Home is the best of all possible places. I can’t confirm it, but I’ve heard that most languages don’t have an equivalent for the English word “home.” I think it’s more of a feeling than a place, more verb than noun. Anyway, it’s good to be home. On the way here, we clocked about 14+ hours in the air and 10+ hours on the road, so it’s actually good to be anywhere that’s not moving. We also endured the indignities of two security checks, in Athens and Newark. In Athens, Marilyn was relieved of her contact cleaner—it contained less than the allowed 500ml of liquid, but the bottle was larger and COULD’VE contained more. In Newark, Dwight was required to take off his belt and was frisked; I told them not to touch his junk, but they ignored me. He looks like a 75-year-old gimp, but he could’ve been a terrorist. You can all sleep safely at night knowing these great security bureaucrats are at work.
The house was shut up and stuffy when we arrived, but cooled down swiftly when we opened the doors and windows to the fresh, mountain breezes and the evening monsoon rain. Sam decided to come visit us for his work weekend (Wednesdays and Thursdays are his days off) and he arrived shortly after we finished unpacking. It was really nice to have someone welcome us home, especially since we wouldn’t have Ollie back until the next day. (Not that I’m comparing Ollie and Sam.)
Now comes the hard part--digesting all of the experiences of our trip. International travel itself is so intensely physical, it’s hard to reflect on all you’re seeing and doing. The trip certainly lived up to my expectations in terms of seeing the sights and visiting the places that were interesting to me; the ship certainly lived up to my expectations of comfort, service and cuisine. Now it will take time to evaluate the experience itself, and that’s part of the fun. As I said at the beginning, a trip has three parts: anticipation, experience, reflection. Let the reflecting begin!
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Athens in one day is too much of a challenge, so let's just call this Packing Day. Our hotel is next to the beautiful New Acropolis Museum, so Dwight and I decided to wander over there and see what it had to offer. It was built in 2009 and for the first time in Greece we found a gimp-friendly space with ramps and accessible restrooms. It was also air conditioned. Those two things in themselves made us fans, but it was the displays that kept us there. This new ediface was built speciallly to store and display the statuary from the Acropolis. At the entrance, visitors are routed up one side of the museum to the fourth floor and then directed down the other side from the top. Along the way, you read about Greek history and the evolution of its art and are shown examples from the different periods and different buildings of the Sacred Area. I had tears in my eyes when I saw The Calf Bearer; it is so beautiful. The top floor is completely given over to the Parthenon. They first orient you with a video showing the history of the great temple and introduce you to the stories told by the pediment and metope statuary. The entire floor is a rectangle containing within it the same dimensions as the Parthenon, but with the metopes in place so you can walk around and study them individually. Steel columns replace the marble. In the places which should be occupied by the marbles stolen by Lord Elgin, plaster replicas remind you of what has been looted. They make it quite clear that they consider the marbles in the British Museum to have been stolen. I agree; the stolen statuary should be returned to take its place in this marvelous museum. Photos are not allowed, even if you don't use a flash. I don't know why. Bureaucracies exist to make rules. I'm not sure this all makes senseit's now late on our last night, but the museum is worth the visit. Michelin 3 stars. I visited the Acropolis itself on my first visit to Athens in 1972, and it was such a heightened experience, I still have clear memories of the visit. I really didn't want to replace those memories, so the museum was a welcome addition to them.
Later, I walked around the base of the Acrpolis looking for shops to buy something...couldn't leave Athens without proof of our presence. I found things to buy; it was not too difficult. We had a pleasant last dinner with Ron and Marilyn at a little restaurant under an arbor. I'm tired, ready for bed, and look forward to the cool mountains of Colorado. San Juan Mountains or Bust.
Saturday morning. The time had come for us to work our way towards Athens, our final stop. I got up on the wrong side of the bed. The drive back from Epidaurus had been uneventful the night before, but I reached Nafpoli to find it crawling with people of every age, sex, and national origin. They were enjoying the evening air in the cafes, restaurants and discos...or they were driving around in circles looking for a parking place. I joined the last group. It was after 12:30 before I finally found a place to park and made my way to the hotel and to bed just a little before 1:00 a.m.. Hard as it is for you to believe, lack of sleep makes me crabby, so I started the day as a crab. In fact, I finished the day as a crab, but I finished the day in Athens. We had a Michelin road map of Greece and a detailed map of the center of Athens, but neither offered a detailed clue of how we were to get from the autoroute into the City Centre and our hotel. Fortunately, I had a couple of really good navigators. We charged into the middle of town, only hit 7 pedestrians and 5 motopeds, and found our hotel at the foot of the Acropolis. Driving in the Arab world had prepared me for this.
After a glass of wine, a hot bath (we had a bathtub for the first time in our trip!), and a nap, I revivved enough to head into the early evening in search of dinner. We were in luck (did I mention that Athena has been watching over us, although she seemed to have taken the night off in Nafplio). A pedestrian street of restaurants is just around the corner from our hotel. We settled into the Gods' Restaurant which, according to the sign, is highly recommended by Lonely Planet. There we made several new best friends. I haven't had a New Best Friend since we left Turkey, so it was nice to meet friendly people. We had a nice, early dinner and came home to watch the sun set behind the Acropolis from our hotel's roof garden. It seemed we would end our journey the way it began, from the roof garden gazing on antiquities. In Istanbul, our hotel looked out over the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia; in Athens, our hotel looks out on the Acropolis. What a great trip it's been, but we still have one day in Athens to look forward to. What should one do with one day in Athens?
