Almost an Athenian…

First day back in Athens was also my last with Deb, Marie and Al. I was unexpectedly invited along to an early evening soirée at their hotel roof terrace, which provided fabulous views down to the columns of the Temple of Zeus and up to the Acropolis. A fitting farewell after a fabulous week.

I was now on my third stop in Athens this trip so it was time to see a few of the originals from the ruins I’d visited a couple of weeks ago.

First stop the Athens Archeological Museum. It was a real treat. You could spend a day there but I got a good sense of some of the key pieces in a couple of hours. They even had a nice little Egyptian section.

I then decided to make my way to the funicular to get up to Lyttivos Hill. A couple of corners on and I encountered three buses full of riot police. They were piling out hanging onto their shields so imagining something was going down I got out of there rather quickly. As I continued on I noticed that all the shops looked long abandoned – they were half full and locked up with bars and chain wire. I’d thought I was walking through the uni area but realised it was a bit of a ghetto. Bought back memories of a similar experience in Bogotá, Colombia. Time for even more speed!

I was soon in a reasonable looking suburb but despite all the uphill there was no sign of a funicular ticket office. After asking a couple of taxi drivers who provided conflicting advice I was finally winding my way up to the lookout. The view of Athens made the hike up the hill worth it and it helped walk off the orange syrup and honey soaked cake I’d purchased in the way up!

Looking down on the Acropolis provided a different perspective, particularly with the sea in the background. It was starting to rain so thankfully the funicular was nearby from that end!  It seemed appropriate to finish the day with a fries laden veggie gyros in a Monastiraki Taverna!

I hadn’t yet visited the Acropolis museum so that was my main target for the day. Wow!  The pottery found around the city during excavations were amazing but the Korai, Caryatids, that were from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis were quite mesmerising. Only a couple are original with the others replicas (Greeks still trying to get originals back from the British).

There there were the freizes from the Parthenon. The museum had cleverly fused original pieces in with reconstructions to give you a true sense of the actual scale. More wows!

I’d spotted a cool looking spot in the airline mag en-route to Athens so decided to give it a go for dinner. It didn’t disappoint.  All traditional food sourced locally. The only disappointment was that the rooftop terrace was too cool (I mean in a temperature kind of a way) to stay for a drink.

I farewelled the guys in Filema, the restaurant below my room, with a lovely traditional Greek lunch. I’d eaten there before and one of the waiters had told me the night before as I was heading out that he liked my eyes – great marketing strategy.

After coming and going from the 1840s home shared with a few locals I’d become to feel like a local myself. Although waking to see the uncovered frescoes on my bedroom wall was a constant reminder I was in Athens, one of the world’s oldest cities.

I’d also had a little touch of my heritage while I was here. My grandmother, who was half Greek, had always given dad a layered biscuit chocolate cake for his birthday. Needless to say we all looked forward to dad’s birthday each year but I don’t think any of us has realised it is actually a Greek desert; likely handed down from Grandma’s family!

Now I find myself en-route to the Athens airport (having passed yet more ruins – this time in the metro) with a bag a little heavier than when I left.  What a wonderful holiday it has been – full of wonderment, mindfulness, love and laughter. There was nothing more could I ask for…

2477ACEC-632C-4E68-9882-FEA3561766AA

BB626AB3-69A9-4B4C-BCA3-0315ADDB8923

The ruins at Hadrian’s Library

5CDF7898-DB53-4E0B-B506-0270507637DF

9A80E327-0640-4A0B-BBDA-A158CE516CF8

Sardines – yum!

76F7B9F9-8C7C-4595-BA1B-AD3C02C12BE1

Just strolling past Hadrian’s Arch en-route to rooftop meze and drinks

4BABA6D6-C031-4D74-A45B-3A854C6D4E59

Acropolis mesmerising by day or night

AB2B3AF3-ADB8-413A-827A-627F1E9E2529

Ruins of the Temple of Zeus

9BEBE657-3CE4-459B-AB6F-3D587000F349

A fusion of frescoes and graffiti in the bedroom of my 1840s accommodation

D14AABF2-C1E0-469B-ACDB-EF6DBE9A3CA7

The Mycenaean treasures

A83BCC18-9C3C-4E22-A8A3-73B0BCF3A1D49D003D60-43F5-4CBE-BB6F-8983B3F86C93

E0B6AC63-EF12-4C49-B5C7-7CFDE9C4289D

Bronze statue of Zeus – 450 BC – uncovered in the sea

6F3AF76F-0959-4B1E-B862-94DD783CF626

53A63DA8-F8A4-4569-B51D-6CE2008D6B1E

Naxian marble statue of Kouros – 600 BC

4EF87688-89BE-49B6-B538-F0DC4DB61155

The Varvakeion Athena – truest and best preserved copy of the one that stood in the Parthenon – although it was twelve times bigger and naked parts were in ivory and the rest in leaves of gold

D9F9FFC8-C9FB-4028-8040-A5E67244FFE5

Vapheio gold cups

ADDEF89B-BF80-4112-8158-89E017C4AFC1

The mask of Argememnon – found in Mycenae – ~1500 BC

B443CC91-4E12-4EC3-8313-E2080C089C23

FE5B09AE-FF1B-42F6-BF96-7ACA32FEC02C

The Vapheio cups that inspired Picasso 

311BC73F-863F-484C-B992-2673904B3CAB

F340C629-C0DB-40A0-A95F-6BE54F491D18

Frescoes from Thira (Santorini)

08928222-A9D8-4F63-9E7C-1C3B92B2807A

BDD4B74D-3D57-4E44-8922-7C7172D2F660

Ancient glass – 3rd/2nd century BC

C19602B3-59D2-4089-AC74-8CF3F5C9ED93

Bronze statue of horse and young jockey also found from a shipwreck 

F545AFCB-B6D5-4BA8-A3DB-995F49285781

Hadrian’s gentlemen

8A6FF5D2-2F93-4ECE-BEE7-A969EA8EFA7E

Original relief sculptures from Epidaurus

8AEA887D-E144-4148-8D13-E57F9655A084

En-route to Lyttivos Hill

B237FD77-4EAE-4E5D-8242-12089B44C72A

Views from Lyttivos Hill

29EFC4DB-48E8-4556-A457-CCDF9AF04ED11E956C36-BED6-46EA-B608-B0B7837C14E575E906ED-3558-4513-B0CD-DF660BA456AA

29580D05-4328-4DE2-AE61-8F8D60F6EEA2

The Caryatids of the Erectheion on the Acropolis 

0D88FF34-16D5-4345-B0D2-07DA9F9CB3A8

DC3BED7D-DA7C-4042-89F0-4B8FE1D91D85

The omni-present Acropolis

EEC1EB32-240E-4348-989B-372485F7E272

Reliefs from the Acropolis Propylaia (entrance gate)

11F5AEE4-5CE6-4BA0-8485-F0170FBD44C4

64D25596-F049-4CF2-8125-DF50D31FEE0A

The city excavations below the Acropolis Museum

9B7CE9BD-D152-4F30-B083-2120A5B594A5

Life began here sometime between 3500 and 300 BC …a little while ago!

EEAC33E7-F5AB-4D80-ACC3-52D9404673C833C8BF95-7FF3-4C92-BC0C-F1BEE3BC3E6C

F634D5A6-EB82-4043-B4F9-9885BE123661

Tower of the Winds (used as sundial and wind vane)

B17DE880-CECC-49A6-8353-A13BE9071173

A great feed of seafood st Ergon House

38C3D409-13BA-44A6-803A-B3EBA0F394130E5EDD15-91B9-493A-A525-548880C5C5B5

0A73D8BA-F05F-497D-929D-CDED14ACBAE2

Filema spoiling me with their Greek rusk salad and zucchini balls as a final farewell to Athens

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Island hopping…

I farewelled my fellow mat buddies at the port of Naxos Island. I had a three hour wait till my ferry to Santorini was due to depart so I wasted no time in getting my luggage stored in the town, visiting the unfinished ancient temple and heading up through the old town.

I found myself blocking the way of an older guy who was trying to navigate  the narrow pedestrian laneways on a scooter. He signalled to me to jump on the back. I thought why not, it was all uphill so a ride seemed a sensible thing to do!  I laughed my head off when he reached for his helmet on the back of his bike because as he did this I thought how considerate of him to offer it to me since he wasn’t using it but he then proceeded to put it on. Must of thought I could become a hazard to him – thankfully we both got to the destination unscathed. I bade him farewell and headed toward the castle fort wall, which unfortunately was closed so I settled for a casual walk back down to the port town. It was quite a labyrinth.

Before long I stumbled into a shop owned by a Melbourne couple who’d settled on the island three years ago. I felt it was my civil duty to buy a pair of shoes from them.  Treacy and Bron who’d also gotten off at Naxos reported back that they had been made aware by the Naxion Australian of a shoe purchase by their fellow mat buddy! 

After buying the biggest green olives I’ve ever seen I was back on a ferry and heading for Santorini.

The port arrival in Santorini (the island is also known as Thira) was just as disorderly as the Naxos departure. After a bit of mucking around I finally found the spot for the bus stop to Fira, which would be my bus changeover spot for Oia.

