Monday, 27 January 2014

Too beautiful!

Polignano A Mare, Italy

This was one of the first towns we visited after coming back on the ferry from Greece (yes, I still have to post my Olympia blog, I'm getting to it). It was situated on some lovely cliffs that had been eroded away underneath by the water over time. Yannick informs me it is called Polignano a Mare. I am well informed. 
We had a wander around, and got some focaccia bread with cherry tomatoes baked into it. It was amazing! 


Trani, Italy

Further up the coast, past Bari (which we did not visit because we heard it had a crime problem), we came to Trani with its grand cathedral. Having a bell tower was commonplace, but an archway within the bell tower was more unique. 

That day, there was a wedding on at the cathedral. Still wanting a picture inside the archway, I walked in there and a large Italian man in a suit and talking on his phone tried to hide behind a pillar on the left of this photo. The pillar was a bit small for him. 

A pigeon resting. 

Trani had several churches in addition to the cathedral. By this one you can see a man filling up a lot of water bottles from the public well.
As we were looking at another church that we didn't get a picture of, an elderly couple approached us. The man said "Italiano?" And thinking he wanted directions, we said we only spoke English. Without missing a beat, he came closer to me and exclaimed "too beautiful!" And gabbed my nose, shaking it slightly. I giggled nervously and they walked away. It was exceedingly odd. Yannick still quotes the man occasionally, Italian accent and nose twiddle included. 

We ate gelato at an outdoor cafe, but it was quite windy and my hair kept blowing in it. Just like Wellington. There were a few tall flower pots by the gelateria and one turned into a flower pot of destruction! By which I mean the wind blew it over and everything inside it spilled out and someone had to clean it up.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Olympia

Olympia, Greece

The site of the ancient Olympic games, and a place for athletes to train. 
We went very early in the morning, which was perfect because by the time we were leaving, there were swarms of tourists flooding the place. The dusty trees and ancient rocks were a perfect backdrop - you could cast your mind back and almost imagine what it could have been like, living then. 

I was born in Olympia, but not the original one. Olympia, Washington. I kept telling Yannick "I was born here!" and I'm not sure why I found it so funny. 
They laid out a lot of the ruined stone in lines. Perhaps they were organising it so that they can put it back together one day. 

This was a monument dedicated to Philip, Alexander the Great's father, and their family. It was built after Philip won the Battle of Chaeronea. The structure is called a Philippeion. Awesome. Maybe someone will build me a Neciaeion one day. 

This was the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the statue of Zeus. The statue itself was immensely tall, and covered in ivory and gold. It was built by a dude called Phidias and took him about 12 years to finish. When times got economically tough for Greece, they started selling off the ivory and gold. Eventually the statue was completely destroyed, though historians aren't sure quite how it happened.

That little figure dressed in orange was a woman who kept doing very energetic poses and making her husband photograph her. 

The shade from the overhanging trees cast the site in a pleasant gloom, and it also kept us from overheating in the Greek sun.


We visited the museum on the site, and Yannick and I cracked up about how this guy looked like he was talking on a mobile phone. Yeah, we appreciate art and stuff. (Also, he has Cheerios hair.)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Agamemnon coulda lived here!

Mycenae, Greece

The place King Agamemnon ruled over in legend. An incredibly old citadel in the top right part of the Peloponnese. The whole time we were walking aroundthecorner he ruins, all I could think was "Agamemnon coulda lived here!" Unfortunate that he's probably not real. Then again, he wasn't a very nice person. 

This is a typical sight in the Greek countryside. Dry, a little craggy, with rows of olive trees and other green splotches of shrubs. Striking, yet more and more beautiful every time you see it. 

(Further south, we went to Sparta. I was quite excited (Menelaus coulda lived here!), however it was disappointing. Apparently most of the ancient history is gone forever, so no ruins could be spotted. It was just a boring modern city that we drove through. Such a difference to the Sparta that you read about back in the good ol days. Sure, a lot more bloody, but also a lot more interesting.)

If you look up Mycenae on Google maps, one of the first things you will see is Grave Circle A. This is said grave circle. No quite sure why the graves were put in a circle, but there you have it.


Koroni, Greece

I can't remember how, but somehow we came across a little town called Koroni, in very south of the Peloponnese. We drove through Kalamata on our way there, but did not purchase any olives, as you can buy olives anywhere in Greece. 

Koroni was a quaint little town. The evening we arrived, we walked down to the waterfront along a jumbled path and ate souvlaki while homeless cats stared at us. One of them was particularly mangy, but also endearing, most likely because it was a cat and cats are generally cool. Our table was so close to the sea that if I had moved my chair less than one metre to my right, I would have been in it. 

In the morning, we went down to the same restaurant and had breakfast. Bees joined us, of course, but the cats did not. 

The beach was lovely and unlike most beaches, provided some shade. We spent the whole morning there before we had to get back in the car to head north again, this time to Patras to catch the ferry back to Italy (oh how I love ferries). 

For some reason, there were loads of people at the other side of the beach, and we had our side all to ourselves. It seems the Greeks did not want shade unless it came from their umbrellas. 

I've just now remembered that when we stayed in Thessaloniki, the man at the counter in our hotel pulled out a map and showed us lots of good places to go. Koroni might have been his idea. His English was very good, however at one point he started talking about 'Icelands' and I got a little confused. Worked out that he meant islands when he started pointing to them on the map. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Athens: Badger, Yoghurt, Hadrian

Athens, Greece

The fabled death mask of Agamemnon! Not knowing it was held at the National Archaeological Museum, it gave me a bit of a fright when I saw it. As always, seeing things you have studied at university in person is a strange experience. 

