Tuesday, July 27, 2010
A short bus-ride later placed us in the former pleasure capital of Greece, Corinth, a town renowned for it's excesses. Nestled on an isthmus between the Agean and Ionian seas, this dual-port city honored the goddess Aphrodite - weary merchants and sailors looked forward to meeting her priestesses who were proficient in the art of, what our guide described as, sacred prostitution (as one would expect from the Goddess of Love, no?).
A temple to Apollo dominates the remains of this once great city. The other highlights included a Roman shopping mall, complete with decorative fountains, store stalls, a marble-paved street, and a public restroom.
The museum on this site was small but housed an impressive array of statuary and artifacts recovered from the site, including an entire display that had been recovered in Miami, FL in 1999 by the FBI after a daring robbery.
We crossed the canal, constructed in the early 20th Century that now bridges the two seas. The water is an unearthly blue - a stunning color to cap off a colorful trip to the Peloponnese. We have returned to the mainland and will spend the last day and half in Athens.
One of Becky's favorite dishes was the BBQ luncheon of freshly roasted lamb, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and olives. As we gathered at the table and ate of the succulent lamb, the waitress wandered about asking (and not waiting for an answer) then dumping more fresh lamb on our plates. At the end of the meal, the owner appeared again - he had welcomed us into the restaurant with a warm smile and a handshake - yelled, "OPA" and preceded to take a plate from the neighboring table and smash it on the floor near our table. We shouted in chorus, which only encouraged him to take another and do the same. Ahhhhhhhhhhh - lunch, Greek style! (Her favorite was dolmades with egg lemon sauce and beet and green salad.)
Next up we have DK's scrumptious shrimp. Perfectly seasoned and grilled, this entree would rate a ten on Top Chef. Perfectly grilled veggies and rice complimented the seafood. The entire team awarded 1986 a gold medal and encourage anyone who is in the neighborhood to dine here.
After many many many Greek salads (which she loves) and plenty of lamb, pork and chicken, Kamie was absolutely delighted to eat some fresh shrimp ("garides" to you Greek speakers). This particular shrimp dish features shrimp and feta in a delicious homemade tomato sauce - a traditional dish - and a very yummy one too!
Wilson & Matera get smoked... salmon that is. This was a wonderful appetizer of thinly cut smoked salmon over some cabbage & greens with some capers and drizzled lemon. Both of our plates were clean enough to just put back up on the shelf. It was tasty.
Monday, July 26, 2010
The Theater of Epidaurus is not only the best preserved ancient theater in all
of Greece, but was also once a center of healing. Apparently once the ancient
patients were on their way to physical health, they spent the day watching the
performances of the ancient tragedy plays like Medea or Oedipus Rex in order to
complete their healing through “catharsis.” Wow! An early example of art therapy
The highlight of our visit was Kamie’s beautiful center-stage rendition of “You Are
My Sunshine” just as real raindrops began to fall. Unfortunately her song was
drowned out by the clanging of Greek workmen.
Next we ventured on to the fortified palace of Mycenae. Only the ruling class
inhabited the hilltop palace, and the artisans and merchants lived outside the
city walls. We viewed the Lion’s Gate (insert photos), the Circle Grave A(insert),
and the Treasury of Atreus (photo). Katya, our local guide, told us that the dead were buried with a coin in each of their mouths so that they could pay their passage to the “other side”. The dead (at least those that were not deserving to be buried in tombs) were buried underneath their kitchen floors. When the
families indulged in libations, they were also sure to “feed” their departed. Walking in the footsteps of the ancients brought alive the stories of the people and places of the Trojan War. Was it a love triangle involving King Menelaus, his wife Helen, and Paris or just another political move to gain the fertile land and riches found in Troy (present day Turkey)?