Bus stops on Santorini are something else. The driver and ticket conductors are very abrupt and you almost fear you’ll be kicked off for breathing!  Needless to say it was a delight when Deb greeted me at the Oia bus stop with her beaming smile. Equally as lovely to see Marie and Al on arrival at the hotel. A terrible virus was making its way through  their tour group and Jeff had recently succumbed so I didn’t see him for a couple of days.

After a brief sighting of the Caldera of Santorini Marie, Deb and I enjoyed a lovely evening out and I had a late night wander through the town. I couldn’t believe the throngs of people I’d seen earlier in the evening. It was the end of the season but the number of cruise ship passengers on Santorini was incredible – shoulder to shoulder was not at all what I had imagined of Santorini.

The next day we were out on an old timber sloop Pegasus, for a boat trip (sadly only motoring). First stop was an island with more than 10 volcanoes. The visible sulphur gases were a reminder of the near and present danger. There were measuring instruments visible all over the island; apparently the inhabitants of Santorini would have a six month warning for the next eruption. The last one pretty much devastated the place in the mid 1900s.

Next stop was a swim in the supposed ‘warm’ waters that were benefiting from the sulphur springs – we didn’t really think there was much temperature difference until we had to swim back through the cooler waters to reach the boat.  Final stop was the island of Thirasia for a lovely seafood lunch perched on the water’s edge.

Some of Deb’s friends from the UK had arrived so we took full advantage of our private roof terrace to catch the sunset over drinks and meze. Some of us wandered out for some more drinks and were pleasantly surprised how peaceful it was once the cruise ships had their passengers back on board.

I’d decided to tackle the hike between Oia and Fira. I’d wanted to catch a bus to Fira and walk back to Oia (reportedly about 100m less elevation – believe me it counts!) but I’d left it too late for this option so headed off in the heat of the day. Unfortunately the Greeks don’t do walking trail signs very well so I had a little trouble finding the start of the track and then again in Imerovigli and Fira but with a bit of local help I made it in a cool 2hrs and 20mins. I was certainly motoring and the tears I’d witnessed of a couple of women and pained faces of others suggested they’d underestimated the walk. There was plenty of up and the sun was brutal when the breeze was blocked by the mountain.

That evening was very special but that’s a secret to be revealed later this month.  All I can say is that I found love in Santorini and that that the UK contingency were up for the after-party in my courtyard.

It was time to go shopping….it’s what you do in Santorini when not chilling by your pool or taking in the views with a drink in hand. Needless to say my suitcase was getting a little more dense!  The day was finished off with dinner and drinks by our pool with the tour group and of course a few more drinks out with my new UK friends Joy and John and Cheryl and Jonathon. Jonathan had been a little forward in offering sex on the beach, which I responsibly declined in favour of Amaretto on ice.  Laughs, laughs and more laughs…

Deb and Jeff were now feeling really well so the next morning we ventured down to Ammoudi Bay in the hope of a swim. The breeze had whipped up choppy water so only Jeff was brave enough to venture in. The Bay still rewarded us with a great seafood lunch which included their famed grilled octopus…delicious!

The tour group had been invited by the Papadopolous Family to a Greek wedding in Fira that evening. With the promise of dancing, merriment and a taste of Greek wine and appetizers who could resist?  It was a fun night that lived up to its promises – we were welcomed as part of the family and of course all named Helena or Costas. Couldn’t leave the Greek islands without a bit of plate smashing.

There is no doubt that Santorini is Instagram heaven for those wanting to strike the pose. On our way to Fira for the wedding I spotted a woman on a quadbike without a helmet zooming along while taking a selfie of herself. I kid you not!

I arrived back into Athens with the reality that my holiday was nearing its end.  It had been a wonderful week of love and laughs with wonderful friends from my first ever job and the gaining of new friends from the UK. Memories that will last a lifetime.

5C9A7767-F25E-4DB2-97BB-05F17736445F

A sunrise departure 

57A0BAFF-68DC-4BD5-B913-ECA4F7DA82F2

The farewell party at Naxos Island

7CFF9FBB-CAFD-401C-9214-0CE57F999D00

Unfinished Temple of Apollo

C01FAA23-32DB-4E2C-A875-E1EDABBF849A488DCC4D-DFA0-40DD-8799-A7319F2C152EE54FF2BB-6184-459A-87E5-957262F2EB6125CFBBA0-B5BB-4015-A4F3-2AAE44321AE4

45F6B411-697C-491A-B6AA-D44CB312613B

The lovely labyrinth of Kastro

C9FDCC9A-202B-4B39-AD32-AB571089DCDA2D534825-10D7-46C9-AE45-DD3514D411F8F46D2BAA-907F-42CF-8982-B6634A1A60AC8E0D5BCD-1B3D-47A4-8C46-16552E632D95DB5AFBDC-C892-4FE6-99B9-C15F44DFE3274DB401CA-46C5-4841-9487-2C009D38975D42FACD32-C936-4E58-8CA7-935FBC3A047F

E7154351-64FE-4BF4-8FB7-FDEB50FCB21F

Onwards to Thira (Santorini)

AF4B4381-06B9-4A41-AC45-CA8810ADA925

Rooftop drinks

C94A8BFE-D9D4-425A-BDD1-B39E2AC9EE71

Deb and Jeff on the road to recovery

536C0383-2AE8-474B-9B2D-5BCCB44FB562

Al, Marie, Jonathon, Cheryl, John, Joy, Jeff and Deb

02F93023-5F99-4AA0-B728-91B54A58EA6F

Sunset time

90FCED7A-DAC9-4534-A932-C253DD233220368F54FD-8FA6-4B58-A61F-0B4C08FF55BC

390D9A83-28F2-45AD-9455-C6C74BBF5976

 All aboard Pegasus 

7F6CAAF7-6D49-4CFE-A8D7-0FDD37139487

39D487C8-B29F-4AAD-9D08-83BAA7A97025

Leaving Oia in our wake

4CC3A15E-A14A-4BB7-A300-B95C81B0E6BE

99D7ABB4-D9C2-4644-903A-AFD7B4BA51ED

Sulphur gases from one of the volcanoes 

06CA672E-FD30-49EA-B72C-667C7C9B3DD772BFF368-0EBB-45EB-B334-560D4476C0A8D06A0AED-483B-49F8-BD41-BE15683B28C5

220365EF-12DE-44B0-A4F0-88A5BB9B77C7

Buses navigating the windy and steep road up from the port

BC99F1C2-97E7-45EB-AA82-C9E957596162ACE5BE74-FE62-4BCB-B4AE-F4EDF8A3430FAC946EC0-9EA4-4314-A68B-4B766822BB358EEBF4DA-D931-43A6-A00D-8758CFDEAE53AB955FDC-D629-4CB6-BAB2-4EDDA0BF18727814B2D2-BC7D-43E6-95E6-F43D7DE3C9BD

2D551842-2B04-4DFD-9495-61A65BF38BBA

Leaving Oia – destination Fira

FD19E766-D862-494F-89A2-D76B46E4880B

E9CF67BC-5013-490B-A468-2522CFA4BEE7

Fira within sight

24D53B8E-1870-45C3-9101-61C6BFE829ABE59FF9BC-24DD-482E-88BA-88AE424822A6D34B1208-D24E-462F-A542-DB8932B2C34BE1016653-E6DF-4B1F-86DB-2967A47E16BF52A2A7A1-B7F7-4465-B622-BF238E8997546015BB40-497B-4927-891D-3CA9FC0966F4F25CB6C5-C87C-4A47-BF38-E5FEB468C615

50238433-D9F8-4DD2-B647-F2CA8CC1344D

A journey down to Ammoudi Bay

D4386D05-869D-4FE1-A7AB-420EE70A6D65A36DCBC8-4DD4-4492-9821-25A35ED96B5F8214A03D-305F-418C-AE72-0A4E8574FC08

E4EBB629-6046-493E-AA8B-76A4D6610FC1

….a sustenance stop

A2CBEFF9-E26C-4C93-B2ED-373AA9EC57E85EEE4500-3258-452F-97FF-8D43EACA31FED64704B4-B621-4DD6-A79A-2AF00C3DFD87FDBC001D-38D9-4C2E-B76D-B6F1EE1A36D325E4A5C6-DBDE-4EB8-A26C-7B51004CC32A09231384-39A4-44D5-A096-8ED74464170E30438E5A-731F-45DB-88FC-DDF9AEBC94FF

0C537DBF-96C8-439B-9DBC-F18CD94A59D9

Lunch!

168CCA4B-27C9-4BDE-9052-2D0185869BB2328312F4-0126-497A-A871-4CFACC157693D8B991DF-47BB-48A9-9065-1EF0A7F8E869

D2CC5BE4-4154-4AEE-8FEE-88BBC88B76D6

A farewell sunset in Fira

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Eat, pray, love…

Eat, pray, love….well actually, more eating than praying!

Arriving at the right ferry terminal was an absolute fluke for Karen and I. With the late change in date for the retreat caused by the proposed ferry strike, Karen and I had missed the latest email about the change in terminal!  Despite this we managed to be scratching our heads at the very right moment when our wonderful yogi, Craig Smith, appeared from a ticket office doorway. A sign for a smooth seven days ahead!