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Friday 22 July 2011.
I'm sitting in the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus finding it hard to believe I'm waiting for a performance of Medea to begin. The sun has set and the evening breeze is finally cooling everything off. On the sandy stage is a modernistic representation of the ship Argonaut and a cauldron full of water for ablutions. Evidently, the performance will take place entirely in the defined circle of the chorus area, not on the skene or "stage" area. They've just finished performing an acoustic test which consisted of a swooping electronic sound, and they'll do another ns 15 minutes. I scalped a ticket at the entrance, although scalped is not the right word since I paid full price. It was offered by a nice Swiss man who chided me for my reluctance to trust a scalper...the Swiss love to lecture people. The transaction was conducted in French. Other languages are useful. I'm glad I bought his ticket, which was on the 3rd row, since these lower tier seats are supplied with cushions; I wasn't looking forward to sitting on the stone. On the other hand, I would like the perspective of sitting higher up to see if the acoustical claims for the theatre are accurate. The day has been long but pleasant. We had a long drive from Delfi, but it was enjoyably broken at a nice little restaurant on the Corinthian Gulf. The sea breezes were refreshing, the beer was cold, and the food was good. My travelling companions were looking forward to some down time in Nafplio, but I was focused on one of the main objects of my Odyssey, this performance.
Michelin ranks sites with 3 stars: a one-star site is worth visiting if it's on your way; a two-star site is worth a slight detour; a three-star site is worth the trip. This performance was worth the trip. This is what visitors should come to Greece for, not the beaches or the lines of tourist shops selling inferior merchandise, but for a cultural experience which reminds us of the Greek contribution to human history and how immediate the appeal can be of the ancient tragedies. While cultures come and go, human nature remains much the same as it was 2500 years ago. Medea is a welcome female tragic heroine who ethically stands up for both her rights as a human being and the right of society to expect humans to live up to be true to their word. This performance was a modern Greek translation. I was familiar enough with the plot the follow the progression of Medea's emotional roller coaster as she acknowledged her supposed mate's infidelity and devised a plan to repay him for his transgression. Two children were on stage for most of the play to remind us of the human cost of our actions. I had used this play in my dissertation as an example of the consequences of breaking promises. It would make for a good discussion in an ethics class. The acting was suberb, the staging was simple and elegant, it was magnificent! Special kudos to the Corinthian chorus of women. Their recitation was so perfect as to sound like one strong, intelligent voice, and many of the choral odes were sung, and in harmony. You can only hope to experience this type of performance, not describe it. It was an incomparable experience and the highlight of my trip.
I'm writing yesterday's blog from the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus while waiting for the beginning of the performance of Medea. It's dusk and beautiful and hard to remember yesterday in Delfi, but I'll try. More on Epidaurus tomorrow. We began yesterday on the ship. Our bags had been picked up the night before and we were instructed to meet the rental car rep at 8:45 outside the Passenger Terminal. At 8:00 we were told we had to vacate the ship, so we went into the terminal, gathered up our luggage and waited and waited and waited. By 9:00 we were getting a little concerned. A kindly tour guide asked us what we were waiting for. After we explained, he offered to call the car company. He found out that our rep had been unable to enter to port because of the taxi strike and had been trying to call us. I found him double parked (he IS Greek) on the boulevard outside the port. He was afraid to enter the port because the taxi strikers had threatened him the day before and remembered him when he tried to enter again. They had actually kicked his car. We decided they wouldn't bother me, so I signed all the papers and returned to pick up the others without incident. Ron had the great idea to keep the rental car until our departure to avoid a problem getting to the airport if the taxi strike were extended indefinitely, which we did...so we will be coming home on time, that is, if the taxi drivers don't block entry to the airport. We all agreed that the right to striks is fundmental, but the right to disrupt other lives is not.
We finally hit the autoroute and found ourselves in the relatively cool mountain air of Delfi a couple of hours later, tired but happy. After lunch and a little rest, Marilyn and I, the intrepid travellers, headed for the museum and ruins of the ancient site, one of the most sacred in all of Greece. The site was dedicated to the sun god Apollo. Whenever the Greeks (and the Persians and Romans from time to time) had an important delimma, they would send someone to Delfi to consult the oracle. The oracle was the Pythia who sat on a tripod over an opening presumed to be the navel of the earth. She inhaled the fumes which were emitted, uttered some incomprehsensible phrases, and the priests turned those utterings into a somewhat enigmatic answer to the question...thus, the origin of "pithy." As an example of the kind of answers given, the Athenians asked the Oracle what they should do about the approaching Persians and were told they should seek the protection of their wooden walls. Someone decided that "wooden walls"referred to their ships, so they desserted the city, which was burned (along with all those who thought the Oracle meant for them to hide in the Acropolis), and the Athenians lived on to fight another day and drive the Persians out. Everything depends on the correct interpretation.
