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Greece

 

Greece - May 2001

Louise Carlson

[Previously: Click on:  Countries - Turkey]  Our trip [to Greece] began with a non- stop flight to Amsterdam and then a 4-hour lay-over from 6 - 10 AM local time with not much to do and no Dutch money. Our three-hour flight to Athens was fairly easy.  We were all zombies with little or no sleep on the plane.  We were greeted by a delightful Greek guide Lydia who had lived in the US for a number of years so her English was excellent.  She took care of group activities until our cruise left on Friday evening.  We had a "typical" Greek meal and folk-dancing and singing to welcome us to Athens Thursday evening.   On Friday we were free to explore Athens on our own.  Many of us had our ramblings detoured because the pope was in town and they had many streets blocked off for his motorcade.  

It's really fun to explore when you can't read the street signs very well and the city map is tiny, but we did get around, peaked into several shops and small parks, and made it back for the bus ride to the ship. 

We sailed aboard the Olympic Countess of the Royal Olympic Cruises company. It was very nice.  The staterooms were larger than I had expected but not huge.  The bathrooms were very nice!  We sailed that night and most of the next day to Istanbul.  There were plenty of activities available to keep us occupied - including a short Greek lesson.  Just a brief introduction, but well presented.

[Insert:  Countries - Turkey]

Following our stops in Istanbul and Ephesus in Turkey, we headed into the Greek islands beginning with Patmos.  I opted for a guided tour up to the monastery of the Knights of Saint John where a special service was going on because this was the Feast of St. John.  Monks were banging on a huge timber with wooden hammers and fragrant branches were strewn on the ground.  We heard some of the chanting going on as we descended from the museum which contains icons and written works from centuries ago. Then we went to the Grotto where John received the revelation and dictated the book of the Apocalypse.  Here again a service was going on so we didn't see much, but the smells and the sounds were very moving.  This was our first view of the white-washed buildings of the Aegean Islands.  And the flowers were incredible.  There were oleander bushes everywhere.  We saw wild red poppies in most of the open fields.  And of course there were red geraniums on most balconies as well. 

We didn't see much of the island of Mykonos because we opted for a tour of the nearby archeological sanctuary island of Delos.  Only a limited number of workers live here.  They have uncovered a large city with the blocks of houses very well outlined.  There are several tile floors still visible in some of them.  It left me astonished again at the advanced civilizations that built these cities. 

Rhodes was our next stop.  We had a quick tour of the city by bus and then went out to the city of Lindos where we visited the acropolis with its ruins.  Again an awe-inspiring construction on a peak with a magnificent view - the better to see your approaching enemies!  The climb up to the acropolis was very strenuous (this was one of our warmer, sunnier days) but we made it.  And we made it back to the bus, too.  Our guide was not too good about trying to keep the group together so it was no wonder that several were delayed in getting back.  We got back to the ship in time to get a bite of lunch (even tho' we were late) and then we walked back into the old city of Rhodes and explored the market areas.  This island has a lot of possibilities, I think. 

Had to skip one of the tours I had already purchased due to stomach upset, etc.  I'm not sure what caused it, but I needed to stay quiet for the morning, so I did not see Crete except from the ship.  I managed to make the afternoon tour of Santorini and the village of Ia.  It was here that we saw a bride and groom about to be married in the local church.  He arrived on a donkey with musicians in front of him and a man carrying a tray of goodies behind. Wish we had seen more.  All of our time in Fira, the capital city was spent waiting in line for the cable car which would take us down to the tenders which would return us to the ship.  It was a rather rough ride back and by supper time I found that I could not face food at all.  The waiter kindly saw to it that tea and crackers were brought to my room and I survived that night.  By the next morning we were docked in Athens and that trauma was over. 

We went directly from the ship to an excellent tour of Athens by a very learned guide.  We had some free time in the late afternoon and evening. The next day we had a tour to Corinth and some nearby cities like Mycenes and Nafpoli.  There were flowers beyond belief in the narrow streets of Nafpoli.    

Our farewell dinner was held in a restaurant opposite the acropolis in Athens with the beautifully illuminated Parthenon at the top.  Then it was back to the hotel for a very short night - 3 AM wake-up call!  We left Athens at 6, had at least 2 hours in Amsterdam and then an 8 hour flight to the U.S.  It was a wonderful trip and I would recommend it to anyone.

