A surprise concert

27 September

On and around the Acropolis all day. I did it the old way, walking up there from the hotel, and climbing the sacred way in the sunshine. There was a small orchestra rehearsing in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the lovely music drifted up to the climbers. I and many others stopped to listen, and applauded at the end of each piece. DSC05855It’s the only performance in the Odeon that I’ve seen, and all the more enjoyable for being unexpected. Eventually the rehearsal ended, and I floated rather than walked the rest of the way to the summit.

I walked all day. My feet were complaining loudly towards the end, so I shut them up with a double ice cream. On returning to the Attalos I went to the roof bar to relax and write, and gaze again at the Acropolis. Eventually I went out to dinner after 8:30 at a taverna called Iridanos on Adrianou, below the Temple of Hephaistion. Delicious Greek salad and another wonderful view for 5 euro!

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The Acropolis Museum

26 September 2013

Slept in this morning and eventually wandered off to the Acropolis Museum, taking the Metro from Monastiraki. During the construction of the Acropolis Metro station southern parts of the ancient and medieval city were unearthed, establishing human habitation from the end of the third millennium BC. Simple houses from the second half of the fourth century were excavated, with wells, sometimes more than one in a house, for drinking water, and underground cisterns to collect rainwater for household needs. Under the whole area is a dense network of clay pipes that carried waste from houses and workshops to underground sewers. Another huge excavation is in progress under the massive entrance of the Acropolis Museum, with a promise that when excavations are complete visitors will be able to walk among the remains of the ancient neighbourhood, while an exhibition of the finds will be mounted in the museum. You can look down from the entrance walk into the excavations.

Another huge excavation is in progress under the massive entrance of the Acropolis Museum, with a promise that when excavations are complete visitors will be able to walk among the remains of the ancient neighbourhood, while an exhibition of the finds will be mounted in the museum. You can look down from the entrance walk into the excavations.

DSC05787They seem to go quite a way under the museum. It will be great to come back in a year or two.

Inside the entrance is a series of models showing the development of the Acropolis from around 1200 BC, when it was basically a hill, fortified with a Cyclopean wall, similar to those at Mycenae and Tyrins, with the palace in the centre of the plateau, through all stages to the end of the Byzantine era.

DSC05813Also here is the silver cup awarded as a prize to Spyros Louis, the winner of the 1896 Marathon, displayed with a fascinating photo of three of the runners. Amazing to compare modern athletes, with their coaches, running shoes, uniforms and bibs, with these runners, probably untrained, barefoot and in their everyday clothes.

Five of the six Karyatides are housed in the museum, where they’re sheltered from the depredations of weather and pollution. The sixth of course is in the British Museum, where it’s been since its theft by Lord Elgin. Those we see on the Acropolis, holding up the porch of the Erechtheion, are copies. One of the five originals was undergoing preservation work, and was modestly hidden inside a sort of fabric dressing room.

DSC05838 It’s great to be able to see them close up, and appreciate the intricate carving of their hair and the draped folds of their robes.

There’s also a beautiful bust of a youthful Alexander, which I love, probably carved from life 340 – 330 BC, which would be around the time that Phillip sent Alexander as his envoy to Athens.

The top floor of the museum replicates the design of the Parthenon, its marble columns replaced by shining steel poles, and the remaining sculptures interspersed with plaster copies of the missing Parthenon marbles, holding their places for when they’re returned.

DSC05833It’s a brilliant concept, showing just how magnificent it was. Through floor to ceiling windows, you look out to the Acropolis, and the real Parthenon.

I had a late lunch at the museum’s balcony restaurant. Most meals in Greece are enormous, because they’re made for sharing. Lunch however was a potato salad and smoked trout just big enough for one – and delicious. While I ate, I could look up at the Acropolis, and also back at its reflection in those huge windows.

