Sights and sounds of Luxor
We're in Luxor and it is so hot here! We're out of the hotel early in the morning to see the sights, but it's sweltering by 10; we stick it out as long as we can, and rest through the hottest part of the day. My hair feels like straw.
We've seen some really cool things, though - the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Tombs of the Nobles, Karnak Temple and lots of other things. The first tomb we saw was Tutankhamun's. Really impressive. We had the tomb to ourselves (with a guard) for a few minutes and just kept looking at the coffin and wall paintings. Most of the treasures from his tomb are in the Egyptian Museum, which we've seen, but just seeing the sarcophagus and paintings was worth the trip. The other tombs were also really cool - the vivid colors, still showing 3,000 years later. WOWEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! One of the tombs was for one of the mummies that I saw in Cairo. Eerie feeling.
Sights and sounds of Luxor - waking up at 4:30 every morning to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer. Which wakes up the donkeys, and they go at it periodically all day long. The birds chirping come soon after. Night sounds include the frogs croaking and the crickets. We're in a hotel run by a German woman so it's mostly full of Germans. The food is GREAT!! Our room is in the 5th floor of a walk-up, which we have to ourselves, with a huge terrace overlooking the city (there's a West Bank, and East Bank, separated by the Nile; we're on the West Bank because it has less touts). Once you get up all the stairs, it's great. It was a full moon the other night, and we could still see the sky full of stars. We even saw Orion's Nebula (we've never seen that before, even without the brightness of the full moon).
We go to the beach tomorrow for a few days, then back to Cairo.
The Egyptians believed that you could take it with you, so they painted/rendered representations of things in the pyramids/tombs that would "serve and protect the deceased on their journey into the afterlife." They had death masks so that their souls or spirits would recognize them (Tutankhamun's golden death mask, in the Egyptian Museum, weighs 11 kilos - about 24 pounds). Saqqara was the burial ground for the deceased pharaohs and other nobles from Memphis; the Step Pyramid was built for Zoser in 2650 BCE. The pyramids at Giza were built a little later. The Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) was completed around 2570 BCE and was originally 146 meters high, but it's lost 9 meters. It was built with 2.3 million limestone blocks, averaging 2.5 tons each. The second pyramid was built for his son Khafre (Chephren), and the third for his grandson Menkaure (Mycerinus). The second pyramid appears largest because it is on higher ground. They were each originally covered by a limestone casing, which "would have gleamed like giant crystals" but that covering was taken away later and used to build palaces and mosques, "leaving the soft inner-core stones exposed to the elements." The second pyramid still has its original covering at the top. The Sphinx was probably carved during Khafre's rule, since it has his (Khafre's) features.
From Aswan, we made side trips to Abu Simbel and Philae Temple. Abu Simbel, about 25 miles from the Sudanese border, was dedicated to various gods, but also built to honor Ramses II. It was carved out of the mountain between 1274 and 1244 BCE, but was endangered by the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960's. It was moved, piece by piece, to a location away from the water and 65 meters higher than the original location. Each statue is 20 m high, and in front of and next to the statue of Ramses, on a more realistic scale, are statues of his wife (Nefertari), his mother and some heir children. Nearby, and also having been moved from its original location, is a Temple of Hathor, dedicated to Nefertari. Philae Temple was also moved so that it could be preserved; the Temple of Dendur, now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, is another.
About 1/3 of the way from Aswan back up the Nile towards Cairo is Thebes (modern day Luxor). This was the religious/political center of the 18th-20th Dynasties (1550-1069 BCE). Tutankhamun, several Ramses, and others were buried in the Valley of the Kings; the Valley of the Queens is nearby, and the Tombs of the Nobles. Cameras weren't allowed in any of those tombs, but the colors/reliefs were quite spectacular. Most of the tombs were empty - just the paintings and reliefs, and the treasures have been removed to various museums. Tut's innermost coffin was in a box in the tomb, and his mummy was in that. His tomb was such a great find because it hadn't been pilfered by tomb robbers, or "archaeologists" when first discovered.
Deir al-Bahri contains a Temple of Hatshepsut, who was the daughter of Tuthmosis I and married to her half-brother Tuthmosis II, whose son (Tuthmosis III) by a minor wife was to be his successor. As the kid was not yet of age, Hatshepsut took over and ruled for 20 years (a "time of peace and internal growth"). Deir al-Medina is the "Workmens' Village" - where the artists and craftspeople who actually worked on the tombs and temples lived. Medinat Habu was a "large funerary temple" built by Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III, and added to/overshadowed by the addition built by Ramses III. "It was the center of the economic life of Thebes for several centuries and was still inhabited as late as the 9th century CE." Ramses III ruled from 1184-1153 BCE, and inspired Boris Karloff's "The Mummy."
