, very surprised of course, and Vilma got him up for a bit of a Kalamatiano. People are drifting in. Then we just played what we knew, some Scottish - Over the Sea to Skye (wrong sea), Crossing the Minch (wrong Minch), and King George (with Chris stepping a bit). Dinner-time: 1st course spaghetti, 2nd course Greek salad, 3rd course meat & potatoes & veggies. We're at a table with the Hearns and Robert & Rosemary & Dmitri. Got a bit of Dmitri's background, born in Congo of Greek parents, they finally got chased out, and Dmitri grew up somewhere with French as his 1st language. Also Greek and English of course, and now he's married to a Portuguese woman so he's added that, plus Spanish. He says he speaks many languages, but is not natively fluent in any - an interesting situation to be in. He too is very knowledgeable and fun to talk to, but we are never able to take full advantage of what he knows, because he, unlike Gabriele, is not a Registered Tour Guide and is not permitted to take us around the land sites, just to tell us a bit about it beforehand. Dinner ended late-ish, and at some point we pulled into port on Kythnos, our first island. Watching the sailors navigate into the harbor is exciting. I guess it's actually a fairly dicey event, even in calm waters like today, and Dmitri has warned us to stay far out of the way of the guys and the ropes. Most of us leave the boat for a brief walk on Kythnos, with some shopping for water and other supplies, I easily found a place with wifi so I can do some emailing, then back on board to prepare to retire. A few of us were left up in the lounge, there was a game of Uno going on, and I downloaded the 2nd day's worth of photos, and started this journal. To bed around midnight. The boat stays in port most of the night.
SATURDAY MAY 5th, 2007 -- PAROS
The boat will tend to travel in the very early morning when the sea is the most calm (since the sea and land are closest to the same temperature). So the boat started for the next island, Paros, at 4 in the morning. Because of the hard bed, I probably woke up around 3:30, and noticed that we weren't moving yet. Presently we started moving, so I knew approximately what time it was. I lay awake for about another hour, then just got up, wanting to get something done, and maybe watch the sunrise, which is around 5:30 this week. Came up to the deck around 5:45, so missed the actual sunrise, however you couldn't see the sun through the haze on the horizon; one part of the horizon on the left side of the boat was a little lighter than the rest. On the right side of the boat the moon was heading down. Took some photos of each. This was exciting - my first dawn in the Aegean Sea. For a nice photo, see the photo up top of this web page; I call it "Rosy-Fingered Dawn" after the Homeric phrase. I marked out the islands using the Captain's map. On the right and behind us, town lights (probably Karthea) on Kythnos, a little peaked island (probably uninhabited tiny Seerfopoulos) in front of a larger one (probably Serifos). On the left - Siros straight out, behind us Glaros, and in front of us groupings of Rinia, Delos, Mikonos. Directly in front, of course, is Paros. A little while later, the sun made an appearance, and it really was rosy-fingered dawn, on the wine-dark sea. Really nice. I guess I was the 1st one up. A while later Ken appeared, and we had coffee and chat together. Breakfast was scheduled for 8 am. A nice spread with bacon, eggs, toast, cereals, luncheon meats, biscuits (British meaning crackers), fruit salad, juice. Then I wandered around, and the sea was so smooth you couldn't actually focus on the surface. I went to the prow, and watched the water passing by the boat. I saw some jellyfish floating by.
We are visiting about 10 islands in the Cyclades - Κυκλαδες - so named because they are an island group which seemingly revolves (cycles) about its center, Delos, the birthplace of Apollo. It's one of the Greek island groups in the Aegean Sea, that part of the Mediterranean between Greece and Turkey. There are roughly 220 islands of the Cyclades, and together they make up one of the Prefectures (sort of like States) of Greece.
Then we went to Paros. Started out with a walking tour with Dmitri. I wandered off a bit, looked for the fiddler puppet that Daan told me about, ran into Ken, we went to a bakery, I got a flaky pistachio chocolate bulging thingie. Then back to the boat. We had a big lunch, starting with something (thinking that was the lunch), then Greek salad (thinking that was the end), then fish & garlic mashed potatoes & veggies (and that was more or less the end). Then Robert and I tried to set up the sound system, but it kept cutting out, going on off on off on off. Perhaps it's the generator, perhaps it's the extension cord or the transformer. We're a little worried. Perhaps we can do without the sound system, but so discouraging to bring it all this way for nothing. We leave, and go to the internet cafe which is just across from the dock. At some point we went to the archaeological museum. It's really neat - mostly stuff right from the island. A gorgon, and lion attacking a lamb, and a peplos kori. Back to the boat. Someone has gotten a new extension cord, and we try it out. Same prob. We set up anyway, Ken makes a program, dancers gather at 5 pm, and we do an 8-dance program. For some reason, the sound system works just fine! And I enjoy playing. The sun is pretty intense, to our left, but I'm protected with baseball cap, silk jacket over shoulders, wrap-around sunglasses and heavy-duty sun cream. The sun doesn't quite set when we finish, around 7 pm.
I think we have some time, then head back to the island once again for dinner which Dmitri has arranged in a taverna. We're in the 9 pm sitting, there is an 8 pm sitting too. The musicians are there starting up at 9 when we arrive. Three guys, a fiddle, a bouzouki, and a guitar. The bouzoukist and the guitarist also sing. We sit at 2 very long tables; unfortunately, I'm at the far end from the musicians. So I bounce up towards the top, with Michael & Calli, to really watch & listen. Pouring red wine from the pitchers on the table. We have some sort of pork, some sort of meatballs, perhaps a dolmada, there's Greek salad which I didn't have, and I think some lamb came. I was pretty distracted by the musicians, who were wonderful!! Dmitri and I danced a bit, others came on the line, I think there was a bit of a hasapiko, a hora, a kalamatiano, things like that. Then our Captain Dmitrios, Vilma, and other crew came in. Vilma is a dancer, and she got me started on a kalamatiano, and Vilma, Robert and I took turns leading. I guessed that it turned into a hora towards the end. Finally, dessert, which is fruit. There are rounds of sliced apple with lemon & cinnamon. Still no Greek coffee. The musicians go and go and go, starting at 9 pm, no breaks, long medleys, almost no time between pieces, and stop at midnight. There's no one else in the taverna, all this is just for us. Towards the end Skip surprised us by thanking us for celebrating her birthday with us (!) and said that the entire dinner was her treat (!!!). So we tipped the musicians the equivalent of our dinner. At least Robert and I and several others did. They had to be pretty happy with that. We walked home in a glow, actually finding the fiddler puppet along the way.
SUNDAY MAY 6th, 2007 -- SANTORINI / THERA & IOS
The boat leaves at around 4 am, it's about 6 hours to Santorini. We arrive around 10, then we have a choice of taking the donkey or the cable up the cliff to the main town, Fira. We choose donkeys. They have a mind of their own! Mine wanted to be between the wall and the white donkey ahead of me, and we did our mini-switchback up the switchback. We get up to top before 11, Dmitri gathers us all up to walk a couple of blocks to the bus.
The bus takes us first to Ia, the town on the north part of the crescent. It is extremely picturesque. Dmitri takes us on about a half-hour walk to the Venetian fort at the point; we're all going nuts with photos. Too too toooo bad it's a hazy day - we could see to Crete and lots of other islands on a clear day. Even though it's hazy, the sun is almost overwhelming; sun hat and sunglasses are an absolute necessity. But it's a spectacular vantage point! Great photo opportunities. We pause there for a little while, then we head back to the bus. Robert and I stop at a shop and we both buy Good Earth shirts. Mine is a sort of thing that I should have brought on the trip - short-sleeved light cotton (plus silk) shirt with a collar that can be turned up, good to wear over a tank top to keep some of the sun off my shoulders.
The bus then takes us on a tour of the island. We drive to the highest point, on the south part of the crescent, and get a good view of the whole island, including the location of Akrotiri, the very important Minoan archaeological site. Akrotiri is unfortunately closed because a roof fell in, so it's dangerous to people and to the integrity of the dig. It was only re-discovered in about 1959 by a combination of Greek archaeologists and an American marine engineer, just about the time of the military junta. It is an extremely rich archaeological site and many treasures have already been unearthed, many more probably to go when they can get reorganized and refinanced. We also stop to look at grape vines which are grown in small circles near the ground to resist the force of the strong winds which constantly sweep across the island.
A brief history of this fascinating island - It's called Santorini ("Saint Irene") now, in Christian times, but was known as Thera (Θηρα) in ancient times. It's sometimes transliterated into English as Thira because the "i" is more representative of the pronunciation of the "long e" (eta, looks sort of like an h) of modern Greek. Thera was one of the main sites of the Minoean civilization, named after the mythical King Minos by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. This is also roughly known as the Bronze Age, about 3000 - 1300 BCE (Before the Common Era, the same as BC but without Christian overtones for the pre-Christian eras). The probable "capital" of the Minoan civilization was at the Palace of Knossos on Crete, which is not part of our itinerary; it's a good deal south of Santorini and generally needs its own dedicated trip. But the town of Akrotiri on Thera was a great town with lots of 2-3 - storey buildings, roads, plumbing including hot and cold running water, every modern comfort!
The Minoan civilization by all indications was remarkable. It was not only very advanced technically, but artistically too. The art is beautifully designed and rendered, equal to the highest art of any civilization, often depicting dolphins, fish, birds, plants, flowers, sports (boxing and bull-jumping), beautiful women with expensive hairdos, clothes and jewelry. No warfare or politics. The language of the Minoan civilization is called Linear A - it has not been deciphered yet as there are not a lot of samples of it but like Linear B probably has mostly to do with lists and accounting. Thera is a volcano - the outlines of the caldera and central cone are clearly visible on any modern map, and in person. The whole island blew up in the cataclysmic volcano eruption of 1550 BCE, and it's sometimes thought that its civilization was the Atlantis referred to by Plato, and sank into the sea. It's thought that the earthquakes which preceded the eruption warned the people to get away, because there are lots of artifacts, paintings, cavities left by wooden objects, etc, but no indication of people or bones. This gigantic volcano eruption is probably the biggest explosion known to mankind, 10 times the force of Krakatoa, and could be a source of lots of Biblical and other folk tales about floods, frogs, parting of the Sea of Reeds, large-scale human and animal migration, years of darkness, etc. The year can be almost exactly pinpointed by the layer of ash in ice bores in Greenland.
Back to the matters at hand. Eventually the bus deposits us in Fira for lunch, sight-seeing, and shopping. We stop at one of the "mighty small restaurants" on the cliff overlooking the harbor where our little boat is. The door is at street level, and there's nothing behind it - see the photo. You go through the door, and down some steps (outside) into the restaurant, which is basically open air covered with a pergola. We sit by the cliff and can see the three masts of our little boat. There are a couple of big boats docked in the big boat area of the harbor. Robert and Rosemary (from Vancouver) join us for lunch. A little while later the Sturrocks come in and sit at another cliffside table. Robert, Robert and I all have the artichoke hearts & feta cheese with lemon sauce, and Rosemary has eggplant with tomato sauce. The artichoke dish is Wonderful! Ambiance Wonderful! Company Wonderful! What a vignette.
Then we go to the Archaeological Museum, which contains (among other things) most of the Minoan relics collected at Akrotiri. It's got quite a lot of good stuff, lots of space, and most of the explanations are in Greek and English. It starts with petrified rock with olive leaves impressions, through Neolithic, on through Minoan artifacts. (The volcano blew in about 1550 BCE, before the switchover to Mycenean.) There was a miniature re-creation (model) of how the site looks today. Obviously only a part of it has been excavated; there's probably a lot more, but no money to do it. I'm disappointed to not go to the site, but I liked the model. Among the artifacts, one of the first of the big ones is a plaster cast of a wooden table. (The wood rotted away but the cavity was preserved in the vocanic dust.) Wow! I've never seen or imagined anything wooden from ancient times before, and it feels like a wave of revelation sweeps over me. Also part of a chair.
Later on there are some pottery fragments with Linear A inscriptions, and an explanation saying something about what the Linear A says. Perhaps there have been some successes at translating it, or perhaps they can at least infer what sort of lists or objects they are describing. The great translation success occurred with Linear B, the Mycenaean language, which turned out to be a syllabic (as opposed to alphabetic) form of writing based on Linear A but with a different underlying language - in fact Greek in its earliest written form. Then we come to some of the big frescoes, which are truly beautiful. The use of space, and the freedom and whimsy of the design, are even more evident in person than in the reproductions in books. There are dolphins, birds, beautifully dressed women, and the crowning fresco of the blue monkeys. (See below, May 19th, for a photo and description of the Blue Monkeys.) The frescoes and pottery are tastefully displayed with missing bits (sometimes large missing bits) filled in with paler color. Unfortunately, the whole downstairs floor is closed, where we think the boxing boys are. Also, again, no shop in the museum.
Robert is a little behind me, so I nip across the street to the store marked BEADS and pick up a beautiful necklace. Then we are on a bit of a mission to find George a silver ring, Robert a Santorini tank top, and maybe go so far back as the art gallery with the 3 women musicians near where we got off the donkeys. Seems this isn't quite the season for tank tops, but we find ONE which will do fine. And a beautiful ring. The painting we were looking at is 5000 Euros or so, but they ship anything anywhere, insured. We look at other things in the shop but we have only about 5 minutes to spare. We have to be at the dock by 5 pm, and we're not sure how long it will take to catch the cable car down. Pretty soon we rush out of the gallery, find the cable car, it's pretty fast, and we're down at the dock with 20 minutes to spare. The boat can't stay in the Santorini harbor too long, the tides are unstable, in fact they have had to move the boat twice since we got there. The time in Santorini is frustratingly short, but kind of built in that way because of the difficulties.