It was wonderful to re-connect with a few people I’d met and shared a villa with at Craig’s Bali Pemuteran retreat five years ago.  We were all waiting anxiously on the ferry for the final retreaters, Dave and Julia, to arrive. They’d left from Milan that day so it was one of those ‘will they make it’ experiences, which thankfully they did.

While it was a long trip of six hours, we were blessed with a smooth crossing to our destination the beautiful Amorgos Island in the Cycladic group in the Aegean Sea. We’d had to stay in a little place along the beach of Aegali because of our early arrival to Amorgos resulting from the strike.  We’d settled into our rooms at 2am so we were all just elated when we woke to find our breakfast area just metres from the sea!

We sat looking at the sea and our lovely accommodation perched on the hill above it. We knew from below we were in for a treat!

Seven days of absolute bliss at Aegialis Hotel and Spa.

While the accommodation was absolutely beautiful we also had to remember we were there for yoga!  The daily program included early morning yoga and meditation, mid morning meditation and application of yogic philosophy and finished with afternoon yoga, pranayama breathing and chanting.  I’d chosen to attend all sessions enjoying every bit of them and growing my knowledge of self and future possibilities.

We had a four and a half hour break through the day from lunch, which we put to good use.  We did a five hour hike from the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa (oldest in Greece) to the port town of  Aegali on mine and Ken’s birthday (made very special by our mat buddies and yogi) and Karen, Tracy, Bron and I had hired a car for a day giving us an opportunity to go further afield and to get a taste of the little villages in the nearby hills – sleepy and whisper quiet; delightful.  Of course there was time didn’t in the steam room and saltwater float pool!

Amorgos is known for its natural beauty. Hence you find people exploring the trails of the hills, which are covered in herbs such as thyme and sage. The island prides itself on distilling its herbs for sale – waste not want not!  With that in mind we visited the herb distillery in the nearby Lagkada village – of course couldn’t leave without a few purchases.

A final dip in the sea before our last supper complete with Greek music and joining in for the Greek dancing.  Of course Zorba turned up!

Not only had I got to be blissed out for seven days, I’d found a new friend and Nia. My room mate for the week, Bron, was a kiwi now living in Scotland who instructs Nia (healing dance movement). We had gotten on like a house on fire and I knew I now had a reason to visit Scotland!

It was hard to let go of this wonderful place but I knew I’d see these beautiful people again on their mats and I had five nights in Santorini with Deb, Jeff, Marie and Al to look forward to!  With the possibility of a reunion with fellow mat buddies Tracey and Bron…bonus!

C208316E-3601-4EDC-BF2C-711321F05C04

The first view of our hotel!

C3F01AF2-DA17-4E7F-BEFE-5F441584D615

Feeling very special

B575DC9C-8E95-49C2-A6CE-DF840996E80F

Our yoga and meditation shala sitting high and overlooking the beautiful beach. 

876A1D15-FB45-4AB7-B195-196A523A60CD

AE6FCD7B-B576-4E79-A381-FE2FB669A003

Karen and Bron 

09ABC972-EB67-4144-882B-813F8998C2F14C767BA1-54A9-48DD-BD21-BA86344F9E618EF77913-5AB1-488A-900A-59A30D459F05

192E922D-06D7-4374-8732-24B048D83438

Panagia Hozoviotissa Monastery – oldest in Greece

8E340AD5-28B0-471C-9A36-66BA094887ECA66D1F23-F01C-477F-BD73-AC455B17ADA808146C15-A086-4695-99DE-3929FBA14B209864FA9C-885A-41C8-82C5-FBC657F94E83

4866B5B0-C6A1-4DAC-8FF2-58CB067652F7

I’ve got this!

B7FD1FCB-3414-4411-8274-8A4256311C48

Shepherd’s shelter 

2C3D895D-196E-4D21-A7B5-69D10D473B249E901A73-E9B2-4290-A002-47D5A28571E724DB1D03-C437-4755-8491-92A6E66BB34B5F8C1625-DC4F-481B-A9BA-F877625966CC49402C97-6EDE-4F2F-8578-00F7EB4F4EB5

83A47B0A-6A74-44DA-835D-7E0C4C25E080

I don’t know…you?

57B15142-A5B2-46C4-A6ED-55640E14D1B4

Hike birthday cake for me and Ken

1D51D312-3A45-47E9-9E41-129BF37FAD9C

E19D26D0-130E-41F1-9456-D2870DC89A67

Feeling relieved the destination is finally in sight!

0C763E25-5EE2-4DF1-8A24-79F521065F14

0D647EE8-6F9F-494E-9EDB-6997DC8F3517

Ken and I getting our birthday wishes 

C3F7D0C7-F758-4E61-A499-78AB2E9CA4B5

Serenaded by a wonderful violinist 

82E068BD-A7DC-4609-AEF2-D911FB681BE5

Path decorations throughout Lagkada village

C6E9D5AE-AE03-4309-AC77-4E5E70D48A6124B85F5E-36B0-48CF-B86F-D2FCA1FD8C3E4CA10DEC-C58C-4569-A791-99A44714DFE95D8BBE82-23D4-4E01-92DF-CBDB8F4EAB9686C02A7B-F2E8-4858-B169-9D91E8887C27

FAAE1241-70FE-4829-B1A2-1C8C12D0B423

Float pool in wet spa 

DCD36C69-E83B-4A95-B7DC-BE176981C959

Off on our sightseeing day – site used to film La Grande Bleu

9EBEF207-14FC-49E5-ACE6-E899E5CD5F1A

…and another one 

E9A4B289-7676-4CF5-844E-E13CDABA8B52

Little marina we stumbled upon 

99921B08-2448-4742-86AA-765D8BC3457D

7F9E89F2-0B63-42AA-8477-38ECB9B6652D

Thankfully Tracy had her eyes peeled for the wreck – a little hike to get in 

9077EC41-F09A-40B8-B447-335FE395F1ED

Byzantine Church

F4536817-126B-4337-8AC0-0EDCD1A2BC2F63668F9E-1B32-42E5-AA7F-283345B11DB2A6032F2C-42E0-4535-8F30-5F952D4AE42CD3F90A22-4E07-4BAA-A546-60BD9D207B5E

8BB4E3C3-1F55-4EF9-BDA4-2BED6D812622

The inconspicuous herb distillery 

CBF6542C-DC9B-4667-A43D-3EDABD6AF6AF7CA899B8-A111-4B29-B782-B75655A02EAC

8DE62BFB-003E-4B86-AD8C-BF2F97F7865B

Bron on a fact finding mission 

3C4B5C20-63FA-4FA6-8CCE-585050BC188D080F25DE-1896-4222-8182-D4735F1C5473

B4590EF4-9B11-46E5-8BE0-79B7353934BB

Raj – thought he’d look like one of the girls if he wore Bron’s hat

CC1A9970-B12A-437E-BCFD-B2D673AE7026378AAC6B-823E-4ABD-8229-A60D660E8C91A0B2107C-B703-4063-A0AA-99C01A0AEDEED988C1ED-07A4-4799-8ACE-6CACD6944E27

7EADFDC8-0565-44E7-9AF3-449F98BC1A76

Our last sunset on Amorgos 

6CED4A24-B575-4C00-B41C-45300BF735E4

A00DDE21-488E-46CB-B151-D20CC2DFAFAE

355717A2-BCEE-443B-A0B3-F530F08254FA

Our last Amorgos sunrise!

40A66CC4-89CD-440C-9FD8-B0A4FFBA9822

Our farewell cheerleaders

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In search of The Oracle…

A smooth arrival into Athens!  Time to sit on a bus for four days and be told where to be and when. I was looking forward to the rest from the logistics of travel!

Our Greek guide, Joy, was very knowledgeable and entertaining. We learnt early that six of the 11 million people in Greece live in Athens (explained the traffic) and that it’s the 3rd most mountainous country after Norway and Albania. As a consequence it is very picturesque.

Our first stop was at the Corinth Canal.  Was once a widely used commercial passage but not wide enough these days for the large ships so mainly used for touristic purposes. I was surprised to hear that Greece has the largest commercial fleet in the world.  The Canal had essentially created one more of the more than 3 000 islands of Greece the Peloponnese. This one being part of the 10% that are inhabited!

The next stop was to the Acropolis of Mycenae (13 to 15 century BC). The king lived in his palace at the top while the people of the community lived around it. Unlike most arrangements the necropolis (burial place) was built inside the walls of the Acropolis – most likely because it contained a fair amount of gold (14kgs recovered in masks, etc). We entered through the well preserved Lion’s Gate which was mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (his writings had helped archaeologists identity the site).

On the other side of the field we found the Treasury of Atreus; a Mycenaean tomb believed to belong to the last royal dynasty (Agamemnon) it was the last tomb built. The inside was shaped like a cone, achieved by building the blocks around a hill before excavating the internal dirt. The capstone was obviously the most critical component holding it all together. I was getting lovely memories of helping Paula build the earthbag house back in Colombia!

Back on the road until we reached Epidaurus – birthplace of Apollo’s son Asclepius – the healer – featuring the ancient theatre that accommodates up to 14 000 people and the former healing centre of classical Greece. The limestone construction was just one of the methods that were used to help project the voices of the performers.

Our last stop for the day was Nafplio, a lovely seaside town surrounded by three fortresses – one at sea and two on the hills. A mark of the occupation of the Venetians.