A quiet afternoon in Athens

25 September 2013

I came across the little church of Agia Aikaterini on Galanou Street. The surprise was the lower courtyard, which revealed excavated ruins. I love the way you find this sort of thing in Athens, just wandering around. I’m reminded of a Terry Pratchett line, “What Ankh-Morpork is built on is mostly Ankh-Morpork.” So it is with Athens. From the street I looked down onto pavements and columns. The capitals of the columns were almost at my eye level. The excavations continued into caverns below the street.

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The taxi drivers hanging around chatting and smoking didn’t know anything about the site’s history, so I guess I’ll look it up. One day.

The police had been out in force for one of the scheduled demonstrations, but there hadn’t been any trouble. I saw these guys taking a break on Ermou Street and they kindly allowed me to take photos.

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I’m always amazed at the way the police travel in Greece. When they’re just doing normal patrols, they ride around in pairs on a little motor bike, but when trouble’s expected they drive around en masse in buses, with heavy weapons and riot shields. I think these guys were happy to be having a quieter afternoon than expected.

South to Pylos, and the importance of wifi

20 September

Another quick decision about where to go. This morning I decided to make my way south to Pylos, despite the Mycenaean palace of Nestor being closed till 2015. I hadn’t been there before, there’s plenty to see, including two medieval castles in Pylos itself, and another in Methone, about 20 minutes drives from Pylos, and it has an interesting history. Decision made, I went on-line and booked three nights in Pylos in a waterfront hotel. The internet has made travel so easy now. I tend to use Booking.com because I’ve almost always found a great place with all the features I’ve wanted. There are other sites though that are just as good. I have a friend who uses Air BnB, and has travelled all over France and Italy using it. She’s also used it to find places for us to stay in New Zealand when we go to compete in archery tournaments there. The internet has put the power into our hands, and I love that.

So after having a chat with Alkis at Hotel Pelopsabout Olympia, the Olympic Games and other things, and thanking Mr Spiliopoulis again for his help with the car, I set off southwards to Pylos. There were no further mishaps with the car, and apart from taking the scenic route once or twice when the main road wasn’t obvious, everything went pretty smoothly. As I drove through the town of Kyparissia, I noticed the ruins of a fortress on the hill-top. As I was making pretty good time, I decided to try to turn off and have a look at it. As always when you climb a hill towards an old acropolis, the streets got narrower as I got higher, and at one point I had to reverse down-hill out of a dead-end. There’d been one sign pointing up-hill from the main road but no others and, probably somewhat chastened by my recent car mishaps, I gave up after 20 minutes or so. I managed to get a couple of photos from about half-way up. Apparently the ruins are of a Frankish fortress, but I don’t know any more than that.

20131002-005444.jpgIt seemed to take ages to get to Pylos from Kyparissa, much longer than the time advised by Google maps. I don’t think Google knows how narrow and windy some of the Greek roads are! Eventually though, I came over a hill and caught sight of beautiful Navarino Bay. I wasn’t prepared for how lovely it is, and despite being very keen by this time to get to my hotel, I stopped at a handy lookout spot and took some photos while drinking in the fabulous view.

20131003-032350.jpgThis beautiful peaceful bay was the setting in 1827 for the event that precipitated the end of the 400 year Turkish occupation of Greece, the destruction of the Ottoman fleet by the combined forces of the French, Russian and English commands. Many of the wrecks lie still where they sank. They say they can be seen if you take a boat tour on a clear day.

While gazing, I chatted to a gentleman who told me that he had to take a lot of photos because his wife couldn’t walk so she had to stay in the car. What do you say to something like that? It made me realise how lucky I am, and how grateful I am. I got back into the car and continued down the hill toward the town of Pylos. I’d taken a screen shot of the satellite map before leaving this morning, so as I drove into town, I was able to head straight along the waterfront and find the hotel immediately. My room was really cute with a balcony

20131003-032659.jpgoverlooking the tiny handkerchief of beach, and the harbour.

