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Saturday, June 13, 2015

CASTLES ON THE RHINE AND A VISIT TO A MEDIEVAL TOWN

On my return home from Greece last October, I stopped for a few days in Mainz, Germany to visit my friend Patrick. I told him I'd like to see some of the Rhine Castles and he had arranged with his friends Wolfgang and Jurgen to drive us to several sites.  We hopped on the train at Mainz and rode to a town nearby where Patrick's friends were waiting. 


It happened to be a rainy day, but that wasn't going to stop us from having lots of fun. We drove along the scenic river enjoying the views of vineyards that grow up the steep banks and river boats plying they way upriver.Even in the rain the scenery was beautiful. 



Patrick, Jurgen and Wolfgang, my tour guides.


Rhine vineyards

Our first stop was the Sooneck Castle, built on the ruins of a Medieval castle by Prussian princes as a neo-Gothic hunting lodge. The castle was constructed in 1282, destroyed in the Palatinate War of Succession in 1689, and acquired by Frederick William, Crown Prince of Prussia and his brothers in 1834.



Sooneck Castle
An amusing little Russian guide named Leo greeted us as we entered and showed us through the various castle rooms. He explained all the artifacts on display from the long-bow hunting equipment to the bedrooms, which weren't actually slept in but more for show. 
Our Castle guide, Leo 

 bedroom


 dining room
crossbow for hunting
It was still raining when we left the castle but the weather began to clear by the time we reached the picturesque little Medieval town of  Bacharach located where the Steeg Valley meets the Rhine Valley at a juncture near the old Roman road, Aosonius Way, which connected Mainz with Trier, branching off from the Roman riverbank road. The area was first recorded settled in 1094 bu probably was inhabited from antiquity. 
 old gate entrance



 craftsman and his art

In the Middle Ages the town of Bacharach was an important outpost on the Middle Rhine, an economically prominent site as a place of transfer, trade and warehousing for wine and timber.  We entered through a gateway in the original stone wall of the city.  It was like stepping into a picture book, with quaint timbered houses and narrow streets, obviously these days a popular tourist site. 



The Church of St. Peter


 Interior of Church of St Peter


Located in the centre of Bacharach, the Church of St. Peter is dated between 1230/40 but has gone through numerous changes and renos.  It has a baroque style sacristy and is one of the most unique examples of Romanesque architecture on the  Lower Rhine. The Church is surrounded by courtyards and open-timbered houses, many from the late Middle Ages. The town's post office tower dates from the early 1400s.


 Above the church stands the ruins of the  Chapel of St. Werner dating from the early 14th century and above that, stands Stahlick Castle, a fortified castle dating to the 12th century. 



Before heading off to explore Stalick Castle we stopped in a quaint restaurant for a typical German meal of veal schnitzel and beer.







 On our way to Stahlick Castle

Stalick Castle, towers over Bacharach

Today Stahlick Castle is used as a youth hostel. There were children frolicking in the courtyard wearing capes and sparring with pretend swords. 
 http://www.jugendherberge.de/en/youth-hostels/bacharach390/shortportraet 




On our trip back we stopped at  the ruins of another castle overlooking the river, where there is now a first-class hotel and restaurant built in its place. 



View of the Rhine River


 Remains of old castle




The views along the river were magnificent even through the mist. In spite of the weather, we had an excellent day exploring and enjoying the sites along the majestic Rhine. 

  Sunset 
 Town View


Friday, May 22, 2015

EXPLORING SALAMINA


 Boat in Piraeus Port 

Salamina (Salamis) is the largest Greek island in the Saronic Gulf about 2 km off the coast from Piraeus. My friend Christina lives on Salamina so each time I visit Greece I always enjoy a few days on the island with her.

Last September when I was there we decided to do some exploring.  Salamina is a large island with an interesting history dating back to the Bronze Age. It is best known for the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC when the allied Greek fleet led by Themistocles, overpowered the Persian fleet. Today Salamis is the home of the Salamis Naval Base and a NATO base.



The island is one of the largest Greek islands with an area of 36 square miles.  It is mountainous and covered with pine forest. It's popular for holiday and weekend visits for Greeks from the mainland but not many tourists visit there. There is an island bus service but to really see around you need a car to reach some of the lovely more remote beaches around the island.

View from Christina's house

Christina's house is in the village of Aianteio on the southwestern part of the island. Her house has a magnificent view of the bay below and down the hill is a small, pleasant beach. This time when I visited Christina suggested we go exploring and see if we could find some of the ancient sites. According to the map there are several but they are not well marked so you need to be prepared to do some searching and hiking.




Our first stop was to go to the memorial for the Greek fleet from the Battle of Salamis.  Along the shore there is a memorial and nearby  tumulus where the dead were buried. Higher up on the hill is a beautiful bronze statue depicting the sailors aboard a ship.

Monument Honoring the Greek Fleet from the Battle of Salamis

From there we drove around to another part of the island, this time in search of  the ancient Mycenaean acropolis at Kanakia. The acropolis was on a hillside near the beach, but farther up the hill there are excavations and a memorial to Ajax, one of the warrior-kings who took part in the Trojan Wars. He is mentioned in Homer's Iliad and died at Troy, so a memorial had been built for him.


We found a dusty road leading up to where we supposed the excavations were and when we reached the top I heard some digging. Through the trees we could see some young people at work. They were the archaeology team.  So we went to investigate. And what luck! I just happened that the archaeologist was there, Yannos Lolos, who is well known for his discoveries. He welcomed us to the site and showed us around. When I mentioned my novel Shadow of the Lion which had just been published, he was very interested. That was definitely one of the highlights of my trip last year!
Archaeologist at Work 
Other interesting sites on the island include the Cave of Euripides. The poet was born on Salamis and this cave is where he wrote most of his works.  Christina has been there but said it was a difficult trudge up the mountain so we passed on that idea and went in search of a nice beach where we could refresh ourselves.


Salamina has several very pleasant beaches and we enjoyed a nice feast of Greek mezedes at the beach taverna in Kanakia before driving around to see more sites.

 One of many beautiful views

 The Monastary

A very old church dating to 1000's.


Home of the poet Angelos Sikelianos

Along the way we stopped at The Monastery of Virgin Mary Faneromeni that played a role in the Greek War of Independence in 1821 against the Turks. Nearby on the beach is the house of the distinguished poet Angelos Sikelianos . The author wrote many of his remarkable pieces here. It is now a museum


 Beautiful Views on the Island Drive

Church of the Virgin Mary Eleftherotria

On the way back to Salamina town we drove up into the hills to see the Euripidean Theatre and the beautiful Church of Virgin Mary Eleftherotria on the Patris Hill. The views from there were spectacular.

Back in town we visited the Folk Museum and also the archaeological museum that had displays from the Cave of Euripides and other excavations on the island.




Across the road we found a quaint old taverna and were welcomed in. It was like a mini museum with all kinds of Greek artifacts hanging from the rafters and decorating the walls.  The owner was a very friendly fellow and we decided this would be a great place to visit again. (Maybe this year we'll go there).

 The taverna in Salamis

Christina and me having fun

As usual my time on Salamina was full of fun and never a dull moment. It's always nice to get back to Chris's house and relax on her porch swing watching the collection of neighbourhood cats that like to come and visit. When I got back this year we plan to do more exploring as there are still a lot of undiscovered places to see.
 The Cats
 Feeding Time
 The little courtyard and the suite I stay in
 The terrace
Christina's beautiful house

Here's a link to a published story about Salamina: http://www.travelgeneration.com/travel-stories/greece-the-hidden-treasures-and-secrets-of-salamina/