Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday, May 22nd, Bled, Slovenia


An old castle above the lake, another in the lake, and up in the mountains - a funicular ride to a modern day hangout.  This morning, we tested out our legs on two sets of castle steps.  And we're all growing more appreciative of those with railings.  We learned about Gutenberg and his press, and met a young iron shop worker with an Irish accent.  We visited a Castle Beehive shop, and were reminded of the innovations and importance of Slovenian beekkeeping.

Walking back down the steps, we drove over to a dock and boarded a small Slovenian boat (Pletna) to travel to Bled Island.  On the way, we raced two women on paddleboards (they won), and learned the Pletna business is one of the most profitable if you can obtain boats that don't sink.

Climbing even more steps, we entered a 16th century Baroque church, standing on the remains of earlier structures, built by pagans, slavs, and Christians, dating back to the 11th century BC.  

Archaeologists have discovered the foundations of a chapel from 1142 AD, the only example of a cult building from those times on Slovenian territory,

A tale is told that a young widow (Poliksena) who once lived in the castle had a bell casted for the chapel on the island in memory of her husband.  During the transport of the bell, a terrible storm hit the lake and the boat sank, together with the crew.

After the widow died, the Pope consecrated a new bell, and had it installed.  It is said that whomever rings the bell and gives honour to the Virgin Mary will have whatever wishes they make come true.

To top it off (literally), we took our bus to the end of the valley to take a funicular to the top of Mt Vogel (2200 meters) for a spectacular view of southern side of the Julian Alps.  A ski resort in winter, it also serves as a dramatic para-gliding takeoff point, and allows a full panorama of area around Lake Bohinj and Triglavski National Forest.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, May 22nd, Bled, Slovenia.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday, May 21st, Bled, Slovenia


The sun came out today, and we even saw it on the ceiling of a church in the town of Skofja Loka.  We have a full 50-passenger bus for the twelve of us, and a talented driver (Vito) who can negotiate these mountainous roads better than anyone.
Through three hours of driving, with four stops, we visited a castle first begun in 973 AD (and the town below it),  a museum of arts and crafts, and an open air exhibit with a re-located 16th century house.  The inside of the house was too dark for photos, but we experienced what it was for a family of 12-14 to live in a two-room structure (kitchen and all-purpose room), with storage above.  Talk about using every square foot, and piece of furniture in multiple ways.

The highlight of our day was probably our visit to Kropa, and the lecture by the staff of the town museum.  I can't remember a more engaging presentation, where a resident delivered a more riveting story and expected our complete attention.  An iron ore and charcoal-rich area, with plenty of wind and water to supply natural power, the town has supplied iron products for generations of oppressors without much improvement in the quality of life for its residents.  If ever there was a town which gave far more than they received, it's Kropa.

Nails for European and the Middle Eastern shoes, and spikes for railroads over the same area, owe much to the families whose labor and health were stretched to the limits.

More recently, they have tried to engage their talents and machinery to supply high quality iron objects (candlesticks, sculptures, and customized window and door hinges).  But it's clear that their future employment picture hangs on how the world views the value of quality handmade iron products.

We ended our day at Bled, a lakeview resort town at which we'll spend the next two days.  Another castle on a hill town, with a gorgeous lake with an island in the middle, we had lunch and took a walk around part of the lake.  We got to watch an unique ceremony in which a couple danced on a barge near the shore, while their 40-year old wedding gesture of sinking a couple of cases of wine was re-raised to the delight of hundreds of watchers on the shore.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, May 21st, Bled, Slovenia.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday, May 20th, Ljubljana, Slovenia


My knowledge of Slovenia has been sort of like a grey cloud, not much detail and a hint of bad news.  So it wasn't a big surprise when the first full day here started out with lots of clouds and is ending with heavy rain.  Everywhere from Amsterdam to Athens is getting soaked, and the Monsoons are hitting Bangaladesh.

