Here is the more thorough itinerary, from SmarTours:
The vibrant capital of Crete welcomes you! The largest Cretan province, Heraklion is the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, the first in Europe. Founded in 824, Heraklion was one of the major harbors during the Venetian occupation, and the city offers up myriad monuments of Venetian art and architecture to its guests.Return to the ship in time for lunch and continue sailing to Santorini, a volcanic crater immersed in the sea and perhaps the most breathtaking of all the Greek Islands. In the town of Thira whitewashed houses, narrow streets, outdoor cafes and glittering boutiques line the steep cliffs, accessible by foot, cable car or mule. Join an included tour (new in 2017!) to explore the spectacular Oia Village. Return to the ship for a final night at sea on board your cruise ship. (B,L,D)
Note 1: This was inaccurate even before we left. Apparently the Acropolis will be closed May 1, so we will see that April 28. I have no idea what that will do to the rest of the schedule, but the visit was only scheduled for a couple of hours, so we will see.
Note 2: I will be doing times in 24-hour clock, measurements in metric units, and money in US dollars (US$), Euros (E), and possibly Turkish lira (TL). The exchange rates are approximately E1.16 and TL3.83 per US dollar.
When I was in high school, the one country I wanted to visit was Greece. Fifty years later I have visited over sixty countries, but had not gotten to Greece until now.
I have pretty much said everything there is to say about the problems of packing, getting to JFK, dealing with security, etc., so I will not repeat them here. I did have a bit of confusion in packing. The tour company will transport one large suitcase per person, and allows us only a very small "carry-on" (18"x10"x8") for the buses, etc. However, we want to carry enough with on as carry-on to "operate in a degraded mode" (as they say) if our checked luggage is lost. We had come up with a technique to solve this when we went to South Africa which involved packing one airline carry-on and its contents into a large suitcase after we arrived. But I misremembered what we had used for carry-on luggage, and ended up with a carry-on way too large to fit into a large suitcase. Luckily, I was able to pull up my notes from a backup and saw which pieces of luggage we had used before. Our big suitcase weighed just under the limit when we weighed it at home, but the three and a half pounds of books just inside the zipper provide an easy way to drop the weight if their scale is somewhat off from ours.
(After I got back, I googled for "how to pack for ten days" and found many articles that explained how to make everything you needed fit in one carry-on. The accompanying illustrations, however, made it clear that pretty much all that goes into the suitcase is clothing. All those electronics and other miscellanea seem to get ignored, as if they took up no space at all.)
April 22: Going to Europe has two big advantages over going to Asia (for people living on the east coast): the flight is shorter and you can leave at a reasonable time. The latter is often overlooked, but the ability to get up at a decent hour and finish easily the last-minute packing, washing dishes, etc. before leaving one's house around midday, rather than trying to do all this at 4AM, really counts for something.
Of course, it also leaves you wandering around the house trying to fill time.
Hurley thinks it takes 45 minutes from our house to JFK. It took almost two hours.
The big suitcase weighed in at 48 pounds.
We started meeting people on our tour in the waiting area (the luggage tags are the giveaway.) It is hard to learn everyone's name after we arrive, so I like to get a head start.
Delta's overhead bins are so shallow that standard carry-ons had to go in sideways. Luckily, most people had smaller bags, possibly because you can still check one bag free on an international flight.
The pitch on our flight was 32"; the seat width was 22" (2" of which was armrest). There were no charging ports.
April 23: The big drawback of going to Europe is that it is an overnight flight, and trying to sleep on one of those in the coach seats is miserable (and ours could not recline). Rosy-fingered dawn arrived far too early.
Our Hindu meals were reasonable. I prefer them to the standard airline fare, and they arrive first. Given that we were in the next to the last row, that meant we had finished our meals before the meal cart even got anywhere near us, and also because we were in the next to the last row, they had fewer choices by the time they got to our area.
Our hotel, the Athenian Callirhoe Hotel, was okay, but there were only six (single) outlets in the whole room, with one *under* the sink and one under a bench that we could never get to work. Of the four remaining, two had bedside lamps plugged in, and one had the television. Even after we unplugged lamps and television and figured out what adapters were needed, finding the correct switch for the outlet was not easy. (I think the wiring was designed by Daedelus.) The one "easy-access" outlet was on the same switch as some of the wall lights, so that was unusable for the CPAP or anything one wanted to charge overnight.
Because of the closures on May 1, our guide (Granville Lee-Warner) suggested we "stroll" over to the Acropolis Museum this afternoon, spend about an hour in it, and then he would recommend places to eat. Several of us indicated we would probably be staying longer, and indeed, we stayed 90 minutes. The Museum was very sparsely laid out, unlike older museums that had been acquiring stuff for ages. Even so, there was plenty to see, especially for "museum nerds" like us who want to see everything and read every label.
Part of the Museum consisted of a glass floor, beneath which were excavated areas of the ancient city. The glass has a grid pattern of black dots to re-assure people there really was a solid surface, but even so, many people avoid it.
