Ruined

214 nights : 7,555 miles travelled : Countries visited: 14

Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.  Edward Abbey

Thirty three years of marriage is no guarantee that you will enjoy living together 24/7 in a space smaller than many bathrooms and we are amazed that we haven’t had more than the occasional healthy tiff. Nevertheless I was keen for Graham to visit our daughter and her partner in Athens while I held the shell back at camp. It was soon apparent he was more keen for me to leave him to enjoy some long forgotten solitude.

I arranged to meet Holly and Jonny at Syntagma (Constitution) Square but it seemed that thousands of others got my message as drums and whistles approached while I waited. We knew about the general strike, it had disrupted my journey into the city centre. But despite walking past road blocks, I didn’t realise I was standing right where the latest anti-austerity demonstration was planned.

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Roads and paths were blocked but I was guided around them by friendly policemen
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The marchers also seemed well natured, if noisy
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A minority then threw red paint and petrol bombs at buildings
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Police used tear gas to clear the front of the Parliament building, sending birds up into the air and crowds down the steps

Much has been written about the Greek financial crisis and it is for people more qualified than us to comment. We have seen evidence of a fair amount of ‘make do and mend’ but there has been no scrimping on the welcome we have received and the generosity shown.

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I stayed overnight at the apartment Holly and Jonny had rented and we were able to see street life away from the tourist traps. But the main reason to visit was visible from much of the city centre. The Acropolis stands like a crown on the capital, with the monuments as jewels.

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The recently restored Temple of Athena Nike
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The Propylaia was the impressive entrance to the Acropolis. Built between 437 and 432 BC, it is currently undergoing heavy restoration.
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Nothing prepares you for the sheer size of the Parthenon
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The restoration work serves to convey the scale.
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The Theatre of Dionysos could seat 17,000, illustrating the importance placed on the arts in the ancient city state.

The new Acropolis museum is a wonderful example of a modern building which manages to enhance it’s subject. Luckily it was one of the few attractions open on the day of the strike so we enjoyed it at leisure and largely on our own.

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Athena and Poseidon as they would have stood on the west pediment of the Parthenon. A heroic attempt to compensate for Lord Elgin’s theft!
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The central palmette akroterion decorated the temple and has been restored using a precious few fragments
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The glass walls of the museum give clear views to the Acropolis
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The stone in and around the monuments would have been richly coloured. The staining here is caused by metallic eyelashes.
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Two heads are better than one
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Fourthought
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One little coin won’t be missed will it?
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The lego model, one of my favourite exhibits! The Temple of Athena Nike is front right, the Propylaia is centre front and the Parthenon is right back. The British Museum should swap the controversial marbles for this!

The Agora was the centre of commercial, administrative and political activity and while there is little left standing, this is the area that left me with the strongest sense of the ancient city.

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The Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed in the 1950s
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The original was two storeys high, had a series of 45 columns and housed expensive shops
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The Temple of Hephaestus was dedicated to the god of the forge and was surrounded by metalwork shops and foundries

Holly and Jonny joined us where we were camped near the tip of Attica at Cape Sounion for a weekend of brisk swims, coastal walks and sunsets over the sea.

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Kipper was happy to see some old playmates
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The Temple of Poseidon is on the headland in the distance
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The Temple was built at the same time as the Parthenon
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A dramatic outlook to sea

All too soon we had to pretend to be brave to say goodbye, pull ourselves together and remember the trail will one day take us back to our family again. You need to be living in the moment to appreciate the time of your life.

The Corinth Canal was thought to be a good idea for thousands of years but only built in the 19th century. The 6 km cut saves a journey of 700 km around the Peloponnese but is too narrow for many modern ships. Nevertheless it is an impressive sight and a must see for a long time canal fan.

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There is a submersible bridge at either end of the canal
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Pedestrians get to walk up the middle
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The canal links the Bay of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf

Ancient Corinth extends under a modern village, breaking ground in spaces between houses and through roadworks. The archaeological site and museum struggle to tell the story of the rich powerful city that once stood here but it’s position near to the Isthmus of Corinth that connects the Greek mainland with the Peloponnese and a wealth of history is fascinating.

