Saturday, August 08, 2009

Day 10 - Perachora

Drove via Corinth, stopping at the Doilkos (ancient track for hauling boats across the isthmus before the canal was dug) then drove to the lake for lunch before jumping off the rocks at Perachora for a swim. This little cove was a Greek port, and has the remains of a Temple of Hera, a stoa, cisterns and underground fountains. Finally, back to Athens for flight.

Day 9 – Nemea

Morning jaunt to Nemea, one of the four sites (Olympia, Isthmian, Delphic and Nemean) for the pan-Hellenic games. The Temple of Zeus, has a few columns restored and re-erected, the baths were worth visiting with their spring-fed basins and pools for the athletes, but it is the running track that is special. Used by the athletes to get from the changing area to the track, it runs for about 100 metres trough the hill and has some interesting homo-

erotic graffiti (X is handsome) and ‘I win’. We staged a mock race then returned for lu

nch to Napflion for a great lunch (chicken in lemon sauce)

and a swim.

Day 8 –Napflion Museum

It’s open at last! For the last four or five years I’ve walked up to the door of this museum only to see a ‘closed’ sign. It’s taken them years to open what is actually a small museum, despite a hefty European grant. It has a credible slide show and some interesting exhibits, including the famous helmet and cuirass, but nothing special. Swim at north beach.

Climbed tto the Venetian fortress, up hundreds of steps, but the cool breeze and views weer worth the effort. I could see the group down below as specs in the water and on the rocks by the town beach. Callum keeps cool!

Day 7 - Swimming

Entire day swimming at sea lake beyond Tolo. Ate far too much calamaris and couldn’t eat anything for rest of the day. Can't say enough about swimming in the sea, especially in greece. I ahte swimming pools but love floating and swimming as the sun goes down.

Day 6 – Epidaurus

Drive to Epidaurus in the morning, one of my favourite Greek sites, as it is set among the pine trees, and the theatre, being the best preserved in Greece, has real presence. Ronnie sang from the orchestra and we visited the stadium, hotel and temples. Back in the afternoon for a swim at the North beach.

Day 5 - Mycenae

Sticking to our chronological schedule, off to Mycenae, through the Lion gate and round the north side to the eastern bastion and down into the dark cistern. I had forgotten how big this site was, and was glad that I had topped up in Athens in the National Archaeology Museum, where much of the Schlieman and later finds are displayed, including the inlaid daggers and gold masks. The beehive tombs are impressive, the largest unsupported arches in the world until the Pantehon. Swim at the huge bay beyond the fortress, but noise of beach party was a little off-putting.

Day 4 – Tiryns

They’ve changed the entrance to the site to the north and access is much restricted, so that it’s impossible to walk in, or even view the site’s impressive arched chambers. Even the guy guarding the site thought it was odd. For example, it is impossible to walk around the outside of the walls (mentioned in Homer), perhaps its most important feature.

Had lunch in the fish restaurant round the bay before swimming from the pebbly north beach, only frequented by Greeks. Tried one of the ghastly fish restaurants on the seafront in town for evening meal, but they’re awful.

Day 3 – Peloponnese

Next morning I got up early, on my own, to walk to the National Museum of Archaeology and was the first in, having many of the rooms to myself. The famous geometric pot with the funeral scene, the giant Kore, then my favourite Zeus/Poseidon? Bronze, showing the absolute confidence of Greece at this time. Apollo with the apple and the astounding Delphic charioteer.

We then headed back to the airport to pick up hire cars, with the usual rip-off by the taxi drivers. Then off to Nafplion in the Peloponnese. Lunch at the seafront Napflion Taverna,opposite the permanently docked grey ship in the harbour, my favourite lunchtime restaurant in this town. It’s the traditional metal trays of slow cooked Greek food. Once ensconced in our villa, just up behind the main square, we walked round the peninsula to the town beach. Ate evening meal in our favourite beef stefado restaurant in street behind main square.

Day 2 Athens, Agora, Acropolis, Acopolis Museum

We woke early and headed off for the Agora, always a good route to take if you plan to visit the Acropolis, as you can walk the Panathenaic Processional way to the entrance. The reconstructed Stoa is as cool as it was originally designed to be, with its Doric ground floor and Ionic first floor, a feature first seen at Perachora, which we plan to visit later. Where the ori

ginal shops would have been there’s the excellent Stoa Museum. The pottery collection hers is top class with some unusual pieces such as a child’

s commode. But it’s the objects that reflect Athenian democracy that amaze; the collection of ostrica (pot bases) inscribed with Themostocles name and the slot machine used to select

jurors. The law courts were here and various forms of Athenian democracy practised within its precincts. The other main building is the Temple of Hephaestus, a Doric structure, built after the completion of the Parthenon.

We then walked up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, at various times a Temple, Christian Church, Mosque, explosives store and now museum piece. Despite being, robbed of its sculptures, defaced by Christians, eroded by acid rain and blown up by the Venetians, it’s still a beautiful structure. The famous curvature of the stylobate, columns and cella walls make it seem light in structure but it would have been its external sculptures that would have made it seem like no other temple. After a walk over to the Erechtheum, a more delicate Ionic structure, set on the north side of the Acropolis, we headed off to the new Acropolis Museum.

We walked over the glass floor above the new excavations and paid the token 1 Euro entrance fee in the huge entrance hall containing little more than a cafe. The sloped entrance has a superb collection of pottery and sculpture, and the first floor, the kore and korai lead you past the famous Critian Boy. My friend David has a full size replica of this in his hallway. It was found as rubble in the walls after the destruction of the Acropolis by the Persians and has the slight gait, twist and asymmetry that pre-figures the golden age of Geek Sculpture. Then round to the caryatids a the frieze from the Temple of Nike with the woman leaning down to fix her sandle, her dress falling off her shoulder.

The top floor is less of a museum than a political statement. Like a shop window dummy without a dress, it’s largely a series of plaster casts from the British Museum, the remaining blocks being of poorer artistic merit and badly eroded. I happen to agree with those who argue for the return of the Elgin Marbles as they were robbed during an occupation, split an artwork in two and are remote from the building which they originally adorned. However, the propaganda in the film, with its Americanised narration and mispronunciation of Elgin (as El Gin) will do the Greeks no favours.

We walked back to the hotel from the museum and saw the other side of Athens. through an area North of the Acropolis that was full of young male immigrants, of all nationalities. The police were everywhere, and even although we were in Athens for only two days, we heard of the problems this was causing. They had recently flooded in from all parts of Greece, and the heavy police presence, coded operation Hoover, was attempting to contain and control the problem. The original residents have fled central Athens leaving a sort of immigrant ghetto. The abandoned Apollon Hotel has become an illegal shelter for many. Around Omonia Square, where there are many tourist hotels, you can see junkies and threatening packs of young men. This is a complicated issue, as Greece lies on the frontline of Europe when it comes to immigration from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and so on. Most arrive via Turkey as the Turks do not respect the bilateral agreement to repatriate, so the islands are being swamped by asylum seekers. Even though it only grants asylum to 1% of applicants, and has been reasonably generous in the case of Albanians in the past (500,000), it is experiencing a flood of illegal immigrants. The detention centre in Samos has 580 on hunger strike and the police are rounding up immigrants in Athens, expelling many. All of this in a country experiencing high unemployment, political unrest and the rise of extremist right-wing parties.

Day 1 Athens

Arrived late and took taxi straight to hotel. Taxi drivers tend to be a good barometer for the ‘business ethos’ of a country and I’ve always been ripped off by taxis drivers to and from Athens airport. In a country that depends on tourism for income, you’d think this would be sorted out. However, Athens was pleasantly warm and we had dinner on the hotel roof, with a view of the Acropolis.