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Monday, June 25, 2007

THE LAST OF THE WINE

"I love
the talk round a table
in the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink u p.
Remember, in every
golden drop,
topaz glass,
or purple spoonful,
that the autumn worked hard
to fill the vessels with wine;
and may the simplest of men learn
to remember the earth and what we owe it,
to spread the canticle of fruit."
Pablo Neruda

I'm in departure mode now. my time h ere is winding down and soon I'll be flying home. I've seen all I came here to see, spent time with my friends, retraced old steps and rekindled old memories as well as gatheriing many new ones. Now it's time to leave, though I always regreat leaving.

"I would come back from far away
in order to leave,
to leave again,
and I knew that to be a kind of dying,
going away while everything stays."
Pablo Neruda

June 24, Sunday morning and I'm wakened by a chorus of church bells. I've spent the weekend with my dear friend Dinaz (the Persian Princess) in her new ome in Ano Daphne, a district of Athens I've never visited before. It's been fun catching up on news, reminiscing about past times together. We've known each other for about fourteen years and from when we first met, she's been known as the persian Princess because she is so like Drypetis, the Princess in my novel. Her son was only 12 wehn we first met and now he's a young man and looking more "Persian" than ever (They are Parsi, from Bombay but his father is Italian/Greek)

This last weekend has been another one of reunions. Friday night we met at the TKA and two friends showed up. Mike, theEnglish artist and Jan, an electronics expert from Norway who works here sometimes in a top-secret job for the Greek navy. (A surprise to see him as we'd been talking about him and he's been 'missing' from the scene for some time.) Mike was a close friend of Graham and Roberto. He's lived in Greece for years, once married to a Greek woman, andwas once the graphic artist for Olympic airways. He's a very talented painter and it's too bad he doesn't have his own gallery here, but life is tough for artists just as it is for writers and musicians.

We planned to find some street concerts this weekend and get together to hear some music. But on Saturday when we met again, nobody knew where the concerts were. A couple more friends showed up, Panayiotis (another of Roberto's friends) and Zoe and Lydia, a Greek lady who is a friend of Dinaz. So we all had a fine time sitting around, sipping wine and conversing on various interesting topics, just like the old days. Then it was late and time to catch the metro home.

The metro here, like the rest of the transit system in Athens, is slick and safe. Many of the new metro stations disply archaeological finds, and music is piped in making it a pleasant and safe place to be. It makes travel across this ast city fast and comfortable, everything airconditioned and clean. Two stops from Acropolis and we're at Neo Kosmos, and then a little walk oer to
Dinz district, and a short but strenuous walk up a hill to her house. Across the street behind a bank of lovely trees is a rocky slope and a park. Behind is a sweeping panorama of the city celar out to the sea.


It's been an enjoyable, restful stay here as I prepare to spend my final day in Athens.

June 25. Dinaz's parner, Andreas, came home early from Italy so it was really great spending some time with both of them. They are so happy together and so loving. He is an wonderful person and I am so pleased to see Dinaz with someone so caring. In the evening we drove to Makrolimani to the yacht harbour and sat in the cool breeze eating icecream. Then we picked up some pizza and beer and came home to sit on the balcony enjoying the half moon and stars over the cityscape. A perfect ending to my weekend and my holiday.

Monday, June 25. My bags are packed. I'm ready to go. I have so many unforgettable ments to cherish. And of course, I'll be back here soon. We're already planning the Assembly of 2009.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIELD TRIP

JUNE 20

I started out my day with a visit to the little 'village' of Anafiotika nestled under the Acropolis walls in Plaka. These little whitewashed cube houses and tiny narrow lanes were built by people from the Cycladic island of Anafi who moved there after an earthquake on their island. It's one of Athen's hidden treasures, most often overlooked by tourists, a beauitful get-away, with flower pots and tiny gardens and magnificent views of the city over the red-tiled rooftops of Plaka.
I used to go up there often in the evening and sit on a ledge listening to the distant city sounds below. Today I met two tourists who were quite amazed at their 'discovery'. Maybe it's just as well that Anafiotika is still 'undisvcvered' as it remains today just as quaint as it was 25 years ago, like stepping into an island village of long ago before the tourist industry took over the islands.

A friend of mine, George Voutsinas, had a house there and when I first started coming to Greece from '79 I sometimes stayed with him. Later my friend Cor and herdauaghter lived there with him. George died a few years ago. His house sits vacant and forlorn - no boxes of marigolds, his pride and joy, not any sign of life. "Ti krema," as the Greeks would say. "What a pity!"

From there I set off an an archaeological field trip. As often as I've visited the sites around Athens they nevere fail to amaze me, and what's good is, every tie I come back there is always something new to see. This time it was all the previously unmarked sites around Philoppapou Hill. so today I took myself on a little trip with the help of a booklet produced by the Association of Friends of the Acrop9lis.

When we were scouting out the birthday party site, I had noticed several new plquqe and sign posts in the area. For one thing, it was exciting to learn that the sunset picnic site had once een the Deme of Melites on the wewtern slope of the Pnyx where there are rock-cut ground plans of houses, shaircases and resevoirs where once the homes of the Athenian privileged lived including Miltiades, Themostocles and Phokons, who plays a role in my nove.

The treek hills of Philioppou, The Hill of the Muses, Pnyx and the nymphs, were according to Plutarch, the scene of various battles in antiquity including Theseus' battle against the Amazons.
There were also three important demes here. After the Persian wars the hills were imncorporated into the organized city which was encircled by the themostoclean Walls (479=8 BC) They plaed an important defensive role when Kimmon and Pircles built the Phalerian Wall and the Long Wallss (mid 5th C) that connected Athens with it's harbors at Phaliron and Pireaus. The two most important demes were that of Melite and Koile. The Deme of Melite belong to the Kekropis tribe and the deme of Koile belong to the Hippothootes tribe. theother deme was Kollytos which was separated from Melite by a boundary stone.

The Deme of Koile covered the bottom of a large ravine between the Hill of Muses and the Pnyx. It was a busy, noisy place with a large agora. Through it ran the most improotant road "the road Through Koile" which was marked by the burial tomb of the Olympic victor Kimon, father of Miltiades and his relative, the historican Thycydides. this raod was an improtant military and commercial axis and led from Athens to Pireaus throug the Long Walls. It starts ahte NE slope of the Acropolis. As you reach the first part of the raod a trail leads off to 'Socrates Prison," an elaborate structure cut in rock on a rocky slope. There are three rooms with doors and possibly there were roof beams extending to support a second flooor. during WWII, the facade was covered with concrete and used to hide the statues of the museum of the Acropolis and National Arch. museu. the 'prison' is also sometimes referred to as a bath house. so whether or not this is where Socrates was held is up for speculation.

A new wall, the Diaheuchisma, was built near the Koile Rd. around 33 BC to protect the city from the Maceodnians who had a garrison there. Across from that, known as the Dipylon over the Gates, was a small sanctaury dedicated to Herakles or Aies, a hero of the ten tribes of Attica. this is under the apse of the Agio Demetrios Loubardiares Byzantine church (12 AD) uilt for the military saint Demetrios. "Loubadiares" means "bomber". St. Demetrious protected his church from bombardment by the Turks in the 1600's. The present church is from the 16th c. AD. And guess who I found sleeping under one of the benches on the church porch. Rei, the registered stray who usually hangs out at Chris's house just over the hill!