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The Temple of Apollo
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The Roman fountain
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The Acrocorinth is a 570m hill of limestone rock
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It’s natural fortification is reinforced by a fortress that has seen centuries of action
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We stayed outside the gate overnight to enjoy an eerie view disappear into the mists

As we travel through Greece it seems that every few miles there is a story,  historical or mythological, for me to read out loud as we drive to the next site. I have to admit that there have been times when we feel all ruined out and ancient stones lose their ability to inspire. But not for long. It is so easy to imagine the lives that we read about in books when you are looking at the land that they saw.

Mycenae is older, much older than anything we have visited so far. This is the “Cyclopean city, rich in gold” referenced in Homer’s Iliad and is the city of the first major civilisation on the Greek mainland.

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The hill of the Acropolis was surrounded by a wall and further protected by two neighbouring mountains. 
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The ‘cyclopean’ stones gave rise to the myth it was built by Giants from Lycia. The Lions above the gate have lost their heads but are magnificent.
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The North Gate is a similar design and as with the Lion Gate,  built around 1250 BC 

 

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Mycenae is famous for treasures in gold but the pottery makes the lives of the ancients seem real
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Many exhibits are around 3,000 years old but the art makes the time melt away
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The entrance to the Treasury of Atreus or Grave of Agamemnon. Eighty chamber tombs have been excavated around the Acropolis of Mycenae
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The beehive shaped chamber was too spooky to stay inside alone for long!
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Mycenae had a commanding view over the plain

We have moved to the coast to pass the Christmas holiday; our first away from ‘home’.  We are miles away from loved ones but also miles away from a self inflicted frenzy of shopping and cooking. It would seem we are not far enough away from Michael Buble but I can always take a walk on the beach to get away from Graham’s perverse pleasure in playing Frosty the Snowman.

Seasons Greetings and lots of love! 

M & G xx

Treat of the Week: Buying fresh produce grown by Spiros at the camper stop in Ancient Corinth was a treat but we are going to enjoy the tooth achingly sweet preserved fruits made by his wife for months to come!

Feeling Good!

201 nights : 7,388 miles travelled :  countries visited: 14

Birds flying high you know how I feel, sun in the sky you know how I feel, breeze drifting on by you know I feel.     Newley & Bricusse

Greece is sunny and laid back which is helping us master the art of snailing. We have often had to force ourselves to move on, or even to do very much at all. Therefore this post covers four weeks of our trail across Northern and Central Greece.

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Kali mera!

Our first nights were in Alexandroupoli, just across the border from Turkey, recovering from the frustration of observing border rules unnecessarily. We found ourselves surrounded by jogging geriatrics. Despite being the youngest old people for miles, they made us feel like sloths so we left before the urge to join them overwhelmed us.

We parked overnight at the nature reserve in Fanari, enticed by the prospect of seeing pelicans and flamingos. We saw only swans and empty storks nests but loved sleeping on a narrow bar of land with a freshwater lagoon on one side of us and a sandy beach on the other.

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Beach life suits Kipper. He loves the space to run and adores playing in the sea. We joined David and Carol at Epanomi  near Thessaloniki and spent a blissful week adjusting to the gentle rhythm of life on a quiet beach in Greece.

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The view from Brian
Patamos Beach Epanomi (Greece). Kipper at work
David managed to capture Kipper doing his flying fish impression
Patamos Beach Epanomi (Greece). Kipper at work
He never tires of swimming for sticks and diving like an otter for stones
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Graham’s beach kitchen
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Stunning sunsets looking towards Mount Olympus
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Last night in the beach taverna that had generously given us water for the motorhome in exchange for us buying their wine. A good deal!!!!
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Before we say goodbye, Brian gives Felix the kiss of life to get him moving again!

There is so much more to Greece than beach life and we tore ourselves away to explore inland. Vergina is a relatively young village having been created in the 1920’s to accommodate Greeks from Turkey. They were made homeless in a population exchange in the aftermath of World War I. Only afterwards was it discovered that the village was built on the site of Aigai, the first capital of Macedon. An amazing museum has been created underground by the royal tombs, including that of Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great. He was assassinated here in 336 BC at the wedding of his daughter.