Day two started early for a trip to Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games. It was quite surreal getting an overview of the Olympic village, gymnasiums and hotels. The Olympics started as a festival to Zeus in 770 BC and ended in 392 AD when devout Christians banned the non-Christian festival. They were held every four years, lasted for five days and included the sacrifice of 100 oxen, which were served to the spectators. As a consequence of the athletes conducting their sport nude there were only male participants and spectators!

The modern Olympic Games were started again in Athens in 1896 on the suggestion of a French baron after Olympia was re-discovered. It wasn’t until 1924 that women joined the Games!

The stadium was more like the old Gabba Hill!  Seating capacity of 45 000 on the grass hill (no stone seating, which would have been too hard and heated up too much).

The site was an impressive 13 000 square metres.

There were strict rules of the Games including fasting for a week before your event (no eggs, meat, etc). The alternative for drug testing of the day was faeces testing to confirm athletes hadn’t broken their fasting rules!  Another rule was that there were to be no wars for 3 months before the Games. A heavy price was paid if not complied with – city would be banned from the Games forever.

Leaving the Peloponnese we headed for the earth’s bellybutton – Delphi. Considered such by the ancient Greeks based on what they knew geographically to exist at the time. To get there we drive through Greece’s largest olive grove – 1.2 million trees in the grove.

Before reaching the Apollo sanctuary we visited the shrine of Athena Pronea. A place for Goddess Athena to protect her half brother Apollo. Said to have been achieved when a well timed earthquake prevented the Persians from reaching the area.

The large site further up the hill containing the Sanctuary of Apollo dates back to 1600 – 1100 BC but the buildings standing today are mainly from around 6th century BC. It was at this site that the Oracle was sought out to predict or read the future. The prophecies were communicated through the priestesses who would be in a trance-like state as a consequence of the natural gas (presence of Mother Earth – Gaia) leaking from within the temple. The prophecies were said to be read though the clouds, water, wind, flames or other such mediums.

The site included the place occupied by nine goddesses (called muses) who received the art presented to the god Apollo…museum!

The Treasury of Athens was reconstructed to celebrate the victory of the Battle of  Marathon against the Persians in 490 BC (the one where the barefoot and naked soldier ran non-stop to announce the victory to the king and then dropped dead!).

The site contained a wall that was more than 2 600 years old – surviving numerous earthquakes as a result of its ingenious design of interlocking rocks.

We left this important historical site with the message of Apollo that the most important thing in life was ‘To know thyself’. Nothing much has changed there!

Last day of the tour directed us away from the ancient Greeks towards the monastic communities of Meteora.

Monastic communities had been established in the north of Greece more than 2 000 years ago. The communities we were visiting had existed in some form or another for about 700 years. There were only six of the 24 of Meteora monasteries  left operating and two operated as convents.

They were nothing short of spectacular perched on top of the 400m high rock pinnacles. It was hard to believe they were accessed by removable ladders or windlass (pulley system) until the 1920s when stairs were cut into the stones. Just a few challenging safety issues presented during construction and use!  Might explain why they only had about ten monks/nuns in each monastery/convent!

The churches were brightly decorated internally with religious frescoes depicting the rather gruesome tales of the saints  

It had been quite a packed four days and I’d thoroughly enjoyed it. The tour group was larger than I generally preferred to travel with but it had been a good mix of nationalities. South Australian farmers Lisa and Neil and Dan and Claudette from Canada had been particularly lovely travel companions.  The other added bonus was that I’d had my grandfather travelling with me as I recalled all the Greek mythology he’d shared with us as kids. 

The ultimate dedication to Athena, the Acropolis! There was a strike scheduled for the day of our departure to Amorgos Island so our wonderful yogi, Craig, had arranged for us to leave a day early to avoid it. So I decided to visit the 4 000 year old site before heading to the port for our island break.

Having been first inhabited 4 000 – 3 000 BC in Mycenaean times, it’s fair to say a very important ancient site in the western ancient world. I got goose bumps walking through the site and listening to the stories from my guide.

At the time of its construction it took 13 years to build the Parthenon and 37 years the complete set of temples.  A respectable result from a city of only 160 000 inhabitants.

Now onto Amorgos Island…

33EE0B90-DEAC-48B1-B48F-903E0D7E9A5D

The Corinth Canal – completed 1893 but not too useful today at only 21m wide

E0717532-0C2F-4A22-9D52-E82A3D47CA2D

The acropolis of Mycenae – 1350 BC

DDEF04C5-6DBE-4C18-ADC3-1271B30A6187

91AD44EE-852E-45F5-80F9-A4CC4ADFF3D4

The lion gate – mentioned in Homer’s Iliad

2A4780EC-4925-455B-9796-A656988365D65C59B63F-24F5-4BE3-994E-D87E60C78E3E22EBF1AE-6A5C-40C7-8463-5989FDD2C481

D9F74D80-188C-4E9F-BC80-29A58C763316

Necropolis of ‘Golden Mycenae’ (14kgs of gold found in masks and other items)

47DF444E-F275-4541-8D44-DD761E815B2D

24F97DF3-E285-48E9-A40A-3A25B62065C7

Tomb of last royal dynasty of Mycenaens – Agamemnon’s family

2586BF19-3CD2-463E-B342-B19F0CBBC3D447FF3BC0-2437-4FC6-8BC8-1B0ACF2FE96C

7C54F33F-1F1E-44FB-A32C-C532A4CFA626

The ceiling capstone that holds it all together

D76D7D07-575C-4668-B4D2-D392787D63A1

Theatre of Epidaurus – holds 14 000 people – still used today for performances

EDF180C2-70BB-4562-9C4B-B97915BB74B2F61DAE09-AB95-415E-8457-AFDCE283AED5

14B5E506-5AF6-47CE-92AA-59EB0A9F9FBB

One of the three Nafplio Venetian forts

A005C303-4B2E-4899-8D23-240DEBEAB7CA

…another

D66DF788-C5E6-4C74-9FB1-A3958809F886

…and the other

DEC93DF0-AA04-42B0-B154-E660811931DA

Olympia – home of the first games

4AF04774-F0C0-4326-B096-815057C70E04

Some students capturing the Olympic spirit

1CDD20F7-BFD9-44D7-8887-144FCF37FA6A

9497307B-2EEF-4D62-8264-CDB97353D9FF

Smooth part of column used by wrestlers to rub off the sand stuck to their oiled up bodies

526EF03F-6322-43A0-9A78-470B2C9C741E5AB6F91B-E343-42E1-B207-A4AEB1EF2D335D7C4775-9B10-4826-A385-4C14E68AD38F

B7751083-1303-4B78-BEC6-6732C35AA0EF

Stadium entry

A203D5BB-22A3-42FE-B641-C954A70A710D

Challenging Jackson on the sprint start line

4A301F65-F20F-4A57-A8D0-9B2E3F702FA5

4ED6B74E-467B-4EC8-80CC-941137E84059

The spot where the torch is lit for the games every 4 years

68E6B398-D92C-4BF3-B7AC-BAA9DFFE7D64

Temple of Zeus – the Olympic God

FA329212-5C71-495F-BE2A-B219CCDF235FAC7484C4-E814-4285-8CA7-7E726055DEDC

43E6E6A9-A790-4A01-92D6-D83668938C74

Just do it!

60D7207B-4456-46E0-A1EC-C8C02E764178A94CEF7D-0346-493A-9F49-77DAFC9C65976F8C2DFA-B909-4653-AD11-C98B209F850D6D4A64B6-21F5-4FE4-AA8F-E0089B03EF4AEE15D1EE-1A33-44AB-B0F9-8AF75A0B6EF6

12A77E9E-1229-4927-B52A-3A666B3F7153

Olive oil tasting…and maybe a little red!

15839689-F645-4BA7-94DF-BFF93C7D8AC00EBDD9A1-EF07-4943-94E0-94CC7E73125B

A952A47C-BF52-4852-9A41-2731A2D1D7CD

The vast olive grove out to the sea

4E8A4E23-A74F-48B3-B838-A758B9FE371B

Pretty Village if Delphi

399C3166-A8B3-443E-BF46-9487C655626D

B2FA78DA-1D1E-418D-8D37-B947A257F4CD

The Shrine of Athena Pronea

50BCA29C-EBAA-4C72-8DE0-CFDC317CACF5

Delphi – home of the Oracle

9CC5B25C-D8DD-4838-853D-89BC65306F4C

AEE285DC-3B0F-4E94-AC9D-EDB598143D7E

The Treasury of Athens

967DEED5-6701-4BDF-9C9B-F8BDFFE11B9C4A6F7793-9B0C-4D80-AF02-3E3455349D2104EE38A2-1835-4937-A0B3-D58016A983EF58A47695-B56A-4B80-91F1-99E2BFC29327C81191BC-0E99-40DC-850C-47A7A70D4C437BD064A4-D21A-42FB-AE5B-752EC1EDD701

EFC17C91-C86F-4681-AAF9-14A7C5DBC3C1

The stadium at the very top of the site – had obviously escaped the wrath of former invaders

6034CE6F-C64D-48E3-A968-5F6689395ADC

3C30CE50-14C5-4A29-8AB6-0A09A9B3B301

Ingenious construction resulting in this wall standing 2 500 years despite numerous earthquakes

