Total Pageviews

There was an error in this gadget

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MEANDERING AROUND PLAKA

Plaka
Plaka is the old part of Athens, where the city began back in the ancient times.  And it is the most popular tourist part of Athens with lots of shops and tavernas.  The houses in Plaka are all old and many (if not all) protected by the Ministry of Culture.  The place is full of history -- and of the old ghosts that haunt the ancient streets.  Some of those 'ghosts' are dear friends of mine and others who once were part of my life when I lived in Plaka during the '80's and '90's.  So when I am meandering around I am doing a lot of reminiscing and recalling so many stories of events that happened during that time.  Actually my relationship with Plaka goes back to '79 when I first went to Athens on holidays and fell in love with the city.  There are still some people around from that time although when I went to look for Ari the waiter last night at the old tavern beside the Roman Agora, he wasn't there. Perhaps he's retired now or on holidays? I'll have another look in the next week or so.
Shadow Puppet Theatre


There are various places I have lived in Plaka and also in the neighbouring district of Koukaki where I am staying now.  The most memorable place was on Vironos Street (Odos Vironos) BYRON'S STREET. Yes, it was named after the poet Lord Byron, because right at the corner a few meters from my gate at #14 Vironos, there was an archaeological site we called "The Dirty Corner".  There is a choreogos tripod monument there, Lysikrattes monument that was awarded to a chorus for a performance at the Theatre of Dionysos just up the hill under the Acropolis.  This was once a theatre district and later there was a monastery built on the site where Lord Byron stayed and wrote his poems.  Right around the corner is Shelly Street named for is friend who used to visit.  And it connects with the Street of the Tripodons that was once lined with these tripod monuments.  Yesterday I went for lunch up at the Thespis Taverna just up the steps from the Dirty Corner near the Theatre of Dionysos.  This was the thespian district, the actors. 

The former "Dirty Corner" (now quite posh!)

In the evening I decided I should stop at the Dirty Corner for old time's sake.  These days it is the Posh Corner with an upscale establishment and a restaurant where Hilary Clinton ate dinner when she was here.
I sat at approximately one of my old tables and had an ouzo and pistachio icecream. 11 Euros.  We used to drink for a week when it was drachmae on that amount!  I sat there remembering all the scenarios, the dramas that unfolded on a daily basis, all the actors (I was one) and dear friends now gone from this earth.

I always touch the gate at #14 when I pass by. It holds so many memories for me. I wish I could look inside and see my old suite and the little spitaki in the courtyard where Robbie used to live, but it's locked and it looks like there is construction going on. I wonder if Kyria Dina still lives there?

As I walked out of Vironos Street, across the Areopagitou pedestrian mall, I saw a man that looked exactly like Robbie -- the long hair, beard, the way he was walking. He looked up suddenly and caught my eye and I felt sure it was Robbie's ghost. It almost made me burst into tears.  These are the kinds of moments I have here, remembering people and times dear to my heart.

Dancers in Plaka Square 
Today I was on a quest to photograph the old Byzantine churches in Plaka so I stopped round to see my friend Dinaz at the tourist shop where she works. I'll be going to stay with her next weekend.  Then I walked around doing my photo-journalist job (yes, this is partly a working holiday!) and later went back to Plaka. Right on the corner of Kidetheneon and Adrianou used to the what we called The Moroccan Chicken Shop.  They made excellent roast chicken which was popular with a lot of Moroccans and Ethiopians.  I used to go there often with Robbie and my Moroccan boyfriend Ali.  I sat at one of the now-fancy tables under the big old tree and remembered the fun times we used to have there. I had chicken salad for lunch and a cold Mythos beer and thought lovingly of my old friends.  Then I went up to the top of Plaka where not many tourists go and there are some nice old taverns (some with live music).  Took the photos of the ancient Churches,  walked along the Peripatetics walk alongside the base of the Acropolis, and showed two elderly tourist ladies how to go over the hill to find their tour bus.  I am comfortable enough in this city to feel as if I could be a tour guide,  I can find my way around easily and lately I've even been exploring some streets that I have never before walked down.  You never know what surprises await you, or what ghosts will appear.

A LITTLE TRAGEDY ON KARAZA STREET

There was a pathetic little black and white cat named Sylvester who lived out on the street corner here on Karaza St.  It looked like it needed a good bath but Carol said it had a growth in its mouth and couldn't clean itself so she and a couple of neighbours were caring for it. They took it to the vet, gave it antibiotics, fed it etc.

The other night there was a terrible racket outside with barking dogs and a yowl of a cat.  In the morning Carol found Sylvester dead on the sidewalk, mauled to death by the marauding dogs.  She was heart broken and so were the other women who cared for him.  Such is the plight of many of the strays here in Athens (and all over Greece) And the animal cruelty extends to dogs, horses, mules and donkeys.  Sometimes they are poisoned, sometimes badly mistreated and cruelly killed, mostly just neglected.  There are hundreds of strays - some of which used to be people's pets that were abandoned, and others feral animals. It's not quite as drastic as it used to be when I first visited Greece in the late '70's, but it's still a serious concern.  Fortunately now there are some organizations and private persons who make it their job to help these animals get fed, find homes, be spayed and if necessary find medical help.  Vets are brought in from elsewhere such as England to treat them and many private people have taken it upon themselves to feed the strays.

You can see on the Facebook groups that there are some organizations in Greece listed.  When I was on Samos I picked up a brochure about an animal rescue station there where you could volunteer and adopt animals. And there is the Hellenic Humane Society.


One of my very first published stories, written in 1980 was about the cats of Athens.  Later, the story was republished in the RSPCA magazine in England when the British Humane Society began working with the Hellenic Humane Society to do something about the strays.  There has been some improvement, but the fact that people here let their dogs roam free while they go on holidays so the packs of dogs roam the streets killing defenseless little kitty cats is one of the big problems.  I've also see dogs kept on roof-tops with no shade and likely little water.  And in the villages it is no surprise to see a dog chained on a very short leash out in the hot sun.  This used to disturb me no end when I lived in Lala.