There was some confusion because of the admission charge to the Museum. Some people had no Euros yet and seemed doubtful the Museum would take credit cards. To me, the idea that a major museum would not take credit cards, even for a 5-euro entrance fee, was just bizarre, and of course they did.
(One woman tried to get money from an ATM and it "ate" her card. I think this made people leery of ATMs, but she also lost her ship's boarding card on day 2, and showed up in a brace on day 3, having bruised herself somehow, so it may be just her.)
After the Museum we ate at Smile, which was highly recommended in TripAdvisor and conveniently located between the Museum and our hotel. I had the kebab platter, Mark had the doner platter. Both started with Greek salad (koriatiki, which is cucumber, tomato, onion, green pepper, and capers in olive oil--no lettuce and no vinegar). It is pronounced "ko-ri-A-tih-ki".) The platters had the skewers of meat, as well as pit bread, fries, and tzatziki sauce, and dessert (a small pudding) was also included, as well as a beverage (soft drink, beer, or wine). I had red wine; it seems to have a much lower alcohol content here than in the United States.
In the late afternoon, Granville led us on a walk through the Plaka (Old Town), which was mostly shops and restaurants. He said most souvenirs would be cheapest in Athens, so we will re-visit the Plaka on our last day (our hotel then is even closer to it). We had already spotted some excellent math T-shirts (Pythagoras' Theorem, Archimedes' spiral, Platonic solids, and Phi [The Golden Ratio], as well as the ubiquitous Pi). (Math Team cheerleaders' yell: 3-1-4, 1-5-9, we will beat you every time!" This is in keeping with the tradition of cheers and chants almost, but not quite, rhyming.)
April 24: We had what Granville said would be our best breakfast in Athens. Oh, I hope not. It was okay, but nothing spectacular. (For starters, the small size of the hotel means fewer selections.)
We went down to the Portaeus and embarked on the ship, the Celestyal Olympia. Apparently the International Olympic Committee has less control here over the use of the names "Olympic" and "Olympia" than in the United States, where they go after Greek restaurants that want to use the word "Olympic" in their names.
One of the reasons we take tours is that the tour company does all the luggage handling, but this apparently does not apply to cruises. We had to take out luggage from the bus in the parking area and wheel it (thank goodness our luggage has wheels!) a block or two from the conveyor belt for the ship. There was the usual security check and swapping our passports for a ship's boarding card, which in addition to getting us on and off the ship, it let us charge things on the ship (including verifying what free beverages were included) and served as our passport/visa for Turkey (Ephesus).
The cabin was very small and had only two electrical outlets, but one was 110V, meaning there was no problem using a North States extension cord. (Both needed adapters, though.) I am glad we got a window--it is nice to be able to look out and what the islands go by while we are sailing.
The ship was relatively small as cruise ships go--1600 passengers on ten decks. (One that we docked next to on Crete had 4000 passengers!) The accommodations are fairly cramped, but they try to make up for it by having the maids fold "towel origami" every day. They did the same in one of the resorts in Costa Rica; apparently it's standard "thing" in the hospitality industry these days. So we got a rabbit, a swan, an elephant, and a heart. (I guess they ran out of animals they could do.)
As I said, the accommodations are cramped, and they are also not well sound-proofed. First our neighbors knocked on the wall because they thought we were talking too loud, but not five minutes later we were knocking because they were too loud.
We had the usual lifeboat drill. Every ship does things differently--our ship in Alaska said not to put the life jackets on, but to carry them, but this one said to put them on in our cabin.
Our tour group had a meeting where Granville went over the schedule and the optional excursions. There were only two: one to the Monastery of Saint John on Patmos, and one to the ruins at Knossos on Crete. We of course opted for the second (one of the highlights of the whole trip for us), but not for the Patmos excursion. (I think far fewer chose that one; there was a high percentage of Jews on the tour, and Patmos was pretty much a Christian thing.
We then had lunch in the buffet restaurant on the top deck. The food was okay, but this is not a gourmet cruise and nothing was really hot. I thought at first it was because the restaurant was basically outdoors, but even in the indoor buffet restaurant everything was lukewarm.
After lunch we rested a bit (still a bit jet-lagged) and then thought we might walk around the ship on the promenade deck. As we rounded the bow, the wind suddenly hit gale force, or seemed too- I found myself literally blown towards the rail and was barely able to stagger obliquely towards the wall and grab the banister there. We managed to get around to the other side, where the wind died down considerably, but decided that walking around the ship, particularly while it was sailing, was not a good idea.
We docked at Mykonos (Míkonos) about 1700, so there was no real excursion scheduled. Granville led us around for a couple of hours, then left us to decide whether to wander some more or to return to the ship for dinner. We opted for dinner on board (in the sit-down restaurant), since we are reasonably sure that will be good. (Lunches, on the other hand, are fairly mediocre buffets, which is why we opted to eat ashore on Rhodes, the one island that we were staying at for an entire day.) All in all, counting walking around the ship as well as on Mykonos, we walked about 6000 steps.
