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March 30, 2008

Night and Morning in Nafplio

nighttime in Nafplio, Greece
windows open
to sleep with delicious fresh air
instead of stale smoke remains
breathing like camping

but noisy

cats
yowling
keening
wailing
hissing
growling
snarling

dogs
barking

truck
beepily backing up

people
laughing
talking

heels
slapping on pavement

cars

motorbikes


morning in Nafplio
open the pumpkin-colored shutters
to a sparkling
clear
bright blue
day

ruined castle walls
still stand firm
up on the hill

sunshine streams
over the balcony

cats are still yowling
poor things

March 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 29, 2008

Truly Ancient Mycenae

AncientmycenaeMy Ancient Mycenae photos start here on Flickr. Click the arrows to the right on Flickr to see the rest.

Just to make sure we got in enough exercise today after our three-hour hike up to the Palamidi Fortress this morning, and because 1711 is such a recent date for Greek ruins, we visited Ancient Mycenae this afternoon to complete today's sight-seeing. Some of the ruined buildings in Mycenae (Mykínes in Greek) were built and inhabited in 1950 BC!!! Almost 4,000 years ago...that's pretty amazingly old for a town. Its decline began about 1200BC - so the Ancient Romans of a thousand years or so later used to visit Mycenae as a tourist site themselves!

The setting is another fabulously gorgeous one - nestled between two outstanding, pleasantly shaped, huge hills, and on another lower one itself, overlooking the plains to the west and south, the Aegean Sea (or perhaps it is the Sea of Crete, or just an inlet of the Mediterranean), and mountains with at least one snowy peak (even in March) in the distance. I could live up on that hill - I see why they picked this spot for Agamemnon's city.
LiongateemilyWe arrived only 20 minutes before closing time (it closes at 3pm in the off season), and they let us in for free, expecting us only to make it to the Lion Gate entrance before having to turn back - but we strode quickly all the way up to the top (nothing compared to the morning's cliff climbing). Well worth the wind-swept view. Another astoundingly beautiful Greek place. I love the contours here!

Travel Notes for today:

1. It's really neat how in Greece people up to age 19 are let in to all the archaeological sites and museums for free. Yay, Greek price-setters!

2. They have Carrefour stores in Greece (a supermarket chain from France - we shopped there when we lived in Montpellier, France in 2005-6). We picked up some lunch items at the Argos Carrefour. Fun to see a familiar chain.

3. Stop signs in Greece seem to serve in an advisory capacity.

4. Nafplio is home to a large population of cats (David saw eight at one time this morning outside our window). Apparently there is a law in Greece (as we were told by our innkeeper) that permits a household no more than three cats each, but a neighbour is not in compliance at this time. Cats and dogs around here take shelter in the shade of parked vehicles, or sometimes just lounge in the roads and hope the cars will go around them. Alternately, some energetic dogs run alongside the cars and motorbikes for fun. It's a bit alarming!

March 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Palamidi Fortress at Nafplio

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My Palamidi Fortress photos start here on Flickr. Click the arrows to the right on Flickr to see the rest. If you are marked as "friend" or "family" on Flickr, you will be able to see more photos with our faces. If you have met me face to face and you want this capacity but don't seem to have it yet, add me as a contact on Flickr or let me know your Flickr username in a comment here or in an email.

Our legs might just be a little sore tomorrow. We spent three hours this morning climbing what we ascertained to be about 892 steps up the cliff face to Palamidi Fortress (or 939, depending on where you start and end your count - there are plenty of steps to choose from), and then clambering all over its fascinating grounds. What a wonderful place! I highly recommend it on a visit to the Pelopponesus. It was built in 1711-1714. The fort commands a 360° view over the sea and the town of Nafplio far (far, far) below, and the other nearby hills and distant mountains. It is an endless maze of stone stairways with no railings, but plenty of dropoffs to the sea, unruly wildflower/rock gardens, and archways, with the occasional dark, cramped, claustrophobia-inducing dungeon, and several proudly flapping Greek flags. It seriously seems to go on forever - over every ridge of crumbling walls there are more above or below...the farther up and in you go, the fewer people share your windy hike, and the more peaceful it gets. You just have to remember there are 892 steps to go down again when you're done with your tour (the self-guided, adventurous tour including many steps of its own in addition to scrambling over rocks).
PalamidiwindowtoaegeanPalamidisteephilltosea

March 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 28, 2008

Now in Nafplio, Greece

Or Nafplion, or Nauplio (or Nauplie in French, as we discovered on tonight's menu). Transliterating is such fun.