It used to be they kept animals in pitiful conditions in the National Gardens too. When I lived her in the '80's there was one old lion in a small cage, no foliage, just cement and usually no food and little water. It was so disturbing to me I couldn't bear to walk by it.  Eventually, not that long ago, someone from England bought the lion and took it away to better accommodations.  And I'm not sure they still keep animals there. I can't bear to look as it usually upsets me to see the bleak conditions they are kept in.
My friend Christina's cats were rescued from the street
The lovely cat Carol keeps was rescued from the National Gardens.  And my friend Christian has several rescue cats plus one nice old dog, Mangus, who lives part time on Philopappou Hill.  Those dogs are checked by vets, fed and tagged.  You see a lot of them around town. Most of them were people's pets and are friendly fellows.   It's good to know there are some people here who really care what happens to the animals.


Monday, August 30, 2010

SPENDING TIME IN ATHENS

There's no end of things to see and do in Athens. I can never understand people who come here for just a day and then quickly depart and say they don't like the city.  I love it here!  And there are plenty of things to do.  For any tourist, you need to allow yourself at least four days just to see the major sights and more if you really want to get the feel of this famous city and its people.  Athens is a second home to me and I feel more than comfortable here.  Besides the fact that I have friends who I've made and kept over all the years I've visited or lived in the city, I never tire of seeing the amazing wonders that there are here, the many museums, the old Plaka district, and of course Athen's crowning glory, the Acropolis.


Copy of the Parthenon frieze in the Acropolis Metro Station

I haven't been up the Hill as yet because it's been far too hot to enjoy a leisurely saunter around the temples and agora, but I will make my yearly pilgrimage before I return to Canada.  Meanwhile I have been visiting museums and strolling the Plaka and other parts of town.  I've visited the National Archaeological Museum many times in the past, though not recently, so the other day I made it my focus, hopped a trolley and went to have a look.   This museum is the largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the most important in the world for the treasures it contains.  It was founded at the end of the 19th century to house and protect antiquities from all over Greece.  The building itself is a protected monument, founded in 1866 on donated land.  In recent years they have done some renovations and when I visited this time I found that things seems to be displayed more tastefully with lots of new additions including a fabulous Egyptian collection.  The galleries trace the evolution of ancient Greek culture from prehistoric, bronze and Egyptian antiquities as well as the Classical Greek and Minoan.  I spent several hours there and only covered about half of it.  So if you plan a visit, it's probably best to decide what particular era you want to explore and see that first.  You can take photos in the museum without a flash so I got pictures of some favorite pieces.  But you must not pose beside any of the sculptures as this is forbidden.  The Greeks look upon these antiquities as almost sacred!

Royal Palms in the National Gardens

Yesterday I decided to go for a cooling walk in the shaded National Gardens.  This used to be a botanical garden belonging to the royalty and when the royalty was abolished it became a public garden.  I've wandered those shaded paths hundreds of times as when I lived here I used to walk through almost daily on my way to get transportation to my English tutoring classes, but it's a nice place to go for a little retreat any time of day.

The park is full of various plants and trees and statuary and somewhere toward the back of the park, where there used to be a river running through, was the Lyceum of Aristotle.  There are still some ancient ruins in the park.


Lysikratis monument, Plaka

Being Sunday all the shops were closed but after a lunch at McDonalds (Yes, a Big Mac!) at Syntagma Square, I browsed down the shopping mall street and drooled over the  beautiful shoes (all half price) in the stores along Ermou.  Took more photos of the little Byzantine Church there, and remembered I had a story, written long ago, about the little Byzantine Churches of Athens, which I have never published. So I'm planning to do a little more research and rephotograph some of them to revise the story for future.  Walked down into Monastiraki Flea Market -- a real zoo on the Sunday afternoon with hordes of tourists.  You can buy anything there from junk to designer copies.  Came back to Monasitraki Square and noticed the gate open at the old mosque that dominates the square.  In all the years I've lived and visited here I have never once gone inside. So the open door beckoned me and in I went.  Wow!  What an amazing discovery that was!

During the Turkish occupation, this as the Djistaraki Mosque.  After the Turkish occupation it served temporarily as a prison (1915 - 1920).  There are still bits of the original decor inside and out but now it is  the Museum of Greek Folk Art, containing the V. Kyriazopoulos Pottery Collection.

The works of several Asia Minor Greek potters are on display, some of the most beautiful pieces of pottery and ceramics I've ever seen.  And upstairs there are collections of pottery from all the various areas of Greece including Cyprus.  It's certainly well worth a visit and I am surprised at myself that I didn't take time to discover it before.  I took lots of photos of special pieces and told the curator at the desk who I was and that I intended to write a piece about it (which I will.)  Unfortunately most people (even the Greeks) tend to ignore this museum.  That big mosque is a central point of Monastiraki right next to Hadrian's Library, but for some periods of time it was closed for renos.  Now it is open to the public and too bad not more people are taking time to visit it.

I'm not sure what my plans are for the rest of this week.  Christina is still in Salamina and I am still enjoying my stay at Carol's guest house, Villa Olympia.  It's truly a writer's house and if I were to come here again for any length of time I'd certainly consider renting here.  She is a most interesting woman with a wealth of knowledge and an interesting history so we have some excellent discussions.  Some evenings, like the last two nights, we've been taking the tram to the beach and enjoying an early evening swim (best time to go in this unrelenting heat!).

 So today, who knows what my plan will be. I'm running on Greek time now. Sega sega. Easy Easy. No need to hurry around (and anyway it's hard to move about fast when you are dripping with sweat!)  There's be more blogs coming up soon with news from around town.  I'm enjoying the life - zoe and looking forward to contacting the girls as soon as they are available.