The Temples of Karnak are a "spectacular complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks, all dedicated to the Theban gods and to the greater glory of Egypt's pharaohs." The oldest parts date from the 12th Dynasty (1985-1955 BCE) and was added to for the next several hundred centuries; supposedly even the Christians added to it. Hope you enjoy the photos!!
Lonely Planet, Egypt, 2004
We're in Nimes now (just outside of the Provence area of France); the last of our Roman ruins for awhile. The trip has been awesome!
We're using Thomas' car (Pete's brother) and have driven 3,000 kilometers so far (about 1900 miles), mostly back roads; the smaller and curvier; the better.
We spent a few days on the Riviera - but not the glamorous side; it was our first attempts at camping. The first night it rained, and we could hear each drop hit the tent. We've gotten past that - we've woken up to a few thunderstorms since then. A lot different than watching a thunderstorm from the protection of a house. We stuck our feet in the water in Monte Carlo; the Grand Prix is this weekend so the city's streets were covered in rows of tires in preparation for that. Then we drove through Cannes, where they were getting ready for the film festival. All the billboards were up for the different movies. We went for a swim in the Mediterranean near the campsite - the water was a beautiful blue; but freezing cold!!!
Provence is SO beautiful!! The colors, the flowers in the window boxes and lace curtains, the old houses and buildings, the different colors on the shutters, the hill towns . . . And a few Roman ruins thrown in for good measure, too. We were just clicking away! Poor Pete - STOP - KODAK MOMENT!!! - turn around - I saw a picture!
We spent a few days in Arles, where Van Gogh painted some of his famous works. We split up for the day and Pete went to the Roman amphitheater while I probably got a picture of every shutter and window box in the town.
We're heading to Spain in the next few days, but we don't plan on spending much time there. We're ready to be back near the water, on the coast of Portugal. The food here has been wonderful, but Pete's looking forward to fresh seafood.
Life Isn't Always a Bowl of Cherries
Okay, so things don't always go according to plans and you have to make changes as you go along . . . Neither of us could get excited about going to Spain (neither of us having read anything about it, either), but we had to go through it to get to Portugal, which we were both looking forward to seeing (beaches, fresh seafood . . .). So we kept putting Spain off, finding more places to see in France, i.e., Carcassonne. It's a fortified medieval city, and as you approach it, you see this walled city up on a hill with the turrets and everything, like you read about in fairy-tales . . . So cool. A bit kitschy as you enter the walls with all the souvenir shops, but once you get past that, the whole thing's a Kodak Moment (and we were both certainly clicking away).
And it was quicker to go through Andorra - all those tiny, curvy roads, vs. the straight and expensive freeway. The mountain pass getting over the French-Andorra border is so beautiful, that we had to stop a million times to take pictures, so we have to stay there for the night and put off Spain for another day.
We finally made our push to get through Spain, mostly on freeways for the first time on this trip. We spent the first night at what we thought was some dinky little town. The food there was great! We got the "fixed price" menu, which included an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and either wine or water, all for about $10. Not a bad deal. Thinking he'd get a glass of wine or maybe a half carafe, Pete ordered the wine, and got a ¾ liter bottle of wine, all for himself! (Our hotel room was attached to the restaurant, so he didn't have to drive anywhere.) He got an omelet with shrimpies, and he was in heaven. About 5 minutes uphill from the hotel, there's a huge Roman arch!! It was under scaffolding so we couldn't see the actual thing, but the size and location was pretty impressive - at the edge of a hill town so everyone approaching could see it, and feel the power of the Romans. It's fun to see the amphitheaters and arches and other things I learned about when studying Roman history, but it's also fun to come upon Roman ruins that you didn't know existed - just in the middle of nowhere, there are the Romans, showing their imperialistic reach.
So we're thinking that Spain isn't so bad - great food, Roman ruins - and we continue driving on the freeway towards Granada (the Alhambra) and Sevilla - we finally did some research and found some places to see, and a nice place we could spend our 10th wedding anniversary at, which was in a few days. The car had other ideas. About 90 km south of Madrid, in the middle of nowhere, the car lost its power temporarily. We stopped at a gas station, and saw that oil was in the cooling water. We called the Spanish version of AAA and got towed to the nearest town, but it being Saturday, the garage was closed and no one would look at it until Monday morning. We spent the weekend at a truck stop. There was an attached hotel which was nice, but there was no menu to choose from - you looked at what was offered, and picked from that (and not a very wide selection, either). Pete loves seafood, but you can't live on fried squid for two days. I had some Oreos stashed away that we found in an Andorra store to snack on. We had no place to go, since we had no car, there was nothing to see in the truck stop (there was a bullfight on TV, though), and we could only speak a few words in Spanish. Someone looked at the car Monday, and said it might be fixable. After a lot of back and forth between the Spanish AAA and the Swiss AAA and Hertz, the powers that be decided that the car would be transported back to Switzerland to be worked on and we would get a rental car to get us back to the French-Swiss border, but we would have to drive almost 2,000 km in 48 hours. Our rental car was an air-conditioned BMW, so that helped.
