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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ATHENS IN THE RAIN

MAY 28/29, 2007
Yesterday it poured rain, all the streets aflood. We got fairly soaked making the rounds early in the day but later it acleared enough to enjoy a late dinner in the courtyard. It's wonderful being back with my little 'family', Christina and Daniella. I sued to babysit Dani from the time she was barely a year old and now she's this gorgeous tall, slender twel-year old who looks like she should be a model. She's still that quiet, soft-spoken girlie she used to be. From her infancy she was exposed to various languages (Swedish, Greek, Arabic and English) so she didn't begin to talk right away. I'll neer forget the first day she suddenly uttered a phrase in English! Now she also studies French as well as being fluent in Greek, English and Swedish.

Ingrid and I set off to explore the old haunts yesterday (Monday). We had lunch at the To Kati Allo Taveran and were warmly greeted by the owners, Anna, Leonidas and their son Dino. They are gypsy people from Sparta and friends of the guy I always run into on the bus around Commercial Drive. Thjey proudly showed me the latest family portrait which includes Dino's pretty American wife and new baby boy named "Leo" after his grandpa. I've known Dino since he was a little kid playing with his toys at the taverna and as a teen-ager when he was learning to play the bouzouki. It seems so strange that now he's a grown man with a child of his own!

There have been other changes here in my old haunts too. I was dismayed to see that all the apartment buildings and shops across from the TKA have been torn down to make way for a most ugly structure that is the new Acropolis museum. It doesn't look at all like the attractive sketches shown when they were first starting to excavate for this new museum. It frankly is an eye sore and does nothing to enhance the lovely old Neo Classical buildings that surround it, or compliment the grand Classical architecture of the Parthenon (the view of which it hides).

Then on down to Vironos Street, where I used to live (Byron's Street). My beautiful house and courtyard at #14 seem unchanged but there is no more "Dirty Corner". They have covered over all the archaeological ruins that were there which made it an intriguing corner (the dust from the digs gave it it's name.) And the milk shop where all us ex-pats used to congregate has been taken over by a fancy restaurant so there are no more tables along the iron fence overlooking the old Byzantine ruins. When Lillian and I saw it we were aghast. There are so many memories for us on that corner and now they've been obliterated! (All to spiffy up the city for the Olympics.) I have to say there are some good improvements. Veikou Street has turned into the Yellow Brick Road with yellow paving slabs replacing the broken pavements. No more tripping and falling when coming home late from a night of wining and dining at the T.K.A. For the most part, the city looks really quite beautiful and cleaner than ever. Less smog. Still a lot of noisy traffic, especially from the annoying pakakia's that zoom around without their mufflers and young kids in cars with boom-boxes cranked up full volume blasting out Greek music.

It didn't take me long to get right back into the life "zoe", the life I like so much -- laid back and exciting and full of so many old memories. Lillian and I are the two old homing pigeons who keep returning. She's been part of Athens since the 60's but she's 83 now and as her Greek husband died some years ago she says this might be her last sentimental journey here. I doubt it will be mine! If I could afford to, I'd live here six months of the year like I used to.

Lillian and Ingrid and I met yesterday. She's on her way to Germany and then back to Florida. We had lunch today at TKA and talked about old times, connecting the dots with missing people. I was amazed to find the famous Hollywoods are still in town, apparantly occuping 3 suites in an apt. near Plaka Square. Diana the belly dancer is still living across from my old place on Vironos. Dino says that James , the other mad poet (a.k.a. Devin Devine the magician) was here last year -- said he'd come back to die here. Ha! He told me the last time I saw him four years ago that he was going back to the States to die and put me in charge of his 'last will and testament' and final collection of poems. I have been the keeper of his poetry for years and don't know what to do with it. Some of it's pretty brilliant and it seems a shame it's sitting in my closet.

We're all anticipating the big Assembly of 2007 reunion on Saturday at the TKA, 10 pm. I just had emails from Patrick and Vesa verifying they'll be there. And Deborah should arrive Sunday. Anna Britt is scheduled in from Santorini on Saturday night too. And we are trying to round up the locals we know. So far have several of them invited to the birthday on Sunday.

Ingrid and I are off to Mykonos in the morning (Wed) and will be there for a couple of days.
Back to Athens Friday. More blogs coming up. Watch for them!

NEXT: Tinos and Mykonos: the Divine and the Decadent

Monday, May 28, 2007

A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY

MAY 27

I have so many memories of sitting by dusty roadsides in Greece waiting for buses to come. At Vassiliki I am perched on a cement ledge under and ancient eucalyptus tree b esdie two black-clad yiayias, one wearing traditional widow's clothing - a long dress, shawl and head scarft. Behind me, a green parrot screeches for attention occasionally calling out in Greek as it struts on the ledge of a stone backe-oven. The yiayias chat amiably and the old one pats my arm in a friendly greeting. "Ti Kaneis? How are you?" she asks.