Friday, August 27, 2010

NEVER TAKE FOR GRANTED WHAT YOU ARE TOLD IS NECESSARILY ACCURATE

View of Pythagoria

It's pretty usual here in Greece to get mis-information from the locals and even from tourism people when you ask directions. Often it's a shrug, meaning "I don't know" or it's a wave of the hand and something like "10 meters down the road..."  etc.  This was info given to me when I arrived at Pythagorian on my quest to visit archaeological sites.  I was told I could walk to the tunnel (she neglected to say it was all uphill and 2 ks) and at Ireion I was told I could walk 'down the road' to the Temple, but there were no markings on that road she indicated. I would have done well right from the start to take Inka's advice and take cabs to where I wanted to get to. It would have been worth the euros and I'd have seen what I went to see in a more leisurely fashion.

Inka and I noticed the first day we arrived at Samos that the girl in the travel/ticket agency didn't seem to have a clue about the most common of sites we wanted info on, the temple of Hera.  She claimed there was no bus to Ireion (which there is) and was very vague about any information we requested.  She told me the boats were all full til Thursday so I booked a ticket for then.  I noticed later that the ticket was illegible, so the night before my departure I went to the ticket office to check if the time marked was "8" or "9".  "Nine" she said, and explained the ticket printer hadn't been working very well.  The tickets are always marked with the name of the vessel you are to sail on, as well.

As always, I got to the port well in advance. I'd noticed a big Naxos Mykonos ferry pull into the port at 8 am and there was a crowd waiting to board it.  By my ticket had a different vessel name printed on it so I was waiting for another boat to arrive, thinking I was on a different ferry line.  When it drew near to 9 am and no other ferry or other passengers appeared, I finally asked the port police and she said "That is your ferry! And you have 5 minutes to board!"  So I had to make a run for it lugging all my baggage and just made it on time. But I was so upset by this mishap that I was really shaken up.  Fortunately, for a change, the ships stewards were helpful with my luggage as in many cases they are surly and unhelpful.  I found a nice chair on deck and planted myself there for the entire 10 hour voyage.

Karlovassi, Samos

The trip back to Pireaus was pleasant, with the ship stopping at several islands including one sweet little unknown place that reminded me so much of Lala. And later a stop at Ikaria, the island where Ikarus wings melted and he fell into the sea.

We arrived at Pireaus at 7.30 and I discovered that we were at a part of the port that I had never seen before, quite a long distance from the main port.  There were no direction given and if anyone has ever been on those ferries you know what a mob scene it is getting luggage and disembarking.  I began to trudge along with my (far too heavy) baggage trying to find my way off the docks to the main street but each time I asked directions I got a shrug or a vague answer.  There was a young woman with a child and two big heavy pull-alongs trying to find her way too. I eventually lost track of her and felt so sorry I couldn't help her.  At last I asked another man who said something about a bus, and then I found a young woman who said yes, she was waiting for the bus.  Apparently there is a bus to transport you to the main port like there is at the airport.

So I finally got to the main street, thanks to this  young lady who gave me a helping hand, and then I somehow managed to find a phone to call Carol, got on the metro and headed for Petrolana station where she'd meet me.  I set my bag of souvenirs (and camera) down on the seat to put on my backpack and organize my pull-along with the camping gear and thank god I snapped to just in time to realize it was there otherwise I'd have left it on the train!

Anyway, I got off the train okay and there was Carol waiting for me. She has been so helpful and generous and I truly appreciated this as I was very exhausted from the travel and hassles by then.  So here I am safely in Athens again and waiting to hook up with my girlfriends.  So look for a few more adventures (though no more ferries on this trip!)

A TRAVEL WRITER'S DAY ON SAMOS ISLAND

My last two days on Samos were intended to be 'working' days where I would tour the sites and get new ideas for stories, in particular stories that related to history.  My first writer's day was quite successful in Samos/Vathi town when I went to the archaeological museum and then spent some pleasant time at the Samos Wine Museum.  The next day  I set off for Pythagorian where ancient Samos really had it's beginnings and there are two very important archaeological sites to visit.
Kouros, Samos museum


In my previous posting I explained how that day turned out to be quite frustrating and exhausting with a lot of pointless walking about in the hot sun.  Aside from my visits to the old castle and museum, the other two sites I had hoped to see didn't turn out so well.  One of those frustrations a travel writer has to face and make the best of it.

Samos island has a very interesting history dating back to very early times.  The name Samos is from Phoenician meaning "rise by the shore" and this green, mountainous island rises out of the sea like at lovely gem. It has always been famous for it's wine trade and also the red pottery produced there. It was the centre of Ionian culture in classical antiquity. Being close to Asia Minor, the Samians have been known to worship both the gods of the East and the 12 Olympians. The most worshiped deity of the island was Hera and her temple is one of the most significant monuments of ancient Greece.  Because of the distance between Samos town and the temple site they made a road known as the 'holy road' (Hiera Odos) that was decorated with many statues and votive offerings.  Every spring there was a march of believers going to the temple for a feast that lasted 3 days.  It was this temple, The Hereion, that I wanted most to visit.  There had been a temple on that site where rituals were performed since the 8th century BC but in the beginning of the 6th century a great temple was built that was later destroyed in an earthquake. During the reign of Polykrates an even greater temple was started with a55 columns, 20 meters in height. Unfortunately it was never completed because of the political and economical collapse of the state after Polykrates' death.  Most of the votive offerings given at the temple in the 3r and 2nd century BC were stolen by the Romans.  during the 1st and 2nd century AD many temples devoted to other gods were built.

I am disappointed I didn't get to the Temple site because of mis-direction and lack of transportation there.  However I did manage to make my way eventually to another famous site, the Tunnel that Polykrates had built under the mountain to transport water to Samos. This is the earliest tunnel in history to be dug  from both ends, extending 1 km.  It is now regarded as one of the masterpieces of the ancient world and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Of course, Samos is also famous for being the birthplace of Pythagoras who lived there until he was exiled by the tyrant, Polykrates.  The town of Pythagorion is named for him and there is an impressive statue of him at the harbour.  On the road from Pythagorian leading to the site of the Hereion, there are a number of ruins of temples such as one to the Nymphs.  This was likely part of the Holy Road.  There were also ruins of a theatre and old village up near the tunnel but I missed seeing them because I was riding there by taxi.

