Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mycenae, Epidayros, Arachova, and Delphi

     On Thursday the 12th, we left Nafplio and headed to Epidaurus, an archaeological site and home to a  giant amphitheater with unbelievable acoustics. From any seat in the theater, one can hear a person on the ground in the center speak, but the voices of the audience are muted. It is said that it's not only the shape of the theater, but the limestone it's carved from that creates that effect.

     Epidaurus was a place of healing. People came from all over Greece to this site for medical and spiritual healing. Plays were performed, there were hotels and restaurants, and there was even a place at the far end of the grounds for dream therapy. There is a story of a woman who came to Mycenae for troubles with conceiving a child. The barren woman went to dream therapy, and reportedly had a dream that Asklepios, the god of health, came to her, lifted her tunic, and touched her belly. Months later, she gave birth to a son (by her husband).
     After Epidaurus, Giorgios drove us to Mycenae, the ruins of the first capitol of Greece. After 999 steps at the castle, I have made it my business to scale any hill necessary in our travels, and this was the first since then. The view from the top was really spectacular, and of course I needed a photo as proof I climbed again.

     Before we headed back to Athens, Ioanna wanted to show us the Corinth Canal. 

     As soon as I laid eyes on this sight, I burst into tears. Before I left for Greece, I found a photograph my Papou took when he and my Grandma were here a few years ago, stuffed in their old guide book. My Papou has always had an incredible memory but something's gone wrong and his memory is fading. The photograph was identical to the one above, and he had no idea where it was. I stood on the bridge, unable to speak, and let the reality of everything sink in. I knew I had to document this place, so that when I return home I can tell him myself where he had been.

     Thursday night we made the long journey back to Athens and Friday morning we gathered at the Hellenic American University for a Lightroom class. I just recently took a Lightroom class back at home, so I spent the time adding to what I call my "Holy Grail" photography notebook. I'd printed some of Herbert List's photos (see first post) before I left for Greece, so I pasted them in and looked up biographical information. When class was finished we paraded down to the cafe for lunch, then had the rest of the day to ourselves.
     Saturday morning, the 14th, the group visited the National Archaeological Museum. Ioanna walked us through and gave us the highlights, then we had open time to continue walking around and photographing. I always get antsy in museums after about two hours, so once I got to my breaking point, I left and headed back to the hotel.

     That evening, five of us adventured out for dinner on our own, instead of having another expensive meal with the whole group. We ended up on the main drag downtown, and soon found out that we'd stumbled into the rally and subsequent parade for Athen's Pride! All of us had left our cameras in the hotel and were immediately kicking ourselves for doing so. I had my iPhone and took several photos and videos; my favorite was the first float with people dancing to Cher's Believe. 
     Sunday morning, we piled into another bus and made another long journey to the the little ski town of Arachova. When we were almost there, there was a pull-off on the mountain road that over-looked the sleepy town and valley below and the view was breathtaking. There was a man sitting in a little red car who apparently lived on the side of the hill. His name was George and he took to me immediately, speaking to me in Greek, though I didn't understand, and eventually wrote down his name on a strip of paper for me, followed by his phone number.

     It's off-season right now so the town was very quiet. We checked into the hotel then rode the bus back into town and had about an hour and a half to walk around photographing. There were some interesting sites, and another set of stairs to climb (only 264 this time). Later, we boarded the bus again and made the quick trip to Delphi, and the Temple of Apollo. Ioanna brought us through the museum first and told us about all the facts and myths surrounding the temple, then we ventured out to see it for ourselves. We eventually got rained out and had to make our way back to the bus.

 I thought this statue looked like one of the two from the Never Ending Story that the brave warriors must pass through and I couldn't resist!

     Since we got rained out that afternoon, we decided to head back in that direction Monday morning, and check out the Temple of Athena across the way. For some reason, not much is known about this particular temple, aside from which god it was built for. My mentor, Gary Samson, obliged to take my photo in front of the ruins.

