"We are here on this planet only once and might as well get a feel for the place." -Annie Dillard

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Greece! side trip

Greece - October 14-24

Me standing in front of the Parthenon
on top of the windy Acropolis

Well, first off, sooooo sorry for such an abbreviated post, but I am getting so behind, I will never get anything else posted unless I condense this. Because, me being me, I need to be linear, and I can't seem to go ahead and write posts about things I have done after Greece until I get this post up! (visit to Assisi and my second Helpx experience that I am in the midst of at this moment)
So to help you with history, each place has a link to a website (most likely Wikipedia) where you can read more about the wonderful history, so I don't have to go into it all on this blog. But I would encourage you all to click on the links because everything is SO interesting and knowing some of it will help you understand the photos better!

So Greece! I successfully had my stay in the Rome Airport, and then arrived in Greece to meet my friend Carol (Cski) at the Athens Airport, where we found out that all public transportation in Athens was on strike. That meant no metro, no buses, no taxis. So we were directed to a randomly running regional bus that would get us to a bus station at least a couple of miles from the center of Athens, and from there we walked with all our things to the center - the Plaka, right under the Acropolis.

Being in Greece during the height of the strikes and protests leading up to the austerity measure vote that would secure more money for Greece from the European Union to postpone the inevitable bankruptcy of the country was quite interesting. Seeing (and experiencing) the effects of not only the public transportation workers' strikes, but also the workers who work at all the historic sites going on strike (something that according to Rick Steves, would never happen because it does bring so much money). And then to the two day general strike that happened right before the vote, where not only public transportation and public workers striked (including tax collectors!), but most stores in general shut down. Garbage in Athens and the surrounding area had not been picked up for three weeks due to garbage collectors striking. (The government started getting the army and hiring private contractors to pick up garbage in central Athens, especially where tourists were likely to be).

Garbage pile up

And the whole situation seems very, very complicated with no easy answers - to much to get into on this blog. When we encountered a man selling things in front of the big ancient stadium in Athens (that was used as the completion of the marathon at the 2004 Olympics here, he said, "Well, you come all the way here to have the Acropolis closed" I kind of gave a little "oh well" laugh, and said "that's how it does." He replied, "It's not for laughing, it's for crying."

Demonstration marching to Syntagma Square,
seen from atop Mount Lycabettus with zoom camera :)

But all in all, we were fairly unaffected by the strikes, except that first day walking. We had to see Delphi the morning when we were leaving because it was closed the day before and we ended up not getting to see Ancient Olympia, but we did get to go up to Acropolis at the end of our stay after returning to Athens, so all in all, we managed to do what we planned.

So here is the rundown!

We spent the first day and a half here. Because the Acropolis was closed, we ended up doing Rick's recommended walking tour of the city, which actually I think ended up being a good thing because it helped me really get my bearings of the city, and I ended up feeling really comfortable knowing where things were and how to walk to places. We also got to see the Acropolis Museum the day we arrived, which proved to be a good prepper for actually going up to the Parthenon! Oh, and I experienced my first souvlaki, which turned out to be my staple food of the trip. That and Greek salad. We ordered that every day and kept track of each to see which one we thought was the best. The winner proved to be the Greek Salad from a nice harbor restaurant on the island of Hydra (the one with the blue and white checkerboard tablecloths if anyone goes there!)
--> me and the GIANT columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Byzantine church - It's been fun to
learn more about Byzantine and Greek
Orthodox Christianity

You would run across random excavations
like this in the middle of a sidewalk. Frustrating
for anyone trying to build a metro line or building,
wonderful for someone like me!

Heading out to the country and on in the mountains, met with fog and that wonderful wet, cold that completely chills unless I take a really hot shower! But somehow it seemed appropriate for going to the place the ancient Greeks thought of as the center of the world. It was here that leaders and important people would come from all over to seek advice from the oracle, who was said to receive messages from the god Apollo. Here Sophicles read on an engravement on a building, "Know Thyself" which he turned into his life's work! Alexander the Great came seeking council. Etc... Etc.. Etc... on until me standing here in 2011 thinking about all the history and the reverence of the place for thousands of years.

In Delphi town, looking down below at what I coined "the Great Valley of Olives,"
inspired by Little Foot and The Land Before Time :-)

Remains of the great temple where
the oracle would give her prophecy

One thing that I had to be careful of here in Greece was start getting jaded about time. Because many of the things we saw were from times such as 500 B.C. and even on into 13 or 1400 B.C. with the Mycenians, I found myself starting to look at things from Roman times with thoughts like "oh, well that isn't that old...."
Ha!! I had to continuously remind myself to remember keep the amazement of the history and work and skill that happened so long ago that has been preserved through the years . And to remember that in my American (especially the West) mindset, 1800 is old. And it is good to keep that wonder and not become jaded!