I was glad, at least, to have had the experience of going down into that amazing tunnel, of only for a few minutes.  And I managed to get a few photos so I'll be able to write a story about it later.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WHEN THINGS DON'T GO ACCORDING TO PLANS!

Sometimes, no matter how organized you are and how precise you make your plans, things just don't work out.  I had my whole day planned today, getting up early for the bus to Pythagorian, so that it would allow me plenty of time to see the two major archaeological sites that I came to Samos to see.

I got there in good time this morning, walked over to take photos of the impressive statue of Pythagoras at the port, and then explored the old castle and museum inside it.  Then I stopped by the tourism place to ask about buses to the temple of Hera and the famous underground tunnel.  She told me there was a bus for Ierion but that I could walk to the tunnel.  I had intended to take Inka's advice and take a taxi there but decided to try the walk.  Unfortuantely, I missed the road turn-off and ended up walking god knows how many kilometers along the hot busy highway before turning back.  I realized I'd passed the turn off signs as they were not visible in the direction I'd been walking. And anyway, later I found it was all up-hill to get there!

I got back into town in time for the next bus to Ieorion which is near where the Hereion is.  When I got there I asked a lady about getting there and she pointed up the road and said I could walk it.  I trudged along for quite awhile and saw no signs of an archaeological site, so turned back and waited at the taxi stand.  If there is a taxi in that town, there must only be one. A bunch of people were already waiting and none came.  So I gave up in discouragement and went for lunch then caught the bus back to Pythagorian.  I never did even get a glimpse of the Temple of Hera.

Tunnel Entrance

At Pythagorian I asked a taxi driver to take me to the tunnel. He wasn't too enthusiastic and said it was closed as it was after 3 pm (however, I had a paper from the tourism that said it was open late). He begrudgingly waited me for when I explained I only wanted to take a couple of photos. This is an amazing feat of engineering from ancient times and is a world heritage site.  It was built under the mountain to transport water to Samos and it's over 1 km. long  It's regarded as one of the masterpiecess of ancient enginieering. Anyway, it was open and i went inside, squeezing down the narrow entranceway (if you are claustrophobic don't attempt it!) and into the main part of the tunnel which reminded me of the coal pits that I visited some time ago in Wales.  I only walked a little ways and took a couple of photos, then went back to
the taxi.  He charged me almost 15 euro for that little excursion!!

I had a couple of hours to kill in Pythagorion and I was so hot and tired I had an icecream soda and then went and soaked me feet in the water awhile.  Eventually killed the two hours time before my bus back to Samos came.

So here I am hot and tired and I didn't write nearly the creative blog I'd intended but I will do another one with lots more details about the Temple of Hera,  Pythagorian town, and the amazing tunnel!

I'm back to Athens tomorrow and looking forward to some days of just vegging out, washing my clothes, visiting friends, and hanging out at the To Kati Allo.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NEWS FROM THE HOTEL ARTEMIS

Hotel Artemis, Samos (Vathi)

Trust me to be staying at the Hotel Artemis, the goddess who preferred intellect to sex!  I keep wishing Aphrodite would speak to me as I need to write some poetry and so far I've come u p with pure drivel!
Anyway, I have this nice room, small but appropriate for a writer, overlooking the port.  A bit noisy on the street below with motor cycles and cars, but nice just the same.  A cool meltemi breeze blows fresh air into my room so I retreated there all afternoon after a morning of Museum visits.

I was heading for Turkey, via Samos, but like Odysseus, I seem to have been blown off course and never quite made it to Turkey, though its just a few nautical miles away.  It was an easy decision to stay here though, as this island has an alluring charm that attracted me from the first time I visited here 26 years ago, and on several subsequent visits when, like now, I was en route to Kusadasi and Ephesus.


This is the island of Pythagoras and the Goddess Hera.  It's a mountainous island with a mild climate.  The cooling meltemi wind blows almost constantly in summer fanning the air and making it pleasant. It's a green island, known since antiquity for it's vineyards.

I started my morning at the archaeological museum which has an interesting display of artifacts mostly from 6 - 7 cent. BC from the Heraion which I intend to visit tomorrow.  One votive offering to the goddess is a gigantic kouros, but there were many other object including some lovely little faience birds from Egypt and other unusual things that were gifts to the goddess.

Wine Tasting

Samos is known for its sweet wine and the Samian wine has been famous since antiquity.  So I took a taxi to the Samos wine museum and spent an interesting hour there browsing the displays, then relaxing in the wine tasting area.  About 8 bottles of wine were set out, various vintages and types (except 1 rose, all white wines) and you could pour and taste as man and as much as you liked.  I tried each one and decided on the Samian Nectar,  a delicious dessert wine.  When I spoke to the manager and told him who I was and that I was a travel writer, and asked for English info about the wineries, he gave me a large bottle of the Nectar as a gift!  Another Greek wine for my collection to be served at my novel's wrap party!
Samos town square

I walked back to the Samos port along the well-paved sea wall, keeping mostly to the shade and enjoying the ea breeze.  It took about an hour, but was a pleasant walk.  These are 'working' days for me now, not beach days, so I'll spend the afternoon in my room or out on the balcony overlooking the port, and contemplate my writing tasks.  So far though, the Muse has been avoiding me and I wonder why?

A STORMY CROSSING TO SERENE SAMOS

Homer's "wine dark sea"

The sea crossing from Naxos to Syros, and then much later, from Syros to Samos, was turbulent to say the least, but somehow I managed not to get seasick.  From Naxos we sat on the deck and watched the sea roil and the wind blow rainbows in the sea spray.  I felt like Odysesseus sailing on the wine-dark sea with Poseidon's white horses racing across the deep.  It was easy to see, when watching the foam-crested waves, how the ancients believe they were white horses!  And that wine-dark sea of Homer -- well evidently grapes were different back in ancient times, very black grapes that produced extremely strong dark wine, and in the storm the sea looked purple/blue which probably explains that 'wine dark' sea (not burgundy like our wine color). 