     From Delphi we headed to a monastery for several hours of relaxation. I only took a few photos; instead I concentrated my efforts on writing (and a nap) during my time there. The long dress in the photo above was required for entrance into the monastery's sacred buildings. 

     After the group had rested and reflected, we piled into the bus once more and took the long ride back to Athens. More adventures to come!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Spetses and the Journey to Nafplio

     The last week has been so crazy busy I've barely had time to sleep. I left off with my trip to the island of Spetses. During my stay there, I visited the local antique shop a half dozen times and made friends with the man who owned it, named Jordan, who graciously allowed me to take his photo.

     I failed to mention in my last post that during the first day on the island, while I spent time alone, four girls approached me and asked if I could take their photo. They were visiting from the island of Sfakia, and insisted I join them for a picture as well.

     On the last day I visited the town's fish market and hovered around as the men displayed that morning's catch. The whole scene was ripe with photo opportunities and I was clicking away like mad. Watching the townspeople approach to buy that evening's dinner was really intriguing, especially coming from the land of super market gluttony. Several cats hung around waiting for handouts, mewing so as not to be forgotten. I hovered as one man shaved away the scales of one fish.

      Late Wednesday morning, the 11th, the group gathered their things and boarded a small boat to take us back to the mainland of the Peloponnese across the water. 

     Once on land, we boarded a bus (driven by an incredibly handsome Greek man named Giorgios - we're friends now) and took the two and a half hour ride to the village of Nafplio. The scenery along the way changed again and again. It started out poor with many hollow, unfinished dwellings, likely the result of a terrible economy and lack of funds. As we travelled more inland, the landscape turned to sprawling green mountains, and olive and orange groves. Then at last, when we crossed the peninsula, an astonishing view of the sea.

      Once we got to Nafplio and threw our belongings into hotel rooms, Ioanna guided us all over town. Nafplio is famous for a little trinket called "worry beads,"made of all kinds of materials from amber and onyx to wood and plastic. The idea is that one plays with these beads, sliding them around on the string when worries surface, and the repetitive clink of the beads and the motion of moving them around will cause the worries to fade away. I'm not sure if it's something I really believe in, but I did buy a strand made of dark wood that smells like incense, as a token to remember this place. 
     Ioanna guided us up a hill to an old fort over looking the town and the bay, then into a strange tunnel to take an elevator up to the top of the hill. Once we were up, we made our leisurely way back down the other side. On the way, we encountered cactus, cliff jumpers, lots of anti-Nazi graffiti, and more astonishing views.

     The town of Nafplio is also famous for Palamidi Castle, which has precisely 999 steps up to the front door. I'm not the most athletic of girls but I looked at those nearly thousand steps as a challenge and that night, after taking a dip in the ocean, Kara and I decided to make the hike. It took us a half hour to get to the top - we took a lot of breaks to take photos and breathe - and then about twenty minutes to come down. It was dark when we reached the top, and we were dripping with sweat, but we did it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Acropolis, an Aegean Island, and a Kitten Named Chelsea

Oh where to begin!

     On Saturday morning, a few of us girls went out to explore the surrounding neighborhood in Athens. We didn't have to meet back up with the rest of the group until late morning to head over to the Acropolis Museum, so we wandered around, photographing some very impressive graffiti and townspeople. I'm still very surprised by how much graffiti there is in Athens; a lot of it is due to the issues with the government and a bit of a rebellion toward the state of the economy.
     When the five of us met back up with the rest of the group, we made the long trek to the Acropolis Museum, in view of the backside of the Acropolis itself. Ioanna taught us a lot about the history of the Parthenon and the destruction it endured. I had no idea it was in such a state of ruin due to an explosion. The museum was filled with both original and replicas of pieces of the Parthenon and the other structures atop the plateau. Eight of us grabbed lunch in the museum cafe while it spontaneously poured outside.

     Later, the entire group hurried along through the Plaka, one of the oldest sections of Athens, while the rain poured down on our unprepared heads. We gathered together at a cafe and had a huge shared meal of traditional Greek dishes, while the waiters used umbrella poles to siphon the collected rainwater off of the canvas roof above.

