It’s All Greek to me

It’s a bit overwhelming to begin describing all the ancient sites in Greece. From Athens to Delphi to Olympia and more, there is so much history here. It’s hard to know where or how to begin. And how to keep all the stories straight. Honestly, I’m not or wasn’t that familiar with ancient history before coming here. It was one thing to explore the ancient Roman sites in France, now we’re looking at remains even older and some even thousands of years before Greece’s Golden Age. Whew!

I’ll start with Athens where we began this journey, and take you along the roads we traveled. We had a very basic little hotel in the heart of the Plaka, the area just below the Acropolis in Athens. However, we had a great view of the Acropolis from our balcony. In the other direction were the mountains of Greece. After several gorgeous, sunny days, we awoke one morning to a chill in the air and snow atop the mountains.

Across from the entrance to the Acropolis is a huge, craggy Boulder called Mars Hill. Standing here gives you a good view of the Acropolis. This Boulder is where The Apostle Paul preached and converted many Athenians.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Acropolis is set on a high hill rising above the sprawling city of Athens. As a European city, Athens itself has little to offer, the architecture is lacking and the city is a bit messy, much like many cities in Mexico. However, the Acropolis rises above it all with its own historic and artistic significance. Athens now boasts a state of the art museum that houses many pieces of art and architecture from the Golden Age and before.

The Mycenaeans ruled this area from around 1400 B.C. and had a palace atop this hill. These people had an empire in Greece and beyond about 1000+ years before the ancient Greeks. If you think about it, they existed about the same amount of time before the Golden Age of Greece as between the Golden Age and now! We’ll see more from them later.

By 450 BC, after withstanding attacks and destruction from the Persians, Athens was once again at its peak. The leader, Pericles, led a massive building project transforming the Acropolis into a supersized complex devoted to the goddess Athena who was believed to be the city’s protector. There were four major buildings or monuments; the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike. One thing we know of this great site was it was started and finished within fifty years (450-400 B.C.).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is a lot of information in the museum that tells visitors about the geometry of the columns and buildings. There was so much life-sized statuary built onto the buildings. It is truly amazing to see these structures and imagine how they were constructed without the technology and tools we have today. Just the massive size was impressive.

Also in Athens, at the base of the Acropolis, were ruins of the old city including the Ancient Agora. This is where the people would shop and meet and philosophize. Walking these streets and considering some of those who went before, Socrates, Plato, and others can be awe inspiring. Almost anywhere people begin to dig in Greece ruins are found. When the construction began for the Metro prior to the 2004 Olympics more ruins were unearthed and are now displayed in the Metro entrance.

I’ll finish up this post with a few more pictures from Athens. The Byzantine churches are seen everywhere in Greece. They are always built in the shape of a cross and furnished similarly inside. Now it’s common to see more modern versions throughout the villages.

One morning on our walk we were lucky to watch a changing of the guard outside a government building.

Now, we’re off to see the oracle of Delphi. I hope you’ll come along.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Bit of Heaven on the Island of Hydra

After two weeks of touring ‘sites’ in Barcelona and a week visiting archeological ruins in Athens, while staying in a tiny, very basic hotel with only one outlet in the room, we were ready for a break from being tourists. Welcome to the islands of Greece, specifically, Hydra, for a bit of down time. Yes, we do feel a need for a break from time to time as odd as that may seem.

Hydra or Idra in Greek with English letters (pronounced Ee-dra) is an island located just off the eastern most finger of the Pelopennese peninsula. It takes two and a half hours to get there from Athens by ferry. From where we were staying in downtown Athens it also meant a 45 minute Metro ride including a transfer. We were wise to take a practice run a day before our ferry set sail.

On our travel day we set out with our 3 bags in plenty of time. We each left a bag behind at the hotel. I had my roller bag and Doug had his backpack and our carry-on which included our kindles, iPad, cards, cribbage board, a few other items and my purse. My purse has all our important papers. As we maneuvered through the crowded port area with newsstands, food kiosks, shoe and bag venders and those coming off and on the Metro, Doug was very alert to notice a guy had lifted my purse. He quickly retrieved it without incident. Whew! Lucky us. That was not a smart place for me to stash my bag. This has been our only incident in the 5 months we’ve been in Europe.