We sailed five hours to Syros and then had a few hours to browse the port. I've only sailed in and out of there (many times) in the past, so it was interesting to have a look around.  I was told it is known as the Little Vatican as it is a very Catholic island.  And a Syros port the main attractions are two churches high up on the hill behind the port.  It was Saturday night and the traditional 'volta' was talking place where all the Greek families come out to wander the square and socialize.  The coolest time of day is around 10 pm and they were out in full regalia with the main road by the port cut off from traffic, wandering up and down, kids playing and dancing and a general festive atmosphere.  There were horse-drawn carriage rides up and down the street and a small pony ride for kids.  Really fun to be part of it!

Boarded our on-going ferry at 1 a.m. and by then I was totally done in from the travel and heat and thought I would collapse with exhaustion.  We had airline type seats to sit in during the night and somehow i managed to sleep and not be bothered by the ship tossing and turning in the storm.  We got into Samos port at 7 a.m. and the hotel Inka had booked for us was right across the street.  We had another few hours wait, though, before we could check in.  When we finally did, it was such a relief to see a REAL bed, air conditioning etc.  And there was a swimming pool on the roof where we could relax and cool off.

Dorrisos resort and folk museum
Samos is a lovely island and I've been here several times on route to Turkey but not sure I've stayed in Samos (Vathi) town before.  Yesterday we spent the day in Pythagorian (home of Pythagoras the mathematician) and we parked ourselves at the fabulous Dorrisos resort outside of town.  This is something to see, a real folklore museum and all the various lodgings of the resort are in different types of traditional Greek houses.  The beach there was pebbly and not too good for the feet but refreshingly cold.  We rented posh beach couches for awhile then moved over pool-side and ordered lunch and drinks.  After we told the manageress who we were we got the drinks free!  And we got to swim in the big pool and loll around like we were paying residents! 

Inka left for Turkey today. I ran out of funds so couldn't go even for a day trip. So I am now here for a couple of days on my own exploring museums and archaeological sites.  I'll post another blog about this tomorrow.  Thursday I head back to Athens and I'm looking forward to seeing my friends there. They've been on holidays so I haven't seen them yet.  I also hope to make a couple of small day trips out of Athens to see some other sites.

Friday, August 20, 2010

CAMPING AT MARAGAS, NAXOS

Camping, Maragas, Aghia Ana, Naxos

The first cock crows at 4 a.m.  You can set your clock by it.  Followed by all the roosters around the island.  They keep up their boistrous cock-a-doodle heralding the dawn until the first light appears. Then the ring-doves start with their coo-cooing, and the village dogs bark,  if there are donkeys they'll start to bray.  That's island life and the sounds I have missed since not living up in the mountain village at Lala.

The camp site at Maragas is huge with spaces for lots of tents, RVs, bed tents, rooms and studio apartments.  It's full of Italians at the moment, and a bevy of pretty young French girls who congretate at all hours in the bathroom showering  and preening as if they are at a 5 star hotel.  Lots of families with little kids and a few singles and older folk like Inka and me.  It's safe and reasonably quiet after 11 pm.  There's a cafe bar, beach taverna and super market and with the yellow card issued from the camp site you get 10% off purchases. 

The beach here is excellent, my favorite, pure silky sand and clean turquoise water.  I try to have several swims a day to keep cooled down.  The heat is beginning to get to me and I am ready for a nice downpour of rain.  This will be my last night sleeping in the steamy hot tent as tomorrow Inka and I are heading to Syros for the day and then getting the midnight boat to Samos where she has booked us into a nice hotel. (I'm ready for some luxury now).

Inka had arrived Wednesday. She has never camped and meant to get a studio but they were full up. So being a good sport she rented a tent and we are pitched together like a pair of gypsies and have been enjoying lots of fun.

Yesterday though, I thought we were going to die!  We went on the round-the-island bus tour which I've been on 3 times before but this was the first time I sat up front by the driver.  The road winds up and up on the mountains, a narrow road with hair-pin turns. And a couple of times I was pretty sure he'd taken the turn too close to the edge and we'd plunge over into the abyss.  No kidding! I really freaked out and still have a nervous stomach as a result.  Of course we didn't crash and the driver is, in fact, a very accomplished driver who goes on that road every day with the tours.  He is certainly to be commended.

Inka was very impressed with the island trip and the island as a whole and is now contemplating buying a house here -- or at least checking into it.  She is feeling somewhat disenchated with her current home in Turkey.

So, tomorrow we are heading for Syros island for the day and later will get a late boat to Samos where we will stay a few days.  How long I stay depends on the finances.  I definitely won't be going on to Turkey with her this time and may head back to Athens by Tuesday or Wednesday.

I'll send another blog from Samos.  Really looking forward to seeing the island again as it's been years since I visited there.

Naxos Sunset


Saturday, August 14, 2010

HOW TO SURVIVE WHEN THE TEMPERATURE IS 39C AND RISING!

Wind surfing, Naxos

There has been no respite from the heat here and according to the weather reports, the temperatures are rising.  There isn't even a whisper of wind to cool things down.  So it's all you can do to walk around and that in itself is very exhausting.  There are a few tips to beating the heat (or at least, avoiding sun stroke or heat exhuastion)

1. Always remember to carry water (and drink lots of it), wear a hat, and sunscreen.
2.  Don't attempt any long or fast walk as you'll soon be exhausted and drenched with sweat. (You'll end up changing your clothes a couple of times a day as everything gets soaked.)
3. Don't attempt to go up to the Acropolis in the mid day as it will be like a frying pan up there.  Same thing goes for the beach.  The best times for the beach are morning (early) and evening as it is absolutely scorching on the sand.  Wear flip-flops or you'll burn your feet for sure!
4.  Take lots of cold showers, then lie naked on your bed with the fan blowing on you.  (if you are lucky enough to be in a hotel you'll likely have air conditioning, but where I am staying, I only have a fan.  And lord knows how hot it's going to be inside my tent when I'm camping!)

OKay those are just a few tips.  So far I've not got heat stroke but it can happen even if you obey these rules.
So I am really looking forward to being on the boat first thing Monday morning with the fresh sea breeze and a 5 hour journey to Naxos.