GoatsoncomingcarGoatssteephillThis afternoon we drove 3.5 hours in the rain over mountain passes and through tiny villages on cliff edges, from the western to the eastern side of the Peloponnesus: from Olympia to Nafplion. At a particularly high elevation, the temperature got down to 4 degrees C (39F), and there was fresh snow on a nearby mount. The forested hills and deep rocky gorges were breathtaking all along the way. I also discovered why freshly squeezed orange juice is available at every restaurant in Greece that we've hit so far: there were many orange groves in the plains and plateaus we passed through. Hmmm, snow and oranges? Doesn't seem to go, does it? What can I tell you. I saw them both with my own eyes in the same afternoon.

How do you like these goats who were occupying the narrow road in front of us with a cliff on one side? Do you think there's room for the oncoming car to pass us? The goats thankfully cleared off the road and down the cliff!

Nafplio is a seaside town on a little peninsula in Argolikos Bay, on the mid-eastern coast of the Peloponnesus. It was the capital of Greece from 1829 to 1834, and dubiously boasts that the first Greek president was assassinated here. We are staying in a 5-room hotel in the old part of town, where the roads are impossibly narrow, but cars still drive on them (all one way).

Tonight we walked down to the harbor and saw the fishing boats rocking crazily in the choppy water, and nets piled on the wharf - and then we ordered fresh fish for dinner. Fish that had been caught earlier today about two miles from here. Grouper and cod, both delicious with lemons squeezed over them and a few drips of drawn butter. As a starter, we shared a plate of fried calamari (even Emily had a bite and said it wasn't bad, but she couldn't get past the mental block against eating things with a lot of legs/arms; the rest of us loved them). For dessert, Greek walnut cake (super-moist, oozing with honey) and fresh cored apple circles in a diluted honey sauce with some sort of mini candied/sweetened apples on top. All delightful. All the people are so very pleasant.

Some essential Greek words we've been learning and trying to come out with at the appropriate moments:

Calimera - good morning
Calispera - good evening
Parakaló - please (and you're welcome)
Effaristó - thank you

Today has been our first rainy day, but it was fine since it was a travel day. Here's hoping tomorrow features weather that will enable us to climb the 800+ steps to the top of Palamidi Fortress here in Nafplio, and tour Mycenae and possibly Epidaurus.

Cali Nikta! (good night)

March 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Statue Likenesses

JestatueimitationYesterday while at Olympia, Greece, we stopped by the Olympia Archeological Museum. They had the entire pediments of the Temple of Zeus set up in proper position (in a triangle shape) along two walls. That was cool. You really want to to be the person in the middle, who gets to be standing upright, because by the time you get over to the edges of the isosceles triangle, the people are squished into a prone position due to lack of head room. That link is to someone else's photo, because although I took a similar one, exporting and posting my photos is getting tedious!

But this is my favorite photo from the museum visit - Jason and Emily imitating this headless, armless statue of someone.

March 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Outer Fringe

Olympiahotelgarden
The palm fronds wave lazily, the olive boughs shiver and intermingle. Chirps and whistles and trills fill the garden as little, pale, winged balls flit from billowing eucalyptus to safer grape vine. A trellis suspends the lilac-hued wisteria over the azure rectangular pool under the grey skies. In the distance, a striped ridge of rock forms the horizon and gives a sense of defense and boundary.

Opening the shades to this idyllic scene is a joy to be reveled in, as I praise the Creator of color and eyes, the Designer of sound waves and ears, the Maker of the universe and me.