Dinner in the restaurant was pretty good: black bean soup, pan-fried fish filet with a pesto or mint sauce (?), steamed vegetables, ouzo-soaked cheesecake, and a glass of white wine. (I could not taste any ouzo, but the cheesecake was good.)
April 25: Today we visit Ephesus in Turkey. This would be another country to check off had we not already visited not only Turkey, but Ephesus itself.
The ship stopped at the island of Samos (in Greece) to drop off a school group of seventy students whose school board did not want them to go to Turkey. (I think the school group is from the United States, but I am not sure.) Granville was complaining about this, saying he did not want to see children taught to be afraid to travel, etc. I do not know if the board made this decision a while ago, or after the recent election, but there may be other reasons for the board to think it unwise.
Granville talks a fair amount about politics, the refugee crisis, and the Greek financial cirsis. Of the latter, he seems to blame it on the fact that Greece has not been a democracy for very long in modern times (really only since 1973), and was unable to figure out how finances work. He's also very big on the idea that Greece has been a "survivor culture" for centuries (millennia?) and people still operate that way(for example, avoiding paying any taxes if at all possible.
For breakfast, there was the usual fare: salad items (e.g., tomato, cucumber, onion), cheeses, cold cuts, fruits, and standard hot items such as eggs, sausage, and so on. There was also chicken congee (yay!). The buffet on the top deck is basically open-air, so nothing gets to your table hot, even assuming it started that way.
Our first stop of the day was Ephesus, with a debarkation time of 0715.
We had visited Ephesus on our own when we visited Turkey in 1998, and it really has not changed that much in the last twenty years, which is after all, only about 1% of the time since its height. So I will point you to http://leepers.us/evelyn/trips/turkey.htm#may04 for my description from then.
I will make a few observations. When we visited on our own, we spent three hours at Ephesus; on this tour we spent one-and-a-half. I felt a little less secure walking down the marble streets, particularly when they were inclined rather than level. The crowds seemed about the same level, although the invention of "Whispers" has really improved the sound level. ("Whispers" are a bit like walkie-talkies, but only one-way and very short range. The tour guide has a transmitter that she can speak into in a normal speaking voice, and everyone else has a receiver with earpiece that lets them hear her even they are a hundred feet away. (There are multiple channels on each one so different groups don't conflict, and I'm sure the effective distance depends on the particular units.)
We did not buy souvenirs at any of the many stands that all advertised "Genuine Fake Watches". Nor did we buy any carpets at the "carpet village" we were then taken to (although some on the tour did). By the time we were done here it had gotten quite warm, even though the day started chilly. Part of that was probably starting out on water that made the difference.
The last time we were here, we walked back to Selc¸uk and saw the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers and the ruins of Temple of Diana. The latter is one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World", this tour did not go there, but instead returned to the ship for lunch and sailing to our next stop (Patmos).
The lunch buffet was the usual: cucumbers, olives, cold cuts, cheese, pork cutlet, battered fish, and chocolate mousse. I napped a bit afterwards, because we did not arrive at Patmos until mid-afternoon.
The afternoon stop was at Patmos (Pátmos). This is where St. John the Divine wrote the Book of Revelation. (One has to specify which St. John--there are several of them.) There was an optional tour of the grotto where he wrote it and the monastery founded there, but that was clearly of more interest to the Christians on the ship. The rest of us who got off the ship walked around the very small port, primarily devoted to tourists, with souvenir shops, clothing shops, jewelry shops, restaurants, and so on. I think at one time motor vehicles were prohibited on the island, but if so, this is no longer true.
Granville is a good tour director, but at times a bit florid. Other people described him as "more spiritual" than they were used to. Here he said that for those on the optional tour, afterwards he would show them a beach where they could bring pebbles from Patmos back to their Christian friends. I know that people brought pebbles back from Gethsemane (in Israel) for their friends, but I had not realized Patmos was such a big thing. Granville claimed it was the second-most-visited religious site after Bethlehem (or maybe it was the Bethlehem/Jerusalem combination), but he must mean Christian religious site, since Mecca gets huge numbers, and the Kumbh Mela even more. (I'm also sure those pebbles in Gethsemane must be replenished every few months or so from who knows where, but maybe just having rested there a while makes them special.) Apparently the souvenir shops also sell the pebbles, much as shops on the cliffs near the shrine of San Juan de Campostela started hundreds of years ago selling scallop shells from the beach there for pilgrims who did not want to climb all the way down and back to get the traditional "badge" that showed they had been there.
Patmos is pretty low-key, but as the above suggests, also still very touristy. Before tourists, the main (only?) industry was fishing, and the much smaller number of pilgrims that could get here. As with most of the island towns, they try to retain some level of traditional appearance in architecture and such, and in general there are no street vendors chasing you to buy portfolios of postcards or whatever.
We tried the buffet for dinner; we are definitely going back to the regular restaurant tomorrow.
I finally got around to putting on my pedometer. Today we walked about 6250 steps.
April 26: At breakfast this morning both fancy coffee makers were broken, leaving just one basic machine for regular and one for decaf. Food is evidently not a main focus on this cruise.
Today's port was Rhodes (Rhódos) in the Dodecanese ("Twelve Islands"). This is where the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas meet (I have no idea how that "border" is defined). It is the fourth largest Greek island (after Crete, Euboea, and Lesbos). Rhodes was held by the Italians in the 1920s and 1930s, so there is a lot of what our guide (Maria) calls "fascist architecture" (I believe that is lower-case). I am not sure how that is defined, though.
We passed the spot where the Colossus of Rhodes stood. Maria claimed it stood astride the harbor entrance, but I think we saw a documentary that claimed that the metalworking of the time was not advanced enough to build a statue with legs spread that would not collapse almost immediately.
There are a lot of solar panels on Rhodes (and all over Greece), but they also still have coal-fired power plants (no nuclear).
The spotted deer is the symbol of Crete; they were brought to the island in 600 B.C.E. to kill the snakes that were common then. (I notice that all the Greek guides say "before Christ", not "B.C.E." or even "B.C." They also refer to "the Holy Mother" rather than to "the Virgin Mary", but more on that later.)
We (as a group) had decided to replace the standard trip to Lindos with one to Mount Fíleremos. While it is true that Lindos is where some of The Guns of Navarone was filmed (the big rock holding the guns, and the ruined temple where the soldiers meet Maria), it is also overrun by tourists. (And I think there has been reconstruction on the temple, so that it would not even look the same). Fíleremos is the site of an ancient monastery which at one point had a very famous icon of Mary and the baby Jesus, supposedly painted by St. Luke. It was stolen at some point and eventually turned up in Moscow after being missing for centuries. At that point a famous icon painter made two copies, one of which was returned to Fíleremos, though there is much dispute about its accuracy, because the damages and restorations over the centuries of the original have made its accuracy to the original questionable.
There are the remains of an ancient temple on Fíleremos that was dedicated to Athena. It was very common for the early Christians to build their churches on the sites of old temples, and frequently they would retain some of the atmosphere by, for example, building a church to Mary on the site of a temple to Athena or Artemis.
The monastery is not occupied these days, but Mass is still said every Sunday in the chapel. In addition to the copy of the traditional icon, there were some newer ones which at least partially copied from the original, including one that looked particularly Cubist, with Mary's face asymetrical, one side more like a profile, the other more full-face.
In addition to the chapel, there was a walk with monuments to the Stations of the Cross, labeled in Latin because there were erected by the Italians in the 1930s. It terminated in a giant cross and a panoramic view. There was also a grove of hawthorn bushes full of bees; I assume the hawthorn was purposely planted, because that is traditionally what Jesus's "Crown of Thorns" was made of. (See, all those vampire movies, in particular The Satanic Rites of Dracula, taught me something.)
The site was empty when we arrived, but a couple of buses showed up as we were leaving, with several of the women dressed completely inappropriately for a church.
Another plant there was Ferula communis (giant fennel), which was the material of Dionysius's stick, and is known for its imperviousness to fire.
We then returned to the city of Rhodes for the main focus of the day, the Fortress and the Palace of the Grand Master. The fortress has both outer and inner walls (with a dry moat in between), and ornate gates leading in to it. The Palace was originally built during the period of the Knights of Rhodes, but heavily renovated in the 1930s by the Italians. Still, there is a lot of the original structure, and of course at this point even the renovations are historic. We saw only about a dozen rooms from the huge Palace, but one assumes the rest would be similar.
We then walked through the medieval city, which has been converted into modern apartments, restaurants, shops, etc., but without changing the exterior architecture. (This is similar to the castle in Osaka, which looks like a medieval Japanese castle outside, but is just modern government offices inside.)
Granville added on a visit to the Kalal Shalom Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Greece. To get there we passed the monument to the 1600 Jews from Rhodes who were transported to Auschwitz in 1944. In the United States we have Holocaust memorials, but they are in some sense they are distanced from the event, while in Europe, the memorials commemorate specific people from that area, and often have the individual names on them. At the synagogue, Granville told us the story of the Jews of Rhodes and of how he came to know one of the remaining survivors, who convinced him that he (Granville) had a responsibility to tell their story, even though he was not Jewish. With a lot of tour guides, this might have seemed artificial, but Granville did seem genuinely emotionally affected while telling it.
After this we were on our own until the ship sailed. We had lunch at a random restaurant. We got lamb souvlaki in pita, which turned out to be very gristly. With two Coke Zeros, this came to 12 euros. (I assume the plural of "Coke Zero" is "Coke Zeros" even though the plural of "zero" is "zeroes".)
We bought our tchatchka here: a blue glass eye to ward off evil. (All the guides call it "the evil eye" but it is really the opposite of that.)
(Everyone spells it "tchotchke", but it's a transliteration, so it is not clear to me that one is correct and the other wrong.)