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The earth mound housing the tombs and the museum. Sadly no photography was allowed of the treasures inside
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The tunnel entrance into the mound

We felt that we had carried autumn with us for weeks since driving south from Hungary. It was in full force in Northern Greece as we moved from flame coloured peach trees around Vergina to copper plated beech in the Pindos mountains.

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Lunch stop in the Pindos mountains
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A few miles from this gorge is the Aheloos River, controversially dammed. Aheloos is god of the river in Greek mythology and locals say his mother Tethys is crying at the shame of it

Meteora is quite unlike anywhere else with monasteries and ruins perched on dramatic pinnacles of smooth rock. From the 11th century hermit monks inhabited caves in this landscape and from the 14th century monasteries offered a haven to monks escaping Turkish incursions.

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Camping in Kastraki near Meteora
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Moni Agiou Nikolau Anapafsa was closest to us but we aimed for the top
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The monasteries are now linked by roads but we walked on the old paths or monopati

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A dramatic view of Moni Agiou Nikolau Anapafsa from the side

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Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou
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Moni Varlaam. You can see the windlass being used above the footbridge to hoist supplies up. This was the original method of transporting people too! The cable in the foreground is supplying electricity to our destination, Moni  Megalou Meteorou behind us.

 

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Moni Megalou Meteorou is built on the highest rock. After climbing for so long with it above us, here we  could look down onto Moni Varlaam

 

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Despite being willing to wear a skirt, Kipper was not allowed to enter
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The verandah is modestly decorated compared to the church
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The katholikon or main church has a twelve sided dome and striking frescoes depicting the matyrdom of saints

We zigzagged east again to the busy port of Volos. This is ancient Iolkos from where the mythological Jason and the Argonauts set sail on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Just beyond is the Pelion Peninsula with mountains along it’s spine, narrow beaches around the fringe and seemingly entirely coated with trees bearing olives, nuts and citrus fruits. Our campsite was in an olive grove a few metres from the beach. This seemed wonderful until late on the first evening, the weather changed and with it, the sea. I didn’t sleep much as the boy’s snoring was drowned out by the waves and I felt I had to remain on Canute duty. I insisted we move further back the next day!

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The calm before the storm
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Our beach is vanishing!
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The village nearby was battered

In mythology, Zeus released two eagles at opposite ends of the earth and they met over Delphi so in Ancient Greece, this was considered the centre of the world. It has an imposing position high on Mount Parnassos looking out towards the Bay of Corinth and it is easy to imagine why so much spiritual significance was placed upon the city. The Sacred Way winds up through the site and is lined with the remains of monuments, treasuries and statues given by city states in thanks to Apollo for help in winning battles or other blessings.

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The Sanctuary of Athena
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The 4th century BC dome has been partially rebuilt
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The Sanctuary of Apollo
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The Temple and it’s gold statue of Apollo dominated the sanctuary
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The Athenian Treasury has been reconstructed
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The theatre gives fantastic views over the valley filled with olive trees
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The stadium is so well preserved there are still etched stone starting blocks
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The Castalian Spring, where pilgrims cleansed themselves before consulting the oracle, has been diverted to a fountain. Oracles were most often women in their 50s who would inhale vapours, talk gibberish and tell people what to do. I think I should apply for the job!
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The museum houses breathtaking exhibits like this Sphinx which would have stood on a column 12.5 m high. An offering to the Apollo of Delphi by the island of Naxos.
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The Gods are depicted fighting to subdue the Giants. The Gods win, symbolising the triumph of order and civilisation over savagery and anarchy. So much exquisite art to see everywhere.
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The Charioteer of Delphi. This life sized bronze statue dates from 470 BC and gave me goose bumps. Graham feels the reconstruction of the pieces  in the display behind is “a leap of faith!”

We briefly met Ali and Hendrik in Thessaloniki and then bumped into them again at Delphi. Like David and Carol, they are really experienced travellers, we feel we learn more from them over a cup of coffee than in days of researching the internet.

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Hendrik built Blac himself recycling highway signs!

Moni Osios Loukas is in an idyllic isolated setting that feels light years away from the modern world. The main church has some of the best preserved Byzantine frescoes but it was the beautiful mosaics that caught my eye. SAM_9182SAM_9213SAM_9210

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The simplicity of the monastic complex contrasts with the richly decorated church

We were heading for an important rendezvous with our daughter Holly in Athens but on the way pitched at Psatha near Porto Germano. The road down to the sea was one of the steepest and most twisted  we have encountered but Ali and Hendrik were there once again and had been watching dolphins play in the Bay! We only caught the very end of the display but we had just enough time to open a bottle of wine and once again watch the weather and the sea change before our eyes.

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It is now six months since we moved into the motorhome and so far the trail has exceeded our hopes, confounded our fears and is feeling good.

M & G x

Treat of the week: All our time in Greece has been a treat but the gifts of wine, flowers and fruit received from the old gentleman at the taverna on Potamas beach represents the warmth and generosity of everyone we have encountered.SAM_8824

Dire straits

191 nights : 7,279 miles travelled : countries visited 14

“And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits”.   Sun Tzu, The Art of War

We had survived more than a week without electricity and WIFI so we were looking forward to both as we drove from Istanbul to the Gallipoli Peninsula. We arrived at Hotel Kum and Camping after a long hot drive to find the gates open but all buildings locked. We found some men working in the grounds and one approached us with a scowl. ” We are closed. We closed on the 31st October.” I was confused but happy. “Oh good, this is only the 27th!” The reply was even brusquer. “We are closed.”

We found a free and much more hospitable alternative in nearby Eceabat beside the Boomerang Cafe. Ironically, this was a much better position right next to the Canakkale Strait (the Dardanelles) and once again watching huge ships pass by from our pillow was a real treat.

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We were officially welcomed to Turkish time by Mesut and his fellow raki loving customers in the cafe as they explained that it is not only the calendar that can be ignored. The Government had postponed putting the clocks back due to the upcoming election. We were delighted to hear this as we thought we were going mad with all our devices disagreeing over what the hour was!

The  narrow strait that is the Dardanelles is the only passage to Istanbul by sea and has seen centuries of conflict. The first naval war took place here in 405 BC when the Spartans defeated the Athenian navy. Alexander the Great, Byzantine and Ottoman leaders have all recognised the strategic importance of controlling this area as they created their empires. During World War I, Britain and France made two unsuccessful attempts to capture and hold the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Straits. There were many casualties on all sides including soldiers from Australia and New Zealand but the Turkish Army managed to resist  against expectations. This campaign became a defining event in the development of Turkey as a Republic. Kemal Mustafa, who went on to become Ataturk the ‘father’ of the secular nation that Turkey is now, emerged as an outstanding commander. Despite the passage of time, ANZAC day is still commemorated every year and many visitors, young and old, still visit from Australia and New Zealand.

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The statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded Allied captain is based on an incident reported by Anzacs and reflects the compassionate tone of the Gallipoli memorials and cemeteries
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Brighton Beach
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Beach Cemetery is located at Hells Spit on the southern end of Anzac Cove
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Anzac Cove
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Private A. Yeatman is buried with twenty others at Plugges Plateau
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Allen Yeatman was a 37 year old journalist who died helping a wounded soldier. These excellent cards brought many anonymous graves to life.
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The most memorable exhibits from the innovative museum were bullets pierced by other bullets showing the intensity of artillery fire
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The Anzacs and Turkish soldiers developed a high regard for each other
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The trenches here are some of the best preserved.
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They were often just a few metres apart and there are reports of items including food being exchanged between troops of opposing sides
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The Turkish 57th Infantry Regiment Memorial
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The cemetery commemorates 1,817 soldiers who lost their lives

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The beautiful peninsula is dotted with battlefields, memorials and cemeteries
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We reached the Canakkale Martyrs Memorial at the end of the peninsula in time for sunset

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Whilst our motorhome insurance covered us for the Asian side of Turkey we did not have breakdown cover. However we were a whisper away from the archeological site of Troy so we crossed our fingers and took Brian on his first ferry crossing.

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Brian in pole position ready to cross the Dardanelles
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We’re moving with nobody in the driving seat. I’d better stay alert!

We stayed in Tevfikiye beside a pension run by Uran and his parents. The little restaurant at the front also serves as a souvenir shop, breakfast room for the guests, tea house for tourist bus drivers and storage for the scooter!  Uran is a certified guide for the site of Troy 600m away and we are really glad he showed us around. Whilst we had done a lot of advance reading on the archaeological dig and the evidence it had unearthed, we would still have found ourselves wandering around a pile of old stones. The site has revealed nine successive cities spanning thousands of years.

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A section of the walls from Troy VII the most likely time of Homer’s Trojan war
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Troy was found under an earth mound in the 19th century by English archaeologist Frank Calvert and first excavated by the infamous German Heinrich Schliemann. Some of the oldest handmade bricks are protected here by replicas.
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Well preserved altars from Roman Troy
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If the legend of the Trojan Horse were true, then this is the most likely view from the gate it was left beside
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Access to Troy II castle was via this ramp
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Schliemann’s ‘trench’ showing walls and a gate from Troy I
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The theatre dates from Roman Troy IX
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A narrow gateway on a bend suggests the city was under attack at some time
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The most famous impression of the Trojan horse dates from the 1970s!
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The locals have named this stray dog Hector and he and his gang rule the village

We seriously considered taking a chance on exploring Turkey further without breakdown insurance but decided to head to Greece for the winter. On our last night, as I turned out the light, it suddenly occurred to me that whilst we had been concerned unnecessarily about paperwork to  bring Kipper into Turkey, would we have any difficulties getting him out? I decided there was no point researching it at midnight. Thirty seconds later I was on the internet researching. I discovered that Turkey is classified as high risk for rabies, so an additional test is required for entry into the EU to prove the rabies vaccine is active. Unfortunately the results take three months to process.  Without the test there was a chance of Kipper being taken into three months quarantine at the border.WHY DID I NOT CHECK THIS BEFORE? I decided there was no point waking Graham up to tell him. He would only be up all night worrying.  Thirty seconds later I was shaking Graham awake. We worried together all night, facing our own dire straits!

Uran was a hero. He initially laughed at the rules, then researched and agreed we would need to take Kipper to a vet for the test. He called his vet who said we should be able to get a government veterinary licence instead. Uran drove with us to the local government offices in Cannakale where an official said that no, we would need to go to a vet for the test and wait the three months. Uran asked her to check with Ankara and get back to us. Meanwhile, we convinced ourselves that there are many worse things than spending the winter in Turkey! We discussed where we could go and what we could do. An hour and a half later we received a call from the government official. Yes a veterinary licence would be issued. A further two hours spent between three government offices produced our valuable paperwork.

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Feeling relieved but 10 years older!

We approached the Greek border the next day proudly grasping Kipper’s pet passport and the hard earned official, government rubber stamped and sealed licence. The border control officer looked horrified when I offered them to him and quickly waved them away. Customs control didn’t even let the wheels stop rolling so were completely unaware that we may have a dog, cat or elephant in our motorhome, never mind the accompanying import licence. It was one of those very rare occasions when we were both speechless!

M & G x

Treat of the week: We had great difficulty communicating our requests in Turkey.  Two coffees please….Large or small?…Small please……..I’ll bring you doubles. (Grand Bazaar, Istanbul)

I’d like one melon please (me holding up 1 finger)….Farmer outside his gate replies  in Turkish and holds up 10 fingers….No I’d like 1 melon (1 finger raised)….Farmer pulls out carrier bag and starts filling it with melons….Okay I’ll take 2 melons (2 fingers raised)….Farmer continues talking in Turkish and keeps filling bag with melons…. Okay I’ll take 3 melons (3 fingers raised)….Farmer starts emptying bag and hands me 4 melons….How much..I start to raise my fingers to sign?……………………”ten lira” he answers in English. (Roadside in Anatolia)

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Melon every day for a week!