We steam over to Ios for a nice calm harbor, in fact we start dinner while we are still moving, which so far is unusual. We dock at the main town, most of us walk up a block or two and back to the boat, getting a photo of Homer's bust along the way. It's said he was born there, and buried there; he lived around 700 BCE, towards the end of the Greek Dark Ages which occurred between the Mycenaean time and the Age of Pericles. Anyway, it's a beautiful evening, and it seems there is energy enough to do some dancing. We do a 5-dance program, starting about 9:30. It's after sunset, but there are dock lights and boat lights, the air is very nice and moving just the right amount, there are 2 sets plus, so it's a very nice little event. The sound system stopped working completely; some dancers say it's not needed, but we'd rather have it reinforcing the sound just a little bit (not to mention all the trouble and expense of getting the sound system here). Oh, and Vilma wanted to try a dance too, so that was fun. After that we eventually wend our way to bed. I stayed up on my own and wrote about 10 postcards, in fact ran out of postcards before I ran out of energy.
MONDAY MAY 7th, 2007 -- NAXOS & MYKONOS
The boat leaves around 5 am, arrives at Naxos around 9 am. We can easily walk back and forth between the boat and the harbor town. Dmitri elects that we have a walking tour of the town instead of a bus tour of the island, though it's said to be one of the more "lush" islands. He says it's more of a working island, with agriculture, fishing, marble, and is self-sufficient without tourism. It does have a different feel, and I sense more locals than tourists, which is kind of nice. Dmitri takes us up the hill to a church at the top, then we go down to the waterfront, and he takes us along to a possible beach swimming place, where the water is shallower and warmer. Then he leaves us to our own devices. Robert needs to buy a few things, and I'm kind of looking for an internet cafe. We think we'll skip lunch (on the boat at 1) and split up and do other things. He goes to the Venetian museum, and swimming, and I buy (finally!) some Donald Duck comic books in Greek. No luck with an internet cafe. Buy a whole lot of postcards, and sit at a cafe with spanakopita and Greek coffee, and write postcards. After some more walking around, I'm sitting at another cafe with Chris, Calli & Michael. Just before we have to leave to go back to the boat, Calli notices a WiFi sign. Yippee! So I do a quick email check and send. Great to get that done, and from an open-air taverna overlooking the bay to boot.
Back to the boat by 5 because it's leaving for Mykonos. We get in around 7, but here we have to take a bus into town. The harbor is a little ways from the town, and the walk isn't the greatest, so we have to arrange transport - it's a bit tricky - and we eventually get a bus. When we come home, we'll split up into small groups and take taxis. Dmitri walks us through town to the harbor. Next to Naxos, it's very lively, but it's a little shocking too, to get back to tourism to the max, with loud back-beat nightlife. We split into smaller groups for dinner, so Robert and I end up with Calli and Michael. It's a beautiful sunset over the harbor, but we bounce out of the harbor places because of the loud unpleasant music. Finally we find a place called Niko's. While we're walking towards the restaurant, we're distracted by the pink pelicans, and I fell down an invisible step, really landed very hard on my right knee. Well, we carry on, find a table outside, and have a wonderful dinner with appetizers: dolmades, fried cheese; wine: dry white Mykonos wine; entrees: mine was lamb & spinach in lemon sauce, a dream. And Greek coffee, a trifle weak. Top food, top company, top ambiance. And pink pelicans to boot. I'm worried about my knee, it's swelling up. Phooey. I limp back to the taxi place, we get back to the boat, I'm icing my knee and on an ibuprofin regimen. The rest of the time in Greece is spent being very careful of my knee. Going up hills and stairs is more or less okay, but I have to go one step at a time going down.
A little bit each day, I'm working on the Greek alphabet and getting pretty comfortable. I'm not so good at learning words and speaking and listening, but I like seeing the words around and pronouncing them. The Greek alphabet is actually pretty easy, next to the American or Cyrillic alphabet. Only 24 letters, also a few diphthongs, and most of the pronunciation is completely predicatable. Well, I'm learning a few words - the word for ice is pago!
TUESDAY MAY 8th, 2007 -- MYKONOS, DELOS, SIROS
The boat DOESN'T leave before the crack of dawn! We all wake up when the anchor chains DON'T rattle. We get to stay at Mykonos, but have to bus it again into town to catch the little boats to Delos (full of goats and ghosts). Uninhabited, and in ancient times a holy place, said to be the birth place of Apollo?
Barbara's knee is still swollen this morning, and it seems unwise for her to walk on it extensively at Delos, so she remains on board as I join the rest of the group on the bus to town and onto the ferry to Delos. Once we get to Delos and purchase admission tickets, the group scatters in several directions: some go directly to the museum, others begin to wander amongst the ruins; a few of us attach ourslves to a guided tour in English, and spend the next two hours moving through the ruins with "Antonis" as he explains what we are seeing.
The island of Delos is not large, but of remarkable significance in ancient times. According to Greek mythology, Artemis and Apollo were born there of the union of Zeus and a mortal woman, Leto; for this reason, there are many temples and shrines to Apollo on the island. It is in the middle of the Cyclades and became very wealthy as the principal trading center of the Eastern Mediterranean throughout the first milennium B.C. It played an important role in classical Hellenistic times as the adminstrative center for the Delian League: the defensive alliance of the Greek city states against their enemies such as the Persian Empire. (However, Athens controlled the treasury of the Delian League, and taxes paid were diverted to pay for the building of the Acropolis!)
The Temple of Isis dominates the scene, partway up Mt Kythnos. The Museum is great, nicely laid out and lots of interesting pieces. There are lots of cisterns and drains - quite the infrastructure. There's a huge phallic statue. And of course, the Terrace of the Lions - dedicated by the people of Naxos in about 600 BCE, similar to the Egyptian Avenue of Sphinxes. The row of lions pictured here are all replicas; the originals are viewable in the Museum.
When we return to Mykonos, Ken, Calli, Michael, and I decide to have some lunch at Nikos' Taverna, the same place we had dined the night before: we share several appetizers and one main course. We begin to wander back to the main square. Ken and I decide to go in search of postcards and a newspaper while Calli and Michael go shopping for clothes. After checking email at an internet cafe, Ken and I come across Guy, Susan, Sylvia, and Terry at another cafe, so we join them for drinks. The plan is for Ken to take a taxi with Guy and Susan while I do the same with Terry and Sylvia. But first Terry wants to stop at a jewelry store where she had been bartering for a beautiful diamond ring. She and the merchant come to an agreement that involves her and Sylvia getting cash from an ATM. While they are gone, I begin to look around, and decide to buy Barbara a pair of dangly gold earrings that have a Greek meander pattern. Before the others return, I complete the whole transaction, and even finish a celebratory drink that the merchant offers me: Mastica, a very pleasant liqeur made only on the Greek island of Chios. When Terry and Sylvia return, it turns out that the ATM would not dispense enough cash for Terry's purchase, so she needs to borrow cash from Sylvia and me to get the agreed-upon price. Moreover, it is 5:10 pm, the boat leaves at 6:00 pm, and the store still needs to complete the paperwork and size the ring! The three of us go for a walk to pass the time, eventually ending up at the taxi stand to make sure that there is not a large queue (which there is not). Now it is 5:40 pm, so Terry heads back to the jewelry store while Sylvia and I sit down for another drink: the plan is that she and I will take a taxi back to the boat to explain if Terry has not returned by 5:55. At 5:45, Terry returns with the merchant to say that the ring is not done yet, but the courier will come this way. Indeed, at 5:50, the courier is passing by when the merchant stops her and gets the ring to give to Terry. The merchant wishes us a safe journey and we jump into a taxi, which gets us to the boat by 5:58!
[Barbara here - ] I had a nice easy day, got our cabin re-organized, wrote postcards, had a short but luxurious shower in Calli & Michael's cabin, worked a little on the Greek alphabet with Vilma's help, downloaded photos, pretty much sat all day with my leg up and knee iced. The crew spent the whole day polishing wood and doing various cleaning. Keeping up a wood ship is a lot of work! All in all, this schooner is GREAT! Sometimes the electricity doesn't work, but I'm usually able to find an outlet that does work if I hunt around. We all have to keep our cameras going! And I my computer. I sometimes take a hundred photos in a day and then download them onto my computer, delete the ones on my camera, and start over the next day.
We sail to Siros (or Syros - Συρως), having dinner on board en route. When we dock in Siros around 8:30 pm, we give everyone a chance to go ashore to explore the town for an hour, and then we have dancing on deck after dark. The Captain rigs up a floodlight to give us more light, and everyone seems to have a good time.
WEDNESDAY MAY 9th, 2007 -- KEA & CAPTAIN'S SUPPER
We leave Siros at 7 am and arrive in Kea before noon. Dimitri has arranged for a bus to give us ride to the old town of Kea on the top of the mountain. We pass by all sorts of interesting scenery, with lots of terracing for farms. We all walk through the small streets for a while; then some of us walk out to see the sculpted granite Lion of Kea while others (including Barbara who doesn't want to further stress her knee) have lunch at a small taverna. The Lion of Kea is great! It's carved out of a single 18-foot piece of granite by unknown artisans for an unknown purpose at an unknown time (600-1200 BCE), but it has an intriguing smile. (See the photo below, Thursday, May 24.) Eventually, we all gather at the taverna. Across the street from the taverna, a wedding is taking place with Greek dancing; gradually members of our group join the dancing, and eventually Dimitri joins in. Finally, Dimitri and the family patriarch drink a toast with linked arms, but then it is time for us to depart and meet our bus.
The bus drops most people at the boat, but Ken, Calli, Michael, and we are dropped at the main harbor for some lunch. After an unsuccessful search for an internet cafe, Michael walks back to the boat as the rest of us take a taxi back.
In the evening there is the "Captain's Supper" - the Captain, the Chief Engineer, and two of the sailors join us in the dining room for a buffet with about a dozen different dishes (of which the grilled octopus and the roasted eggplant were my personal favorites). After the dinner, we create an informal Greco-Scottish Ceilidh: I dance the Sailor's Hornpipe, the Captain performs a solo dance and then teaches everyone the line dance from his village, the Turkish cook wraps himself in a sheet and bumps and grinds through a dance, etc, etc.
THURSDAY MAY 10 - KEA & PIRAEUS
We do not depart Kea until 10 am, so Calli, Michael, and I go for a swim after breakfast. The beach is a 10 minute walk back towards the main harbor, but is well-worth the effort. The water is cold, but very clear. We also notice that water seems to have a higher salinity than we are used to: perhaps the Straits of Gibralter are too narrow to equaize the salinity between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. After lunch on the boat, Barbara and I are outside at the back of the boat watching the last of the islands recede into the distance. We both think of a tune at the same time - "Sitting at the Stern of the Boat" - a slow air written by a Scottish minister who was leaving Skye. It used to be a common session tune, but neither of us could remember it, then we remembered who would - Sheena Sturrock, whom Barbara had met at Stirling back in the 80s, the same time she met Angus Grant. Sheena (and Gill and Michael and Patti) plays fiddle very nicely, but none brought their fiddles! So, Barbara handed over her fiddle, and sure enough Sheena got the tune. We had a bit of a tune and song fest back there at the stern and it was yet another joyful hour.
Most of this day is spent on the boat, since we do not arrive in Piraeus until around 3 pm. Jim & Laurie invite everyone into the Master Cabin for a "finish the bottle" party. It's a nice time with nice people in a very nice room! Then we approach the mainland. Coming into harbor is always a show, and especially here we have to navigate between ships into a slip barely wider than our little boat. There's lots of shouting, ropes alternating pulling in and letting out as we maneuver by inches. The whole thing takes about a half hour. After docking Barbara and I walk to the main square looking for an internet connection for her (not successful) and an ATM for more cash (eventually successful). It's really hot, and a Starbucks iced coffee really hits the spot! At 6:30 pm, we take a bus into Athens and, after saying goodbye to Dimitri, we have a final dinner at a taverna in the Plaka. There's a live band and it's fun music but nothing like the Paros band. Dancers in costume go up and down the stairs near us, I think on their way to and from a neighboring taverna to perform. We return to the boat around 10 pm, and need to pack our things for an early departure from the boat the next day.
So, our islands part of the trip is over. I (Barbara) will get to do it again in a week. I think being on the Hellenic Beauty was a splendid experience! It's great to have the whole boat to ourselves. It's all wood, so pretty, nicely appointed, the crew were all wonderful. It's a small boat, which I think was infinitely superior to being on one of those big floating hotels. I liked being close to the water, seeing the sailors & crew in action, docking right at the harbor and jumping off the last step onto the land, admiring our pretty schooner from the inside and from the distance. A few of the amenities were a bit unreliable - the electrical outlets, the air conditioning, our shower - it perhaps wasn't a luxury cruise, but it was comfortable, interesting and fun! I'm really looking forward to seeing the boat and the crew again.
FRIDAY MAY 11th -- PIREAUS, ATHENS, CORINTH, MYCENAE, NAFPLIO
After saying farewells to the boat crew, we greet Gabriele and board our bus. We make a quick stop in Athens to drop off Sheena and John, and pick up Eileen & Michael, then we leave Athens for the Peloponessos. After driving a couple of hours, we stop at the Corinth Canal to take photos. Cutting through the narrow isthmus which separates the Gulf of Corinth from the Aegean Sea (and the short route to Italy and the Western Mediterranean) was an ancient idea whose time finally came in the 1890s. Now however it's too narrow for the big modern boats, but smaller boats navigate it nicely. There's also a bungee jump establishment, but it was closed. After a little shopping (got some nice scarves and also maps) and refreshment we then continue on to the site of Ancient Corinth.
Gabriele gives a tour of the ruins of Corinth and its museum. There are many interesting artifacts in the museum and the extent of the ruins is very impressive. There is a long stoa which originally was part of a beautiful avenue lined with statues and shops. Of particular interest are the ancient public toilets: many modern cities in the U.S. could learn from this example!
