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Thursday, December 27, 2007


"A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see."
Traditional Scottish New Year's toast.


December 31, the final day of the Gregorian year and the day before New Year’s Day, is also called Hogmanay (in Scotland) and Sylvester (in Germany, Israel, Hungary and Poland.) In the 21st century western practice, New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with parties and social gatherings. Many countries use fireworks and other forms of noise making to welcome in the new year. Some countries have odd traditions associated with this eve.

In Brazil music shows are held, most famously at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo they hold the Saint Sylvester Marathon, contested by athletes from all over the world. The Danes celebrate with family gatherings and feasts. In Ecuador they have elaborate effigies called Anos Viejos (Old Years) created to represent people and events from the past year. These are often stuffed with firecrackers. One popular tradition is the wearing of yellow panties, said to attract positive energy for the new year.

The French celebrate with a feast called Le Reveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre. In Berliin Germany, a huge display of fireworks is ignited at the Brandenburg Gate. There’s also fireworks in Hong Kong and in Japan the Buddhist temple bells are rung 108 times. Mexicans down a grape for each of the 12 chimes of the church bells and people who want to find love in the New Year wear red underwear (yellow for money)

Auckland, New Zealand is the first major city to see the beginning of the new year as it’s 496.3 kilometres west of the International Date Line. The Filipinos celebrate with a dinner party called Media Noches. They have a custom of wearing clothes with a circular pattern, like polka dots, to attract money and fortune.

In Spain families celebrate with a special dinner of shrimp, lamb or turkey and also wear red underwear for luck, and eat the 12 grapes synonymous with the new year. In Turkey homes are lit up and decorated with garlands and public celebrations are held. In Greece, while the adults gamble at card games, the children go around ringing little triangles while they sing kalendalas (carols) as this is the night that Agio Vassilis (St Basil) comes with gifts for them.

In the U.K. Big Ben strikes the midnight hour as the crowds count down the chimes to the hour. In London the London Eye is the centre of a 10 minute fireworks display illuminated with coloured lasers. In Scotland, the traditional son Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns, is sung and street parties are held. In the States the Bell Drop at Times Square in New York is broadcast through America and Canada.

I have both fond and melancholy memories of New Year’s Eves. In the old times it was one of the most anticipated holidays next to Christmas. You always had a new outfit to wear which was planned well in advance, something fashionable and spectacular to wear to the celebration which was often held in a night club or at a gala house party. I’ll never forget the year I’d made a gorgeous gold pois de sois two-piece dress. I looked fantastic. But when I arrived at the big party with several other couples, I was chagrined to find that another woman in the group was wearing a dress of similar style and material. I was crushed, but of course I had made mine myself so considered it to be more ‘original’.

I recall one New Year’s Eve when I was in my late teens, my girlfriend and I had been invited out by two American sailors to attend a show at a supper club. My girlfriend had a new dress but hadn’t time to hem it so she’d pinned the hem up with straight pins and all night long the pines scraped her legs until they were bleeding. After the show at the nightclub, we tottered over to the Catholic cathedral for midnight mass. I was in charge of holding the bottle of wine in a brown paper bag under my coat and I distinctly recall dropping it in the back pew!

Yes, New Year’s Eve was always a night of wild abandon and over-drinking. At clubs or house parties, when it turned midnight, traditionally you are supposed to kiss your partner or date under the mistletoe or wherever you happen to be, but all too often I’d find myself alone in a crowd of strangers while my significant other was off in a corner kissing someone else. I soon grew weary of these episodes. new Years eve began to lose it’s romantic appeal, and instead it became a lonely time, especially once I was single. Eventually, I decided I’d rather stay home alone, so I’d bring in some goodies: the makings for Welsh rarebit, oysters to fry, a few bottles of McEwan’s ale and a bottle of Heinken Trokel wine. I’d mention to a few close friends that I was staying home that night, and wait to see who’d show up. Usually a couple of friends would drop by to share the celebration with me. But one of my most memorable New Year’s Eves was one I spent all alone enjoying my own company, dancing to my favourite music.

