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Posts tagged "greece"

Greece (2)

  • 11/Nov/2018 at 12:43

When Greece became a travel destination for me and the islands were discarded (I will eventually go back there to sail them), my fear was to start visiting too many ruins, which I might not find interesting. I seldom normally like archeological museums, and I kind of thought this might be similar… I was completely wrong. Seeing the ruins in the actual locations made a complete different experience for me.

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Delphi was the first one of these ruins. We arrived the night before to the town which has emerged to accommodate services for the visitors of the ruins of Ancient Delphi, the main temple in the Ancient Greece. This was a pilgrimage destination for those who wanted to consult the oracle, in this sanctuary located in a wonderful place, on a hillside facing East, of course.

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According to the Greek Mythology, Delphi is the center of the World, and home of the oracle. The oracle was consulted by many people in their decisions. From marriage or merchant decisions made by regular people, to wars or alliances consultancy made by emperors and kings. The oracle spoke through the sybil (a priestess), who entered in trance and communicated with the oracle who then translated it to the people. Delphi had a huge temple devoted to Apollo (the God for fortune teller among other “responsibilities”), and it received gifts from every Greek city and state, who wanted to please the Gods. These gifts had the shape of small temples which kept the treasures. Only some remains are still in place, but you can still imagine how impressive entering in that place was. Delphi still preserves part of its stadium and theatre, where the worshippers probably had some leisure before returning to their homes.

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On our way out from Delphi, we also visited the Athena Pronae temple, devoted to Athena, which is the Goddess for fertility, health and wisdom. This was normally the first stop before reaching Delphi, and it also had plenty of small temples/treasures by the different cities, like the main temple.

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Further South, we took a small detour to visit the Hosios Lukas monastery from the byzantine times, also a World Heritage Site. This monastery is still active, and the monks can be seen doing daily activities like watering the plants, in an very well preserved monastery in a calm and peaceful environment.

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Before arriving to Nafplio, we had to cross the Corinth Canal, and as engineers, we spent a good time there. We observed the operations of the boats crossing from one side to the other, some without assistance (sailing boats, yachts), some with a tugboat (merchant ships). I had not seen before such a big canal, and I must admit I was impressed. Talking about Canals, this is not big neither in width (21 m) nor in length (6 km), although its depth is quite something (45 m). It made somehow sense that some of the former rulers in Greece came with the idea of this canal already in the 7th century BC, although it was not carried out till the late 19th century… because building a canal is not an easy job in any circumstance.

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After our first experience with ruins and having had fun at the canal, our next stop was Nafplio, which was a major contrast from the earlier ruins. Nafplio is the ancient capital of Greece, and the first things that arises your attention is the Venetian influence in its architecture. When I started walking around, it reminded me to the ambiance in Ibiza (in the town) during summer, with the people just willing to enjoy, do shopping, and eat in the terraces of the restaurants, under the beautiful bougainvillea that bring color to the streets. The city is heavily fortified: it has two fortress on top of the nearby hill, and one at the entrance of the port. The port is not very busy in terms of boat traffic, and has not many services. I was surprised to see that the sailing boats used the anchor inside the port, as there was no buoy.

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Nafplio would not have probably been part of our itinerary if it did not have nearby the Mykenes city remains. This city was much older (15th century BC) than the Delphi or any other temple built in the Golden Age of Greece, and the conservation status is also worse. Still, some advanced engineering features could be seen, like the cistern to collect water, which we could almost see in action, thanks to a sudden storm that caught us inside it.

After Nafplio, we went back towards Athens, surrounding it during the rush hour, as we headed East through the Apollo Coast. This is the holiday and weekend destination of the Athens people, as it is nearby, and the high standards can be seen. We saw many private beaches, lots of private marinas with huge boats, and the space became less busy and inexpensive as we got away from Athens.

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The whole reason behind this tour was to reach the Temple of Poseidon, in Sounion. The sunset there must be amazing, but we were unlucky with the clouds. In any case, with or without sunset, the location of this temple was also breathtaking on top of a hill in a cave, with a gorgeous view of the seas, very appropriate for the God of the Seas. Perfect last sight before returning to Athens…

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After many small towns and lots of driven kilometres, finally staying for a few days in a city felt like heaven. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to feel the city vibe as I would have liked. I have the feeling I saw the main spots, but have not experienced the city enough, which seems to be also an interesting part of Athens.

The musts in Athens include of course the Parthenon, which is unfortunately always packed with tourists (even at early times), the nearby Roman Agora, and the most impressive Ancient Agora, which is the old Greek city.

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If you have not been to Greece, go there. Take some time to explore the Ancient Greece sites. They will not deceive you.

