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Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

I so much enjoyed island-hopping The Cyclades on an archaeology trip two years ago that I pounced at the chance of doing the same in The Dodecanese. This one also allowed for overnighters in Athens both ways, and also took in Samos, technically not part of this chain, but hey…..

Here’s a link to some photos, well a lot of photos, because that’s what it deserves ………… https://photos.app.goo.gl/eMwTcWA6FgB5A4ex9

You have to sympathise with the Greeks. Let down by their governments and the EU, no sign of ever paying off their debt and refugees still using their island coasts as their entry point to Europe. They deserve our support and I for one was happy to make another small contribution to their economy. The islands seem to be faring better than the mainland, as they get a much higher number of tourists per capita, and tourism is just about the only industry left. Athens is faring better too, as we found on the outward stopover, as the city is still a magnet for tourists around the world, and rightly so. Our visit was specifically to see the new(ish) Acropolis Museum, built next to the hill, housing the artefacts found there and affording views of it, the top floor the footprint of the Parthenon with whatever they have in situ. The entrance to the galleries is like that of the Parthenon; it’s a brilliant building with stunning contents; well worth a stopover.

Samos lies virtually parallel with Athens, just a few hundred metres off the coast of Turkey, an island of just 30,000 people. It’s famous for being the wedding venue of Anthony and Cleopatra, who I’d seen on stage just two weeks before! Amongst it’s surprises is a successful wine industry. It now seems to be favoured by German sun-worshipers, a relatively small number still there at the fag-end of the season. We stayed just outside the old capital, now renamed Pythagoreio after the local mathematician who went global with his theorem, on the south of the island, built on the Greco-Roman ruins whose walls were still visible, the finds in their outstanding archaeological museum. The recent refugee influx was evident in the present capital Vathy, a bigger town on the north coast, rising from the sea and climbing the mountains (we did it in reverse!), with a lovely harbour and another excellent archaeological museum. Near Pythagoreio we were able (me just!) to enter the 2500-year-old 1 km long tunnel which contained an aqueduct to bring spring water from the north of the island; an extraordinary achievement. Nearby the sanctuary of Hera, Zeus’ wife, showcased her cult with the ruins of a temple three times the size of the Parthenon, where 100 oxen were regularly slaughtered in their ceremonies. With a good archaeologist and more than a modicum of imagination, it came alive.

The ferry to Patmos, our second island, was delayed and mostly in the dark, so we could hardly see the islands of Aganothisi and Arki where we stopped, but as the latter had a population of 44, I suspect there wasn’t a lot to see anyway. The Aegean sunset was some recompense. This island has a population of just 3000 and the visit brought a change from archaeology to religious history. At the top of the hill overlooking the main town there was the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, and below this a cave church where St. John is believed to have had his revelation. A service was in progress when we visited, but we were welcomed and it enhanced the visit, even for a non-believer like me! A lovely wander through the hilltop Hora was the icing on the cake of a brief but unexpectedly delightful overnight visit before we continued our archaeological pilgrimage by ferry to Kos, with stops at Leros and Kalymnos.

A much busier island, though still only a population of 30,000, this came as a bit if a shock to the system. We spent the first full day in the town of Kos, built amongst the Greco-Roman ruins, not unlike Pythagoreio, but on a larger scale with Ottoman and 20th century Italian additions. The overgrown agora was hugely atmospheric and the Casa Romana a brilliantly reconstructed Roman home. One of the surprises of this trip has been the revelation (well, to me) that, in addition to Roman occupation, the Italians occupied these island in the 20th century, until after the Second World War in fact. The following day we explored the island, visiting another spectacular early Greek site at Asclepion, a healing centre dedicated to Apollo’s son of the same name. The setting was spectacular and the climb through three terraces gave you a real feeling for the place. At Kefalos a couple of small basilicas had a lovely beach setting with a picturesque off-shore island adding to the charm, and at Antimachia, a ginormous crusader fortress (the Knights of St. John) dominated all around. Our last morning was spent at yet another fine archaeological museum, looking at the finds from the sites we’d visited.