     Sunday we had a late start and I managed to catch up on sleep for a little while before heading up to breakfast on the roof. I switched to another pair of sneakers and stuck medicated bandaids to my blisters which in conjunction worked wonders, as I hiked up the trail to the top of the Acropolis. The view of Athens was incredible and the Parthenon was breathtakingly massive.

     All of us wandered around photographing after Ioanna gave her talk. I met a British couple and took their photograph and the man took mine, then a group of three Greek school boys asked me to take their photo and returned the favor as well. On the way down, I passed by a man playing a flute and seven cats were sitting around him listening to the music:

The Cat Whisperer, Athens, 2014

     I'm currently on the island of Spetses, and it's been a whirlwind of hot walks, motorbikes, cats, and antique photographs. The group had lunch on the beach after getting situated at the hotel, and then broke away to do our own things. I decided to take some alone time and wander the shore looking for sea glass and photograph at my leisure. 

     The town is really quaint with a few streets full of shops, and there are cats everywhere. I actually managed to rescue a tiny kitten from a dumpster. I was on one of the side streets and saw a large cat jump into a small dumpster. As I walked up and peered in, the cat got spooked and jumped out. It was then that I spotted the little grey kitten trying to eat something in a garbage bag. There was no way she would be able to get out considering how deep the dumpster was, so after circling around and getting her used to my presence for a few minutes, I was able to boost myself up on the wall and pull her out. Just as I got a got her to calm down, a woman walked up and said hello to me in English. I learned her name is Michelle, she and her husband moved to Spetses from England, and she's made it her business to take in cats on the island. The kitten was nice and calm in my arms and I handed her over to Michelle, whom I photographed with the tiny fluff ball in her arms. Michelle and I decided to name the kitten Chelsea, after me, and then she plunked the little baby inside her sweater and rode away on her RV. 

Michelle and Chelsea, Spetses, 2014

Friday, June 6, 2014

Hello Athens!

     Today was my first full day in Athens! After losing a day to travel; a ten hour flight from Boston to Istanbul, a two-hour layover in the Turkish airport, and a second quick flight to Athens, we finally arrived last night.
     This morning I awoke to bright light streaming in through our balcony and no idea where I was. Not until I got up and peered outside to see the breath-taking view down the street did it actually hit me. That's the thing about arriving in a new place in the dark. I poked my head back in the room to rouse my roommate, Sanico, and we both squealed as we allowed our tired American eyes adjust to the gorgeous Grecian light.
     We met up with the rest of the group during breakfast at the hotel's roof restaurant and bar. We met our historian, Ioanna, and she took the thirteen of us over to the cafe at the Hellenic American University to meet two more ex-Pats and fill out some paperwork. Later, the group headed down town to the Benaki Museum, where Ioanna gave us a shot-gun lesson on the history of Greece, complete with icons, ceremonial vases, and 18th century clothing.
     When we finished touring the museum, a few of us headed up to the rooftop bar there and re-hydrated. I was photographing a group of older socialite women dining and chit-chatting casually with  elaborate quaffs and outfits. One woman saw me photographing, invited me over to their table, kissed me, hugged me, sat me down, and bought me a glass of wine, while they all spoke to me in high-speed Greek. They wanted to know where the photos of them would end up…

Ladies Lunching, Athens, 2014

     I gave them directions to my website which carries a link here so hopefully they'll find their happy faces.

     Once the whole group reconnected, we walked further into the heart of Athens in the direction of the Acropolis. We found ourselves between the high street with all the fast fashion stores and the tourist trap side streets with shoe stores and t-shirt carts galore. A few people broke away eventually to head back to the hotel before meeting back at the Hellenic center for dinner, and the rest of us continued on to see some of the ruins of ancient Athens and various stray cats.
     Sitting at dinner was refreshing for those of us who thought it was a good idea to break in new shoes… Later, eight of us met up on the hotel's roof bar again for Mythos beer and red wine. I can't wait for tomorrow.