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Sunday, July 26, 2009



JUNE 7/09 The day after my birthday some of the party guests met to tour around the archaeological sites of Athens. This happened to be a day that I somehow forgot my camera so the photos shown here are from the last birthday party two years ago. We did the same things, though, and saw all the identical sites.

The usual program is to go first to the Theatre of Dionysos. It's at the foot of the Acropolis south side, and when you buy a ticket it covers all the sites around the Acropolis. Lucky us! That day it was all free! When we go to the theatre we sit on the marble seats where the people used to watch the dramas and Anna Britt gives her lecture about the ancient Greek theatre. (She is writing her doctorate on Aristophanes). She's not supposed to do this as only credited guides can give lectures on the sites, but we're very discreet and manage it. It really is interesting, espcially to those who know nothing about the ancient theatres and how the dramas were performed. This theatre was reconstructed in the 4th century BC. It had a seating capacity of 17,000 spread over 64 tiers of seats (only 20 survive).


This enormous theatre also on the flank of the Acropolis, was built in AD 161 by a wealthy Roman who dedicated it to his wife. This theatre is still used for theatre, music and dance performances. It's quite a thrill to attend one.

Of course, the Acropolis and all it's magnificent temples, especially the Parthenon, is the most significant site in Athens. When I lived there, I used to go up at least once a week. Now, even though I've seen it hundreds of times, I still visit and I'm still in awe.

The Parthenon, which means "Virgin's apartment" as it housed a splendid statue of Athena, goddess of the city, was built in 400 BC, the largest Doric temple in Greece. It's built entirely of Pentelic marble. Over the years the marble was eroding so in the past years a lot of restoration work has been done and now the Parthenon is gleaming like new again (well, almost like new! There are still pieces missing from the famous pediment that the Greeks are trying to get back from the British Museum.) And unfortunately the building suffered serious damage back in the days when the Turks were storing munitions there and it blew up.

With the new Acropolis museum open now, all the treasures and statues that were in the museum up on the Acropolis have now been moved into their splendid new home. (More about the new museum in another post). For now, the reconstructing continues. This time the scaffolding was around the little Temple of Athena Nike. Finally the beautiful Caryatids are showing themselves off without scaffolding hiding their lovely forms. These are copies of the originals which are in the museum because the others were damaged by weather and pollution or taken away to other places by treasure seekers. (I think one of them is in Paris). Still, you get the idea of how they looked, holding up the roof of the Erectheion which was one of the Acropolis most sacred sites. When you view the holograms on the east wall of the new museum at night, you will see the Caryatids who will wink and smile at you, then shake their heads. You'll also be able to get a good view of their elaborate hair-dos.


Once we've taken our time looking at all the beautiful temples on the Acropolis, we make our way down the Sacred Way into the ancient agora. This was Athen's meeting place in ancient times, where administrative, commercial and political life was the focal point as well as social activity. To really appreciate the agora I think you need to educate yourself a little about the life in ancient Athens. There's a lot of government buildings in the agora besides the great Odeon that was from Roman times. You can find the little shop ruins where the shoemaker lived who was a friend of Socrates. It is said Socrates used to hang out with him there. You can also find the prison where Socrates was held before given the hemlock.

The site was first developed in the 6th century BC but when the Persians raided the city in 480 BC they destroyed it and a new agora was built in its place, flourishing by Pericles' time and continuing to do business until AD 267 when it was destroyed by more invaders. The Turks build a few residential quarters on the site that were later demolished.

The Temple of Hephaestion is the main monument in the Agora as well as the Stoa of Attalos which is a reconstruction and contains a small museum. The beautiful Temple was on the western edge of the agora that was surrounded by foundries and metalwork shops so it was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge. It's the best preserved Doric temple in Greece, built in 449 BC by Ictinus, one of the architects of the Parthenon.

There's lots more to see around the agora, and you can wander there for hours. It was a hot, hot day though, so we headed over to Plaka to find a shaded taverna where we could eat lunch. We usually go to the one right beside the agora where my old friend Aris works. I've known him since my first trip to Greece in 1989 and he is always very happy to see me.