We were doing good timewise, so were able to spend a night in Beaune, where we had stayed a few years ago. It's a really important wine-producing city, and charming, and it was our anniversary, and we weren't in a truck stop any more but in a nice hotel, and I was able to luxuriate in a really nice bath (which I can't even get in Goldach)!!!!!!
We're back in Goldach now, but the car won't be here until June 9. We still don't know exactly what's wrong or if it's worth fixing, so we're thinking of other options. Maybe get a cheap last-minute flight to Portugal and rent a car, and then take a train to western/northern France and rent a car from there??? We took the hint and are going to pass on going back to Spain for now . . .
Notes for Photos
We started out in early May driving through the Valais part of Switzerland (where the Matterhorn is located), and then made our way to Provence (at one time a "province" of the Roman Empire).
The region is filled with Roman ruins. (From what we've seen so far, though, Roman ruins appear all over Europe, but especially so in Province.) It also has cobblestone streets, fortified cities from the Middle Ages, colorful window shutters and doors, blooming flowers in the window boxes and growing along the walls . . . Alas, the lavender fields weren't blooming yet; that happens in mid-July to mid-August, but along with the lavender come the crowds and the heat. Maybe another trip.
The Gorges du Verdon, our first stop in Provence, is the European counterpart to the Grand Canyon (although this was hilly and green). We camped in Fréjus on the Riviera for a few days and made day trips to St. Tropez, Monte Carlo, Cannes, and Cassis (a port city near Marseille), moved on to Aix-en-Provence, and then Arles (where Van Gogh painted). Roman ruins, painted shutters, great food, music. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is an island surrounded by a canal in the middle of Provence, and it was our next base. We woke up a few times to the sound of thunderstorms and rain pelting on the tent, but it usually cleared up within a few hours. We took more day trips into the Luberon area from there (Vaison-la-Romaine, Gordes, Roussillon, Viens), just driving, clicking, driving, clicking . . .
The Camargue is a delta west of Marseille that contains "extensive marshes and unique freshwater and saltwater habitats . . . with over 500 species of permanent and migratory land and water birds," including flamingoes (and wild horses). It "was formed over the ages by sediment deposited by the Rhône as it flows into the Mediterranean." Salt is drawn from the sea there, so there are also "salt dunes" up to 30 feet or so.
Aigues Mortes was one of the cities which had been fortified as a result of the Albigensian Crusade, which was called by the Church in the 13th century to rid the area of "heretics." Carcassone's fortifications were already there in the 13th century (from the Romans and others).
Andorra was our last major Kodak moment, before heading into Spain where things didn't work out so well with the car and we had to come back to Switzerland.
Lonely Planet, France, 2005
While we were waiting for the car to be fixed, we flew to Portugal and rened a car. Azulejo tiles everywhere - as addresses, as walls of houses, as decorations on houses, on/in churches, bus stops, city walls, train stations . . . Besides the Roman influences, the Moors conquered Portugal in the 8th century, so their influence can still be seen in different cities. Portugal also has "the boys" - older men who gather at the local cafés in the afternoon in different towns and chat the time away. (We occasionally saw women with them, but not very often.)
We started out at the beach in Salema on the Algarve, but where it's not so crowded (we took a dirt road to get to the town); you ask fishermen/women if they have a room which you can rent. We got a two-floor apartment right on the beach, falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing.
We drove along the coast a bit, then north and inland to Evora - what a great place!! We stayed at a 16th century manor house; our room had a beautifully painted ceiling; other rooms had decorated walls or bed frames. Whitewashed buildings, flowers growing along and down the sides of the walls, a Roman temple and aqueduct (parts filled in over the ages to accommodate modern needs) and a painted wall from a Roman villa. There was a festival going on, so there was some other "fun stuff" around town - marionette shows, a concert in the main square, and a book fair.
A quick trip to the beach, then to another fortified city - Obidos. More flowers hanging on more whitewashed walls, and another castle (I think from the 12th century). The yellow paint on walls is to keep away evil spirits, and the blue to keep away mosquitoes.