The Koile Road follows a deep gorge which leads to a valley through a gate of the Themistoclean Walls. this was the shortest road from Athens to Pireaus and thesfest for travelers and merchants as it was protected by the Long walls. So it was used as a safe path. The raod had incised wheel-traces for the safe tranport of wagons and even anti-slipping sidewalks. At the cross-roads there were wheel trace convergences called 'scissors'. There seems to be ongoing excavations along the road and it's clearly marked althoughI can't recall every seeing it before, so this was quite an exciting find. It makes certain details clearer now for a couple of scenes in my novel that til now I only guessed at. For instance, in one part of Shadow I have Kassandros and hisfriends coming into Athens by the Long Walls but I had no clear idea of where the road was. And now I've actually seen it! These little details are improtant for historical fiction writers because there are certain things y ou can't 'make up'.

My next exciting 'discovery' was at the Pnyx itself. On my last visit I explored a bit but things seem more clearly marked now so it's much easier to get a real sense of what it was like when the assembly met there. and imagine hoe thrilled I was to find the actual speaker's ema where famous orators and statesmen such as Pericles, Demosthenes and Aeschines addressed the crowd. I have used this setting in a part of novel so having a real clear view of it helps make the dramatic scenes more authentic and 'real' to me. The bema isn't a large platform. It's mounted by steps and overlooks a wide swath of grassy area where the Assembly would gather. there were various places of the Pnyxy whcih overlooked the Agora, the Areios Pagos and the Propylaeia of the Acropolis. The grassy slope (the koilon) could host up to 5,000 people but eventually was extended so 6,000 could gather then and in the 4th C. BC (around 330- 326) the capacity increased to 13,500 people with the construction of a monumental retaining wall along the embankement of the koilon (still visible). The access was probably through a central staircase.

Below the area, in a NE direction, were remains of classical houses and they have discovered a road equipped with drains for rain water.

It was an isnpiring field trip for me to end this spectacular holiday. I have stored up a lot of new knowlege (to add to my already bulging research files) and it gave me the inspiration I need to resume work on the final chapters o f Shadow when I return.

NEXT: In Departure Mode

A LITTLE DRAMA AT THE BEACH

June 19

The temperature is 35 and rising. You can't move without sweating. It's quite unbearable and difficult to breathe. I decided to get some respite from the heat by heading for the beach, but I ususally go early a.m. or late afternoon and today I didn't getthere until mid-day. Crazy! One good thing here is the transit is all airconditioned. I took the trolley to Syntagma and caught the tram from there. The tram line runs through town then all the way down the Attic coast to Voulagmenis. They made it to sere the Olympic Village and though there were many protests, I think it's an excellent addition to Athen's very slick transit system. And it certainly makes for a pleasant excursion to any of the beaches.

The beach Chris and I always preferred is now charging too much entry and they've chopped down the lovely shade trees we used to picnic under. So Edem is the next choice. Free entry. But because of getting there at midday I ended up opting to hire an umbrella and chair (no shade otherwise) so it cost me 7 euro. the beach isn't as nice as those at Naxos, stony and very crowded. Lots of children. And I'd forgotten how demanding some Greek kids can be, screaming and throwing tantrums. But who in their right mind brings a little kid to the beach in that scorching heat! No wonder they were cranky.

A group of men parked themselves nearby. I am certain they weren't Greeks, though they spoke Greek. I'm sure they were from the northern Balkans and there was something sinister about them. At least, I got bad vibes on sight. One was very hirsute, covered with black hair like an ape except for his bald head. They set up their own beach umbrella and towels. Awhile later I heard them laughing and noticed they had acquired two air mattress, the kind kids use, one pink, one blue.

There are no spare changers here in Greece except the occasional old gypsy woman or disabled guys. But there are many hawkers selling everything from sun glasses to beautiful sequined beach tops and kids toys. Mostof them seem to be Indian or Sri Lankans and they are gnerally polite and unintrusive.

Suddenly there was a big fracas. Hairy Guy was pushing one of the Sri Lankans and punched him hard, sending him flying backwards onto a plastic lounge chair which broke. A crowd gathered, about ten of the hawkers, some Greeks and the Shapely Lifeguard and the guy who rents the chairs. The scneario went on for quite awhile and eventually a police officer showed up. From what I could make out, Hairy Guy had taken one of the Sri Lankan's air mattresses (the pink one) and refused to pay for it, or perhaps had stolen it?? Anyway, he went off with the cop. The hawker got the airmattress back and it seemed to be over. But later Hairy Guy returned and stared a huge arguement with Shapely Lifeguard. She was giving him a piece of her mind, small and decorous as she was, and not taking any guff from Hairy Guy. (I don't think they have lifeguards that look like bathing suit models in Vancouver. Wow!) Which brings me to observe how here in Greece you don't have to look like Jennifer Lopez to bare yourself on the beach. I've seen plenty of women of a certain age and size strutting their stuff in two-piece bathing suits, sometimes even topless. Nobody makes a fuss here and it's quite acceptable. You can even crack open a cold beer on the beach if you want to. That's what makes it so fun to be on the beaches here. And too bad it's not like that at home, but unfortunately too many people in North america apparantly don't know how to behave!

NEXT: An Archaeological Field Trip

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A DAY AROUND TOWN

JUNE 18
It's a sweltering, steamy day today, 35 C with the heat beating on the paements increasing the temperature.( Yes, I know, you peole at home are freezing in the rain!) You learn to walk in the shade, wherever you can find it. Fortunately most stores have a stoa so y ou are able to walk under the shelter or you can pop into air-conditioned tourist shops to cool off. When I got off the bus at the Zappeion I decided to walk through the shaded gardens which was a pleasant retreat from the burning pavements. The Zappeio was built in the 1870's and is used as an exibition or convention hall. I passed by the beauitful statue of Byron in the arms of Greece just outside the gardens and remembered that I'd intended to visit Messalonghi this trip, where Byron died, but again I'll have to put that plan on hold. It's always good to have a new destination saved for another time.

Eventually made my way to the Acropolis Taverna for lunch and had a friendly chat and hugs from Ari the waiter. The Acropolis is right by the Roman Agora where there is to be a concert tonight. After lunch I used one of my site ticket to take a look around (not too much to see there but I wanted some updated photos with my digital.) There's the well-preserved Tower of the Winds (1st C BC) which functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. But my favorite place is the public latrine, a square foundation with toilet seat grooves and conduits to dispose of wste. Those Romans thought of everything!

Later I was walking through Plaka and stopped in a dava to buy some kitron. The proprietor immediately exclaimed that he knew me, and remembered from when I lived on Vironos Street. One of the Dirty Corner gang, Madame Eleni, a woman from Chicago, used to work at his jewellery shop. Eleni died a few years go of cancer. We spoke about her and about all the other friends like Roberto and Graham who have passed on. And I said "yes, and I'm still h ere!" and he laughed and said "You have at least another hundred years!" One thing I appreciate about the Greeks is they don't forget you - or is it because I was so notorious!

