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Waking up on Santorini to bright morning sun, curtains blowing in from our tiny patio [we slept with the French doors open], Bougainvillea flowers skittering across the concrete, my black sand drying on the little table outside, an old well up the hill from our doors.  Breakfast in the sun on the hotel’s large, multi-leveled outdoor dining porches.



Then we walked downhill from our perch, trekking along the cliff-clinging stone-paved pathway high above the sea.  Each step

brought more photo-perfect scenes:




tiny walled loggias with potted plants;





steps going up and down in every direction to houses, shops and restaurants



bright sun over stone paved pathways and whitewash. 



Down into the town of Fira [over time, Thera in Greek became Fira in modern Greek, which has a lot of Turkish in it]. 



There was no WC in the Archaeological Museum, so we went across the sloping street to a tavern for a coke and the facilities.  While Ron was thus engaged, two mule strings went by, bedecked and beribboned, each string of 5-6 with a guide, on their way to carry tourists up the switchback path up the cliff face.  Ron had both cameras with him.

The marvelous museum was small but crammed with treasures from ancient Thera: geometric amphorae up close; funeral objects from 8-7th centuries BC; and my favorite collection of items featuring a bird with a swastika [sometimes eating a snake]!  No one there knew what the symbolism was.  And there were 6 staff members present, outnumbering the tourists.  Not even Google has a post.


From there to the museum of truly old stuff, from Akrotiri: from “marvelous” to “spectacular”!  The Prehistoric Museum houses the original wall paintings from the 18th century BC town, pieced together painstakingly from the floors of the houses, where they had fallen face-down; this is the reason they were preserved at all.  Wonderful motifs of octopi and dolphins, lotus flowers and sailboats.  And the one golden object found: a perfect little goat about 1 inch long.



Brains full and feet tired, we walked downhill to the taxi stand where we scored one of the 27 cabs on the island.  This saved us the long uphill slog to the hotel.  And we were quite satisfied with our purchases for the day: chunks of black pumice and a reproduction of the Cyclades flute player at half the museum cost.



After nap [refer to the first paragraph above, omitting breakfast], we made our way to Mama Thera’s tavern for a sunset meal on a small patio with a dozen friendly people.  Ron had pork with a surprising lemon sauce and I had lamb-kebobs.  As the sun set, the waitress made her way around with blankets for everyone. 


Oh, I want to go back!!
 
Our first stop was the ruins of Akrotiri, a 3500 year old town, destroyed by the volcano that is Santorini.  Not the eruption that blew the entire center out of the island, as is popularly thought, but a much more modest one. The site was discovered by miners removing the light pumice to make concrete [the kind that sets under water].  After this find, mining was stopped.

This place is impossible to describe!  The buildings were 3 or more stories high and the tourist path runs around the top floor!  As at Pompeii, the archaeologists discovered hollows into which they poured plaster.  So far, all the casts were of furniture, trees but no bodies.  But tragedy always lurks and, the head archaeologist, Spiridon Marinatos, was killed when the roof protecting the site collapsed in 1974 [or he died of a stroke].   The site was closed for until a new massive roof was constructed, so we were incredibly fortunate to be there after the re-opening [in 2012].  They hadn’t even finished building the tourist shop, but had it under a temporary pavilion.  Other amenities were also being constructed, but this being Greece, who knows when they’ll be finished.




Bed frames discovered when plaster was poured into spaces in the pumice.

We were guided by a knowledgeable lady, who talked us all around the upper level and then down stairs to the ground floor of the main street of town.  And we walked on the actual street, with my hair literally standing on end with awe.  Actually, it wasn’t allowed to stand on end, as it might have damaged the walls, but I had some mighty goosebumps.


Street level in the Minoan town now called Akrotiri

We changed tour guides at this point and got an airheaded bimbo.  She was in a tearing hurry to get to Cousin Vinny’s winery.  But along the way, we stopped for lunch at Perissa, one of the black sand beaches, made of crumbled pumice.  I gathered some for my World Sand Collection, after eating a wonderful meal of moussaka with—wait for it—eggplant.  Because we ate at a place on the beach, we got to use the beach chairs and umbrellas, as well as the WCs.  I had worn my swimsuit under my clothes, but I found it too cold to swim and, after wading, I took off the suit to be more comfortable.  [but I put the clothes back on, never fear].


A great guy I met on the black sand beach at Perissa.

Next stop was Megalachori.  When our guide was telling us about the village, we told her we couldn’t hear her.  She was quite rude and set off at a brisk trot down the street.  We never did find out why we were there other than its charm.  I had to watch my step throughout, so I saw the pavement.  And the man who was an ardent photographer hung back with us, and Ron also got some scenic photos. 


We then drove to the lofty parking lot of the monastery Profites Ilias [Prophet Elijah] for a 360 degree view of the island and the sea. Some intrepid souls climbed the 3,000,000 steps to the top of the highest peak on Santorini.