The Roman marble road was beautiful. In fact, we saw marble all over the place in Greece. Every bathroom we ever saw was appointed in marble, even our poor little bathroom on the boat had a marble counter top and marble floor. Many ordinary sidewalks and curbs also were marble. The two best-known types of marble in ancient Greece were Pentelic marble, from Mt Pentelikos, near Athens - the Parthenon is made of Pentelic marble (and the repairs are being done with marble from the same quarries) - and Parian marble, a lustrous white marble - the famous ancient Greek statue Venus de Milo, now in the Louvre, is made of this.
Interesting story about the museum. There was a theft of hundreds of pieces in the middle of the night in 1991. In about 1999 one of the pieces ended up being published in a Christie's auction catalogue. It was traced back to a house in Florida where most of the items, and many other pieces stolen from other places, and a pile of guns, were being stored in plastic crates among boxes of fish. Some of the people were caught and others are being tried in absentia.
Ancient Corinth, being in the center of essential land and sea trade routes, was a large, important and powerful city. At first it was an ally of Athens during the Persian Wars, and a member of the Delian League. However the growth of both cities tended to make them fearful and jealous of each other, and the Corinthians ended up allying with the Spartans against the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War (the war between Athens & Sparta, about 430-405 BCE). One of the chapters in Thucydides' History is the Speech of the Corinthians. Later on in Roman times, Julius Caesar restored it as a Roman colony (about 50 BCE), and St. Paul, who wrote the Corinthians chapter in the Bible, lived there for 2 years and established the first Christian church there (about 50 CE, or Common Era).
We take the bus to Mycenae where we first have lunch, and then proceed to the Citadel, which has a commanding view of the valley below. Again Gabriele gives us a fascinating tour of the ruins, including the famous Lion's Gate and the impressive Cistern. Unlike the Minoan sites, full of artifacts of peace, beauty and nature, the Mycenaean sites are fortified - huge otherworldly blocks of granite somehow piled into giant walls, usually in a geographically commanding place in the landscape. The Lion Gate perfects a brand-new technology - note that the inverted V design formed by the lions directs the weight of the wall above down the sides of the entrance, not directly over the lintel which, huge as it is, would not be able to carry the weight. There are grave circles, houses, places of dedication to the gods.
A short distance away, we also visit the beehive tomb called the Treasure of Atreus.
The Mycenaean civilization was named after this place. It was in power about 1500-1100 BCE, sort of taking over where the Minoans left off (who must have been severely weakened after the Thera volcano eruption of 1550). There were many Mycenaean settlements, in Crete, the other Cyclades, and the east coast of the Peloponnesus. The Mycenaeans were warlike and had extensive defenses, and died out in fires and violence. The most famous Mycenaean was Agamemnon, who managed to gather up the private armies of many of the tribes of Hellas (Homer's name of the area, before the Roman name "Greece"), including Achilles and Odysseus, to fight his brother's battle. Agamemnon's brother was Menelaus, whose wife Helen was stolen by Paris, a visiting Trojan, and taken off to Troy (around 1200 BCE). Herodotus says something like "Lots of people's wives were stolen or went off, who cares which, and nobody had to go launch a thousand ships, but no, these Greeks had to start this huge 10-year war in the east over trumped-up charges." The Trojans were indeed defeated, but Achilles was killed in the war, Odysseus was turned into a perennial wanderer, and Agamemnon came home to be murdered by his adulterous wife. All this spelled the beginning of the end of the Mycenaean civilization.
The German archaeologist Schliemann believed in the literal history of the Homeric tales and managed to find the site of Troy, and to excavate Mycenae (1890s?), discovering colossal heaps of gold, including a wondrous gold mask with a human skull behind it. Schliemann stared at this mask and said "I have seen the face of Agamemnon." Turns out he was a little off in years; this mask is now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens and we saw it! Sorry for the blurry photo.
We take the bus to Nafplio, where we will spend the night. But before going to the hotel, we drive into the seaside town which lies beneath a medieval castle. Gabriele shows us a little of the town before turning us loose for an hour or so. I know that Barbara still wants to find a place to check and send email, so we tag along with Gabriele for a while until I notice a "Wi-Fi, Wireless" sign outside a cafe. Barbara and I enjoy iced coffees while she does her emailing, we watch small groups from our tour wander along the walk to the ice cream place across the way, and then we head back to the bus. We arrive at the hotel around 7:30 pm, and have just enough time to settle in before an 8:00 dinner.
This is a very long and tiring day. Barbara, in particular, is feeling very poorly at the end of it, both from the stress placed on her injured knee, and from her sinuses which seem to have suffered a severe allergic reaction [or near heatstroke up on the citadel, or her heart stopping and falling into her feet when she first saw the Lion Gate]. Both of us go to bed early.
SATURDAY MAY 12th -- PELOPONESSOS & OLYMPIA
We board the bus and head west on winding backroads to cross the mountains of the Pelopenessos. We are impressed that the mountains are very tall and rugged with very little vegetation; basically a desert climate. We stop for a late morning snack and some shopping in Megalopoli, then continue south towards Kalamata before turning west towards the Ionian Coast and then north towards Olympia.
We arrive in Olympia around 2:30 pm and stop at a small taverna for a late lunch. The day has turned very hot, so after lunch we decide to just visit the Museum at the Ancient Olympia site. This means that we get to the hotel around 5:00 pm, which gives some of us time for a swim before an 8:00 pm dinner. Barbara, on the other hand, is feeling so poorly that she goes straight to bed with some ice for her knee and some Sudafed for her allergies.
SUNDAY MAY 13th -- OLYMPIA & DELPHI
We leave the hotel around 9:15 am and spend the morning walking the grounds of Ancient Olympia. The size of the site is very impressive, and we appreciate the shade afforded by the many trees: most of the previous archaeoligcal sites had few (if any) trees. Around noon we board the bus and start heading north towards the new bridge at Patra that crosses the Corinthian Straight. Once on the mainland, we head east and eventually stop at a seaside taverna around 3 pm for a late lunch: I try the octopus (which is not as good as at the Captain's Dinner) and Barbara has sea bream (which she likes very much once she has dealt with the many small bones). We're overlooking a little beach, and after lunch we go down and go wading in the water. Feels so idyllic!
We continue along the coast towards Delphi, and arrive at the site around 5 pm. We utilize the same plan as the previous day and just visit the Museum, saving the site itself for the next morning: in addition to taking advantage of the air conditioning on a hot afternoon, the Museum will not open on Monday until noon, so it is good to do it first. Then we head to our hotel, arriving around 6:30 pm. It's very hot, and everyone is looking forward to a swim in the pool, but as we approach we see the pool is -- EMPTY! Yow! What a disappointment. Well, we'll just have to handle it.
We have some time to spare before an 8:00 pm dinner, so Barbara and I walk into town for supplies and an internet cafe. But the shops that carry the supplies that we seek (ibuprofin, sudafed, pocket kleenex, cough drops, water, etc) are closed (it is Sunday after all), and the internet cafes do not understand laptops and wireless signals, so we join Chris, Guy, and Susan for drinks at a bar with a spectacular view of the valley sweeping down to the sea. We get back to the hotel just in time for dinner, and afterwards we sit on the balcony with Ken, catching the last rays of the setting sun. It's a little bit of all right.
MONDAY MAY 14th -- DELPHI & KALAMBAKA
Barbara stays in the hotel to rest her knee as the rest of us tour the grounds at Delphi. It is a very impressive site, with the buildings perched on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. And, of course, it is famous in ancient history for the prophesies by the oracle of Delphi. Gabriele explains that the oracle was always female and selected from the older women in the city. The oracle's enigmatic prophecies may have a pragmatic explanation: they have recently discovered a fissure below the oracle's chamber through which natural gases flow that induce hallucinogenic state. I knew about the temples and amphitheater at Delphi, but I did not realize that it also had a stadium for games, way at the top of the site. There is also an interesting wall where the stones fit together like a jigsaw puzzle: this provides greater strength during earthquakes. This style of wall is named after the island of Lesbos.
We leave the grounds and pick up Barbara from the hotel before beginning to drive north. We stop for food and drinks at a large but convenient roadside facility; many of us enjoy ice cream after our meal. Then we get back on the road and drive to Kalambaka. The hotel has a nice swimming pool, but is several miles from town; I elect to go swimming while Barbara, Michael, Calli, and Skip take a taxi into town and back.
Barbara here - I have never heard of Kalambaka or the Hanging Monasteries, so this is a completely new thing! In all my preparations for this trip, these didn't come up. The monasteries of course are Christian and so come after the Greek and Roman classical periods, not my strong point in history. We're now in Thessaly, way north of Athens, and it's quite a long drive from all the classical sites. On the next trip two weeks later someone asked me, is it worth the trip. I had to say yes. (That person later agreed with me - was that you, Tricia?) The geology is incredibly unique, the small town of Kalambaka is less-traveled and itself seems a little preserved in history, and the monasteries are a rich depository of artistic and historical significance. I just can't get off the time-worn words - amazing, awesome, stunning, incredible.
Walking around the town was fun - there are little shops with tourist things I hadn't seen before. I finally manage to buy "my" T shirt - a picture of Homer the Blind Bard holding his harp, and the opening of the Odyssey written in Greek. Calli gets "her" goddess dress. I spy a pair of sandals I might buy on the next trip. Calli and Michael are both geologists and they have fun trying to figure out how those sheer rocks got to be that way. We turn corners, going uphill and towards a naked wall. We never actually get to one of the formations, but it seems if we went just another block or so then we could walk right up and put our hand on it. Then we all sit down for a pleasant drink at a corner taverna. It feels like the gods are smiling on us.
We come back to the hotel. This is our last night together as a group before we get down to Athens and go off in all directions. We have a nice dinner, and after dinner, we find a large-ish common room off the lobby. Most of us gather there, have one more drink, and some songs and tunes. There's a palpable group urge to dance, chairs get moved off to the side, and then Holly runs us through her Cardigan dance. I think we do a couple of other dances too. It's nice to end on an Up note!
TUESDAY MAY 15th -- METEORA & ATHENS
Morning: We tour Meteora, the amazing rock formations near Kalambaka and the several "hanging" monasteries that are perched atop them. We learn from Michael and Calli that the rock is sandstone and the pillars have been formed by natural erosion; we learn from Gabriele that these Greek Orthodox monasteries were built beginning in the 14th Century. One can easily appreciate that monks, seeking a refuge from the secular world, would be attracted by their natural inaccessibility. And there was also the little matter of the Turks who controlled the area for 400 years. Meteora means "rocks in the air." We visited two - a monastery and a nunnery (?), but weren't allowed to take photos indoors. Gabriele is again spontaneously decoding hundreds of years of Byzantine Christianity, history and art. Need more of those words again! I particularly like looking at the books of calligraphy of the Bible, and medieval music.
Afternoon: Left Meteora, and back-tracked along the same "boring" flat expanse that we drove north on. Had a brief stop at the same strange large airy place that we had lunch in before. Shortly after the point that we had intercepted this road yesterday, is the site of Thermopylae. Very unfortunately, there's almost nothing to it. Not even a little T-shirt stand. We're driving south and the monuments are on the east side of the highway - 2 lanes each direction - no way to get across and look at them, though there's not much to look at anyway. No picturesque or descriptive photo opportunities, the site is physically quite different from the time of the battle - the Malian Gulf is now about a mile away from the Trachinian Cliffs, because of earthquake activity and sedimentary deposits, and there's no more "cliff" but more like a "bog" (actually rich farmland now) going towards the water. At the time of the Persian Wars, 480 BCE, the "narrows" between the cliffs and the roiling sea was perhaps 100 yards wide. There are two monuments, a big one for the 300 Spartans, and a smaller one for the Thespians (there were other people fighting that battle), which is behind a large garbage container, and in front of a large power tower. We did climb up a sort of interesting little hill, and there's a big medallion up there, and you get a better feeling of the terrain, especially the mountain which the Persians came up to out-flank the Spartans. You can also see the bay that the navies fought in.
Then we finish the drive, arrive at the hotel, quickly say good-byes to as many people as we could, throw our luggage in our room, and contact Robert's father, Mac. He and his two lady colleagues (Victoria and Angela) HAPPEN to be in Athens for a Theosophy conference. They taxi down from their hotel, we meet in the lobby, and also Michael and Calli join us. We walk over to the Plaka to the restaurant that Michael and Calli had been to twice during their time in Athens before the tour, and we have a very nice dinner. I'm sitting at the end with Victoria and Angela and don't get to talk to Mac very much. But we get a nice photo out of the deal (which later on tonight I email to Carol & Lynn). We walk back towards our hotel, but end up shopping in a little place in the Plaka. Robert gets scarves for Carol & Lynn, and Angela & Victoria buy gifts. We finish walking to the hotel, and the three Theosophists find a cab immediately and take off. We say goodnight and goodbye to Calli and Michael, get to our room, and pack - we're trading suitcases, and I'm sending some of my purchases and my unused articles like sweatshirt, corduroy pants, Barnes book, big shoes, glasses, reading book home with Robert (most of these I will later regret) - to bed around midnight.