Stopped by the TKA (another oasis in the heat) and learned a neew fact about Anna and family when I overheard Dino telling someone that his family had 2000 olive trees in the Peloponnese.

When I returned home mid afternoon I did what any sensible Greek does, had a siesta. It's only mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun, as they say.

Mangus, the self-appointed watch dog was laid out on the hall floor on the cool tiles with a water dish at his nose. Later on, he'll go out and Rei, the other dog will come for his shift and turn of attention. When I first came to Greece there was a huge problm with packs of stray and wild dogs who roamed the city. They usually were not dangerus and only wanted human company and often when I'd be going home late at night, a small pack of them would escort me to my door. But a lot of these strays were in bad shape and horribly abused and often poison would be put out to get rid of them. (Robbie's first introduction to Athens was seeing some boys drown a dog in the fountain at Syntagma Square.)

Now the Hellenic Humane Society has a very good plan in force. Strays are gathered up, if in bad shape they are euthanized, otherwise they are neutered, given their shot, de-feaded and de-wormed, groomed and fed on a daily basis. Each of them are given a collar and tags with their name and "Registered Stray". Many of these dogs have been house pets who were abandoed by their owners. Such is the case of Rei and Mangus. Both are well trained, obedient and gentle, understanding comands in Greek. Rei is gentle giant, probably part golden Lab; Mangus is a handsome mottled fellow who is possibly part collie. Both of them hve become the 'adopted' watch dogs of Christina and Daniella. They take turns parking on the front porch, get invited in for a cool quiet sleep in the hall and sometimes inch their way right to the courtyard. They'll spend a little time indoors then leave to roam Philoppapou Hill nearby. Mangus even showed up at my birthday party on the Pnyx!

The cats here have also been tended to and there aren't so many of them as there used to be because they too, are colleced up, spayed and then released. And there's an organization of people who see they are fed and treated humanely.

Now, I'm writing in the courtyard, enjoying a snack and glass of rather tart wine. Browsed through tthe "Athens News" to see what's happening in the world and city. Al Gore made a big hit here last week with his "An Inconvenient Truth"' Bush has pissed off the Greeks by visiting Albania and encouraging them to enter into NATO; FYROM has further antagoniszed Greece by naming their new airport "The Alexander the Great Airport." What nerve! They have absoslutely no claim on the name. Macedonia is Greece! (The Greeks object to Skopje's use of the name Macedonia on the grounds that it constitutes an expropriation of the name of the Greek province which was Alexander's birth place and centre of the Macedonian dynasty. Skophje is aso accused of violating the 1995 interim agreement under whichthe name FYROM is to be used i all international organizations.

Jordan made Greecehappy by rescinding a decision revoking recognition of Patriarch Theophilos ending a crisis in the patriachrate which is custodian of Christianty's holist shrined and one of the largest landholders in Israel and the Holy Land.

Meanwhile, the Greek relatives of Nazi victims of WWII scored a victory in their decade long battle fo force Germany to pay reparations, successfully bringing their case to Italy making a legal claim on a German owned villa near Lake Como. And Amnsest Int. blasts Greece for failing to protect immigrant women and children from sexual predators and calls on the gov't to overhaul anti-traffic legislation. There are about 14,000 victims in Greece at any given time. These are mostly girls and women from Eastern Europe who are lured here under flase pretenses. AND THAT'S THE ATHENS NEWS!

NEXT: A Day at the Beach and a little Drama!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A LITTLE REMINISCING AT THE T.K.A.

NOTE: I put the "Notes in the Courtyard" blog on Living the Writer's Life because it's all about my writing and reasons for being here.
http://wynnbexton.blogspot.com

"Faith illumines me and my world
Like the light from the rising sun
dances across the sky, changing
from several shades into one,
our faith rises to light the way
to oneness with God." Daily Word

JUNE 17, Sunday
It's a quiet, steamy hot Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting at the TKA drinking cold Mythos beer after having downed two delicious souvlakis on pita. A celebratory meal, because thanks to help from my good friend and answers to prayers, all is well again. Now I just have to be frugal til departure time next week.

You never know what surprises will greet you whenyou set off for the day in Athens. I took the trolly up to Syntagma and stopped to take photos of the evzones who guard the Tomb of the unkonw Soldier at the National Palace (gov't buildings). There was a band and soldiers marching up the road and then belive it or not, the Spartans and Greek hoplites appeared, marching in full regalia into the Square followed by women wearing traditional costumes. Apparantly it was a ceremony to honor the fallen Greeks in particular those of antiquity, the Spartans 300 who died at Thermopolye and the Greeks who died at Marathon. It appeared they might have been erecting a new monument as weell. the crowds pushed up onto the Square and the police kept shoving everyone ack. I took as many photos as I could but people were elbowing in front so it was difficult to get a really exceptional shot of the ancient warriors. I found it quite exciting and although it was just a reenactment, it gave you a sense of wht they must have really looked like in full battle gear.

Then I went to the internet, got all my good news, extracted money from the bank machines and walked through Plaka which was full of Americans - obviously a plane-load had just arrived.
Cameback here to the TKA for a bit to eat and a cool quiet retreat.

Not much else on today's agenda except if Zoe is free tonight I might meet her in Plaka Square. Otherwise I'm not moving from the courtyard at Chris's where everything is cool and serene.
Right now, this Mythos is like iced ambrosia, little sparrows and pigeons are pecking around my feet, and Dino is serenading me on his bouzouki.
(I made a movie of him playing it!)

LATER
Plaka Square is an entertainment in iteslef. It's the tree-shaded plateia in the middle of Plaka surrounded by cafes and buzzing with tourists but in the square, under the trees, you can set and people watch as long as you like for free. When I lived here we used to hang out at the tavernas in the Square. Now they are too expensive -- all white table-clothes and tourist menus. But one has live music and dancers and this is free entertainment if you're on the benches in the middle of the square.

I met zoe there and while I was waiting took some movies of what was going on, the bouzouki music and dancers and all. Zoe and I have known each other for 10 years now. She came here in '83 to live, the same time as me, from Chicago, arriving as a belly dancer and later marrying a Greek musician. She has two children. We met at the American church where I used to go on Sundays. She's very involved in Scientology, which has given her spiritual streght to deal with a difficult marriage and the sturggle to survive here. We had a long, interesting talk. She's an enthusiastic, talented woman, a writer and painter. It was great fun spending the evening sitting on the benches in the Square catching up on the news. We ended up being there four hours before realizing how the time had flown by and she had to rush to catch her bus home.
I decided to walk as the evening was cool andpleasant, so I stopped for an ouzo at the TKA add then headed back to Chris's. It was late, but lots of activity on thne streets and I never feel any 'danger' here as I might at home. This is one thing I love about Athens - in spite of the size of the city (and there is some crime here!) I always feel safe. Then, I know the city and I know the streets. I could almost walk from TKA to Chris's with my eyes closed! The thing you need to be most aware of are the uneven pavements. But they've even fixed those. Yes, I really do love Athens and consider it my second home. so undoubtedly I'll keep returning here. Thenext time it will be for eht Asembly of 2009. Want to join us?