D6E9F7A9-1B36-41C8-8AAD-72A3C2A4A28AC4C22C13-D2CC-48B2-B21C-7FB98C86BA989A7399D4-C5C6-4977-BE96-30767B666431DC7C2117-8977-4CD7-B0A4-A3A167B1E22FDBD0F20D-F7BE-4F70-906A-0E745F5FE99587E4C738-D04C-4000-B5A6-EE227FC8DBE5F92301CC-F3A9-40BD-93A7-25D6C83FB2B3

B2031DAC-D076-45B9-9F21-5CB89F2DFC12

Approaching Meteora

312683D1-8620-4063-9A54-CE4050F14DE8

One of the six monastic communities still operating in the Meteora

2FD87EA2-9673-4B7A-A897-F3056F2073AA8CBBB56A-6EC0-4DF0-901E-FD4190C8A2D613A62186-7574-43CE-AB7E-D8EE89EEC2C3

00277B35-32E7-4863-8224-EE8AB0C56708

The 700 year old Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro – The Transfiguration of Our Saviour

57B30603-FB19-4A73-A07C-767AE384E615E6F73B30-A06A-4727-BE00-B7B0ED95E772

F81A14DE-0396-406A-B08B-C9E618302B40

Landing spot for the windlass (basket pulled up the side of the mountain to give  monks access

56F6472C-D736-4FEA-95AE-D92C5018FB46538F70B2-738F-4FB9-9C24-AAEEB9BBAA051507C06C-0E33-4B51-AF2D-893D40B25CBF94065472-22E3-4FF1-8593-7CA6A02AE1A0A9903344-9176-4992-AF15-B28627C33DBC23231044-E4B0-44A2-A843-1D88BF52767EE828579B-A726-491B-9E5A-89EB44987AAC

06F5EFCE-F233-499F-801A-B83911E120B4

The monks clearly liked their vino!

96B2B0BC-7949-408D-9DBC-34FE2D9C01D6

53564F8A-9B16-43D5-8140-E4CB92B14A50

The kitchen

4DCEA5AE-3C0A-4DCD-A7A1-52CDD03CBE8BCDF7249B-1F33-4B61-B041-816BFB5C35C269F22DAF-2EF0-45B6-A44A-666371543CD35940B1F4-72BB-4EC3-98CB-F035FB4B4116A365E9FB-88D6-4CDD-B75F-C17DBC6822DF38084C95-9375-40AE-A1D9-261BE4F89F22C08FCFBD-5227-4E98-9B34-008BB665D94A

0F0103CC-A7BD-4205-9988-83A4E0B88EA7

Holy Monastery of St Stephen (Convent – 400 years old)

BC2B1AF4-F5D4-4267-9AE5-6943B6B7440178E87048-036D-4DC6-A68B-A1F188F0F74ED8148112-DF34-4500-A6F7-CBF18FF31C6005BFE363-5DCB-4683-8451-B4CFB23D9ABAB5AA05EE-1280-4C0B-A510-0A1C1CC4E5DF

E9C4007A-2DBA-4DA6-8182-90B0C9A83451

The Acropolis

21CD2399-0E82-48B3-A9AD-274B2665CBD5

Theatre of Dionysus

0F891073-A579-45F4-9D6A-1FF47B66495F

Temple of Nike

F7F35EF3-8248-4843-A6B9-287077016353

Missed Florence and the Machine at the Herodion last night!

6F565EED-8D06-4174-A999-85C9B5A23E2B

1C81BFAB-82E0-4CBD-B96C-52BAA215E59A

The gate to the Acropolis

CE6B07B2-EEC1-48BF-9B10-28F66B2524A1

C4456919-6C9C-443E-BEFC-0D4BBA660A92

The Parthenon

E6AED1D3-39FF-48EB-BF50-83E60A073291E9B2F632-80DA-4C22-BB44-657C006A4DFAE4ECF11B-C66E-440E-A03C-3759E93FA69676618CF6-FABA-482E-82D5-54DB7C5D5FCE

8366EAD2-D2B9-421B-9B4B-22CD302DC4B1

Temple of Athena

CE6B07B2-EEC1-48BF-9B10-28F66B2524A16713A818-1D6C-4422-B6F8-1B354230AE33

643B0195-F871-4A50-9FCE-39453571CEB3

Admiring the beautiful yachts in Piraeus Marina

A65FB2FC-8BF0-48B1-81BD-FCB3283CD551

Farewell Athens – it’s Island time!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Nearly skipped Malta…

The flight out of Saint Petersburg was delayed so I was a little concerned I’d miss my Riga (Latvia) connection to Malta. The flight attendant assured me the very small airport would allow a successful 15 minute transit given I already had a boarding pass. Possibly would have if we hadn’t been locked in the flight gangway for 5 minutes before a security guard finally woke up to it and let us out. Of course this also had to be the only airport in the world where security searches all cabin baggage to ensure prohibited liquids are not being carried. Needless to say the gate was well and truly closed when I arrived to it panting from my running through the supposedly ‘small’ airport.

A four hour sleep at a local hotel and I was back at the airport for my 6am flight. There were no direct flights available so I was going through Frankfurt. I was relieved when our flight left on time. I’d lost half a day so when I arrived at my accommodation mid afternoon I simply dropped my bags and headed off to visit the fortress capital city Valletta.

My grandfather had talked of the brave Knights of St John piquing my interest in Malta at a young age, which intensified after my friends Karen and Michael visited his family back when we were in our 20s. It was the Micallefs who’d introduced me to the Pastizzi and I thought of them fondly when I bit into my first one on Malta!

Valletta had been established by the Knights; a religious group of noblemen from all over Europe. The bastions surrounding the city were very impressive and looked pretty impenetrable.

St John’s Co-Cathedral (sharing Cathedral status with that of St Paul’s in Mdina (Malta’s earlier capital)) was a beautiful baroque style and houses a couple of Caravaggio paintings, the largest and most famous being The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The floor is laid with a patchwork of marble tomb slabs (I believe those of some of the knights).

The Grand Master of the Knights of St John had his own residence, which is preserved to illustrate the opulence of the former state rooms (still used on occasion by the president for meetings with heads of state) and the former stables are used to present the armoury collection. The Knights are famous for about 350 of them fending off a sustained attack by an incredibly large Turkish contingency in mid 1500s. The course of history would have been so very different had the Europeans lost control of this important location to the Ottoman Empire. Hence promised but delayed reinforcements were finally sent in the nick of time.

I’d just made the opening times of these key sights so the pressure was off for the rest of the evening. The city was one of the first master planned cities of Europe so it was quite lovely to wander around the shaded streets, visiting the lower Barrakka gardens and then the upper to catch the cliff top lift 58m down to sea level for a ferry across to the three cities – il-Birgu (now called Vittoriosa – former home of the Knights), Bormla (now Cospicua) and l-Isla (now Senglea).

I couldn’t get enough of the lovely balconies of Malta. I even had a couple in conversation across the road from each other oblige me for a photograph.

Night was starting to fall so I was getting to enjoy the subtly lit sandstone buildings as I made my way back to my accommodation in Msida. I needed rest for my adventure to Blue Lagoon the next day!

The bus trip to the boat was great – following the coast line for views of all the coastal towns abuzz with tourists (there certainly seemed to be more tourists and expats in Malta than Maltese). The ‘beach areas’ were about as big as a postage stamp compared to ours!

Blue Lagoon (at Comino Island) was just stunning. It was famed for being part of the film location for the likes of The Count of Monte Christo.

I took the option of the speedboat caves tour, which was a bit of fun and then went off to Gozo for a tour for a couple of hours where the highlight was the Il-Kastell (Cittadella) – a well preserved fortress with lovely views across the island. All of the inhabitants of the island had sheltered there during the siege by the Turks in the mid 1500s. I took the opportunity to enjoy my last dinner in Malta overlooking the lovely Valletta.

With a mid afternoon flight I had just a few hours left on my last day to see a bit more of Malta so I jumped on a bus to Mdina, fortified about 1000BC. The current name hails from the occupation of the Arabs (evident everywhere across the main island).  It was lovely and quiet before all of the tourists arrived.

Mdina sat beside Rabat in which the St Paul’s Catacombs were located.  Who doesn’t love to check out underground burial sites?  They were impressive – said to cover more than 2000 square metres. They were created in the third century AD and used for about 500 years. Some were clearly for individuals, some for groups (babies and small children were believed to be buried together) and some were for the pots containing the ashes of cremated persons (those who couldn’t afford body burial). Apparently there was evidence that it was the burial site of multi religious denominations (with the denominations generally buried together) suggesting a very multicultural and peaceful society of the times. The catacombs had also been used as shelters for inhabitants during the world wars.

The Second World War has been particularly hard for Malta. It had received more sustained bombings than any other country of the commonwealth. For its valour Malta was awarded the George Cross; never before and never again has this honour been bestowed upon a whole county.

Well, I’d found my knights as I’d hoped, sadly just a little too late to bring one home with me!  Perhaps I’d find myself a Greek god on the next leg…

75041B5A-C83B-462B-B281-DC81A6E19F1B

Approaching Valletta

67F07568-0617-4770-91EE-C57A8B184066

St John’s Co-cathedral

FF59818D-5854-4639-B59A-DB160406C0D0

Marble tomb slabs – the knights?!?!

