In the merry month of May (as in last month, precisely), I visited the ancient country of Greece. Despite my peripatetic nature, I have never before been to this land because a booking made twenty years ago was not fulfilled due to gastrointestinal issues. I have read about Greece (including Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian War), watched travel programs about Greece, and eaten Greek food (being especially fond of gyros and baklava). And now, finally, I actually physically made it there. I will tell you at the outset, our gyros are better than their gyros.
Most people who have visited Athens have not been impressed. Generally, the city is described as being crowded, polluted, and dirty. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much the size of it. You go to Athens to see the Acropolis and a few museums and then you leave. I will admit, however, that the great Parthenon (shown above. Click on the image for a truer impression) is more impressive than its pictures. It is a well known landmark, but being close to those gigantic pillars is a striking experience. And to contemplate that they were constructed over two thousand years ago is even more impressive. Also, learning that there were a number of other temples and various structures on the grounds, and everything was in color, sort of seals the deal. Yes, folks, the ancient Greeks were a stellar group.
Here is the Athenian amphitheatre. I learned that all the city-states of ancient Greece had amphitheatres of various sizes so the citizenry could gather together and learn stuff. This is something our modern society could emulate. The best many of our towns have is a basketball gym and monthly PTA meetings. How are we going to produce anymore Euripideses that way?
One of the most charming towns I have ever visited is Nafplion, located on the water, not far from Athens. This is a picture of the harbor from my hotel window. At night all of this turns dark blue rather than black—I suppose from the Mediterranean water. It’s one of the most amazing nighttime spectacles I’ve seen.
This is the entrance to the ancient Olympic Stadium. I learned that the Olympic games extended from 700 B.C. to 500 A.D. That, ladies and gentlemen, if we can do the math correctly, is 1200 years—five times longer than the existence of the United States. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
This is the actual field that the running events occurred. The winner got a wreath, which usually withered by the time he got home. Even under Roman occupation the events went on. It seems I recall being told that the participants participated naked. Hearing this, I volunteered, in the interest of accurate recreation, to run the field naked myself. Fortunately for all, I was actively discouraged by the wiser heads in my group.
The most beautiful and interesting place I visited on this trip was ancient Delphi (here we have a view from my hotel window). This is an area built on the side of a mountain that housed the oracle. The drive up by bus was literally dizzying. Greeks would make the pilgrimage to this religious site 2500 years ago to seek counsel when important decisions needed to be made, especially during times of war. Below is a view of their amphitheater.
There is a steep climb to the top of the site where a fairly well preserved stadium resides. I have paused here to show both my trekking ability and my musculature. Charles Atlas, eat your heart out. I should also give a thumbs up to the town of Delphi which has nice boutiques and restaurants and friendly merchants.
And lastly I present pictures of the cliff top monasteries of Metoria. I have found these pictures on the internet because the ones I took could not do them justice. Once there were a large number of monasteries (Forty or so? I can’t remember.) but now only four or five remain. One of them only has one monk living in it, and a number of support people.
They function as much as tourist destinations and historic representations now than actual fully functioning monasteries (we were told the nuns work eight hours a day, pray eight hours a day, and sleep eight hours a day, for a healthy balance). These are monks and nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church, not others.
I hope you have liked this tour of the Greek mainland. Next month I shall take you on a tour of the Greek Islands.
Farewell for now. 🙂