WEDNESDAY MAY 16th -- ATHENS
Robert gets up at 4 am, is down at the lobby at 4:30 am, I come down also to see everyone off, about 13 in all. GONE! I go back to bed, but get downstairs again at 8:40, but seem to have missed what I thought was the 8:30 crowd. I'm up now, shower, organize, pack. At some point I run into Ken and he helps me move into his room. Nice! Huge picture windows facing the Temple of Olympian Zeus, but it's very very quiet because of double- or triple-windows. All that horrid traffic just outside our window, and it might as well not exist. Can't see it either. Pretty soon, Ken and I strike out into the city on several missions: dropping off my laundry, finding an air mattress, and having lunch. We walk and walk and walk through the Plaka, and onto the main drag, try a couple of department stores, ask questions, and finally get either an accidental or a responsible lead, which turns out successful. I get a camping pad which rolls up, is very light, and might do the trick for the thin mattresses on the boat, and maybe also for the hard beds in the hotels. Then we head back into the Plaka to a place just under the Acropolis that Ken knew of, with the back end of the Erychtheum visible. It's very nice. I think I probably had dolmades, and Ken had meatballs. Plus wine. So nice, very sweet. Back to the hotel, we pick up our laundry on the way, and by now it's about dinner time. We stay in the room, drink the bottle of white wine I had bought on Santorini, and also about a half bottle of something Ken got in Athens, something to do with cinnamon. And have a few pistachios, peanuts and olives. That's our dinner, just perfect.
THURSDAY MAY 17th -- ATHENS
Ken helps me move into my room for tonight; I'll have Marion Hoercher from Sarasota Florida as my roommate. She has just arrived in Athens from a trip to Turkey - she's quite a traveler! Yesterday Ken and I got all our clothes laundered, except what we were wearing. Today Ken offered to take in the things that we were wearing, making for a complete laundry. I was interested in the Benaki Museum, and possibly other things to see. Ken showed me on the map a nice possible walking route, involving walking around the Temple, then through the National Gardens, wending round the various paths, and coming out on the street with the Benaki on the right-hand corner. So I did that. It was hot, but kind of nice in the Gardens, and I did wend around crooked paths. Of course I got turned around, and where I thought I had come on on the side, I had actually come out the top. So when I turned left I was walking away from the Benaki. I was confused for the better part of an hour, looking at the map, trying to read the street signs (they were too far away), walking this way and that, back tracking, walking around blocks, getting hotter & tireder. But I did see the Changing of the Guard, and a music band playing their repertoire and selling CDs on a street corner. Finally got oriented and went into the Benaki. The main part is free, the paintings part costs 5 euros, which I don't end up doing, and I have to check my bag. I'm already pretty tired, but I spend about 3-4 hours in the museum. Quite a bit of Minoan stuff, including those contemporary-looking little figurines with the face blank except for the nose, and the folded arms. I also see the horses which I've seen replicas of in the shops, with the manes and very thin bodies. I spend quite a bit of time in the Minoan room. Then I move through the other rooms, actually quite slowly, and getting more tired, but I'm undecided whether to stay here, or to cut this short and get back up to the Archaeological Museum, or other museums which are dotted around this area, including Schliemann's house. I finally out of exhaustion opt to stay here, go up to the 3rd floor, which WOW has musical instruments, which I really enjoy. Later on, lots of fascinating costumes, which aren't as much my thing but these are really good, and I'm thinking Marianne would really enjoy this. This whole time I'm thinking of the sorts of things I'm hoping to find in the shop, and go back down to the ground floor to go through the shop. Disappointing as usual. Very few, or rather none of the art works that I'm interested in, in any form. I go through the two rooms twice, but come up with nothing. Then I notice there's a cafe upstairs, so I trudge oh so heavy-footed up the steps again. It's the right knee that was injured, but now the left knee is getting stiff, as it's doing double duty. I don't quite understand the cafe, how to order, what to order, whether to sit, so I leave. And I leave the museum. I did like it a lot, though. It's a private museum so I couldn't take any photos.
I'm wondering whether to take my chances with winding through the National Gardens again, and decide to give it a try, though I'm getting really tired and would like to sit down at some perfect little taverna pretty soon. I enter the Gardens, and very soon after entering, I stumble across the perfect place right in the woods! I sit down, order an orange juice, and write 10 postcards. Probably spend over an hour there, just getting refreshed in the middle of the forest. Then I continue on, and instead of going straight back to the hotel, decide to go into the Plaka to investigate pottery and things. On the way I discover the Roman baths which are just up the street from the hotel. Find a nice shop in the Plaka called Pottery Studio and Gallery. I think it's a couple who make the pottery and sell it. It's hand-made and hand-painted. There are beautiful pieces there, some of my favorite shapes. I sort of decide on a kylex, with a boy playing a lute in the bowl, and boys with horses on the outside. I think I'll think about it, and try to find a time before, during or after dinner to go ahead and buy it.
On the way back to the hotel, I stop at a t-shirt place that has "300" t-shirts. I get two really nice black ones. The one with Leonidas and all-Greek lettering is for Evan; the one with the helmet and English/Greek letters is for Alex. Success on that front! I get back to the hotel around 5:30, and meet Marion. She has a hand-written note from Ken saying to meet at 6:15 in the lobby. I rest up a bit and chat with Marion, then we go down to meet the group! We walk as a group to the same restaurant in the Plaka as before. Same musicians (bouzouki and guitar) and I think same dancers. It's all very festive and exciting. Pretty soon the dancers get up and apparently motioned in our direction for volunteer dancers. Sue Carrington practically jumps over the table to join them, and she doesn't know the dance! It's a Syrto. The dancers motion towards other people, and Marianne, Don and I get up and a few others, including Marion who is a folkdancer, also join. So for the rest of the evening we dance quite a few. The musicians are joined this time by a woman singer, really wonderful. Later, I ask Don to take my money for my meal, and give tips to the musicians and dancers, and go back to the pottery shop to buy my kylex. I buy a few other things too. I'm slowed down by a group of people who come into the store and don't realize that I'm already in the middle of my purchase. By the time I'm done and have gone back to the restaurant, everybody's left. So I come back alone, and I don't get lost!
FRIDAY MAY 18th -- ATHENS, LAVRIUM, HELLENIC BEAUTY 2, STORM
I missed breakfast, but did emailing and got ice for my knee, and meant to leave the 10 postcards at the desk but might have put them down somewhere else in the hotel. I hope the hotel will just mail them. Later on it turns out that I also left my only dress hanging up in the bathroom; I will be sartorially challenged on this next part of the trip and hope I can get it back from the hotel after the tours. We're all gathering full of excitement in the hotel lobby, go into the bus, and what do you know, we have a NEW tour guide! His name is Babi, which is short for something, very nice young man with straight long hair in a pony tail. Actually sort of an Adonis. He seems every bit as knowledgeable and straightforward as Gabriele. I think I heard him say that Official Tour Guides have 3 years' schooling and lots of tests on all sorts of subjects. We do a slightly different Athens tour, sort of ending with the Acropolis rather than beginning, and the time up there seems even shorter. Rrr. But then we're back on the bus and we drive south towards Lavrium. It was sunny and bright but there was a cool breeze, it was very pleasant, and everyone was happy as clams. The heat wave is over! We drove down towards Lavrio, but didn't seem to go by the pillars for Poseidon, shortly before the dock. Instead, we had lunch on the way, maybe on the other coast. Lunch was great! It was the usual - the courses coming out (including squid and octopus which made some people happy and other good stuff) and lots of wine, then they surprise us with the main course after we think we're done! Nice outdoor place, view of the sea, perfect weather, all is well and good.
We also seemed to be joined by an additional woman. In due course, after we were seated on the bus and couldn't see her, she briefly introduced herself over the microphone, name of Elena, but pretty much no other information. And, Ken had told me we were going to be on the other Hellenic Beauty, #2, because of all the electrical problems / complaints on HB1. Waaa! Can't get back with my friends on the crew! It will be interesting to be on a different boat, but I'm starting to wonder if the electrical problems were all THAT bad.
The soft breezes on the Acropolis, the pleasant sea breezes at lunch, and a couple of grayish clouds way over yonder might have warned us of an impending change in the weather, but we boarded the HB2 only with excitement and optimism. This was about 5:30. Immediately I was overwhelmed by a certain odor. Then when I got my cabin assignment and went down there, it was almost as if the fumes were coming from my cabin. I couldn't stay in there for more than a few seconds. But, I put a cheerful face on the whole thing and figure I'll wait til after we're underway to try to do something about the smell.
After a short - too short? - information and safety presentation from Elena, and a hurried introduction of the crew (Capt Dmitri, Chief Engineer Kostas, couple of other deckhands, cook Kostas, Chief Steward Giorgios, cabin boys Kostas (from Ukraine) and Phonis), we started walking around the boat. One obvious difference is, the bar is on the top deck out in the open, and the galley is in the lounge where the bar is on HB1. I did a bit of exploring and ended up in Eileen & Michael Yates' cabin, which is the master cabin?? It's topside, where the galley is on HB1. It was okay, but smaller than the master cabin on HB1, fairly ordinary-looking though very nice. Yes, windows all round, but unless you want people looking in all the time you have to keep the curtains closed. The only way in & out was right onto the upper deck at the stern of the boat, where the entry ramp is. (The next day they found out about the inside passage, through the wheel house, then down the usual stairs into the main cabin.) The boat had already pulled away from the dock - we seemed to be late for something. Too bad we all missed the moment of launching, it's kind of a fun excitement factor. Anyway, while Eileen and Michael and I were talking in their cabin, the boat started rocking a bit. Then it seemed like a big wave would hit every once in a while, which stopped conversation. Then it seemed like a big wave would hit every few seconds. We all even wondered what we should do, as the only way out of the room was outside on the windy deck and down stairs, both with no handholds. We had been warned not to be on the deck during stormy weather, and this might be categorized as stormy but we didn't know. Were we supposed to stay in there, or were we supposed to leave? Finally I chanced it and was very nearly blown clean overboard! At least, I felt out of control for a second and was involuntarily moved quite a distance during that second, but I didn't fall down - managed to grab onto something. I carefully made my way over to the front upper deck and there were people there so I figured it was okay. I was holding onto a rope with some other people, and then something happened and I did fall down! I didn't injure anything, I was just fine; but at that point Elena told everyone to go downstairs into the main cabin.
So, the next part of the story begins. It was REALLY windy, and the waves were so high that we'd be up on top of a wave one moment, and in a trough the next, just like in the movies! If I was really careful I could move around, but it was dicey - had to hold on with TWO HANDS at all times. We'd been out of port maybe half an hour, 45 minutes. I had a good spot in the lounge to stand, by the starboard door, where I could see the waves and could also hold on. I noticed one person was throwing up over the side of the boat on the port rail. I looked around and saw several miserable looking people. My new pal/roommate in Athens, Marion, was sitting with Marianne Taylor and a few other people. Gradually that little group went outside, one by one, to throw up. Marianne said in a very cheerful lilting way, "I feel ill," with a sparkle in her eye. Marion ended up sitting on the floor. At one point such a big wave came that it overturned a whole table end over end on top of Marion and Marianne. They were okay - just bruises - but it was stunning.
There were regular sounds of things falling over. At one point a bigger wave caused a huge crash in the kitchen. Someone said the stove had fallen over! Perhaps these things are supposed to be strapped down or screwed in? The kitchen floor was covered with stuff. If anyone had wanted dinner, I don't think there was any way to make it. It sort of felt like the boat was leaking water all over the place, and pieces were coming apart. I heard a couple of people were in their cabins with their life jackets on. At one point I saw Eileen Yates, who had made her way down, and she said she and Michael really didn't know what to do, so they went to sleep. That turns out to be the best thing to do, for those not feeling well. But their bathroom was flooding and they were worried about that. Many people had water sloshing in their beds; water was leaking all over. Toilets (some with unmentionable stuff in them) were jammed and wouldn't work. The main problem with my cabin was the urine smell, enough to curl my hair (and believe me my hair doesn't curl!).
During all this time Elena was nowhere to be seen (we thought she was sick in her cabin, but later someone said she was in the wheelhouse most of the time) and Ken was out on the port outside rail with the Harmons (later I found out it was their way of staving off seasickness). The crew members were trying to help, with paper towels, plastic bags, handing people from one area to another, but in other ways they seemed clueless; I suggested that they check on the people in the upper cabins, but none of them seemed to think it was necessary.
Don Gorman, Marianne's spouse, is a buddy, and used to be a sea captain on a large tugboat. He has done quite a few runs between Istanbul and Sicily in his day, so we all call him Capt Don. (Sometimes I call myself Bosun Barb.) There was nowhere else to go for information, but Capt Don was in touch with Capt Dmitri, so I learned that we were pulling all the way to Santorini: it was HOURS of rough weather ahead! Since I wasn't feeling sick, I started to quietly have a fun time with the rocking and rolling of the boat. This is real weather! Real seamanship! The real sea! Wow! Once I was standing by a partly-opened door (clamped open) and got drenched by a wave. I saw it coming for a lot of seconds but was not inclined to move. Many times when I looked across the cabin out the portside windows, all I saw was churning sea, the boat seemingly sideways in the water. We really had to hold on! If we moved around we had to find things to hold on to. Capt Don says I have earned my Bosun Barb title. Too bad it didn't occur to me to take ANY photos this whole time!
Later on, I pieced out the strategy: the storm was moving north, so going south got us out sooner. I don't see how we could have docked anywhere in this weather - it seemed a tricky business even in very calm waters. I guess some people thought that we should have not gotten on the boat at all, should have gotten a hotel on land, til the storm blew over; but we would have lost 2-3 days that way. I suppose that happens to boat tours sometimes and arrangements can be made. But going to Santorini was probably the best way to keep the tour intact, though I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who wasn't sick.
Around midnight, things seemed to have settled down slightly. The gray statues had gone to bed, Marianne was ensconced by Don on the floor of their cabin (Don says the floor is the best place to be if you're seasick), and Marion on the floor of the main cabin, with mattress, blanket and pillow. Several other people were also sleeping in the main cabin. I had decided that I could not sleep in my horrid cabin, that I would also sleep in the main cabin. Several of us - Tom, Betty, Kay, myself, a couple of others - sat around for a while and did the puzzle that I had bought at Mycenae as a very welcome distraction, and some of the crew came out with some snacks for those few of us who were actually a little peckish.
