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This wall painting of Boxing Children was found in the ruins of the Late Minoan (Bronze Age) city of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini
October 1992 trip to Greece
After what seemed like a flight long enough to
take us half way around the world, we landed in Athens at night and were soon whisked off to the hotel Electra located just off Syntagma Square the center of modern Athens. After checking in, we went for a late night walk and suddenly came upon the startling sight of the brightly illuminated Acropolis off in the distance, eerily floating as if in midair. We could barely wait to visit this the BIRTHPLACE OF DEMOCRACY, the glory that was Greece in the Golden Age of 400 BC that produced an unparalleled succession of geniuses such as statesman Pericles, dramatists Sophocles and Euripides as well as philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle whose teachings have not ceased to influence Western thought and civilization to this day. After wandering through the quaint Plaka quarter with its maze of narrow winding streets and lively tavernas, we approached the crown of Greek culture high on a rock above Athens.
Paul and Donna in front of the Parthenon on the ancient site of the Acropolis in Athens For more than 2000 years the Acropolis has dominated the city with the majestic ruins of the Parthenon, a temple that Pericles had built honoring the goddess Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. We tried to imagine this place in the middle of the 5th century BC and tried out the hard stone seats in the Theater of Dionysus where the dramas of Sophocles were first performed. On we went exploring the city’s other landmarks of antiquity such as the Agora, the main market place of ancient Athens where leaders, philosophers and common people gathered to discuss current events and metaphysics. We walked through the Monastiraki Flea Market area and further on gazed at length at the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, the Arch of Hadrian and the original Olympic Stadium, site of the ancient Panathenian Stadium and the first modern games in 1896. We scaled the mighty Mount Lycabettus rising sheer above the city and walked forever (passing Heinrich Schliemann’s Mansion) to visit the National Archaeological Museum - one of the world’s greatest museums housing 2,500 years of ancient Greek civilization.
The Acropolis from Philopappos Hill
Delphi and the Island of Hydra
No trip to Greece is complete without a visit to
Donna at the Temple of Apollo in the Sanctuary of Delphi
Delphi, so off we went one day by bus, 105 miles from Athens. Rising from the heart of the mountainous Parnassus region, Delphi is the home of the most celebrated oracle of all time, awe-inspiring in its beauty and austerity. No wonder the ancient Greeks regarded this place as the “navel of the earth”. At the center of Delphi stands the sanctuary of Apollo and from there the narrow Sacred Way zigzags up to the ruins of the Doric Temple of Apollo. After being purified with water from the nearby Castalian spring, the priestess, dressed in full ceremonial robes, would utter her prophecies. The nearby Delphi Museum is, even though small, nevertheless one of great importance. The highlight of the collection here is the bronze statue of the Charioteer, dating from 478 BC. After booking flights to the Aegean islands of Mykonos and Santorini at the American Express in Athens we decided to pay a one day visit to the nearby island of Hydra by boat from the harbor of Piraeus. We arrived to find the island devoid of motorized transport, mules being used as the beast of all burdens. Most of the town and handsome villas with thick white walls and brightly colored doorways is only approachable up ankle breaking flights of steps. Near the top we found a very sexy house under construction and fantasized about owning it with its beautiful view of the ocean and little town below. Back down in the harbor we spent the afternoon sipping wine under the giant awning of one of the numerous sidewalk tavernas and watched the fishing vessels create a cheerful atmosphere of activity.
Boarding a small island hopping plane at the
Athens airport we arrived a short while later on the island of Mykonos in the very center of the Cyclades. A local cabbie raced us rudely to the hotel Ilio Maris which was facing the town’s famous windmills. We were immediately struck by the beauty of the white cubist houses, dazzling in the sunlight, with its balconies festooned with bright geraniums, narrow flagstone streets and countless tiny chapels topped with blue and red domes. And all around, the incredible blue of the sea, making it the great tourist resort, corresponding exactly to what an Aegean island should look like. Greek legend describes Mykonos as the grand-son of the mighty Apollo but nobody seems to know why they named this place after him. What is known is that in its 4000 year history, it has been occupied by Phoenicians, Cretans, Turks, Byzantines, Venetians and Romans. So why, after all these changes of ownership has Mykonos become a world class mecca of hedonism? Simple answer: glorious weather, beautiful beaches (nude or other-wise) and a steamy nighttime action scene. Eager to see more of the island, we dared to rent a moped and with high spirits put putted clear across the island to lunch on Greek salads and retsina wine at the secluded beach of Kalafatis. We made it back to Little Venice just in time to watch the most spectacularly lingering sunset we’d ever seen, while some haunting tunes by Kitara played on and on.