We are on our way north ot Lefkdad town this morning where we'll make our connection for the Athens bus. It's a hot day, ut intermittentaly overcase with dark rain clouds hovering over the moutnains. Waiting by the roadsie is a time to relax, comtemplate and reflect about the journey so far, anticiapting adventures yet to come. I listen to snatches of the yiayias' conversation, catch a familiar prhase or enough words to guess at the meaning. I've been honing my Greek vocabulary, using the language whenever I can, and it's all starting to come back to me again. So far I've managed small conversations, pleasantries and asking directions.

Finally a bus arrives and we board, heading for a scenic tour through Lefkadas mountain villages. At one stop several more people board so I give up my single seat to sit beside Ingrid. A pretty young woman carrying two red roses takes mey seat. Following her s an African man. He orders her to move, tell her to sit somewhere else. She ignores him. Although there is a seat empty by the window he doesn't excuse imself politely to si there, he jujust keept shouting in English and swearing in Greek.
"You sit there! You move!"
The girl doesn't budge or say a word until he become more obnoxious, threatening, his face screw4ed pu in a htaeful scowl while he contineus spewing threats and curses at her. Finally she moves across the aisle and he takes the window seat. His bad vibes, black as he is, surround him. Nobody says a word, not even the bus attendant. I wanted to say something to him about the way he was treating the people who ad kindly atken him into their country, but I kept quiet. I wondred if I'd still have been sitting in that seat, if he would have yelled at me, and i considred how I would hae reacted if he did.

At Lefkada we had almost an hour to wait for ournext connection. I stood outside catching the resfreshing sea breeze from the yacht harb our across the road. The bus came and we boarded. Suddenly, theAFrican appeared again and it seemed as if he ws goiong to board the bus. There was a lot of shouting outside and the bus door shut. The African disappeared and the bus took off.

We enjoyed our trip down the coast, through the lush green countryside, along the sea coast. One of the most impressive sights is the new brige spanning the Corinithian Gulf at Patras. This gorgeous engeineering wonder is one of the many improvements that were made here for the Olympics. Before it was built cars had to be ferried across.

By the time we reached the other side which is the north of the Peloponnese, it was starting to grow dark. I thought we'd soonn be at the Corinth Canal and nearly 'home' but somehow the last part of the journey seemed endless. it took forever before the black h ulk of Acrocorinth mountain came into view and we crossed the canal. (How many times have I cross that canal? Maybe hundreds!)

All the way down the coast the memories kept flooding ack, first sad thoughts ab out the absent ones -- Robbie, Graham and others of our old plaka gang who have departed this earth. Then as we passed familiar landmarks, a flood of old long-forgotten memories came to mind, vignettes of my life here in the '80's -- obscure incidents that now seemed so amusing . I remembered the day a friend and I took the bus up the coast so she could track down a b oyfriend and leave a note on his door (the guy probably lived there with his wife and kids!) then we took the ferry over to Salamina for the day -- a rather unmemorable visit as I recall. The coast of Salamis is famous though, for a naval battle betweent he Greeks and Persians back in the 5th century, when the Persians were defeated and fled.

Then past Daphne -- there's a monastary there where a wine festival is held each year. I remembered going there with Robbie and some other friends and how difficult a time we had trying to get transport back into the city afterwards, late at night and full of all the wine we'd sampled. There's also a big mental institution at Daphne so when you say someone has gone 'to Daphne" you mean they've b een committed. Such was the fate of the famous "Mad Poet" Vassilis, one of the most intriguing guys I've ever met -- brilliant and talented but so intense! I used to get electric shocks just eing near him and secretly had a big crush on him. In fact, the character fo the poet Alkeas in my Sappho play is based on Vassilis. He was a dark gyspy soul. We were becoming good friends when e suddenly disappeared -- carted off to Daphne, so they said, and he's not been seen again. I often think of him and wonder where he is and if he ever recovered. He was obviously bi-polar.

So at last, by 103.0 the bus pulled into the terminal in north Athens. It had been an 8 hour trip. We got a txi to Chrstinas and here were are. Home again!

NEXT: Around town in the rain!