An hour later, it was just Don and me up. He said he has never been seasick, but I don't know why I wasn't: I'm not any experienced seaman or anything. Don took me up to the wheelhouse and quietly showed me what was happening, with one guy on the wheel holding to a certain compass degree, another guy or two in the background but alert, and another guy resting. It was still really windy, and by now was raining, and I had to find things to hold on to each step of the way. But inside the wheelhouse it was quiet, with concentration and respect of the sea.
Later on Capt Don said that this was not that much of a storm, that we were never in any danger, that boats are designed to "take on" water, that certain systems had been tested and probably needed repair, but that the ship was basically sound. Well, at least the electrical outlets worked!
Finally around 2 am I went to bed. I couldn't stomach being in my room so I slept in the main lounge area. Put one mattress on top of another and it was very comfortable. I was just a bit cold. I had made a big mistake giving Robert my hooded sweatshirt and corduroy pants. The heat wave is over!! Hopefully tomorrow in Santorini I can buy something warm.
I was awake a long time feeling the motion of the boat and listening to the squeaking. There were usually 3 tones in rhythm. When the boat rocked a little less, there were two tones. I kind of got into the musicality of the tones and still enjoyed the rocking. It's too bad the storm happened at the very beginning of the sailing - if this had happened on the 2nd day or something, we would have been able to know each other and the crew better and help each other more. But we will soon become the buoyant and optimistic crowd that we're all expecting. I just can't describe the eerie feeling on the boat, with some people just fine, and others more like ghosts.
SATURDAY MAY 19th -- SANTORINI & IOS
Saturday can be summed up with: RAIN. Santorini gets about 300 days of sunshine a year, so we experienced a rarity: pouring rain in Santorini. Again, in a perverse way I kind of enjoyed it, because it made it different. After the 15-hour run to Santorini on Friday night - Saturday morning, we arrived. I was up at 6 or so, and stood in the rain (with a tank top, 2 t-shirts, Greek shirt, silk jacket, baseball cap, short-ish pants, socks and sandals, pretty much all the clothes I owned) for about an hour and half maybe 2 hours, watching us approach the island, enter the caldera, and dock. I was drenched and cold, but I enjoyed it. Not too many other people were around, so they missed a wonderful thing. Capt Don had taken a watch at the helm 2-6, so he was asleep for the show. The other mariner, John Allen, was up by about 7.
We had a cold breakfast - I don't think too many people could face bacon and eggs yet - and disembarked around 10. I again took the donkey up, and it was fun! I liked my donkey. There was a little group of about 6 of us, including Ken. Ken told us to stay with him at the top of the donkey ride, to wait for the cable people which included Elena. Unbeknownst to us at that time, Elena told her fairly large cable group (20+ people) to wait at the top of the cable for Ken's donkey group. Ken dispersed us fairly quickly when Elena's group didn't show up, but Elena kept her group from dispersing for an hour waiting for Ken. I was disappointed to miss meeting up with Marion, as we said we would. So I struck off with a couple named Becky and Ralph, from Pennsylvania. Ralph at one point said that our Berkeley albums were his faves, almost a revelation. I went to the archaeological museum with them (got better photos of the Linear A, and the Blue Monkeys* this time), and then to the Thera museum, which I hadn't seen last time. I'm glad I saw it, but it's not so memorable. In fact I can't remember much of anything in it. Certainly not Minoan, my fave.
*The museum has a commentary on the Blue Monkeys on the adjoining wall: "The wall-painting of the monkeys decorated the north and west walls of room Beta 6 [in a large house at Akrotiri]. From broad wavy bands of unequal width, extending across the lower part of the paintings and perhaps denoting water, rise rocks which fill the main field up to its decorative crowning zone and recall the Theran landscape in shape and colours. Blue monkeys, a species foreign to the Aegean fauna, clamber on the rocks, moving freely in all directions. All are depicted in profile except one, which is shown in frontal view, a bold rendering in Aegean wall-paintings. The wall-painting of the monkeys, a masterpiece by an avant-garde painter, combines a certain restraint in colour and drawing (natural landscape) with freedom of composition, intense movement, varied poses and a registering of the momentary, thus creating an atmosphere that realistically conveys the character of the simians. The felicitous result perhaps indicates that the painter had a direct image of these animals, which will have been imported to the Aegean from the Eastern Mediterranean. Late Cycladic I period, 17th c. BC."
We walked around window shopping and lo! we passed some of those shirt places, except now that it's cold and raining, they had warmer things up! SO I bought a Santorini fleece, and a Santorini windbreaker with a hood. Now I can be both warm and dry!
Becky and Ralph and I had lunch. I had an appetizer of gorgonzola stuffed mushrooms - delish!, then went back to the center to meet up for the bus to Ia (sometimes transliterated Oia). We drove there in the rain, with no commentary, but as we got off the bus, Ken pointed out the direction of the Venetian fort. I wanted to walk in that direction anyway to shop, and ended up walking with Marion and Eileen. I bought another top at the Good Earth place. And on the way back, bought scarves as gifts for my mother and sister.
On the way back to Santorini, Elena announced that this trip to Ia would cost 10 euros. People were surprised and wished something had been said about the cost beforehand, and they probably would have opted to stay in one place longer instead of two places shorter.
But the bigger kerfuffle happened on the way down. Everyone, even including Ken, opted for the cable; you should have seen the waterfall down the donkey trail! Yuck! Anyway, we were mixed up with a lot of people on the Princess cruise also waiting to go down. Just as our little group got towards the head of the line, a real windstorm came up and they didn't run the cable for about half an hour. Apparently Elena was with another part of our group, and said she would be right back, would be buying tickets for the group. Then disappeared and NEVER came back!! We were huddled in the whirling rain and cold, the cable cars swaying, and we were wondering how we would ever get down. Then sure enough the wind died down a bit and they started the cable up again. I halfway wondered how to contact the boat and tell them we're stranded for the nonce. A little story, while we were stranded at the top of the cliff - there were two main groups, our (Ken's) small tour group, and a large group from the hotel-like tour ship, whom we tended to call Princess People. Several of them were talking amongst themselves, finding out who was who, then asked one of us if we were "with them," and the one said, no, we're from the other boat, the little boat. The Princess Person said, oh, you're from the Pirate Ship! After that, we had our own proud nickname! Perhaps we're famous all over the Aegean!
Eventually the cable started again, we got on, and then I could see that the HB2 was not docked! Well, we got down quickly, then all 29 of us huddled in a little taverna in the bottom. Still no Elena.
Turned out the HB2 had to wait for a boat to leave the slot, which took about an hour. Ken treated us to a glass of wine and with all of us together and no longer worried about being late, we had a nice little party atmosphere, some people having conversations with Greeks. Still raining. Then the HB2 started in, got close, and half our people went onto the concrete walkway towards the boat. Then in the process of docking, one of the lines snapped. It was very dramatic. There was thunder and lightning too! So those on the slab came back, and everyone huddled under two tarped areas, getting colder. We watched the HB go quite a ways away from the dock and wondered what was up. Don and John were on the slab with signals to the crew. I went up to find out what was what, and Don explained that the boat had to get far enough over so that the wind wouldn't blow it into the wrong docking area.
The boat docked just as the sun came out - with Don & John's help - and it turned out Elena was on it! I never got her entire story - very curious how she got down ahead of us. We were scheduled to leave Santorini at 5:30 pm, dock at Ios at 7:30, and have dinner then, but (surprise!) the schedule suddenly changed and we ate during the transport. It seemed incredible to be able to eat WHILE the boat was moving (as opposed to the night before, when the kitchen was almost turned upside down and tables and chairs were toppling), but we had a nice dinner. The staff gave us bottles of wine from the bar (later was told this was from Ken). I was wondering how I could possibly organize Marianne and myself playing some music in the main cabin - I wasn't sure where the piano was, and how to get it set up - then, right after dinner, Ken asked us to play, got the piano set up, and several people started pas-de-Basqueing, and then dancing started, spontaneous-like, with Ken MCing and calling. We did about 5 dances and a waltz. Very nice.
Also, we played Samiotissa, Elena joined us, and she also knew another Greek song which Marianne knew, about Ios! Which is where we are! It was slightly familiar to me so I played along. Then Elena requested another one, which Marianne didn't know, but it turned out to be Never On Sunday! Elena really is a NICE singer.
Then people were retiring, and I stayed up til 2 doing internet and photos and stuff, and slept in the lounge, got up at 6. The only people who knew I was there were some of the crew. We had a nice cooked breakfast, the sun came out, and as everyone naturally is, the good cheer returned. I was cold, only one thin blanket to sleep with, but with the sun, I warmed up.
SUNDAY MAY 20th -- NAXOS
Today is an absolutely perfect day. It's nice and warm and sunny, but not too hot, and nice breezes, and a few clouds, but no threatening gray ones. We're on Naxos now. This morning I walked to the temple columns with Tom and my one-nighter-roommate-in-Athens Marion, also known as Jake. Then we walked along the main sidewalk along the harbor, sort of heading for the WiFi cafe, and the archaeological museum. We walked up the hill to the museum and went through it. It had Early Cycladic (3000s & 2000s BCE), Mycenaean (1400-1000 BCE), and Geometric (800-600 BCE), but no Minoan (2000-1400 BCE). It would have been interesting to compare the Minoan & Mycenaean ...
Then I went to the WiFi place, which took a lot longer than I expected (2 weeks ago it took 5 minutes, this time it took 45 minutes) so I was very late for lunch on the boat. Right after lunch almost everyone left for the bus to the two small traditional villages, which we didn't do last time. But though it would have been something new for me, I had already planned out my afternoon, which involved a shower in the Yateses' shower, a trip to the bookstore, and writing some emails like this one, for sending at dinner time in town, so I didn't go, though I'm sure I would have liked it. Also, while in town a lot of people had seen a poster for a Greek concert tonight, and are buying tickets. I don't buy a ticket because I figure I should stay available for whatever Ken is planning, i.e. we haven't had a dance yet and tonight is our first real possibility.
Anyway, shower accomplished, but bookstore not, because it's closed noon to 6. So hopefully I'll go 6-6:30, and meet the Yateses at the WiFi place (I've left them a note). (It's sort of important to get an email out to Robert and a reply back - I'm running out of money! This might be my last chance til Paros or Nafplion.) On second thought, I decide to meet the bus, which should be coming in around 5:30. Ken mentions a Mexican restaurant with Margaritas!, but the Yateses aren't sure about Mexican. I tell Ken and the Yateses that I'll be at the bookstore, then the wifi place, come any time. The others go off to change etc while I go to the bookstore. Yikes, the bookstore I told them about isn't open after all, so I go to the other one. There's a little boy (7 yrs old?) sitting at the counter, and I say karispera. He's shy but says it back. I'm looking for a regular fiction or non-fiction book in English, which I can read at odd times and especially flying back home, as I've mistakenly given the only reading book back to Robert to take home. I find a novel about an English piano tuner who travels to Burma for the British Army in the 1860s called "The Piano Tuner"; also a book called "Easy Greek." By this time the owner has come in and she says today is her first day open, after being closed for the winter. As I leave, the little boy is now sitting on a step outside. I say bye-bye to him, and again he hesitates, then says very clearly and nicely, "bye-bye." Then to the wifi place, send & receive, have a nice cup of coffee. The Yateses come, but no Ken, and we indeed do decide to go to the Mexican, partly because Ken might be there, partly because Margaritas sounds really nice, and partly because I say I'll help them order. We walk up the road, find it, we're almost the only ones there, our waiter is a large personality, sort of dark-skinned with dyed white hair, turns out he's from Brazil, he's full of laughs and very cheerful. We get our Margaritas, and our dinners, it's a fine time. Too bad we don't see Ken. We walk back very leisurely to the boat, maybe get there around 10. There are little conversational groups in the lounge and on the upper deck, it's a nice scene. Most people had gone to the concert and were exhilarated by it - it was outdoors, there were dancers and musicians, and it was run by a guy who is trying to encourage the local folklore, and there were explanations during the concert about the dancing. Too bad I missed it, but by the time I knew I wouldn't be needed for a Scottish dance party, the tickets were sold out. But I had a very nice time anyway, and there will be a superb Greek concert going at home when I arrive (Paddy League and Beth Bahia Cohen doing a house concert at our house on the day I arrive). More people arrive, including Ken, who says he probably got to the Mexican place after we left. I think eventually it's just me and the late-night crowd, then just me, and I sleep in the lounge, last to bed, first up.
MONDAY MAY 21st -- PAROS
I'm a little hazy on this as I'm writing it a week or so later. I do remember: sail early in the morning to Paros, a short trip to shore before lunch (I go to the laundry with Marianne & Don, then peel off to find a wifi place), then lunch on the boat, then time for another trip to shore (wifi for me, and a bit of a stroll with Marion; today's a holiday so there isn't a lot of bustle), then a Scottish country dance party up on deck! Our defensive wear is echoed by our furniture setup - the piano rested on 2 chairs, and we had 2 more chairs for the speakers, and we sat on 2 chairs. These are large wooden deck chairs with tall backs. We were probably safely insulated against anything!
Then back to shore for our taverna night. Same place, same setup, same band as before. In fact it turns out even better, with more dancing. Elena sings with the band, well done!, the Captain and the cook and the chief engineer are also there and dance. The cook, Kostas, an older man with white hair, is a beautiful dancer, very contained yet elegant and expressive. The chief engineer, another Kostas, is more outgoing. It really is a great party night and everyone on the tour is really happy about it. The others leave in little groups, I stay back to talk with the fiddler. Soon everyone's gone except Elena and the Chief. I walk back to the boat with them. Everyone's gone to bed, and I decide to try sleeping in my cabin for the first time. The bed is actually comfortable, but I'm still a little chilly, just a sheet and a thin blanket, which I've doubled up.