This was the end of our week in Athens. Tomorrow we'll head for the Islands. Mykonos will be our first stop.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009




In all the times I've lived in Athens, we've always had our favorite sunset picnic spot. So this year, because it was my very special Big Birthday, I wanted to celebrate it here. And because it was special, I invited friends from Canada to join me and my Athens friends. My sister Jean and niece Debra came as well as my friend Shong who brought along her friend Louisa who works in Kiev. Anna Britt came from Norway and had a friend of hers along, and Patrick came from Germany. The Athens friends were Christina, Dinaz, Andreas and Ove, a Danish archaeologist. Mike, the English artist and his Greek lady friend arrived a bit later. So it was quite the multicultural group.

The Hill of the Nymphs is located just behind the Pnyx where the ancient
Assembly met. It was the location of many homes of affluent and famous Greek politicians and generals such as Themistokles, Miltiades and others. There is a panorama view of Athens out to Pireaus and the outlying islands, Salamis and Aegina. And it is surrounded by other Hills, Filopapos and of course it is directly below the Acropolis. Talk about a memorable spot for a birthday party!


We all brought food including two delicious pizzas and lots of wine. We watched the sunset, and then a full moon rose over Filopapos Hill. Truly an auspicious omen! The night was full of fun and magic and good vibes. My friends are a blessing and it was so special having my sister, niece and Shong come all the way from Canada to help me celebrate.

After leaving the Hill we made our way back to Hatzichristou Street to continue the party at our favorite hangout the "To Kati Allo" Taverna. And the next day we all planned to meet there again for a group tour of all Athen's ancient spots.


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There's hardly a time when I'm in Greece that I don't make a pilgrimage to Delphi. To me, it's part of the ritual of being there, getting in touch with Greece's ancient history, and experiencing the energy that is associated with this place, known as "the Navel of the Earth".

Delphi is steeped in myth and truly, when you are there, you will feel close to the gods who dwell there. This is the most important 'holy' place in all of Greece. In the ancient times, no important decisions were made without first consulting the oracle here.

The Delphic oracle was a priestess who sat on a tripod inside the temple, over a chasm that emitted hallucinogenic vapors. (I have read in recent years that they believe it was vapors from an earth fissure caused by an earthquake). The priestess inhaled these fumes and went into a frenzy, uttering strange cryptic answers to the pilgrim's question that were translated into verse by a priest.

Apollo was worshiped in Delphi except in winter when Dionysos, the god of wine, was honored with feasting and merrymaking.

The Sanctuary is located far up on the slopes of beautiful Mt. Parnassos. It is mainly a tourist town, the attraction being the Museum and Sanctuary, but in winter this is also an imortant ski area. The nearby town of Arahova is a major ski resort and noted for tapestries and weavings.

I usually go to Delphi for a day trip from Athens, a very pleasant outing by bus that takes a few hours, driving through scenic countryside. The first time I went there back in the early 80's with a Greek friend and we slept on the edge of chasm under a full moon. Magic! Another time my girlfriend and I camped at the Apollo Camping just outside of the town. There's a swimming pool where you can cool off after wandering the slopes of the Sanctuary. I'd advise going to Delphi on a cool day. Once the temperatures rise into the 30's it's really too hot to enjoy your day exploring the ruins.


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Today was my birthday, although the big party isn't until the weekend. So to celebrate it, we took a day trip on the Fast Cat (catamaran) to the lovely island of Hydra (pronounced EE-dra)
One of the nicest things about this island is the lack of motor vehicles. Donkeys are the main mode of transportation and they carry everything from riders and luggage to merchandise and lumber supplies. Hard working little creatures!

The gracious old houses of Hydra are stacked up the side of a bluff overlooking the harbour. It was a popular island for film makers back in the '50's and later the home of noted poet/musician Leonard Cohen. During the '70's this attracted all sorts of his followers to the island. I made my first visit there in 1979 on my first trip to Greece. Like Aegina, another small island off the Attic coast, it's a good place to go for day trips. Several boats a day go from the port of Pireaus. It's fastest to take the Flying Dolphin or Fast Cat which gets you there in just over an hour.