Windy Santorini

Mind you, we had 1 ½ hours at Cousin Vinny’s, tasting wine [I had a drink that tasted like Tang, with the other children].  Santos Winery had a big sign saying that they do “welding events.”  We wandered all over the parking lot and watched a welding event at a belvedere overhanging the cliff face.  The female welder wore a long white dress; it seemed like a hazard with all the sparks from her job. 

Finally on our way again, we arrived at Oia [pronounced “EEE-aa.”]  Oia was named by National Geographic, or some such, as one of the 10 best places in the world to watch the sunset.  [The other 9 are in my backyard.]  People were swarming all over the old town, lining up, so many that the island began to tip toward the sea at the edge.  So we headed back away from the crowd and found an open-air cantina serving delicious food, and with a table right on the edge of the cliff.  We had a great view of the sunset, the caldera, boats in the caldera, while we had swordfish and eggplant.  A feral cat strolled by.  For dessert we had kataifi, which are nests of angel hair pasta, baked with pistachios and honey inside.  Mmmmmmm.


CAT vs KATAIFI



Santorini is justly famous for its white-washed homes and hotels, and blue domed churches.  For a wonderful view of it, watch the dream sequence in the Bollywood picture “Bang! Bang!”  Or stay tuned to this channel for our walking trip of the island.


Sunset in Oia








I found it impossible to write of Grecian Isles while under  6” of snow.  And that is the difference between a committed author, who can imagine anything, and me.  Then, we had 2 weeks of Spring weather and I was outside too much to write.  But it got cold again…and warm again…and now it's raining.


See us now on our way back to Athens, discussing how exhausting our bus adventure had been.  Lunch was in Kalambaka, downtown, at the restaurant of an 80 year old wizard, who greeted us in her kitchen, as is traditional in tavernas.  Six huge pots bubbled on the cook surface [Gas? Electric? Fire?—I forgot to look].  She asked what each of us wanted.  Yianni had told us her lamb stew was to die for and we accepted death-by-delicious.  As she was filling my plate I exulted over the eggplant in the stew; she gave me a double portion!  Her grandson [?] helping in the kitchen, remarked on the large portion too.  I ate every morsel and some bread.  Wow!


After lunch, we staggered around the charming town, avoiding touristy places and going to the hardware store.  As we went in, a man stepped through the door to spray oil on his .22 rifle.  We wondered what kind of varmints he might be getting ready for.  This is why we love going to hardware stores around the world; you always see something mind-bending.  Like mink traps in Ireland.

Back on the bus, we crossed the plain of ancient Thebes, now called Thiva, famous in myth as the home of Oedipus Rex, whom we last saw at the theater in Athens.  Yianni asked me if he had told me anything that I didn’t already know.  I told him I didn’t know Thiva was Thebes.  He was sad, but we had both told him that we had studied a lot for the trip.  And that we had a splendid time.

Then he launched into a ridiculous story about a deceased lady, beloved in 2 towns, who was pulled between the two, to become the long, neck-ed lady, represented by the hills in front of us.  I explained that in English “neck-ed” means “without clothes”.  “So I managed to teach him something:  “Neck’d”  I think most everyone else on the bus was asleep by that time, except one couple who laughed at “neck-ed” like we did.

We had traveled 850 miles in 4 days.  Not so very much to an American, but remarkable in how much we saw and how many centuries represented.

And back to the Royal Olympic hotel and a fancy dinner on the roof.  The cool thing was that, though we ordered a light meal from the appetizer menu, the waiter treated us like we were lavish patrons; he even brought us a complimentary plate of tiny desserts!  So our last night in Athens, we looked over the brightly lit temples and monuments, drank coffee and thought, “We never need to come to Greece again, [but I would go if invited.]”  Anyone?...

                         

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the next morning we rose early, had a miserable breakfast, as the kitchen was not yet open, but had laid out stale crackers; we then rode the bus to the airport.  The flight was ½ hour late; we sat on the tarmac another ½ hour, reading the airline’s motto: “Aegean Airlines: we pride ourselves on punctuality.”  That means, “We’re pretty spiffy for Greeks.  So don’t complain.”

For some reason, we weren’t seated together, but were pleased that we both had a window seat!  And a wonderful view of the rather large island of Santorini, as we swooped over, then back again.  Santorini [a corruption of Santa Irenè] is a large crescent-shaped island, with smaller islands nearly completing a circle, the center of which is a volcanic caldera.



We were taken to our hotel, on the tip-top of a hill, with a steep and twisting lane leading to it.  When the Gate1 rep told us about the tours of the island, we grabbed one.  Our plans of walking were ridiculous when we saw the size and the steepness of the island.  So for $43 each, we lined up  a 10 hour tour of Santorini for the following day..











 

The Fire Fairy of Newport News Park

You may not be aware of the existence of the Fire Fairies; they are not as well-known of the other fair folk.  But they live in the nearly-dying embers of a campfire, just when the glowing coals look like ruby red crystals or burning diamonds.  The fairies then ascend from the coals looking just like sparks, rising from the dying fire.  But they are not sparks, but living, breathing fairies.