But before it started coming down hard, we got a morning's walk through the city with our tour guide, Branko Campos.  An extremely knowledgeable local, he wove humor and social commentary into history, culture, mythology, and religion.  

Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, is an 11th century castle across a river from a central city area.  With two million people in the country, there are only 280,000 in the urban area.  Flying in yesterday afternoon, we saw lots of villages on small mountain roads where the rest of the residents live.

We're resting and drying out in the hotel room before dinner, but our impressions are that the city is safe and smart and uncomplicated.  Long ago, the city banned cars in the city center, and there are strict physical barriers and stiff fines for violations.  Bicycles are made available and are almost free.

Every day, the markets are filled with fresh food, and there is plenty of drinkable water, beer, and wine.  Our taxi driver, Alex, moaned about the same things we all do; high living costs, inept government, and young people who take everything for granted.  But he wouldn't leave for any amount of money because he loves the quality of life here.

We're doing the laundry, and tomorrow, we leave for five days in the mountains. These two-day stops in one place are very helpful, especially at the start of a new adventure.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, May 20th, Ljubljana, Slovenia.        

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday, May 18th, Athens


I've not always liked food.  When very young, it was just something that happened, and nothing very complex.  Since no one in my household had either any skills at it, or any ethnicity that cared about it, I remained unconvinced of its importance.

Mobility of it mattered.  If I could put it in a paper sack, and not get it messy, great.  It was headed to the beach mostly, and would end up under a towel in the cool sand a few handfuls down from the surface.  Or on a tray in bowls in front of the television.  As an only child with no one insisting you eat anything, food became a narrowing experience.

That all changed when I joined the military.  A little more variety, and lots more insistence that I eat it.  And it really changed when I fell in love with an Italian girl.

But though I love olive oil, I've held out eating a whole olive until today.  With nothing scheduled on our last full day in Greece, we joined a walking food tour, led by Artemis Olympidou.  At one of the first stops, she held out a bowl of olives from the island of Crete, and invited me to taste one.  Remarking that I was just like her husband when I still didn't like it, she forgave me.  Like Pat, I suspect she doesn't mind eating my share.  

Since my pallate has grown considerably since meeting Pat forty-two years ago, we did enjoy the tour.  Artemis straightened us out on the origins of many Greek delights, and then guided us to her favorite places to sample lots of local products.  Our traveling friends who recommended it were absolutely right.  Don't eat breakfast first, and be prepared to be full at the end.

Tomorrow, we fly to Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia.  We begin twenty-eight days on another Adventures Abroad tour of the countries between there and Greece.

No photos today, and probably very few tomorrow.  Because of the transportation strike, we'll leave early, and spend most of the day at the airport or traveling.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday, May 17th, Athens, Greece


We said goodbye last night to all of our remaining travelers, and they left this morning early before the general strike crippled the transportation system in the country.

The Metro resumed after the morning commute, and we took it to the area of Hadrian's Library, Arch, and the Temple of Zeus.

We walked back around and through the Acropolis neighborhood (Plaka) to our hotel, and later took a three-hour guided bus tour to Cape Sounion at the tip of the mainland peninsula to see the Temple of Poseidon.

Getting back, we had dinner at the El Greco, near our hotel.  The lesson we're learning about eating in Greece is that servings tend to be larger than we're used to.  Sometimes, an appetizer, salad, and beer is enough.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, May 17th, Athens, Greece.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday, May 16th, Athens, Greece


The strike is growing, and tomorrow the demonstrations in Constitutional Square begin. Meanwhile, we are the hapless victims. Inconvenienced tourists who must find other means of transportation are using taxis and private tour company busses and boats.  The locals just drive their cars and motorcycles, and the streets are chaotic.  To make matters worse, Parliament is meeting, the President's in town, and lots of street are blocked off.

We spent the day walking, taking a taxi to the base of a strategic hill (and a funicular up to the top of it) overlooking the City, and a taxi to the National Archeology Museum.