The site itself is perched high on a shelf on Mt. Parnassos, which is also home to the Muses. The rocky peak could pass for Colorado. The ancient archeological site consists of a row of Treasury buildings which held the offerings of the various Greek cities, a shelf with the Temple to Apollo, and a shelf with the amphitheatre. It's yet another temple that was destroyed by earthquake. The major possession in the museum is an incredibly complete and beautiful bronze statue known at the charioteer. It still takes my breath away to see in person all of the works of art I have spent the last few years displaying to students via PowerPoint.
The evening was spent on a cool terrace in the little town. Early to bed and ready for a long drive tomorrow back to Nafpoli.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
The little port of Nafplio is not often visited by cruise ships. It's hidden in a large bay behind a spit of land and protected by the ruins of mideaval fortifications which grace the acropolis. Since we are coming back to this village by rental car in a couple of days, Dwight and Ron decided that they were going to spend their last day as sailors aboard the comfortable (and cool) Nautica. The nearby ruins of Mycenae were on my "must" list, and Marilyn agreed to accompany me. My original plan had been to take a taxi, but there's a taxi strike currently going on throughout Greece and the destination specialist on board suggested we rent a car, so we took the tender into port and inquired at the nearest car rental place. No cars. No cars at the only other car rental either, and so we decided to give up the idea of Mycenae and instead find the hotel we were booked into for our return and make sure our reservations were in order (hard to trust the internet). We found that everything was OK and, in addition, found from the hotel manager that the buses were still running and, indeed, one would be leaving for Mycenae in about 15 minutes. We rushed to the bus stop, found the right bus, bought tickets as we boarded and departed for an adventure.
Although the bus was a comfortable, air conditioned, tourist-style bus, it was a local. It stopped every few miles to take on or leave off passengers, and then meandered through the nearby city of Argos. After an hour, we made it to the ruins of Mycenae, a drive which should take about 30 minutes. We learned that a bus would return to Nafpoli in 2 hours, so decided to make a quick visit and return on the 1:00 p.m. bus. Then we looked upward at the ruins. I think both of us were somewhat dismayed at the steepness of the sight and the heat of the sun, but we soldiered on and made a quick tour. It's an ancient site, dating to the second millennium BCE. The city was already in ruins by the time of classical Greece, but it is the subject of the greatest of Greek legends because it is the supposed home of Agamemnon, the great Greek general of the Trojan Wars as reported by Homer in the Iliad. Agamemnon's return from the Wars was the subject of Aeschyslus' tragic trilogy, the Orestia. It was Agamemnon's brother Menelaus who lost his wife Helen to Paris of Troy, the event which precipitated the whole series of events. It was also he who sacrificed his own daughter Iphegenia so that the Greek sailors would get favorable winds to Troy. Nice guy. The classical Greeks thought the citadel of Mycenae had been built by cyclops because the stones which formed the walls were too big to be moved by humans, or so they believed. The Mycenaens were influenced by the Minoans (remember Knosos), but eventually became their rivals for trade and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ruins are just that, in ruin, but it's great to see them in situ. The museum has some interesting pieces including a gold death mask that has always been associated with Agamemnon.
We caught the bus back for an uneventful return to the ship and arrived in time to take the 2:00 p.m. tender. There was plenty of time for yet another shower, a nap, packing (bags due outside the stateroom by 10:30 p.m.) and join the guys for dinner in the Toscanna restaurant, our final dinner aboard the Nautica. It's sad to think our odyssey on the Nautica is coming to an end. It's fun to be spoiled!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
This felt like a good time to take a day off, so we filled out our form for breakfast in bed. That's a lovely concept, to have someone bring your coffee to your room. The food doesn't interest me so much, but coffee before facing other people seems to be a civilized way of approaching life. We were actually up in time to shower and dress before the coffee arrived and enjoyed the coffee and the view from our veranda. The next order of business was laundry, but I guess two hours spent in the launderette is not interesting enough to blog about. It was, however, a nice and uneventful morning with clean and pressed clothes and a cleaned and pressed mind as the outcome. We finally ventured ashore on the 11:00 a.m. shuttle. Zakynthos is one of my favorite islands. It's very small and relatively quiet, although there are still a lot of British tourists puttering about in many angry, small cars. We took a little tourist train which showed us all of the town there was to show...not much. Then we took a taxi up to the high spot (the acropolis) where we found a litle cafe. I tried out my Greek on the waitress who looked at me with a strange expression. She was Ukranian, and very nice. Oh well, at least she wasn't a Brit (sorry Steph and Susan). After a nice Greek meze we had her call a taxi to come pick us up and it actually worked. We have since learned that most of the taxi drivers in Greece are on strike, but at least they were still running in Zakynthos. Back to the town where Dwight went to the port and I went to the Byzantine Museum, a disappointment. So I muddled through the heat to the tender and poured myself aboard (did I mention it is hot?). Back on the ship early, nap, Happy Hour in Horizons, four course meal in the Main Dining Room, Dwight did he RFID business in his natty new hat. Life aboard ship is tough but we're muddling through.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Kirkyera, or Corfu as it is more popularly known in English, is the northernmost island of Greece in the Adriatic Sea. It is separated from Albania by a narrow straight, and because of its proximity to Italy and its position between the two peninsulas, has been the object of much fighting over the year... boys must fight over their toys. It was controlled by the Venetians for almost 300 years, 1401-1797. The Italian influence shows in the very different architecture with columned promenades and yellow-tinted buildings, very different from the Greek islands we've seen to date with their whitewashed walls and blue trim, although it all seems to be in a state of decay. It is now controlled by the genus Dwight calls "tourii." My favorite story of Kirkyera involves the visit of Odyssus. This is the island where he was washed up without anything, including clothes, and saw the beautiful Nausicaa, daughter of the Phaeacian king, bathing with her handmaidens. The Phaeacians welcomed him, feted him, and listened entranced as he told the story of his wanderings since the defeat of Troy. From here, he returned to his faithful wife Penelope on Ithaca, defeated the suitors, and once again enjoyed the life of a Greek aristocrat.