258A0BCF-D857-4240-926F-6F7CD02084D66F8FA432-F27E-4189-8FC4-5A93BB50168A7C0688D7-813B-4167-891E-81D3BE285B6B75E09BBA-1AA3-4083-8DA3-E92B6A3D49E201C29996-8603-4B60-AD64-85497C50D65C

94B86CB7-3176-4675-B273-9DF30471A0A8

Caravaggio’s The Beheading of John the Baptist

DA1635B4-D935-47A8-9B38-6AF76920D545F34A8E6B-F4BD-4342-909C-2544EA2C787BAB38C9D4-B5D6-4ABA-BCD7-D227715E04D268D9E621-86DF-4B57-BF77-D5C4ECF8787B

125F8639-23B1-42E4-A503-D5C602C98987

State rooms of the Grand Master’s Palace

BCDF6DD3-50F6-47E9-8138-27DE9B02CCB4B09061B1-73F9-4D84-A3A7-0E69FA550C99

328523E0-3A4E-4D33-A1F7-AD9A46092E59

The Armoury

0B0CC504-D84A-4788-9783-68B56C83780F206CBB97-27BD-4985-8387-8DB0C367DAC36C65A4E9-CE6E-4B8B-BCEF-4FA94ECF7FF8

1BD908D4-2F02-4D01-BD7D-DD0AB80727E1

The lovely Maltese balconies

32163A44-588C-4750-AFB0-A6311C12277C

Lower Barrakka Gardens

2D95B772-7DCB-4AA8-B3C0-53485B53A4E4179D2D5A-9D5C-4C45-AAB8-546F692FCC31

83593BAD-9372-4C32-8773-D938B1D3B8A2

A joke surely??

F5DDB8E2-D19B-41E6-88B6-B9A651EFA8F1E3DEAD89-E67F-4827-917F-2E565CFDA3B4

9D168159-54FB-4D37-AEBA-66EBEF1BE0C7

Views from the bastion walls at the Upper Barrakka Gardens

84957DFD-ABCB-4C3C-BFD4-484415FF7F93

Vittoriosa

D990D41A-0C31-4208-9F18-B2D516CF66AE

Corpsicua

037879BE-4570-42F7-8AB9-95BD5A2FC512

Vittoriosa

2816345D-D365-4657-9E94-5A34CD0937B3FAD4AEFA-6FF5-43F6-916A-B91BCA99396CDB438863-E58B-43B0-85F3-FD73351BF4E6DBFCA2E1-B208-4FCD-8F57-BC3C37187011

4029DF48-46CF-4B37-8A18-8C05AC6C731F

B5E133E4-89C1-4430-BF14-878FAF7F54D6

2FF0192B-B3D9-4B62-AAC8-4D25A4E35675

Senglea

4024CECE-3AE7-4758-8751-232543CEC0B6075D1FCF-292A-4051-BEF7-CD9F4EC7F814

BC7066D7-E726-41D4-AB99-18A366CE24CE

Off to the Blue Lagoon

8EA9D4A3-5D9D-4AC2-BFF8-F00D60CC2FF1

5CF322B9-387C-466A-848D-AB67CB847D74

Ducking in the caves

717F23F4-8E8D-44FA-9C21-4A99C539D08A

Blue Lagoon

82DA1D95-CE51-48E6-8A91-AE1AEA2E0C68

5E425605-3DE6-489B-9136-B47262AC9463

Gozo Island, Cittadella

318A8D3E-BD2E-4CCC-B1AC-6E0A2050FBBD351908CD-3207-4584-9F86-48B7CB8D230142CEE934-F87B-45C8-BF62-84113D042B72457CEC21-A57B-4386-94FB-E117C55E5B577261A5AB-4479-4612-892D-A9E3654E033E405C59BB-87F3-4E1C-BA03-8966F196939A54A96531-AA45-41C0-A97D-7FFCD81F65E5

14128BAA-8EB1-4651-ACE7-7F781347B601

Stunning view to enjoy over dinner

15967EE1-1670-46E5-80C6-2CE2FFFD79D4

Entry gate of Mdina

3C0FAFDD-1B3C-4C32-ADFB-1FB29BE370A8EE822B92-EE81-4A38-9D8B-E17B3B156E7DF8B2AC15-DFC3-4C70-AA69-4AAC84E3CC12B3DAF36C-97E4-4D78-AFA6-1CACBAC4305869E84A14-6AED-4DF4-B820-8AABEB5C4CC7B3FE904C-25B7-4E89-BB99-870CB82D3F213E3EF388-8187-4FF7-97B6-96064908405CFB6E4A62-D7EF-483B-BD8E-AFA7867B708CBCDAEC12-531F-413F-8F74-1115D4B4611EC9A1A676-DDAB-4593-B3D0-54FA4E9F0A16

64CB011E-66A2-4212-8126-9E3F3EF1C4DF

21B03819-6754-44D9-962C-04F672002569

725082F2-4AAE-4135-860C-E7A869DB8066

St Paul’s Catacombs

CF6706B8-A64B-4269-B1C5-327F424E26A6E3C268B3-A92A-4F89-9C7C-E9EE6F03F50953D0A064-85B8-44B3-8F66-1BE664D48EF22E1F6B79-154F-46A7-ADFA-EE0D64E8B77AF72450B1-E4C9-446C-8BE5-7372B9576AE2966CB755-4AC2-446A-A276-F70B7FCB01CC

42E1BF92-AA12-4EF5-94C7-B48C423486D6

27E10863-7AB7-4DA8-9E8D-DCD9A1B725B8

030D04C3-DEF9-4CFF-AC3B-C35E06074950

A bit of a tight squeeze

8B3B7E8F-DAEA-4D86-B6C5-11CFD0051633

View back to Mdina

8C061866-8305-49FA-BA6B-94A73ED1CCB5

Farewell lovely Msida

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Saint Petersburg, city of ….

Catching the sleeper train to Saint Petersburg seemed like a no brainer. Maximise daylight sightseeing hours while at the time absorbing accommodation cost in the train ticket!  What I had forgotten about sleeper trains is that they are noisy with the grinding from stopping and starting and people chatting loudly in front of your cabin door, jerky, vibrate to your bones, serve terrible food and have hard beds. Would I do it again…probably – being the stingy traveller that I am.

I’d been warned by my airbnb host that a taxi would cost about five times more than a Yandex (Uber competitor) from the train station but could I get the app to work!?!?  It seemed stuck on Moscow. Eventually a ticket officer accompanied me to the pick up area, ordered one and sent me on my way.

I arrived at the accommodation at 8am  and was due to meet my tour guide out front of the Hermitage at 10am.

After chatting with my host’s aunt (in a weird twist the artist owner was in Australia for a wedding) I got myself sorted and ventured off with the goal to find a clear pick up spot from which to order my Yandex. Yandex problems again!  I was cutting it fine for time as we had boat seats booked so I started to get a little worried. This time I attempted to get assistance from a delivery driver waiting for an order at a shop window. He had no English and while he tried his best to understand he gave up and signalled for me to wait five minutes. Next thing I was in his (Vadim’s) delivery truck on route to the square. He sweetly tried to point out some key sights on route which of course I just smiled and nodded in appreciation. He refused to take any cash, putting it back in my pocket as I exited. Russians initially show little expression on their faces but I had worked out that behind that they were very friendly.

Saint Petersburg was eight degrees colder than it was when I checked the week of my departure!  I certainly had not packed for eight degrees; the rain wasn’t helping.

I met my guide Maria at Alexander Column, reportedly the largest single piece of stone in the world (standing just short of 50m), which is held upright by gravity alone, and we quickly headed down to the Neva River to catch our hydrofoil to Peterhof Palace.

Scooting across the Gulf of Finland was the quickest route to the Palace. The palace had been pretty much re-built after the damage caused by the Germans in WWII. The interior of the Tsars’ Palace was beautiful but it was the some 140 gravity fed fountains that were truly lovely. The most splendorous reflecting Peter the Great’s victory over the Swedes in early 1700s with him pulling apart the jaws of a lion (the Swedes). The Russian art was full of allegories – each with a clearly intended story.

Back in St Petersburg we wandered under the triumphal arch and down Nevsky Prospect passing the high fashion houses and their branded Porsches out the front. While I wasn’t tempted to poke my head into them for a look (I couldn’t quite pull off the whole pretty woman manoeuvre) I couldn’t resist a russian donut!  Yum!

I learnt along the way to the Kazan Cathedral (modelled partly on Rome’s St Peters) that while stone was the prominent building product of St Petersburg buildings it was being ravaged by humidity (was hard to believe when it was so cold). I also learnt that St Petersburg was made up of some 40 odd islands, which has led to more than 340 bridges! City of stone, City of islands, City of bridges???

St Petersburg has its colourful Russian orthodox onion domes in the form of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The church had been built on the spot that Tsar Alexander II had been fatally wounded by protestors in the late 1800s. It was full of beautiful mosaic pieces and of course a place marking the spot where Alexander’s blood had spilt.

A moment to rest our feet as we travelled by metro to the Peter and Paul Fortress. These were without a doubt the deepest metros I had been in – the escalators travelling for more than two minutes.  Might not sound a lot but think about that next time you’re on one and you’ll realise what I’m talking about.