VASSILIKI AND A DAY TRIP TO KEFALONIA

Sappho's Leap, Lefkada
MAY 26
Again, we were unable to get a boat to see Sappho's Leap and the beauitful beach we wanted to visit. Instead we decided on a day trip over to Fiskardo on Kefalonia. It was my third visit there -- a pleasant little port, mainly a tourist attraction and yacht harour. Fiskardo is named for a pirate who used to hide out here. It was the only village on Kefalonia not devastted by the 1953 earthuake. The buildings are all pastel colours, Venetian style. There's the remains of a Venetian castle and light houseon the cape which we intended to explore, but the sun was hot and we were not properly shod, so we decided to relax gy the sea and sip ouzo with a marinated octopus appetizer. (The Greeks never serve ouzo without providing a tastey side dish to accompany it.)

At least Ingrid got glimpse of Cape Lefkas and the lighthouse that stands where there used to be a temple to Apollo -- likely the one that Sappho visited before she plunged to her death off the high cliffs.

In Vassiliki, we are staying in a lovely new hotel, only 40 euro a night including breakfast, just a few meters from the wind surfing beach and the seaside tavernas that line the port. I'm quite fond of Vassiliki because of its un pretentiousness and friendly people. It's too bad we don't have time to stay longer and take advantage of the various boat cruises you can take from here. But today's ferry outing to Fiskardo was a pleasant enough replacement. Tomorrow we're off to Athens and if we get early enoug bus connections we ough to arrive there by evenin. It will be nice to be back at Chrstina's houe again, istting int eh shade of the courtyard and relaxing for a few days before we head off on another adventure.

NEXT: The long bus trip to Athens

Saturday, May 26, 2007

LEFKADA

Sea cave, Lefkada
MAY 25
Lefkada is the fourth largest island in the Ionians. It's joined to the mainland by a causeway over a narrow isthmus. Lefkada has ten sattelite islets which include Skorpios, burial place and former home of the ill-fated Onassis family. It's a forested mountainous islands, also fertile and wel-watered with cotton fields, olive groves, vineyards and farm areas. This is my third trip here and we are heading to Vassiliki on the southern tip. My first visit here I camped near the famous wind-wurfing beach at Vassiliki and took seeral boat tours around to the outlying islands including Skorpios. This time our main aim is to get to Cape Lefkada)known as "Sappho's Leap" where the poet Sappho tragically lept to her death in the 6th C BC near the sanctuary of Apollo which once stood on the Cape.

MAY 26 VASSILIKI AND A DAY TRIP TO KEFALONIA

Again, we were stymied in our plans and weren't able to get a boat to Sappho's Leap or the beach we had planned to spend a day at. Instead we decided on a day trip by ferry over to Fiskardo on Kefalonia. It was my third visit there -- a pleasant little port, mainly a tourist attraction and yacht harbour. It used to be the hide-away haunt of a famous pirate after whom it is named. There is a Venetian castle ruin and lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour and we intended to explore it but the day was hot and we weren't properly shod for tromping up the stony pathway. We opted instead to sit at a quay-side taverna and sip ouzo with yummy marinated octopus appetizer. (The Greeks never serve ouzo without the accompaniment of munchies).

At least Ingrid got a glimpse of Cape Lefkada from the ferry, though a distant one. The sea here is an impossibly bright teal colour, very clear and beautiful though tonight, with a wind blowing up you could see Homer's 'wine dark sea' . And, by the way, we passed by Ithaaka, Odyseeus' island with is very close to Kefalonia. (and, Kefalonia is the island made famous by Louis de Berniere's "Captain Corelli's Mandolin". It's an Island I like very much and will certain return there again and again.)

We are back in Vassiliki now for our last evening here. We've been staying in a brand new hotel for only 40 Euro a night including breakfast. Pensions are cheaper but we opted to grab the first lodgings we came upon and, just like in Parga, lucked out. Prices here are so much cheaper than Venice, including the food and wine. A bottle of good red for only 3.50 euro. So we've been enjoying lots of it and ouzo too.

Tomorrow we catch the bus up to Lefkada town and hopefully make the connections to the Athens bus, probably arriving in Athens in the early evening. We're both quite looking forward to it. We'll spend a few days there, do our laundry and we're off to Mykonos for a few days.

NEXT: Athens news.

Friday, May 25, 2007

RETURN TO PARGA

MAY 24

This is my third visit to this pretty little town. Parga spills down the mountainside to a small bay flanked by coves and islets. On my previous trips here I visited the Nekromanteion (Oracle of the Dead) and made a couple of other side tours such as to Dodona (Olympias' home) Greece's oldest oracle. This time I wanted to return to Zalongo, site of another Greek tragedy. Unfortunately there were no tours available and it wasn't possible to reach by local transit.

Zalongo is the spot where the women and children of the mountain villages of Souli jumped to their death rather than be caputred by the Turks during the prelude to the Greek War of Independence. Their brave act of sacrifice is marked by a moment erected on the cliff-side by the Greek army.

Instead, Ingrid and I explored the Venetian castle that dominates the harbour of Parga, a remnant of Venice's 400 years of dominance over Greece in the the 1400's. I've been to the "Kastro" before but this time was delighted to find there had been extensive restorations made including the rebuilding of the army barracks which is used as a reception centre and cafe.
We enjoyed a light lunch and frappe there and took lots of photos as the views from the castle ramparts are stunning.

We've lucked out in Greece as far as expenses are concerned (after expensive Venezia). We stayed in the oldest hotel in Parga, Hotel Acropol, built in the 1800's and refurbished in 2001.
50 Euro a night (for two). And this morning before leaving stepped into the lovely old Church of the Ten Apostles next door, the oldest church in Parga. A fitting way to end our visit there.

Then it was off on the 10.45 bus to Lefkada Island.

NEXT: LEFKADA, Vassiliki -- the 3rd best wind surf centre in the world!

CRUISING ABOARD THE "PASIPHAE PALACE"

MAY 22 On board the MV Pasiphae Palace, Minoan lines, from Venezia to Igoumenitsa Greece.

A hot steamy day and we battled through the crowds at San Marco, stopping by to lok at the Florian bar, a very Venetian, elegant cafe bar where Byron, Wagner and other intellecutals used to hang out. Much more impressive than Harry's and we wished we'd had time to stop there for a coffe. Wemanaged to get the vaparetto to our stop near the ferry terminal (that crazy long walk we made the other day wasn't anywhere near where we needed to be!) The tourist info woman said it was a 'ten minute walk", it turned out that wasonly to the turn off. We kept slogging along after that until eventually the shuttle bus came along and stopped for us. We got checked in and boarded immediately. It wasn't the Titanic but it was a pretty impressive craft for a 'ferry'. A huge boat, posh compared to the BC Ferries. There was even a disco and casino on board. We had booked recliner seats, but decided to ask for a cabin which we were lucky to get.

I felt sat at leaving Venezia, definitely would return; our only complaints were the crowds of tourists (especially those who gather under your hotel window and party loudly until 4 a.m.!) But we'd found the best way to avoid the mobs was to get out before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m. By far the best way to see the city when it is quiet and serene.

May 23. We spent a comfortable night in our own cabin on the ship. It was a pleasant journey and we arrived in Igoumentista by noon. The trip along the Dalmatian Coast was calm and pretty. I went up to the very top deck to take pictures of Italy's 'heel' and the coast of Albania.

We arrived in Igoumenitsa at noon. I was there four years ago seeing Susan off on the ferry to Anconda, Italy. This time there was an impressive new ferry terminal and bus depot (part of the improvements Greece made for the Olympics). We only had an hour to wait for our bus to Parg. It turned out to be real "Cook's Tour" bust trip through the pretty country villages, so I had a good look at more of Olymmpias's country (Alexander's mother) Everything here is green and fresh. It even showered a little on the way through the mountains to the coast.

EPIROS: This part of Greece is known as "Epiros" and it has quite a long history of civil strife and tragedies. It is located in the NW corner of the mainland, bordering Alania and the Ionian Sea. The high Pindos mountains spearate it from Macedonia and Thessaly in the east. In early times this area was inhabited by tribes, one of them, the Molossi dominated the whole region and became so powerful that it's leader was made King of Epiros. If you have been keeping up with the last chapters of my novel "Shadow of the Lion", this is the home of Olympias, who was the neice of this king who became the wife of Philip II and mother of Alexander the Great.

Through the ages there have been many strifes in this wild mountainous area. It fell to the Turks in 1431 and later became part of Greece in 1913 when the Greek army seized it during the Balkan Wars. During WWII, a strong resistance army too to the mountains. During the civil war 1944-45, Epiros became a scene of heavy fighting. When the resistance split into factions many children from Epiros were forced to evacuate to the Eastern bloc countries by the Communists. If you have read Nicholas Gage's book "Eleni" it tells how he and his siblings were escorted out of Epiros so they could escape to be with their father in the States. Their mother, Eleni stayed behind and was tortured and killed by the communists.

We are heading for Parga, a beautiful port resort on the coast south of Igoumenitsa.
NEXT: Return to Parga

MUSEO STORICO NAVALE

May 21. A GLIMPSE OF VENICE'S NAVAL HISTORY

We visited the naval museum at the Arsenale where there are models of all thetypes of ships, gondolas and fishing craft used in Venice over the centuries. As I've always een interested in naval history, and since I've been covering Venetian ports in Greece where the Venetian navy once ruled the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, I found the museum fascainating.