We didn't spend any time in the Old Town but headed out for the north part of the island in a rental car. We expected magnificent vistas and, as the photo shows, we got some although there were very few places to pull over and admire the view on the narrow, twisty roads. According to the guide book, the island was heavily settled in the mountainous inland area because that is where rich agricultural land could be found to grow the island's main product, olives. There are many traditional Greek villages in the mountains if you can brave the roads. British developers discovered the northern beaches in the 70s and installed large beach resorts which range from luxurious to ultra tacky. We stopped to enjoy the beach at Acharavi where Marilyn and Ron changed into their suits to test the clear, green Ionian Sea (perfect temperature!) and Dwight and I sat in a cafe. It was peaceful and cool under an arbor of grape vines where we enjoyed our lunch of Greek vegetable mezes.
We continued on our way trying to complete our tour of the north coast, but the roads twisted and turned so, we almost got lost, or at least we weren't completely sure which route we ought to take. Finally finding the "main" highway, we limped back into town and. after a quick drive through the Old Town, headed for the cool sanctuary of the ship. The best part of any day has become Happy Hour in Horizons, the forward bar on the 10th deck from which perch we can watch the sailaway. It's hard to believe our tour will come to an end in the next couple of days. I'm settling into this routine and rather like it.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Sunday was the perfect day to visit the sacred ground of Olympia. We docked in the charming little port of Katakalon and rented a car to negotiate the 35 or so kilometres to Olympia. The archeological ruins, like those of Knosos, exceeded my expectations. Photos just cannot convey the lay of the land or the "feel" of location and place. It was a beautiful area, well sited with a temple area, an area for offical and priestly housing, a grand boulevard, and, of course, the stadium itself. The area has been honored as one sacred to divinity since a very early time, although the earliest divinity honored there was Hera, not Zeus. In fact, one of the oldest temples there is a small one dedicated to the earth goddess Rhea, or Cybele. During the games of ancient and classical Greece, women were not allowed on the site. They were only permitted in the outlying areas where there were brothels and other conveniences to service the athletes. It's amazing to think that the games at Olympia took place every four years from 776 BCE until they were forbidden by the Emperor Theodosis II in 393 CE, a total of over one thousand years. It's equally impressive to understand that a month-long truce was observed to allow people to travel to and participate in the games, especiallly when you realize that the Greek city states were always fighting amongst themselves. To the ancient Greeks, life was all about "agon" --struggle and competition. Winners at Olympia were honored in their home towns with statues, feasting and poetry. Tonight at dinner, we shared a table with three other couples and the agon continued with each couple recounting the number, cost and destinations of cruises they had been on as if they were struggling for Olympic cruising laurels.
One of my favorite things at the site was the row of pedistals leading into the arena, each of which had held a statue of Zeus. It seems that athletes who were caught cheating were required to pay a fine and the fines were used to finance the statues. Further, on each pedistal, the names of the cheaters and their offenses were carved for all the world to see. Dwight suggested that we add some names like Lance Armstrong, Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds... the list could go on. Again, human nature has not changed much, but the way we deal with social transgressions has changed considerably. Actually, maybe not. I think the ancient Greeks also invented the concept of the law courts and understood that cases could be decided by the eloquence of the argument rather than the preponderance of the evidence.
The archeological museum contained many interesting and beautiful pieces. The Great Temple to Zeus, which was almost as large as the Parathenon, had remained standing until the 6th century when a series of earthquakes finally brought it down. Much of the statuary from the building is on display in the museum along with other important pieces. The most beautiful is probably the statue of Hermes carrying the infant DIonysus.
Back on the ship, I honored the sacred day by attending ecumenical services led by our Cruise Director Willie Aames. You may remember (probably not) that he played a small role in the TV series Eight Is Enough and The Love Boat. He says he is an ordained minister and has studied with Franklin Graham (Billy's son) and J.D. Jakes. He actually gave a pretty good message for a born-again type. I think he fancies himself as a modern-day Paul travelling around the Mediterranean spreading the message.
The idea of a sacred site and a sacred day begs the question of whether or not our Western culture holds anything (or any place) sacred. From the behavior and dress of the hordes of tourists touring these sites, one would have to say no. The profane rules.
Interesting day altogether. Wish you were here.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Truth in advertising: This is a post about yesterday, and I'm having trouble remembering yesterday. In fact, after 4 (yes, four, it WAS happy hour) champagne cocktails, I'm a little fuzzy on today.