And so we headed north, to Meteora, site of the 13th century monasteries built upon rock pillars jutting up from the valley and hills. To see these monasteries, varying from small and contemplative to grand places with a large kitchen, gardens, and rooms, is astounding and just another confirmation of how we can really do anything we set our minds too! They were first built by monks who were secluding themselves from the invading Persians and originally the only way to get to them was by ladders or a net that would be pulled up. How they managed to build these places upon the little rock outcroppings is a mystery to me, but never doubt ingenuity and determination!

Look close. You might see a monastery..

The thing that has struck me, from wandering into a still standing cistern from the 1200's BC to wondering atop a rock outcropping in a monastery built in the 13th century A.D., is just how much ingenuity human beings have and how when applied we really can do amazing things. And we have had the capabilities and knowledge to build and do these things for centuries - it is not a new thing. I know, maybe this is something that I should know, but for me it has taken seeing all these sites, for it to really sink in. The fact that at Mycenae, you see this wall that was built over 3000 years ago, and the stones are so tightly fit together, they didn't need to use any sealing - and it is the strongest standing thing of the whole site! The time and skill used to build that just amazes me.

Cats on the hood.
Greece and their cats... nowhere else.

4. ANCIENT OLYMPIA (on to the Peloponnese Peninsula)
Well, we drove there! And we stayed there! But what else can I say because we didn't actually see the site as it was closed due to the strike. But to be the optimist, at least I can say that I was in the proximity of the birthplace of the Olympics! As I have done, read more about the site and see pictures here.
Montana... or Greece...?

Also, boy, there were times driving that I felt like I could have been back home in Montana. Driving up to Meteora we passed through a beautiful, plain with hills and snow capped mountains in the background. It felt so much like home I could have been transported. Well, until the random sign in Greek would show up! I love my home state!


Well Nafplio served as our port city for a couple of days and day trip to Monemvasia, the fortified city on a rock cropping jutting into the sea. But first, let me tell you about Coty's Greek moment driving there!

So I had been wanting to stop by one of the little fruit stands lining the sides of the country roads, but it never seemed like the right one. So finally as we were on our way to Nafplio, driving up a beautiful, windy mountain road, and there she was. A little old lady waving her grapes around. I found myself shouting 'stop!' Not even thinking that 1. I didn't really want grapes. and 2. These grapes didn't look that good. I was determined to have my roadside fruit experience. So we walked to her got grapes, but as she spoke no English (or at least didn't give it away!) we didn't know what to pay her, and me being totally out of my mind, I just held up all my coins to her. She must have grabbed up about eight euros, all the while peeking in my little purse, noticing I had bills. And then after putting the grapes in a bag, she proceeded to dump all her walnuts on top of them! Well there goes the grapes. When it became clear we were not giving her any more money, she started signaling she wanted a pen. We thought she was going to write down something for us, but when we gave her the pen and handed her a piece of paper, she pushed the paper away and then signaled basically "thank you for the pen!" Now I was getting worried she was going to ask for a ride or something, so we made our way to the car with her following us. Aaah! And then as we were getting in the car, she made one last request... "Chocolate?" This was enough, so we politely said 'goodbye and thanks' in Greek and drove off, her smiling and waving.

Nafplio, view from top of fortress.

Nafplio is this wonderful little port town with a charming center and a great fortified castle up on top of the hill. It was the perfect place to use as our base for a couple of days, even if most everything was closed the first day we got there do to the massive general strike.

Posters on the store front saying they are closed
on October 19th for the strike.


Day trip to Monemvasia, the fortified city on a rock outcropping in the sea! What was fun was mixing the ancient sites with the les ancient sites like Meteora and Monemvasia, a town built in the middle ages. No cars, just little pathways winding around, especially fun when trying to get to the Upper Town trying to find the path up the steep hill! So Monemvasia is divided between the Lower Town, which still exists and functions, and the Upper Town, which was the original town, but now is just a pile ruins. I don't blame people from heading down doing the walk up!

Atop the rock - looking out to sea
from the ruins of the old wall and watchtower

BUT - oh my, this would have been the dream playground of my childhood! All the ruined remains of houses and pathways. I can only imagine the days and days of fun my childhood self would have had up there imagining the village life and creating characters and lives of imaginary people and homes. And so, while up there, I channeled a bit of that childhood spirit and let myself wander along the paths a bit, until we came to the edge, looking down and out into the sea. Perfect spot for a picnic lunch of olives (had to experience olives in Greece!), and little cheese, salami sandwiches from the local bakery and market!