Now, to find our ferry. We arrived just at the end of the boarding time. Little did we know we actually had assigned seats. Nice! After stowing our bags, we settled in for a 2+ hour boat ride. The seats were comfortable, more like on a U.S. train. Not at all like Wa State ferries. Doug did have to shag someone out of one of our seats before we sat down. The ride included old black and white Greek movies.

When we arrived on Hydra, we were greeted by  ‘Mario’ holding a sign that said Douglas. With him were two horses that carried our bags to our Villa.

 

Our ferry to Hydra The Flying Cat 6.

 

Doug with our ‘beast of burden’.

 

Loading up.

 

And off we go.

 

Up over 220 steps. Glad we had help.

Hydra does not allow any motorized vehicles. The exceptions being a garbage truck, an ambulance and a port police vehicle. The horses, donkeys and mules haul pretty much everything. There are also a few man powered pull carts. In addition to luggage, the animals are known to haul small appliances as well as fire wood, bags of rocks and even big bales of straw.

There is one main town on Hydra here at the port. From there, everything goes up. This island is really a big rock. Since most of the streets are narrow and stepped I’m not sure how you would get a motorized vehicle up the streets. Motorcycles or scooters could no doubt be managed but what a racket that would make.

 

Hauling bags of rocks.

 

Waiting for the ferry.

The island is home to a lot of cats. They are everywhere and well tolerated. The island folks put out bowls of food and water. The fishermen feed scraps. Island folks bring scraps to the waterfront to leave for the cats. The cats are all over and tame. We were with another couple at a restaurant and a cat jumped into the guy’s lap. No, that didn’t happen with Doug. The tourist shops sell t-shirts with cats or donkeys on them as Hydra Island souvenirs.

See if you can find how many cats are waiting for fish scraps in this next picture. Answer below.

Cats hangin on the waterfront with the horses, donkeys and mules.

In the summer people come to Hydra to enjoy water sports, swimming, and beach activities on the beautiful Aegean Sea. The beaches we saw were all rocky.

 

This is a swimming hole on Hydra.

 

Gorgeous clear water.

 

Hunk watching is good any time of the year.

In the winter there isn’t much to do on Hydra but hike. The island has 4 main hikes mapped out. Two hikes are loops and the other two go to each end of the island with a water taxi back to Hydra town. Of course you have to be able to call a taxi or arrange it in advance. The hikes to the outer ends of the island are long enough that there isn’t time to walk out and back and not really anywhere to stay at the outer edges.

Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for the season. No worries, we found plenty to eat and our bags don’t have room for shopping. One of the restaurants served fresh, fried calamari. The chef was also a fisherman and caught what he served. This has been one of our favorite meals in Greece. It has to be healthy, right, it’s Mediterranean food.


Just two blocks from our house was a little market. They had fresh fruit and veggies as well as most other things we needed like yogurt, nuts and Snicker bars. This meant we only needed to carry items from the town butcher up the 220+ steps when we prepared meals.

We had two terraces. First thing in the morning I would go to the upper terrace and listen to the island wake up. The sounds of the birds, chickens, roosters, dogs, clomping of hooves and occasional braying of donkeys always started my day with a smile. The almond trees are in bloom as well as other shrubs so the air was fragrant. It’s amazing what you notice with the absence of traffic sounds. In the afternoons or evenings someone often played music that reverberated throughout the stone structures. It was almost like being in a scene from a movie.

It was cool in the night so we had a fire every evening. Smelling like a chimney brought back fond memories of camping years ago. In the day time we took long walks and had long lunches at the port restaurants.

When it got windy our wifi was sketchy so unfortunately I wasn’t able to use the down time to blog. Reading and playing cards is always good in the off hours. I wonder who’s ahead in Crib? Now I’ve jinxed myself.

Here’s a few more sights around the island.

Looking down at Hydra town waterfront.

 

Hydra tourist

 

Greek Orthodox priests on island for Sunday services.

A typical site since we’ve been in Greece but not so common in the Northwest US.

Kaminia settlement along the sea front hike.


One of Hydra’s heroes. For a small island, Hydra has had many prominent Greek ‘heroes’ and five prime ministers memorialized on plaques below.

  
  

Our time on Hydra was exactly what we needed. The house was great with all we could have wanted. We had great massages and I practiced Kundalini yoga a couple times at the local studio.

Now refreshed, we’re off to explore the archeological sites of the Peloponnese peninsula, Delphi, Olympia and more.

(9 cats were waiting for fish scraps)

This is the day the Lord has made

rejoice

give thanks

be glad.

Ba-bye Barcelona

Our last day in Barcelona we were lucky to attend a futbol match between Barcelona and Athletica Madrid. Our seats were halfway up at the end of the field. Great views. As recommended when we purchased our tickets, we arrived half an hour early. It was a gorgeous day as we wove our way through the crowds to find our stadium entrance point. Camp Nou was nothing fancy, just plain old concrete.

Doug went to find our seats as I headed to fetch us each a beer. Make that a Fanta orange and water. No alcohol is served in the stadium. However, the fans seemed just fine ordering the available non-alcoholic beer. It seemed so ironic that you can get/have alcohol anywhere in Spain, or in southern Europe for that matter, but not at a major sporting event. Hmm, pretty much the opposite case in the states.

My dismay at not getting a beer was soon forgotten when I walked out to our seats and found we had a Barcelona flag! Yea! Flags were placed on every other seat. What fun!


As you can see, there weren’t many fans in the stands at this time. Everyone seemed to show up closer to start time.


The stadium has filled a bit more. In the end it was a packed house. Barcelona won! The crowds were a zoo afterward. Getting on the Metro to return to our flat meant waiting in a lengthy line. We opted to find a pizza and let the crowds thin. Still, it was like sardines on the Metro. My first time with people pushed on my back, front, sides. You got the picture. It’s all fun. Living like a local.

Earlier in the week we went on a tapas tour visiting three different taverns/restaurants and tasting the local fare including tripe and blood sausage. This was accompanied by social-cultural-historical discussions of the foods and wine.  There were three other couples and our guide. Yup, we really did stay out past midnight!


These are olive appetizers with a liqueur in the little squeezie thing. Tricky.

We toured the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s biggest work. Everything Gaudi designed for the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) has significance. Gaudi was looking for funding and believed if people could see something finished they’d more likely contribute. Therefore, Gaudi finished the Nativity side in his lifetime.

The entrance Gaudi finished symbolized life with a depiction of the nativity. Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are in the center at the top of the doors. It is difficult to see all the details in this picture. If you look closely you can see the wise men, shepherds, Angels and others who marked the birth of Jesus. This side is covered with ornate carvings depicting life, plants, flowers, fruits, animals and many leaves. Since this side is so old there is now repair work being done as the overall building construction continues.

The opposite side of the building represents death with the last days of Christ depicted through carvings. Gaudi designed this to be very stark and simple in contrast to the ‘life’ entrance.

img_8385

At the right of the crucifixion is Jesus being laid in the tomb. And, if you know to look above these carvings, you will see Jesus  ascending to heaven.

Inside Gaudi wanted people to feel they had entered a forest of large trees and to induce the meditative silence one feels in nature. As a result, the interior is quite modern and simple. Most of the light comes in through the stained glass windows. The colors in the windows all have significance and reflect different times of day. You don’t see any ornate paintings or golden icons. Notice the columns like tree trunks branching off as they reach to the ceiling. It truly was awe inspiring.

 

Facing the side of orange, yellow tone windows. this is the sunrise side.

 

Looking at the front of the nave. The light coming from the ceiling at center represents Almighty God.

 

This is looking at the crucifixion side entrance to the sanctuary.

Here’s a close-up of the lighted umbrella-like feature hanging over the altar. As you can see, it’s a crucifixion.


One evening we attended a classical guitar concert in an old chapel. The musician had a gift for making his instruments sing. He played three guitars and music from different eras in Spain.



Of course we also visited Parc Guell another of Gaudi’s works. This was intended to be a housing development including green space and community space. Gaudi and Eusibil Guell were ahead of their time in this plan, especially when you consider this was built between 1900-1914. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“Güell and Gaudí conceived this park, situated within a natural park. They imagined an organized grouping of high-quality homes, decked out with all the latest technological advancements to ensure maximum comfort, finished off with an artistic touch. They also envisioned a community strongly influenced by symbolism, since, in the common elements of the park, they were trying to synthesize many of the political and religious ideals shared by patron and architect: therefore there are noticeable concepts originating from political Catalanism – especially in the entrance stairway where the Catalonian countries are represented – and from Catholicism – the Monumento al Calvario, originally designed to be a chapel. The mythological elements are so important: apparently Güell and Gaudí’s conception of the park was also inspired by the Temple of Apollo of Delphi.”

And some pictures. It was a crowded day. I can’t imagine how it would be to come here during high season!


  

Until we meet again. We’re off to Athens.