Greece (1)

Greece is very well known for their islands and beaches, as a sun&sand destination, but those are not my typical motivations when travelling to a new destination for the moment. Instead, our visit to Greece, which would end in a conference in Athens, would not take us to the beaches but to another less popular part of Greece nowadays, but the most vibrant part in the World centuries ago.

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Greece was home of the civilisation as we know it today. The Western culture, and in particular the European one, is heavily influenced by the Ancient Greek Culture, in spite of the many centuries that have passed, and the long distance that separate us. Greeks were pioneers in the use of the democracy, the philosophy, the science, and the arts 2500 years ago.

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Many of the names then famous remain still today key to understand the World, and their works remain valid. Just to name a few: Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Sophocles or Pythagoras are for sure well known to you. Their footprint in Maths was so important, that their alphabet is still used today as the default one for scientific writing. Visiting the places where they inhabited, and understanding their traditions and mythology was one of the goals of this trip, while enjoying some nature beauties of this Mediterranean country.

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Our flights arrived in the afternoon to Athens airport, so we drove up North to Meteora. Meteora is not an Ancient Greek site, but still a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is one of those places that I had personally not heard before preparing this trip, but that became a priority once I discovered it. As of today, I also consider it the best highlight of the trip, and I do not regret of any of the (many) kilometres driven to reach there. Meteora is an area with geologic formations of rocks, with very steep sides, formed by an ancient beach and the erosion of the water and the wind. Meteora comes from the greek meteoros, which means “suspended in the air”, which is what it seems… In the 11th century, monks started to build monasteries on top of the hills. These monasteries were difficult to reach, and most of them could only be accessed thanks to pulleys which had to be pulled from the monasteries, becoming a safe refuge during different periods of times.

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Meteora main monasteries can be visited in half a day, and the sooner you start, the less buses (and their passengers) you encounter. We could visit three of them: Saint Nicholas Anapausas, the first one we encounter, and with the highlight of the views (early morning) and a fresco by Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco, from 1527; the Great Meteoron, which is huge, similar to a small town, and where most buses made a stop there, and the Holy Trinity one, which required a short hike/climb to reach. We missed the Rousanou one as it was closed, and looked really interesting to visit to.

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The next stop was the Pelion Peninsula, and we headed there. The Pelion Peninsula, according to the Greek mythology, was home for centaurs, where they enjoyed life their way (wine, virgins, and countryside) in this small paradise. It is a peninsula with a linear mountain in the center, having at its western side the towns of Portuaria and Makrinitsa, overseeing Volos city at its feet, and several small towns and beautiful beaches on the other side.

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Volos is famous for the Greeks as the port where Jason and the Argonauts left. The port is still there, and although it is a relative small one, it hosts a major fleet of sailing vessels to explore the Greek islands. When we arrived to Volos on Sunday evening from the highway, it seemed a phantom city. This impression was quickly changed when we walked the promenade next to the port, plenty of bars and full of people. We also had the chance to see a procession due to the day of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, who were the ones who found Christ’s cross. The procession was similar to the Spanish ones, with the authorities, representatives from the military and a band of music, and everyone dressed up.

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The Pelion Peninsula did not deceive us either. Portuaria and Makrinitsa are holidays destination for the local people of that area, as they are easily reachable. They are two small towns on the green hillsides, with small white houses with views to the plain and the sea, and no cars. A wonderful place for weekends and holidays for the non distant (and well off) Volos citizens.

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The other side of the Peninsula made us understand why the centaurs loved it there. Agios Ionais (St.John) is a small port, that was getting ready for the avalanche of tourists a few weeks later (this trip was in mid-May). I was surprised by the lack of maintenance during winter season, which was keeping everybody extremely busy those days. The frontline houses, although some of them quite old and not well maintained, conferred a nice atmosphere to this town.

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A bit more South, we reached Damouchari, a beautiful small cave, where some children were kayaking, while some people (us included) enjoyed a nice sardina lunch at the restaurant nearby. This location became suddenly famous thanks to the Mamma Mia movie, which was filmed here. Maybe that was the reason the beach nearby had few people, but all of them were Swedes. Aiming for some views, and in order to deserve the lunch, we also did some trekking up the hill nearby through a really steep path in a wonderful sunny and hot day, allowing us to see more of that Peninsula, made of three colors: the blue sea, the green nature, and the white houses.

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On our way from Pelion to Delphi, the road goes really close to the Pass of Thermopylae. This location is famous for the battle between Greece and Persia, and one feels some excitement when the brown sign announcing the historical sites appear… but the excitement vanishes when you see it is just a Pass, and not as impressive as depicted in the movie “300”, where the Spartan army lead by Leonidas beat the Persian one… But the best places were still to come…

Olemiswebs
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