The fortress was not ever used as a fortress but certainly looked the part. The cathedral within the fortress walls now holds the remains of the last Tsar and his family of Romanovs (although two of the family members are yet to be laid to rest here).

It was here that I farewelled Maria to go on to visit the Hermitage. Thankfully it was open until 9pm on Fridays so I had a couple of hours to take in the amazing collection. The Hermitage is in the beautiful Winter Palace and has essentially only ever served as an art gallery (except during wars of course when the art was shipped off to be preserved). It would be impossible to see even the fraction of the three million pieces held but I certainly got to appreciate some beauties in my two hours. The Rembrandts always a favourite and I enjoyed the Russian renaissance paintings as well  

I was so tired on exiting that I absentmindedly found myself in a restaurant ordering mulled wine with my dinner. It was delightful – served infused in dried fruit. Perfect to send me on my way home.

Having seen nearly all of the key sights on day one I decided I had the luxury of time to visit Tsarskoe Selo (the Tsar’s Village) to see the Catherine Palace. Thankfully Maria had managed to fix my Yandex location so I was on the go again.

My Yandex driver seemed a little more lost than I was, which was a worry, and then he attempted to drive into a one way street to be confronted by a police officer on the corner. We pulled over at the officer’s request and the driver first put his seat belt on and then produced numerous dockets followed by a few notes from his wallet and then we were on our way again.

Peter the Great had presented the Palace to his wife Catherine I before their marriage but it wasn’t until the mid 1750s that it became the elaborate Palace as seen today when their daughter Empress Elizabeth Petrova engaged Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to rebuild it as her summer residence.

As expected the interior of the Palace was beautiful but it was the Amber Room that was the particular drawcard for this palace. It was like nothing I’d seen before. All of the walls of the room were faced with Amber stone with decorations in the form of reliefs and illustrations – quite surreal. Another post war reconstruction but given the throngs of tourists I imagined it had paid off quickly. Amber is considered lucky by the Chinese so you can imagine their ogling eyes when in the room, with a few trying to sneak photos only to be sternly cautioned by palace staff about potential ejection from the Palace.

It was so cold I decided to head home after the palace visit but once back in Saint Petersburg I got distracted by the steady stream of people coming from a nearby street blocked off for road work. I decided to explore the source and to my delight found what’s called the New Holland precinct. Within a park was a circular building with a round central open courtyard surrounded by bars/cafes on the lowest level and shops of Russian designers on the two above.

I found a bar that was clad with dark brick walls and dim lighting and settled in at a bar table for a beer or two. Not long after sitting a woman seated beside me offered me some of her salted cucumber. Having seen that I enjoyed it she then offered me a fork with some of the dried fish from her plate. It was tasty too.

Through google translate I discovered her name was Nina and she was a Russian nurse holidaying in Saint Petersburg for a few days. She google translated that Russians don’t like to drink alone (explaining her offer of the food). The menu was in Russian so I asked her to point out the dishes she had ordered and the red drink (turned out to be a vodka tincture of beetroot and horseradish). Delish!  The vodka drinking began…  I had been contemplating a visit to the ballet that night but this turned out to be a great way to spend my last night in Russia.

I woke late on my final day …with a bit of a fuzzy head…with the goal of visiting St Isaacs Cathedral and getting a souvenir of Russia. I succeeded in both but it was a real challenge given the weather. It was now six degrees and the misted rain was blowing sideways strongly in all directions. Despite this I took the option to venture up to the colonnade for the lovely view out over Saint Petersburg. It was worth the effort and getting wet – a final look at this lovely city.

The inside of the Cathedral was quite incredible. It had taken 40 years to build the Cathedral, which the previously unknown French architect Montferrand got to see completed a month before his death. The cathedral (which served more as a museum than church) had lovely little kiosks inside where I picked up a lovely amber necklace as a momento of my visit.

I decided to enjoy some more local food for my final meal in Russia, this time I focused on Armenian. It was so lovely and cosy I was reluctant to leave but alas I had a flight to catch.

I farewelled my hat of over 28 years. It had been a saviour in this cold weather. It was nice to think it had started life at the Sydney Paddington markets and would finish life on the other side of the world.

Saint Petersburg had been a lovely city to visit with its opulent architecture and rich imperial history. Certainly a great contrast to Moscow.  It was surprising I’d only met one other Australia – he was from the Hunter Valley and had been living in Russia for five years and now worked in a Saint Petersburg souvenir shop.

I felt a great warmth for the Russians given all of my experiences during the trip…memories that would last a long time. I was now on to find myself a knight…

5B6425DD-A0B9-44A3-AF51-91CFDC5C732E

Vladim, the delivery driver who got me to my guide!

9E5ADA26-1ABE-4C29-BA5D-A9EE16FA961C

Peterhof Palace 

CA7B652B-06C8-4089-88BD-C9C4FA60B0637C88EA63-4978-410F-907C-01932C72624E2A217404-B333-4112-BF30-4D3C788B6C4449F6D4E8-7800-4F9A-B61F-74B2AC3E6232B5687FFA-845C-4ACE-B812-7FB303EEDEC22DD2AA8B-E357-4D8B-BEF2-374DC3FC95698F256F60-28A0-42F9-AB67-8A2422561A213DE749A3-673D-4D27-B49B-A2534DE4764D

1BB76149-064A-4757-BECC-03030E9B6D74

A little bed for the Tsar

F3D1D465-2AFA-4C59-AF11-F6003240F25B09FDC96C-59A6-4B56-A958-3FC8E2E9D5D2977656C0-0FD6-47DB-A161-8D0F361B9456D441E499-2805-4342-A54F-EBFF906AAAB60D848BA4-DC56-4057-A973-54F13152F16C1818C2C8-5EF6-4C33-A100-CC9739F40F9A

54BC0E82-7571-4874-BDCD-E046C04A3006

Alexander Column – world’s largest column of stone. Freestanding on its own weight. 

EEDD330D-52BD-4A5F-B3E4-226F0644C311

79AF9515-37AC-428E-8062-8C1F0541CD86

The beautiful Winter Palace – home of The Hermitage art collection

9D8C97A1-EFBD-4F1A-B48F-7A88D0AAE5B0

A former merchant’s home

56AFB254-A8F6-41C6-90A5-B93091ECB6D2

Testing out the ponchinki- russian donuts!

BCB94C07-FC3F-49F7-8575-56DE57090AB8

Kazan Cathedral

26E75A2F-6EC6-421C-8DD4-C1A7584A5A4B50B6B682-089C-4C1D-ACA4-4DC7AE2FBCDC

61DAF0FE-601D-4D07-9404-796112B43000

The art nouveau Zinger building

C4028502-F757-451E-A2C8-E77319C2E764DBFDFD59-C82D-41CA-B9E4-48D6E0BE1781

E2FFBB4B-D4A1-4088-91A7-439884103268

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

348B70C5-8184-4845-8535-F38D665995C9

3AF75521-553C-41AC-85D9-680A48482ECA

Captivating mosaics

6AE7707C-91F9-40C3-A987-81B5FA669F2E370B364D-4CEE-41E8-82AC-06B4C6D42D42856C6C65-3C5A-4F74-8C98-84E2F329D06F

924E2680-85D6-4B9A-8D12-228CB599B7D7

The site when Tsar Alexander II was fatally wounded. 

CC401886-ECAF-45ED-B739-AAB60CD972F6

Peter and Paul Fortress 

465993A2-10D7-464E-A869-B8803EFA15BF743FC5C0-11C9-46D2-AFAB-4758939F6DA9

DB4474FF-41C9-4E1E-B998-E829417AB61C

Homage to Peter the Great. A mould of his face but a grotesque body intended to emphasise his greatness. 

27E5D9C3-5BA4-4FD9-91AF-6D8ACE2D9157

314D1908-A8BA-49CA-8FBC-BBD29943CFE2

Cathedral of Tsars

AFA23366-B936-4599-AFAF-931DA719DB290A67A40E-8BED-41D7-B24F-05E9F7E95098

6ADEEDA5-B892-464C-8BC6-F2F7ACE955BB

Romanov family tombs – family of the last Tsar of Moscow

A8CFCB01-D59C-48E6-96FA-EFEA402B4D2CB39C1E01-7979-4E8A-956F-E4CAEFEA7317

F102521F-47D0-4526-BB7C-93FBB18BF0A1

Catherine Palace

4F72916C-E36A-44F8-8BEB-DBE5ED05C6C4F14B7159-7309-437C-AA53-57250E35BC38C28272AA-310A-4ECF-9B61-057443786F0F50562A10-8578-4537-8017-6DF0CA3EA5C21B422ADD-A06F-453F-997B-25CAF330E73128CA8D92-3147-4E1B-B468-DC45F393049D737EE56D-60FB-4B76-9646-43688A7ECD11A9BFB55F-6493-44A6-982C-CC02E005C8E3867CB46D-C559-4B46-9CAA-C0F5A5CF61136B52E911-35B5-4AD6-8B2D-2853994C034F75B42755-3D20-445A-B16E-0C57FE229F0F67ACC7FA-71D8-414B-B287-428E697C4C9BD49CA791-4F50-4B4F-94B6-AA354F37BC22ED33235F-7B43-4522-AB51-594680CF0086

DE15B63F-6D35-4B55-8A34-1FE11D123C9D

Pushkin church

9392110F-9535-43FC-B76C-6A196E4E1F9162E952CA-7C93-4299-AC3C-148788927EF2

B2271273-1999-4017-BA70-0FDCEA0F23AC

Entering the New Holland district 

4B646058-C59A-45EC-AFA1-5EA11D539E58

Perfecting vodka drinking

A7102A36-A331-414A-9EE3-FFD5A4FC0BEC

6C698A7F-D69C-4D3A-9E41-E27102DE795C

My partner in crime ..Nina the nurse

581A38CA-EF84-49F4-8C0E-1B9AE0124C40

A little beetroot and horseradish tincture of vodka!