TUESDAY MAY 22nd -- DELOS & MYKONOS
We anchored offshore from Delos, and there was a "tender" scheduled for 9:30 am. I had slept in my cabin for the first time. I had planned to sleep a little longer (when sleeping in the lounge I was the last to bed and the first up, something like 2 am - 6 am), but I overslept. I think it was after 9 when I got up. The next morning (2nd night in my cabin) I realized what threw me off - there's no porthole, and no natural light from anywhere. It's completely black. So I was unaware of morning, and I'm usually dependent on the sun coming up and the light, and I always just wake up on time, never use an alarm clock. Anyway, Tuesday morning I got dressed, got organized, heard people around, then opened my door and came up the stairs. It seemed like there weren't many people around, but saw Betty Allen so - good! - the crowd hasn't left yet. Turns out Betty is very interested in the archaeology, so I knew she would not be giving Delos a miss. We both came up to the top deck and then our faces fell in tandem as we watched a small motorboat with a bunch of people aboard heading for Delos. They couldn't possibly have left us behind could they have? I figured, dang my fault I was late for the one thing I really wanted to do and which was the only thing that has left exactly on time (as opposed to hurry up and wait for an hour, which has happened several times). Betty said out loud many times, don't they do a head count? They knew I was just going back to change my shoes! We were walking forlornly along the upper deck from the back to the front when the Captain saw us, and said, why aren't you going to Delos? We said we missed the boat. He immediately got out his cell phone, and the tender came back for us, after delivering the group, so we had our own personal tender. Thanks! We needed that!
I started out with Betty and Marianne, and later ended up with Tom from Penn, Kay from Maryland, and Sue from Maine. I went around with them for a while, to the part of the island to the left of the boat landing. It was all very mysterious. When I was speaking with Elena she said, Guided Tour is Extra. I didn't inquire right then and there about paying extra for a guided tour, because I had remembered Robert saying that it turned out that the guided tour was included, so I just tried to find our guided tour, and never found it because there wasn't any. I would have really wanted a guided tour! So we were looking at neat stuff but had no idea what it was. It's one of the great archaeological moments of the trip. We were given little maps, but they didn't correspond to what was there, anyway. But it was nice to be with the little group and to wander around the ruins taking photos. At one point I took a photo of some flowers, and a man from a different tourist group said, "Yeah, that's about the only interesting thing on this island." I was so disappointed by what he said that I refused to look at any more flowers while we were there. Then we ended up at the museum and I lost track of Kay and the others but picked up with the Yateses. They left the museum before me but told me which way they were going, so I went in that direction. I ended up in a group of about 15 being led by Ken. He suggested going down to the House of Hermes so we went down and it was really neat. Got some nice photos. It's at least 2 stories, maybe 3. Then I left a little ahead of them and caught up with the Yateses. Turned out Eileen had climbed up the whole hill - Mt Kythnos! Others did too and said it was great! I guess it was nicer than on the last trip because it was cool, overcast, raining a little bit. All in all, there are some weather advantages of this tour over the first one! First one was too hot with beating unbearable sun, this one most days are cool-ish, in fact just right. Maybe blue skies would be nicer but I like the cool weather. I carried on with the Yateses, saw the House of Masks, House of Dolphins, the Amphitheater from both the top (incredible!) and the bottom, and Cleapatra's House. When we were at the top of the Amphitheater, there was a group with a German tour guide. I could hear that it was German, and if we had been quiet up top and if he had projected his voice upwards just a little more, we could have heard every word! There were not only good acoustics, there was a sort of amplification going on, sort of like in the middle of Jerry & Nancy's ballroom in Leominster Massachusetts. Later on I asked Elena about Cleopatra's House, and she said Different Cleopatra. There were several Cleopatras, the one we know was the last one, but they were all Greek. When Alexander the Great died, his generals divided up the conquered geography, and a Greek general called Ptolemy took what's now Egypt, and the various Cleopatras are all descended from him.
About the time I met up with the Yateses, my camera battery gave out, so I had a photo-free time the rest of the time on Delos. I guess it's all right because Robert already took some photos. I'll take a look at those again. I probably missed a few interesting shots though. There were some gorgeous mosaics and temples, and interesting "streets."
We had to be back at the docking place by 1:30. I got there about 1 and looked through the shop, bought another puzzle, but as usual there wasn't much of the place we were in, namely Delos. They really have to get their museum shops improved - they could sell a LOT of stuff like replicas of statues and mosaics, T-shirts & mugs & calendars & miniatures & beach towels, and books with the history and archaeology of the places. That's a free business plan for someone. We took a tender back to the boat, lunch on board (by the way, the meals are really good, I'd say a half or full notch above the previous trip, which was excellent). We weren't leaving Delos for Mykonos til 4 pm, so we managed to squeeze in a few dances on deck, 3-4 pm. This is the second dance party, and it was really nice. There are generally two sets of dancers, the sound works well, great playing with Marianne. I again got Giorgio to open the bar; he seems to need to be asked or informed or something. We motored over to Mikonos and there was a bus scheduled to take us into town at 6 pm. People wondered why we had to wait so long ... It's a mile or two from the docking area into the town, which is almost walkable, except there's not much sidewalk and the drivers are crazy.
Ken took us through town, pretty much the route that Dmitri led us 2 weeks ago. We had a nice view of the "Venetian" port, and a spectacular row of 4 windmills. Then we dispersed for dinner or whatever. I was in a group which included Betty, Marion, Joan Hill & Ron. Sometimes joined by some others.
We went looking for the Folk Museum, found it, turned out it's pretty much of a bust, two very small rooms with somebody's stuff in them. But free except for donation so I put in 40 c - almost my last pennies! Then we decided to go back and look for Niko's, which Elena had recommended. On the way I bought a bead necklace. I wanted to pay by credit card, but the guy doesn't have a credit card machine, but he said the other shop down the street does. He gave me the beads, told me the address, and sent me off! Betty and Marion paid attention and helped me out. Found it straightaway, paid for my beads plus some matching earrings, then off to Niko's.
Turns out this is the same place that Robert, Calli, Michael and I had eaten at before, with the pelicans. AND the place with the invisible step where I fell, which almost ruined my entire trip.
But, as it has turned out it didn't, and we had a very nice dinner, with Tom, Marion, Joan, Ron, John & Judith Allen, Kay, Sue, and Betty. I had mushrooms/gorgonzola, and cheese fritters. Most of the others had lamb dishes which they really liked. I lucked out and was able to pay for everyone's meal by credit card, and they gave me cash. So I was all right with the cash flow for a few days, as I haven't heard back from Robert yet. The crescent moon was bright, Venus was bright, and we think it was Sirius very close to the moon, the first star, yet visible even though it was so close to the moon.
We made it back to the taxi place, and got back to the boat in several groups. I sat up top with several people for a while, then ended up closing down the party with Kay and Tom. We were scheduled to leave for Syros, at 6 am. While we were sitting there, one of the crew members asked us where Elena's cabin is. He got her up, and she said, the boat must leave immediately and she has to check to see if everyone's on board! I told her I could probably help with at least half the people, whom I had seen on board, but she went around with a flashlight, opening each cabin door, and checked that way, then went back to bed without saying anything. About 10 minutes later the motors came on and we left. Some people were in for a surprise! The crew guy explained that this is a controlled port, and the police said the port must be cleared immediately. We don't know why.
Oh, just as we were leaving, I noticed the moon setting. Kay and Tom and I watched it set and the boat happened to motor towards it. It was a red crescent and beautiful, with a big reflection into the sea. It kind of set into the clouds or maybe behind an island or a combination, so it wasn't a dramatic taking-leave-of-this-side-of-the-earth sort of thing, it just faded. But reminding us of the moon of the ages, nevertheless.
WEDNESDAY MAY 23rd -- SYROS & KYTHNOS
Our schedule is all turned around from the schedule on Trip 1. I now see the plan - get down to Santorini past the storm as fast as possible, then do all the island-hopping on the way up. I think we will have seen all the same islands but in a different order, and each day's schedule is different from 2 weeks ago.
This morning I got up at 6:30 am, first up, and got off the boat and walked around town. I got some internet signals, and noticed a sign for an art gallery. At breakfast it seemed like everyone was present and accounted for, though nobody seemed to be doing any accounting. No head count. Makes us all nervous, especially after last night when we left Mykonos 6 hours early. After breakfast Elena asked us all to come up to the top deck for announcements. When we were all gathered together at the bow, looking back at the town, she gave us a really good idea of things to do, and things about the town. It was a very good presentation. She also explained that she is not a registered tour guide so that is why she is not allowed to take us around the town.
After that, everyone got off the boat in little groups. Another wifi quest, found one at a tiny cafe, but I can't get on so I'm sitting here instead in a very pleasant place having a Greek coffee. The wifi quests are kind of fun and even though usually unsuccessful, I get around town that way, perhaps more than I would otherwise. Plus, I still haven't heard from Robert about depositing more money into my account. I never find the art gallery either, though I walked and walked around the wharf, where I had seen the sign. Later on I walked around little shops with yards and yards of hanging bougainvillea, a common yet impressive flower around the islands now. We have lunch on our own in town, I buy some Greek books and happen upon several small groups from our tour, we're all back on board by 1 pm, then we motor over to Kythnos. Later on, we have a dance on deck. Great program, great camaraderie, lots of fun for all, some good photos too!
I miss my friends on the crew from HB1, and I'm sorry I couldn't even say goodbye to them. However I like the crew and the people on this trip too. Our dance group is a slightly smaller group, a little more diverse than the last one, and I've made some new friends! It's different too not having Robert here, and I like splitting off with different people.
THURSDAY MAY 24th -- KEA
We landed at the dock and took a bus to the main town of Kea, called Hora (Ioulis in ancient times). It's about in the middle of the island. The town is actually built in the shape of an amphitheater. Most of the group went to see the lion but I again deferred. I ended up walking with Marianne, Marion, and the Yateses, taking it one step at a time - I was kind of heading for the little cafe where I ended up before, in the square opposite the town hall. Before we got there, we noticed a museum which was right on the walking route, which hadn't been mentioned by either Dmitri or Ken. We went in, and it was fabulous! We were told to start at the top (for the earlier stuff - Minoan) and work our way down. The statues on the top floor just about took my breath away!! At many other museums I had seen lots of little statuettes, about 2 inches high, of females (goddesses? priestesses? suppliants? housewives?). They have round skirts. Anyway, this place had HUGE versions of the same statues! about 4 feet high. It turns out these are the only examples of this large size statues. There is a big excavation going on at this island (at Agia Irini) and these and the other Minoan artifacts are from there. I hadn't heard about this place at all! Too bad it's a private museum, and I couldn't take photos.
After the museum, we went up the road and had a snack at the same cafe as two weeks ago. Very very nice! No wedding across the way, though!
I think after seeing Kea, we went back to our "pirate ship" and had our Captain's Supper. It was really good (perhaps a half a notch below the HB1, though the everyday food was perhaps a half notch above, 'cept for the very undercooked bacon, even after several suggestions to Elena). I had been buying up bandanas to give to the crew, so they could look like pirates. Kay and I passed them out and everyone was jolly. There was a bit of dancing, then we all went upstairs and Chief Kostas started teaching us some Greek dancing. He really knew what he was doing! A great moment here. Singing, dancing, fun.
After the festivities, Capn Don walked with a couple of us onto shore, to a taverna where he'd bent his elbow earlier that day (perhaps instead of going to the town). When he walks into a new place, he already knows everybody and everybody already knows him. It turns out that tonight is the final world football championship. I know it was an interesting match but I can't remember who played. We had a couple of beers and watched the game on TV, lots of partying going on. Then the game ended, I think Betty joined us from another wandering group, and the owner kept bringing us more beers and maybe ouzo and other sweeter liquid concoctions, and desserts. We were talking with other Greek locals and travelers - I managed to stretch out my entire repertoire of five or ten Greek words into whole long conversations. This was my only time at a local late-night taverna on the whole trip. Thanks Don!
FRIDAY MAY 25th -- LAVRIUM, CORINTH, MYCENAE, NAVPLIO
This time we landed straight at Lavrium instead of Piraeus. After breakfast, we finished packing, said our good-byes to the crew, the HB2, and Marion and Marianne and Capt Don, got on the coach, meeting up with Gabriele, and started the land trip.
These two days are much the same as on the first trip, with Gabriele as our wonderful tour guide. Anyway, I didn't keep a minute-by-minute journal. My land roommate, Marion, is not going on this part of the tour, and Betty Allen and I pair up. We've known each other for years, but we became buddies when we were both abandoned by the Delphi boat, and turned out to be very compatible roommates!
As before, we drove over the Corinth canal, then on to the ancient site of Corinth. Gabriele walks us through the site and the museum.
Then on to Mycenae. This time I spend most of the time in the museum, though today's a much nicer day to explore the ruins than two weeks ago. There's lots of great stuff! Including some tablets of Linear B, the written language of the Mycenaeans. Back in college, and again last year, I read a fascinating book called "The Decipherment of Linear B," about architect and amateur codebreaker Michael Ventris's great success in the 1950s. The tablets are mostly inventory lists, but do tell quite a lot about the civilization. They are pretty meticulous lists, but meant to be only temporary - the unbaked clay was to be watered down and re-used for next year's inventories. We have most of these tablets only because they were burned in war or some other disaster, and the clay was baked and preserved. There are about 96 characters in Linear B, which quickly suggested to archaeologists that it was a syllabic form of writing. It was thought by everyone, including Ventris, that the underlying language must be a Minoan language, possibly related to Cypriot, Etruscan, Persian, Phoenician, or something completely unknown. It couldn't be Greek because the language didn't exist yet, and Greek is not well suited to a syllabic alphabet. However, Ventris and his colleague John Chadwick came to the inescapable conclusion that it is Greek after all, starting with possible transliterations of a three-legged item called "ti-ri-po-de", or "tripod" - a Greek word. Everything else unfolded from that revelation. The book reads like a murder mystery. It's a tremendous feeling to see the actual tablets that I've read so much about, and imagine a hand blithely carving those inscriptions over 3000 years ago. There's also beautiful art and lots of other items in the museum. This is one of the great museums!