Yesterday was for me a planned day off. It was a beautiful anchoring at Monemvasia, a site similiar to Mont St. Michel in France. But the main site of interest was a small village from the Middle Ages which required quite a bit of effort to see because it was at the end of a large stone peninsula...not my field, not my interest, I could take a day off. I booked a stone massage at the Canyon Ranch Spa at 10:00 a.m. (Note to self: plan a ladies trip to Canyon Ranch in Tucson.). Anna, my Indonesian massage therapist, didn't have much English, but she could handle those stones. In the afternoon, Dwight and I took the tender into the small port to spend a couple of hours on the quay with a beer. We saw a gigantic sea turtle. Back on the ship, the four of us had reservations for dinner in the speciality restaurant, the Polo Grill. Someone had to try the "surf and turf," so I volunteered. After that kind of day, bed is all that can follow. It will be awhile before thought can catch up with experience, but I'm trying. Tomorrow I'll try to report on today.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
We're halfway through our cruise and have settled into the rhythm of days at sea. After a taxing day on Rhodes, everything fell into place on Crete. A very nice lady met us 20 meters from the gangway with a placard with my name and a much more comfortable car than the one we had in Rhodes. She even agreed that anyone with an international drivers license would be allowed to drive the car. We headed out on time, leaving Agios Nicholaos on the highway to Heraklion with Knosos as our final destination. We took one wrong turn on the highway, but it was a serendipitous mistake. We drove for about 6 km. up a windy, hairpinned road (think Red Mountain Pass with guardrails) to one of the most spectaclar views of the Mediterranean you could ever hope to see. We realized quickly that we were on the wrong road, but there was no place to turn around, or to stop and enjoy the view. Once back on the highway, we quickly found our way to Knosos. Dwight opted to let us out and explore in the car since the ruins didn't appear to be gimp friendly.
The Knosos ruins are spectacular. They represent the remains of a bronze-age civilization which dates from 3000-1540 BCE, a civilization which has been dubbed the Minoan civilization after the legend of King Minos and the minataur. Because they left behind no written records, no one had any idea that this civilization existed until the 19th century. There is some controversy about the reconstruction on the site done by Sir Arthur Evans in the 1920s, but I found that the reconstructions made them more meaningful. According to the evidence, the Minoans, unlike the Greeks who followed, were a peaceful society which possessed no defensive walls and no slaves. They not only respected women and gave them an equal status in society, the majority of their worship was directed towards female dieties. Unlike the early Greek statues which imitated Egyptian stiffness, Minoan frescoes are stunningly beautiful with dolphins, plants, and humans depicted in natural settlings. The ruins are located on a beautiful, wooded mountain site with cool breezes blowing. I'm glad I got to see the ruins of Knosos! It's very humbling to be in the presence of ruins which are 3700 years old.
Meanwhile, while we were touring Knosos, Dwight was touring the countryside looking for the perfect site for lunch. He made a new best friend of a restaurant owner at Agios Irini, a wide spot in the road surrounded by forest, cooled by the breeze, overlooking a "modern" aquaduct constructed by the Turks in the 17th century CE. A great, Greek lunch!
Back on the ship, we finally managed to find a table on the fantail for dinner, and we were eating yet again. We enjoyed the cool evening breeze and the beautiful views of Crete as we sailed off to our next port, Monemvasia.
Friday, July 15, 2011
We had a rental car arranged for Rhodes. The rendez-vous hour was 9:30 a.m., but the ship was docked way at the end of a long pier and the entrance to the port was about 200 yards away. We had no way of knowing if a car was waiting for us, but we all soldiered on to the entrance. No car. No sign with our name. No nothing. We futzed about a bit until I decided to go back to the ship for an internet connection to try to contact our travel agent. I was almost back to the ship when Ron chased me down and told me the car had arrived. Phew! As the one who made the travel arrangments, I was understandably concerned that they work out. We filled out all of the paper and were off for Lindos, about an hour's drive away. Dwight was glad to be off the ship since he wasn't able to deal with Santorini and didn't exactly enjoy the bazaar at Kusadasi. We arrived in Lindos just in time for lunch. I bypassed all the outlying parking lots and drove down to the small square at the entrance to the village where I stopped to unload the passengers. A policeman waved me on until I told him I was just unloading my husband who used a walker. He said, "Oh, OK, you park there," waving us to the handicapped space. People are often surprisingly kind at stressful moments. (Note to self: Next time we travel, take along the gimp car tag.) We made our way through narrow souks packed with tourists and souvenir shops. This was not what I came to Greece to see, but it seemed to be the Greece I was going to get. We made our way through the crowds to a restaurant with rooftop dining. The food was decent, but there wasn't a breath of air on the roof. After lunch the women decided to brave the walk up to the Acroplis and the Temple of Athena. WoW! Quite a hike; quite a view; quite a temple. Athena must've been some woman! It was hot as hell--a treat for the memory banks but a drag on old bones. We arrived back in Rhodes tired and drained, but we hadn't seen the Old Town of Rhodes, so Dwight parked himself in a bar, Ron headed for the ship, and Marilyn and I headed for the Old Town. What did we find? Wide streets full of tourist and souvenir shops. It was actually a pretty town and I think we would probably have it enjoyed it more had we been fresh and energetic. Nevertheless, we soldiered on. It was a day of soldiering. Tourism is not for sissies. I barely made it through the 4-course dinner. And so to bed at 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
I'm sitting on a comfortable park bench in Fira, Santorini, overlooking ships anchored in the caldera. It's early morning, quiet, the sun rising at my back, and two friendly dogs who have adopted me lying at my feet. The photo of our ship above is taken from my current location. Yesterday we passed by Delos and Mykanos and merely waved as we passed. I guess Apollo was not smiling upon us. A violent wind storm kept us from docking at either place, so we regretably waved goodbye and continued on to this island. It was, for me at least, a welcome break. We've been on the road for over a week and the sun and heat at Ephesus just about wore me out. We're competing with many other cruise ships, so bypassing Delos and Mykonos and making our way to Santorini allowed us to be the first to this island. I was on the first tender at 7:00 a.m. The tendering and steep cobblestoned streets of Santorini are not suited to Dwight's condition, so he stayed on the Nautica, but we have a rental car waiting in Rhodes tomorrow, so he'll do some touring then. Anyway, he had his big event yesterday with a Martini seminar in the afternoon. We'll give Apollo another chance at Delphi, but it's nice to finally be in Greece after so much anticipation.