Zoe and I watched just such an event the other day, whilst camping.  We knew it was a Fire Fairy, in that sudden flash of intuition that sometimes comes to grandmothers and granddaughters on a mild evening in February, when full of s’mores and tired from a perfect day, they stare into the last of the wood burning down to ash.


“It’s a Fire Fairy,” they whispered, knowing how shy such folk are.

“Sometimes,” they continued, alternating sentences, “Fire Fairies fly from the fire to flit around the campground, spying on people.”
“But they must be very careful when it rains!”
“One time, the Fire Fairy landed on a tree to hide, when she thought people had seen her!”
“She accidentally lit the tree on fire!”
“ ‘Oh, nooooo!’ she wailed in her squeaky, raspy little voice. ‘It was an accident!  I never meant to cause a forest fire!’ ”
“Just then, a cloud was passing and heard her sobbing.  ‘What’s that?” he said. ‘I think it’s a Fire Fairy hiding in that burning tree!’”
“So he began to rain on the tree, the Fire Fairy and the campers in the campground.”
“And the forest fire was put out before it could burn a single tree badly.  And the Fire Fairy, being inside the tree, did not get her fire put out.  But the campers grumbled very loudly and went into their tents to sleep.”

The next day, the campers saw the partially burned tree and they put Zoe inside and took a picture.

             
The End.
 

New Newport News News: Glamping edition

All of a sudden, all 5 of us had the weekend off and the February weather was mild and dry.  “Let’s go camping,” texted Andrew from work on Wed.

So he rented us a campsite in Newport News City Park campgrounds for Sat-Sun-Mon.  The Park ranger told him we didn’t have to rent 2 campsites, so it was too cheap to stay home.

B66


By the time we got camp set up, we realized that we were very happy to be glamping = glam-camping, in local parlance.  This involved setting up camp on Fri, Andrew and Theresa leaving to go feed both household’s cats and returning that evening with all the things that were forgotten the first trip out.

Andrew had gotten a campsite within sight of the playground, so Zoe could take herself over whenever she spied other kids there [or could persuade me to go with].  Theresa took a bike ride; we walked over to the camp store with Zoe on her Razor.

Sat evening, I sorted through some wood scraps / half done projects, saving anything worth keeping and the rest we burned, while Ron made the best-ever hamburgers on the camp stove.  Then we had s’mores.

Sunday morning, we went out to breakfast at Vancostas, fed the cats, showered, napped and returned to camp.  Zoe and Theresa took out a foot-paddle boat [$6 per hour CHEAP!!]  Then we all collapsed into lounge chairs, since Theresa and I must practice for our upcoming cruise.  We read, while deciding what to do next [nothing].  Lunch was fabulous chicken salad on croissants.

Andrew and Zoe put together an ultra-light airplane model he’d gotten at the thrift; it really never did achieve what you’d call flight.  It spend the rest of the afternoon nose-dived into the perfectly laid teepee of firewood that Theresa had built from wood Andrew chopped and she collected.  There was a quick trip home to feed cats and take home the bikes and bring back a pressure cooker for making stew.  Theresa had given much thought to how to cook a camp stew, researching recipes and methods.  But since the site had power for RVs, she elected the cooker, which did its wonders in half hour or so, with perfect results.



Just at dark, my brother Robert, wife Pat and son Sam arrived for dump cake made in an iron dutch oven over coals, followed by more s’mores.  Robert was sure to make himself the low-carb version; that is, marshmallows and chocolate with the graham crackers.  Andrew set up his telescope just after we all saw a satellite zipping by in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.  The stars were bright and numerous, even through the light of the fire.  Andrew placed his ‘scope behind the tents and we could view the Orion nebula [it’s the sword tip] and ruddy Mars.  Zoe and I watched the fire burn down to crystalline red coals and wove the story of the Fire Fairy [see next blog]



Monday morning, we broke camp quickly; that is, Zoe and I went off to play and hike while the adults broke camp.  I had seen a boulder through the trees and across a stream that we wanted to explore, but it turned out to be the root mass of a fallen tree, with some standing water and intriguing mud nests.   Anyone know what this is?  Crawdads?



Zoe spotted a tree with a large hole where a missing trunk would have twinned with the still-standing tree and she said, “I could stand in there!”
We quickly hiked to camp for my phone [camera] and she was indeed just the right size to stand in the trunk.  As shown here:



We all drove to IHOP for a lavish breakfast and parted company.  We fed our cat, napped and did some gardening, and gradually realized I really missed our camping companions.  Then we got a text inviting us to home-made potstickers for supper.  It seems Theresa spent all afternoon making potstickers—and missed us too.  So we finished our glamping with dinner and a movie [RiffTraxx “Hillbillies in a Haunted House,” an amazingly bad film wherein there are 2 Alfreds and no Batman].
Another early start for the last day of new and exciting, and our northern-most stop in Greece.  [I still have Thessalonica and Philippi on my list, but neither has much left from the First Century.]