I’ve had New Year’s Eves abroad, far from family and close friends, and these turned out to be fun in their uniqueness. I recall my first New Year’s Eve in Greece (which turned into one of my most memorable). My room-mate and I decided to go to the fabulous Intercontinental Hotel piano bar to spend the evening. On the way, we stopped by a pizzeria to have a bite to eat. I made a spectacular entrance by almost walking through the glass door which I didn’t realize was closed, and I got a standing ovation from a troop of merry Quantas Airlines flight attendants who were partying there. We ended up joining then for one of the craziest, most fun New Year’s Eves ever. And I even won the New Year’s prize -- a nice boyfriend who was around as long as Quantas flew into Athens every two or three weeks.

Nowadays on New Years, I will make plans to go out if friends are going along and the price is right. Being with close friends, dancing and dining, is quite a satisfying way to end the old year. Although it’s no longer the ‘romantic’ exciting night it used to be, it’s worth a little celebrating. This year I’ll go with my girlfriends to enjoy an evening of the Blues at the bistro where my son plays. I wonder if I should wear the red or the yellow undies?


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Barry the Irish Troubadour


Christmas in 1983 was the first time I had ever spent Christmas away from my family. I couldn’t have been any farther away from Vancouver than Athens, Greece. It looked as though it would be a dismal time.

I had been living in Athens since October and shared a two-bedroom sparsely furnished flat with another woman. My room-mate’s ill-humour didn’t add to my mood as I faced the holiday season. I had met Connie the year before when we were both tourists in Greece, attracted by her sense of humour which she had somehow lost during the months we shared our apartment and struggled to adjust to life in Athens. We both worked as E.S.L. teachers. What money we earned bought the barest necessities for our flat. I used an upturned drawer to put my typewriter on and bashed out travel stories for newspapers at home. After what we were accustomed to at homelife in Athens was bleak.

I made friends with two Irish men, Donald and Barry, who made their living busking on the metro enchanting the Greeks with their Irish songs. They were homeless, and as we had an empty salon, I invited them to stay with us. Donald and Barry became my saviours, cheering me with their Irish humour and lively music.

As Christmas drew near I searched for festive signs around town. Greeks don’t celebrate Christmas the way we did at home. There were few decorations and in the store windows no sign of Santa Claus, Rudolph or Frosty. A large tree with lights was erected in Syntagma Square, but I missed the cheery sound of Salvation Army bell-ringers and carolers.

I went to the street market where the gypsies sold holly, pine branches and flowers and bought a little laurel bush with shiny green leaves and little wax-like red apples spiked on the ends of the branches. I put it in a flower pot and hung gold garlands on it with three red paper birds for ornaments and a string of tiny coloured lights. Soon parcels arrived in the mail and I placed them underneath.

My room-mate’s Greek boyfriend, was opening a bar on Christmas Eve in the town of Chalkis on the island of Euboeia and he hired Donald and Barry to play there.
The cozy little pub was located near the sea. The opening night was disappointing as very few customers came. There certainly wasn’t a festive spirit. We felt abandoned by our host, especially Connie who spent the night pouting.
On Christmas day, we went for a stroll along the waterfront. As we walked, Barry played his guitar. Some seamen called us over so Barry and Donald sang Irish songs for them, and we all joined in singing Christmas carols. We found a little crèche with models of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus surrounded by live goats and sheep. On our way back to the taverna, we stopped for a meal. The closest thing to turkey we could find was chicken, but it would have to do. At least it was beginning to feel a lot more like Christmas.

Christmas creche, Chalkis, Christmas 1983

That night we sat alone in the empty taverna and reminisced about Christmas at home, describing in detail the turkey dinners we remembered from past Christmas. We imagined the feast our families would be eating that Christmas day, savouring every vicarious mouth-full: the succulent turkey meat, the spicy stuffing, the cranberry jelly, the candied yams, mashed potatoes swimming in gravy, the variety of fresh vegetables and best of all, the delicious aromas that went with the food. We imagined the steaming plum pudding smothered in hot rum sauce, and how we would get the piece with money wrapped up inside. We felt comfort in each other’s company. We were a ‘family’. Because of Donald and Barry, Christmas became special after all, even though we were all so far away from home.