20131003-033336.jpgIt’s a great feeling to come into a pleasant room after a long wearying drive. I settled in, feeling very relaxed, and looked for a power point to recharge my phone, camera and iPad. Suddenly not so relaxed! I found one on either side of the bed, for the bed lamps, and one for the TV. The problem was that the plates of all three had been lifted and were hanging off the wall with the wiring exposed, and each of them had a couple of appliances, lamp and phone, lamp and fridge, TV and air-con, jerry rigged directly into the wiring behind the plate. It’s possible if I’d plugged my chargers into them that the power points would have worked, but frankly, I wasn’t about to touch them! One of the things I love about Greece is that the people have a real can-do attitude and make pretty much anything work. In this particular case though, I would have preferred the usual method of using power points. I continued my search. No luck in the bathroom. I finally found one that looked safe to use, possibly because it never had been, on the wall at the side of the wardrobe. The adapter and chargers wouldn’t fit between the wall and the wardrobe, so I put my back into it and shifted the wardrobe a few inches sideways. Success! Appliances plugged in and charging!

I went to ask the receptionist for the wifi password and found that wifi was only available in the public areas, which included the breakfast room, open all hours, food only at breakfast time, and the bar, open all hours, no food. I went out to dinner at a waterfront taverna where I ordered before finding out that they didn’t have wifi. I think it was the only taverna or cafe in Pylos without it, because I found later that it was pretty much ubiquitous. I read my book instead, “A dance with dragons” by George R. R. Martin. (Love the Game of Thrones series!) To begin, I ordered grilled mushrooms. They neither looked nor tasted as I expected, and while tasting interesting, and not unpleasant, they weren’t a favourite.

20131003-033040.jpgA coach load of 50 German teenage boys arrived that evening, and totally monopolised the available bandwidth, so neither I nor the receptionist could use the wifi. The internet empowers us in all sorts of ways, but we can become extremely dependent on it. And I don’t half get the irrits when I don’t have it!

Why do I love Olympia…….?

19 September continued

After leaving the Museum of the Ancient Olympics I walked back a few minutes into the village and had baked feta with tomatoes and peppers (capsicum) for lunch at a taverna, and did a little writing via the free wifi. So many tavernas and kafenions have free wifi, as do most of the hotels. The waiter passed by and said, “Eat it with the bread – it’s nothing without bread.” I have to agree. In fact, even with the bread, I didn’t find it nearly as delicious as I find most Greek food. There are many more tasty dishes. It was filling though, and so fortified, I set off again.

It was still very hot so I opted for the air-conditioned museum first. I’ve been in there twice before, so I didn’t take many photos this time, however I looked more carefully at the bronze armour and weapons. I had read a really good series of historical novels set in the 5th BC a while back by Christian Cameron, about a Plataean warrior who was also a master bronze smith, and the descriptions of smithing had heightened my interest. I took particular notice of this Illyrian helmet from about 530BC, which is unusual in the beaten silver decorations attached. The cheek pieces show horses, and the decoration across the brow is of lions attacking a boar. I think it’s beautiful, although much of what I’ve read recommended against fancy armour, as glancing blows could catch in the decoration instead of sliding off without causing injury. Perhaps this piece was dress armour, or made particularly as a dedication to the sanctuary.

20131001-092001.jpgI sat for some time contemplating the reliefs from the Temple of Zeus, especially the ones of of Theseus and Perithos fighting the Centaurs, who’d become drunk at Perithos’ wedding to Deidameia, and tried to carry off the Lapith women. The faces of the humans are depicted as calm and noble, while the faces of the Centaurs are brutish. It was a reference to the recent victory of the Greeks over the “barbarian” hordes of Asia, the Persians. I couldn’t help thinking though, as I contemplated Deidamia’s serene face, that while she was being the modest and dutiful bride, she was thinking, “Bloody Centaurs! Every time you invite them to a wedding … ” as she modestly and serenely elbows him in the head.