We climbed many switchbacks up to the cliff-face home of the monasteries that fear built.  There were many monasteries in Greece until the Seljuk Turks began to invade from Mongolia in the 11th century.  During that time, few places in Greece were safe.  [An analogy would be Great Britain vs. the Vikings in the 9-10th centuries].  So the nuns and monks moved to the cliffs of Meteora, where they built strongholds on the unassailable pinnacles.  Originally, there was no access to the strongholds, but a pulley system for bringing up supplies and the occasional intrepid monk.  Not until the 1920s were steps carved into the cliffs and hydraulic lifts were added in the 1960s.  When we arrived, construction vehicles vied with tourist busses for access; tiny, crowded flea markets perched on the verge of the twisting road. 

Our first stop was the nunnery of Roussanou Sta. Barbara.  We walked up a modest 30 or so steps to a “plateau” where stood a facility with stand-over-the-hole toilets. [I cannot even imagine how the ladies in trousers managed.]  Many more steep steps and one drawbridge later saw us taking in a spectacular view down the ragged crevices.  There was a small entryway, with the old gong for calling the nuns.  There a young nun took our tickets whilst painting small white rocks with the name of the monastery, its picture  and your name on the back.  For €2!  I really could do that all day for Christ.

                   

We made our way into a tiny but amazing chapel with every surface fresco’d.  Chairs for the choir nuns left little room for tourists, but we stood cheek to jowl while Yianni told us about the symbolism. [no photos allowed inside]

“Does anyone know why the blood of Christ on the cross flows onto the skull beneath?” he queried.

“It is the redemption of Adam.” I answered.

He was astonished and gave me a bear hug.  He said that only once before had anyone known that answer.  I said that my Sunday School teacher taught me.  [And I brought her a gift from Greece in gratitude!]

Returning down the stairs, we met a cat walking along the baluster, but heard much ruckus from the bushes.  Turned out that her 2 kittens wanted her to get away from us and pay attention to them!  With much mewing and other ado, one managed to scale the wall with the help of a tree branch.  He quickly retraced his steps after seeing the crowd.  His momma greatly enjoyed the petting.  Later, we saw 2 nuns feeding some cats by the roadside. 

The next stop was a monastery with 120 steps, which we declined, as several others did.  We took loads of photos and wound up in a wonderful shady piazza, walled with benches and overlooking the gorge, across which a cable car, the size of a pick-up truck-bed, hung from a lax cable.  This led to a fairly new door in the monastery wall.  The older winch hung from a lip a hundred feet above.  Construction materials were being assembled 50 feet below us, for repairs to the building.

     

We watched the people go by and the flea market and eventually got our turn with a large black and white cat, who was working the crowd for love.  She finished up with a woman and her adult retarded son, and then jumped up to the parapet near us.  I stroked her healthy fur whilst she and I sat in the sunshine. This was some of the best cat-love I have ever received!   A young man approached, drawn by the cat and I invited him to join the group.  He was from Spain and missed his cat.  We talked about where we’d been in Spain and our love of the museums there; that we still wanted to go to Madrid to the Prado and to Granada for the Alhambra; he said that we really must.  So there’s another trip.


For 600 years, men and women joining the monasteries donated their land as a dowry, so that now the Church owns about 20% of the land in Greece.  As it was in Europe before the Protestant Reformation.

Back on the bus, we made our way to Cousin Vinny’s¹ very fine authentic icon workshop [Zindros].  They make the icons the old fashioned way, with hand carved wood, real gold and 1001 coats of thin varnish and therefore, they are fabulously expensive.  They did have small reproduction icons like the one we bought of St. Paul, but not Irene nor Zoe, our favorite Greek-saint-named ladies.   So we shopped the CTC in the basement and bought Zoe a plush frog purse, which I think she would like better than an icon anyway.

We crossed the plain of Thessaly, once a lake, now fertile farms, due to the 6 million years of eroding of the rivers on the mountains, turning them into canyons, crevices and fantastic spires.  Current thought is that the lake drained into the Aegean after an earthquake.

And then the long drive back to Athens…

 ___________________________________________
N4: 107, Meteora Rising, Greece Sept. 27th, 2016
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious that it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.





 
The irony was not lost on us: visiting Apollo’s pagan shrine on a Sunday.  But then, Sun Day is Apollo’s day.  So much of the ancient world is with us yet.  The ways of Greece and Rome inform our every day: our architecture, law, language, politics, literature and more.  Think about it, won’t you?

But since I am convinced that God is where you look for Him, I looked.  But somehow neither of us got the frisson of awareness we have had at other ancient “holy” sites.  And we couldn’t figure why. 