It's fun to explore the narrow little back-street of Hydra town. You can escape the crowds of tourists that congregate around the port itself where there's lots of shops and seaside tavernas where you can loll away the afternoon.

There is a paved path around the edge of the coastline that eventually reaches a small beach. And along the way there are tavernas overlooking the sea where you can swim from the shore or the floats. It's steep and rocky though, so not good for non-swimmers.

Little Hydra was one of those islands that weren't invaded by the Turks. Many people from the Peloponnese settled here and by the 19th century the island was an important maritime power.
The Hydriots made a fortune by running the British blockde of French ports during the Napoleonic Wars. Wealthy shipping merchants built most of the town's grand old mansions. Hydra contributed 130 ships to the Greeks during the War of Independence.


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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

GREECE AT LAST: Arriving in Athens

How lovely it was to be back! To celebrate we had an excellent room at the Philippos Hotel, and this was the view we had from the 5th floor balcony. I'm back in familiar turf again, close to my old haunts, and it felt so good.
And this time I'll be showing my sister and niece around the city that I love so much.

ACROPOLIS, from the hotel

We arrived late afternoon, went for a walk around Plaka to get orientated, then back to the hotel for a glass of wine and sat on the balcony enjoying the view of the Parthenon lit up at night. Tomorrow we'll go sightseeing around the Plaka and up to Syntagma Square.

(note: It's a bit hard writing these blogs so many weeks after I was actually there. But there was unfortunately little time for me to blog when I was away, not even time to jot many notes down in my journal. This was strange to me as I am usually blogging daily while I'm in Athens. So a great many details have been lost. )

We went out for a day of sightseeing. First over to view the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This is the largest temple in Greece, built in 700 BC but later abandoned and finally completed by Hadrian in AD 131. Only 15 of the original 104 Corinthian columns remain (the others were blown down in a gale in 1852) Hadrian placed a collosal statue of Zeus in the centre and an equally collosal one of himself next to it. Neither remain.


We walked up Amalias Blvd past the Zappeion where they hold exhibitions, and we were proceeding up this rather wide avenue toward the National Gardens and Parliament Bldgs when something unexpected happened. The street is always busy, but the sidewalk wasn't particularly crowded. Debra and Jean were walking just behind me. I felt something tap my back and just then four young women came up, two on each side of me. I immediately took off my backpack and noticed it was unzipped. I looked inside quickly and saw my gold cosmetics bag was gone. The girls were ahead of us but I didn't chase after them as, at that point, I wasn't sure if i'd left the bag at the hotel. (It turned out, I hadn't. They had taken it) Fortunately my wallet was tucked way down at the bottom because if they'd taken that, it would have meant a disaster for me. (I don't usually carry my valuables in the backpack but that day I'd been at the bank and had used my VISA to get some money. This was an example of how this very 'safe' city has become unsafe and travellers need to be aware of this. I'm pretty street smart and wary and this is the first time it's happened to me, especially in Greece. But these days pickpockets are around, especially in crowded metro stations, Omonia Square area and other places where there are crowds of people. These were not Greek girls. I suspect they were gypsy girls but can't say for sure. But just a few blocks and about 15 minutes later another incident happened to make me realize that these thieves travel in teams. So beware!

We headed along to the National Palace (Parliament Buildings) to watch the changing of the guards. This is an interesting routine to watch, with the evzones (guards) dressed in their traditional costumes, performing an intricate ritual of marching and dance-like steps. Just as the crowd gathered to the front to watch, I went to take my backpack off. I felt someone bump against me and next to me was a woman. I caught eye contact with her and she scooted away. Yes! My backpack was unzipped again.


Unbelievable! Needless to say, after that day it was always pinned shut and I didn't dare carry my wallet or anything else I valued inside it.