20131001-093725.jpgI ventured out into the late afternoon and made my way around the ancient site. I don’t know why, but I feel something special at Olympia, I’m especially drawn to this of all the sites I’ve visited. Ironic really, as if I’d been alive at the time, I wouldn’t have been allowed in, on pain of death! Nevertheless, I feel something special, something calm and peaceful here, particularly in the area of the palaestra, which was the wrestling, boxing and general practice area. Now that’s especially odd, because I bet at Games times, it was anything but peaceful and quiet! I can’t explain it. Nevertheless.

One of the things I love is that each time I return to an ancient site, there’s evidence of more excavation and study going on since my previous visit. I was delighted to see that at Olympia.

20131001-095149.jpgIt always makes me excited about returning in the future and seeing new things. Well, old things really. New old things.

All too soon the site attendants burst my bubble with those shrill whistles they use to warn wandering tourists of impending closing time. It has to be done I know. The sites are too big for them to run around telling everyone individually the way we usually do at work that the place is about to close. Still, I could wish for a less intrusive method. As everyone neared the gate, I turned for a last look at beautiful, peaceful Olympia. Till next time.

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More Greek kindness and beautiful Olympia

19 September

After arriving at Hotel Pelops last night, I’d found the number for roadside assistance and rung to ask what I should do next. They told me that as I already had the spare on the car, they couldn’t help and that I would need to ring the rental company to repair or replace the damaged wheel. I rang the rental company, and the operator said, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but if you can get it fixed yourself, it will cost you less, and it will be probably done more quickly.” The difficulty was that the company had an office in Patras on the north coast of the Peloponnesos, and another at Pylos, on the south-east coast, both some hours drive from Olympia.

I went downstairs and asked the landlord if he’d be able to recommend someone to fix the car. He said to leave the key with him at breakfast time, and he’d contact someone, and that I should go to dinner and relax. I went to Zeus restaurant nearby and enjoyed beef baked in the oven in a tangy tomato sauce – and a glass of wine!

Next morning, the landlord greeted me with, “Kalimera! Are you feeling better this morning?” “A little,” I replied and gave him the key. After breakfast, he told me that the mechanic had checked it and said it was fixable. “Already!” I said. “That’s great! Thank you so much!” I had been mostly concerned that the damage to the rim may not be able to be fixed. The landlord said that the mechanic had taken the car and would fix it today and return it. “Go and have a good day,” the landlord told me. Feeling the relief flooding through me, I thanked him again, and went upstairs to shower and change.

I came back down in about 40 minutes, and the landlord handed me the key. “It’s fixed,” he said. Again I said, “Already! That’s great! Thank you so much! Efcharisto!” It cost only twenty euro, and I was back to four normal wheels again. Hallelujah! The kindness of Greeks. And efficiency!

So off I went to the ancient site and museum of Olympia. The carpark was so crowded with tour buses coming and going that parking was impossible, so I drove back to the hotel, parked in the same spot, and ambled the ten minute walk back to the site. As the site was going to be crowded with tours, I began with the Museum of the Ancient Olympian Games, which I hadn’t visited before. It’s smaller than the archaeological museum, and provides fascinating insights.

20130929-111636.jpgAthletic competition in prehistory grew from the physical competition needed to survive, to hunt food and to avoid or defeat danger. In the Greek world, it became associated with religious rites, like funeral games, and local and Panhellenic religious festivals. Olympia seems to have been a religious sanctuary dedicated to Zeus from at least the 11th century BC with the games being instituted in the 8th century BC, in 776 and continuing to 393AD, a period of 1,169 years. They took place at the second full moon after the summer solstice, which coincides with our August. They were an occasion of peace and complete truce between the often warring Greek city-states, and competitors came from all over the Greek world. A lot of diplomacy and business also took place. Women didn’t compete, and except in rare individual cases, women weren’t allowed in to watch. If they were caught sneaking in they were thrown off a nearby mountain!