My favourite item in the museum was this little guy. We thought he looked like a badger, though archaeologists believe him to be either a hedgehog or a bear. Isn't he cute!

The acropolis. We went first thing in the morning and it was crowded with people. We could not move on some occasions when we were trapped on all sides by slowly moving bodies, mainly of middle aged fellows in brightly coloured shoes and part of a tour group, the lead of which held an umbrella or other object above their head so that the rest of the group didn't get lost. 

There was still a bit of reconstruction going on, but what was available to see was amazing - huge structures dedicated to the gods. It's interesting how religion has had such an enormous impact on architecture.

We had a snack at the Acropolis Museum's cafe. Greek yogurt. It had a very different texture than I thought it would, and not like the Greek yogurt you can buy in supermarkets.

Close up!

The Acropolis Museum had built over ruins, and you could see them through cutaway parts of the floor. They were incredibly old, and archaeologists aren't sure why they constructed rooms in such shapes and configurations.

The temple of Zeus. Emperor Hadrian was a big fan of Greek culture, and visited Athens a lot. This temple was taking far too long to be built, so he threw money at it and it was finally done. Not much remains, but it must have been a monster of a temple. 
The acropolis can be seen in the background. 

Hadrian's arch - good ol emperor Hadrian constructed this arch to brag that he had completed the temple of Zeus. Fair enough. 

For lunch we visited the flea market, which had rows and rows of stalls. We didn't go to a taverna (small Greek restaurant) like we usually did, but to a cafe. I got meatballs on rice, which was super delicious and just the right amount of spicy. Yannick, who had a view of the window, told me that a second hand street vendor outside had his gramaphone fall into his head. When I looked, he was just putting it back as though nothing had happened. 

After lunch we tried to go to both the Greek forum and the Roman forum, but they were closed. We did get to see them, though, as it was only a short fence that contained them. 

Hadrian's library. Not only did it have scrolls but it also had lecture halls for public learning. We did get to go in, but we got shooed out shortly as it was closing as well.

We stayed in a campground outside the city. We almost didn't find it, as we were sure that the website had lied because it was in a very busy and industrial part of town. But it was there, and so was a bus load of Australians. It was so hot that we had to keep our tent flap open as long as possible, even after sunset, but the Mosquitos came in and we had to sweat it out. Knowing that this was incredible heat, I said to an Australian "It's hot, ae?" and they replied "Yeah, it's boiling." Australians thought it was too hot. Ridiculous. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Psychedelic gasses, and kittens

Delphi, Greece

The legendary temple of Apollo at Delphi. This could have been the temple that was built over a crack in the ground which noxious fumes poured out of to get the oracle high and tell people their futures. The temple was freaking enormous. Just look at that little person there on the left. 

Quite a good view. Delphi was rather ruined, as were most Greek ruins (hint in the name), but you can see the ampitheatre clearly still because it's close to the ground anyway. 
Much of the Greek countryside looked like this - dry and rocky. It took a little getting used to, but once you did it was beautiful in its own way. 

One of the many treasuries on he site. As far as I am aware, Athenians kept some money in here for emergency reasons, much the same way I keep a spare five dollars in my bag in case my snapper card is out of money and I need to catch the bus. Much the same, I tell you. 

This, I am told, is the most famous structure in Delphi. I can't remember what it is, but I'm sure it's another temple. To Athena most likely. Lots of rocks lying about. Surely someone could pick them up and try to put it back together a bit more than three measly columns. I'm not complaining, just saying that if they've got them there, why not have a go?
The temple (Tholos according to Wikipedia) was a little way down the road from the other stuff, and along the way we saw some stray kittens playing by the roadside. It was adorable and unexpected. And of course with Greece, there were bees. 

I leave you with a very unflattering photograph of myself, which I am posting because it's quite funny.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Waterfalls and Roadside Jesuses

Edessa, Greece

While I recovered from the mysterious illness, we stayed in a hotel in Edessa. It wasn't exactly on our way, as we were planning on going from Thessaloniki straight to Delphi, but it did provide a good few days of relaxation. 

On the morning we left, we went to see Edessa's waterfalls. The one above was the biggest and the closer you walked to the bottom, the more mist you were buffetted with. Those posing for photos before it had their hair soaked from the flying water, which provided a laugh. 

This is a roadside shrine. It's a crappy one. We did see worse, but Greek roads can get treacherous and pulling over can seem impossible at times. I remember distinctly seeing an even crappier shrine that had used to be painted black, and I made a song for it with the tune of Paint It Black. We nearly crashed because Yannick's eyes were streaming from laughter. Oh yes, I am so terribly funny. 

Clearly a better shrine, it's made to look like a tiny church. I couldn't help but imagine children playing with their dolls in it, and then realising that it wasn't children who utilised it, but grown ups. We weren't really sure what was inside. Some had pictures of Jesus and water bottles (holy water?), while some had jars and candles.
I hope you're grateful I went to the trouble of getting this photo - the grass was very dry and pricked my feet. I suppose I could have used a photo from google and you wouldn't have known the difference. Ah well, the worst bit was seeing a good shrine and saying "stahp!" but it was too late to stop. I believe this happened every day for a week and we only got this photo on our last day in Greece. 

On a related note, the ferry from Greece back to Italy took so long that when we thought we were in Italy,we were actually just at a different port in Greece. We were preparing to disembark when we looked out the window and said "You know, that looks an awful lot like Greece." 

I now quote an email I sent to a friend: "Now we're back in Italy after a bloody 22 hour ferry ride. It was meant to be 16 hours (grumble Greek ferries mumble). I will miss the taverna food, but not having to put my toilet paper in a bin." More on those points later.