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Sunday, June 27, 2010

GOING 'HOME': RETURNING TO ATHENS

 
                                                                      Villa Olympia
Each time I return to Athens it is like returning home. I have such a strong connection with that city, and with Greece, that I feel as though at least part of me belongs there. So it is with great anticipation that I am looking forward to my next visit in August.

As usual there are always new things to see and old things to revisit and especially the friends I have made who live there who I love to spend time with.

This year for the first couple of days I'm going to stay at the Villa Olympia pension which is run by a friend. Then I'll go and spend time with another friend before heading for the islands.

 
                                The New Acropolis Museum
One of the first things I intend to do when I arrive in Athens is to visit the new Acropolis Museum. Last year I was one day late in getting an inside tour of it. I did watch the opening ceremonies on TV, every night I sat at a taverna on the east side and watched the amazing hologram show projected on the wall, and I walked around the outside, over the plexiglass floors, looking down at the layers of Athen's history. What a thrill!

This year I'll go inside and have a look at the amazing collection of some 4,000 artifacts. They are still waiting for the return of the Elgin Marbles, but meanwhile there are many artifacts on display that haven't been seen (by me, at least) before.

Frankly, I was one of many who complained about the building itself, which tends to look like a train station or something industrial. But during the opening ceremonies, when I saw it from the aerial view, I realized that the structure is in fact, a reflection of the Acropolis itself in its shape. And the contents are a wonder with the statuary and other treasures displayed to their best advantage.

 
                                 The View from above Plaka


The next thing I'll do is walk up to this lookout point just below the flank of the Acropolis overlooking the red tiled rooftops of Plaka, the old city, where I used to live. This is one of my most favorite places to come for the view, to sit awhile and meditate, to listen to the thrumb of the city, the pulse that never stops beating.

Athens is alive! And in spite of her problems, she will survive!
And I am looking forward to a wonderful homecoming!

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

NEXT STOP: MAINZ, GERMANY


Patrick and Hanna

I've never visited Germany before. I have stopped in the Frankfurt and Munich airports to change planes en route to other destinations, but up til now have never spent any vacation time in Germany. This trip, though, I am stopping off at Frankfurt, then going to Mainz to visit my friend Patrick and his family. Patrick has visited me many times in Canada and a couple of years ago he brought his mom along. We spent a lovely week touring around and getting to know one another. So it will be a special stop-over for me to visit with them once again.

I've been doing a little research about Mainz and in keeping with my literary focus on this journey, I will look forward to visiting the Gutenberg Museum. Back in the 1400's Johannes Gutenberg was the first to print with hand set type cast in molds. The original Bible was published between 1452 - 1455.

I'd also like to see St. Stephens Church where there are stained glass windows by artist Marc Chagall (1976-79) Mainz was once a Roman fort called Maguntaicum with a fort built on the site of the present day city. There is also a Roman/German history museum.

I notice by the photos I've seen that the city is full of beautiful old architecture although much of the city was destroyed during the war between 1939 and 1945. It's the largest city and capital of Rhineland-Palatinate and was once the main ecclesiastical centre north of the Alps. It's located on the wet bank of the river Rhine about 40 kilometers NE of Frankfurt.

Patrick will meet me at Frankfurt and I am going to spend 4 days visiting with him. I'm really looking forward to this new travel adventure!

Friday, June 18, 2010

VISITING WALES & FINDING THE POET

Caerphilly Castle
After I leave London I plan to visit my father's town, Caerphilly Wales, and spend some time with my Welsh cousins. I've visited there many times before and last year when my sister, niece and I went, we were treated to a family reunion of a great many distant cousins we had never met before. So I vowed I'd return for a longer stay this year and spend some time getting to know everyone a bit better.

One of the features of Caerphilly is the wonderful, well-preserved Norman castle that has a wealth of history and legend. My dad used to play in there when he was a child. Now it is protected and well-kept and it gives you a real sense of what castle life must have been way back when. Caerphilly was mainly a mining town and my father and a great number of his family members worked in the mines. He had a fairly large family and they all lived in this house on Windsor Street. I was lucky enough to have visited there several times during when his two younger brothers still lived there. Now it is privately owned but I still go by and get my photo taken outside the door. Caerphilly was a place I heard about all through my childhood so it has a specific place in my heart, very much part of my family history


My sister Jean and I in front of our father's family home.

One of the things I've never done when I have visited Wales is to search out all the Dylan Thomas haunts. So this year I am determined to make a visit to Swansea to the boat house where the poet lived and wrote so many of his marvelous poems. The boathouse is at Laugharne. In Swansea there is a Dylan Thomas Centre as well as a pub and Kardomah Cafe where Dylan used to met with his friends. They were known as the Kardomah Gang and were a group of talented writers, artists and musicians, all Dylan's contemporaries.

While I'm in London, there is a pub near the Indian Y where Dylan Thomas used to hang out so I usually go in there and have a pint in his honour. I've also been to the bar in New York City where he collapsed on the sidewalk after downing an astonishing number of whiskies. He died not long after that, unfortunately.

So, to make this a really Welsh part of my holiday I am determined to track down the poet.
The other thing I want to do is find the grave sites of my great grandparents and grandparents. I think my cousins know where to find those. And if there is time, to make a trip up to Senghenydd again, to visit the place where my great grandfather died in a mining explosion. I've been there before, but a return pilgrimage is in order to make this truly a special Welsh visit.



Statue of Dylan Thomas in Swansea

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

TRIP PLANS #1: LONDON


I've been to London many times and know the main parts of the city very well. I enjoy visiting London but this time I'm stopping for just a couple of days en route to Wales where I want to spend more time with my cousins. As with all my trips back to old familiar places I always try to find something new to see and do. I like going on the walking tours. I've been on a few self-guided tours. But I enjoy the group tours with the knowledgable guides that tell funny anecdotes and take you to places you would likely miss or not go to alone.

I've been on several in the past, one of the most memorable being the Jack the Ripper Tour. This time I wanted something more focused on the arts or writers. So I've done some research and come up with a couple, both Saturday tours that I can do the weekend I'm in London.

One is the London Beatles Walks. Now that sounds like a lot of fun. You get to go to the place where A Hard Day's Night was filmed, the restaurant featured in Help! and the former Apple Shop. You'll see the apartment where Ringo, John and Yoko stayed and the house where Paul lived. It was in that house that John and Paul wrote I Want to Hold your Hand. And as a grand finale, you get to see the legendary Abbey Road crosswalk.


The other walking tour I think I'll go on is in the evening and it's The Old Hampstead Village Pub Walk. This is London's most villagey atmosphere. According to the blurb about it there's a super cast of characters too: Dick Turpin, the painter Constalbe, the poet Keats, Freud, D.H. Lawrence right down to George Michael and Boy George, Elizabether Taylor and Rex Harrison, Peter O'Tolle and Jeremy Irons. Sounds fascinating! And I bet the pints are good too.

I've already booked my accomodations. I always stay at the Indian Y which is conveniently located and reasonably priced (it includes breakfast and dinner). I just have to book my Heathrow B&B for my return trip from Wales when I catch an early flight off to Frankfurt where I'll stop a few days visiting with Patrick in Mainz.







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