Barry and Donald sing Christmas carols on the dock, Chalkis, Euboeia, Greece
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Celebrating Christmas the Traditional Greek Way

This story was written in 1983, the first time in my life I'd ever spent Christmas away from my family. I had just moved to Greece and was getting accustomed to the Greek traditions and way of life, which was quite different from my own, brought up in a Welsh/English family with our own traditions. It was an unusual and sometimes lonely Christmas that year. But I treasure the memory of it and now that I look back, I realize how much I learned -- one thing, how much I missed my family at Christmas, the events at our church, the family dinners and gift-giving. And most of all, Santa Claus!
***photo: Aghios Vassilis greets the children at the Zappeion Gardens.

In the shops around Omonia and Kolonaki Squares there isn't a sign of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman or Santa's Helpers. On the streets the familiar bell-ringers with their red money pots for charity and the sound of recorded Noel carols is missing. Most of the window displays don't have festive decorations. Up on busy Patission Street, the big Minion Department Store has a mechanical children's display, a few plastic Santas and some small ornamental trees with tiny coloured
lights/ There is a big Christmas tree decorated with lights and bright cardboard packages in Syntagma Square. Although some of the main streets are strung with little bulbs, there isn't a sign of Christmas tree lights twinkling from apartment windows. And chances are, on Christmas Day, Santa won't find any stockings hung for him to fill. This is Greece, and except for those who have adopted the wetern customs of celebrating the Yule season, the traditions are different here.

For most of the western world, Christams is the central festival of the year. In Greece, Easter is of greater importance. Perhaps the long northern winters produce a need for a midwinter festival in the rest of Europe and in North America. Greece is farther south and the real celebration is the coming of spring. There may be pageantry and feasting here at Christams, but there is none of the pre-Christmas "hype" that is experienced in the western world.

For those Greeks who religiously observe the Orthodox festivals, a short lent, The Fast of the Nativity, begins this season on November 17th and ends on Chrsitmas Eve. The Presentation of the Virgin Mary, on November 31st is the most improtant feast day, especaially for the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

St. Nicholas isn't the Greek Santa Claus; he is the patron saint of seamen. On December 8ty the little churcheson the Greek Islands celebrate his day with the blessing of the "koliva" a wheat dish made to honour the dead. This is taken on voyages to be thrown into the sea to calm stormy waters.

When the short lent "Makree Sarakostis" ends on Christmas Eve, the Christmas bread, cakes and cookies are baked. These will be given to the children who come to sing the "Kalanda", the Greek carollers. Except in homes where famlies celebrate in the western custom, the stockings are not hung on the chimney with care. Gifts are usually not exchanged until New Year's Day. In the morning, to the greeting of "Kala Christouyenna: Merry Christmas" the family and often a visiting priest sit down to a traditional feast. The table is set with delicious Greek foods and sweets: roast turkey or boar's head soup with lentils, and sometimes a dish of white beans in memory of the dead. Of course there is wine, "retsina" and ouzo, but the most important feature of the day is the proportioning of the Christmas bread.

The real celebration begins on New Year's Eve. It is a social evning when men play cards and gamble the night away and the children and families visit other homes to sing the Kalandas. As they stop at nearby homes, the children sing their carols accompanied by the chiming of little silver triangles. Their favorite song is about Aghios Vassilis (St. Basil). The children chang that St. Basil is coming, bringing paper and quill pens. It is St. Basil, not St Nicholas who is the Santa Claus of Greece. St. Bail was one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was famous as an educator and buildger of hospitals and homes for the sick and friendless. The children singing about the benevolent saint are rewarded with money and sweets.