Two hours later: I have moved back to the village. While it was cool, shuttered and quiet when I arrived, it's now hot, crowded and noisy. It's fun trying out my Greek, although people here are too tourist-oriented to care whether you speak their language. A smile is actually the more universal language and, surprisingly, the Turks had more of them. Here, they just want you to buy something, so I'm trying to accommodate them. I feel like the future of the Eurozone is resting on my shoulders. The small archeological museum of Thera was an interesting stop. They have only a few amphora, kraters and statues, but they date from about the 8th century BCE. I was looking for the other small museum when I saw the internet cafe and lit here instead. I have to communicate with our travel agent in Athens and the internet aboard ship cost something like $.60 per minute. Enjoy your connections!
Next stop, Rhodes. We're finally launched on our tour of ancient Greece.
Monday, July 11, 2011
This will be a short post. I'm sitting in an internet cafe in Kusadasi. The day started beautifully with breakfast in bed which was followed by a slow morning on the ship... a little break from the tourist wars. This was one of the few days on our cruise that is spent partly at sea. The afternoon was spent in Texas-style heat at the ruins of Ephesus. They were spectacular and I'm glad I saw them, but boy was it hot and crowded! I could say something here about our Cruise Director and his aspirations to be like Paul, but the subject is too complex. There were five ships in port, the largest of which was the Ruby Princess with probably over 2000 passengers (ours holds under 700). After I got back to the ship, we hired a bicycle taxi to take Dwight out into the bazaar. Shopping is not his thing, but he was glad to get off the ship for awhile. Now I've returned to the port internet cafe to try to download my emails since we had to purchase internet time on the ship at a huge premium. But, of course, I forgot that we're still in Turkey and Brainstorm blocks all traffic from Turkey as spam. So here I am with egg on my face and a beer in my hand. Beer makes all things right. It has served humans for millenia. Here's to beer!
Tomorrow, Delos in the morning and Mykonos in the afternoon. May Apollo be with us.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Variety, they say, is the spice of life. I guess that's as good a reason as any for travel, to spice up our lives a little. The spice I got today was literal as I walked from the pier for a little over a mile, crossed the Galata Bridge of the Golden Horn and arrived at the Egyptian Bazaar, otherwise known as the Spice Bazaar. There were plenty of spices in a covered Arab-style souk. My new best friend Omar guided my purchase and I came away with some rather expensive Iranian saffron. Shhh...don't tell anyone. I think trade with Iran is forbidden. Trade is the best defense the world has against wars and intolerance. It's hard to hate someone to whom you're trying to sell something. It's unfortunate that our culture has never learned to haggle, but then it's unfortunate that other cultures have learned to cheat and take bribes in order to complete a transaction. Melting pots of trade such as Constantinople, Athens, Rome have added spice to human culture. I'm sure I've done my bit for tolerance and understanding by buying some Iranian saffron from my good Turkish friend Omar.
We got under weigh at 3:00 p.m. to the magnificent sight of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia on the horizon. Shortly afterwards we attended a lecture on the Bosphorus and Dardenelles. What a terrible affair! Everyone was curious about the history of the area and what we got was a dry academic lecture on Political Philosophy and of the importance of these areas to the Great Powers. The lecturer (a Prof. of Interntional Affairs from Florida International University) didn't even mention the monument at Gallopoli which we will be passing later this evening, and when he was asked questions about it, he couldn't answer them. I see an opportunity here. I think an exciting lecture covering Constantine to the Crusades would make a great history talk. Who do I need to talk to? There is so much history in this area, passengers are hungry to know. The history you learn in college is meaningless; the history you learn on site takes shape. It"s a shame when the cruise line writes off their passengers as people only hungry for food, and that food in excess and at all hours.
Having said that, the food on board ship is REALLY good!
Saturday, July 9, 2011
The highlight of the day was an early morning visit to the magnificent Chora Church. In a very small space you find some of the most exquisite mosaics and frescos ever seen. Both date from 1310 and, since they were realized during the same period, they reminded me of Dante's vision of the divine, especially the fresco of Christ lifting Adam and Eve from the grave. The early 14th century was a time when most people were illiterate; religious learning was dependent upon oral stories and visual depictions. The beautiful Byzantine mosiacs in this church told the stories of the lives of Jesus and Mary. I managed to maneuver close enough to some of the English-speaking guides to get the gist of the story, but I'm sure most of it is lost on this unchurched generation. One has to wonder if we've lost some of the magic and beauty of imagination by becoming dependent upon the literal, trusting in the power of language to explain the inexplicable.
In the afternoon we left the Hotel Uyan, our home for the past few days, and boarded the Nautica, our home for the next 12 days. We had a gourmet dinner in the Polo Club Dining Room, explored our new surroundings, and closed the day with a cognac in the Horizons Bar while watching fireworks over the Bospherus Bridge. Time to slow down to life aboard ship. We're all looking forward to it.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Today offered an interesting contrast in Turkey past and present. The morning was spent at Topkapi Palace which presented a visual picture of the order and opulence of the Ottoman Empire. The Palace grounds consist of three courtyards, each one a bit smaller and more exclusive than the preceeding one. The Sultan remained virtually secluded in the third court area and in the Harem, where family life took place. The Harem, as most know, was also where young girls were brought and trained to please the Emperor, each once hoping to be lucky enough to bear for him a Crown Prince. Affairs of state were conducted by a Council of Viziers in the Second Court. Foreign officials and ambassadors were received in the Third Court, many of them bearing valuable gifts which are now displayed in the Treasury Rooms. Also displayed are sacred Islamic relics including the Staff of Moses and the footprint of Mohammed, along with the dagger that was supposedly stolen by a band of jolly bandits in the movie Topkopi, the first caper movie ever. Say what you will about the opulent and autocratic Ottomans, they presided over a relatively peaceful Eastern Mediterranean. The break-up of the Ottoman Empire created political problems which reverberate in our own times.
The afternoon was spent in modern Turkey. Dwight had contacted a company with which he does business and they invited us to tour their facility. A young man picked us up and drove up past the airport to the far west of the city past hills covered with apartment buildings, factories, office buildings, and shopping areas. Modern Turkey has a vibrant and growing economy. The people are hard working and educated, many getting their education and training in the United States or Western Europe. Kudos to Dwight for his business venture which is opening up avenues for cooperation and selling American products abroad. And kudos to the modern Turks for joining the 21st century and the global village.
All of which begs the question of why we have seen so many YOUNG women covering everything but their eyes such as seen in the photo taken at a restaurant this evening? It was painful watching her try to eat, and yet we have seen many of these women trailing behind their men in the Sultanhamet tourist area where we are staying. I asked our hosts at the Turkish factory about the prsence of so many black-clad women. They speculated that since it was a tourist area they probably aren't Turkish as the black garb and face covering are not a frequent choice of Turkish women. The Turkish women who cover up at least wear bright clothing and nothing to cover their faces. They also are free to work and move about in society without the constant company of a man. The Turkish businessmen speculated that the women in Sultanhamet might be coming from Syria to escape the problems there. Sigh. What to say? Nothing. The picture says it all.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Allaaaaah uAkbar. Allaaaaaah uAkbar. The Muslim call to prayer awakened us this morning at 4:30 a.m. The chant came from the nearby Blue Mosque calling the faithful from their beds to come to salvation. I snuggled back in and accepted damnation while enjoying the announcement of the rising sun and watching the sky slowly lighten. Dawn is a magical time no matter at what hour of the human clock it occurs and it is a beautiful idea that one should drop everything, even sleep, to remember that the sun has risen for millenia over this land. Conquerers have come and gone, and everday the sun rises. After a hearty breakfast, I headed out to explore the Blue Mosque, hopefully beating the hordes of tourists who would soon be arriving by the bus full. On my way I was assisted by my new best friend Mohammed who assured me that I had no cause for concern as he was not a tour guide. He would be happy, however, if I would consent to come see his uncle's shop after my visit to the mosque. Did I mention that I was an easy mark? I'm beginning to feel like Shirley Valentine. After visiting the Mosque and wandering the beautiful gardens of the Topkapi Palace, I returned to the hotel to collect Dwight. We then installed ourselves on the front row of the top deck of a double decker bus and got a nice tour of Istanbul, crossing the Bospherus Bridge to enable us to say we visited Asia. It's an immense city, one of the most densely populated in Europe with a population approaching 15 million. We saw lots of mosques. We ended the day with dinner on yet another rooftop terrace and listened to the final call to prayer as the sun set in the west. Allaaaaah uAkbar.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Istanbul is an easy city to like. The long drive from the airport hugged the coastline of the Sea of Marmara. Lined with clean and spacious public parks, cooled by sea breezes and shaded by large trees, the area is obviously popular with locals as many people were strolling, barbequing and playing sports in the seaside parks. Our taxi finally turned up a hill into narrow, cobblestoned streets, wound its way through a district lined with restaurants and hookah bars, and finally stopped in front of the Uyun Hotel. We have a large room, very clean and well-furnished, even equipped with a jacuzzi. Even though we were all suffering from sleep deprivation, we couldn't wait to visit the hotel's rooftop terrace. Indeed, it was the picture of the rooftop terrace on the internet which attracted us to the Uyun Hotel in the first place. It was even better than advertised, with a spectacular view of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. We slept so soundly that we missed the hotel's breakfast this morning, so we strolled up the street to Sultanhamet Square, a difficult task for Dwight over pitted cobblestones, and had a stiff cup of coffee and panini sandwich. The people here are incredibly friendly and helpful. It's not an easy place for people who are "mobility impaired," but young men often rushed to help Dwight climb stairs and maneuver his walker. Of course, the young men are standing in front of their shops trying to snare a stray tourist, so they are always well-tuned-in to what is happening around them. Most places, people are so locked into their own interior worlds that they don't notice someone struggling with the terrain. During the afternoon while Dwight met with a local client, I was ready to make my pilgrimmage to Hagia Sofia, but first I needed to look for a battery for my watch. While strolling down the shopping street, I was accosted by a young man who wanted to show me his shop. I'm such an easy mark. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What could I do after meeting his father and being treated to a cup of tea but buy a lovely ceramic dish? I really think it was the memory I was buying; not often am I accosted by young men in the street.
