Friday, 6 December 2013

Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki, Greece

The White Tower in Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece. Not quite as white as it used to be when it was whitewashed to symbolically purge the tower of a massacre that had taken place. Grisly. 

View from the top.

Ruins stretched out across the city, only above ground in some areas. There were excavations that were open to the public, but the gates were closed on the day we went. Still, you could see them from above looking like someone had peeled away the skin of the street to reveal the structural bones beneath.

We didn't spend much time there, as Yannick fell ill. I helped him eat much of his risotto at lunch.

Driving down the coast and onto a three pronged peninsula, we spent three days at a campground by this beach while he recovered. Then I caught it.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Biscuit of the Gods

Meteora, Greece

This was the view from our hotel room. I said upon arrival "Those are some damn good rocks" and that statement stands. 

We liked the English translation on this sign. 

The bell tower of the monastery. I had to put on a wraparound skirt that was provided, as mine was not long enough for their liking. 

That monastery can be seen here from afar. Lookit the wee bell tower. Innit cute. 

This monastery was the most popular, as can be seen from the crowds going up the stairs. Good thing they don't still use rope ladders like the original monks. If that were the case there might not be so many visitors. You can still see the worn down rock that has turned white over the centuries from where the monks climbed up and down. 

Mount Olympus, Greece

We drove partway up Mount Olympus. There were donkeys in the road. I ate a biscuit. 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

And then the CAGE comes down!

Landing in Igoumenista, Greece, we drove inland to Ioaninna. (Disclaimer: I may get some of the Greek names a bit wrong. And don't ask me how to pronounce them.)

The little streets of the Kastro. There was a small neighbourhood housed inside a citadel, with walls all around. It took us some time to find our way into the initial walls, and then the part with the Tomb had separate walls with only one entrance. We nearly gave up, but that's mostly because we heard it was closed on the day we arrived. 

In front of a religious building is the tomb of Ali Pasha. Not sure why he wanted a cage put on top of it. And in front of that is a very nice bin. 

A cafe with the ruins of older buildings next to it. Interesting that they need four chimneys. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Caves and Hagrid Houses

Matera, Italy

After the Amalfi coast we ventured east to Matera - a town with caves dug all through the hillside. It was a maze of paths and buildings above and below ground.

The cathedral was also fairly impressive. But what we really wanted to see were the churches that had been built inside the caves. 

Initially we tried to find our way without a map, but soon realised that we would become hopelessly lost. The first cave church we went to was allegedly the best. It was also closed. We thought it might have been closed for lunch, as were many places, but the lady in the information centre just said that it was closed in a definite way. 

You can stare at the view for a long time and always see new things. 
This is the view from a hillside that contained two cave churches. We could only find one of them. A kid had lost his family around here and looked very scared, but someone helped him. 

This kitchen has a rarity - an early spork. Spoon in one end, fork on the other. (It's hanging above and to the left of the little shelf-alcove hewn into the wall.) It was in a house that was carved into the hillside. The man who lived here also had an adjoining stable for his horse.

This was a temporary church used for a short time when another was out of service.
Upon leaving, a child saw Yannick and grabbed him around his legs, possibly mistaking him for their mum. I laughed. 

Alberobello, Italy
After Matera was a small town called Alberobello. This place had buildings with distinctive roofs, called trulli (singular trullo). I thought they looked quite like Hagrid's hut from Harry Potter. Not sure what the painted symbols mean. Most of the trulli had been turned into souvenir shops, and one of them said something like "Come Inside to Find Out What the Symbols Mean" but it was a bit creepy and we figured you'd have to pay so we skipped that. 

Even the church was trulli.

We stayed in a campground just on the outskirts of town. The receptionist informed us that there was a beer festival that night, and we ended up employing our earplugs. Judging from the noise, they had barely stopped to sleep before resuming the festivities in the early morning when us sober folk were stirring. Hard partiers, those Alberobellians. 

Very close by was Locorotondo which we saw in the evening. 
I quite liked this blue door.

The historic quarter was nice to look at. Here are some other tourists looking down an alley. 

This is that alley. 

Here we found some trulli delicious gelato - I forced Yannick to go back for seconds of the dark chocolate. It tasted like brownies and pudding. Though I did feel a bit ill after.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Herculaneum: Not A Good Day At The Beach

Herculaneum, Italy

Instead of the ash that swamped Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered in very hot mud from the explosion of Vesuvius. 

This means that they were preserved in slightly different ways. Some wood could still be seen, in roof beams and stairs. It was replaced by archeologists in part for structural reasons, seen here above the columns, but the original wood was visible in places. 

At the beach, excavators found the skeletons of three hundred residents who had fled there but were overcome. These piles of bones had been moved into alcoves that used to be boat sheds, and greeted us as we entered the site. 

Amazingly, you could still see the well-preserved trees around this impluvium. (Alright, alright, they're a more recent addition.)

After waking into this shop, Yannick paused and said that this was the view that a shop owner would have had thousands of years ago. We sometimes had humbling moments like this.
The pottery in these thermopolia (and there were many of them) were much more intact than in Pompeii. We did wonder how they got those big pots clean after scraping out the food and drink, considering they couldn't be removed from the counters. Such mysteries. 

Herculaneum had more buildings that retained their second floors. Even the roofs were intact on some buildings, unheard of in Pompeii. 

Gates were present here also, blocking us from entering delicate buildings. Behind me you can see those wooden stairs I mentioned earlier. 
One villa had a fully preserved wooden door, hinges included. 