Next time you hear from me I'll be camping at Maragas Camping on Plaka Beach and soaking up a bit more sun.  But it will be cooler by the sea, I hope!
Aghia Ana Beach, Naxos

Friday, August 13, 2010

ATHENS: "Home" again!


View across the ancient agora to Lycebettus

It hasn't taken too long to get back into 'the life' (zoe) here in Athens, although it is taking a bit of time to get used to the oppressive August heat because it's been some years since I was here at this time of year.  It means you slow right down and in fact, come to a full stop during the mid-day hours.  The best times to go walking about are early mornings or evenings (but even then it's still sweltering!)

I'm staying at Villa Olympia, an old neoclassical house/pension run by an English lady, Carol, who has lived here for years.  In fact, when I first lived in Athens in 1983 my dear friend Roberto and his pal Bronson lived right across the street.  At that time, they told me about a Canadian writer who lived across from them and suggested I should go to meet her. I didn't. And I learned later that it was Audrey Thomas who lived in Carol's pension while she was writing "Latakia".  It wasn't for quite a few years later that I met Audrey at a writer's festival in Vancouver and we made the connection.  So I feel I'm in the right place for now,  as it is a real writer's kind of house -- very old, very shabby and homey and fit for a writer to find the Muse (I'm waiting!)


Display of an Ottoman Turkish room,  New Islamic Museum, Athens

I am enjoying waking each morning to the sound of canaries trilling from their balcony cages, even in the heat.  And walking around checking out old haunts.  A lot of shops are closed, some permanently due to economics, some due to August holidays.  And there aren't a lot of people (or tourists) around.  But Athens is always quiet in August so there's room to move, though yesterday Carol said she'd never seen such traffic jams downtown as there were.  We had gone to see the new Islamic Museum which is opearated by the Benaki, and a very interesting place, showing the whole history of Islamic occupations around Asia and Europe from the beginning and lots of fabulous treasures on display.

Today I'm going to visit the Acropolis museum which I missed on my last trip here.  That is sure to be air conditioned and will be pleasant to spend some hours there.


 New Acropolis Museum, Athens

I stopped by my favorite taverna, To Kati Allo, for dinner the other night and enjoyed a chat with Dino, the owner's son who I've known since he was 4.  He now has a 4 yr old of his own.  When I stopped there in the afternoon for a cold Mythos he serenaded me on this tzouras and sang for me.  I remember when he was first learning to play the bouzouki and now he's quite a proficient musician.  He looks like a real gypsy these days with a goatee and curled moustache (Johnny Depp style from Pirates). His family are gypsies from Sparta.
His mother, Anna, had recognized me earlier in the day, from a half block away and greeted me warmly.  I've known this family now since '87 and they are always happy to see me.  At one time, in Vancouver, I had met a man on the buses who turned out to be a Greek who had known me in Athens.  We often met on the buses and he'd ask about Athens folk. Then once when I was at TKA, Anna asked me about "Jimmy" and it turned out they were aquainted from Sparta. So every time I was here visiting he'd phone from Vancouver to see if I'd been to the TKA.  Unfortunately last year they said he'd called to say he had cancer and I haven't seen him since so we assume he passed away.  But it just goes to show you what a small world it is!

So I am getting geared up for my trip to the islands now and today will check ferry schedules.  My travel writer friend Inka will be meeting me on Naxos on the 18th so that will be another exciting event.  I'm looking forward to being by the sea and having a luxurious swim in the Aegean.  So I'll try to blog once more before I head out of here on Monday.


 It's a bit funny not having my friends around as they are all away on holidays. But I have enjoyed Carol's company and she's so good about offering rides around etc.  We have had some long, interesting conversations.  And after our fabulous dinner last night at the garden restaurant, we sat on the rooftop watching for the Perseus meteor shower, but the sky didn't seem to be clear enough as we couldn't even find the moon (must have been low behind the buildings).  Nice and tranquil up there though, but even at 1 a.m. it was still steaming hot!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

THE ROVING REPORTER IN MAINZ

Add to Technorati Favorites

This was my last day in Mainz before flying off to Athens.  So with Patrick as my tour guide we set off to see as much of the city as possible including some important churches and the famous Gutenberg Museum..  Mainz is the largest city and capital of Rhineland-Palatinate, with a population of about 200,000. It's located 40 kms NE of Frankfurt.  It was once the main ecclesiastical centre north of the Alps so there is a huge influence of old churches in the area.
Roman Temple of Isis
Originally the Romans had built at fort here and there are still Roman ruins in the city including the Temple of Isis located under one of the new shopping malls.  The city has beautiful architecture although much of the city was destroyed in WWII during bombing raids.

We went first to see the Church of St. Stephan which has magnificent windows by artist Marc Chagal.  We passed by the Gautor Gate in the upper city, a baroque gate from 1670 that was once part of the city wall. Then walked down to Schiller Square and the Carnival Square. (Frederick von Schiller was a writer and poet from the 19th century and there is a statue of him at the square.  The Carnival area is where the annual carnivals are held during the Rose Monday before Ash Wednesday.  The Mainz Carnivale is famous and began as a criticism of social and political injustice 

Church windows by Marc Chagal

From the Square you can see the area of Copper Mountain Terrace, a posh district where grapes are grown and made into sparkling wine.  Near here we stopped to visit the ruins of the Church of St. Christoph, a Gothic style church dating to the 9 century where Johannes Gutenbrg was probably baptized in the original 15th century baptismal font.

Early printing press, Gutenburg Museum


Then we went to the Gutenburg Museum, a history of the printed word, so an interesting place for me to visit.  I recalled my days as a copy-runner at the Sun when I used to run errands to the composing room and watch the printers setting the type for that day's newspapers.  Here you see the very earliest type setting machines and books that were published centuries ago including Gutenburg's first printed Bible.   It was in Mainz that  the first European books were printed using moveable type, from the early 1450's.

The immense Cathedral of Saint Martin is nearby (1000 years old)  built in Romanesque style.  It has six individual pipe organs inside all accessed from 1 large console. 