On to Rhodes with stops at Nisyros, Tilos and Chalki, an island I’ve wanted to visit for decades. A much bigger and busier island, pop. 115,000, and it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the old walled town of Rhodes and its harbour, a lovely collection of buildings from many historical periods. Walking the entire dry moat – a few kms – was exhausting but satisfying, but not as exhausting as the climb to the LIndos acropolis, but I managed it! The views were more stunning than the ruins, but with a tightly packed white village at the foot of the hill too, visiting is a must, despite the surprisingly large off-season crowds.

When I was last in Athens in 2004, the National Archaeological Museum was closed, to be spruced up for the Olympics, and on my previous visit 24 years before that, I wasn’t so interested in archaeology, so I spent an extra two days there on the way home to see it, and also took in the Byzantine Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art and a return to the Benaki Museum. By the end I was all museumed out, but it had to be done; the National collection is one of the greatest in the world.

The sun shone, the sky was clear and the seas relatively calm. Add in excellent rustic food, a little too much wine and good company and it proved to be a fine trip indeed.

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It’s just over 40 years since I visited Crete, a lovely villa party in Agia Galini on the South coast. I remember visiting Knossos, walking the Samaria Gorge and getting stranded at the bottom and spending the whole night on the veranda after too much retsina. This was a much more grown up Minoan archaeology tour. Can you have too much Minoan archaeology? Well, maybe, but with good weather, fine company and good food & wine…..

Crete is Greece’s largest and most southernmost of its 166 to 227 inhabited islands (no-one appears to have done a proper count, not even the EU, it seems), the fifth largest island in the Med. It’s only 160 miles from Athens, but not much further from the African coast. A very mountainous island, reaching up to 8000ft, it’s long (160 miles) and thin (between 7 and 37 miles). The population is only 600,000 but there way more goats and beehives and 35 million olive trees!

First inhabited 8000 years ago, it’s the origin and home of Europe’s first great civilisation, the Minoans, who lasted for almost two thousand years, pre-dating both the Greeks and Romans by almost a thousand years, and exceeding the longevity of both. British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans is regarded as the godfather of Minoan archaeology, his partial reconstructions controversial, but responsible for ensuring everything stayed where it was found on Crete, unlike just about any other find in the world. There are palaces, towns, villas, cemeteries and museums full of astonishing finds. Lets start with some photos:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/70FvToq1zYE5uHYs2

We based ourselves first in Heraklion, where we visited the wonderful archaeological museum and nearby Knossos, the palace at the centre of the civilisation with Evans’ partial reconstructions, the Phourni Cemetery and the villa at Vathypetro, with finds in the Arhanes Archaeological Museum. We also ventured south to the Minoan town of Gortyn, the palace of Phaestos and the villa at Agia Triada. On our return, the sand-laden Sirocco wind had turned the air orange and deposited a significant chunk of the Sahara on the land. It was a three-day total immersion that I struggled to keep up with, but the boozy late lunches and dinners helped – Crete has an excellent rustic cuisine with goats cheese, olives, salad and vegetables dominant, and decent local plonk.

Our journey East to our second base, Sitia, took in another Minoan palace at Malia and another Minoan town at Gournia, popping into the popular coastal town of Agios Nikolaos for a non-Minoan break. One of the finest days saw us cross the spectacular mountains to the rarely touched East coast for another Minoan Palace at Zakros, close to both the beach and the mountain gorge. There was a treat on the way home, at the hugely atmospheric Toplou monastery, which now only appeared to have a couple of monks. Back in Sitia, on a sleepy Sunday, Greek Independence Day meant site closures but offered a street parade of just about every school, service and association, in costume or uniform, with a randomness and slickness in keeping with a Mediterranean island rather than a European state.

It was a long journey to our third base in the far West, Chania, but we broke it with a visit to Evans’ atmospheric 1906 Villa Ariadne and the lovely Venetian port of Rethymnon; oh, and another of those spectacular late lunches. Chania was our best hotel, the Kydon, right on the edge of the old town, which we explored after a hazy but lovely visit to Greco-Roman ruins, a Byzantine monastery and a Turkish fort at Aptera, a deeply moving visit to the Commonwealth War Graves at Souda Bay and another lovely visit to a Byzantine monastery on the Akrotiri Peninsula.

I did overdose a bit on Minoan ruins, but Evans’ reconstructions and the extraordinary museum exhibits brought the civilisation alive for me. The big revelation was Cretan cuisine, unique in Greece and Europe and appallingly underrated. A busy but lovely trip, and great to revisit after all those other places in-between.

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