Donna at the colorful waterfront of the island harbor
What a romantic place to contemplate life’s vicissitudes We were suspected of perhaps being too in Alevkandra, the much beloved artist’s quarter also old to tour the island on that thing, not a chance! known as “the Venice of Mykonos” with round, white, thatched windmills with canvas sails in the background. Donna loved the sheep and their rock “fences”
Sacred Island of Delos
While on Mykonos we decided to visit the un-
inhabited sacred island of Delos, so by tourboat we sailed the 1 nautical mile to see what was once one of the most revered religious centers in the Greek world of antiquity. Now sadly deserted except for sheep and daytourists, it is still, in its serene isolation and with its great archaeological wealth, a place of enormous fascination. Delos is the birthplace of the twin Greek Gods, Apollo and Artemis, whose mother, Leto was relentlessly pursued by the serpent Python, by the order of Hera, the jealous wife of Seus by whom she was pregnant. She could find nowhere to rest until Poseidon compassionately anchored the floating island o Delos with a diamond column, just in time for Artemis to be born; in truly divine fashion, she helped her brother Apollo into the world the following day. In Hellenistic times a merchant community settled on Delos, which flourished even more under the Romans, as witnessed by the impressive ruins of public buildings and sumptuous private villas of that period. We tagged on to a French tour guide whose english Donna at the Terrace of the Lions erected by the Nazians was so heavily accented, we gave up trying to in the late 7th century BC. The lions, seated on their understand what he had to impart and settled haunches, face east in the direction of the Sacred Lake instead for glorious sight impressions.
Roman water system
Paul at the Monument to the Bulls
Another short plane ride took us to the
volcanic island of Santorini where the utterly charming Hotel Heliotopos, Helios(sun) and Topos(place) awaited us. Great poets have sung Santorini’s praises, from Homer to Elitis. A 4000 year history and the eternal rock continues to stand, rising proudly from the sea and guarding well the secrets of Atlantis. A crown of villages at a spectacular height faces the famed volcano and the evening sun which sets behind the sea. Phira is the capital of the island on the rim of the caldera it dominates. Most arrivals are brought in by lighter from the cruise ships and make the half hour climb by foot or by burro to the upper village, where they arrive with faces of puce and bathed in sweat; if you’re a sissy, a cable car ride takes only minutes. Santorini not only yields its name to the chief island but to the profoundly deep, dark basin composed of 5 surrounding Cycladic isles that form the From the balcony of our room in the Hotel Heliotopos overlooking caldera or “kettle”. Phoenicians and the caldera, I think I just joined the Greek gods on Mount Olympus Dorians settled here as early as 2000 BC and probably one of the first Minoan colonies. In 1520 BC a shattering volcanic eruption destroyed the civilization, creating yet another legend to add to the many Lost Atlantis myths. In order to explore the whole island, we rented a Jeep and went north to the charming village of Oia where I went for a delicious swim (amid floating pieces of white pumice) in the warm and crystal clea waters of the Aegean sea. We soon headed south for a highly recommended visit to the archaeological digs of Akrotiri, an amazingly intact Bronze Age town of 30,000 inhabitants, all of whom must have escaped the burial of their city, as no human remains or precious artifacts were found. Mealtimes on this, our favorite Greek island, sometimes were an extremely rewarding affair, with wonderful lamb dishes on the menu at Phira’s many invitin tavernas and shopping for historical artifac in all the curio shops became quite irresist able. In a gracious gesture at check out, our host, the hotel owner left us, along with the bill, a cassette tape of some Greek music I had particularly admired. Donna in Oia, Santorini’s most picturesque village and site of the sexy movie: “Summer Lovers”
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