Greece – July 1989

Vicky Blitz

There were thirteen of us on this TWA Get-Away Tour of Greece and Turkey and after our arrival in Athens we checked into the Divan’s Palace Acropolis Hotel on Parthenonos Street.  Following orientation, a rest, and a drive through the city, we stopped for dinner at an outdoor waterfront café on the other side of the bay from Athens.  My chair was actually five feet from the water and, surprisingly, they were the cleanest waters I had ever seen in ANY bay.  There wasn’t even a hint of fish odor in the air.  Lovely, pleasant, comfortable!  This dinner would be my introduction to fried squid and Greek coffee and I enjoyed both.

After dinner we drove to the Acropolis where we watched an interesting light show but I had a difficult time staying awake.  Although I had read a bit of Greek history before the trip, I was wishing I had studied it a little deeper before attending this show.

Due to jet lag, I had a difficult time sleeping and after five plus hours of sleep, I rose, got an early breakfast and took a brief walk.  To my delight and surprise, I discovered our hotel was only a brief distance to a partial view of the Acropolis.

By 9:00 am we were back on the bus for a more in depth tour of the city.  We stopped in front of the Royal Palace (which now houses the president of Greece) to get pictures of he Sunday morning changing of the guards.  We were told the Royal Family was voted out in 1974.  I seemed to me a little sad, in a way. 

The National Stadium was built over the site of the pan-Athenaeum games stadium and is made entirely of marble.  We were also informed that only the wealthy own homes and that following World War II, partially destroyed parts of the city were leveled to make way for apartments

The Acropolis Hill, with its Athenaeum Propelia and Parthenon is such a treasure and the reason this trip was high on my “to do” list.  I savored every moment there and wished I had the time to return and just stroll at my leisure.  But I didn’t want to miss anything our local tour guide had to say about it.  The day was beautiful but a little too hot for my taste and I was glad that I had brought mineral water with me and that it was a morning tour rather than afternoon.  There were very few trees large enough to shade one and it was crowded with well-behaved tourists who appeared to be in as much awe as I but I felt blessed to be able to be able to visit this country with all its wonders.

We drove past the Parliament Building, the Academy of Arts, the National Library, etc.  We saw the Shrine to St. George over on another hill, which was even higher than the Acropolis.

After lunch, we were back on the road to Cape Sounion to see what is left of the Temple to Poseidon.   It stands high on a bluff overlooking the ocean and just being there feels like one is having a healing.  The drive along the coast is so beautiful (although it was devoid of greenery that year) that it seemed it had been sprinkled with pixy dust that had made the entire area magical.  The coast line moves back and forth into the sea, creating many little coves and many with little beaches, some so small, a party of six might feel themselves crowded.

We dined at the Rock Café where we were entertained by folk dancers, a male and a female singer, a musician playing the balalaika, and a belly dancer who stole the show.  The show was more fun than any other show I have ever seen.  Other shows may have been more professional but this one was certainly more fun. 

I was the only member of my tour group who opted to take a day-long cruise to the islands of Agena, Poros and Hydra.  Aboard the ship, I teamed up with another gal from another tour who was also solo. 

 Agena

We paid 3000 D for a bus ride over the island and to the top of the mountain.  St. Nicholas is revered on this island and is the patron saint of sailors.  In the seventh century, was the first place in the world to use silver in their coins.   The Temple of Aphia, which sits atop the mountain, is not unlike the Temple of Poseidon.  The statue of Aphia, we were told, was built of gold and ivory and the name means light and life.  The temple was built in the fifth century before Christ and was the design on which the Parthenon was based.

We were also told that the olive tree is that national symbol of peace and that there are 3,200 islands in Greece.

Poros

Our cruise ship briefly ran aground coming into port at Poros and so we had a little excitement watching him churn up the sand.  It was such a minor incident, few people aboard were aware of it.  We wouldn’t have known ourselves if we hadn’t been leaving over the rail watching the docking procedure. 

Poros is a beautiful little island, peppered with whitewashed stucco houses with blue tiled roofs or domes.  We only had half an hour to disembark and stroll around the island taking pictures.  We saw so many lovely items in the craft shops but I wasn’t in the mood to buy.