Michael: I could sum up the day thusly: it was amazing to see the 1st ancient Greek Culture. This is where future Greeks get the idea for building on the acropolis, the high point, and the town around down below. These were the first people to speak Greek. Here is where it all began. These people did not have democracy, however there is no way that one can deny the cultural ties this past generation had to future Greeks.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
We left for Olympia after having a cafe and fresh O.J. down by the water. It was a short jaunt to Olympia and we were all itching to get down to the stadium. The other group in our tour is a bunch of high school kids, who all say they are going to be the neo-Olympian champion. Just as the Olympians of antiquity, one student on our trip, Mike, got over heated in the sweltering summer heat of the Mediterranean. The sun was just as much an adversary today as in the past, many Olympic contenders dropped dead due to heat stroke and Mike felt the long arm of the sun tap him on the shoulder today.
The site was amazing. We started our tour in the gymnasium where the athletes prepared for their events. The area was surrounded by a Stoa, a covered open air building, which allowed the athletes to continue practicing in harsh weather, hot or rainy. The athletes would put olive oil on there naked bodies and practice in the sun. After hours of practice they would be one group of dusty Dorians. After practice they would scrape off the sand and dirt with special bronze implements. Ouch!
From there we went the pious route. Most of the Olympia compound was the religious zone. There was a stone wall designating the practice area, workshops, and even a hotel for traveling dignitaries. There were temples to Zeus and Hera within these walls, massive structures that were designed to honor the Gods and to humble man. From the ancient area that is used today to light the Olympic torch which starts our modern games to the excavated dwelling from before ancient Greek civilization that Olympia is built upon, the sixth grade team was in awe of it all. Wilson photographed Matera standing on the pedestal of the Zanes making him look like a cheater (which he is not...or is he?) and Becky under the arch entering the stadium of Olympia.
We entered the stadium. This was powerful and one of those textbook moments. Standing above on the slopes of the stadium you could almost hear the cheering fans of hundreds of ancient Olympic games. Thinking of the pains that were endured, the dreams that were dashed, and glory that was earned was humbling. All and all it was a day none of us will soon forget.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
5:30 A. M. is early, regardless of where one is in the world! After very little sleep, we rallied to bring our bags to the lobby and indulge in another delightful buffet breakfast of every food one can imagine, including salmon and select cheeses.
Once aboard the bus, we traveled through the mountains, stopping to visit the Byzantine monastery of Ossios Loukas. This monastery
was built in the 11th century for Luke the Hermit and is known for its mosaics and precious stones. Although many monks lived here long ago, at present there are only 4 monks living at the monastery. The guide informed us that the monks do receive help from “the outside” when/if they need it, e.g. to keep up the grounds and buildings. The only time the four monks meet are at prayer service and meals; otherwise, they continue to live a life of seclusion and contemplation. Since the church and state are not separated in Greece, the government supports the monastery to ensure its continued upkeep. As you can see from the photos, Ossios Loukas is well maintained and situated in what we would consider to be one of the most beautiful spots imaginable.
We did not visit but passed within viewing distance of the town of Thebes, which for a brief period of time in the 4th century BC is said to have been the most powerful city of Greece. Now it is simply a quiet village nestled at the base of the mountains.
Onward, around treacherous curves and through narrow streets we ventured - some of us happy that we had just visited a holy place – to Delphi. According to legend, when Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the world their paths crossed in Delphi, which established it as the center of the earth. As early as the end of the 8th century BC, people from all over the world came to Delphi to visit and consult the god Apollo about decisions they were to make. Apollo supposedly spoke through a priestess, who would reply in ambiguous ways, leaving it up to the questioner to interpret the answer.
While we were exploring the ancient ruins of Delphi the temperature there hit 40 degrees Celsius! We’ll leave it up to you to do the math – a good exercise in conversions. Whatever the heat is measured in, that’s HOT! Sadly, Dolores missed her chance to visit the spring of Castalia that would ensure her youthfulness.
It was a welcome relief to board that bus, heading for Patras, a small coastal town on the Peloponnesian peninsula. Two hours later, we crossed the Gulf of Corinth passing over via a one and a half miles long arched suspension bridge. The bridge (commonly called the Rio-Antirio Bridge) is known to be “the sixth best bridge in the world”. One of us decided there is research to be done on this bridge! It was truly magnificent and an honor to the people who so desperately tried to complete it after numerous failed attempts.
This morning, refreshed and renewed, we took on the city of Athens ready to walk in the footsteps that Athenians have traveled for three millennia.
Our first stop was the Acropolis, “high city”, which rises above the modern city of Athens, a true testament of the Golden Age of Athens in the fifth century B.C. The
Acropolis is the highest point of the city, which was used for religious purposes, recreation, and pleasure. Since Neolithic times, the Acropolis has been used for these multi-purposes. Some of the great “textbook” iconic ima
ges of Greece were seen today, from the Parthenon to the world’s first theater of Dionysus. On our approach to the Parthenon, we learned about and viewed the Erechtheion, with its Porch of the Caryatids lined with stone ladies. These statues, not only served as great works of art, but also were a po
litical statement. Since only slaves carried goods on their heads, the Athenians created these Caryatids to depict the lower social standing of the Spartans. Although the Caryatids are replicas on the site, we later were able to view the remains of the original Caryatids at the NEW Acropolis Museum. (Keep reading for more details on th
e museum later in this blog.)
The road to the top of the Acropolis was covered by large slabs of the original marble, worn smooth and slippery by millions of pairs of feet over time. It was explained to us that marble is the most abundant buil
ding resource in the country – even cheaper than timber – and is used in construction in place of wood whenever possible (which explains our marble bathrooms and marble streets and sidewalks in the Plaka). Once atop the “high city”, our local guide, Katya, gave us the Cliff’s Notes version of the history of the Parthenon – the various conquests by the Persians, Turks, and Christians (all of whom laid siege to the city and made artistic and political changes to the Parthenon. The Parthenon is once again under siege, this time by good intentions, as the nation’s premier symbol is being restored by newly quarried marble to reinforce the columns that have fallen victim to Greece’s frequent seismic activity.
Descending the south side of the Acropolis we saw Dionysus’s Theater, which is the oldest theater in Europe. Over 15,000 people attended the performances of the famous Greek tragedies of So
phocles and Euripedes. Special front row marble seats were built into the theater for dignitaries and persons of high status.
The next stop was the new Ac
ropolis Museum which was finally completed in 2009. The museum was constructed with the collaboration of archeologists, scientists, artists, and psychologists in order to ensure that the museum served its purpose of fitting into the culture, history, beliefs and practices of the Greek peoples. Although many of the original artifacts and statues are currently in the British Museum, places are held in the museum for their hopeful return to Athens. Some Athenians claim that the statues that remain in the museum cried when the others were taken from their places. The hope lives on that the statues will again cry (this time with tears of joy) when the others are returned to Greece.
After lunch, our final “official” stop of the day was the National Archaeological Museum. We walked through the history of Greek statuary, from the simple Greek Archaic figures, which were inf
luenced by earlier Egyptian art, to the breathtakingly beautiful creations of Classical Greece artists. Amazingly, most of the statuary art was not behind gl
ass or even ropes. We were able to come face to face with the visages of Athena, Aphrodite, and other Olympians and were able to photograph many of them.
The tour at the National Archaeological Museum ended with our visit to the artifacts unearthed in 1874 in Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann, a self-made millionaire who amassed his wealth solely to fund his archeological fanaticism. The dazzling array of 16th Century BC treasures included the famous Mask of Agamemnon, gold jewelry and cups, intricately designed pottery vessels, weapons, and figurines to name a few.
After a quick dip in the pool, we returned to the plaka for a traditional Greek Taverna (aka restaurant) dinner of spinach pie, Greek salad, shish kabobs, and delicious ice cream of an unidentified flavor.
We now will retire to bed, as we have a 5:30 a.m. wake up call in the morning…
July 21st – 22nd, 2010
After nineteen hours of travel during which we received an unexpectedly early introduction to Greek culture (attention Greek passengers: there is a rockin’ party directly behind the Americans in Row 39) on our trans-Atlantic flight, we arrived only slightly weary in Athens.
We were immediately impressed with the heat, the mountains surrounding the city, and with our guide Dimitra who cheerfully informed us that our Athens hotel had been upgraded from a three star establishment to a luxury hotel complete with a roof pool-deck that had a view of the Parthenon – talk about a good beginning!
After a visit to the Plaka, the neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis, where we browsed popular tourist shops and enjoyed our first taste of Greek cuisine, we returned to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.