Hagia Sofia is magnificent, but somewhat marred by the crowds, no hoards, of people. There were people of every size, shape, and nationality. Many of them were trailing after guides who held aloft banners for the tour groups to follow. I was happy not to have an agenda. I rented an audio guide, which was helpful but not overwhelming in its information. After lecturing on the history and art of the Hagia Sofia in both my Western Civ and Humanities classes, it was very familiar to me. My favorite was the Byzantine mosaics. They should get rid of the huge black discs with Koranic calligraphy. It was hot!
We met the Garsts for dinner and enjoyed the cool sea breezes on yet another rooftop terrace. Now we'll try to sleep at the end of a very pleasant day, hoping our body clocks have forgotten all about Colorado. On the second plane journey yesterday when I hadn't slept at all and two babies managed to cry throughout the 2 1/2 hour ride, I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it to make this journey. Now I know it was.
Monday, July 4, 2011
OK, it didn't go as planned. I didn't keep my mouth shut; I didn't follow all the rules; I wasn't polite. They were rude to Dwight, and TSA is now the proud possessor of my tube of Sensodyne toothpaste, an expensive tube of Aveda hair conditioner and a corkscrew that had a sharp point (horrors!) Travel used to be fun. If the airlines are bottom-dwelling scum suckers (and they are--$70 charge for a second checked bag!), then TSA can crawl under them. There...I said it and I'm glad. Watchlist here I come.
It was a long, but pleasant drive from Durango, the only problem being smoke from the Los Alamos fire. I haven't yet attained wisdom, but we did find a warm welcome from Steph, Paul, Zac and Ben at their home in Superior. It was a perfect Colorado evening on the deck, then I lay awake late trying to remember what I might have forgotten. I'll be glad when the long plane ride is over; dread about the uncomfortable plane journey is probabaly worse than the actual experience. Departure is at 6:00 p.m., so there's lots of time to get anxious. I took the corkscrew out of my backpack so TSA won't have an excuse to harrass this old lady. Now I just have to remember to keep my mouth shut--the hard part. Who put these clowns in charge anyway? I would say something here about terrorists lurking behind every wrinkled face, but that would probabaly cause me to be placed on some sort of Watchlist and I've already had enough bad experiences at border crossings. So I'm resigned: keep my mouth shut, follow all the rules,, and be polite. Next stop Istanbul.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the building pictured in the heading to this blog, can be used as a metaphor for my upcoming pilgrimage to Turkey and Greece. First built as a Christian Basilica by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 532-537 AD, the building originally offered a place to worship the Christian God. In 1453, four minarets and a fountain for cleansing were added by Sultan Mehmet II and Hagia Sophia was converted to the worship of the Islamic god, Allah. Most recently, in 1935 this magnificent structure was converted by Ataturk into a Museum, a building dedicated to the worship of the past. I guess the operative words in the last few sentences are "worship" and "wisdom;" humanity has always recognized the need to venerate the knowledge of what is good and the ability to act according to that knowledge. Hagia Sophia offers us a venue to practice the worship of wisdom, although it is not likely that some abstract higher power could simply endow us with such a gift. Maybe that's what life's journey is all about, worshiping wisdom? That's a good reason for travel--getting out of the ordinary patterns of daily life and trying to make some sense of it all in a larger context. The Greek playwright Aeschylus tells us: "Taught by suffering, drop by drop wisdom is distilled from pain." I have no intention of suffering any pain on this trip, but wisdom would be a nice goal. Having spent a large portion of my adult life in "foreign" cultures, I understand the value of immersing oneself in unfamiliar surroundings, although I'm not really a fan of "travel" per se. It's too uncomfortable, unsettling and generally stressful. Anticipation of the trip is perhaps the best part, with remembering the trip running a close second. The travel itself often rates a poor third. Humans have always been restless creatures, roaming from place to place in search of a scratch to alleviate the itch of living. I've got an itch looking for a scratch. I need to go on a pilgrimage; I'm becoming aged and I seek answers in antiquity. The timing is right, the destinations are right, the company is right, and the blogging turns it into a reflective activity with just the right amount of dangerous connectivity. I need to write with discipline again and bring order into a chaotic universe. Tomorrow I depart--Holy Wisdom is my goal.