For those hanging on the edges of their seats - Linear B died out with the Myceneans around 1000 BCE, and the Greek language complete with the alphabet we know and love today reappeared around 700 BCE, about the time of Homer. Philologists, don't be too hard on me!
Then the short coach ride over to the Treasury of Atreus - we can see the bulge in the landscape from the hills of the citadel. That's kind of a made-up name - it's a huge tomb and must have belonged to an extremely wealthy person. These big round tholos tombs probably contained fabulous riches before they were plundered, and were commonly called Treasuries. Atreus was the son of Agamemnon, so being royalty he must have been rich. This tomb has been known since ancient times, and has held up all these years, sometimes used as a granary. The stones are massive and the walls are called "Cyclopean," after the Cyclops of Homeric and other fame, thought at times to be artisans of immense strength. The peak of the inside of the beehive is about 50 feet high, and somehow all those stones just go ahead and stay in place for thousands of years!
After this, we drive round towards Nafplio. At one point, we turn left, and Gabriele tells me that if we had taken a right turn we would get to Nemea. I used to work as Graduate Student Assistant in the Classics Department at Berkeley, and Stephen Miller, who headed the excavations at Nemea starting I believe in 1974, was Professor of Archaeology there. Gabriele has read his book! Nemea is the site of the the Nemean Games, one of the four main Games of ancient times. Olympia was perhaps the biggest Games, and the one that the modern Olympic Games is named after. No way to fit it into this trip, of course, but - next trip! We carry on to Navplio. I'm looking forward to that cup of coffee and the next known wifi. I finally hear from Robert that he's deposited the cash and I can now withdraw at an ATM. And find out that my mother's in the hospital, but doing okay. Today's been a LONG day - we get to the hotel and find that it's nice to be sleeping on land again, much as we enjoyed the island part of our trip. The next 4 nights are all at the same chain of hotel, so we've got a different kind of continuity from night to night. They're nice, but always a bit out of town, so it's usually a bit of organiation to get into the town. Tonight most of us pretty much crash after dinner.
SATURDAY MAY 26th -- NAVPLIO & OLYMPIA
Pack, breakfast, drive up hill and down dale across the Peloponessos to Olympia, again following the pattern of going to the museum in the afternoon. One very large airy room houses the east & west pediments (statues which fit into the elongated triangular shape below the roof at the ends of the building) of the Temple of Zeus. Betty took a couple of nice photos showing the West Pediment, depicting Apollo presiding over the conflict between the centaurs and the guests at the wedding of Peirithoos. These are huge heroic statues, and the way they fit into the triangular space is brilliant. My camera runs out of juice partway through the museum and I couldn't get some of the photos I had planned to get. Nice to see the Charioteer again, the little statue of the double-flute player, the plate with Apollo playing the flute, the Twins of Argos, and the Melancholy Roman again, and nice to hear Gabriele's stories again. Then to the hotel for dinner and overnight. I think Betty & I invited people in for drinks after dinner, and I think there's an Uno game across the hall.
Then comes the drive up the west coast of the Peloponnesos. It's very lush and fertile here, and the islands or the mainland of Attica in the distance are very picturesque. By and by we come to the new bridge, completed in 2004 before the recent Olympic Games. It's the longest cable-span bridge in the world (not the longest suspension bridge). It reminds me a LOT of the Zakim Bridge, part of the Big Dig in Boston. Shortly after the bridge, we stop at the cafe by the sea. It's the place where I had the sea bream before. These meals are good, but expensive, and there are no choices of tavernas and very little choice in the amount of food or the price. I remember Older Robert (one of the Roberts on the First Tour) ordering "A large cold beer" for lunch and now I see why. So I echo him, and ask about just getting French Fries. Delish! Except I finally put too much vinegar and can't quite finish. This time, kept it down to 6 euros. We all decide this is a wonderful moment, fabulous view, serene seaside venue. Afterwards, we went frolicking in the waves again. I again went up to my knees. Just bothered by the rocks on my bare feet, wish I had beach shoes. Sue and I make quite a spectacle and photos are taken. Going back up to the bus, I'm able to pass by the almonds coated with sesame seeds, but get stopped by some prints. I buy 3 (well, 9 euros each); I'll give the Karagouna one to Marcie.
On this side of the Sea of Corinth the climate is a lot drier. We climb the mountains and leave the sea. Our lunch had been quite late, perhaps finishing at 3:30. We go directly to the Delphi Archaeological Museum, and this, again, is super. We get into the village of Delphi around 6:30, get checked in, then I want to walk back into town. This time the hotel is within walking distance of the tiny two-tiered town. I'm not going to try for a wifi, but might finally get my ATM cash now. And look at other things but not buy. Got the cash, and also got a skirt. It has a meander on it. I'm kind of a sucker for meanders aka the Greek Key. And also a bottle of wine, for a potential party for tonight. Betty and I like to have parties in our room. Tom and I get back just in time for dinner, which seemed better than the usual Amalia fare, which is pretty good, but predictable. After dinner I go and write 8 postcards while Betty and others walk into town.
MONDAY MAY 28th -- DELPHI & KALAMBAKA
Betty and I (we're still roommates) woke up to rain rain rain, thunder & lightning, pretty heavy fog covering the view. I wondered if finally it would have been preferable to have the weather of two weeks before (too hot). We had breakfast and it wasn't letting up. We left half an hour late because of the coach dance in the small parking lot (it's Pentecost holiday, so there are a lot of Greeks here with their cars). We meanwhile had a little round of "Singing in the Rain" and then a cheerful Crossing the Minch for the Outer Hebrides folks. Then we indeed headed for the site; we are a resilient bunch. We got out our slickers and umbrellas and did the tour. It wasn't cold, just wet. Well, it would have been nice for the photographs to have clear blue skies, but the mists creeping over the mountains made for different kind of photographs. We pretty much had the site to ourselves. Well, about halfway through, the rain stopped! The main part of the group went all the way up to the stadium. I went up too, but straggled behind a bit to take photos. When I got up there I heard they were waiting for me at the starting line (referring to the moment at Olympia). It was really nice up there, and I'm sure this was the better day to do it, rather than the day two weeks ago. My right knee is still a bit sore, but less so, and my left knee has turned a bit sore since it's been doing double duty for 2 weeks now. I'm starting to use both knees equally, which is nice.
Delphi feels very very high. From almost any point at the site we can see for miles through the whole valley and to the mountains and some kind of water beyond, even with the mists. We got back on the coach and in a very short time we're on the valley floor, driving through miles of unbroken olive groves. Gabriele explained that these are farmed by many small farmers, but that no fences or other markings are necessary because each farmer knows exactly which are his trees. The olives are harvested in the winter, by the same method used for centuries, shaking the branches. Many farmers keep their trees small for that reason. They don't lose their leaves in the winter, they are very adaptable to more or less moisture, more or less rocky soil, but don't survive much freezing temperature. As we drive through, I think I notice little changes of height, color, amount of pruning, stuff between trees, etc., every quarter mile or so.
Then in a very few minutes my ears notice the difference and we're way way up above the olive grove valley. We make the big left turn onto the National Road, north of Thermopylae, and head north to Kalambaka. We stop at the same airy expansive roadside convenience place as before, I get a beer and a chicken soup; plus, I pick up a couple of delectables: a pate kaparones and an olive pate + crackers, for a potential party for tonight (maybe our last night together as a group). We leave the lunch place at quarter to three. Next stop: Kalambaka. It seems that Gabriele is going to organize the bus taking us into town after we check in to the hotel. Might try on some sandals.
Yes, we did go into town, yes I got a pair of wonderful sandals. It was threatening to rain, then I separated from the rest of the group to get to the sandal shop. After the sandals, it started to really rain. But I was quite happy to get a bit wet, as long as my sandals didn't get soaked. I passed a man I had passed on the way up: he had set up a little charcoal grill on the sidewalk and was grilling ears of corn. This time I couldn't pass it up, and got one for 1.50. Delish! Warm corn, new fresh-smelling sandals, warm rain, indescribable mountain town.
Supper back at the ranch, then a party in our room. We had laid in a few supplies, I put on a CD to play on the computer, and about 15 people came. After some people left, Gabriele came in and gave us each a taste of a sort of Ouzo liquor called mastixa. Very refreshing! To bed around 1:30, after cleanup. Mmm, after a sneeze, the Greeks say gitsij (health).
TUESDAY MAY 29th, 2007 -- METEORA, THERMOPYLAE, ATHENS
We left a little earlier (8:30) in order to try to get ahead of tour groups at the monasteries, and also to get a little jump start on the long drive back to Athens. This time we are able to get into the first monastery first. Again a very enlightening talk by Gabriele about the artwork. Then to the 2nd monastery, the nunnery. Ditto Gabriele. This time we had lots of interesting clouds and changing sunlight. One or two people had wondered why this long drive for one non-ancient site. Even though I'm less interested in Christian things, I've thought the drive was very worth it, and the couple of people I talked to agreed.
Lunch in the little town (below Meteora, above Kalambaka) as before, overlooking the tall rocks right and left, and between them the valley stretching out into the distance. Same "boring" drive down from the mountains and across the large plain. Even the boring isn't boring if you're in Greece! We stop at the same large airy place, for toilets & snacks and final giftie shopping (I pick up a caper pate of which Gabriele thoroughly approves - can only get this in Greece, so take it home). Then I take my first-and-only turn at the front seat. I'm very much wanting to get more photos as we approach Thermopylae, and I certainly miraculously succeed in catching the road sign! Wow! And then another road sign! Wow Wow!
The Battle of Thermopylae is hot property now because of the recent movie "300," referring to the 300 hand-picked Spartans (and a couple of thousand other Greeks) led by Leonidas who fought against about a million Persians (led by Xerxes) at this location. The geography now is quite different, but back then this was just a very narrow pass, with a cliff going up the mountains (the Trachinian Cliffs) on the left (facing north, the direction the Spartans were facing), and cliffs down to the sea (the Malian Gulf) on the right. This battle took place in 480 BCE, ten years after the Battle of Marathon in which the vastly outnumbered Athenians defeated the Persians. These two battles, and the events leading up to them, are the basis of Herodotus' history "The Persian Wars." Persia was huge, stretching from the Indus River to the Aegean Sea, but there was strife in the western parts (now Turkey). They really needed to take over those annoying Greek city-states and quieten things down. There were many incitements for this gigantic conflict; one of them was the building of the Parthenon by Pericles, with its glorifying of the superiority of the Athenians. The Spartans held the Persians at Thermopylae for 3 days, until the Persians found out about a mountain road through a Greek betrayal, and out-flanked and annihilated the Greeks. The Persians marched on to Athens (with an accompanying fleet), with a seemingly open road to complete domination of Athens for the foreseable future, but they were defeated at the Battle of Salamis by the Athenian fleet led by Themistocles. After that there was a sort of a peace for 50 years, but loss of the common enemy and difficult controversies among the city-states led to the Peloponnesian War, a punishing 30-year conflict that finally ended with Athens' defeat by the Spartan league in 404 BCE. This war was written up by Thucydides, a little younger than Herodotus, but writing about current events.
After we get going again, Tassos the driver pulls up on the side of the road. He's had an indicator say the engine is heating up, but he can't find that it actually is. About half an hour later we pull into an unscheduled stop at a Cafe 90 (meaning 90 km to Athens). Gabriele apologizes for the stop and for the pedestrianness of the place, but actually it turns into a gold mine! Cheeses for sale, really neat little baklava variants, fresh halvah, in fact lots of interesting stuff, more interesting than the big airy place. Perhaps Gabriele will put this on the scheduled stops next time. I guess the truck is fixed, anyway and we carry on into Athens. Still weird coming into the big (awful) city. We re-group fairly quickly, Ken calls for everyone to come down at 6:15 to get their taxi-to-the-airport info. However, I don't get mine; Ken is in a protracted discussion with Peter (is this THE conversation?), and I run up to get my write-up, which I have forgotten to give Ken earlier. I come into the bar and give as nice a "kalispera" as I can to the bartender and he starts speaking to me in Greek. I explained that I had just said the one word I know, and he gave me a free gin and tonic, for such a good effort at the language! I sit at the bar with Judith and we have a nice little connection. Then suddenly it's time for dinner, and about 10 of us go into the Plaka for dinner (John & Judith Allen and some others peel off into the family place next door). So I have dinner with Bob & Marion, Tom, Ken, Betty, some others. It's near the Opening Night taverna and we can sort of hear the music; the menu is quite nice and I think we're all glowing. On the way home Betty and Joan and I accidentally peel off for window shopping, though it's a bit late. The others have gone ahead. By the time we get back to the hotel, the others are gone. I go to the front desk to inquire about my dress, the others continue on to bed. So there I am alone in the hotel lobby, not having said good-bye to ANYBODY. Sort of a strange way to end two weeks of exultation spiced with a touch of tribulation together. I did get my dress back! And the postcards that I had either lost or mailed from 2 weeks ago. Some time during dinner Ken says our taxi time in the morning is 6:15 am, so I pack accordingly and go to bed round midnight.