648E8137-D5AC-4BFF-9A16-9F2635308BB4

17667422-265F-4D65-A320-475A95DD9A17

No chance on my own!

E83199C8-3C76-45C0-8819-2DB32C6376C6

Cherry brandy – delicious!

7CC1E89E-7A52-4A06-9E23-5E68D5E53BC6

861D41EF-48A8-4EF5-91A5-F2E8CD6ECB99

St Isaacs Cathedral

0D6283BC-58E8-4E4F-89C0-8C6326414B82

69AAC8A1-EF61-4C1C-8893-E929EA309DE4

From the Colonnade

43843827-B20A-440E-809E-3F3F13E9FCE75BC7B51D-FF44-4CEF-88DC-D7CF72ABC15759EBFE64-82AB-40DF-AA7A-CD9D70E664E8

035032CB-703A-4AC2-BD50-8D71753A9693

A model of the scaffolding system used to lift the columns 

65410B83-6BFC-4ABA-A5C9-36749848A6099180FCB5-84AA-4408-B4B5-9DA9FD1E66CAE5B3D2F1-657E-4A8A-AFE7-2E67308AE0714F8E5647-79A5-4CD7-8F90-4D8E5C811448

6A973FCE-C088-4827-A838-F885F204F29F

Last feast at Dolma, Armenian restaurant 

0810F140-561D-4955-812F-BC11F272C81D

CFE03EE4-08C0-49A1-9940-8030BF827295

Just in case you forget!

13507A56-E381-4431-8F7F-04C8B7DADB64

Couldn’t leave without trying the caviar!  Sophisticated airport food!

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Golden Ring

I always feel a great sense of reward when I manage to navigate public transport in foreign countries. …or perhaps I’m confusing reward with relief!  Travelling solo is extremely liberating but I know my anxiety is much reduced when I have a fellow traveller (or any random English speaking person) with whom to confirm conclusions. Despite all of this I’ve always managed to arrive at the intended destination at the planned time.

This time it was Vladimir – which after being corrected a couple of hundred times I now know to pronounce as Vlad-i-meerr!

I’d arrived here to experience the Russian orthodox towns on the famed Golden Ring. After finding my accommodation I was back on public transport – this time the bus on my way to Suzdal about an hour from Vladimir. After a bit of prompting with hand gestures from my fellow bus buddies I managed to avoid the 2km walk into town by staying on the bus a little longer. It seemed the further you got from the major cities the less English was spoken, even by the young, but the people were as friendly as others.

Suzdal had been bypassed by the Trans-Siberian rail line in 1894 and in doing so time had stood still. It was full of cute little wooden houses, some colourful and some with interesting carvings. It was also full of wonderful old historical buildings.

My first stop was the Savior Monastery of St Euthymius. It had been established in the 14th century as more of a protectorate of the town’s north from invaders. It included an interesting prison that had held religious dissidents. The monastery had also been used by the bolsheviks as a concentration camp after the tzars had been unseated in the 1917 revolution and it had then been used to keep German and Italian officers during WWII. The exhibition halls were full of ornaments – religious and agricultural – unfortunately no English translations.

The trading arcades are still being used for that purpose although the fruits and veggies have been replaced with souvenir stalls!

The Suzdal Kremlin is the grandfather of Moscow’s Kremlin having been built in the 12th century by the then ruling prince who later established Moscow as an outpost!  The Kremlin housed the lovely Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral, which was adorned with lovely blue domes with gold stars and an interior rich in frescoes.

Across the picturesque river was the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. The buildings are from the 1700s and gave you the feeling you were in an Amish community. It was very quaint and I was feeling quite privileged to own a bed with a latex mattress!

On arriving back to Vladimir I found lots of people out enjoying the very comfortable weather so I got amongst it by trying the Russian drink kvass, which is made from rye bread. It was like a sweet porter beer (and from what I understood I had tried the non-sweet variety) – not for me I’m afraid.

My last day in Vladimir was spent visiting the very grand Assumption Cathedral, which sits on a bluff giving great views, the water tower, the Vladimir Golden Gate (part fort part triumphal arch) and the Cathedral of St Dmitry. What St Dmitry lacked in size it made up with its ornate stone carvings on the exterior walls. It had been built in late 1100 and believed to never have been matched by other Russian stone carvers.

The little side trip had been very worthwhile…although my feet and legs were screaming at me with all the walking. They’d now get a rest as I prepared to board a sleeper train for Saint Petersburg…

425895CD-B855-4251-AABA-1A2FF5E04DDD33388A5B-18BB-46A1-BA5F-B87010FEE09474DE6ADC-5D12-4045-B785-8198C5EFA67AB5E95386-0914-4167-886B-6C6D859728BC821E9BA4-DBEA-4149-936D-8057926855E9A8442B93-219E-4AEF-BDC9-196B825B87A47B775731-26A9-44C9-8519-145AB7CEAEB658A4E652-6637-45BF-9AB4-F0714BFCB275

CF06A08F-E6B6-48BA-B1C4-459D15DB2E80

Inside the Savior Monastery of St Euthymius

265CCF05-115A-45B2-9183-8F5633981096980C2DEC-1E4C-4BD3-9BD0-7F56A90BEC68

7BC1A4D1-C62F-4016-BEE9-23B92D73A424

The monastery prison 

455E51E7-7963-4F5E-89DC-9CB7E2BD0BE6A2974A54-4FBD-47A1-B698-380651C8530711734C88-D7C4-4C03-8AB9-42E6EB5AEC335FFC76AE-78B1-4E62-BC61-7C2AEED433FDB2C9E06D-068D-4467-930C-F098B94743A3

5EDE1F01-B724-4237-AB2F-0B54BD7167B0

The somewhat deserted Monastery of the Deposition of the Holy Robe

A4A170B4-6830-41A5-A0D2-14599681F3AE

D8670A69-63A1-49DF-969A-35827C04903D

The trading arcades overlooking the river and meadows

2106FF74-B882-471A-8D77-6862329EC3B2

46242FDE-F217-4774-8618-83F474BE6595

Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral in the Kremlin

F1E728C4-E82D-473F-B620-F9B89C62D54E888D728D-62F4-4CC5-89E3-A6F9CAA6FB5F065FFA0F-AD35-4C1A-8D5A-101D792D0B81

7BB76E00-9002-4579-8973-A67B5E3590E1

Inside the walls of the Suzdal Kremlin

6B02B833-008B-4718-A80C-F6D189BA06989F1F79EB-4ACB-42DD-A65A-8EE48EA00157

126438DF-3453-4346-BAD2-52980FCD9FDC

The Museum of  Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life

14C813DF-8685-4041-A2E7-A288BD63FD49FCA030B6-4D8A-4709-A20B-AB13A4E6ADFA

A8C42759-17D3-4BC6-BBD8-BED9366EDEC5

More swinging…

99630AA4-A361-4488-886E-7DAF6A81D6F70EB29DC7-58AB-425F-835F-A8284948ABFF0B0DEC6F-4E1A-44F0-8093-C31B52AADCBF1BE8D680-D4FC-49EA-8657-A7A9A075763CC77C2157-FF99-4152-84BA-109408B9140F367196BA-75FA-46D9-92F5-1512B174567607E9169A-60AF-4D1E-95CB-B1679F31A3B37EFF84A2-032F-489F-A64D-5458511C47C961A23C56-0E09-42B9-884B-39E295577001

3551984E-42B8-4436-9884-2328CB436FFA

The Assumption Cathedral, Vladimir

895017FA-F59A-4111-9B37-ED689393CE96C44B1868-19CB-4E94-831E-FC6D2B38E400466D6B8E-CAE5-4873-B95F-BF1EE2BDAF2ACD8C8708-071B-4317-A792-61BFFCD6542FC9E84C5A-2FD9-4EDB-924D-9BB536E5EC06E617D292-DC2C-4CEC-A9D2-94F9C5A3452DBAC26DF8-7677-45A1-8A69-BC63962181E700C6EFEF-6634-440B-9D93-F8F2E51D97AE

9B54E043-6903-4479-A7C2-D476302008AD

The Vladimir Water Tank

DA5DB41D-815C-4984-BCF4-D224EDCF5316

Vladimir Golden Gate

BBE274EE-A832-4014-B63A-52CCA4B63905

52259BA3-45FE-4B91-AAD2-E1FD176E8DE4

Cathedral of St Dmitry

F050D393-884E-463C-B92F-09074D857E725B2ED420-1C36-4911-9C70-8191567FB4C6D5DEA796-79D6-4782-96DA-9FE1192FACAE727F9F3C-4590-4826-98E6-066A829A2801

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment