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Pictures from Athens

Our last day in Greece was another easy one as Jeff recovered his strength. We did manage to make it to the new Acropolis Museum. The museum opened to the public just a few days before we were there. Because it was so new, it was also the most crowded of all the museums we went to. It took us 20 - 30 minutes to get through the security line and get tickets. Fortunately, the museum itself is large enough that the crowds were not overwhelming.

The museum was well done. The walkway from the first to the second floor is lined with artifacts from the Acropolis. This includes clay figurines that were used as offerings and lots of pottery. The floor of this walkway (and the outside entry) is glass so you can see below to the Makrygianni archaeological site. The site is still being excavated; being able to see into it is quite neat.

The second floor has a whole lot of statues. It also has pediments from a temple that predated the Parthenon on the same site. The gem of the second floor are the pieces from the Erectheum. This includes the friezes, reconstructed pediments, and the original Caryatids. One nice thing about this museum was that most pieces were not behind glass. You could get right up to the Caryatids and other pieces and get a good look. My favorite piece on the second floor was a stone ball with mysterious carvings in it; apparently they are not quite sure what purpose it served.

The third floor of the museum is dedicated to the Parthenon. The floor is actually offset from the floors below it so that it lines up with the Parthenon. The main room of the third floor is set up to be slightly larger than the Parthenon. Inside that room that have original pieces and casts from the metopes, frieze, and pediments of the Parthenon with gaps for the pieces that have been lost completely. The metopes and frieze are arranged around the room in their original ordering on the Parthenon with columns of the room corresponding to where Parthenon columns would have been. The display gives a really great sense of the scale of the original. Overall, it was a sufficiently impressive display.

We went to a more modern, fancy restaurant for dinner.  The food was mixed in quality, but they had a sushi menu in addition to the normal Greek menu.  Tuna rolls followed by pasta make for a unique experience. We waited up until the rest of the family arrived back from their hike of Mt. Olympus so we could see good-bye to Peter and Kathryn before they left at 3:30am to head back to Chicago.  We got up at a more reasonable time to leave a bit before 9am for our trip back home.

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Pictures from Athens

Jeff was not feeling well today, so we made it an easy day. We wandered around the shops in Monastiraki, read for a couple hours, had lunch, and napped. One thing I loved about Athens is that you can buy just about anything right in the city center. We saw clothes, antiques, furniture, fabric, beads, garden equipment, and even a home wind power turbine.

We stopped at the Center for Folk Art and Tradition which was neat. This museum was started as the personal collection of a person who traveled around Greek trying to study the local country life. The items in the museum are all pieces from 19th century day to day life. There was a reproduction of a kitchen that was especially interesting. The museum building itself was also interesting. It was in an old mansion with a number of neat feature. Amongst other thing, there was a window seat in an upper story room that looked out over the main room below.

Dinner was just some savory pastries and some gelato.

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Pictures for Ancient Delphi
Peter's pictures from Ancient Delphi
Pictures from Athens (same as before)

We have had our first cool day! We spent the morning exploring the ancient site of Delphi. The temperature was in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies while we were there. The buildings were diverse at this site. There were a couple of temples, a theater, a stadium, and lots of treasuries (buildings that acted as monuments and offerings from different city states). 

Below the main site was the Sanctuary of Athena and an ancient gymnasium. The mountains which provided the natural setting for Delphi made it one of the most spectacular we have visited.

After lunch Jeff and I separated from the family and headed back to Athens. On the drive we finally saw the accident I knew would inevitably see, given the way that people drive in Greece. It was terrible. A car was flipped in the middle of the road, and it looked like there had been a fire.

We got lost coming into Athens. We missed the exit we wanted and came out a fair bit south of the Acropolis. This area was too far out to be on any of our detailed maps of Athens, and our overview maps did not provide any detail in this area. We eventually found someone who pointed us toward the Acropolis and we were able to find our hotel from there. Fortunately we are staying at the same hotel we were at when we were in Athens before. We were worried about not getting the rental car back to the hotel in time, but we need not have. They did not pick it up until about an hour and a half after they said they were.

Jeff was not feeling well this evening. We think he caught whatever bug Kathryn had. I had a milkshake for dinner, and Jeff just slept. Not the best anniversary ever, but that's okay.

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Missed a day, so you get Monday and Tuesday's posts today.

Pictures from Mystras
Peter's pictures from Mystras

We made a somewhat early start to visit Mystras. Mystras is the remains of a Byzantine fortress city established in the early 13th century. The site takes the space of a small city which allowed for extensive exploring. Mystras housed many well preserved chapels and monasteries. One of the monasteries still functions as a nunnery. Mystras also contains a couple well preserved houses. There was a castle way away at the top, but Jeff and I skipped that because it was rather warm for a climb.

From Mystras we drove three hours to Ancient Olympia. We got a bit lost in Tripoli — in Greece, small highways are not labeled when going through towns. About half the trip was on narrow curvy roads along a cliff. Jeff wished — not for the first time — that he had the MINI. =) While driving, we had to make way for a herd of over two dozen goats. I like Greece.

The town of Olympia is mostly a tourist town. The city blocks off the main street from cars in the evening, and it makes a lovely pedestrian street.  In addition, the restaurant made me wonder, how many chicken bits are in a byte?

Our hotel was one of the most…interesting we stayed in. The rooms had these funny old keys that were difficult to fit into the lock. The front desk was almost always empty and yet we were supposed to leave our keys there when we went out. In addition to all that, the AC had failed earlier in the day and a wasp flew into our room when we opened the window. All-in-all, it was fun staying in a hotel with some personality, but I am glad all of our hotels did not have quite so much personality.

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Pictures from Nafplio
Peter's picture from Nafplio

Nafplio surprised us. We had not thought the town itself would be of much interest, but it saved a surprise for us. We woke up Sunday morning to chanting from the local church. They play it through speakers, so people can hear it all over town. A lovely surprise.

We visited a fortress! Nafplio has a fortress from the 18th century. We walked up 800 stairs to the top. The advantage of old stuff that is not ancient is that it is in much better shape. We were able to wander through tunnels and up stairs and paths and even into a room that had been used as a prison for Theodoros Kolokotronis, a hero from the Greek War of Independence. Jeff, Peter, Father, and I had fun geeking out and trying different ways of estimating the angle of a ramp to the ground. Our estimation methods seemed to converge on about 10 degrees.

Climbing the fortress was hot work, so Jeff and I followed it up with a trip to the beach while everyone else went to Ancient Tiryns. Jeff swam and I bobbed around on the waves. Even when in it, the water was very pretty; and quite a comfortable temperature, too. The weather was perfect for the beach and so was our timing for leaving. Shortly after we lef the beach, it clouded up for a brief thunderstorm.

From Nafplio we drove about an hour and a half to Sparti. Sparti itself is not that exciting; the ancient Spartans were not big on buildings that last the centuries. However, the city does have a museum dedicated to olives and olive oil that I was sorry to miss. I love quirky little museums.

Dinner in Sparti was nice. We went to a restaurant with a cool, shady, private garden courtyard in the back. Orange trees lined the walls and grape vines grew on trellises above our heads. Plus there were kitties wandering in and out over the garden wall.

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Pictures from Mycenae and the Canal
Peter's pictures from Mycenae and the Canal

After some confusion, we got the rental cars and headed to the Peloponese. Other than a couple of surprise toll roads and some construction, the drive was uneventful. We stopped to look over the canal in Corinth and learned that dynamite is more effective than slave labor, at least for digging a long, deep canal.

Jeff and I planned to drive ahead to Nafplio while the rest of the group stopped at Ancient Corinth. They missed the turn off, so we all went on to Nafplio together.

After lunch, we went to Mycenae where we were caught by a sudden thunderstorm. We waited out the storm in the museum (where they had cooking and storage dishes with traces of food!).

Mycenae might be my favorite site yet, in spite of the rain and lightening which came and went most of the time we were there. A large part of my pleasure was being able to wander around the site. Some parts were roped off, but it was much more open and accessible than most of the sites we visited. It may also have helped that the rain drove away the crowds.  Mycenae was up on a hill, so we had a nice view of the surrounding area, all the way back to the sea.  After the rain had mostly cleared, we still had a great view of the storm in the distance, including some nice lightning strikes. Peter got one nice HDR photo of the surrounding area and the storm clouds.

After going to an Italian restaurant and having some good pizzas, we stopped by a gelato place. They had very good gelato, and some interesting flavors such as chocolate chili pepper; but one of the servers was a bit too good at up-selling, so we both ended up with rather large cups of gelato.

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Pictures from Athens
Peter's pictures from Athens

We had a nice but uninteresting start to the day — we got to sleep in!

The first real event of the day was walking to Lycabettus hill. Our mile long walk took us past the Parliament building, the Byzantine and Christian Museum, and the Athens War Museum. The War Museum had a bunch of old airplanes outside that it looks like people could climb into. However, we did not stop at any of those sights but instead continued up the bottom of the hill.