 Hydra

We pulled into the harbor at Hydra but didn’t get off the ship and went right back out again.  However, we took pictures from the ship, as the Merchant Marine Trailing Academy is on this island.  (See picture.)  There was a cute little lighthouse at the end of the island.

My new friend, Margie and I had a wonderful day and drank our share of grapefruit slurpies.  We were very glad we had taken the cruise and sorry when it was over.

After breakfast the next day, we left Athens and drove south into Peloponnese.  Our tour guide, Elizabeth was a marvelous storyteller, whether it was mythology, history or just local color, she wove her stories so well and they were so fascinating that no one wanted to interrupt her with questions.

Corinth

As we crossed the famous Corinthian Canal, we learned that Corinth was one of the best archeological sites in Greece.  We were shown the original canal (which was only a small ditch), where the Romans had attempted to get the Greeks to build the canal, but worked a very short time and then refused to dig any further.  They said they felt the land was bleeding and the work ended. 

To retaliate for their rebellion, the Romans, under orders from Nero, burned down the beautiful city of Corinth as a warning to other cities.  Later Julius Caesar had it rebuilt and repopulated with imported second class citizens and Jews.  The city was dedicated to Athena, Goddess of Beauty and Love and, when all the sailors came to visit the many houses that were dedicated to her, it became the sin city of Greece (of it's time).

Epidaurus

The acoustically perfect Amphitheater at Epidaurus was built 800 BC to 400 BC.  The quality of the marble used, the number of seats and rows, the mathematical perfection and probably the supernatural energy of the area itself serve to create three acoustic centers.  So, from the top of the highest row, you are able to hear the people on stage breathe.  Now, the day we were there it was windy so I would imagine that such a statement applies only to the evening hours when, perhaps the wind dies down a bit more.  We were told that France once tried to reproduce this amphitheater but it was a dismal failure.

At the time it was built, this area was considered to be the symbolic center of the universe and intended as a holy place where the early Greek plays were staged to honor man, and heal him, and teach him, not to entertain.  They claim the amphitheater seated 17,000 (and is so well organized it can be emptied in seven minutes), but when Maria Callus sang there in 1963, they packed in 23,000 people.

Mycenae

This ancient city sits on the top of a hill (better yet, a mountain) overlooking the country side where it is possible to see for miles and, strategically, this would have been a difficult city for an invading army to surprise.  Note the picture of the Lion’s Gate.  (It has been suggested that this may have been the site of Troy.)  The heat was unbearable but the scarlet oleanders were in bloom and they were so lovely, they almost took the curse off the heat.

Note:  All along the road, we noticed strange little boxes or houses the size of bird houses with items such as food and candles in them.  We were told that it is the custom to erect these little shrines at the spot where a relative or friend has died in an accident.  In some areas there would be several of these little shrines.

Olympia

Upon arriving, we went first to the museum of the first Olympic Games.  There was a lovely statue of Hermes, which reminded me of the David in Florence.  Indeed, our tour guide informed us that Michelangelo was inspired to do the David after having seen the statue of Hermes.  

We lunched at a charming little restaurant on the edge of town, then checked into our hotel and went back to the Olympiad itself.   Of course, now it is mostly an archaeological dig, but still you can see the temple of Zeus (sans the Zeus statue), the Gymnasium where the athletes trained, the Palaestrum where the wrestling occurred, and the field where they held the races.  

Just as you enter the gates where the races were held there is a row of empty pedestals, with the names of athletes, family or clan, and the city they represented.  But these were not winners; they were the cheaters who had been caught.  At one time, these pedestals held statues of Zeus, paid for by the cheating athlete.  If neither the athlete nor his family could afford the statue, his town had to pay for it.  What humiliation! 

Exercise and training was merely a part of the discipline.  The athletes also learned philosophy here and learned how to think in a logical manner.  (See Palaestra picture below.)

The games lasted for six days and the event was a religious festival with many other things going on.  Women were not permitted to attend the games as the athletes competed in the nude, but, we were told, there were many things planned especially for them.  Twenty young men raced at a time.  It was estimated there were 40,000 spectators in attendance.