"And these are but the outer fringe of His works; how faint the whisper we hear of Him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?"
Job 26:14

March 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 27, 2008

Olympia, Greece - Day Four

OlympiapinktreePlentiful chipper birdsong, bountiful multi-colored wildflowers, pink flowering trees, and a whole lot of enormous, ruined, marble column fragments: there you have Ancient Olympia on the western side of the Greek Peloponnesus. Having seen Delphi yesterday, I can now agree with Frommers.com, which recommends:

"Try to visit both Olympia, where the Olympic Games began, and Delphi, home of the Delphic Oracle. That's the only way you'll be able to decide whether Olympia, with its massive temples and shady groves of trees, or Delphi, perched on mountain slopes overlooking olive trees and the sea, is the most beautiful ancient site in Greece."

The verdict? Too hard to decide. Both are stunning.

You can see our Olympia photos in my flickr collection. You probably have to sign in, but it's free and quick. I'm experimenting with different ways to get photos online and share them. Do you like Flickr or Picasa better? The thing about Flickr is that I can share certain photos with friends and family only (if you're one of those, someone I know face to face, you can see more photos on Flickr, with our faces; if not, let me know and I'll make sure you're added to my friends/family list there).


JrunsolympiaOlympia encompasses the ruins of the Palaestra (athletic training centre), the Studio of Pheidias (the 5th century BC sculptor who made one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World which used to be here, but was "lost"), the Temples of Zeus and Hera, various treasuries, and, most importantly, the stadium where the Olympic Games began and continued non-stop for 1000 years! Of course I'm skipping a lot of stuff.

Best features of Olympia: abundant and happy birdsong, plethora of wildflowers, and opportunity for all visitors to get all their kids' energy out via footraces on the original Olympian 200 metre stadium race track (made of unmarked dirt with marble start and finish lines).
Travel Notes for Today:

1. Greek Foods at least one of us has tried since the last food update:
Ouzo (that would be David)
Cretan Salad (barley rusk croutons, tomatoes, feta, parsley, olives, onions)
Greek Coffee (grounds served WITH the coffee...that would be David again)
Pork Souvlaki (like shish kebab)
Briam (soft eggplant, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes in oily sauce)
Spinach square with crispy cheese on top
Cheese Pie
Fried Zucchini Balls
Cardamom Poppyseed Cake (at breakfast this morning)

To my delight, there is freshly squeezed orange juice available at every restaurant. Today at lunch the kids tried out the "freshly squeezed lemon juice" and had to add three packets of sugar to each of their glasses before they smiled about it! We loved eating lunch outside (we're not nearly there in England yet!).

2. Having fun learning Greek letters and their corresponding sounds. We've added the F sound (a circle with a vertical line through it) and the upside down capital L, which is Gamma (g or y sound). It was weird for me to realize that although I knew the name of the first four letters of the Greek alphabet in order:

alpha beta gamma delta

I didn't know the appearance nor the sound associated with gamma. Delta I remember from math. So last night at dinner I wrote encoded messages for the kids to figure out while waiting for the food to arrive. They had to use the guidebook's Greek alphabet page to decipher the English message (with approximate sounds for the English words). Then they wrote Greek messages back to me and David for deciphering. Fun!

March 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Notes on Greece, Day Three: Delphi to Olympia

EtempleapolloaboveAncient Delphi is in a truly beautiful and fresh mountain setting. I loved the pink, purple, yellow, white and red wildflowers, the steep rocky paths with occasional marble steps, and the scented trees. At one point it smelled like maple syrup! Maybe pine syrup would be more accurate. We spent about 2.5 hours walking around in the fresh mountain air, seeing the Temple of Apollo, the Theatre, the Polygonal Wall, the Stadium, and the various treasuries and victory monuments erected by people who had conquered other people. The view down over the valley was awesome. From across the road, at the Gymnasium (training area for the athletes of the Pythian Games who competed in the Stadium up the hill), we could see tall, snowy peaks to the West.

We've been using the Rough Guide to Greece and it has been of excellent service to us in enlightening us as to what we are seeing, what to look for, and how to get there.
See more of my Delphi photos with comments.

