October 2019
  • Day19

    My Favorite Church in Athens

    October 20 in Greece ⋅ 🌙 19 °C

    One last breakfast looking out on the Acropolis. But now, with plenty of time to kill in a number of airports today, I got inspired. :-)

    My favorite church in Athens sits in the shadow of the big perfectly sculpted cathedral. It’s a small 12th century Byzantine church, called “Little Metropolis” or the Church of Saint Eleftherios. Its architectural style is pretty similar to many other and many other bigger medieval Byzantine churches I have seen in Athens and further north, but this one just grabbed me differently. For one thing, there it sits, right next to the imposing 19th century attention-grabber. But when you look at it and read about it, you realize that it, and not the big brother next door, is the real jewel.

    This church has incorporated stones and carvings that go back centuries — the oldest is a 5th century BC fresco of the signs of the zodiac. Lots of other non-Christian stone carvings, from Greek Athens and Roman Athens, kind of a hodge-podge but all coming together perfectly. In the day, tourists walk around it, in early evening, small kids play in the square in front, and at night it seems to glow. Really not to be missed.
    I went at least a half dozen times.
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  • Day19

    Last Day in Athens

    October 20 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    For our last day in Athens, Joe had just one thing he wanted to do — walk through the ruins of what is (probably) the site of the Lyceum where Aristotle taught. This is the place where Aristotle supposedly used the “peripatetic” teaching method, walking through th grounds discussing with his students. On our way, we saw some crowds down the street, so we turned in that direction. Lo and behold, it was the weekly ceremonial changing of the guard at the site of the tomb of the unknown soldier, which is right in front of Parliament. We had a great position by some struck of dumb luck, and we were thoroughly impressed with the exaggerated strides of soldiers dressed in traditional military uniforms. Marching, music, all the trappings.

    The ruins of Aristotle’s school leave a lot to the imagination, but there are signs to indicate layout and purpose of buildings. And imagine our surprise to see that right next door was the Medieval and Byzantine museum. Now who could resist that, especially after a quick glance at Michelin saw that it has two stars.

    It is a fabulous place, especially the rooms dedicated to early Christianity up through the fall of Constantinople. We saw shoes from the 5th century! Clothing from the 4th! Lots of beautiful pieces from the early days of Christianity in Greece.

    After a leisurely lunch in the very good museum café, we walked back slowly through the National Gardens, blending in with the many crowds out for their Sunday walk in the sun.

    Tonight we may finally take a stroll through tourist-shop heaven, the narrow pedestrian streets of Plaka, which we have been through only in transit. And then tomorrow, bright and early, off to the airport!
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  • Day18

    Acropolis or bust!

    October 19 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    So once again we changed our plans. Last night at dinner, the manager of the restaurant suggested that we consider a mid-late afternoon Acropolis trip. If we took the “back door” entry, we would walk up past some of the less-visited sites, like the theater of Dionysus, and by the time we got to the top where the Parthenon and other crowd magnets are, most of the tour groups would be gone.

    That meant late breakfast and morning gym workout, to mix things up a bit.

    First stop, back to Hadrian’s arch (dividing Ancient Greek Athens from Ancient Roman Athens) and the remaining 15 Corinthian columns of what must have been a pretty fantastic temple to Zeus. After a light lunch, a slow stroll (so as not to wear out the old guy before he hit the Acropolis hill) and some ice cream. Finally, at about 3:00, we started up the “back side” of the hill so we could see the huge theater. When we got up to the main sights, the crowds were still pretty heavy, so Joe promptly found a bench and took a nap, while I walked around. At about 4:30, we ventured up the steps and enjoyed the temples. The late afternoon sun was just beautiful. There were people there, but no crushing crowds.

    After sunset, we made our way back down, very happy to have visited such an important and beautiful place.
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  • Day17

    Plan B

    October 18 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Well, I could not get Joe out of bed early enough for a trip to the Acropolis. The cruise ship groups start arriving around 9 or 10, so getting there by 8 is one way to avoid the hoards. So, on to Plan B. Luckily, there is no shortage of things to visit in Athens!

    We went to the Ancient Greek Agora, with one gorgeous temple, supposedly the most perfectly preserved of any Doric temple in Greece. We also saw a “jury selection” machine — the citizens put in a credit-card-size engraved stone, and then with some balls rolling around, the jurors are selected. Wonder if it was more efficient than sending letters out to random voters.

    After lunch, we went to the new Acropolis museum. Opened about ten years ago, the Greeks had hoped it would be the perfect place for displaying the Elgin marbles, if only the Brits would send them back. Ha, fat chance!

    Though I did not retain the details of the many times Athens was destroyed by invaders, it did stay with me that the glory days of Athenian democracy lasted from about 490 BC to at the very latest 146 BC when they finally lost out to the Romans. Some current events lead me to wonder whether Athens will continue in first place or whether the US will hold on long enough to beat the record. As the Washington Post says—democracy dies in darkness.

    And we somehow snagged a table at the oh so trendy Nolan Restaurant, which is a Japanese-Greek fusion place and the best meal we’ve had on this trip!
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  • Day16

    First day in Athens

    October 17 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Today we decided to see a few of the “minor” sites and also visit the National Archaeological Museum. Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, and the museum took up most of the day. We ended with a great dinner in a restaurant near the hotel, which we found by just poking around. Tomorrow, the Acropolis!Read more

  • Day15

    Travel to Athens

    October 16 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We slept in, ate a late breakfast, and then drove to Athens. We took the back roads for some of the way, driving through villages and a big town or two. It’s fun to see how life happens for normal people— saw a lot of little market stands, people navigating chaotic traffic on bikes, and lots of old men sitting outside in cafes. Not much in the way of urban planning or traffic planning that we could see. About 100 km out, we got on the toll road and dropped the car at the airport. You would need nerves of steel or a death wish to drive in Athens.

    Our hotel is a notch above our normal level, but the bar, pool, and restaurant have a view of the Acropolis and the elliptical is the best one of the entire trip by far. Seems like a good splurge so far.
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  • Day14

    More monasteries in Meteora

    October 15 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Since we hadn’t crammed all of the monasteries into one day, we still had two we wanted to visit. We asked at the desk for suggestions to round out the day, and presto, we had another great day. First, Nikolas suggested we walk, not drive, to the first monastery. We took the original centuries old stone walking path from about a mile away and hiked up through shady forests — a much nicer arrival than just pulling up in a rented car and parking!

    After visiting the two monasteries, we then took his tip to take a detour that would bring us to a place where we could see several more monasteries in ruins, as well as many hermit caves (occupied till the 1950s!). It was quiet, and kind of surreal — the caves still had wooden ladders dangling down outside of them, but no human habitation anywhere. A really nice way to end the day. We ran into one German family there, and we all remarked on how nice it was to get away from the tourist destinations for a bit.

    We have had excellent meals here — just going to TripAdvisor’s top rated places has served us well everywhere we have been so far. Here in Kalambaka we have been to numbers 3 and 5, and tonight we will drive to number 1! Lots of good vegetables, salads, yoghurt dips, grape leaves, we are eating very well.
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  • Day13

    Loving the monasteries

    October 14 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Meteora has six medieval monasteries all within an 11 km circuit from our base of Kalambaka. Bus groups leave early, forge ahead and get their visits done in time for lunch at a big taverna. We are lucky to have two days, and also to have brought snacks along for eating up there, so we had no rush to finish it all in one day before lunch. Not very efficient, I guess, but really lovely. Between 10 and 4 today, we visited three monasteries, climbed 60 floors according to my phone, and just pulled off to walk and enjoy the views wherever we were. All have chapels covered with murals, many of which could use a benefactor for restoration, but all of which just ooze with humanity and devotion.

    Just a totally great day, except for witnessing one uncomfortable nasty exchange between a French tourist and a nun who was insisting she put on a wrap around skirt before going into one monastery. I also think that it’s silly that men can wear pants but women have to cover their pants with a skirt they give you. But IMHO the monastery is the one that gets to call the shots and I was kind of amazed at this woman’s rudeness. Aside from that, the rest of the day was filled with a lot of peace, I even got to light some real (not electric) candles to think about my mom, the rest of my family, and my many friends with all sorts of health struggles.
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  • Day12

    Travel day

    October 13 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    We slept in a bit, since today was a travel day. We were headed north about 300 kms, to an area called Meteora, where there are six monasteries dating as far back as far as the 11th century, all of which are perched on rocks, high above.

    All started well, till our phone couldn’t give any directions. Turns out I hadn’t downloaded a map that went far enough north to get us to Meteora. As google maps gave out, and things were looking very complicated, I decided to go to a Shell station to ask for directions. The very wonderful Marieta from Bulgaria, who spoke perfect English, was working there. She couldn’t give me directions but offered me something better — Wifi!!! So I downloaded more Greece maps, and off we went.

    Our hotel has a “fitness center”, but I bet no one has used it in years or ever. Nothing was working, but after a lot of help from one of the maintenance people, the bicycle was sort of working. The elliptical, no way. Oh well, since I was in the same room as the indoor pool, I was sweating in no time!

    We have two full days here, and we will take it at a relaxed pace. It is an amazing site.
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  • Day11

    Galaxidi and Nafpatkos

    October 12 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry, neither had we. I always try to have an extra day at each of our stops, so since we had been to the monastery and to Delphi, we had a day to find something to do. The woman at the desk sent us to Galaxidi, about 40 minutes away on the Aegean. It’s a very cute little town with harbor, church on top of the hill, and a nice walk through pine forest out along the coast.

    As we were sitting there soaking it in, Joe looked at the guide book and said, hey, we are about an hour away from the site of the battle of Lepanto! So off we went along the coast to Nafpatkos, where the Spaniards with some help defeated the Turks in the late 1500s. Miguel Cervantes lost his arm in the great naval battle, and there is a statue of him in the harbor.

    What a great decision it was, it’s another very pretty little port town, this one crowned with a 17th century Venetian castle at the top of the hill. We had lunch in the harbor, walked along the beach, explored the castle area, and finished off the day with a coffee at a café looking down over the harbor, one of the prettiest café views anywhere. We didn’t get back to the hotel till almost 8, so since Joe is going to skip his nap, I will be a good sport and skip my exercise.

    Tomorrow we head north for a few hundred kms, to our last stop before Athens. Time is flying!
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