NEXT: A Day Around Town.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

CRUISING HOME TO ATHENS

JUNE 16
The Blue Star Ferry was already crowded with passangers coming from Santorini when I boarded at .30 this morning. I found a coveredsahy spot on the top deck with a bit of refreshing breeze to cool the air and parked myself for the duration of the 6 hour trip. I took some movie film of the departure from Naxos (as well as those I took on the bus tour). So I'm leaving with good memories in spite of the dilemma I found myself in. My time on the islands has been excellent though, had I known how the things would turn out, I'd have skipped Amorgos and returned to Athens a few days sooneer. The main thing is, I love Naxos and now I have all the updated tour information I needed to write about it. So in spite of the unexpected money disaster, it was definitely not a wasted trip. In fact, I consider my island tours as part of my 'work' as a travel journalist and hope I can do justice in writing articles about these experiences.

By 3.30 we were pullinginto Pireaus harbour and by 4 pm I was 'home' again sitting in Christina's courtyard with an iced glass of soda, contemplating my next ten days here in Athens.

One more thing I look forward to which will put the crown on this wonderful holiday is the possibility of visiting my village,Lala, with my friend dinaz. If we go, it will make my time here complete. And if we are unable to go, I'll accept that it wasn't in my 'moira' to return there again.

Now I'm just relieved to be back here with my friends, and will try not to spoil my lst days in Greece worrying about things.

***July 17. PS. Whew! bailed out by a very kind and generous friend. Now I can breathe freely again! Thanks Buddy, your help is very much appreciated.

NEXT: MUSING FROM THE COURTYARD.

AN ISLAND TOUR

June 15
My main reason for returning to Naxos was to take an island tour. I have wanted to write about Naxos but on my last trip here, the island tour was conducted mostly in German so I missed some important parts. There are many fascinating things to see around this island, both ancient and near history, so I am looking forward to the chance to learn more and explore.

In spite of a restless night and stomach cramps I managed to get the pick-up bus to Naxos town on time. We waited around in Naxos town (Chora) for awhile and I got talking to a nice young woman from Toronto, so we teamed up for the day and later included another young woman from L.A. So it was nice to have company and chat, eat lunch together etc.

This was another one of those gut-wrenching, white-knuckle rides on a precipitous, winding mountain road. the andestrip was mild in comparison. A couple of times I was left gasping. Yes, and praying! How those big buses maneuver those narrow hair-0pin cures I'll never know. But I'm glad to report we managed the entire trip without mishap, though was feeling a bit more squeamish by the end of the day (and I think the others were too!)

We saw a lot of interesting things, stopped at places I remembered from before, and a few new ones as well. And this time the guide spoke very precise English so it was good. Some of the highlights were the interesting pottery workshop at Damalas. Iwished I'd had some money to spend but how to transport it home?

At Chaki we went to a ktron distilling plan. The kitron is made from the leaves of the kitron tree (a large, lumpy lemon-like fruit is produced and used for table sweets and preserves). We got to taste some: theyllow is the strongest, the white is medium, like cointreau and the green is the sweetest. It's served with fish meals. Later I bought myself a small bottle of the green for 5 euro.

We passed by a lot of the old Venetian towers and castle remains and visited a couple of very old churches. the Panagia Drossiani (called "Our Lady of Refreshments" because the miraculous icon 'sweats' if the town is in danger), is the oldest church in the Balkans (5th- 7th C. AD) and was built as a Mausoleum. Later it was used as a monastary for nuns and during the Turkish occupation it was here the Greeks had a "Secret school" inoneof the back chambers as children were prohibited to learn their own culture or speak their own language. They would come there at night and secretly meet for classes.

We visited a small archeological musim at Apiranthos where there were rock carvings from the prehistoric era depicting hunting scenes, dancing and navigation.

Naxos is the most fertile of the Cyclades (and the largest) and is self productive because of its many natural resources. In addition to the many agricultural things grown there (they have the best potatoes in Europe, lots of olives, figs and other fruits) it is mining of emery (the hardest mineral next to a diamond) and the beauitufl Naxian marble, famous from antiquity, that provides economic support for the island. The Cycladic marble carvings of Maxos are seen throughout Greece in archeological sites and even in other parts of the world. a bust of JFK erected after his assassination, was carved of Naxian marble.

Near Apollona, on a hillside, is the remains of a gigantic kouros statue left in situ after the carving became flawed. This one is of the god of wine, Dionysos, who plays a major role in the mythology and legends of the island. It's 10.50 metres long, carved in the early 6th century BC and lies like a sleeping giant on the hillside. (The other kouros which is at a different site, is a later period carving and depicts the god Apollo who also had a large following on the island. Apollona is named for him and in antiquity was a holy site.)

On our way back through the breathtaking mountain scenery, we saw the two great dams that supply Naxos water and passed the former home of the writer Nikos Katzanzakis ( author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.). I was hoping we'd stop so I could photograph the house which is now owned by a wealthy Naxian family. But the bus didn't hardly slow down, so no photo.

Coming down to the coast, you see the distant view of the Portara, the Temple of Apollo 530 BC which is on the spot where supposedly Ariadne had a palace.

It was a long journey, but ended pleasantly and in spite of my worries I had tried to enjoy myself. I returned to my studio, went for my last refreshing swim, and now as I write this I am sipping ouzo out on the porch, getting set to go out for one last meal at the beach taverna, Palatia. As I sat, I was thinking of Anibal and once again, the music spoke to me.
When I arrived at the Palatia taverna, it was all Latin music playing. I nearly cried. the spirit of friends, even those who are absent, can still touch you with their presence.

I had lit a candle at the old church of the Panagia today and prayed all my money prolems would be solved. So I will try my best to enjoy my last night here on this lovely island. I wish I hadn't checked my bank accounts yesterday because it put such a damper on my spirits and my last days here.

But I saw dolphins, didn't I, and that's an omen of luck. So I will try not to worry.

NEXT: Cruising Home to Athens.

SHIRLEY VALENTINE ON NAXOS

JUNE 13/14

When I arrived back to the Irea Beach Hotel Studios yesterday I felt as if I'd come 'home' in some ways. The young women who work in reception (two cousins), are incredibly warm and welcomed me back. I have a little suite all to myself with a tiny balcony overlooking the entrance patio and a glimse of the sea over the archway and magenta bougainvillea.

My main destination yesterday (the 13th) was the beach and later I ate dinner at a tavern by the sea, then stopped for a delicious praline iced coffeee at the Banana beach bistro. They were playing the kind of music I enjoy and, appropriately a Shirley Bassie tune "This is my Life! Let me live. This is my life, this is me!" Pretty well my mantra! (She was a favorite of Robbie's and me and we used to listen to her songs and often cry.)