On New Year's Eve, as the bells chime in the new year, the head of the house slices a special traditional loaf of bread. In this ceremony, the finder of the coin buried in the bread will be blessed with good fortune. On New Year's Day gifts are exchanged and the family sits down to a banquet more sumptuous than the Christmas feast: the more abundant, the better the prospects of the comin gyear. Wine glasses are clinked in the traditional toasts - agreeting common the world over:
Eftikhismenos oh Kaynooyio Kronos! HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
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Monday, November 19, 2007


Icons, Tinos Greece

I am writing this from the point of view of a traveller who has often landed in countries where I did not speak the language. Often times the airports can very intimidating and especially for a solo traveller as I so often am, a bit frightening. I have memories once of landing in Istanbul, with only five English pounds in my pocket and no return ticket. I'd come there to meet my Turkish boyfriend and had no idea of where I was, having left England quickly on his request, and hoping he'd got the cable telling him I was on my way. I knew nothing of the country let alone the language, and a woman alone arriving there (in the mid '70's) was a dodgy affair. All I can remember is all those men's eyes looking at me and realizing I was in a totally foreign place. Not only that it was the early days of terrorism and the Istanbul airport (which was mostly a collection of quanset huts) was completely surrounded by armed tanks and soldiers. (Remember "The Midnight Express"? That episode had taken place not long before this so they were not only looking for drugs but for arms as well as a plane had recently been hijacked. Fortunately for me, my friend was waiting for me. Otherwise I have no idea what else I'd have done. The closest Canadian embassy was in Ankara, some miles away. And I didn't even have enough money on me to get into the city let alone find a hotel.

That was only one of my many travel adventures. But I can say this, nowhere in the world was I abandoned, left alone in the airport without someone offering some help, or at least someone who I could ask for help (for somehow there is always someone around who might speak a little English.)

Monument, General Cemetaria, Santiago Chile

I have been on long, long flights and know the exhaustion you feel when arriving at your destination. So when it's a completely foreign destination, and you don't speak the language or know the customs and routines, it can be very daunting.

For this, I could relate in many ways to the unfortunate Polish man, Robert Dziekanski, when he arrived alone, after his very first long, long plane trip from Poland to my city, Vancouver B.C. Canada, so very far from his home, and got here to find nobody could speak to him (where where the interpreters that should be at an International Airport), nobody offered a helping hand to guide him, nobody offered him food, water or assistance while he waited for hours and hours stuck inside the arrivals and immigration control while his poor desperate mother looked for him in the arrivals lounge. Nobody offered her any help either, and in fact told her that he hadn't arrived so after more than 10 hours of fruitless waiting, she returned to her home in another part of the Province. Meanwhile, her confused, frightened and desperate son grew more and more agitated until airport Security was called. Did they help him? No. They turned their backs on him. So the R.C.M.P. were called and the rest has been recorded on a video camera by another traveller and by now has been viewed around the world. Instead of helping the man, who was clearly in a state but threw his hands up submitting to the cops, they tasered him several times, jumped on him (four of them) and in a very few minutes he was dead.

This horrifying scene has been played out time and time again on the T.V. and pictured in the newspapers. Every time I've seen it or read about it I cry. What a terrible thing to have happened. What a disgrace. This man was immigrating to Canada hoping to start a new life. His suitcases were full of geography books and atlases. He had high hopes of finding employment and enjoying a new start with his mother who had waited for so long for him to come. He was not a terrorist. He was not a dangerous person. He was not drunk or on drugs or mentally ill. He was simply over-tired, hungry, exasperated, unable to communicate in English and nobody employed at the airport tried to help him except one woman who spoke quietly to him and had him calmed down just before the police arrived and tasered him, not once, but perhaps four times. And not only that, the airport did not call their own medics but phoned out so there was a long gap in time. Nobody tried to resusitate him. They left him to die.

Is this the kind of welcome you would want or expect when arriving in a foreign country?
Certainly not. And we should be ashamed of what happened to this man and make sure this never happens again.

Sunset over English Bay

There have been memorials for Robert Dziekanski. One was held in his mother's city, Kamloops, and another was held at the Vancouver International Airport. Hundreds of people came to remember him and grieve over what happened. I couldn't be there, so this is my memorial. Rest in peace, dear Robert. And may your mother somehow find comfort knowing how much we all cared.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This is the view from Campfire Rock where every evening campers would sit around a fire and sing camp songs.