Lycabettus hill rises steep and tall from the city, so we rode the funicular rail up. Looking out the front window as the funicular climbed a steep dark tunnel made me slightly uncomfortable.

The hill itself does not have much beyond a little chapel, but the views from the top are stunning. We could see all of Athens and some distance beyond. To the south west we could see all the way to the water.

We had a nice but somewhat confusing walk from the funicular station to the National Archeological Museum. Roads in Athens curve and come to dead ends, and street signs do not always have the Greek letters transliterated. Even when they do, the street signs and maps provide inconsistent spellings. However, with some help from locals, we finally made it to the museum.

The museum collection impressed us. Many of the pieces surprised us with how well they had been preserved. I enjoyed the display of children's toys and the display of glass objects explaining the different techniques for making glass pieces (such as wrapping glass around clay forms and rolling them smooth). However, I may never want to see another vase again.

After that we were ready for rest and dinner. Jeff's parents gave us an anniversary gift of dinner at a nice restaurant. We took advantage of it tonight. I had a lobster and pasta dish. Restaurants in Greece expect you to sit around for a long time. After you finish eating, the wait staff does not bring you the bill until you ask for this. I think this sometimes annoyed other people in our group, but I enjoyed eating at a more leisurely pace.

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Note: I've been forgetting to attribute the pictures.  Pretty much, all the nice one's are Peter's and all the weird ones are mine. Most of the ones I've been posting are Peter's.
Pictures from Athens
Peter's pictures from Athens

We started the morning with a bus tour of Athens. The first stop was the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic games were held in 1896. The marble stadium impressed me. I wonder if modern landmarks made of metal and concrete will ever seem quite as impressive as those made of marble.

Our next stop was the remains of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. Even though little of the temple remains you can tell how huge it once was. We also saw the Arch of Hadrian from a distance.

Our next stop was the Acropolis, but we drove by many other important sites on the way. We saw Syntagma Square where the Parliament building and the President's house are located and the trilogy of neoclassical buildings made up of the old University of Athens campus, the National Library of Greece, and the Academy of Athens..

The tour ended at the Acropolis, and we spent the rest of the afternoon in that area. On the way up we saw the Odeon of Herodes Atticus where they were setting up for a concert. Ancient sites should be put to use when they can be.

Even partially covered by scaffolding for a restoration project, the buildings of the Acropolis amazed me. The Propylaea revealed the Parthenon at just the right moment, although the massive crowds dampened the effect somewhat. Sadly, we could hardly see the Temple of Athena Nike because of restoration. The Parthenon impressed, of course, but I personally preferred the Erechtheum.

I want to briefly mention some details of the restoration process. When missing or badly damaged pieces need replacement to retain structural stability, the restorers make the new pieces out of marble from from the same quarry as the original. Concrete casts replace more elaborate pieces that now sit in museums (like the Caryatids from the Erechtheum). In the end, the restored buildings give a better idea of the original state of the site without hiding the damage that was inflicted on the Acropolis over the years.

After the Acropolis, we took a lunch and nap break. If the nap had been an hour longer, we would have avoided some of the worst heat of the day. Instead, we struggled through the heat long enough to see a couple more sites. The Court of Appeals in ancient Athens met on a stone hill called the Areopagus. The apostle Paul is said to have spoken to the council there. While there, we saw someone dressed up as Paul and reciting from the bible near the foot of the rock. Biblical larping!

We also wandered around the Ancient Agora. The Agora was our most extensive site so far. We wandered around the ruins for awhile, but by this point it was warmer than we were comfortable with, so we escaped into the museum housed in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos After that Jeff and I quickly hopped over to the Temple of Hephaestus which is in better shape than most of the ruins around the Acropolis.

After that, Jeff and I went back to the hotel to escape the heat, but the rest of the family went on to more sites. We decided we can catch what we missed when we come back to Athens at the end of the trip. We did walk by the Tower of the Winds and Hadrian's Library on our way back to the hotel.

After dinner, we spent some time on the rooftop deck of our hotel. We had a lovely view of the Acropolis at night.

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Pictures from Santorini
Peter's pictures from Santorini

Today was an easy day for us. We spent the morning exploring Thira (after getting to sleep in). We visited the museum of ancient Thira, and then wandered around the shops and lunched on chocolate mousse and tiramisu which Jeff followed up with gelato for dessert. We picked up some real food to bring on the ferry ride (bread, meat, cheese, and fruit). Many of the buildings in Thira are built down the side of the caldera that forms the island. These buildings would have doors at the top of the hill. From just the right spot, the doors looked like they just dropped off into the sea. This amused me.