On the way there we drove through Sparta!
Nothing of the days of old, but still fun to be there :-)


The oldest human built place I have ever been (or at least that I'm aware of!). Mycenae was the capital city of the Mycenaens, who ruled the Mediterranean area around 1200-........... B.C. Now we're talking old!! What was amazing about this place, I have already mentioned earlier in the blog. The sheer ingenuity of the building, especially the surviving entrance (the Lion's Gate) and wall. This entrance and wall had stones so precisely cut, there is not any other "glue" to hold them up. And it has survived with such preservation people still marvel at it today.
The Lion's Gate - entrance
to Mycenae. Those stone
blocks were BIG.

I just would think about people going about their business here, much like we do today: cooking, trading, theorizing, cleaning, eating, etc... all here over 3000 years ago. Ancient Greeks, who believed that the Myceneans were the people in their legends about Troy, came to this site - as tourists! They walked around just like us looking and marveling at the place.

I'll let the pictures do the talking.

The back door escape route...

The cistern - one of the coolest things I've seen
Still completely in tack, you can walk down and down into the dark...
and keep going down and then turn and walk some more

We went down a bit... using the camera flash to see!

Little strange female figurines,
that were some sort of worshiped deity

The biggest tomb on the premise. You could
tell that the Mycenaens had contact and traded
with the Egyptians. Lots of influence, or vice versa.

Inside the tomb in all it's
grandeur. The black is the remains of
fires that were burnt in here.

All found in the excavations at Mycenae:
*3000 year old LARGE safety pins!
*the mask of Agmenenon, all gold
* a horse bit, not much different now

Leaving we saw signs for a "Mycenean Bridge,"
where we had lunch. A bridge that had
survived 3000 years!


Hydra, the wonderful little island oasis where Coty manages to flood the bathroom and room. Oops. I was so excited to 1. have a shower with hot water and 2. have a place to put the shower head so I didn't have to hold it. (I know, very lazy of me.) and 3. have a curtain! In retrospect I realize that the holder for the shower head was probably where you would place it *after* the shower, but well, that didn't occur to me. So I placed the shower head in the holder and even though the water was spraying straight out instead of down I thought the curtain would catch it, so no problem right? Wrong. after I was done I opened the shower curtain to find a lake of water not only in the bathroom but also in the room as well. Fortunately, I happened to have wandered into the room that held all the towels a little earlier, so I rushed down there and grabbed a huge pile of them. Problem solved! This is terrible, but that is one thing I will really love when I get back home. A hot shower with a shower head that I can just stand under.

Little cobblestone streets, white houses,
and blue trim. What's more
Greek than that?!

But back to Hydra. We spent a couple days on this cute little island of no cars, donkeys waiting for you at the harbor to carry your bags (or you) to your place of rest. Didn't take them up on the 10 euro offer for a 10 minute ride though! I'll just stick to horses back home, thank you!

Donkey's waiting for a job

But being on Hydra was nice. It really felt like a different world, away from all of Greece's political and economic turmoil. Old men sitting all day at the cafe by the water playing backgammon and sipping on Greek coffee. Donkeys clip-clopping on the cobblestone, whitewashed houses with blue shutters, the constant roll of the water hitting the rocks, little water taxis rolling in and out of the harbor picking up and dropping off passengers, a little boy learning his father's trade, efficiently grabbing the lines and tying the boat off. The easy life! (Well, at least on the surface!)

Okay, let's talk about cats for a second. The Greeks love there cats, and Hydra seemed to be the epitome of that love. Cats just seem to roam around, do as they please, and generally have a pretty good life.

Sat there the entire dinner,
just waiting and waiting

Crazy Cat!

Queen of my cats!
How many can you count?


Greece's best intact ancient theatre, situated in the beautiful rolling hills of olive trees. The theatre was located in Epidavros, a center for healing in ancient Greece. People would come from everywhere to rest, heal, lay in spas, get massages, and of course watch theatre! The theatre is built so precisely, that the actors would only have to speak, with their heads slightly pointed downward, and their voices would be carried to the top bleachers. They still hold concerts and plays here today!

And back to Athens - with the Acropolis open! So we hiked up to the top, looking at the Parthenon and all the surrounding buildings. Me trying to really put myself in the place of all the ancient Greeks and people before and after them that have come to this spot in reverence. Trying to picture people like Socrates and Aristotle teaching just below. Looking over at Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul came to Athens and preached. And then out over the sea, where so many ships had come and gone, armies and navies coming and retreating, tradesman trading - all to create a place and culture that has had such influence over the world.

Hey, random trivia, but did you know that olive trees can live to be thousands of years old?

Mars Hill - where the Apostle Paul
preached to the Athenians

On top of the Acropolis,
Parthenon and all

Female figures dating to 2800 B.C. -
apparently they had long bathroom
lines too.

We've talked about cats, but
neglected dogs. They like to
roam much the same. And lounge.

Mmm, Greek Salad.

Our trusty "Banana Candy." Named as such because of the
obvious color and I bought some bananas
that infiltrated the car with the unfortunate smell
of those terrible banana candies...

Goodbye Greece~
What a great trip!