The displays included elaborate centuries old models of Venetian ships and gode's ceremonial barges all ornatedly gilded. The Venetian ship builders were renown for their fabulous deisigns.

There were a number of gondolas, the oldest types to newer ones. Some very ornate. One of the dongolas on display was once owned by Peggy Gugenheim who has a gallery in Venice.

The Arsenal is the old shipyards where the republic's navy was docked. The entrance is flanked by marble lions stolen from Greece. The shipyards once employed some 16,000 shipbuiders who could assemble an entire ship in only a few hours.

Afterwards, we caught a vaporetto back to San Marco for a visit to the fabled Harry's Bar, noted for it's peach/sparkling wine Bellini cocktail touted as 'the best Bellini in the world' At 20 euros it isn't We had a much tastiers one down on the Riva later for 6.50!) All sorts of celes and writer such as Ernest Hemingway used to drink at Harry's Bar. According to reports though, Papa siad it was 'a sissy bar' fit only for the likes of Scott Fitzgerald. We found it pretentious -- a small, non-descript ar highly overpriced. But we had to have a Bellini there, just because...

It seemed fitting to finish our last day in Venice, after touring the naval musem. on a gondalo trip. It's hard to describe the serene feeling you get as you cruise soundlessly along the canals. At each corner the gondoliers shout "ohye!" (no horns to honk). The sleek black gondola slides through the water gracefully without a sound. Imagine Venezia as it used tobe! It's an experience worth every cent of the 100 Euro (an hours trip) We cruised by an old doge's residential palace, the site of Marco Polo's house, the home of the fabled Casanova, and later slid under the Bridge of Sighs, past the grated windows of the prison where Casanova once languished.

We topped off the evening at a reasonably priced cafe on the Riva, sipped 'the best' Bellini, a bottle fo red wine, ravioli, lemon gelato dessert and amaretto for 65 Euro. A pefect ending to a perfect Venezian holiday.

NEXT: Off to Greece!

We to

EXPLORING THE GHETTO

May 20, Venezia

I'v never heard so many church bells ringing in unison before, loud and incessant throughout the day reminding the parishoners of mass, I suppose. It's a glorious sound when you first hear it but, just as I've heard other travelers complain of the five daily calls to prayer (ampliphined) in Muslim countries like Turkey and MOrooc, for instance, it can become somewhat overbearing. Especially when there's a church on your doorstep or, in the case ouf our Hotel Orion, right outside our window!

Needless to say we were early to rise again,and after our pre-reakfast stroll and a substantial repast we headed off in hopes of dinging the ghetto. Our early morning adventure took us over the Rialto Bridge. One amazing phenomena here is the way the light reflects and shimmers off the buildings from the canals. Quite a gorgeous sight but impossible to capture in a photo. The Rialto has been a commercial centre since the 9ths century when the city's first fish market was established here. Ships from around the wrld docked here and it was here that the Grand Caal was first spanned. The Ponte dei Rialto is the most used bridge across the canal. It has three sections, with shops b uilt right on the bridge.

We intended to get a vaporetto to the ghetto in Cannaregio but by mistake got one going the wrong direction and ended up a long ways off at the Lido. Oh well, a beauitful day for a cruise. We hung around the square at the Lido awhile watching the ordes of weekend holidayers heading for the beaches; draknk campari and relaxed, then caught a boat back to Venice, this time in the right direction.

The germ 'geto' (ghetto) originated in Venice, referring to the foundries where metals for canons were cast. "Ghetto" comes from the cinders piled where founderies were set up in Canneragio. The Venetian word 'to smell' - gettare, hence the name 'geto veccio' (old foundry) for the first site and 'geto nuevo' for the second. With the arrival of the Jews in the 14-15th C. the meaning and pronounciation changed as the 'ghetto' became the place to assign them. They were actually locked in at night, not allowed freedom to venture around the city. Because they couldn't expand outside their area, they had to build up -- so the buildings in the ghetto are much taller than in other parts of the city and it is still isolated from the rest of Venezia. Until Napoleon conquored Venice in 1797, Jews were only allowed to live in that part of the city. Remember Shakeare's "Merchant of Venice"? It took place mainly in the ghetto of Venice.

In the main piazza is a memorial wall to the many Jews who wre rounded up by the Germans during the war and carted off to death camps. There is one old synagogue here and all the shops sell Jewish items. We stopped at a cafe for a lunch of goulash and salad then attempted t find our way out of there by foot, an exhausting adventure. On the way we intended to locate an internet cafe (no luck) so gave up and stggered back to our hotel for a much deserved nap.

This evening we decided to take it easy. Believe it or not, DID find a web cafe, but the computer wouldn't let me sign into my blog, then went back over to San Marco Piazza to sit on the stone benches contemplating the sights as we listened to some jazz. Later went for gelato and amaretto for our dessert treat. Then home for a well deserved sleep.

NEXT: Some of Venice's naval history

Sunday, May 20, 2007

CRUISING THE ISLANDS

SATURDAY, May 19

19 Euro got us a ticket for a 3 island tour. Venice is composed of 118 small islands ina lagoon connected to the mainland cityof Mistre by a thin causeway. There are shipping lanes marked off withpilings betwen the islands as in places the lagoon is shallow and boats will run aground (one of the reasons Venice ws saved from raiding navys in the past)

First stop was Murano, famous for its glass since 1292. The glass blowers came here from Venice because their kilns started fires. (note there are interesting chimney pots on all the buildings here built so sparks wouldnt fly and start fires)

Burano is a traditional fishing village with beauitufl coloured houses. The women of Burano are noted for their skillin lace'making.

Torcello was once home to 20,000 people but due to plagues, malaria and other epidemics, whichkilled off most of the population, and silted in canals, now only about 500 people live there. Itàs most famous for the very old church, onf of the first built with the skills of Greek stone masons who did the beauitufl mosai tiles of the interior. We wanted to looks around thee§ Basilica of Santa Maria Assencta and spend some time on the islands so we opted to catch a vaporetto back to Venice. The island is pastoral and green, a myriad of singing birds trill from the trees. There are signs of renewal and restoration. We splurged on a gourmet lunch at the beautiful new Ristorante Villa 600. A most charming, handomse waiter recommended the mmenu for us ' campari starters, sea food antipasto, ricotta with scampi, a bottle of excellent red wine and creme brule that was unbelievable. We paid 50 euro a piece for the meal but it was worth every delicious mouthful. Then we took our time browsing the church grounds before catching a boat back to Venezia via the Lido, Veniceàs pleasure island where there is a bathing beach, casino, horseback riding stables and a famous gold club.

That evening, we wandered the labyringh of alleywash just folowing our instincs across the canal bridges. We set out for Castelli, the Greek community at San Georgio Dei Greci. Once about 4000 Greeks lived in Venice (in the 15thC) now little more than 100 remain. Most of them were merchants, book publishers, artists, scribes and literary scholars.)

We walked whevered our feet took us, through the maze of fairly well'lit narrows lanes. Eventurally came to The Arsenal with its two great lions brought from Greece in 1687. Here is where Veniceàs naval ships were built and maintained. We plan to return to tour the naval museum on Monday.

It wasnt far from there back to San Marco piazza and our hotel. We had actually walked a circular route. Its so much fun to explore. You just never know where you will end up. But thats half the adventure here in this amazing city.

Sunday, (today) at last I found this web cafe where I can post my blogs. Today we had another interesting walk about and vaporetto trip which I will post in my next blog THE GHETTO and an unexpected cruise back to The Lido.

SERENISSIMA

SERENISSIMA, the Most Serene Republic of Venice, or so she s once known...
We are here, in this most amazing floating city, and I,ll take you on an adventure through the sestieres (neighbourhoods) of Venezia.

May 18, our first morning here. When we stepped outside this morning at 6 a.m. for a pre'breakfast stroll, it was thelight in the piazza )or campo as most small piazzas are called here) that first struck me '' the way it filters through the narrow passagewasy (some only an arms width= At the end of a shadowy alley a bright shaft of daylight appears and you step out of the shadows into the sunlight.

We were awake by 3 a.m. after our excellent flights, and after getting settled in our small, tidy hotle Orion, we were too excited to do anything but start exploring immediately. I got tears in my eyes thefirst glimpse of Venice, can hardly believe I am actually here. Venice is very small, from the air you can see it is merely a cluster of islands in a lagoon, intersepted by canals. The streets are a narrow maze that arenàt too difficult to navigate but easy to get lost in. Getting lost in Venice is half the fun!

Venice became a popular tourist destination back during the 4thCrusade and you still get the feeling youàre a knight jousting for position in the swarming crowds. So weve discovered the best time to see the city is before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

Our first morning here we were up a 6 and there was nary a tourist in San Marco Piazza, the main square of the city. We wandered about enjoying the freedom to stand on the Bridge of Sighs alone, and walk along the Riva without being jostled or trampled by themobs. Later we set off walking to find the ferry depot (unsuccessfully) so we could verify our tickets to Greece next week. Ended up after that fruitless search taking the vaporetto back to the Acadamia. The vaporetta are the water buses that ply Veniceàs canals along with the gondolas and other crafts such as power boats and water taxis. We bought a tree day pass that allows us to hop on and off at will.

We ended up touring the Acadmia Gallery, awe struck by the paintings by Georgioni, Carpaccio, Bellini, Veronese, Titian and we were especially thrilled by the Tintorettos. Then we went back to San Marco which had been transferred into a tourist bazaar with souvenier kiosks and artists and kazillions of people jamming the Riva. We retreated too our hotle for a long snooze, then wen tout for an evening stroll, intending to catch the vaporetto to the ghetto but opted instead to sit at a water'side cafe and have a good dinner of lasagne and salad with a bottle of excellent red wine, all reasonabl priced for this rather epxensive city.

Tomorrow we are off on a three island boat cruise, early a.mn. and will try again for the ghetto after we return. On a rating from 1 to 10 for Venice how would I rate it_ Definitely a 10. Itàs truly a wonder, amazing, and in spite of the reputation that its sinkinginto the sea, it seems vry much afloat!

NEXT An island cruise

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

ON THE EVE OF MY DEPARTURE

I'm leavin' on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again...

Well, actually I do. I'll be back June 26.
But here it is at last, the eve of my departure. This time tomorrow (May 16) we'll be in the air winging our way to Venice. I'm about as excited as a kid waiting for Santa Claus! Venice has always been a dream destination of mine and who would have thought I'd actually get there?


Everything has come together perfectly so far, and I'm sure that once we land and eventually make our way to Athens, things will be perfect there too. Today I had a surprise letter from an old Athens friends, one of the crowd of ex-pats I knew from the '80's. She's an elderly Jewish lady originally from NYC, now residing in Florida and like me, she makes regular trips back to the scene of our many adventures in Greece. Lillian wrote me on May 8 and said she was leaving then for Athens. She doesn't know I'm coming so I emailed her hotel and will try to leave a message for her in hopes she'll join the Assembly of 2007 when we meet the weekend of June 2/3 (my birthday party on the Pnyx). I'm sure she'll be as surprised to hear of my arrival as I was to hear that she is over there now! There are so many of the old crowd who have left Greece or passed on to the Elysian Fields. So this gathering of the Assembly is an important occasion.


Ingrid and I have our plans made for Venice. She'll be my tour guide there as she was there last year. But we're going to take in a few organized tours as well. Then on May 22 we board the ferry for Greece. We expect to take our time, see some sights along the coast before arriving in Athens around May 27 by bus. Then we're going for a little jaunt over to Mykonos so Ingrid can see a Cycladic Island. (I'm her tour guide in Greece.)


On June 2, at 10 pm, the friends will gather at the To Kati Allo taverna on Xatsichristou St. in Athens for our reunion. There should be Anne Britt from Norway, Vesa and his wife and son from Finland, Patrick from Germany, Ingrid, me, and the Athens friends (including Lillian, I hope!) The next day June 3, in time for my birthday, another Vancouver friend arrives, Deb.

The birthday party will be held at sunset on the flat rocks behind the Pnyx which I think is actually the Hill of the Nymphs. We've had lots of parties there in the past and it's an excellent place with a view out over the rooftops toward Pireaus and the sea to the west, and behind it, a glimpse of the Acropolis through the trees. How appropriate for me to be there once again with all my friends.


One of our quests while in Athens will be to scout out a new taverna hangout for our little group of scholars/writers/artists. The TKA is a long-time gathering place, of course, but AB and I decided we wanted to find somewhere special, just to mark the occasion of our return. That will be part of the fun as there are many interesting places around that area. Of course this will mean consuming the token carafes of krasi or retsina, maybe a little ouzaki or metaxa brandy, at each place just to make sure we pick up the right vibes and inspiration.

After that, the week will be full of adventures and various day-trips. Then we're heading for the islands, Naxos and Amorgos. And by June 15 back to Athens to take in a very special concert at the Herodian with my favorite singer Haris Alexiou. The last two weeks I plan to relax and enjoy visiting with my Athens friends Christina and Dinaz and strolling the old haunts which are so full of memories for me. Hopefully I'll glean a lot of inspiration for writing -- not only for my novel and the Sappho play, but remembrances for my travel memoir of Greece.

I'm lucky. This is going to be another fabulous trip! And I know I have the Muse with me.

So, keep an eye on this space and I'll share my adventures with you.




Wednesday, May 02, 2007

SAILING

"I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the
wind's like a whetted knife:
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trek's over."
John Masefield 1878- 1967 "Sea Fever" st. 3

When I was youngI used to wish I was a boy so I could be a sailor. I was fascinated by the sea, and especially pirate stories. In my teens I was entranced by the smart-looking American sailors that used to visit the port of Vancouver. Later on, when my dad bought a small wooden-hull boat, christened Myfanwy (because he was Welsh), we spent a lot of time chugging around the local waters fishing and pleasure cruising back and forth to our island cottage. It was a very small boat with an inboard motor but it was fun to go out fishing and once my husband, a friend and I made the long voyage from the city to the island which was quite a day's adventure.

Since then I've taken many ferry trips both here and when I visit or lived in Greece but except for a media tour on a cruise ship I've never actually taken a real sea voyage. One of these days I'd love to make the trip up the Inland Passage to Alaska. British Columbia has a wonderful naval history. It was in these waters that famous captains like Cook and Bligh sailed, and our city is named for Captain George Vancouver who sailed here on one of the British ships exploring the coast on a quest to find the Northwest Passage. I once wrote and published a brochure about our island, Keats Island, which was named after the British captain Sir Richard Goodwin Keats who surveyed the coastal islands.

In just two more weeks my friend Ingrid and I will be flying to Venice and from there we are taking the ferry to Greece, a 24 hr. cruise down the Dalmation Coast. I'm quite excited about it as I love travelling by sea. I'm also fascinated by the research I've done about the Venetian navy and how once it patrolled and controlled many of the Greek islands and ports.
There used to be 90 different pirate ships cruising those waters so the Greeks had appealed to Venice for help and thus the Venetians built many coastal fortresses and kept their navy in those ports so they could protect the people from pirate raids. So this trip, starting at Venice and ending at Igoumenitsa Greece will be quite an adventure.

I took a ferry trip over to Vancouver Island this weekend to attend a writer's event and visit my cousins. We spent Saturday morning at the Royal B.C. Museum taking in the Titanic exhibit.
Before you enter, you are given a boarding pass from the White Star Line with the name of a passenger (real one!) and particulars about them. My boarding pass was for a woman named Mrs. Peter Joseph (Catherine Rizk) age 24 and her two children Michael (6) and Anna (2). Their accomodation was 3rd class steerage. Catherine suffered from TB and her husband had sent her and the children back to Lebabon, likely because it was a healthier climate than her home, Detroit, Michigan, but also to save money. However, in early April 1912 he sent for them to come home so they boarded the Titanic for the voyage.

As you board the 'ship' and are greeted by the captain (who looks like the real Capt. Smith of the Titanic) and you make your way through the exhibits from the ship's beginnings to its tragic end. There are docents dressed as various crew and passengers and they answer questions and engage you in conversation about the voyage and particulars about the ship.
There are many exhibits of articles brought up from the wreck which had laid undiscovered for 85 years in the bottom of the Atlantic. Amazingly, anything that had been stored in leather was still preserved as apparantly because of the tanning process the microorganisms didn't eat through to destroy the leather (such as wallets and trunks). There are photos of many of the passengers, mainly the most famous, and also bio notes on them along with whatever possessions were found. You learn how to operate the wireless morse-code and how there had been many messages sent to the ship warning of the icebergs but the wireless operators had failed to pass them on because they were too busy sending greetings to NY from 1st class passengers. A pair of damaged spectacles in a case reminds you that the officers on watch on the crowsnest that misty cold night didn't have binoculars as they had 'misplaced' them. You go into a dark chilly room where there is an 'iceberg' which you can touch to get the idea of just how cold it was. There is the sound of breaking ice and crashing as the ship hits the berg. (If it had hit dead on it wouldn't have sank, but because it hit sideways and staved in six of the bulkheads it sank very quickly.) Then, at the end you check the passengers lists and see if your person survived the sinking. Catherine and her children miraculously escaped. Most of the third class passengers didn't. It was such a moving experience, very interactive and personal. There are a couple of videos shown, including one terrifying reenactment of the sinking. We didn't have time to take in the Imax show so I'm planning to go back again later in the summer. It's well worth a second visit.

Well, I don't expect my ship to sink although with the record for ferry sinking in Greece the last couple of years (and one recently off Santorini) it makes one pause for thought. However, not too likely, and it is a voyage to really look forward to. Yo ho ho and a bottle of ouzo! (or maybe Metaxa brandy!)

"There was a ship came from the north country,
And the name of the ship was the Golden Vanity
And they feared she might be taken by the Turkish enemy,
That sails upon the Lowland, Lowland, Lowland,
That sails upon the Lowland sea."
Anonymous Shanty "The Golden Vanity"

"Ships are but boards, sailors but men:
there be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves and water-thieves."
William Shakespeare 1564- 1616 "The Merchant of Venice", 1 iii 22