WEDNESDAY MAY 30th -- ATHENS & THESSALONIKI
The phone rings at 5:30 for my wakeup call. Though I thought Ken had told me taxi at 6:15, I get a call at 10 of saying the taxi's here. I absolutely race through packing, no time for a shower, and it takes me about 5 minutes to get down there, and fortunately Ken is a few minutes later. Nice drive to the train station. The driver has Greek music going on the radio, and I'm faintly surprised. Wow, there's a Greek music radio station. Then the driver changes stations, and I think Wow, two Greek music radio stations. I find that really really neat. We have a few minutes so I get a new map of Greece, as my wonderful one-of-a-kind marked-up one has disappeared. I also buy some postcards, and mail some postcards. Ken finds out that we can check our large luggage. He had packed only a small bag for the trip, and left the big stuff at the hotel. I had wondered what to do, but since Ken had mentioned we were going to come back to the Airport Howard Johnsons instead of the Olympia I didn't know how to organize leaving a bag. Anyway, got on the train with my 2 big bags plus fiddle. Ken thought we had gotten 1st class, though the seats did seem a little crowded. Ken got the guy opposite us into conversation, and we talked quite a bit during the trip. He was Greek, spoke English pretty well, has spent some time in London with his girlfriend. He seemed quite interested in mountains, so I showed him photos of the Sierras, and of Scotland. I'll bet he eventually goes to those places. He asked me if I had any questions about the Greek language, and I learned a few things. It was nice. At one point I dropped my camera; seemed like a minor drop, it had been dropped more seriously and was fine, but this time it broke. When I slide the shuttle thing, the lens doesn't pop out. Dead in the water, too bad, because this is a unique part of the trip. Our train friend got off before Thessaloniki. Ken and I got off at Thessaloniki around 1 pm. We had trouble getting a taxi to our hotel because there was some kind of strike action nearby and at least one or two drivers didn't want to go through there. Finally we waited in line again and got a cab. Our hotel is nice!
We drop our stuff and almost immediately head out. Thessaloniki is the 2nd-largest city of Greece, north of Athens, capital of the prefecture of Macedonia, and said to be more hip, more cultural, more attractive than Athens, with lots of Byzantine history. We noticed there are few (no?) tourists, so it feels more Greek. Many but not all of the street signs have English transliterations, tourist "services" and "shopping" are not really around, fewer people speak English. Though there were settlements there from prehistoric times, the city was "founded" in 315 BCE by King Cassander of Macedon, and named after his wife Thessaloniki, the half-sister of Alexander the Great. The Apostle Paul spread the word of Christianity in 50 CE, and became an important Christian center when the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to relatively-nearby Constantinople. When the Byzantine Church broke from the Roman Church, Thessaloniki and the rest of Greece went with Byzantium. Not sure when that happened, maybe around 500 CE. Anyway, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, ending the long "Byzantine" period, and Greece fell soon after, for an almost 500-year occupation by the Turks. In fact, when the Greek Revolution in the 1920s finally expelled the Turks, the Macedonian area still belonged to the Turks for some decades. It must have been in the early 1900s that Macedonia/Thessaloniki finally became part of Greece.
Well, there's a half-baked history of the city and the whole country. Ken and I head down towards the harbor. There are some old remains on the way, and we're looking out for some lunch. First, we pass a little alleyway just around the corner from us that seems to have a taverna, but we pass by. Towards the harbor there's a real high-life going on at the many many tavernas around there, probably too expensive and probably mostly alcohol-driven. In fact we're kind of amazed at the party atmosphere. I figure lots of big-city financial-district places are like that - youngish people connecting socially and businessly. We eventually get away from the water (traditionally pricey) and find lunch at a little street corner. I order a smallish cheese thing, Ken orders a hamburger-type thing. Next are the two museums - Archaeological and Byzantine. Gabriele had told us that the Byzantine Museum has won a prize. We go through both. Lots of neat stuff, really well presented, in the Archaeological. We take our time on that one. I find the Byzantine less focussed, less neat stuff. I'm probably more drawn to the older stuff, less religious, but it still seems a little odd to me. We walk back up towards our hotel, pass a big round thing, I'm not sure what it is. Perhaps a little too pedantic, more emphasis on the presentation of the objects than on the objects. I'll need to peruse Ken's Blue Guide if I get a chance. It's great fun to see Ken in action, "getting" a city. Tired little teddy bears head back to our hotel. Lunch was late, and I'm truly exhausted, a rare feeling. I'm quite happy to work on my little supply of bread & cheese from the Cafe 90 at the end of the Classical Sites tour, and some bits & pieces of wine. Ken goes across the street to the pizza place and gets some good warm stuff. I've been wearing my new sandals and they've finally made my feet tired; I'll switch to the good old reliable Clarks tomorrow, though they've probably enjoyed a 2-day rest, and my feet have enjoyed a 2-day change.
THURSDAY MAY 31st -- THESSALONIKI
Ken is up early, I'm happy for a late-ish morning for the first time in a while (a WHILE!). We go out walking, Ken explains that he sort of needs to go in-and-out of some of these sites and get around quickly today. I'm happy to follow along, figuring I could check out if the going gets too rough. We go first to a large Byzantine church. Ken likes it. Next to it is a medium-sized church, which doesn't make Ken's cut. Then a part of the Wall. Then to Ataturk's house (the founder of the modern Turkey was born here; it was actually part of Turkey at the time). Though I rather like the place, it won't work for a Ken tour; too much paperwork to get in, a little nervewracking. Then I sort of forget. I do know we walked up and up and up pretty quickly in the hot sun, and I started to feel the way I felt at Mycenae the first time. Yes, I can make my legs carry me further but I'm feeling really drained. At one point I stopped to buy some water, and the old lady asks where I'm from etc. A nice little moment. Now, many many stairs, and we're not sure we're going right. Pretty soon we get to the top of the Acropolis, and too bad it's just a bit of a wall, with residential houses on both sides. There's no there there. But we when turned around and looked back at where we came from, the view is incredible. Straight line down to the harbor, the city laid out below us, pieces of the wall poking out here and there, the distinctive hand-shaped Chalkidic shore visible in the distance - it's another WOW moment for me - I've seen that geography on maps so many times and now there it is. It's all twisty turny streets around there of course, and we meander down slowly, towards a tiny old Byzantine church which Ken's Blue Book says Don't Miss This. Well, it's now 12:30 and naturally it's open 10-12, 4-6. We run into a family from Texas that Ken remembers yesterday from the museum. We chat for a while. A teenager has a Long Beach t-shirt. They're flying to Santorini and will spend 3 days there, mostly beaches (?), then flying to Crete for 3 days. Sort of a different itinerary and goals!
Ken and I continue down the windy streets. Again, I forget exactly what we did. I think I'm close to terminal exhaustion. Anyway, we decide to get back to our hotel room before looking for a place for lunch. In and out, then walk a couple of blocks, find a great spot, and have a great lunch! I have mushrooms with garlic & onion, and Ken has a Greek salad and chicken lunch. Since we're still so close to our hotel room, we go back to reconnoiter, then head out again towards the "restaurant area" mentioned in Ken's Blue Guide. We're also sort of looking for a Herald Tribune, and I keep clicking my wifi finder. Every once in a while I get a green light, but it's not obvious where it's coming from, and we're too far away from the hotel to go back and get my laptop. I'm mostly just curious. However, we do follow leads for the H-T, which take us towards the restaurants anyway. We finally land one at a bookstore; it also has some books in English, and I write down the author of an ancient Athens murder mystery. Perhaps interesting. We continue on, and find the restaurants. It's a truly neat area, suddenly quieter, lots of restaurants getting set up (it's about 7 pm now, a bit early for Greek supper), in a no-car area. Ken spies a largish hotel that he might be interested in, and goes in to inquire. They have a carpeted ballroom, and possibilities for a wood dance floor laid on top. It's now a really nice part of day, we walk along the waterfront looking for more wall, then follow the wall up into town towards our hotel. At one point the wall has been incorporated into a (rather ugly) modern building, kind of an amazing design and juxtaposition, probably required in order to build that building there. We hobble back to the hotel, both feeling very tired, and not happy about our knees. I think it's here we stop at a nice-looking liquor store, and Ken inquires about the Athenian cinnamon aperitif. I buy a small bottle of that, and a small bag of "Mexican" snack crackers, and he buys a bottle of a liquor from Samos (drink it at 6 degrees c.). We arrive at the hotel, collapse on the bed, watch BBC for a while. I tell Ken I'm not up to going out to dinner, but I'd be fine with the leftover cheese & bread & wine. He goes out, and comes back a while later, with stars in his eyes. He ventured down that alley near our hotel, and discovered a wonderful confluence of alleys with restaurants. He had a nice dinner and a nice time. To bed around midnight.
FRIDAY JUNE 1st -- THESSALONIKI & ATHENS
Ken got up first again, did some things, although I woke up pretty early. Presently he said he'd decided we couldn't go to Vergina (site of the capital of ancient Macedonia, and the burial site of the Macedonian kings, including Philip II), he wasn't up to driving, and I was wondering if I was up to navigating, and since he also wasn't up to a walking day in the city, he wanted to try to change our tickets back to an earlier time, so he could have some time to deal with piano etc. The hotel desk couldn't seem to connect him with the train station, so he took a cab to the station to do it in person. Back to our original train, (leave Thessaloniki 11:40, arrive Athens 5 pm, non-express), but First Class. We finish packing and get a cab to the train station. It's a little dicey finding the platform, but we succeed, the train leaves a little late (12 noon), but it's a nice ride. Ken has a meal on board, I have my Mexican snack, later get a glass of wine. It's a very pleasant trip, very beautiful scenery most of the time. Those mountains really are mountainous!
Arrive at Athens, cab to hotel, and Ken has a note from Joan Hill to call her daughter & son-in-law about storing the piano & sound system. Ken connects, and hires a cab (large, I guess), to take him and the stuff to their place, also checks out the Byzantine hanging things, and has dinner, while I do email and start packing in the hotel room. I finish off some of the snacks from the snack bag, and put away most of the rest of Ken's wine. After Ken comes back, we both finish packing, to bed around midnight.
SATURDAY JUNE 2nd -- ATHENS, PARIS, BOSTON
The phone rang at 3:30 am with my wakeup call. Got ready to go, bye to Ken, in the lobby by 4:15 for the taxi, at the airport by 4:45. Got checked in (a scary moment when I was told only one carry-on, then they allowed me two, my bag and my fiddle). I sat and wrote 6 more postcards, found the post-box, went to the gate. Since I had delayed, I was the only one going through, nice n fast! I got to the gate by 6:00, boarded around 6:40, took off 7 pm.
Great last views of Greece from my left-hand window seat! Clear day. We took off toward the Aegean Sea, then circled back inland over Athens. I saw Lavrion on the way, perhaps even the columns to Zeus. Couldn't seem to pinpoint the Acropolis, but followed the Attica coastline, saw Aegina, the Corinth canal, the whole Peloponessos opening far out with incredible mountains and valleys, though again I couldn't pinpoint Ancient Corinth or Mycenae. The bits of columns are probably just too small from that high in the air. Then I saw the cable-stay bridge, very nice from the air, and the rugged Ionic Greek coastline. Clouds started to cover the view of Greece and I felt kind of sad. Eventually the Greek coastline disappeared under the plane and the Italian coastline appeared. In fact I could see across the whole country! Little towns equidistantly spread around, on the coast and inland, separated by farmland. Really, beautiful. By now my neck was starting to hurt, more clouds came. I read for a while, and the next time I looked, there was lots of cloud cover but no question was this Switzerland! Then total cloud cover; I had heard that all of France was drenched with rain. Nothing but clouds til we got below it and landed at Charles de Gaulle.
Ken had said that this was designed to be a user-friendly airport, though he didn't see it that way, and my second time through it I think it's decidedly unfriendly. Makes me never want to fly Air France again. Lots of stairs and curbs to lug carry-ons up and down, signage missing or misleading, LONG distances to walk being unsure I'm going in the right direction, AN HOUR GOING THROUGH SECURITY (why did I even have to do that again????????), then, a BUS to take us around and around and around (traffic jam with bus, little car, and huge jet airplane) to finally get to the gate (why didn't they bus us in the beginning, before walking a mile??????????). It makes me remember that when AIR FRANCE made a change, they didn't pay me anything, but when _I_ made a change, I paid them $200. And when their schedule changed back to the preferred one (going over) they didn't notify me, I had to notice and then call them. Rrrrrr. I end up at a gate with one cafe to choose from (I got a ham & cheese sandwich and a LARGE BEER), and no electric outlets. Rrrrrrr. If it's possible, there's even more fun n games at CDG. At about 12:45 I hear an announcement that those going to Boston should get to the gate. I finish up here and go over, find the queue at the gate and stand in line. Turns out I'm standing in Business Class (did I know??????). By the time I get over to the Cattle Class, the line is practically out the door. I sit down instead and read my book, figuring I'd get in line once the end reaches me. That took 45 minutes; it's extremely slow for this part of the scene. Security security security, I must have shown my passport and boarding pass 20 times in the last 3 hours. All they needed to do was to bus me over from one plane to another, seems that would be more secure anyway. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr. Now I'm in this wretched tiny window seat and the person in front has his seat back all the way back, and the lady to my left has her arms all over the armrest. Good food, though, and I've had 2 free bottles of wine. Not much to see from the window; mostly cloudy going over the Atlantic.
I'm really looking forward to: my own bed, my own bathroom, my own refrigerator, Robert, Robert's home cooking, not being a tourist, no more packing & hauling. Not necessarily in that order. The easy life. Also, I should be coming home to the tail end of the 1st of 2 Greek music concerts by Beth Bahia and Paddy at our house today, plus home cooking by them. A nice way to not be too depressed by leaving Greece and a true dream trip.
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