Along the way, we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (see guardsmen above), and checked out the lobby and bathrooms of the Grand Hotel Bretagne.

I know some of you think we spend too much time in museums.  Greece, like many other countries, tells its visitors a very narrow story about its history.  Most know black vases with golden images of naked athletes, fifty-six tall columns in a rectangle atop a central plateau, and a guy running twenty-six miles to let the City know it had won a battle.   All three had important moments in 480 BC.  But Greece has had a civilization for seven thousand years, and that story is told in the artifacts displayed in its museums.

So if you want to see what can be done with clay and bronze and marble and gold and silver if you have that long to practice, and you haven't lost too much of it, come to the museums of Greece.  
It will put our current world into perspective, help you evaluate how advanced you think we are, and broaden your appreciation of artisans and architects of the past.

It may even improve your optimism about the future.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, May 16th, Athens, Greece.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday, May 15th, Athens, Greece


A traveling day, we finally made it from Santorino to Athens by ferry. Tonight, at midnight, begins a 48-hour ferry strike.  We left early this morning on a 6-hour cruise aboard the Fast Ferry.  We arrived at 9:30pm, and went to dinner at God's Restaurant (one of our favorite places) near our Divani Palace Hotel.  Four of our friends stayed behind to take the 5:30pm ferry to Crete.  Two others are leaving tomorrow morning early on the Metro to the airport to fly home.  The rest of us are splitting up for the day tomorrow, and will meet back for one last dinner.

What a great group of travelers we have been.  All Americans, and all easy-going who wanted to make every minute count.  Good walkers, talkers, and listeners.  Led by the best guide, we felt safe and cared for.

I'm concluding this post with the shot I took looking back at the cliffs of Iao from the castle that Serra urged us to climb up upon.  The view, like this part of the trip, was amazing.

To see al of the photos taken today, click on Monday, May 15th, thens, Greece.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday, May 14th, Santorini, Greece


We walked down the hill from our hotel this morning to the point where our bus could pick us up to take us to Akrotiri.  You all remember Pompei, right?  Well, 1,700 years earlier (in 1,613 BC), the volcano in the center of the caldera defined in part by the island our hotel sits on (Santorini) blew up, sending two thirds of the land mass into the sky.  Thirty-six hundred years ago, a small city on the southern rim of Santorini was covered by the ash which fell from the 22-mile high plume.

In the early 1960s, an archeologist trying to prove his theory that the great Minoan civilization came to an end around 1,450 BC as a result of the same eruption, discovered in his digging in this area that an entire city had been covered up.  He labored alone until his death in 1974, never able to find enough evidence to sustain his theory.  His research did reveal a civilization which it seems far eclipsed those which followed it for a thousand years.

Evidence of pottery, architecture, city planning, art, housing, bronze tools, and one of the most prolific merchant sea-going forces in the world were found at Akrotiri.  Racked by earthquakes and eruptions that flattened everything frequently, the residents of this city were warned of the 1,613 BC eruption, and fled the area.  Nevertheless, what was left behind and found in the ash layers convincingly argues for the highest level of advanced civilizations present here.

At the end of the day, we took another Caldera walk through the northern town of Ioa.  Rivaling yesterday's walk, we are still awestruck by the beauty of this island.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, May 14th, Akrotiri, Greece.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saturday, May 13th, Santorini, Greece


Santorini's caldera coast has some of the most beautiful views in the world.  The 3-kilometer walk between Imerovigli and Fira looks down on the western side of the island, and out across the vast caldera created by the eruption of Thera in 1627BC.  An arc of houses, shops, restaurants, and tourists gather from April to October, arriving by fast and slow ferries and planes.  We took a fast ferry, which turned out to have engine trouble and became a slow ferry.

From a distance, the clifftop development looks like snow.  With windows reflecting the Adriatic blue sea, the white structures layer the top edge of much of the caldera.  The walk near the top provides access to the front top doors of lower levels, and bottom front doors of upper levels. Everyone gets an almost unobstructed 180 degree view from the cruise ships to the sky.  At many points, turning around allows a view of the beaches on the other side of the island.