Not to say that we didn’t have a marvelous time!  Delphi has been on my must-list as long as Mycenae.  Our first job was to hike down the cliff to the Temple of Athena Pronaia [which we kept calling Paranoia.  But it means “before the shrine” meaning that you would stop there before approaching Apollos’s shrine.]  Yianni had finally realized that he had a Criplympics champion on hand and gave Ron and I a head start down the hill.  We could still hear him through the walkie-hearie earphones, as we took the rocky, rooty switchbacks at bottom speed.  Pausing at an overlook on the trail, we drank in the view of the sheer, shining face of the other side of the deep valley-crevice.

The splendid little temple complex includes a circular colonnade and a tholos tomb.  We have seen this picture dozens of times since we got home, since it is so beautiful and serene, but never heard what it was before.  It is iconic of Greece, without being specific to most folks.

the iconic temple of Athena Pronaia

The mountains of Delphi are the tallest, top to valley floor, and most precipitous I have ever seen.  [Except maybe western Scotland—ok, the mountains above Sta. Barbara CA…]  They are composed of some type of conglomerate stone with solid plugs of limestone [?] of a bright tone of yellowish tan that catches the light.  Indeed, the cliffs above Apollo’s temple are called The Shining Ones.”  And the east-west orientation of the canyon allows the sun to catch the cliffs aflame morning and evening.  In other words, it is the perfect home for the sun god.  And the reflected light is such that I ended this day with an under-chin suntan!
the ruins and cliffs of Delphi

From there, Yianni [and the bus] took us to the museum before the crowds arrived.  [He is a clever guide in this way; we never had to jockey around to get close to the art.] 

I knew that this museum was going to be the top experience for art and I wasn’t disappointed.  The culmination of the collection is The Charioteer.  This near-perfect life-sized bronze was a thank offering by the winning chariot driver of the Delphic Games, depicting the solemn expression and heavy drapery [so he can retain his dignity at top speed] that are required of a victor. 
The exhibit included bits of the rest of the grouping, which had included 2 horses with trappings, the chariot itself, and a young groom.

The Charioteer and bits

I will digress just a bit here to expound upon the philosophy of the shrine of Apollo.  The gateway to the temple had the following phrases, one on either side: “Know Yourself “ and “Nothing in Excess”.   And these require a little explanation.

I always thought “Know Yourself” was a touchy-feelie guru idea, but it is far from that.  The Greek gods were understood to be jealous and proud of their powers and any human who dared aspire to greatness would be accused of hubris and punished grotesquely.  To “Know Yourself” was to know your limitations in skill, greatness and praise and to remain humanly humble.

“Nothing in Excess” was not exactly “moderation in everything” but truly another warning about the capriciousness of the Greek gods.  Again, no human can reach the heights of the gods.

This is why The Charioteer must maintain a serious and humble expression with none of the “touchdown dance” attitude of the modern sportsman.  And why he must offer a rich gift of the bronze [read “hugely expensive”] grouping for his victory.  Not HIS victory but the god’s.

And one more note: in all the pan-Hellenic [all-Greece] games: Olympic for Zeus, Pythian for Apollo, Nemean also for Zeus , and Isthmian for Poseidon.  There was a first prize.  No second or third or honorable mention.  You won or you lost.  If you won, you were crowned with a wreath and glory; no prize money, no medals, though your home town would feed you for free the rest of your life. You paid for your victory statue and other votive offerings.  If you lost, you were ashamed forever.  You could literally never go home again.  We are a sports-crazed society but we hardly keep score anymore, let alone expect no personal profit.  And, btw, there were competitions in poetry, playwriting, heraldy [sportscasting], trumpet playing, and recitation [acting] without any reward but fame.  And no self-promotion, commercial endorsements or special shoes.  And most of them were dead by 35. 

Following these reflections, we scrambled up the hill through the shrine complex of Apollo: the treasuries for the donations of the various city-states to the god along the paved path to the retaining wall below the temple itself, where the names of freed slaves were engraved as public record.

FREEDOM!

The temple building itself, though mostly tumbled in earthquakes, is still striking but no longer open for tourists.   WE made our way around and then up another elegant switchback to the theater.  As I mentioned earlier, if you could not get a prophecy on the one day a month the oracle was receiving, you waited around Delphi til the next month…or the next.  So theater and games were open daily for 9 months of the year.  Apollo departs Delphi in the winter to visit Hyperborea [“Where the North Wind originates] and Dionysis—and snow-- occupies the site.

a sacrifice to the god? No, a sleeping dog, which we let lie.

Many folks in our group continued the steep climb to the Stadion well above but we, Yianni and one other couple “Knew Ourselves” and figured it would be hubris to try.  So we took lots of photos of ourselves and strangers [so they could all get in the photo] becoming dazed by the intensity of the sun and dried by the breeze coming up the canyon, but losing any sea moisture on its way from the Gulf.  Like Sta. Barbara, indeed, my CA friends.

Sated and sun-slammed, we boarded the bus and switch-backed down the great canyon to the town of Itea [not to be confused with Ikea] for a lunch by the sea.  Cousin Vinny ² served a wonderful stuffed eggplant and we sat with our fellow Criplympics contestant and his wife, finishing a lovely meal with a life-threatening crossing of the road to get to the bathroom.  Lastly, we were served ice cold ouzo with a 5 to 1 ratio of water.  It tasted just like ice cold ouzo with a 5 to 1 ratio of water.