The frescoes in this building were beautifully kept and I was glad this area was roped off so that people couldn't ruin them, intentionally or otherwise. I was astounded by how much graffiti I saw carved into frescoes. Never on ones this immaculate, but it's the principle of it. You shouldn't scratch your name into someone else's art. 
In a room off to the right of this photo, excavators found the remains of a caretaker still in his bed. Bit sad. 

The gods going about their business.

Herculaneum didn't take as long to explore as we expected. We rode back along the ghetto-like Neapolitan track and as we entered the campsite, happened to see that checkout time was 2:00pm. The time was 1:59pm. No joke. We hurriedly checked out and packed up our camp (a record time of thirteen minutes, including bathroom breaks). This allowed us to see the Amalfi coast one day earlier than expected. 

This was the photo we took of it. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Neapolitan Pizza is Not Chocolate and Strawberry

Naples, Italy

We had to get pizza in Naples, and it did live up to expectations (despite not being able to go to our first choice for lunch). 
We had worked up an appetite on a tour of the underground - old Greek and Roman wells, wartime shelters, an ampitheatre that was underneath varying degrees of modern buildings. Some passages were very narrow, requiring walking sideways, and we carried candles to light our way. Though we could have used a mobile phone like our guide, who spoke five languages and was still only in university. His English was near perfect, as apparently was his Swedish as he had lived in Sweden for six months and liked to do a thing he described as flat skiing (he could remember how to say it in Swedish and Italian, but not English). 
Walking around the streets of Naples was a bit harrowing. I thought that of all the places we'd been, we were most likely to be mugged there. But we weren't, not even a little, and though we had to wait out on the street for our turn to be able to get pizza, nobody pickpocketed us either. The pizza place claimed to be one of the oldest pizza places in Naples, and only made two types of pizza, but they made them well. 

We visited the archeological museum of Naples, and were dismayed to find that the fresco section was closed that day as well as some other sections. Unfortunate, but we had to go considering every other sentence in the audio guide for Pompeii said that the fresco/sculpture/mosaic that was there is now "in the archeological museum of Naples". As well as impluviums and compluviums, this was his most repeated phrase. 
I cannot remember who this guy was, but Yannick liked his expression. He has what I like to call 'Cheerios hair', which is lots of little ringlets that make his hair look like someone tipped a bowl of Cheerios out over it. 

A statue of Marcus Aurelius as a youth. I am trying to capture his bored expression. (Though he seems to have droopy eyes in most sculptures, so that may have just been how his face looked.)

There were many mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum, some of them very detailed. 

Here is the mosaic of Alexander the Great fighting off the Persian king Darius. Difficult to imagine that I studied this in school and university, and there it is. The house that this mosaic was found in took up a whole block in Pompeii, and was quite an elaborate habitation.

The metro, we discovered, didn't work. Or more accurately, we would not figure out how to work it. And the most useful bits were still under construction. Despite this, we found our way around just fine and managed to get a train back to Pompeii and our campground.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Pompeii

Pompeii, Italy

The archaeological site was less than a five minute walk from our campsite. I could hardly believe that we were actually at Pompeii, one of the best preserved (and probably most well known) ancient towns in the world. 

There were a few bath complexes on the site. This room was a changing room - you would put your discarded clothes into those alcoves on the wall and change back into them later. Between each of these was a carving of a strong little man holding up the top of the shelf. You could see the different textures of clothes they were carved wearing. Some looked like cloth, some fur, and some scale. 

And I thought the curbs in Wellington were tall. 
The roads were used partly as a drainage system. At intervals there were stepping stones so nobody had to get their feet wet crossing the road. 
At the edge of the site, we saw a couple of ambulances in case of emergencies. They had been designed with tall thin wheels so that they would be able to manoeuvre around these stones. 

A villa on the outskirts of town. 

The Villa of Mysteries. Parts of this building were roped off due to renovations, but what we did see was incredibly well preserved. 
There were stray dogs sleeping and roaming all over Pompeii. A sign at the entrance advised against any contact with them. This one was in a roped off area - lucky dog. 

The town had two theatres and an ampitheatre. It was definitely of a decent size in its day, which I wasn't expecting. I had imagined it to be quite a small town, but it had the population for several baths as well as several theatres. 

This fresco was in the House of Menander, so called because of this guy. The paint is still very discernible, showing a reclining man with a scroll. 

Most of the houses had impluviums, which is where rainwater is collected from a hole in the ceiling called compluviums. The audio guide told us this for every single house we visited (except the sole house that did not have an impluvium). 

A ray of sunshine in through the compluvium. 
Many of the houses were gated off, probably for renovations. We stared longingly in through the bars, the audio guide up to our ears listening to all the great things that were in the room right around the corner and out of sight. Despite the roped off and gated parts, we still saw so much and it was well worth it. I just hope to return one day when more is on display. 

The Romans liked their hot food. They would eat lunch out of their homes, often in places called a Thermopolium. In the holes in the counter were clay pots holding food and drink. The audio guide told us that Romans liked this thing described as a "pickle made of fish". Sounds yummy. 
We needed sustenance ourselves, as we ended up walking around Pompeii for eight and a half hours. Prosciutto sandwiches do the job. 

Mount Vesuvius behind the temple of Jupiter and the forum. It is a tragedy that the volcano erupted and killed so many people. At least the ruins were preserved. Thanks for all the ash, Vesuvius. And the mud, but we'll get to that later.