I had a bit too much ouzo before the evening started and cameh ome to an uneasy sleep although the ouzo had settled my stomach somewhat. (Did I mention that I had eaten fava and three nut/honey bars on amorgos which set my tummy into an IBS mode. Very unpleasant with cramps and all). Anyway, I dreamed I was with Rosalie and we had to climb a high ladder platform to reach where we were going. Some of the rungs or steps were broken off andit was quite impossible for me with my short legs to reach the next level. But eventually with her help we got to the top without falling down.

This was perhaps a portent for the following day, June 14, whichturned into a rather u p and down day.

I woke early and headed down the road to Maragas Beach whereI had camped the last time I was on Naxos. This entire coast is sandy beaches and Maragas isone of the best, followed by Plaka Beach which has to be one of the most gorgeous beaches I've ever swam at.

There's been some changes -- Maragas Campground has definitely improved and though the beaches, especailly Plaka, are no longer the idyllic desrted island kindof beaches a before, even with the beach umbrellas and lounge chairs they are still uncrowded and outstanding. There was hardly anyone there whenI arrived so I found a chair (free) and had the sea almost to myself, clear aqua and not even a pebble underfoot, just silky soft golden sand.

It was only a 10 - 15 minute walk back to Aghia Anna where I am staying. I settled things up re my room with Carola in Athens and the reception girl who is so hospitable, got my ticket for tomorrow's island tour. Then I walked the ten minutes along the beach to the next beach, Prokovia, and that's where my 'down' day began.

I fainnly found a decent internet connection, except it was in German, and was able to check email and other business though I wasn't able to access my blogs. When I checked my bank accounts I had a major shock. Last week when I'd checked my VISA balance it was looking good so I wasn't too worried. Couldn't check meantime, and when I did I was horrified to find out I'd maxed out my one card. (there was still a balance in the other one which is for my hotel payment, but I am scared there might be sometime hidden on there that might have nasty surprise for me. Keeping my fingers crossed on that one.) I ended up in a panic over this, stomach ache and all, andit ruined my day worrying over stuff I have no control over until I see Carola next week re the hotel bill. I know, unliked the tourism people at Amorgos, she has found me really good deals so far. (I learned today this studio is actually 80 euro but she has it for me at a lower rate.) I realize there is nothing I can do about this just now. at least I have my ferry ticket back to Athens for Saturday morning and will be staying with my friends ther til I leave, but I am very dismayed and upset with myself for not being more diligent and watchful of my spending.

I came back to my studio, slept on it, and thenwent for a late afternoon swim. (Again, got the beach chair free!) I walked back to Maragas Beach this evening to hve dinner at the Paradise Taverna where I'd been last time I was here. But it's not the same and I was disappointed with the meal, service and view of the sunset which was the main reason I'd gone there.
I walked back to Aghia anna in the semi dark and went to the Banana bar to have one last glass of krasi (not that my upset stomach enjoyed it!) But then again, the music: That Latin American song that Sumalao often plays (and Sting sings) -- and suddenly it was like anibal ws there tlling me eerything would be okay. I almost started to cry.

One thing that I am now reminded of about solo travel is the feeling of being invisible. So feeling the presence of a family spirit was comforting to me. And I have to believe everything will be alright.

NEXT: An Island Tour

Saturday, June 16, 2007

THE LITTLE CYCLADES

June 13: The voyage back to Naxos

In between Amorgos and Naxos is a chain of little islands known as "Mikres Kyklades", the Little Cycades. Only four of them are populated with permanent residents. In antiquity they were fairly densely populated as is evident from archaeologica finds there from the Cycladi and Minoan periods. During the Middle Ages, only pirates lived there. After Greek Independnece, hardy folk from the other islands came and made their homes there. Until recently, the only visitors there wre Greeks. Now there is a small influx of tourists, mostly backpakcers and hikers.

The links of the other islands are tenuous because ferry service is infrequent. The Ast Baot Expres Skopeliis links the little Cyclades with Amorgos and Naxos and that's the oat we took from Amorgos on Wed. morning at 7 a.m.

The first stop was at Donousa, the northermost of the group. According to the Lonely Planet guide, it has a population o 110. There's not much here except good beaches and as its the least accessible of the islands it doesn't get much ferry traffic. You can camp there but there's no real facilities.

At Koufonisia, thenext stop, a group of young people boarded and they happened to be Canadian archaeological students from Ontario who had been on the island since the eginning of May working on a Cycladic period dig.

This island has more to offer than the others and appeared to be popular with the hiking/backpacking crowd . I made note of a number of seniors, mostly Brits or Norse, or German setting off with their hiking sticks and back packs. It's the smllest of the isaldn group but the most denseley populate d( 284 people). Mainly the islanders are fishermen and Koufanissia boasts the largest fishing fleet in Greece inn proportion to it s population. I'ts an attractive island and has managed to keep it's younger inhabitants conseuently it doesn't hve the ghost-town effect of some other Cycldic islands. The beaches of golden sand ad the crystal clear water is a big attraction. The water is so clear I had to take a photo to prove it.

Skinousa was the next port ( pop 120) It's a little gem of an island with a golden landscape and a pastoral feeling and lovely beaches. (You have to take you rown food and water as there are no shops or taversn at the beach).

Iraklia (11o) is another barren island with not much else but a couple of tiny villages and a beach. Evidently this is a favorite hide-awayfrom Germans who go there every year. There's a cave with stalectites but not much else to see there.

As we cruised away I saw what I'd been looking for ever since ouar vayage from Venice. All along the way, on every ferry trip, I'd been sending out telepathic messages to the dolphins (that's the way you 'call' them, I've been tod. And it usually works) But this time it didn't appear to have been successful. I was standing at the deck rail wathicn th islands and reefs slip by when suddenly a man near me shouted "Look there!" ahs sure enough, there was a dolphin leaping playfully in the surf.

That made my day and made up for some of the disappointment I'd felt in Amorgos. Because dolphis are said to be good luck. The sea here used to be full of them but in recent years fishermen have killed many of them as they get caught inthe fishing nets. Such a shame as they are the most beautiful and intelligent of all sea creatures. It's aways such a thrill to see a pod of them folloiwng alongside the boat.

so we reached Naxos again in five hours and in time for a quiet lunch at the port before AB had to board her ferry to Santorini. We said our goodbyes. Kalo taxidi, And wished each other well til the next meeting of the Assembly of 2009.

I caught the bust to Iria Beach and here I am again, with my very own studio apartment and av iew of the sea from the lttle porch. It feels good to be back here, and to be alone again, the solo traveler I alwaysu sed to be. I'll stay here three days so I can take the round the island tour tomorrow and then it's back ot Athens once again.

NEXT: NAXOS, PART 2 : a shocking discovery!!!

AMORGOS: AEGIALI BAY

June 11.

Quite a few years ago I bought post card with a photo of a beautiful village with white cubistic houses clinging to the mountainside above a bay. This is it. Aegiali Bay on the little Cycladic Island of Amorgos.