According to Yianni, The perfect quartet for a Greek is: a sunny day, by the seaside, eating seafood, with ouzo for lunch.  We had a trio since eggplant if strictly a land-dwelling creature.  A trifecta is good enough for me.

A delightful treat was in store for us: a stop at Thermopylae!  This was not on the itinerary and I suppose they skip it if they are running late.  Some 19th century bozo put a twice life-sized, naked Leonidas [lee-ON-a-das] on a memorial wall and it is such that it’s hard to take a picture without seeming like a voyeur.  Next to it is a really ugly, 20th century, headless Herm to commemorate the Thespian tribe that also fought here.  The actual mound of the dead Spartans is across the street; police will not let tourists cross from one to the other but we could at least see it.  It is hard to imagine the battle, as the river had silted up to create a broad plain beyond which we could not even see the water.  This is great for tourism, but destroyed the strategic value of the “Hot Gates” bottleneck that allowed the 300 Spartans and their allies to slow the Persian advance.

where's the leather bikini, Gerard Buter?

We snoozed on the bus, waking in time for a view of the mountains as we approached.  Kalambaka, the site of our next hotel, Is the gateway to Meteora, home to monasteries and nunneries. Meteora simply means "high"

Meteora

Picture a line of sheer cliffs, an escarpment, blue in the distance, with a giant W carved out.  In the center of the W is a spire upon which perches a monastery.  It is to this summit we travel tomorrow.
Finally at the hotel in Kalambaka, we were invited to some trad Greek music and dance.  This I longed to see, but the music was way over-amped for the room.  We made our way to the small garden outside to listen through the open door, but someone got cold and closed the door [rather than moving across the room. Huh?]  So we left, enjoyed the peaceful garden and made our way to the Trough for dinner [to which the landlady allowed us early access].

I was writing up these notes and Ron yelled from the shower, “Do you want me to do the raindance on these socks?”  And now you know our travel laundry secrets.



_____________________________

N4: 104, The Delphic Oracle, Greece Sept. 26th, 2016
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious that it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.
I have never been a sports fan.  I like to do stuff, but not watch.  So, the Olympic Games are not compelling for me, but it was quite a wonder to visit where the Games began.

I simply could not keep up with our guide Yianni and the rest of the group.  This time, sweet Ron escorted me around and still took pictures.  We were glad that we had studied so hard before going on this trip, so that we could guide ourselves.  The signage at Olympia was also quite good. 

We went straight to the stadion [Latin, stadium], which refers to the length of the race course ; that is, 697.3 feet long IS one stadion.  Like one Astronomical Unit is, by definition, the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

one stadion

As Yianni had swept us to the site first thing in the morning, there were few other tourists about, and none at the stadion.  You enter through an arch, which is notable for being a true arch built by Greeks [the Romans are famous for their arches].  Ruined now, the arch would have led the athletes from the dark suddenly into the bright sun, which adoring fans cheering them on.  Sort of like today’s team entrances from the locker rooms.

the arch would have been as long as the walls here

Ron lined up on the starting line and walked 3 steps.
Yes, folks, three giant steps for mankind!


At this stage, I began to develop my idea for the Criplympics.  Starting by feeling sorry for  myself, I had to slap myself to remember that I am so blessed to be able to move about at all; see, hear, smell, feel; breathe; and have the $$ to travel.  So, the Criplympics exists for all those who are handi-capable.  The sports include
·         One- or Two-Cane Slogging
      o   walking over slick, rocky surfaces without sprawling
·         the Slow-motion Dash
      o   climbing steps without handrails or ramps
·         the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” Knee March [sponsored by Kellogg’s]
      o   scrambling all over museums without elevators
·         the All-Fours Hill Climb
·         the Broken Pavement Slalom
      o   finding a way along cracked uneven sidewalks and roadsides

Unless you are a true sports fan, the site of Olympia just a bunch of ruined building foundations and the odd column.  We did find great interest in the nearly intact workshop of Phidias, preserved since it was used as a Christian church.

But the museum!!!!!

Hermes would likely be teasing the baby Dionysis with grapes

The Praxitiles “Hermes with the infant Dionysus” is rapturously beautiful and life-like; the Olympia pediments from the Temple of Zeus, featuring a fabulous Apollo from one end and a lordly Zeus from the other.
Apollo

The rest of the museum was marvelous al well, but what I remember the most after these, was the tools and equipment found in the workshop of Phidias mentioned above.  There were the molds he used to shape the gold and ivory for the clothes and skin respectively and a cup labeled “I belong to Phidias” on the bottom.