We walked back to the ship, which was not as easy as it sounds when you are within a maze of medieval streets and you can only exit through a gate, which are somewhat widely spaced. In Venice, there are frequent signs that point confused pedestrians towards either St. Mark's Plaza or the railroad station (the two ends of the city). The medieval city of Rhodes could use signs just pointing people towards gates.
By the time we got back to the ship we had no energy left (we had walked about 7500 steps), so we rested up, watched the view out our window, and recharged all our electronics.
Dinner was in the restaurant: seafood veloute, grilled Coho salmon, and chocolate cake. The portions are a reasonable size, which is why I can eat a three-course meal. Someone else thought the salmon was just okay, but I guess I'm not a salmon connoisseur, because I thought it was pretty good. Then again, I think most salmon is pretty good.
April 27: Today was a big day for me, since Knossos was one of the main sites I wanted to see in Greece. Oddly (well, oddly to me), this is an optional excursion rather than included. I think most (all?) of our group took it, so maybe in the future it will become included. (Apparently originally none of the shipboard excursions were included in the SmarTours price. However, people probably objected to having several large additional expenses as well as probably being assigned to random groups by the ship rather than being together, so SmarTours added Ephesus, Rhodes, and Santorini as included tours.)
Anyway, we went to the Palace at Knossos. Knossos (or Crete in general) is known to most people as the home of the Minotaur, which Theseus slew in the labyrinth. The guide and Granville gave us what is presumed to be the non-mythological source for this. The Palace itself was the labyrinth, and looking at the floor plan bears this out--it would be very easy to get totally lost within it. The Minotaur was "Minos's bull", used in the bull-dancing (or bull-jumping) portrayed in the wall paintings. Minos's demand of young men and women from Athens as tribute to take part in this event (and probably get killed in the process) led to the story of sacrificing them to the Minotaur.
(Just a note: Jorge Luis Borges, with his fascination with labyrinths, has written a story set here, "The House of Asterion".)
The Palace was fascinating. It is almost 4000 years old, yet it had running water and a sewage drainage system. However, what preserved it was that it was buried for almost 4000 years. Now that it has been exposed to the elements (and somewhat reconstructed), how much longer will it last? Pompeii is already suffering from exposure to pollution, acid rain, millions of tourists touching it, and so on. I love seeing these places, but I also understand that their visibility is a real danger to them.
I bought my souvenir here, a T-shirt with a more traditional diagram of the labyrinth (a spiral, not the Palace floor plan). They did not seem to have any with the famous paradox from Epimenides (a 6th century B.C.E. Cretan): "All Cretans are liars; I am a Cretan." (A more accurate translation seems to be that Cretans are "eternal liars, filthy beasts, lazy bellies.") Other famous Cretans include Nikos Kazantzakis (who is buried on the walls), and Colonel Stavros in The Guns of Navarone.
Lunch on board was fish filet for me, and pork cutlet for Mark. The service was slower than previous days.
We anchored in the caldera of Santorini (Thera) where 3600 years ago there was a massive volcanic explosion that destroyed (literally) half the island, which sank, leaving a giant caldera in the center and a gap in the rim. Many people think that the memories of this disaster led to the myth of Atlantis. The cliffs around the caldera show the many geologic layers and an excursion around the caldera would have been very interesting.
What we got was a bus ride to one of the ends of the rim and the village of Oia (pronounced "ee-ah"), where we were given two and a half hours to shop and/or eat. I find shopping boring and call me cheap, but we already had our meals paid for on the ship, so I had no desire to eat here. Yes, the village, with its whitewashed walls and brilliant blue roofs was scenic, but two and a half hours?! (Bad pains from sciatica were not helping the situation.) To be fair, many people really liked the time, but if we had known what the plan was, we probably would have opted to stay on the ship.
The only interesting shop was the Atlantis Bookshop, the inside of which reminded me of Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Atlantis is a multi-lingual bookshop and publisher, as befits a bookshop whose customers are tourists from all over the world. (One suspects that people who live in Oia, or on Santorini, do not shop in it very much.)
According to someone, we were supposed to be back to the caldera in time for sunset--but we weren't. And because of some event, they closed the dining from from 2100 to 2145--and we got there just about 2100. So we ended up at the buffet, where nothing is ever hot even when you put it on your plate, let alone when you get to your table. All in all, I found Santorini my least favorite spot, yet many people later in the tour said it was their favorite.
There is a McDonald's on Thera (though not in Oia).
We had to have our luggage out tonight, with only hand-luggage in the morning. This is a bit of a problem with the CPAP, but luckily there was room in our small carry-on bags. (We asked Granville if we would have time to transfer items to our suitcases and he said know, but there would have been plenty of time.)
April 28: We debarked and collected our luggage--not an easy task given that the luggage was sorted by our deck numbers, which was not much sorting at all. And of course, everyone's luggage is basically the same black nylon luggage in the two most popular sizes. The yellow SmarTours tags did help, but what helped us was that we had TSA luggage locks with "flashes" of blue and orange on them on our zippers, and no one else did.
We said good-bye to Granville and hello to Vivian, who was our tour director for the land portion of the trip.
The holiday on Monday (May 1, Labor Day) meant that everything in Athens would be closed. In particular, the Acropolis would be closed. So SmarTours moved the Acropolis visit up to the first thing about debarkation.
The Acropolis has 80 steps up to the top, but also many ramps, and both the steps and the ramps (and the top) have a lot of slick marble and no handrails So it was fairly slow going for me (and many of the others), but having wanted to visit Greece and its ancient sites since high school, I was hardly going to not climb to the top of the Acropolis.
it is unfortunate that when we got to the top, the end of the Parthenon visible from the center part of the top was covered with scaffolding. This is, I swear, a curse upon us, also being the case for:
What is left on the Acropolis are primarily four structures: the Propyleia, the Parthenon, the Erechtheon, and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Propyleia is the monumental gateway that formed the entrance to the complex. The Parthenon is the most famous structure on the Acropolis, the Temple to Athena. The Erechtheon is a smaller temple on the north side of the Acropolis that had been dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon, and is best known for the Porch of the Caryatids. These days, however, the original caryatids are in the Acropolis Museum and what is supported the porch roof (and exposed to the elements) are reproductions. And the last structure is the Temple of Athena Nike, the oldest of the remaining structures.
At the base of the Acropolis is Mars Hill, where Saint Paul preached. Our tour did not go there, but People had time later if they wanted to visit it. (I saw several people on it, so obviously it is a place of pilgrimage.)
(If you care, the entrance fee for the Acropolis is 20 euros.)
After this, we boarded the bus and drove to Delphi. The shift in schedule meant we did not have time to see "seven-gated Thebes," which I think would probably have been just a "drive-through" in any case. (And I doubt that the seven gates, built by Amphion and named for his daughters, are still there.)
We did get a view of Mount Parnassus as we drove, though. We also drove through Aarachova Village, birthplace of Georgios Papnikolaou, the doctor who invented the Pap test.
Greece has adopted that modern invention, the toll road.
We had lunch in Delphi at To Patriko Mas, which has good reviews on-line, but those were for individual diners. As a tour group, we were told that all the grill items and many appetizers were not available. I ended up with koriatiki; Mark had moussake.
After lunch we went to the ruins at Delphi. This involved more steps, and more climbing. Normally, of course, this would have been a different day than the Acropolis, but as it was, we had two major climbing sites in one day. At the end of the day, my ankles were so puffy I could barely get my socks off! Luckily, they did not hurt at all, and were back to normal by the next day. And I did not even climb all the way up, though Mark did. I climbed as high as the Temple; above it on the hill was an amphitheater, but I decided more steps were not a good idea.
We went to the museum at Delphi afterwards. Many of the statues had an El Greco-Modigliani sort of look: very elongated.
The Amalia Delphi Hotel was quite luxurious after the cruise ship: a very big room, free WiFi, and so on. We used the WiFi to send out the MT VOID, which has not missed a Friday in decades, in spite of all our travels, my broken hip, and Hurricane Sandy. (Okay, one week we sent it out Thursday because we were headed for a WiFi-free zone for the next two days.) We used to have someone locally send it out when we traveled, but with ubiquitous WiFi these days, we've sent it from various hotels coffe shops, and even an Internet cafe in Capetown, South Africa.
The room was one of those that wants you to insert your room key into a slot to turn on the electricity for the lights and outlets. Luckily, we discovered a while ago that any card (including cards without magnetic stripes) would work--it is purely mechanical. This meant we could leave our electronics to recharge when we left the room for dinner.
I walked 6150 steps today, and it felt like most of them were vertical.
April 29: We got to breakfast just when it opened, and the food was still only lukewarm. On the buffets, I tend to stick to things like cheese, cold cuts, and salads, because they are at a reasonable temperature. (They are also probably healthier than a lot of fried things.
After breakfast, we went to the Temple of Athena Propeia. The hotel parking lot is so small, the bus driver had to back the bus out after we got on, and it was not just backing up, but backing up around a curve and down a hill.
We then started for Olympia, with a stop on the way in Nafpaktos. Nafpaktos was also known as Lepanto, site of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), where the combined European forces defeated the Turks. It is best known in literary circles as the battle in which Miguel de Cervantes lost his left arm (or possibly just the use of the arm--the sources are unclear).
The bus stopped at a cafe where SmarTours had arranged that we could use the rest rooms (though Vivian did suggest that buying a coffee or ice cream would be appreciated by the cafe). This happened to be right next to the harbor which, in addition to the usual fortifications, had a statue of Cervantes, with the base decorated with the Helmet of Mambrino, no less!
We then crossed the longest cable bridge in the world (or at least it was when it opened on 7 Aug 2004) and proceeded to Olympia. Before the site itself we had lunch: Mark had baked lamb, and I had lamb chops, both with French fries and rice. All around this area the signage was either in English or in Greek in the Latin alphabet. I am pretty sure this means it is a big tourist destination. I do not remember seeing this on the islands, though.