When we arrived we wre driven up to theposh Aegiali Hotel on the mountain overlooking the bay, the water so clear and brilliant turquoise you can see down into the depths. I was awestruck to the point of tears. This was it! The post card picture I had horded all those years. Finally I had arrived!

It began in April when I was sent a notice by the travel writers org. regarding a conference for tourism and culture at Amorgos. I contacted the travel agent there and introduced myself. i couldn't attend the confrerence, but I was coming to Greece and would definitely like to visit Amorgos in order to write about it. She responded eager to meet me and show me the island.

Amorgos isn't one of the Cycladic islands like Mykonos or Naxos that has as yet been overrun with tourism, although it is popular with some Brits, Scandanavians, French and Germans who come each year. It's a rugged, barren mountainous island, its main attraction being the extraordinary Monastary which clings to a cliff high above the sea. It's an enticing island for those who want to get off the trouist route and explore, an island which is still like the Greece of 20 years ago except I was told twenty years ago there were no rods. At Aegiali the atmosphere is definitely laid back, perhaps a left over hippie vibe fro the '70's hwne the hippies came to camp on the beaches. There is hardly any traffic and few tourists except the happy groups of Norse folk with their beautiful blonde children, and the hardy Brit seniors who have come to hike in the hills.

We waited in the hotel's reception area, treated to a refreshing drink and talked to an interesting German many who has been coming there for years. Aside from the greeting we received on arrival, we were pretty much left alone until the driver came and said he was takingus to our room. I had turned down the offer of an expensive suite at the hotel/spa and asked for a more doest accomodation. We were told we would have a room at the "new" Cabana Complex on the beach. So we wre whisked away from the posh hotel complex (like two poor relaations) and taken to a room on the beach (which was good as it had access to the town) but the room was very poorly equiped, no hangers for our clothes, no plce to hang wet twels etc, no cups for our coffeee. This was quite a let-down after what we'd had a Naxos for the same price! (In addition, the first morning we used the electrive kettle provied, the elctricity went kaput). Down below us was a sea-side bar but the men running it were so surly we felt uncomfortable ween asking questions, as they made it seem like such a burden. (We had to deal with the bar guy to pay our hotel bill in the end or take a taxi up the mountain to the hotel.) From the time we arrived, nobody from Aigiali Tourism contacted us. Eventually, after calls regarding the lack of electricity, the woman expressed surprise we were leaving so soon and said she'd intended to invite us for a dinner. No such invitation had been indicated on our arrival and we couldn't take advantage of the offer of a massage or use of the pool, gym etc as the hotel was so far awy from where we were locate. What upset me most was, she knew I was there to write about the island, but made no offer to include us in the tours that the company offers guests.

Instead, we made our own way by bus to the famous monastary. For starters, the bus serice on the island is sparse. We were dropped off by the roadsie at 12.30 and the returning bus to the
chora and the other port of Katopolo was at 1.20. It took over half an hour to slog our way up the cobbled pathway and many, many steps to the monastary. Then I discovered I was not allowed to enter as I was wearing pants. (At Meteora they supply wraps and I had assumed - wrongly - they would here too). I waited inside the shad eof AB to enter the sanctuary. I was already exhausted and saturated with sweat from the long hike up.

The Moni Hazouretissia is an 11thc. monastary which contains a miraculous icon found in the sea elow and believed to have arrived (on it's own) from Jerusalem.

The dazzling white building clings percariously to a cliff face aove the coast. Three monks still live there.

I waited in the shaded area and eventually a kind lady from Worcester Eng came along and offered to loan me her town for a skirt. I climbed up the steep stairway to th sanctuary but it was already closed. I was invited into the waiting are and offered a Turksih delight and small glass of local raki and wter.

Then began the trek back down the hundreds of stesp to the road. And just our luck, we had missed the us back to Hora.
"Only two kilometers. It's not far!" we were told. But it was uphill, on a winding mountain road, midday, blazing hot sun and not bitt of shade anywhere. We slogged on, exhausted. Even though I wore a hat and carried water I swear that if I'd had to walk one more kilometere I would have collapsed of heat stoke. I could feel the blood throbbing in my head and began to get worried that I'd neer make it. We won our fitness bedges that day for sure!

Finally, we reached Hora, a small Cycadic village 400 m. above the sea. It's all white buildings and capped with a 12 cent. Kastro high on a rock. By that time thougn, we had little interest in archaeologogical finds or history. We sat in a shady cafe and slurped down iced tea, debaint on what to do next as we'd missed the bus to town. AB wanted to cab it to Aigiali: 18 Eur. I wanted a look at Katopolo, down at the coast : 8 Euro. We ended up sharing a cab with a Norse lady and her two kids who had also missed the bus.

Another disappointment, as though it the principal port occuping a large bay, Katapolo didn't hve the magical charm of Aigiali. The each was pebbly and u ninviting 9dirty) and there was nothing much to see except the famour Big Blue Pub, named after the French fil The Big Blue, filmed in Amrogos in the late '80's, which evidently they show at the pub each night at 8.

We walked over, took some photos of it, and left to catch the bus. The drive back to Aegiali was one of those hair raising, breath-taking rides where at every narrow hairpin turn you gasp, genuflect and pray the brakes are working. I dare say it was even more winding, spectacular and freaky than the drive therough the Andes that Patrick and I took last Nov. to Argentina.

To say the scenery was spectaucrular was an u nderstatement and I took a few photos from the bus indow to prove it. We eventually arrived safely in Aegiali only to face a few more hassles with the unfriendly tavern guys trying to get the electricity turned on. We were not amused!

By the we were both tired, hot and cranky and headed to the beach in separate directions. Our last night in Aegilia wasn't so much fun at all. We had arrived hopeful and excited, impressed with the lovely setting, the magical twinkling of the stars and lights of the tiny villages tucked high in the folds of the mountains, the pleasant beach, the otherwise friendly people in the town. But we were very disappointed by the reception we'd had and felt 'abandoned', really, and as AB said even the room they gave us seemed 'abandoned".

A nice memory t hough, was our conversation with the German man who we met again on various occasions, and the cheerful interesting chats with the lovely man w ho ran the Slini Taverna by the sea. He spoke several languages fluently and was so helpful and kind to us. I know when I saw him that I could fall in love again. maybe because he reminded me of Anibal in a way. I'd like to return there, wish I could have stayed longer (without the hassles) It is a good place to retreat, perhaps to hole up to write or paint or just refelct on life. That was my best impression of Aegiali and if you want a place that is quiet and unexploited, I'd recommend. it.

NEXT: The Little Cyclades (The journey back to NAxos)

A STUDIO BY THE SEA

June 9/07
NAXOS

I'm sitting on the porchof our sea-side bungalow on Naxos. We arrived a couple of hours ago after a 7 hour ferry trip, sunning ourselves on the deck most of the way though it got blowy later on. The ship was like a cruise liner, once again we were so impressed with the service and posh condition of the quarters.

Our studio at Iria Beach Hotel is right on the beach and we have a huge room with a kitchenette for only 40 Euro a night. Once we got settled we went for a swim. The beach is pure fine sand and the sea is cystal clear and clean.

The hotel is a few kms. from Naxos town but there's a bus service. Agia Anna where we are located is a small village with many beach tavernas ad fascilities at hand. The beach here is a long arc of sand. There are plenty of sandy beacheson Naxos so its a good spot to spend a few days for some R & R. We'll be here til Monday, then we're going to Amorgos for a couple of days. I've decided to return here to Iria Beach for a few days afterwards in order to take the round the island tour. This iss and interesting island and I don't want to miss the opportunity to see around. It will also be nice to have a couple of days all on my own after such a busy time spent with friends, always on the go and sometimes being the tour guide.

On the way here, the ferry stopped in at Paros port. I was amazed at how the town has grown since the last time I visited there some years ago. All these islands are becoming very populated and touristic. Paros is famous for the pure white marble from whichit became prosperous from the early cycladic period. The famous Venus de Milo was carved of Parian marble.

Naxos is only a short distance away. It's the largest and most fertile of the cyclades and one of the most beauitufl. It's the island where, according to legend, Theseus abandoned Ariadne after she helped him escape from the labyrinth in Crete. (She was soon whisked away by Dionysos, the god of wine and ecstasy). Ever since, Naxos has been famous for its wine. There's also another traditional drink here called "Kitron" made from citron fruit (like a large lemon) introduced to the Mediterranean area by Alexander the Great who brought it from Persia. Up until the Christian era it was the only citrus fruit cultivated in Europe. It was known for its medicinal qualities and was a symbol of fertility and affluence. The ancient Greeks called it the "Median apple" (From Medea, the ancient Greek name for Persia). Apparantly it's very good after a sea-food dinner. I'm going to try and buy some as it's impossible to buy outside of Greece.

Tomorrow we'll venture into town. Hors is the main port with two historic neighbourhoods: Bourgos where the Greeks lived and Kastro where the Veneitans lived. At the entrance to the harbour is anislet where Naxos' most famous landmarks, the portal (or Palatia) of the unfinished Temple of Apollo stands. (Ariadne was also supposed to have had a palace there)

In the town itself, especially up the hllside form the prt in Kastro, are some attractive Venetian dwellings, some with the insignia of their former owners on the doors. It has a medieval atmosphere with vaulted streets and cobbled lanes. Close by is the Venetian castle and museum with the Kastro ramparts by the gates.

Tonight we are off to explore our beach village and we shall find a good taverna overlooking the sea where we can eat mezedes and drink some retsina.

NEXT:AMORGOS, Aegiali Bay

MORE GOODBYES

June 8.
Had another busy day today running around town on various gquests nd errnds, some of which proved futiles. I was trying to buy tickets to the Haris
Alexiou concert June 15 but didn't succeed. We did find some great Greek CDs at Virgin and later went shopping for sourveniers and eventually, after various unsuccessful attempts, found Carola's tourist office (Trouble was, the number 4 written on the address looked like {"21") Anyway, managed to pay for our Mykonos studio and booked one for Naxos right on the beach. Anna Britt and i are leaving on the 10 a.m. ferry tomorrow, plan to spend a couple of dys there then go on to Amorgos. Vesa and Joonas are leaving tomorrow for Finland so we all had a nice unch together at the TKA and made little speechees about how this Assembly has meant so much to eachof us, both spiritually and inspirationally for our personal goals and aspiration. We have already started talking about the next Assembly in 2009.

While we were sitting there being philosophical, there was great crashing across the narrow road as the wreckers demolished Waverly's apartment. They have erected a kind of screen (very flimsy!) over the scaffolding above the sidewalk and it appeared as if the big chunks of cement would come righ down on the road below where cars and pedestrians pass (and we were sitting enjoying our lunch). The workemn on top of the rubble had no safety helmets, no work gloves and likely no steel-toed boots. This is Greece!

This evening I'm meeting Carola and Chris and Deb in the Veikou plateia for coffee, then meeting Anna Britt later at the TKA. Deb isn't coming to Naxos with us as she wants to get to Skaithos and spend some time looking up old acquintences and reconstructing herself. So it's kalo taxidi to her as well.
The Assembly has now been officially dismissed until next tim.

NEXT: ANOTHER ISLAND ADVENTURE

A DAY BY THE SEA

June 7

A favorite day trip from Athens is a cruise over to Aegina, one of the Saronic Islands. It only takes a little over an hour to get there. I was astonished at the new beaautiful ferry - so unlike the old tubs that we used to take there. B.C. Ferries should take some lessons from the Greek naval system!

It's a pleasant cruise to Aegina. The boat passes Salamis in the Saronic Gulf, site of a historical naval battle when the Greek won a victory over the Persian fleet in 480 BC.

Aegina was itself a major player in the Hellenic world because of its stratetic position. It was a commercial centre in about 1000 BC and eventually became a premier maritime power amassing great fortune through trading with Egypt and Phoenicia. Athens attacked the island in 459 BC and Aegina was defeated and forced to pull down it's walls (you can still see fragements of them along the shore front). In the 1800's Aegina was declared the temporary capital of Greece but nowadays it is a humble island, popular with weekend tourists and Greeks who want a quiet get away.
We pulled into port just before noon and headed straight for the beach a few meters away; paid 3 Euro each of beach chairs and umbrellas and parked ourselves for the day.

The sea is shallow there and tepid, so many pleasant hours were spent floating and splashing and diving. Deb and Ingrid opted ot just lay and suntan and read while the restof us frolicked in the sea. Great fun!

We took a break ater in the afternoon and crossed the road to our favorite seafood taverna for a fine feast of kalamaria, sardines, Greek salada andother tasty goodies. Then back to the beach for more sun and swims until 7.45 when the ferrry chugged into port an it was time to leave.

It was Ingrid's last day in Greece, so later I escorted her to the airport bus and we said our farewells. It has been truly a pleasure travelling with Ingrid. She is an excellent companion and i"ll miss her company. But when I return to Vancouver the end of June we'll sit on her patio and have many things to reminisce about our adventures together.

NEXT: More Goodbyes

LIVING THE LIFE, THE ZOE

NOTE; THE LAST TWO BLOGS WERE ACCIDENTLY POSTED ON MY 'LIVING THE WRITER'S LIFE' BLOG SPOT SO PLEASE READ THEM THERE.
"The Sunset Picnic" and "Pilgrimage to Delphi"

June 6/07 The Assembly decided today that it's exhasting tramping about archeological sites so tomorrow we're taking a boat to Aegina, a short voyage (like going to the Gulf Islands for any of you who live on the Coast). And we're going to spend a leisure day lying on the beach relaxing.

Today we trooped off to the icon painter's workshop in Monastiraki, an amazing collection of the most beauitufl icons we've seen (and we've looked at many!) We all came out of there laden with purchases and made our way over to my old haunts by the Tower of the Winds where the Poulakis Taverna used to be the main hangoug when I first started visiting Greece in '79 and later whenI came to live here in '83. The Poulakis is nolger there but my favorite waiter Ari is, and still works next door at the
acroppolis Taverna. He's always happy to see me -- we've had a long aquaintance -- so last nightand again today I went there with my friends.
"Agai mou!Koukla, s'agapow!" Big hugs and kisses and a very warm welcome. We decided to use more of our Acropolis tickets to go to visit the Agora nearby. The agora, of coure, being the ancient market and meeting place. I am very familiar with this area. On my ver first visit to Greece in '79 when I stopped out of my little hotel Tempi on eolou St. I had no idea where I was going or where I was, in fact, and just let my feet take me wherever they wanted to.