In a few days, this Greek tour will end.  It's being made a bit more difficult by a reported ferry and public service strike on May 16th, so Serra is scrambling to make sure we all can make it to our flight and ferry connections to either home or our next tours.

We are going to miss our new friends, and will try to stay in touch.  It's been great to be with ten other Americans who care about traveling and learning.  Those are values we hope we don't lose in the coming years.

To see all the photos taken today, click on Saturday, May 13th, Santorini, Greece.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday, May 12th, Delos, Greece


Greek mythology dominates life and place here.  Everywhere there's some family stories about the twelve gods within the family of Zeus.  And most involve his son Apollo, or his daughter Athena.  Yesterday's visit to the Acropolis and the Parthenon was a day with Athena.  She is clearly the favorite child.

In today's adventure, we took a ferry from our port in Mykonos to the island of Delos, a sanctuary dedicated to his other top child, Apollo.  Both sites are spectacular, and contain more stories and view than I could ever present.  While we have to await another time for my thoughts and some other people's photos on Athena's wonders, I did have my camera back for today.

First, I have to thank Dora and Amaryllis, two of the best local tour guides ever.  The knowledge and skills that it takes to move through an enormous site, imparting at the right moment complex content, to a straggling group of differently-mobile and inconsistently-present travelers - is awesome.  

And these two women dazzled us.  Passionate and careful, colorful and accurate, their ability to cooperate with other local guides present onsite, and deliver a timely and consistent body of information to us was impressive.   Once again, the gods gave us great weather.  With plentiful rain last winter, there are more wildflowers than anyone can remember,  An arid island, we were prepared for more desert, less bloom.
We also weren't prepared for the enormous city we found on the island.  Truly full of tributes to Apollo, the island is a who's who of the 7th to 4th century BC.  Claimed by all around it, a neutral haven of commercial superstars, the island was a showcase of houses and shops.  

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, May 12th, Delos, Greece.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday, May 11th, Mykonos, Greece

Hearing we were taking the slow ferry (Blue Star) to Mykonos today conjured up a pokey little ferry that might have gotten the queezy a little sea sick.  When our bus from the hotel got us to the port, we saw an eight-story, quite elegant, powerful sea-liner.  A shopping center with better seats than most planes, restaurants with decent prices, kennels for pets, playrooms for over-active kids, and some of the fastest docking crew and equipment I’ve ever seen.
It still took four hours to sail to Mykonos, first stopping at two nearby smaller islands to deliver locals and mail. 
Met by the Petinos Hotel bus, we were driven to the hotel to put our bags away, we walked to Platya Vialos Beach restaurants to have lunch.
Later that afternoon, we all piled into the local bus with our dirty laundry in bags, and headed to town.  Walking from the main bus area, we wandered the whitened streets and houses (now mostly converted to shops), snapping photos of windmills, flowers, and churches.  
Dropping our laundry off for a two-hour turnaround, Serra escorted us on a short walking tour, including the history and charms of Mykonos, followed by free time in town and dinner at seven at the Sunset CafĂ© in Little Venice. 
Pasta and seafood themed to fare, and we all experienced yet another great meal.  Soon after the sun sank into the Mediterranean behind a four-masted schooner to the west of the island, an orange moon rose above the hills above our hotel as we returned home. 

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, May11th, Mykonos.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tuesday, May 9th, Athens, Greece


True to form, we've lost a piece of equipment.  The photos for the last few days have been brought to you by Pat's Mini-IPad.  The connection ring on my Nikon camera's normal lens broke last weekend, and I've been using her Mini-IPad ever since.  The photos have been good, and it's been relatively easy to capture wide-angle shots.  But it's just not the same familiar tool.  Knowing we were headed back to Athens soon, it wasn't much of a problem.