I also have put up some more Athens photos on picasaweb (close-up Greek tanks, more Acropolis and Agora photos)

PatrasuspensionbridgeAfter our self-guided tour of Ancient Delphi, we drove four hours to Olympia, Greece, on the Peloponnesus. What a gorgeous drive along the Gulf of Corinth! Snowy mountains across the blue water, cliffs and red rock, little Greek towns... We crossed the cable-stayed suspension bridge to Patra halfway through the drive. It connects the town of Rio on the Peloponnesus to Antirio on mainland Greece, and is officially called "Charilaos Trikoupis" bridge after the statesman who first envisioned it.

Travel notes for today:

1. We are lucky to have been born speaking English. It really seems to be the international language of tourism. Most of the staff in hotels, restaurants and museums speak it. I feel sorry for tourists whose mother tongue is not English - for example, the German couple at the restaurant at lunch today ordered their Greek meal in English... In Delphi, though, French seemed to run a close second to English - the hotel receptionist first asked us if we were French, and a lot of the signs and menus had French as prominently displayed as English (and Greek of course!). We are hearing a ton of different languages spoken all around us. A lot of Americans on spring break, but also Spanish, Italian, German, French, British, and some Eastern European languages I can't identify.

2. It is great to stay in a variety of kinds of hotels, in order to appreciate the best bits of each. The best bit of the hotel in Athens was the proximity to the Acropolis. Turn the corner twice and there it is! The best bit of the hotel in Delphi was the view from the balcony: blissful mountain and valley and sea of Corinth in the distance. The best bit of the hotel here in Olympia is the quiet garden setting on a hill, the prolific birdsong, and, well, the luxury compared to the other two hotels! Nice to fully appreciate it.

3. You can really spell Greek words any way you want when transliterating them into English, because they only have official spellings in the Greek alphabet (and maybe not even then). It's quite liberating.

March 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 26, 2008

Two Greek Surprises on Day Two

(written yesterday, Tuesday, March 25th, 2008)

SURPRISE #1:
GreekgirlflagtanksThe whole Greek military lining the streets of Athens in huge camouflaged tanks with artillery in abundance!

The streets closed off! The historical sites closed!

Yep, today is Greek Independence Day! (Date of 1821 Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire.) Did we figure that out before planning our trip? Uh, I hate to admit it, but nope, she says very sheepishly. Well, did YOU know ahead of time that March 25th is the Greek National Holiday? Unless you have Greek roots, probably not.

Experiencing the hundreds of fluttering Greek flags and cheerful festivity was a wonderful bonus to our stay in Athens, especially since God was gracious enough to let us go see the Acropolis the day before, and not have missed anything due to closures. We were leaving town today anyway.
DjehadriansarchacropolisTempleofzeusathensWe were on our way on foot to sneak a peek at Hadrian's Arch before checking out of the hotel, when we discovered the hundreds of military vehicles. I liked this photo with the Acropolis & Parthenon visible through the arch and tanks on both sides and in the middle. We also saw the ruined Temple of Zeus (the right hand photo) through a fence, but access was closed for the holiday.

Instead of David getting the rental car and bringing it to the luggage, we just wheeled all our bags for an 8-day trip a few blocks to the rental office, since the main roads to our hotel were blocked by the tank parade route. He was probably glad he didn't have to negotiate those tiny, car-lined, one-way streets anyway. Our street was lined with fragrant orange trees as well. We tried to avoid the fallen fruit with our suitcase wheels.

The rental car office was thick with all-day-long clouds of cigarette smoke from about eight employees who seemed to have not much else to do, and David sacrificially braved it while the rest of us considered ourselves lucky to stand outside in the chilly shade (whence we viewed the Greek fighter jets in their supersonic flights over the city!). He was the only customer in there, but it still managed to take about 30 minutes, because they insisted our reservation had been cancelled. They gave us a car anyway, but without GPS. Exciting to think about trying to find our way around Greece without it.
ChoppersathensIn the meantime, one of the employees came outside with his video camera to tape the air show (jets, black and red helicopters, yellow slower planes). He stood in the middle of the four-way, two-lanes-each-direction intersection to do so. The police officer blocking traffic one direction (the way the tank parade went) didn't seem to see anything wrong with that. One of the police got out of the car and piled on the back of another police officer's motorcycle, without a helmet, to get a ride down the street (on the wrong side of the divided road).


The Europcar folks drew David a map with directions on how to get out of Athens heading for Delphi. I'm not sure I could call it helpful:
EuropcarathensmapBut he remembered what they said and followed the directions, and pretty soon we were on a highway heading north. When traffic snarled up across the four lanes, a van made its own fifth lane between the rightmost ones. I guess he was in a hurry. It was lovely to get out into mountainous territory, passing town names like "Filadelfia" and "Metamórfosis" and the highway exits, which are marked "Exodus." After we passed the convoy of tanks leaving the city on carrier trucks, we eventually got out into beautifully desolate countryside, and kept ascending towards Mount Parnassos. On our way up, we saw goats, sheep, dogs, cats, and chickens by the side of the road.
SURPRISE #2:
FlagsdelfiDelphi/Delfi is way up high in the mountains, where it is much COLDER than down by sea-level in Athens. Somehow we didn't realize or think about this ahead of time either. Where's my ski jacket? Oh, at home in my closet. Emily's the lucky one - she doesn't seem to have a lighter spring jacket at this point in her life, so she brought the only coat she has: her ski jacket. Now she's happy. There are snowy peaks around us. We'll be layering tomorrow. The weather down in Athens was absolutely lovely - perfect temperature for T-shirts in the sun, and sweatshirts in the shade or when it was windy. Sunny and dry. It was super to have a balcony and have the sliding door open. A nice contrast from England where it was snowing the day we left. But I do adore the mountains up here. It's totally worth the chill! David and I took a little investigative stroll around the village before dinner and saw these festive flags.
IteagulfofcorinthFrom our hotel balcony here in Delfi we have a gorgeous view way down the valley all the way to Itéa, a little town on the Gulf of Corinth (the body of water separating the Pelopponese from the rest of Greece). We had a nice dinner (baked goat; lamb & spinach; veal & "local pasta") overlooking the same view. Tomorrow after we see the sights of Delfi we plan to drive across the bridge at Patra to get onto the Pelopponese and scout out Olympia.

March 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Amy Walker 21 accents

Back on the 8th of January, I noted that I am reading from the British twist on the New International Version of the Bible this year, and I mentioned the differently spelled words I had found in that one week already. Since then, I have accumulated a bunch more:

British American Where I found it
baptised baptized Romans
labour labor Joshua & Isaiah
honour/honourable honor/honorable Matthew/Isaiah
defence, offence defense, offense Job
enquire inquire Judges
recognised recognized Genesis
tumours tumors 1 Samuel
favour favor Isaiah
splendour splendor Isaiah
grey gray 1 Samuel

There was also a reference to pounds instead of dollars! (in a footnote on Matthew 18:24)

Then more recently I discovered that the British version of the NIV Complete Concordance has a whole appendix of all the words they changed for the British NIV - some are just spelled differently, and others are completely exchanged.

By the way, Isaiah is pronounced I-ZYE-UH in England instead of I-ZAY-UH like in the U.S.

Another difference I've noticed in England: they say ONE Peter or TWO Chronicles instead of FIRST Peter or SECOND Chronicles (and so on). Interesting and hard to remember to do when it's been ingrained the other way.

Speaking of different twists on a language, have you seen Amy Walker's 21 accents? I thought it was very good on all counts (except the area(s) you're actually from, where you probably notice it's not quite right... ha ha. It was like that with me for the French, but everything else I couldn't tell if it wasn't perfect).

And furthermore speaking of different backgrounds and cultures, check out this article about the idea of Bobby Jindal as a suggestion for Vice Presidential running mate. Hat tip to Julie Leung (she and my husband both went to college with Bobby, a real life nice guy).

March 26, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack