Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tour day 2

Tuesday morning’s news was about the start of the two day strike in Athens.  Everything there was going to be closed, and no one knew whether violence would erupt.  We weren’t going to be in Athens, of course, but the strike was far wider spread.  There would be no banks open, no coaches from the cruise ships, and it was unknown whether the site at Olympia would be open, which was our main destination for the day. 
We set off driving over the mountains, which was very spectacular and arrived at Olympia about midday only to find that the site was indeed closed due to the strike.  We took a walk along the road leading to the back of the site and could see some of the site from there.  Our guide told us about the site and the history of the site, so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.  Our lunch stop was at a nice bistro where we were sitting under a canopy of vine leaves.  The rest of the afternoon was spent driving to our overnight stop, Delphi.  This involved driving around a very lovely coastal road with fantastic views.  Everywhere there were oleanders, mostly pink, which was very pretty.  We will go and see the main site of the Delphi Oracle tomorrow.
I must confess I am seriously missing vegetables – most of the food is meat and start (potatoes, rice, bread or all three).  The few times you do see a veggie it is frozen.  Except for tomato.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tour of Greece - day 1

Today was the start of our coach tour through Classical Greece.  First stop was the Corinth Canal, then on to Mycenae where the first thing we saw was Agamemnon’s Tomb.  They don’t really know it was his, but it’s the most elaborate in the area, so they think it must have been that of a member (or members) of the Royal Family.  It’s an enormous beehive shape, made of huge blocks of conglomerate, each row leaning in slightly further than the last until it meets at the top centre.  It was then covered with soil (and grass) to make it into an artificial hill.  Most impressive.  Then it was over to the site of the main settlement at Mycenae with its cyclopean (i.e. made by a Cyclops) walls.  It’s a giant archaeological site, and has been extensively excavated, but although I found it very interesting I must confess that I was more taken with the scenery around – lots of hills full of olive trees and orange trees.  Very beautiful.
After lunch it was off to Epidavros where there had been a temple to Asclepius (god of healing) and also a fantastic open air theatre (we were told it’s not technically an amphitheatre, but that’s exactly how most of us would think of it) with the most fantastic acoustics.  It’s the best preserved ancient theatre and it’s still in use for theatrical performances.
Final stop for the day was the town of Nafplio where we wandered around the old town for a little while, but most things were shut except for cafes, and restaurants that were setting up.  Interesting to look at, but a bit dead.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Exploring the Plaka

After lunch we set off the see the Temple of Zeus, but could only see it from outside a fence.  It seems that it was closed for a private function to do with the Special Olympics, which are happening here in Athens at some stage this summer (we keep seeing people wearing Special Olympics shirts and ID tags.  We did see Hadrian’s Arch on the way.
Next was a walk through the narrow streets of the Plaka.  Most of the buildings are either shops selling souvenirs or cafes.  It was also getting hotter and hotter.
Eventually we came to a lovely shady square with cafes and stopped for a cold drink.  By the way, when you order a cup of tea here, the milk is from a can of evaporated milk.  Most strange, but better than UHT milk.  Anyway, after the cold drinks, we looked at the old Roman Forum and then the ruins of Hadrian’s Library.  Both were interesting, but could have done with more information signs, or guide books, or audio guides or something like that.  Hadrian’s Library, particularly, was badly presented.  All the finds were just lumped around the place, with no indication of what they were (part of a column, part of a wall, etc.).  Still, despite that I really enjoyed it, but Andy and Tommy were fading fast from the heat.  So we found another café (with air-conditioning) and ordered drinks.  It was really amazing in their courtyard – all sorts of bits of old tile, stone and brick in the walls (see picture).  In the end we hadn’t left there before it was time to order dinner, which we ate there.  Not as good as lunch, and HUGE servings – so much so that it somewhat dampened your appetite.

National Archaeological Museum of Greece

We decided that the first sightseeing for the day would be to go to the National Archaeological Museum, as that was the only thing anywhere near the hotel.  It was really interesting.  Rather like the British Museum, in that there were galleries and galleries of exhibits, and not much information above the little labels for each thing.  But what things there were!  What really amazed me was some of the Bronze Age things, and even Neolithic statues and pottery.  Far more elaborate than anything I’ve seen coming out of the British Isles from that period.  And then I saw the remains of a bowl that had a rather primitive looking picture on it (see below).  I read the label and it dated from the 12th or 13th century BC.  That’s at least 3300 years ago!  Tommy’s favourite section were the Classical Era statues, and Andy’s favourites were the bronze statues.

From there we walked several blocks (several very shabby blocks) to the Metro station, and caught a train to the old Plaka area.  That was more like I wanted to see!  We had a nice lunch in a little café/restaurant.  I chose some very traditional local dishes – some fried greek cheese and some stuffed  vine leaves with an egg and lemon sauce.  Yum.  But Andy and Tommy had less traditional meals – swordfish steaks and shrimps respectively.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

We're in Athens!

Well, we’re finally in Athens.  The trip over was not much fun.  Firstly, I’ve never seen such long queues for immigration and baggage screeningn in Sydney.  They were REALLY long.  Whether it was related to the process of catching up after the disruption caused by the volcanic ash cloud or not, I don’t know, but once we were finally through after nearly an hour it was a bit of a rush.  So I would advise everyone to leave PLENTY of time to get through the formalities.
It’s been a long time since I was on a long haul flight, and I’ve forgotten just how tedious it can be, especially in economy. The first leg was rather cramped (an Airbus 340) and I couldn’t get any sleep.  But the second flight was in a Boeing 777 and the seats were a bit bigger, so I managed to get some sleep.  Some, but not enough, so we arrived in Athens at 6:30 in the morning tired.  But I expected that, so that’s OK.
We decided to go for the taxi option to get to the hotel (rather than the bus or metro) as we felt that with all the luggage it would be easier.  But we were approaching the hotel I started to get a bit uneasy.  It was a very seedy area, with prostitutes on the street, even at 8 in the morning.
Anyway, we went to check in.  The room wasn’t ready, but I wouldn’t expect it to be at that time.  They gave us a cup of tea/coffee and we waited in the lobby for about half an hour while they prepared the room.  It was pretty basic.  I can just picture what the Hotel Inspectors would have said about it! But at least we could shower and freshen up.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Countdown is on

Only 11 days til we go on holidays... way too much to do before then!