Because only Greeks were permitted to compete in the games, and because we know that the Mycenians, the Athenians, and the Spartans were competitors in the games, it follows that these were obviously Greek states.  However, during the time of the games all wars were discontinued or their participants were expelled from the games.  The winners wore olive leaves on their heads and had dinner with the priests.  The olive leaves were a symbol of wisdom and therefore, a great honor.

It is said that Nero came here one year during an off year and ordered the priests to arrange for him to be in a special Olympics all by himself so that he could be declared the winner in each of the twelve events.  After his death, this was erased from the records.

The statue of Zeus was made of ivory and gold leaf over wood, seated on an ebony throne, with the head touching the ceiling.  It was so magnificent that it is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.   Alexander the Great had the statue removed from the temple and moved to Constantinople where it was destroyed by fire during a revolution.     

In the fourth century (AD) the games went into decline.  In the sixth century (AD) there was a terrible earthquake, followed by floods which brought in dirt and silt to cover the area.  However, Posanius had written a detailed accounting of everything about the Olympics, including the location of everything.   This document proved to be of great assistance when, in the 1800’s, the archaeologists began to uncover these structures.

Delphi

Where the Olympic games were dedicated to Zeus, the games at Delphi were dedicated to Apollo.  Pilgrims came to this site at least once in their lifetime.   When I planned my trip to Greece, my priority was Delphi, and I would not have considered any trip to Greece that did not include it.  I had read much about this fascinating place and I was not disappointed.

Before a pilgrim could enter Delphi, they were required to go through a series of purification rituals.  The first step of purification was to visit the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia.  Next, a little higher up the mountain they were to wash their feet at the Castallia Springs, or if one had killed someone, he was to wash his hair also.  

The path led up to the lovely Treasury of Athens, where it turned to the right and went past the Athenian Stoa, also known as the Philosophers Steps, where the students learned philosophy.  Then a sharp, steep bend up and to the left and there we were at the main temple and at the other end was the tripod stone where the oracle sat over the vent in the ground from which sulfur fumes escaped.  These fumes put the oracle into a trance, during which time she was said to make predictions, answer questions, etc.

Behind the oracle’s tripod stone the steps led up to a higher level where you find the amphitheater.  From this level one can also see across in the distance the gymnasium arena and track.  It was quite an impressive complex, nestled into a little saddle-like area among the tops of the mountains.

But as I stood on a small cliff jutting out over the temple area, I was able to see, not only the track, the amphitheater and the temple below, but hanging over the amphitheater and to the right were the mountainous peaks.   So many years ago, during an earthquake, it was those peaks whose boulders had brought devastation to the area.  You can still see where the rock is so much lighter in color.  That is where the boulders broke off, I realized, and came plummeting down on the people below and then on to the temple area.  I could almost feel the ground shake, and hear the screams and see the temple falling apart.  

Following our tour of Delphi, we got back on the bus for a long drive to our cruise ship and a tour of the Greek Islands.  This was another part of the trip I had looked forward to with great anticipation.

Our first night aboard our ship, I slept like a baby.  I have always loved being on the water, whether is be in a small boat or a large luxury liner, or a sailboat or in a kayak.  So you could certainly say I was a happy camper.  I had signed up for all the optional trips with no regrets although it ran over $200.00.  After all, that’s why I came to this part of the world…to see it.

Santorini (Thera)

The first stop was the island of Santorini, which is actually a volcano which blew up in 1500 BC and was so large that Krackatoa would have looked like a Sunday school picnic beside it.  Then, part of the volcano rim collapsed, letting the sea into its calderas and leaving three islands in its wake.  People had been living there for at least 2000 years or longer.  By the sixth century, a Minoan fishing village had developed there.  When the archeologists uncovered the city they discovered evidence that this had been a wealthy and prosperous city. All the houses had plumbing. Some of the houses were two and three stories high.  One house had 19 rooms.  In the wealthier section of town, the floors had mosaic tiles and the walls had frescos. 

Because there were no bodies of humans nor animals uncovered in the dig, it was assumed that there must have been earthquake warnings that gave the people enough time to evacuate prior to the volcanic eruption in the sixth century that covered the village with ash.  In 1956 the volcano erupted again with much property destruction and loss of life.

At the time of my visit in 1989, they had only uncovered about 1/6 of the area.  The archeological site in known as Akrotiri.  The beautiful frescos show light skinned women and the men are dark skinned.  The official emblem of the island was a pair of dolphins and this was one of the first areas to mint their own coins.