I had a wonderful visit in Mainz with Patrick as my knowledgeable tour guide.  There was lots more to see and do there but my time had come to an end and that afternoon we took the train to Frankfurt for my onward flight to Athens. 

NEXT;  "Home" again. Arriving in Athens.

CASTLES ON THE RHINE

Castles on the Rhine River


The train service in Germany is excellent and because Patrick has a disability card, he can take along a passenger with him free, so all my train and bus rides around the countryside here has been free thanks to my generous host.  On Monday we took the train to the town of Koblenz where the conflagration of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers meet at a place called the "German Corner".  This is marked by a huge statue of Kaiser William on his horse.  We climbed up to the top of the winding steps to get a good viewpoint and took lots of photos.  (Photos will be posted when I return home.)

Where the Rhine and the Mosel Rivers converge

It was a gorgeous trip along the Rhine to Koblenz, the second largest city in Rhineland-Palatinate,  and I noticed the excellent cycling paths all along from Mainz, mainly flat areas that are prefect for biking. There were also lots of walkers and joggers on the paved pathways along the river.  We passed through a lot of lovely little towns along the way.  And after looking around Koblenz and had a nice traditional lunch at an Italian restaurant called "Amalfi". This made up for the schnitzels I couldn't eat the night before due to my stomach upset.  I had "Kleines Putensteakmedalions" Tession in Aprikosen Rahmsauce with Krokettes und Kleiner salat. (9.90 euro) which was chicken done in apricot sauce. Very delicious!


Later we decided to take a boat trip along the Rhine to spot the castles.  We had earlier intended to visit the largest castle, Marksburg, but were unable to make a proper connection as it was Monday.  So we settled on the boat trip which was an excellent decision.  The day was sunny and warm and the scenery along the Rhine is spectacular with the vineyards and orchards terraced on the mountainsides along the river and the many quaint villages along the way.  We spotted several of the castles, but most spectacular being Marksburg.  It is the largest medieval castle in Germany and was never damaged or destroyed. It's located over the village of Brauback.  We got a good view of it from the boat and I took a lot of photos.  It's a real 'fairy-tale' kind of castle in white stone, and it popular in tourist photos.

Monday, August 09, 2010

SEEING THINGS THROUGH THE LOCAL'S PERSPECTIVE

Sometimes when you're travelling, it's necessary to go on an organized tour, such as the time I went to Morocco to trek in the foothills of the High Atlas Mts.  I couldn't do that alone.  But generally I enjoy solo travel, though I have also had some trips with friends.  The thing about solo travelling is you are more apt to see things through the local's perspective and you are more open to meeting the locals.  I have been enjoying my travels so far in the company of my Welsh cousins, and this week in the company of my German friend Patrick and his mother, Hanne, who I met a couple of years ago when Patrick brought her to Vancouver.  Patrick is part of my extended family and he has been a wonderful host for my first visit to Germany and his lovely city, Mainz.
Dining with Patrick's family


I'll write more about Mainz later, but for my first German blog I will describe some of the adventures we have had so far.  Starting with my arrival here on Saturday:  Patrick invited his family members for a big feast at a Mongolian BBQ restaurant so they could meet me.  There was Hanne, and his sisters Dagmar and Frederike, his cousin Mathias, his mom's ex, Bernd and Dagmar's boyfriend Horst.  It was quite a feast and went on for hours with many trips to the buffet table and lots of talk and fun.  And it was all Patrick's treat! That was my introduction into the way folks here enjoy a night out at a restaurant, everything leisurely and everyone having a great time.

Seeing Mainz with Patrick

Sunday morning was special because I was going to hear Patrick play the organ at his little church in Wackernheim,  a village outside of Mainz.  Patrick, I know, is an accomplished musician but this was a special thrill to hear him playing on this organ which was built in 1856 by a Mainz based organ builder, Bernhard Dreymann, who  supplied the whole area with organs, many of which are still intact today and can be played. The organs have a very baroque sound considering the fact that Dreymann was an organ builder of the romantic era.

The church of St. Martin was built originally in 1753 and this is the third church at that site, with the first church dating from around the year 800 AD.  It's a small church, with cherrywood choir pews and a chandelier that represents the 12 heavenly gates of Jerusalem.   The service was conducted by the woman pastor, Vera Eichner-Fischer, who greeted me during the service.  It was so nice to hear church bells chiming and to be part of the service.

After church we took the bus to Wiesbaden where Patrick's mother lives, and where he grew up as a child.
We walked around his old neighbourhood and I saw the impressive school where he attended (and where his mom also attended when she was a child).  Later we took a bus to Neroberg where there is a water-driven elevated train, the largest one in Europe.  It took us up a steep hill to a beautiful park where we had magnificent views of the entire city of Wiesbaden, which has a population of 320,000 people.  We later walked down the hill, stopping to visit an impressive Russian chapel, built in 1855, dedicated to 'holy Elizabeth',  who was the wife of a wealthy man and had died shortly after childbirth.  Inside the ornate Orthodox chapel is a beautiful statue of her in repose.  Next to the chapel, which has tall gold spires, is the largest Russian cemetery in Western Europe.


We carried on walking down the hill through a posh area of town with some impressive houses and apartments.  We were headed to a special restaurant where traditional German food is prepared.  Unfortunately by the time we reached the Wikiger, I was feeling rather ill with stomach cramps so I couldn't indulge in any of the traditionally cream covered schnitzels which was disappointing.

Afterwards we walked by to see the world's largest cuckoo clock and then to stop at the healing hot spring at the Wreath Square.  Apparently Weisbaden is built over 7 dormant volcanoes that produce hot springs and it has always been known as a spa area for healing.

I didn't attempt to taste the water and it was pretty hot to touch, but maybe it had a subliminal affect as I was feeling much better by the next day and ready to set off on another all-day field trip with Patrick.

NEXT:  Castles on the Rhine

Saturday, August 07, 2010

BACK IN TIME. St Fagan's National History Museum

St. Fagan's:  workshop


St. Fagan's (Sain Fagan, in Welsh)  is the most visited heritage attraction in Wales.  It shows how people lived, worked and spent their leisure time through the ages in Wales so for me, it was also a good insight into how my great grandparents, and father lived during the late 1800äs and early 1900's.  As well, I was thrilled to find one part of it that is a Celtic Village, showing how people lived 2000 yrs ago.  This was valuable research for my work-in-progress novel Dragons in the Sky.

