Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Road Trip to Delphi and Housos Loukas

Over the past two days, we had a road trip to Delphi, staying overnight (our only night for this trip when we will not be staying in a private apartment), in the small village of Delphi, and ending at the Athens airport when we flew to Heraklion in Crete.  It was a great two days, although the final few hours, after our landing, were a bit more tense than any of us would have liked.

Due to a confusion in communications with Andrew Bridges, my best source of personalized travel advice for this trip, I ended up seeking proposals from two similarly named companies that provide private tours in Greece.  Greece Private Tours, and Private Greece Tours.  Both had excellent Trip Advisor reviews (to which I will add, eventually).  By the time Andrew claified which of the two he hasd used, I was well along in the selection process.  In the end, after taking offers from both into consideration, I split the difference, using for the former for our daytrip to Mycenae and Corinth,  and using the latter our current trip.  Both companies provided excellent drivers; I would recommend either without reservation.

Our driver introduced himself as Ellis, but on further inquiry, he said that he just used that name to make things easier for English-speaking customers too lazy to bother to pronounce “Vangelis,” his nickname derived from the common given name Evangelos.  Our vehicle was significantly larger, a 12-seater van (three rows of three seats, one row of two seats beside the sliding door, where there was also a jump seat, plus a seat for a passenger beside the driver).

Vangelis invited me to sit beside him, pointing out that the leg room would be less there, but I took up the invitation – not only better views, but the chance to chat with the driver – good for me and hopefully it was good for him to have some company.

We had had an 8 AM departure schedules, but it took us quite a while to get the whole family and our bags down to the street and out to the van – JUST enough delay that we did not get going until about 8:50 – so that it was barely 9 AM when we passed Media Markt, and electronics store that carried a significant line of cameras, to replace the one that had been brazenly slipped out of my camera bag two days before.   Ordinarily, I would have done a fair amount of consumer research before buying a new camera, but in the circumstances, I came in with only a hope to find a Nikon DSLR (because I have a second Nikon lens) somewhat similar to the one I had lost.  Within a few minutes, with the guidance of a salesman, I settled in on a Nikon D5300; it took much more time to process the paperwork for the sale, and especially to get the paperwork to recover the VAT portion of the price – some 24% on the base price.  It was worth waiting for, but we were not on the road until about 9:30.

Our first stop was the statue of a lion

that commemorated the 338 BC Battle of Chaeronea in which Philip II, the king of Macedonia, decisively defeated the Greek city-states near the city of Chaeronea in Boeotia, ending resistance to his control of the greater part of Greece.  I remarked to Vangelis the irony in the fact that Greece was objecting to the use of “Macedonia” in the name of a country to the north considering that the ancient ruler of that country.  His response was that, as he saw it, Philip was not a foreign conqueror; Macedonia, he asserted, was just one of the Greek city-states, but Philip had the vision to unite a collection of bickering city-states in the interest of a unified.  A unique perspective on history, to be sure, but one that could justify the current Greek claim to the name Macedonia. 

Benaki Museum in Athens, and Excavation under the Acropolis Museun

Today was a day of somewhat limited sightseeing.  Our group divided somewhat; son Joe and I headed off to see the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture, the principal one of several museums founded by the Benakis family of merchants and political figures.   The Benaki had an extensive collection of art and cultural artifacts running from pre-classical times up to the present day.  Some of it I found interesting, some less so.

At the National Archeological Museum I had enjoyed seeing many miniature Cycladic figures – Benaki had this one

and the Mycenaean miniatures, similar to these ones from around 100 to 1400 BC

These Persian bridle handles featuring facing griffins came from the 9th century

 Moving to the Greek classical period, I enjoyed this two-sided “herm” – images of Hermes that served as road posts

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Some Highs and Lows of Travel in Athens

Our day today was both fabulous and awful.

The good part – we went to the National Archeological Museum, which has a simply astonishing collection of the art (and some other artifacts) recovered from archeological sites throughout Greece, many of which we have been visiting.  We began with the simple and yet pretty figurines from the Cycladic civilization, then into a room (actually four segments of a very large room) filled with the treasures from Mycenae, such as the so-called mask of Agamemnon, and then the development of sculpture from the 800's BC, the archaic period, through the increasing refinement of both physical portrayals of bodies and fabrics, the display of emotion in faces and scenes, and finally the individualization of faces and expression during the Hellenistc Era after the Macedonians conquered Greece and the long years of Roman dominance.  One amazing sculpture, funeral stele, bust, mask, or figuring after another.  We had lunch in the Museum restaurant in the square outside the museum, then headed in for more, including a completion of the historical survey – once again, I found the Rick Steves audio tour, downloaded from his free app, to be invaluable.   (Time to thank my high school friend Maureen Zupan for pointing me to that)  Then we looked at a special exhibition entitled the Countless Aspects of Beauty, drawing together some of the best depictions from each of these eras, as well as a quick walk through the museum’s collections of vases and bronzes.  I took many photos of the choicest items.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

Our main activity for today was a visit to the Acropolis Museum. And what a place.

It is a modernistic building

– quite a contrast to the monuments above.  Visiting shortly before noon, there waa a substantial line to enter through a metal detector; but the place is so big that we never felt that we were really crowded anywhere in the museum

The museum is organized into a floor of archaic materials taken from the Acropolis (and elsewhere) in the period before the golden age of Athens, then a floor devoted to materials from the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erecthyon, and finally a full floor devoted to the Parthenon.  Each had special treasures for us to see.

We began with an exhibit devoted to the FIRST temple to Athena up on the site, now completely in ruins, located between the Erecthyon and the Parthenon.  There were significant pieces of the old pediment of the building for us to see

A visit to ancient sites in the Peloponnese


Today we hired a car and driver (from the company Greek-Private Tours, for a day-long trip to visit ancient ruins in the northern part of the Peloponnese, on Corinth and Mycenae.  Our driver, Dimetrius, met us on one of the roads around the corner from the small lane where our apartment is located, and off we drove south from Athens.  I would recommend this company to others as a friend with extensive experience in Greece recommended the company to me.

Our first stop was at the Corinth Canal, dug out by a French company in the early 1890s, at around the same time as the Panama Canal.   In ancient times, Corinth had made its riches by being the site of a road across the isthmus separating Attica from the Peloponnese; otherwise merchant ships had to round the entire peninsula.  The canal allowed shipping to go directly from the Aegean to the Ionic Sea.  The solution did not, however, endure into the 2st century, because the very deep channel was dug much too narrowly, and the canal now serves primarily to aid pleasure boats and only the very smallest carriers of freight.

From here we drove to the site of ancient Corinth.  We paused first to look at the Glauke Fountain, named for the maiden of myth who was the victim of a poisoned peplos (dress) provided by the witch Medea to prevent her from marrying Jason (of the Argonauts fame), who was already married to Medea.  When her skin was burned by the dress, she could only be saved by falling into the fountain which extinguished the flames.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Exploring the Ancient Agora

We spent today exploring the ancient agora.

We were exceptionally lucky to begin, not in the public, ticketed part of the Agora, but, in one of the highlights of our trip so far, we were able to visit an archeological dig being conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.  This foundation-funded operation has connections to universities and liberal arts colleges throughout the United States.

We visited a dig in a section north of Adrianou Street, across from the ticket entrance to the Ancient Agora.  We had a guided tour from John Camp, the director of excavations who took us down into the site where dozen of college and graduate students, mostly from programs in Classics, were spending their summers unearthing and identifying treasures within the site.   He talked to us both about the importance of the excavations, showing the times when the Greeks were inventing democracy and refining its forms; about what the excavations have found as one layer of settlement after another had been removed to get down to the oldest occupants of the site, and  about what excavations are to come.  He acknowledged that he was describing plans that would be implemented by future directors of excavation, just as his own tenure had followed paths laid out by his predecessors going back to 1931.

He explained that the travelogue written by Pausanias had both been confirmed by findings at the site, and had enable them archeologists to identify what they were finding by reference to his wriing. We heard, for example, about the Painted Stoa, the main building in this area, which featured a painting gallery and was used for aimless socializing in Ancient Greece, eventually having been taken over by Xeno and his school of philosophy, who became known as the Stoics after the venue of their gatherings.  We were shown some inscriptions in stone at the edge of the dig area, and noted some of the buildings that would likely have to be taken down so that the digs could continue.  Although we were allowed to take photographs, we were asked not to post anything photographed while we were inside the dig area on social media (including this blog), to ensure that the national
authorities overseeing antiquities would have first dibs on everything found in this non-public area.
After walking through the area of the active dig, we stood overlooking the site of a former dig, on the south side of Adrianou Street, pictured below. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Athens Acropolis

Standing on the Acropolis at last

More than fifty years after studying ancient Greece as a college freshman, here I was, standing on the Athens Acropolis beside the Parthenon  (I learned later that there were Acropolises in ither ancient Greek cities, hence the title of this blog post does not have more words than needed).

It was our grandchildren’s first day after joining us in Athens, so again we started slowly; it took them a while to get breakfast.  We headed out for a late morning’s visit to the National Gardens south of the Greek Parliament building – the children climbed trees, looked at ducks and geese (as well as small collection of other birds) and enjoyed the playground. 

After lunch at the Oinos Restaurant along Odos Kidatheneon (nothing remarkable about this place), grandson Abe fell asleep for most of the afternoon; in the meantime, Nafisa’s best friend since high school, Martina, showed up for a surprise visit.  We sat on the apartment’s balcony, watching a hailstorm followed but a crashing thunderstorm.   But the weather cleared and we were determined to get to the Acropolis, so off we went, leaving at around 5:30 and getting to the ticket office shortly before 6:30.  The closing time was impending, and not only did strollers have to be checked at the entrance, but the check-in location was going to close at 7:30. OI was worried that we wouldn’t have enough time to see this key site.

But it was OK.  On the was toward the Acropolis proper, we paused to look down at the Odeon of Herodotus Atticus, a venue for musical performances in ancient times as well as in the present.

There were musicians warming up for a performance that very evening,

Our trip from Rethymno on Crete to Naxos

We rose at 5 AM in our Rethymno apartment for our drive to Heraklion, to catch the 8 AM ferry to Naxos.  The original schedule had c...