Crete

We dropped anchor at Heraklion, the capitol of Crete and took a launch to the city.  This was the scene of the legend of Icarus, who flew too near the sun.  The heat from the sun melted the wax holding his feathered wings together and he fell to his death.

In 1900, Sir Arthur Evans uncovered the incredible Palace of Knossos, the center of the Minoan civilization.  Instead of building the structure skywards for three or four stories, they built it down into the ground.  I was astonished at the beauty and technology.  They had designed the underground palace in such a way that clean, cool air currents circulated throughout the place.  We also observed where they had plumbing for running water. 

Then there was the legend of the Minotaur.  The ruler of Olympia had angered the king of Minoa and in order to keep the peace, every year he was forced to send 12 boys and 12 girls to him as a tribute.  These boys and girls were forced to ride the Minotaur (a large, fierce bull) and it is presumed they would be killed.  Finally, his son volunteered to go and try to reason with the king of Minoa to save the young people and put an end to this sacrifice. 

The Olympian prince and the Minoan princess fell in love and she showed him how to ride the Minotaur and rescue the young people, which he did.  He convinced the Minoan princess to return to Olympia with him but in route they had a disagreement and he put her off the ship on an island and left her there. 

His father had requested that he have the ship draped in white (instead of the usual black) if he had been successful but he forgot.  When his father saw the returning ship in the distance, still draped in black, he assumed his son was dead and in his grief, committed suicide by throwing himself off a cliff.

Eventually, Knossos was destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned until the discovery by Sir Arthur Evans.

Rhodes

After spending a night aboard our cruise ship we docked at Rhodes and after breakfast on board, we were bussed up to Lindos to see the temple of Athena.  We had a delightfully humorous guide, it was a beautiful day, but it was just too hot for my taste.  So another traveler and I decided to sit and chat and let the others explore the temple. 

We had lunch aboard the ship, after which we had a tour of the Palace of the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John, also known as the famous Knights Templar.  The Turks, under the command of Suileman besieged the castle and just when both sides were about to cede the victory to the other, a traitor from inside the castle tipped the scales.  The Knights were permitted to leave with their wounded but on the way out they blew up the castle.  During WWII, Musillini had plans to occupy the castle and had it rebuilt with museum pieces from all over.

We walked back to the dock to the waiting bus for a tour of the city.  It is a beautiful city with flowers blooming everywhere and many palm trees.

After dinner aboard the ship, we sailed on to the island of Patmos.

Patmos

According to legend, after St. John caused so much trouble in Ephasis and was no longer welcome there, he went to the island of Patmos, where he lived until he died, and where, legend has it, he wrote the Book of Revelations, the last book of the Bible. 

During the 17th Century, the Catholic Church built the monastery there with additions made in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Not surprisingly, the place is called St. John’s Monastery.  It is quite charming with beautiful white arches, mixed with gray stone.  We climbed up a very steep street with many stairs to get to the monastery and although I was physically destroyed afterwards, it was well worth the effort. 

Back down to the “revelation” cave where St. John received his inspiration and did his writing.  It is a very small cave and has been adorned with icons, candles, incense, carpets, drapes, etc. so one is able to get the sense of St. John sitting there in meditation and prayer and writing.  Too bad.

At the monastery museum, among many interesting items, we saw the oldest copy of the Gospel of St. Mark, which was written in the sixth century.   We were told that monks have been living there since the sixth century.

(Continued – see Turkey)

Mykonos

Following our two day tour of Turkey, we were back aboard our ship for our last day at sea.  Our last stop was a mid-afternoon tour of the beautiful little island of Mykonos.  We took launches from the ship to the island and then boarded a bus for the two mile trip to town.  We roamed around town for a couple hours as I spent my remaining $88.00 in Greek drachmas and used up my last roll of film.  Everything in Mykonos was just the way it looks in the pictures of white houses and shops, surrounded by blue water and a cloudless blue sky.  

Back aboard the ship, I packed, ate dinner and watched as the captain of the ship wormed his way out of our spot in the harbor.  Two other ships had boxed us in, so we had to wait until one of them left.  Even then it took some maneuvering before our ship was able to be on it's way.  It was interesting to watch.

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