I didn't fret too much over the lost cosmetics (other than that nice gold case) because most of them were used and ready to be replaced. However, the next day when I went to Hondos Centre to buy new cosmetics I realized that the loss was far more expensive than I'd calculated. Cosmetics in Greece are very expensive. I couldn't afford the eye makeup or blush. It cost me the equivalent of $26 Cdn for a tube of Revlon lipstick that I usually pay under $10 for at home! So I went without makeup for the rest of the trip.

Lesson learned! Athens used to be a very safe city but like all big cities where there is an influx of foreigners and a great many poor people, the crime rate has suddnely soared. Pickpockets are a major problem and there are other scams to watch out for at bars, and some taxi drivers who will overcharge. (Find out the expected rates). Interesting though, this time I didn't see the usual gypsy women beggars sitting along the streets with their comatose children in their laps. And one thing you won't find are the droves of spare-changers in every block like there is at home. Sure, there's parts of Athens that are scruffy where bums and druggies hang out, but they are not in your face like they are here in Vancouver. And they don't have gangs running around shooting each other either. I always have culture shock when I come back here and see exactly how bad it is in this country where we are supposed to be so well-off and privileged.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


MAY 30, 2009

How it came about:
Some months ago I was contacted on-line by a woman who said she thought we shared the same great grandfather.
She was doing family genealogy and was tracking down members of the Filer family whose roots are in Wales, mainly around the Caerphilly area. How amazing the internet is! Janet has tracked our family back to the late 1700's. She has found a number of relatives in Wales, some right in Caerphilly, and a large group who are part of the family who went to the States at the turn of the century, some to work the mines in

As I was planning to go to Europe, and had at first planned to go to Rome, then Greece, I decided that it would probably be a better idea to go to Caerphilly to meet these new family members. It had been a few years since I'd been there and was due for a visit. My sister and niece had already planned to come to Greece for my birthday, so the opportunity was perfect for a family reunion.

Janet, my new-found cousin, was the main organizer with some help from a few of the others including the cousins I already knew in Caerphilly (photo above). Everyone was contacted and a hall was rented. It was an old hall known as "Spooks Hall" because it's across the graveyard and the Spiritualist Church holds seances there. (What a perfect place to reunite with long-lost family!) I'm sure the spirits of our grandparents and great grandparents where hovering about that day.

About forty people, young and old, showed up for the gala occasions. There was enough food to feed an army -- an army of Filers! -- and there was even a D.J. On the wall was posted a genaeology list with photos of the old relatives who have passed on.

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It was such a thrill to meet everyone. It seemed as though we'd known each other for a very long time! And I have to say the Welsh are a real fun bunch of people, so warm and friendly.

There was even a birthday cake for me, which was such a sweet gesture.
My sister, niece and I were overwhelmed by all the kindness and love that was generated by these long-lost, and the familiar cousins. I know my Dad's spirit was there and he would have been so thrilled to be a part of it. **and Janet, the little Welsh teddy is sitting on my desk right now!

We can't thank Janet enough for getting us all together like that and we only wished we'd had more time to spend there getting to know everyone a bit better. But I plan, on my next trip overseas, to make it a longer visit. And meanwhile, we're all on Facebook and we keep in touch with each other on-line. Isn't the internet fantastic?

So, with all that love surrounding us, we left the next day to return to London and continue on our holiday, leaving on June 1 for Athens, Greece.
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This is my sister Jean and I posing with the castle in the background.
My father played in this castle when he was a child and I grew up hearing stories about it. So I call it "my castle".

My cousins tease me that the reason the castle has a leaning tower is because I took home some shards from it as a souvenir. It's really leaning because it was knocked over in a bombardment in one of the sieges.

My dad, Fred Filer, was born in Caerphilly in 1903. He came from a family of coal miners. The year he was born, his grandfather (my great grandfather) and several members of his family (uncles) were killed in a mining explosion in Senghenydd. Dad became a miner himself when he was only 14 years old.

Dad lived in this house along with six brothers and two sisters (one died very young). His mother died when he was young and my grandpa remarried. It's a very small house for such a large family. I was lucky enough to visit here several times while two of the old uncles still lived here so I am very familiar with the house. Now it has been sold, so we can't go in. But it happened as we were taking the photo, the new resident came along. I don't suppose it's anything like when the uncles lived there when there were still remnants of the family around.
A lot was lost when Uncle George died and Uncle Reg went live in a home. Apparantly a housekeeper is suspected to stealing a few of the precious artifacts like the family bible and grandpa's fiddle and an old tea kettle belonging to my grandma that my dad really wanted me to bring back to Canada.


Dad worked here in the Bedwas Navigational Colliery. When I first visited Caerphilly in the '70's there were still remnants of the mine, but now this is all that remains. Dad went down into the pits when he was just 14 years old. He worked down there, sometimes never seeing the light of day for weeks, until he was in his mid 20's. At that time, there were problems in the mines and Dad was a union organizer so he lost his mining card, forcing him to leave the country in order to obtain work. He immigrated to Canada as a farm worker, but later, because of his oratory skills and desire to be a preacher, he was invited to attend McMaster University Theology college and he became a Baptist minister, working in the south Saskatchewan near the mining fields there.
He teamed with another Baptist minister to work among the mining communities. His friend was Tommy Douglas, "the Father of Medicare" in Canada, who became a well-known and well-loved political leader.

A few years ago my cousin and I visited the Big Pit Colliery in Wales and went down into the mine to see what it was like. It gave me a clear vision of what kind of life my father and other Welsh miners had to live. I also visited Senghenydd where my great grandfather's house still stands. His name, and those of his son-in-law and other of his family who died in the Senghenydd explosion of 1903 are listed in the miner's memorial book in the small mining museum in the town.

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May 29. CAERPHILLY, Wales.
This is the town where my father was born. When he lived here it was a small mining village but in the years since I first started visiting Caerphilly, it has grown extensively and is now almost a 'bedroom community' of the big city, Cardiff.

We arrive late last night (May 28) after a long day touring Bath and Old Sarum, then back to London to pick up our luggage at the Indian Y. Fortunately my cousins came and picked us up at Cardiff train station as there were no available hotels due to the Eisteddfod and no more buses running to Caerphilly.

The next morning, we wanted to show Debra around town. I've been here many times and my sister was here once before. Of course, the big feature in Caerphilly is the Norman castle, "Castell Caerphffili" Wale's largest moated medieval castle where you can see working replicas of seige engines. The fortress spreads over 30 acres and is the largest in Britain and one of the best preserved. It was built in the late 13th century by the Anglo-Norman lord, Gilbert de Clare, in order to consolidat his grip on the lands he had captured. The castle's outstanding water defences were more than a mere moat, but created around lakes forming three artificial islands. Notable features inside the castle include the gatehouses, banquet hall and full sized replicas of seige engines. The banquet hall is still used for functions.

I call this "my castle" because for as long as I have memory, from my earliest childhood, I grew up hearing stories about this castle. My father played in there when he was a child and when he left Wales to find a new home in Canada, his friends presented him with a framed photograph of the castle (which I still have) that always hung the walls of our homes.

There is an intriguing legend associated with the castle: the Green Lady who haunts the ivy-covered battlements. She was once Princess Alice de la Marche, niece of King Henry II and the wife of Earl Gilbert de Clare. She was also the lover of Tew Teg Gruffydd the Fair, the Welsh prince of Brithdir. Disgraced and banished, they say that on moonlit nights her ghost can be seen walking the castle battlements searching for her lost lover.

I was first told this story on a moonlit night as I walked by the castle with one of my cousins. Was she there then, a misty figure hidden in the ivy? I find the story appealing and want to know more. Perhaps it deserves being written down in a novel. Perhaps there's already one written.


Yes, there are still those who practice the Druid's religion and that's why Stonehenge is now blocked off and you can't get into the inner circle as I did on my first visit some years ago. But in Caerphilly there's this small circle overlooking the castle. I think there may still be the occasional ceremony held here. And whenever I am in town I like to go and visit.