Phidias' workshop ruins

Then from the sublime to the ridiculous, we were driven to Cousin Vinny’s ¹ olive oil emporium with a demo of what to do with olive oil.  We skipped the demo and walked through the massive, rambling store, settling on a modest icon of St. Paul.  We were leisurely enjoyed refreshment on the front patio of the store, shaded by a wonderful climbing vine, watching a tiny 3” lizard, when our group emerged.

Yianni had arranged the most amazing lunch through Gate1 travel: we climbed a steep mountain to get to a village, named Koutsochera, clinging on the side.  [chera = village].  Gate1 was active in supporting the grade school for this village, which was about to close.  So the women of the village home-cook lunch for the busloads; we ate at long tables on a large veranda overlooking the steep streets of town, served fresh vegetables, meatballs, cheese and wine, all grown and made in the village.  The house has been fixed up for tourists—a very nicely appointed bathroom, for example—but a young family lives there.  The patriarch of this family made the wine from his own grapes, as well as the feta cheese.  For dessert, we were served traditional Spoon Sweet, a tiny serving of very sweet fruit preserve.  Leaving, we ran the gauntlet of aged ladies who helped cook, who beamed goodwill at us.  We were given leave to wander around a bit, so Ron and I found a tiny grocery/ post office / gossip center for drinks and tape for the road.  [btw, this tape was marginally better that I had bought in Eleusis.]

enjoying Spoon Sweet

Our feisty driver was able to turn the bus around, backing from one narrow village to street to another, and we careered through Koutsochera with millimeters to spare on either side.  A miss is as good as a mile, I always say.

Stupefied by the wonderful meal, even Ron and I fell asleep, rousing in plenty of time for the crossing of the privately funded bridge at Patras.  This crosses the Corinthian Gulf from Rio to Antirrio castles.  The bridge is the “longest fully suspended multi-span cable stayed” bridge in the world.  It is beautiful.  And the bus cost €65 to cross one way.  There are still ferries running across the gulf, costing half as much but taking probably an hour to cross.

Chariaos Trikoupis Bridge

After crossing back to mainland Greece, we began to climb our way to Delphi.  From sea level, we twisted up to 1600’ altitude and centuries in attitude.  Skirting a natural harbor on the gulf, we passed through a veritable sea of olive trees, growing on the alluvial fan of the water that runs down the rugged cliff faces above and below Delphi.   We estimated 5 sq. miles of the frosted-sage trees.  Switchbacks led us up; we crossed and re-crossed an aqueduct [like the CA Aqueduct] carrying water—where?  We never found out.

And up our bus lumbered, with sheer drop-offs.  “Don’t look to the right!” says Yianni.  So, of course, we all did—and gasped.

I concluded that it would take days, even weeks for someone to climb up to Delphi from the harbor. 

View from our Delphi hotel looking down the canyon to the dark blue olive forest to the small white town and light blue gulf.

People went to Delphi on pilgrimage to ask the Apollo’s oracle for knowledge of the future. The oracle only gave prophecy once a month and never in the winter.  Petitioners were lined up by rank and importance [and maybe cost of votaries] and the oracle could give only so many prophecies in a day.  If you were not lucky, you would stay in Delphi til the next month.   After the climb, I was convinced that you would seek the oracle only if the matter were of life or death import.  No poor folks could afford the time off work to go or the cost of waiting in town for a turn.  No women, or other slaves.  Truly matters of war and peace, statecraft or succession.

Having made the long journey, we pulled into our lodgings, ate a trough² dinner and fell into bed.  Matters of import must wait till tomorrow.

_____________________________________________

N4: 103, The Olympics, Greece Sept. 25th, 2016
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase.  Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet.  Always looks more delicious that it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist  Crap.  It is not necessary inexpensive.  Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores.  One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.

 

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Every year we make our way the breadth of Virginia and into the mountains of Tennessee to visit Ron’s people.  He has a cousin, his wife and daughter; a favorite aunt; long-time friends and their families; and Simon’s grave.

The last 2 years, the Young Bucks have come along for the ride and it makes for a long day with a full car.  But we save so much on postage for Christmas gifts!  And we get home-made sweet pickles.

We always stop at thrift stores along the way, and Ron and Andrew swop driving.  Theresa and I try to sleep as much as possible, and Zoe has a tray table and tons of activities.  Of course, she wants none of these, so this time we played Mad Libs, including a Star Wars version during which we learned of the “Death Trump.”  [sub Trump for Star].  If you have never played Mad Libs on a road trip, you have missed the meaning of life.

This trip, we spent some time at the Gray Fossil site near Johnson City, TN.  The fossils are not gray, the town is named Gray.  The site was discovered when a new freeway was being built; a death pit of Miocene animals was found, and the road re-routed.  Alligator; red panda; tapir; camel; short-faced bear; mastodon and saber-tooth cat were uncovered, showing that the climate of TN was much warmer then [it’s that Global Warming, in reverse].  The museum is small but wonderful, with many hands-on exhibits.  The children [i.e., Zoe, Andrew and I] enjoyed it very much, especially the dig-it-yourself pit, where Andrew uncovered a cell phone, a man’s wallet and keys.  Amazing what fossils were preserved.