Keats Island is forested and there are many beautiful trails through the woods. This is the trail going to Salmon Rock.

Salmon Rock is well known as a popular fishing spot. We used to go on my father's little boat around the point and fish for salmon.
This day my son and I and our friends (also former islanders) had a little picnic and reminisced about all our happy times on the island.
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When my parents were involved in the Keats Island Baptist Camp, they met a 12 year old boy, Jimmy, who had cerebral palsy. He was a ward of the Social Services and lived in a home, like an orphanage. He had been sent to the summer camp along with several other children who were in the care of welfare. My parents invited Jimmy to spend a weekend with our family in the City. He never went back to the Home again and lived with us as a foster child until his untimely death at the age of 21 of cancer. With money from his small estate, my parents purchased an old shrimp-fisherman's cottage on the island. The house was later renovated and a porch and patio added, all the flagstones laid by my parents, the electricity and plumbing and other amenities done by my husband. My parents took great pride in the house and planted gardens and shrubs all around. Their intention was to retire there. It was unfortunate that my mother died of cancer when she was only 53 so they never realized their dream and eventually (and unfortunately) the cottage was sold.
On a recent visit, my son and I were delighted to meet the new owners and to see how well the house has been kept over the past years. We were invited inside for a look around and were amazed to find many of the furnishings the same, just as if my parents were still there (as I'm sure their spirit still is).

There are many deer on the island and they are not shy of human intruders. This day several deer were munching wind-fall apples under the trees on the slope. The apple trees are what's left over of the old orchards that were planted by the early homesteaders.

Our cottage was up on the hillside with a beautiful view of the wharves and the water.
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In the early days of Keats Island, there was only a sternwheeler making regular stops at Gibsons Landing, across the from the island. Eventually a passenger service was started and the population of the isalnd began to grow, especially when the Union Stemaships started a run. Some of the homestead property was bought by the Baptist Church and lots were sold on lease with 12 acres set aside for a camp. In 1926 a man named Will Read came to the island and became the camp caretaking. He built himself a sturdy home called Readhurst which had asupurb view of the harbour. Later this house was sold to the camp and used for visitors and campers.

The provincial government built a large wharf and the camp built floats which formed a swimming pool for the campers.
My children and I have spent many happy summer hours swimming or fishing off this wharf.

When I first moved to British Columbia, my father, a Baptist minister, took an active part in the camps during the summer. My mother also worked as camp nurse. I attended summer camp for several years. And eventually my family bought a small cottage on the island where my parents planned to retire.
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On a quiet July evening in the year 1861 a British 74 gun ship, the Superb, under the command of Capt. Richard Keats, broke from the rest of the British fleet and set out on a mission that was to become unparalleled in naval history. In 1860, the MMS Plumper, under the command of Captain Keats, arrived off the west coast of Canada on a mission to survey the coast for England. One of their ports of call was a little cove in one of the small islands of what is now called Howe Sound. He named the island "Keats Island". The cove where his ship lay anchor was named "Plumper Cove".

In the late 1950's, when my family had a cottage on Keats Island and were involved in the Baptist camp there, I wrote a self-published booklet about the history of the island titled "The Admiral's Island". Since then various copies of the text have shown up, one portion of it on this sign-board for the camp; another on a realtor's ad page; another in the Keats Island newsletter.