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Monday, July 13, 2009



May 28, after leaving Bath by train we arrived at Salisbury. Our intention (even before visiting Bath) was to head for the Iron Age hillfort at Old Sarum. We didn't regret our unexpected side-trip to Bath, however, and lingered there quite awhile before taking the train to our next destination. We got the hop-on-hop-off bus from the Salisbury station and set off for Old Sarum.


This part of the trip, for me, was a renewal of some research for my W.I.P. novel "Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale". As soon as I complete work on "Shadow of the Lion" I want to return to this beautiful first-person narrative that I'd set aside years ago in order to work on Alexander's story.

DRAGONS has a magic quality to it -- right from the beginning when I was searching for a setting for this story that was told to me by a Celtic girl, Olwen, in a voice that was almost as if I was channeling her. (Or maybe she was me in another lifetime.) I had gone to visit a friend in Bournemouth and then on to Stonehenge and later, while waiting in the bus station at Salisbury I'd noticed a sign that said "Old Sarum Iron Age Hillfort, 4 kms". I decided to walk there.

As I approached the earth mound where this ancient fort has once stood I had one of those dejas-vu moments where I actually could 'see' it all unfold as if I had actually been there before.
This, I knew, was the setting of my story about Olwen, the Druid's child.

I've made a couple of trips back to Old Sarum and made lots of notes, impressions, etc. But it's been some years now and I needed to refresh my mind and see if I could pick up any new 'vibes' at the site.

The times before I'd been alone, and this time I was with my sister and niece and as well there were other people on the hill. It was difficult for me to 'feel' anything, but I did take some video footage so I'd be able to refer to it later. I also discovered a part of the earth mound that I hadn't known was there on my first two visits. On top of the hill are the remains of the old fort.
This one would be at a much later date than Olwen's story, for DRAGONS is set in the 4th century B.C.

Old Sarum was developed in about 500 BC by Iron Age settlers and later occupied by Romans, Saxons and Normans. They built a castle and a royal palace and by the mid-12th century it was a busy town with a fine new cathedral Later a new settlement was made by the river, now known as Salisbury and Old Sarum was abandoned and fell into ruin.

After looking around and taking photos, we went back down to the road with the intention of hopping on the next bus to Stonehenge. Unfortunately we hopped on the wrong bus and then had to hop off and go back. No time for Stonehenge as we needed to get back to London to fetch our luggage and head for Cardiff.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

BATH: The Roman Baths


Bath's Roman name was Aquae Sulis (the waters of Sulis) named after the Celtic goddess, Sulis. The building that houses the Roman baths is from the 18th century. There's a Georgian Pump Room on the ground floor. The baths are below street level and include four main features: the Sacred Spring; Roman temple, and the Roman bath houses.

The baths were not discovered and explored until th elate 19th century. Their complex structure allows you to glimpse the genius of the Romans who loved their baths and made it part of their daily ritual. (I've seen the ruins of Roman baths in Greece as well, however none so complex and beautiful as these at Bath).


The baths were formed from the natural hot springs that the area is famous for. In the Sacred Spring, which is the heart of the site, the water temperature is 46C. The mineral rich water burbles up at the rate of 1,170,000 litres every day as it has for thousands of years.

The Romans believed it was a work of the gods and built a Temple next to the spring dedicated to Sulis Minerva, a deity with healing powers. The first shrine at this site was built by Celts and dedicated to their goddess Sulis who the Romans identified with Minerva.

The Gorgon's head was a powerful sign of Minerva and this carving has a distinctly Celtic style to it. The Temple was constructed in 60 - 70 AD and the bathing complex built up over the next 300 years. After the Romans withdrew from Britain in the first decade of the 5th C. the baths fell into disrepair and were probably destroyed in the 6th C. Over the centuries they were redeveloped and now are housed in 18th century buildings. They were a popular tourist destination in the 18th and 19th centuries.

If you go, allow yourself lots of time to browse around. It is truly one of the most fascinating sites I've ever visited. There are even a few "Romans" roaming around, dressed in togas.

We were limited in time at Bath because we wanted to make it to Salisbury and had to get back to London later that day to pick up our luggage and head for Wales. So, regretfully, we left this beautiful, interesting little town and headed back to the train station.

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