Olympia, at least, was on level ground. It was the site of the first Olympian Games (in 776 B.C.E.), so is of importance, but is probably more interesting to people who follow sports and the Olympics. So far as I can tell, they did not have synchronized swimming, badminton, or ski jumping at the first Olympics, but they did have a footrace (the stade, at 200m). Later Games added the diaulos (a footrace of 400m), the dolichos (4800m), the pentathalon (three foot races, discus throwing, and javelin throwing), wrestling, and boxing. Other events were added still later, including horse and chariot racing.
We saw some of the temples, or at least the ruins thereof, and the workshop of Phidias (at least supposedly his workshop), as well as the arena where many of the events took place. The last is just a flat area with seats on three sides--not exactly thrilling. (Some of the people on the tour had their pictures taken as they pretended to be ready to run a race, but we did not.) What we did not see was the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though we saw the ruins of his temple.
When we arrived at the Arty Grand Hotel, one of the women on the tour got off, carrying a dozen pieces of clothing on hangers. Apparently, after the luggage had all been collected that morning, she opened the closet to double-check if anything had been left, and she discovered that she had forgotten to pack everything she had hung in the closet!
This hotel had the most convenient electrical outlets of anyplace we stayed. This was somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that the salad had a live bug in it.
One of our group had a birthday today, so there was a cake. She and a couple of others were trying to figure out how Vivian knew this. Had she mentioned it to someone who told Vivian? Finally, I pointed out that SmarTours had copies of our passports, which had our birthdays on them, and tour companies always make sure to celebrate the birthdays of tour members.
Today we 7500 steps. Luckily, most of those were on the level.
April 30: The Arty Grand had the best breakfast so far. But its floor numbering was quite peculiar, with negative floor numbers, so that room 201, for example, might be on floor "-1".
On the bus ride back to Athens, Vivian talked about religion in Greece. Though there was a split of the Roman Empire much earlier, the "Great Schism" between the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) churches occurred in 1054. According to Vivian, the Schism was more an excuse for seizing power than for religious reasons. In the West, the Pope had supreme power over the various rulers of the small political units, while in the East, the Emperor in Constantinople held the supreme power, even over the various Patriarchs in the empire.
Religious differences do exist; the major ones are:
Vivian described the current situation as, "We feel very close to our religion, but not always very closed to our church." This is in part because priests have been discovered hiding money in Swiss acounts, and also because the Church has a lot of money, but is not contributing to relieve Greece's debt.
The Greek Orthodox Church is similar to the Roman Catholic Church in that it has communion and confession and both divorce and abortion are prohibited. However, in Greece abortion is legal, and while divorce used to be tabu, it is now more common (with a rate of 10% in 1980s, and 30% now).
We stopped at a truck stop. In addition to the restaurant and mini-grocery, this one had a fairly substantial bookstore. Well, not in bookstore terms, but as a kiosk you'd find in a truck stop. They had quite a few non-Greek classics (translated into Greek): Louisa May Alcott, Daphne Du Maurier, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, ... They had a few books in English, but they were all tourist sort of books. Schools require two foreign languages, but that does not mean that people driving on vacation or long-haul truck drivers will be buying a lot of non-Greek books.
Health care is free (but you pay for the doctor). However, public hospitals are terrible (thought the doctors are great), so people who can afford it pay for private hospitals.
And "black money" (tax invasion by paying cash with no receipts) is common. A Pap test receipt is worth 5 euros on tax, but the doctor will charge 50 euros more to give one. A hip replacement has a six-month wait in public hospitals. Insurance costs 500-3000 euros per year. Salaries range from a minimum of 4800 euros a year to an average of 8400 euros a year, with 14,400 euros putting one in the wealthy category.
Unemployment insurance plus free health care means there is less pressure to find a job. Vivian claimed that there are no homeless because families support each other, but there must be people who have no family. There are no food stamps.
We stopped at Mycenae. Before visiting the site we ate at the King Menelaeus; I had gemista and rosé, Mark had moussaka and lemon soda.
Mycenae was the home of King Menelaeus, one of several famous people killed in bathtubs. Menelaeus was killed by his wife Clytemnestra on his return from Troy because Menelaeus sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia in return for a fair wind to Troy.
There are even more stories about the excavation of Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann may have a reputation among most people as the great archaeologist that discovered Troy, but in fact 1) he only "found" Troy because a member of the diplomatic corps in Turkey told him where it was, 2) he totally destroyed the Troy of the Trojan War by digging a honing big trench through it to get to the Troy several layers down that he thought was the "right" Troy, and 3) he was an inveterate liar. At Mycenae he discovered a mask that he telegraphed the King of Greece was the "Death Mask of Agamemnon". Before the King arrived the next day, he had found a better-looking one and that is the one he claimed he had originally found. And the capper: he got his dates wrong here as well, and the masks (and bodies) that he had found were from hundreds of years before the Trojan War.