But on the day when we found someone to repair it, our Mini-IPad seems to have gone missing between the arrival of our bus at the hotel and the room.  We've checked the bus, the lobby, our baggage and the room.  No luck.  My bad for being careless in watching over it.

The photos for today, as well as the photos for tomorrow (the Nikon is being fixed, and will be back with us tomorrow afternoon), will not be posted.  It's a text only couple of posts.  Maybe I'll become better at writing.  Let's see.

And tomorrow, we walk through the Parthenon.  What timing.  We're coming back to Athens after our voyages to the islands, so you may see the Acropolis yet.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday, May 8th, Kastraki, Greece


In central Greece, in the Plain of Thessaly, there are conglomerate pillars reaching to the sky topped with monasteries built in the 14th and 15th centuries AD.  Reachable at the time by ropes and ladders, these ancient hideouts for eastern orthodox christian monks provided isolation from the invading Ottoman empire.  Originally, there were 24 of them, and only six remain.

Today, we visited a small one housing twenty nuns - the Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara, founded in 1560.  Our guide, Dina, helped us overcome our fear of climbing, and we made it up the steps carved into the rocks in the 17th century.  As with everywhere we go on this trip, our expectations were blown away by the magnitude of the effort and skill we saw demonstrated in building these structures.

While photos weren't allowed in some key parts of the monastery and chapel, the talent it took to transport, construct, adorn, and maintain such gorgeous sanctuaries of Eastern Christian devotion is hard to grasp.

The second, and largest we climbed up into was the Monastery of Great Meteroa.  Only three monks now reside there, but it contains a museum, many meeting rooms, and the largest and most well-preserved Eastern Orthodox Church in Greece.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, May 9th, Monasteries of Meteora, Greece.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday, May 7th, Delphi, Greece


While the rest of the world was beginning to watch the elections in France, we chose to drive north over the Rio-Antirio Bridge, and stop at a lovely seaside village (Nafpaktos) for the best coffee outside with a view.

Proceeding northeast for another couple of hours, we arrived at the southwestern slope of Mount Parnassus (Delphi), where we visited the spectacular museum, and walked up the hill to the Temple of Apollo.  Son of Zeus, Apollo is clearly the darling of everyone in Greece, in ancient and current times.  His temple designated a neutral zone wherein all city states and territories could gather, pay tribute to Apollo and other deities (including the earth goddess Gea, Themis, Demeter, and Poseidon), and seek advice from the Oracle.   

We are increasingly amazed at how our perceptions of greek mythology have not prepared us for the size and complexity of the ancient ruin sites associated with them.   Olympia and Delphi, and the museums here and in Athens, provide ample evidence of the strength and credibility of these early beliefs in Greece.  And they convincingly demonstrate the superiority of Greek sculpture.

Who were those providing the answers to questions posed to the Oracle?  And what was the source of their insight?  It turns out that the gases (ethylene, methane, and ethane) seeping out of cracks, discovered recently, have verified ancient claims that the Oracle's communicators were achieving a heightened state by breathing in these vapors.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, May 7th, Delphi. Greece.

Saturday, May 6th, Olympia, Greece


The morning was spent visiting Sparta, an unimpressive but important historical site containing an amphitheater, acropolis, and no tourists.

Most of us hear the words "in the modern games.." when referring to the Olympics and think there was probably some decades before 1896 when the games weren't really official, or well-organized.  Would you be surprised to learn that they were going on for 1,200 years before the site was buried in 26 feet of flooded soil around 600 AD?

Or that one of the wonders of the ancient world was a 4-meter high statue of Zeus adorned with jewels which seemed to move when reflecting the light from an olive oil pool in front of it?

Without a standing army, how does a country keep their people fit enough to ward off their enemies for melleniums?  The celebration of physical prowess became the national obsession.  Preliminary contests of 13 events took place all around the country for a year before the games. Statues of the winners, and plaques announcing the cheaters lined the long entryway into the stadium.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, May 6th, Olympia, Greece.