 
We were up [again] bright and early, but this time the bus came for us.  We joined our Gate 1 tour guide Yianni Hanalakis [YONnie HaNAlakeess], an intense young man the age of our son, Andrew.  Soon I would become both a trial and a delight to him.  As I am to all who love me [if I may say so.]

We drove essentially the same route towards Eleusis, passing again the Daphni Monastery, which Yianni told us predated the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity [1054 AD].  The monastery has a famous mosaic of Jesus “Pancrator”, which means Lord of Everything.  It is rich with gold tiles; someday I hope to see it; I understand it was not ruined in the collapse of some of the buildings

Corinth Canal. 300' deep at this point.  One of the items in Greece older than I am, it opened in 1893.




We approached the Corinth Canal, without coming in sight of ancient Corinth itself.   I am so glad we had the grand tour before, including a boat trip through the canal itself. [ref. NNNN #47]

Back on the bus, we began to climb the rocky hills of the spine of the peninsula, approaching the citadel of Mycenae.  This ancient fortress dates to about 1200 BC and is known as the palace “where the Trojan War was planned.”  My anticipation in seeing this place dates back to childhood readings of the Iliad.

The road up the mountain means that the defenders of the citadel can watch you for miles [maybe days] as you approach.  You would arrive sweaty and exhausted, in no state to offer a threat and indeed in need of hospitality.  As it was, we arrived in an air conditioned Mercedes Benz bus, but still in awe.  From the parking lot, it is still a climb to the entry, which narrows to the exquisite Lion Gate.

The citadel from the parking lot.  We've already bussed up the mountain but still a long slog to reach even the gate to the fort.  In the foreground are grave circles.




Ron beneath the Lion Gate.  The lions' heads were likely gilded wood.  They stand on an megalithic lintel stone.  On the inside of the gate, behind Ron is a defensive wall where soldiers could hurl unpleasant things on you if you breached the gate.



Despite the next 2 weeks of adventures, it is this moment that stands out!  A culmination of 50 years anticipation.

And it lived up to all the hype.  This fortress has all the defensive features one associates with castles of the Middle Ages: narrowing corridors which compress attackers into tight spaces; huge walls from which rocks or other projectiles can be heaped on enemies; a warren of corridors climbing even more uphill denying any hope of a concerted attack.

Having said all that, it made for a tough climb for old folks.   I needed both canes and even then, I had trouble getting around.  The signage was pitiful and there was no guide book.  Most all I saw was the path I was walking since I had to watch my step. The group left me at the Lion Gate as they followed Yianni.  Ron went on with them part of the way, then broke away to take a million pictures, as is his mandate.  I trudged ever upwards.

But OH!!  In the imagination, the magnificence rose around me!  Wealthy arrogant aristocrats, bustling tradesmen calling their wares, merchants from Crete and Egypt, keen-eyes soldiers, screaming children, all attended my walk.  In truth, all was ruins, but with magnificent wildflowers even in autumn and the bells and complaints of sheep echoing across from the next hilltop.  And the ever-present wind keening up the rugged mountain to sweep over the crest of the citadel.

A view back down the mountain to the Argolid Plain below.  The word "impregnable" comes to mind.



Back in the parking lot for cups of the most delicious orange juice we’ve had since Redlands CA.  Oranges are not native to Greece, Spain or America but they grow wonderfully in the Mediterranean climate.  And the citric acid cuts through a thirst like nothing else.

A short way down the hill is the “Treasury of Atreus” which is, in fact, a tumulus tomb.  Giving the impression of a hollow, rounded pyramid underground, it is made by bringing each layer of stones inches inward until the top can be capped with one stone.  It is 54’ in diameter and in height, though it looks much taller as the upper stones are increasingly smaller.  We saw the exterior columns for this tomb in the Athens museum.

The "Treasury of Atreus", so named by Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of Troy, is actually a tomb.

   

Making our way down the east coast of the Peloponnese [the largest landmass of Greece and the first to coalesce into the modern Greek state [1940s], we stopped for lunch at Nauplion, now pronounced Nafplio.  Very picturesque, the small town is mostly Venetian in flavor, having been an important port for The Serene Republic of Venice in her heyday of trade and conquest [ended in 1797].  We had our lunch right on the harbor looking at the small port castle and many luxury yachts, a far cry from what it must have been like in those days.

Unlike our usual approach, we skipped the museum and went shopping.  Bearing in mind that all our gifts and treasures had to be very lightweight, due to island hopping weight restrictions to come, we had a very good time looking for the small but significant.  Like sea sponges and scarves.

The square and citadel in Nafplio.


The view from our lunch table, a Venetian fort........... and lunch, gyros.

 t


With our brains brimming and our feet fussing, we loaded onto the bus for the overland drive to Olympia, arriving just after dark.  After a Trough supper, Ron and I fell into twin beds, looking longingly at the lovely swimming pool just outside our room.