I turned a corner and suddenly there I was, in the ancient agora, and as if a film fell from my eyes, I could see it exactly as it had been. A real deja vu experience. And I just stood there, awe struck and burst into tears.

I've been back so many times and in fact spent hours there on my last trip tracking the footsteps of Phokion, the military general in Athens in 318 BC, because a good part of a recent chapter of "Shadow" takes place there. I always feel as if it's familiar territory, like I was there long ago, so no matter how often I return it's like going back to a very special place in my memory.

We trudged around awhile but my poor feet were suffering as I'd only worn sandals. So we headed out of plaka to find an icecream shop where we sat awhile to rest and refresh ourselves.

Tonight, after a visit to the web cafe, I'm just sitting in the courtyard drinking wine an activity that I enjoy as much as anything. All part of the life here.

Tomorrow we're off to Aegina for a day on the beach. I've been longing for a swim so I'm looking forward to this little break in all the action.

NEXT: A DAY IN THE SUN

Saturday, June 02, 2007

ISLAND HOPPING

MAY 30 - JUNE 1

Our three day excursion to the islands has been a wonderful adenture. We left Pireaus early Wednesday morning by Super Fast Ferry and it took only four hours to reach Pireaus with one stop at Syros and another uick one at Tinos. My friend Crola had prearranged accomodations for us at the lovely Mykonos Beach HOtel (55 Eur night) and we caught a cab from the port and got settled right away in our pretty little beach bungalow. Then we set off to texplore the labyrinthine whorl of streets in the town.

MYKONOS is the picture post-card Greece, along with Santorini, the most expensive of the Greek islands. The est times to visit it is late April to mid June or later after the summer. During the peak season the islad is the scene of hedonistic happenings and a crush of tourists, making it impossible to enjoy the island for its Cycladic charm -- the sun dazzling off the pristine white cubistic buildings with their blue and green trem, magenta bougainvillea spilling from balconies, the many small red or blue domed churches and the wide choice of beaches.

Mykonos town is a maze of winding narrow streets so when there are throngs of pushy tourists nd rowdy partyers it can become overbering. Fortunately for our visit we only had to contend with the occasional herd of happy shoppers who were desposited on shore from their cruise ships, stay for a few hours, then depart.

We visited Mykonos' famous row of windmills, some of which are now private dwellings, and took lots of photos of them as well as the most picturesque and photographed little church ont he island, the Church of Panagia Paraportiani, an amalgamation of four tiny churches lumped into one dazzling white asymmitrical building where the play of light and shadow off the multifacited structure make it a photogrphers delight. We even got a peek inside, lit a candle and had a look at the very old icons that decorate the walls.

Our hotel. the Mykonos Beach hotel was located on a beach just outside the town and shared a pool with it's sister hotel, the Mykonos Bay. The beach was stony so I enjoyed floating around in the beautiful pool which was chlorinated salt water. I pretty well had the pool to myself both times I went for a swim.

The first evening we were treated to one of those spectacular Aegean sunsets and enjoyed a relaxing dinner at a little taverna down the road called "Niko's Place" run by an English woman named Joanna with her capable crew of young women. The next morning we were up early to take the cruise boat over to the island of Delos.

DELOS is a small rocky island no more than 5 km long and 1.300 met. wide A sacred place to acient Greeks because it's the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. It's situatied in theheart of the Aegean in the centre of the Cyclades islands which form a circle around i. The Apollo sanctuary was estabised in the 9th centure BC and it was the place the ancient Greeks gathered to workshop Apollo, god of light, harmony and balance; and Artemis, the moon goddess, his twin sister. It became a rich port by the 5th century BC with merchangs, bankers and ship owners arriving from all over the Medterranean It also attracted artists, craftsmen, lyracists and writers. Diromg the Persian Wars in 478 BC Athens established an alliance known as the Delian League that kept a treasury at Delos. It was declared that no one could be born or die there and it became one of the most important Greek religious sites.

By the 1st cetury BC some 30,000 peope lived on the island. The Romans made Delos a free port in 167 BC and then brought even greater prosperity with a lucritive slave market that sold up to 10,000 people a day. Due to attacks by enemies and pirates the island gradally became abandoned and fell into decline.

It was a blazing hot day as we trudged the sonty archaeological site scaring little lizards who basked on the rocks. There's a new museum at Delos with impressive finds on display. And of course the highlight is to visit the row of stone lions, an offering from the Naxians to the shrine.
One of their sisters sits by the Arsenale in Venice, stolen away by seamen. The original remaining lions are stored in the museum so the ones you see on display outside are copies but identical and treated so the don't suffer the affects of the weather.

When we returned to Mykonos we had a very expensive lunch at one of the trendy seside tavernas at Little Venice (named so because the building crowd together with their foundations right in the sea, like the real Venice.) That evening at sunset, after a rest and a long swim in the pool, we again walked down to Nikos for dinner by the light of a full moon.

TINOS
Friday we caught the early ferry over to Tinos so we could have a look at the famous church there. This green, mountainous island is a Greek Orthodox place of pilgrimage. Each August, the celebrated Church of Panagia Evangelistia is visited by hundreds of pious souls, many of them infirm or disabled, who carwl up the hill on a carpeted pathway, making their way into the church to pray for blessings and miraculous cures for their ailments.

All the way up steep hill leading to the church, on one side of the road is a width of carpeting where supplicants crawl on hands and knees to the holy shrine, and up the red carpeted flights of steps into the church sanctuary.

Outise the church there's a lucrative trade in tall candles, incense, icons and evil-eye deterrants as well as small glass vials to be filled with holy water that comes from a hose and tap outside the church. The church dominates this otherwise ordinary town. The ornate facade, with graceful colonnades, is surrounded by a complex of religious buildings and museums. The church yard is an impressive stone mosaic and there is a fountain court. The interior of the church is hung with thousands of silver votive offerings, many of them with a nautical theme with tiny sailing ships, fish, and fishing boats. Tinos is an island of nootable seafarers and below the church is a memorial to the sailors killed on The Elli, a Greek shop torpeoded by anItalian submarine in Tinos' harbor on Assumption Day 1940.

The main feature of the church is the famous miraculous ican which is embedded with gold, silver, diamonds, pearls and surrounded by gifts from the hopeful. People file past and stop to genuflect and kiss the icon. We actually saw one elderly woman crawling in on her knees, inching across teh floor to kiss the icon and thenc raw l to the front of the church flessings from the priests. Whle we were there the priests(papas) were singing the liturgies and the church was full of people, so it ade a rather special ending to our island holiday.


NEXT: The ASSEMBLY OF 2007 and the Sunset Birthday Party on the Pnyx