Iron Age Village

We spent almost 4 hours of walking about on the first visit and returned the second day as I'd originally missed the Celtic Village part.  The visit starts with St Fagans Castle (from 1580) one of the finest Elizabethan manor houses in Wales.  It had been occupied by Lord Plymouth and some of the farm houses displayed would have been his tenant farmers such as the big Kennixton Farmhouse built in 1610, a big red structure.  The red walls the colour of the berries of the rowan tree in the garden were thought to protect the house from evil spirits.  The house and farm of the Llwn-yr-eos farm have existed since 1820.  The people who lived there were tenants of the Plymouth estate and supplied the castle with food.

The site also has shops, blacksmiths, tanneries, potters and every sort of structure an old time village would have. I was fascinated by the round thatch-roofed cock fighting ring, obviously one of the village's sources of entertainment.  One of the general stores that opened in 1880 was considered to be 'the Harrods of the Valley'.

The village contains a group of worker's houses, a church, a chapel once used by Unitarians and an impressive Oakdale Workman's Institute.  There's a row of thatch-roofed cottages showing the transition of homes from the distant past right up to a prefab post war cottage.

Each day various trades people are on site demonstrating. We watched the blacksmith at work.  As well there is an extensive indoor display with a lot of interactive things for kids, including trying on period costumes.
(notice the bamboo cane on the table)


One building that particularly interested me was the school house which must have been just like the one my dad first started school in.  I always wondered why he didn't speak much Welsh and the reason was explained to me that in those days, just like the residential schools in Canada, they were forbidden to speak Welsh by the English and if they did, they must stand in a corner with a rope knotted around their neck (the so-called Welsh knot).  There was a cane and strap displayed on the desks and I recall Dad saying how he'd get his hands wrapped with the cane because he was left handed and not allowed to write with the left hand.  Sometimes they'd tie their left hands behind them.  Now days kids in Wales can go to Welsh school and it is impressive how many people now are actually speaking the language (adults and children).  This language is one of the oldest earth languages, even older than Gaelic, so it is good they have revived it though it's certainly a difficult language to decipher!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A TOUR OF MY CASTLE AND CAERPHILLY

Caerphilly Castle


They say a woman haunts the pediments of Caerphilly Castle.  Shes' Alice de la Marg, wife of Gilbert de Clare, the forlorn lover of a knight, Griffiths de Fair who was hanged in Ysterad Myrach . It is said she died of a broken heart. She appears on the ivy clad walls so they call her "The Green Lady"

I grew up from infancy hearing these stories from my Welsh dad, as well as stories of his life down in the pits at the Bedwys Navigational Collieries nearby where he worked from age 14 til his mid twenties when he lost his mining cards during the big strikes of 1930's and was forced to immigrate to Canada.  Dad used to play in the castle when he was a boy.  Now it's a national heritage site, one of the est preserved Norman castles in Britain.

Caerphilly, formerly just a mining village, a few miles north of Cardiff in the Rhymny Valley has now grown into a fair sized town.  The collieries at Bedwas no longer exist and the slag heap is overgrown with grass and new houses are built up the slopes where dad used to walk every day to go down in the pits.  I love walking around the old 'village' part of Caerphilly and along Windsor street where he used to live.  I have visited the house there several times when the old uncles were still alive.

The castle dominates the centre of the town, its formidable grey stone walls still seeming as dauntless as they were in bygone days.  A moat, hedged with bullrushes, encircles the castle and on both sides there is a lake adding extra fortification.  The northern lake is small now but the southern little lake attracts a lot of fishermen who loll in the grassy banks with their umbrellas for shade, catching small fish (not sure what kind).

I call it 'my castle' because I have known about it for so long it feels like it's 'mine' and I started visiting here back in the early '70's  and have come many times since then.
The Great Hall, Caerphilly Castle

Exploring the Castle
This time, I found there were several more passages pen so I explored up and down the narrow spiral staircases leading to various rooms in the towers, some very large rooms that had fireplaces, and way up again to the top of the turrets just under the flags.  There was a long narrow hallway leading to another part of the castle that eventually led down to the Great Hall where they hold wedding receptions and other functions these days. I got some good ideas for visualizing the fortress of Amphipolis in my Shadow of the Lion novel. Although it would have been a different type of structure it would have had the same sort of layout which had been hard for me to visualize before.  I also got some good ideas when I visited the collection of siege equipment because some of these implements were actually invented and used by the ancient Greeks. In particular the giant cross-bow and stone throwers were used by the ancient Greeks.  One of the siege engines was actually used by the Chinese 5000 years ago.



Seeing around Caerphilly
I know the old part of the village quite well and had to stop for lunch at the Old Courthouse, which is now a pub, on Monday.  I sat on the patio with the marvellous view of the castle and had a leisurely lunch after my walk around town. Yesterday we drove out to another suburb where Joyce, my cousin Jan's mom lives and later we went for a pub lunch.  Jan is the distant cousin who has tracked us all down and connected so many of the family members, many of whom all lived around Caerphilly but until last summer's reunion had never met.  I'm staying with my cousin Sheila, daughter of dad's eldest brother Bert, and also spending time with her daughter Andrea (and tomorrow Pauline, the other daughter, will come down from up near Chester in the north) My cousin Chris is hoping to come down from Worcester on Thursday too.

At the moment I'm at Andrea and Paul's house using the computer.  This is a grand old house that was once a mansion belonging to the mining bosses back in Dad's time.  Interesting isn't it, that the house of one of those same bosses who was responsible for my dad losing his mining cards, because dad was a union organizer and refused to speak against his fellow workers,  is now the home of my cousin Sheila's daughter.

This afternoon I'm off on a tour of one of the heritage villages, St. Fagans, so I'll post another blog about that in a day or so before I leave Wales on the weekend.