27 August 2008
23 August 2008
20 August 2008
18 August 2008
11 August 2008
We have visitors arriving tomorrow morning. To save time later in the day, I thought I would slow cook some barbecued pork for a quick and easy dinner. The plan is to set it up to cook before I leave for the airport early tomorrow morning.
We also invited an additional guest as well, so I wanted to make certain we had enough. I'd rather have too much than not enough.
In the end, the Swiss Slow Cooker won the draw. Can't cook it if ya can't fit it in the pot, now can ya?
Note: The arrival of guests means the remainder of the travel posts will have to wait until after they are gone.
Mykonos has never been a particularly important island historically speaking. Its inhabitants were primarily sailors and fishermen with a few farmers to supplement the fish. During Ancient Greek times the island would supply the Sanctuaries on Delos with food and building supplies. The Romans and the Venetians used it essentially as a warehouse and it was key to fighting the Turks during the Greek War of Independence in 1812 due to its large fleet of ships and its capable sailors.
After World War I Mykonos became a tourist destination due to its proximity to Delos and the growing interest in visiting ancient ruins among the world's travelers. After World War II tourism became its primary industry and it has been a popular resort island every since.
Our first sight upon arriving on the island was this enormous pelican. We discovered his name is Petros and he has been the island's mascot since 1953.
Of course, this is not the original Petros. He died years ago. Not sure which pelican they are on now. But male or female, they are always named "Petros."
As with every port in Greece, and many in Italy as well, right next to the dock is a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors.
There are numerous other chapels of varying sizes from small to tiny throughout the island. Apparently it was common during storms at sea for sailors to pray to God for help. As part of their prayer they would often would promise to build a chapel on their island if God would but save them from their watery fate. The Mediterranean and Aegean Seas must be very stormy, because there are a lot of little chapels.
And so we continued on to see what the town had to offer us.
There were some lovely homes...
An interesting district called "Little Venice..."
And the iconic windmills on the hill....
But mostly what the town had to offer was shopping.
Other options for activities on the island are to spend your day at the beach and party most of the night.
Since these are not activities either of us are terribly interested in pursuing, we went back to the ship and took advantage of its emptiness by claiming one of the extremely comfortable, and highly prized, double chaises in the shady and breezy area of the deck where we read our books, sipped margaritas and napped the afternoon away.
As others came back from their trips to the beach, we listened to their stories with amusement.
See, most of the people on the ship were Americans. And, obviously, the Mykonos beaches are European. Most Americans are unaccustomed to the nudity at European beaches.
What made it especially shocking, which was all the more amusing for us, is that Mykonos is also known as the Gay Capital of the Mediterranean.
Yep, nude gay guys hanging out together and participating in "public displays of affection."
How do you think the American tourists reacted to that?
Perhaps the ship should have done more to warn them than simply announcing in the daily schedule of events that the beaches on Mykonos are lovely, but tend to be full of young, fun-loving people and are quite liberal.
But that would have ruined our fun. And perhaps the fun of the ship's crew as well!
And what might also be fun is to see how many extra hits I get because of certain words used in this post. Any wagers as to the increase per day?
Unlike the previous day in Santorini where we were joined by six cruise ships, we had Delos to ourselves. Our ship had about 600 passengers, but I would say that only a third of them got off the ship. Which astounded me, because this was such an interesting destination. An island that is nothing but an archaeological site? (Have I mentioned how much I love these things?) But I didn't mind because it meant no issues with crowds.
In Greek mythology, Delos is where Leto went to give birth to Apollo and Artemis after being seduced by Zeus and the island has been a religious sanctuary since the third millennium BC. However, it rose in importance in the 5th century BC as the site of the Delian League. Comprised of several Greek city states united by Athens, the Delian League joined together to defend themselves against the Persians. Delos was selected as a neutral central location for the league members to meet. The common treasury for the Delian League was kept on the island.
Eventually Athens power grew and they became the leaders of the league. At that time the treasury was moved to Athens and all meetings and decisions happened there. However, Delos remained an important religious sanctuary with many cults based there. Especially the ones for Apollo.
During Roman times it's geographic position made it an important port within the Aegean Sea, eventually reaching a population of 25,000 inhabitants. On the darker side, it had one of the largest slave markets in Ancient Roman times, although many tour books choose not to mention this fact.
It began to decline in 88 BC when it was sacked by King Mithridates of Pontus. Eventually it was abandoned. Now it serves only as an archaeological site and museum. But it was never a true "dig." Because of the rocky nature of the island, and the lack of soil, very little was ever covered up.
We explored the site on our own, following a clockwise path through the ruins.
Immediately inside the entrance are three Temples to Apollo. Only three of many on the island.
But don't ask me to tell you which one that is!
Working our way around we came upon the Terrace of the Lions.
Dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos around 600 BC, it originally had 9-12 lions.
Time has diminished the ferociousness of their snarls. (By the way, these are exact replicas. The originals are in the museum located on the island.)
After visiting the original lions and other Delian artifacts in the museum, we continued on our way. We next began to climb Mount Kynthos towards the first sanctuary which was built in a cave around 3000 BC. But it was hot and there is practically no shade anywhere on the island, so we only went as far up as the Temple of Isis (facade with columns pictured below) in the area of the island dedicated to the worship of foreign gods.
We stopped to rest in the one bit of shade we had found anywhere on the island and enjoyed the view.
After a brief rest and a chat with another couple who were working their way around the island in a counter-clockwise pattern, we continued towards the Theater District.
It's the best preserved area on the island, perhaps because it is sheltered from the wind?
And what would a Theater District be without a Theater?
But it also has many houses which were once home to some of the wealthiest of the island's inhabitants. This is from the House of the Dolphins, named for the design in the mosaic floor.
The ship left Delos at 11:30 am for the very short sail to Mykonos where we were scheduled to spend the afternoon and evening.
Formed by a volcano, Santorini was originally a much larger island. Approximately 3600 years ago the volcano located beneath the island had what many geologist agree was likely the largest volcanic eruption in the history of earth and formed the current archipelago of four island surrounding the caldura, essentially the cauldron of the still active volcano that is located beneath the sea. On Nea Kameni island you can still see some of the vents that allow the heat and sulphuric gas to escape.
Due to the sulphur fumes and the danger of lava flow, this island is obviously uninhabited.
In 1967 an archaeological site was discovered on the south end of the island. It was a Bronze Age city, likely Minoan, although more evidence is needed to determine that. It is thought that the eruption is what lead to the Legend of Atlantis. However, because no bodies have yet been found, such as were found at Pompeii in Italy, it is thought the people living there heeded the warnings of the earthquakes and abandoned the city before the eruption happened.
Unfortunately, the site was closed during our visit so we were unable to go to this important, and very active, dig. Excessively disappointing. Have I mentioned how much I love archaeological sites?
But we did get to see much of the remainder of the island!
We had signed on for an excursion that included Oia, a tasting at a local winery and Fira, the largest town on the island.
We started in Oia (Ia in Greek and pronounced E-ah), where I raced about as quickly as I could taking photos of the most picturesque village on the island. (We were the first tour bus to reach the village, so there weren't many people to muck up my photos. But I knew the tour buses would arrive. And so they did. When we left there were more than 30 full sized buses in the too small parking lot, which lead to the constant shuffle as buses came and went.
Oia is best known for the Cave Houses. Built into the cliff that forms the upper reaches of the volcanic cauldron, they are gloriously beautiful either from a distance...
...or close up.
Just as the other mobs of tourists caught up with us, it was time to move on. But I did manage one last shot of this cat...
...who seemed undisturbed by the now steady stream of people walking past its napping spot.
Although it was not yet noon, we next headed for a local winery. (It's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?)
We actually weren't terribly impressed by the wine as it tasted rather thick and vinegar-y to us. In discussing it later with one of the sommeliers on the ship, he said that the weather is too warm and dry to grow grapes for good reds and whites, but that the Santorini dessert wines are quite nice.
However, I was impressed with how they grew the vines. Because there is a constant, strong wind on the island they cannot grow grapes how you would normally see it done. Instead, they weave the vines into a basket shape. The grapes grow into the middle of the basket and are therefore protected from the wind. Rather ingenious, actually.
We were also impressed at this shot of the road up the side of the caldura, which we could see clearly from the winery. Even more winding than in Switzerland!
And we were astounded by the many ships that had arrived after ours. By the early afternoon, six cruise ships were anchored there with thousands of disembarking passengers.
Our next stop was the town of Fira. We were supposed to go on a short walking tour with our group, but we decided it was time to ditch the group and head out on our own. I felt as if I walked past every single passenger from every one of those ships through the winding and tightly packed streets of the town!
To get back to the ship, you can choose the cable car, donkey ride or walking. Since the walkway was in full sunlight, not to mention covered with poo from the aforementioned donkeys, we went with the cable car.
With its plummeting ride down to the harbor.
Note: Cable Car photos courtesy of GLH. I sat with my eyes tightly closed and prayed not to die.
Later, as the ship departed for Delos, we caught this photograph of the sun setting over one of the volcanic vents.
10 August 2008
Artifacts have been found that date the site as far back as 4300 BC, when it was a small settlement and religious sanctuary. Prehistoric divinities known in ancient times as the Titans (Gaia, Kronos, Rhea, etc.) would have been worshipped here.
During Mycenaean times (2nd millenium BC) the cult of Zeus began to form and there is evidence that games in honor of Zeus began to be played. However, it wasn't until 776 BC that the games were reorganized into the panhellenic tradition we are familar with today. The height of the ancient games was from the 5th century - 1st century BC.
After the Romans arrived, the games continued to be played, but were no longer as important as they once had been. However, in true Roman style, the building program in the area continued and impressive structures, designed to illustrate the impressiveness of the Romans, were constructed.
In 393 AD, Theodosius I, emperor of Byzantium, ended the games by imperial decree. Eventually he also ordered that any remaining monuments be destroyed by fire. Christianity had arrived and the glorification of the Greek and Roman gods could no longer continue. Earthquakes in 522 AD and 551 AD caused the complete destruction of the remaining buildings. For a short while a small settlement of Christians lived there and a partially destroyed building was turned into a Christian Basilica, but eventually it was completely abandoned and over time the winds and rain covered the ruins with earth. The site was rediscovered by archaeologists in the 19th century.
As getting from the dock to to Olympia is not easy on your own, we had arranged to go with a tour group from the ship to the site. Our group was relatively large, about 35 people. The tour guide spoke with an extremely thick accent that was difficult to understand. Then when we arrived at the site the tour guide stated we would go to the ruins first. I was extremely disappointed because from everything I had researched, the recommendation was to visit the museum first to gain an overview that would help you envision how it once looked.
So, after a quick conversation with the guide and instructions about where and when to meet, we ditched the group and headed out on our own.
We started at the museum, where we purchased an inexpensive guide book that would lead us around the museum and through the ruins. The museum was very well done.
In addition to artifacts found on the site, such as this Bronze Shield and Helmut dating back to the second half of the 6th century BC...
And many Greek and Roman statues including...
Nike of Paionios, which was found in the Temple of Zeus and, according to the inscription, dedicated in honor of Zeus during the last year of the Archidameian War in 421 BC.
Hermes of Praxiteles, a statue which dates to the 4th century BC. In this statue, the messenger of the gods is depicted holding the infant, Dionysius.
After the museum we walked back to the ruins. Our first view was of the East Colonnade of the Gymnasium.
Originally constructed in the 2nd century BC, the gymnasium was an enormous open-air courtyard surrounded by covered colonnades and was used as a training area for the athletes.
Walking past the Gymnasium, we came upon the Philippeion.
Dedicated by Philip II to Zeus after his victory at Chaironeia in 338 BC, it was one of the loveliest and most graceful of the constructions on the site. Philip II died before it could be completed, so the monument was finished by Philip's son, Alexander the Great.
From here we had our first look at the massive Temple of Zeus, which stood in the center of the sanctuary.
Destroyed by earthquakes during Byzantine times, the columns have toppled and it is difficult to imagine what it once looked like. But it was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World -- The Statue of Zeus by the sculptor Pheidias, who worked at Olympia from 440-430 BC.
Here is a 1572 engraving depicting what the statue may have looked like based upon ancient descriptions of it which remain.
And finally, here is the ancient stadium.
This stadium dates to the 5th century BC, when the games were at their peak and had taken on their final form. The track is 212,54 meters long and 28,50 meters wide. The stadium could seat 40,000-45,000 spectators, who sat on the grass embankments. On the left of the playing field you can still see the area reserved for the Hellanodikai, or judges and games officials.
I could go on and on and show more photos, but the post has gotten long enough as is!
We were very excited about our trip to Albania. First and foremost, the ancient site of Butrint is considered an amazing archaeology site. First established by the Greeks, then the Romans and finally a Byzantine location, it was eventually abandoned and is now an amazingly well preserved example of the civilation and architecture of all three. Don't know if I have mentioned it, but I simply cannot get enough of the archaeological sites. I love 'em!
But we were also looking forward to Albania because, I admit it, we were considering it a good way to "collect countries." How many people do you know who have ever been to Albania?
Which is why we were disappointed by the ship's announcement a short while later.
Because Sarande is a new cruise port, they have not yet finished their dock. Which means ships need to anchor off the coast and tender passengers to shore with smaller boats. As soon as we had anchored, the Albania port had sent a boat with Immigration and Customs officials to inspect the ship's documents and allow the passengers to come ashore. The water that morning was so rough that the officials were unable to tie up and board the ship. Which also meant it was too dangerous to try to get the ship's passengers to the shore.
So the ship pulled up anchor and we headed towards the Greek island of Corfu early. The original schedule had been Sarande in the morning and Corfu in the afternoon. The destinations are close enough to see each other across the short stretch of sea between them. In the photo of the ship above, you can actually see the Albanian coastline behind it.
As we sailed away I longingly watched the Albania coast growing smaller. So close, and yet so far away...
About an hour later we anchored in the harbor of Corfu Town, which is a cove and therefore somewhat protected from the still rough seas.
The history of Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek) begins in Greek mythology. Poseidon, God of the Sea, fell in love with Korkyra, a beautiful water nymph. In the typical method of the Greek gods, he kidnapped her and brought her to an island to begin their wedded bliss. He named the island Korkyra in her honor. Eventually the name evolved into Kerkyra. None of the stories mentions Korkyra's view of the events.
Because of its strategic position, it has a turbulent history of battles and invasions dating back to Anicent Grecian times. During the relative peace of the Roman Empire, it became known as a resort island. Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony were known to holiday here. And throughout its history it was always prized as a most excellent place for a vacation. In between the battles and wars, of course.
We immediately realized the real "Treasure of Corfu" and why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations among the Greek Islands. The weather was perfect! Mid-70's (22C) with a cool breeze and a beautiful landscape. And the weather varies only slightly throughout the year, never too hot and never too cold. Of the Greek Islands, this is where the Rich and Famous come to party, as evidenced by some of the private yachts we saw docked here.
Note: The not so rich and not at all famous party on Mykonos, which we visited later in the trip.
We tendered to shore and walked towards the Old Town section of Corfu Town.
Where we discovered that the Rich and Famous apparently also like to shop here. Every other shop was an extremely expensive jewelry store far beyond the means of most. And would someone please explain why you would travel to a Greek island, where it never gets cold, to buy enormous fur coats?
We spent a few hours window shopping and exploring the town before having lunch at an outdoor cafe. We asked about Corfu specialties, which turns out to be veal in a variety of ways. Since I cannot endure the thought of eating a baby cow which has been tortured, we got the generic Greek specialty platter to share instead of the Corfu specialty platter which included tortured baby cow done 5 different ways!
After lunch we wandered along the shorefront towards the Old Venetian Fort. Because, of course, the Venetians were also here.
Which involved another climb to the top...
But we didn't mind because the weather was so pleasant and breezy and it wasn't nearly as steep as the Acropolis! Not to mention that although the town itself was quite full of people, very few people had come to the Old Fort. Which seemed a shameful waste, but made it nicer for those of us who were there.
After the fort we explored the practically empty, but very interesting and worthwhile Archaeological Museum of Corfu. There were less then 10 people in the museum, and most of them were employees. I guess people don't come to Corfu for the history. Then it was back to the ship for another overnight sail.
Next up? The site of the Ancient Olympics! My own most anticipated destination on the itinerary.
The city was founded in the 7th century AD and was part of the Byzantine Empire. It was built on a small island just off the coast. Later, a group of Slavic people established a settlement at the foot of the Srd Mountain, which was named Dubrava, Old Croatia for "Oak Forest." By the 12th century these two settlements had joined forces and the narrow water way between the island and the coast was filled in, making the two settlements one larger town.
Eventually Dubrovnik, as it came to be called, established itself as a maritime city state which rivaled the the power and wealth of Venice. All that came to an end when a earthquake levelled the city, killing more than 5000 of its residents, in 1667. However, it remained an independent city state until it came under the power of the Hapsburg Empire in 1815. After World War I it became part of the newly formed Yugoslavia and was eventually incorporated into the USSR after World War II.
However, now it is remembered as being one of the cities under siege by the Serbs during the bloody civil war in the early 1990's. Due to its fortified walls, it never fell. And the only remnants of the 8 month siege are the slightly different colored roof tiles which had to be replaced due to heavy shelling. It has once become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia, and deservedly so.
Since the old city of Dubrovnik is very small and extremely walkable, we had decided not to arrange a formal excursion. Rather, we simply meandered.
It's a good thing we weren't trying to get somewhere, because the streets are primarily extremely narrow alley ways which wend and wind their way through the city.
Had we been trying to actually get somewhere, we would have immediately become hopelessly lost. As it was, we were free to roam at will without the stress of following a map.
Eventually we came upon the central square and the Dubrovnik Cathedral.
Built between 1671-1713, the Romanesque Baroque construction replaced an earlier cathedral which was destroyed in the earthquake.
By the time we came upon the Old Harbor, it was late enough in the day (11:00 am) that it was getting a tad uncomfortable.
09 August 2008
For the first two days of the "cruise," the ship remained docked in Pireaus which allowed us time to explore Athens. We had arranged an excursion to the Acropolis and Plaka, the "old city" area of Athens which dates back to Byzantine times.
But first, our tour briefly stopped at the site of the 1896 Olympics, the first Olympics of the modern age.
The stadium was built facing the location of the Acropolis, our next destination.
There are actually many acropoli in Greece. In fact, the country is literally lousy with 'em because pretty much all of the many Greek city states had one. It was where the Gods and Goddesses were worshipped. Where the king and aristocracy lived. And where everyone would retreat for safety in times of trouble, which is why the sites were selected in the first place. They were the highest place in the immediate vicinity that still had access to a source of fresh water. Hence the term "acropolis," which means "top of the city."
But only the acropolis in Athens is called The Acropolis, because it is the best known of them all. With some artifacts dating back to the 6th millenium BC, it was inhabited long before the Ancient Athens we know of came to be. But the marble buildings and temples we were there to visit date back to the 6th century BC.
It was a LONG climb up. And so we climbed and climbed. In more than 100F (40C) temperatures. Surrounded by hordes of other tourists.
But we finally arrived and there before us was the Parthenon...
Built at the height of the Glory of Ancient Athens (447-432 BC), it was built to honor Athena, the Goddess of War and the protector of Athens, and replaced an earlier temple which was destroyed during the Persian invasion in 480 BC. It is considered the most important example of Classical Greek architecture.
Although all that was lost to me as I longingly stared at the two employees sitting in its shade. Their sole purpose seemed to be to keep the overheated tourists on the other side of the ropes and away from the shade. I hated them immediately. (You can see the objects of my jealousy, er I mean, disdain in the photo above, lower right hand corner.)
After a few minutes up there the heat began to overwhelm me and the masses of humanity caused my claustophobia to kick in. I handed the camera to GLH and told him I would wait for him at the foot of the hill, in the shade of the olive trees where, if my prayers to both ancient and modern gods were answered, there would be a nice breeze. (Praise to the Powers that Be, I did find a nice spot to sit in the shade to wait. And the breeze helped me to once again feel human.)
So here is what GLH saw before he, too, gave up due to the unpleasantness of the heat and crowd and joined me in the shade of the olive trees...
The Erechthion was built between 421-407 BC and was also a replacement of an earlier temple destroyed when the city was sacked by the Persians. However, it is best known for the Porch of the Caryatids (also known as the Porch of the Maidens).
And from the Acropolis you have some amazing views of modern Athens...
As well as the Rock of Arcopages...
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus...
And the Trission Temple...
Although we did not visit the last three sites. After leaving the Acropolis, there was time for an early lunch and a brief walk-about in the historic Athenian neighborhood of Plaka before heading back to the ship to recover in the blessed air conditioning and cast off for our next destination. One day I hope to return to Athens so I can appreciate it at a different time of the year, when the weather is cooler and the crowds slightly diminished.