After Admiral Keat's discovery and survey of the island, for the following twenty-seven years, til May 1886, the island seemed forgotten and uninhabited. It was then that a retired naval lieutenant, George Gibson, dropped anchor off the beach at Keats. A year later he returned to the little bay and founded the town of Gibsons, across from Keats Island. The following year the first settlers came to Keats to homestead. It was the beginning of an exciting future for the Admiral's Island.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007


As we sailed out of Burrard Inlet, around Point Grey toward the Fraser River, this was the dramatic scene I captured as the sun set.
I'd never imagined I'd one day sail up the Fraser River so this was quite a thrilling part of the day's cruise. Here's a little tug pushing a log boom up the river.
And then! The most fantstic ending to our perfect day...a big full moon shining down over the River.
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We left off some of the passengers at Deep Cove and sailed back up Burrard Inlet, under the Second Narrows Bridge that connects Vancouver with North Vancouver...

and past the city skyline to the Lions Gate Bridge that connects Stanley Park with West Vancouver.....
Vancouver has a beautiful sky-line. In the foreground are is the sail-like structure of the Canada Place convention centre and the docks for cruise ships.

The day was growing late but we continued our cruise all the way to Richmond where the yacht harbour is located.
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Here's one of our pilots, Sita, steering the boat up the Indian Arm.

The Indian Arm is one of the gorgeous scenic places around Vancouver. There are many waterfalls tumbling down the mountain sides.

The serene beauty of the landscape made this one of the lovelist trips I made this summer. What a treat to cruise with Sita and Mike and their friends!
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This summer some friends invited me to join them on a cruise up the Indian Arm, one of the fjords off the Burrard Inlet near Vancouver.
We started out from Deep Cove, eleven of us on a 35 ft. cruiser, for a fun day.

This is an old Hydro station on the way up the Indian Arm. It's quite a beautiful building set in this lovely mountain scenery.

At the end of the Indian Arm is the lovely Wikaninish Inn which, I believe, is still used for weddings and get-aways. We didn't go into any of the docks, but anchored out and had a barbecue right in the middle of the fjord.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


On my way home from Greece, I had an 8 hour lay-over in Amsterdam and wanted to spend most of it looking around the city. Unfortunately when I arrived there it was raining and cold and after leaving the 37+ temps of Athens it didn't take long before I was soaking wet and freezing so I had to return to the airport to wait out my time for the homeward flight.

I did get a little peek though, and one of the first things I saw when I walked out of the train station was this bike parking lot. Amazing!

This journey was really partly a 'canal trip' because I'd started out in Venice and ended up in Amsterdam. This is a view of one of the canals. In spite of the rain the photos turned out not too badly. But I wish I could have seen more of the city.

Here was an interesting little pub or bistro. I know there's lots of places like this in Amsterdam which I'd love to explore. So I've decided that the next time I'm Athens-bound I'll take a little stop-over. Maybe I'll be lucky and it won't rain!
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This is the Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora.
I think this is one of the most beautiful temples in Greece, and so well preserved. You can get an idea of how the Parthenon was before the roof got blown off by looking at this lovely building. The temple was built on the west side of the agora near where the foundaries and metal-work shops used to be. It was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge, built about 449 BC by one of the architects of the Parthenon. It has 34 columns and a frieze on the side depicting the twelve labours of Hercules.

It doesn't matter how many times I have seen the Parthenon, it still gives me a thrill. They've done a lot of restoration work on it over the past few years as the marble was deteriorating. And there is still a lot of scaffolding around the structure, but it's interesting to take pictures of it from various angles. It was built around 400 BC and was the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece. Unfortunately, during the Greek/Turkish wars part of it was accidently blown up as it was being used as an ammunition storage depot.
And later, the famous friezes were taken away by Lord Elgin. Now there's a new acropolis museum being built and the Greeks are trying to get those marbles back from England.

This is a view of the Acropolis from just behind the Pnyx Hill and it's one of my favorite views. I used to live just below the back slope of the Hill, in Plaka, and every day I would look up there and marvel. The "high city" was occupied from Neolithic times and people lived on the acropolis until the late 6th century B.C. After most of the buildings were reduced to ashes by the Persians on the eve of the famous Battle of Salamis (480 BC) Pericles set out to rebuild it. He transformed the Acropolis into a city of temples which has come to be regarded as the zenith of Classical Greek achievement. Interestingly, from where I took this photograph, the hill that was formerly the "deme of Melite"(the site of my birthday sunset picnic) was the location of the houses of the famous generals and orators such as Themistocles and Meltiades.
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