Alas, we did not get to see this mask, since it is in the museum, and we did not go to the museum, just the site itself. This had a few points of interest--the "Lion Gate" (a large entrance gate with carvings of lions above it), the two grave circles outside its walls, and the beehive tomb called the Treasury of Atreus, or the Tomb of Agamemnon, though it is now known that it has nothing to do with either.
There is an irony, of course, to Schliemann's errors. Were it not for his connecting this site with Menelaeus, Agamemnon, and the Trojan War, it would not be as popular as it is. Greece is covered with ruins, but this one was studied more than many because of its supposed connection to the Trojan War, and visited by more people (tourists) because 1) it has a supposed Trojan War connection, and 2) it has been so well excavated and studied that it is readier for visitors than many other sites.
We also visited the Theatre of Epidauris, where we could see the construction technique for the columns: thick discs with a center support rod. The same plays were performed here as in Athens. Just a note: of all the plays performed here, we have only a few left: seven by Aeschylus (out of 70 to 90 that he wrote), nineteen by Euripides (out of 92 to 95), seven by Sophocles (out of the 120), eleven by Aristophanes (out of 40), and six by Menander (out of 108). Sophocles's Oedipus Rex, considered by many to be the greatest of the surviving plays, took only second place in the year it was in competition. Philocles, Aeschylus's nephew, took first. Nothing by him, or any other author besides the five named above, survives. Menander seems to be the forgotten stepchild--his name is much less known than the other four, and his plays much less read.
We drove through Corinth, rich with ancient history, of which we saw none. But we did see the Corinth Canal, which split the 4-mile-wide isthmus in 1893, turning the Peloponnesian Peninsula into an island. This modern historic site, in addition to providing an easy passage for ships across the isthmus (rather than the 430-mile trip around it), made necessary several bridges, which in turn provide opportunities for bungee jumping, since they are about 150 feet above the water level. (Now the 70-foot wide canal is impractical for most ships.)
When we got back to Athens, we swung by the first hotel for one of the tour group to get back the wallet and money she had accidentally forgotten in her room safe the first night. (This set of people are very forgetful and/or unlucky. In addition to everything I have mentioned, two people had to leave the tour early because the mother of one of them had died.)
We ate again at Smile (which was still unable to take credit cards--this seems to be a semi-permanent situation). The food is still good, though.
The Royal Olympic Hotel has two outlets near the desk, but lamps in the ones near the bed. I understand that the Europeans had a lot fewer things to plug in when they built these hotels, but multi-plugs would be a big help. We have a multi-plug from Italy, but it does not fit into the recessed outlets that seem so popular here.
May 1: Today there is a general strike and a holiday, which means just about everything is closed. (I suppose we should have checked this before choosing these dates, but really, this was the only possible tour that fit our schedule.) Vivian searched quite a bit and eventually found something for us to do that was open (more or less). We drive south along Aegean Sea to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. We could not actually visit the Temple--it was closed like everything else, but we got a great view of it, high on a hill overlooking the sea--high enough that I suspect few would have had any real desire to climb up to it. This is the spot from which Aegeus watched for his son Theseus to return from Crete. Theseus was supposed to raise a white sail if he was still alive; his men were to leave the black sails up. You guessed it: Theseus survived, but forgot to change the sails, and Aegeus, seeing the black sails, jumped from the cliff to his death. (This is very similar to the Welsh "Prose Tristan" story of Tristan and Iseult, written in the 13th century. One suspects the author of that knew the ancient Greek legend and borrowed from it.)
All the ancient sites here seem to use the terminology "Before Christ", not "B.C.E." or even "B.C."
We also drove past fish farms and oyster farms and other scenic sights,
On our return we got a city tour, stopping at the Panatheneum (the stadium of the first modern Olympics). We also saw the Harry Truman Statue (which led me to wonder which Presidents have statues or eponymous streets in other countries), Lycabettos Hill and the Chapel of St, George, and the Zappion Megaron (which holds book exhibitions, fashion shows, press conferences, etc.).
However, many parts of the city were blocked for parades and/or demonstrations, so we may not have seen everything a tour on a different day would have.
We had lunch near the Plaka (kebab sandwiches) and then a Plaka Walking Tour with Vivian. When this was done (about 5PM), we did a bit of souvenir shopping, then had dinner at Indian Haveli, only a couple of blocks from the hotel. I know it seems strange to eat Indian food in Greece, but even the Greeks probably eat Indian food once in a while.
May 2: We flew home. What else can one say? Our seats on the plane had a 32" pitch, and a 22" width (2" of which is armrest). (I had forgotten to measure on the flight over.) This meant I was fairly close to the person in the next seat, who was really sick. He slept most of the time (waking up only to throw up. At least he was neat about it. Mark was concerned I would catch something, and I did have a scratchy throat for a couple of days, but given how many people on the plane were coughing, it could have been from any of them, and it passed with no serious effects. Ah, the joys of flying!
Miscellaneous: Why do I never have the things I need with me (e.g., tissues, a comb).
Things to remember:
Evelyn C. Leeper (firstname.lastname@example.org)