One of the things I find really interesting is that long-jumpers held stone weights. I think they held them out in front to give them more forward momentum.

20130929-112048.jpgThe whole museum is dedicated to artefacts relating directly to ancient games, and they’ve been brought in from collections all over Greece and even the world. It’s a beautiful little museum, and well worth the time if you have it besides visiting the site and the archaeological museum. I then moved on to the archaeological museum, which has some wonderful exhibits, leaving the site to the quieter early evening.

Of fallen rocks and the kindness of Greek people

18 September continued

After leaving Ancient Mantinea I continued toward Ancient Olympia. I stopped at Kapsia to look at a lovely house that may have been divided into apartments, because part of it was derelict, 20130927-200038.jpg

while the rest looked spick and span.

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The afternoon was wearing on as the air became cooler and the road narrowed and wound further into the mountains. I saw a man, a shepherd or goatherd, carrying a rough-hewn wooden crook, and wearing a long dun-coloured robe. Where it opened slightly at the bottom, below the knees, I saw that he was bare-legged and wearing shoes with no socks. His dark and greying hair was long and loosely pulled back, and his beard hung thickly to halfway down his chest. He gave me a look as I went by, which, though friendly, seemed entirely self-contained, just him, the mountains and his flock. Arkadia.

The mountains of Arkadia are beautiful. They’re also prone to rock falls. Every now and then I’d see little piles scattered on the side of the road. Suddenly, there were some on the road, with one about ten inches long and six inches high, smack in the middle of my lane. I’ve mentioned that I was driving a Suzuki Splash, and I’d already found out that they don’t don’t have much clearance underneath (see “Check before parking on the roadside to visit old tombs”). To avoid it I could go left or I could go right. Unfortunately I didn’t decide quickly enough to avoid it altogether, and my heart sank as I heard the k-chunk, felt the impact and the slight drag to one side before the car straightened. However, straighten it did, and I heaved a sigh of relief as everything seemed to settle down to normal again. However, about ten minutes later there was a definite drag to the right and a lot of rattling. Thinking, “That feels like a flat tyre,” I pulled over, and there it was. The driver’s side front wheel was completely flat, and worse, the rim had a big ding in its edge. “That’s not good,” I thought.

Outside of the car, there was a definite chill in the air. I dragged my suitcase out of the back, and lifted the floor of the boot up. No spare. I looked around. I was next to a long uphill driveway that had a taverna sign, but I couldn’t see a building. On the other side of the road was a kafenion, with an open front door and a log fire burning inside. I opted for the kafenion. The lady didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak Greek, but between us, and a gentleman who was passing, we managed. The lady rang a mechanic in the next town, which was Lagkadia, and they conveyed to me that the mechanic would come soon.

20130928-002116.jpgA few minutes later a young man pulled in and they both greeted him. “Mechanic?” I asked. “Ohi, ohi (no, no)”, they answered, however they told him the trouble, and we all trooped over to the car. He seemed from his clothes to be in the army. He said, “Do you have tools?” I told him there was no spare. He lifted the floor of the boot, and then he lifted the second floor! There was the spare, and it had air in it. O frabjous day! He proceeded to change the wheel for me, and was at pains to ensure that I understood not to travel at faster than 80 kph, because this wheel “is smaller than others so it fit in bottom”.

In his website Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides, Matt Barrett advocates getting a larger car for various safety reasons when driving in Greece. I had forgotten this sage advice, and I can add a couple more reasons; the clearance from the ground, and the fact that these tiny cars come with a temporary spare only.

I wanted to pay these kind people for their time or at least buy them a drink or a coffee, but they wouldn’t accept anything but thanks, and waved me on my way with smiles and a last admonishment from the young man to “drive slow”.

At that point there was no other way I wanted to drive. The roads are so narrow and windy around Lagkadia that it took me more than two hours to drive the last seventy or so pretty much uninhabited kilometres to Olympia. I was so happy to reach Hotel Pelops and my comfortable little room.

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