We spent the afternoon and evening on a ferry to Athens. Unlike yesterday's ferry, this was a "slow" ferry, so it took about 8 hours to get to Athens. But the ride was much less bumpy, and we had more freedom to move around.  On the ferry, we noticed how beautiful the water is -- even when you're on it, it is an amazing blue-green color.  We arrived in Athens after midnight, and it was still almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit out.  The taxi ride to our hotel near the Acropolis made it look like a really sketchy area, but it was much livelier and interesting during the day.

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Pictures from Santorini
Peter's pictures from Santorini

Jeff and Father returned the rental cars (and only got lost once!). The rest of us made our way to the ferry dock. Fast ferries live up to their name, but they provide enough bumps that I would suggest caution for those prone to motion sickness. Motion sickness does not usually effect me, but I came close enough on this ride that I had to nap to make it through.

We ate lunch at a nice taverna in Thira on the island of Santorini. Jeff, Father, and I followed this with a swim in the pool of our super cute hotel. The hotel consists of lots of rooms around a couple of court yards. I climbed onto the roof, but the ladder was kind of scary to get back down — especially in a skirt. It was a perfect day for a swim.

Santorini is a beautiful island. Santorini presents the most appeal to those who want to hang out at the black sand beaches, but even if you do not do that (we did not), I still consider it a "must see" location. When you think of Greek islands with white buildings built onto steep hillsides, you are thinking of someplace like Santorini.  I can think of no better place to recover from jet lag.

We took an afternoon walk from Thira to Oia. Where by "walk" I mean "6 mile hike up". If I had known how rough some of the hills would be I might have opted for taking the bus. However, the views were worth it. We made it to Oia in time to grab a quick dinner and find a lovely spot away from the crowds to watch the famous sunset. Oia is something of a tourist trap, but I still enjoyed wandering the winding, complex network of pedestrian walkways in the main part of town.

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Photos from Crete
Peter's photos from Crete

Heat became a common theme of our Greece trip. Southern California possesses a Mediterranean climate. Until we visited to Greece, I had not known just how true that was. The weather was hot and dry. Most days topped out in the high 80s to low 90s (Fahrenheit). Beyond that, the flora reminded us strongly of Southern California. We even saw many of the same plants: aloe, cacti, citrus trees, and many familiar flowering trees.

Because of the heat, we tried to keep limit our outdoor activities to the morning. This first morning, we saw the ruins of the palace at Knossos. In myth, the Minotaur lived under the palace. Some archeologists believe the idea came from the extensive complex of store rooms below the palace. Arthur Evans, who first did extensive excavations on the site, reconstructed many parts of the site based on his guesses about the original. Many of his guesses are currently disputed, including the idea that the site was actually a palace. The reconstructions are strikingly colorful. Although I usually think of ruins as various stone colors, most ruins started their existence covered in colors.

We ate lunch in the small town of Peza on the way to find a stringed instrument museum. We never found the museum, but we had some great views of a valley full of farms. A discarded box of decaying fish added some personality to our chosen view point.

Peter and Kathryn chose a great little restaurant for dinner. We spent 2 hours lingering over a variety of seafood and veggie dishes followed by a complimentary dessert. Jeff enjoyed a class of ouzo, but the complementary reki was not to his taste.

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I'm going to post my travel log from Greece over the next two weeks. There will be one post a day corresponding to the one journal entry I wrote each day in Greece. Each day I will also post links to the photo album relevant to those days (some albums will span multiple days). As a nice coincidence, the day of the week will correspond to the day I actually wrote the entry. Here's the first entry.

Here are links to the full photo albums:
Our photos
Peter's photos

Photos from the plane
Photos from Crete
Peter's photos from Crete<

We arrived in Heraklion (on the island of Crete) and went straight to bed. Travel exhausted us — it took about a day (over 26 hours) from leaving home — and we collapsed into bed without even stopping for dinner. The flight itself had no distinguishing characteristics except the Web 2.0 airplane; the lights faded on and off!

Our shower stall excites me. It has a retractable clothes line! I want one for home.

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Just an FYI, as of bed time tonight, Jeff and I will not be available through any of our normal communication mediums until we get back from Greece on the 27th.

Oh, and did I mention we are going to Greece? Super excited! (Although I worry that my poor precious kitty cat will miss us.)


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Erika RS

May 2012

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