Still the student, we went to Coimbra, which has a university which was established 700 years ago. Some of the buildings are only from the 16th century, though. Nearby Coimbra was Conimbriga - a whole "city" of Roman ruins!! Some of the houses were destroyed to build a wall against an attack by the "barbarians," but several of the mosaics are pretty much in tact. Some are just for decoration, but some show scenes from their daily lives.
Our next stop was Pinhão in the Douro Valley, where port wine is produced. Vineyards, vineyards, everywhere. Extremely hot and dry, though; we found that there were cave paintings/etchings from 10,000-35,000 years ago, but we would've had to walk more than two miles, in 104-110° heat. Although it would've been great to see, we passed, so we'll just have to come back there, too. Okay, so Seattle summers have made wimps out of us.
And then to Porto, where the port wine ages. More tiles everywhere. Colorful houses, colorful railings, and port lodges, which you can tour, and taste the actual wine, which Pete really enjoyed.
We spent the last day in Lisbon, but it was a religious holiday, so all the museums and shops were closed.
WE'RE BACK IN GOLDACH!
It's been quite a trip. Luckily the car is working again (it turned out to be a minor electronic device that wasn't working), since we drove nearly 14,000 kilometers (about 9,000 miles) in the last seven weeks.
We started out on this venture in late June, heading towards the Loire Valley. We saw a few chateaux, but we were anxious to get to Brittany, on the west coast of France, where it was cooler. The Tour de France was going on and we saw a few places where the streets would be closed on certain days, and some other preparations for the race. We didn't see any of the actual race, though, excedpt on TV.
Brittany has some megalithic sites called "Alignments" scattered around the area. Like Stonehenge, although not as high, they are groups of stones lined up in some kind of pattern, and put together between 5000 and 3500 BCE. No one knows why they are lined up that way; maybe fertility reasons, or some religious function. You're just driving along the road and every once in awhile, you see some Alignments.
We drove through Normandy; one of my biggest surprises there was the Bayeux Tapestry. I've always put off seeing it, but finally made the effort, and although it's about the Norman invasion of 1066 and not Roman/Greek history, it was amazing to see. Although it had been sweltering in the Loire Valley, it was actually too cold in Brittany or Normandy to go for a swim, so we just stuck our feet in the water. Mont St. Michel was also quite impressive.
Our key phrase for the Scandinavian weather was "changeable skies." It rarely rained all day, but you could have a beautiful blue sky and at some point a dark cloud would come over, and absolutely pour, but after a few minutes, it was blue sky again, sometimes with a rainbow. Camping was hard, though, since it was usually wet when we took the tent down (either because of the rain, or dew), and so we had to dry it out during the day along the road somewhere.
We spent some time in Denmark, and then drove to Stockholm, and took the overnight ferry to Helsinki. Heading ever further north, we stopped to visit Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, Finland (at the Arctic Circle), and got our photo taken with him. He told us that he'll be in Seattle in a few months, and that we should leave some tequila out for Rudolph. We saw lots of reindeer on the road, but none of them had red noses. I wore my new Arctic Circle fleece scarf with reindeers on it every day for the next three weeks, since it was so chilly up here.
Our next stop was the North Cape in Norway - the northernmost point in Europe, above the Arctic Circle. Awesome. It was a long drive, but not as hard or as long of a drive as the 15 Italian motorcyclists we met at the Cape had, who had spent the last seven days driving up from Rome. It was early August, so the Midnight Sun - when the sun doesn't set from mid-May until the end of July - was over. It had been cloudy when we arrived at the North Cape, but way off in the distance we could see a clear sky. We saw the sunset (at 10:48 p.m.), and it was beautiful, especially the colors afterwards. We stayed in the area the next day and drove back to the Cape, but this time we couldn't see 50 feet in front of us because of the fog/clouds/rain. We were so lucky to have seen what we did. Pete's parents had taken a 12-day tour a few years ago from Switzerland to the North Cape, but it rained when they got there, and they couldn't see anything. Since the bikers had come on the foggy day, they also had to leave without seeing anything, but they had quite an adventure getting there.
Even though the sun set, it was never totally dark the whole time we were up north, even in Denmark. We could read by the natural light until 10:30 p.m. or so, and then it was twilight, not quite dark, not quite light, and a few hours later, the sun would rise, and by 3:00 a.m. or so it would be daylight again.
From the North Cape we drove east, to Kirkenes, which is a few kilometers from the Russian border. It was strange/ironic to realize that only about 15 years ago, you couldn't cross this border (although you need a visa to do so, at least now it's possible to get one). We met someone in Kirkenes who had spent the last six weeks bicycling up from Germany. That's real determination!! From Kirkenes we boarded a ship that took us, in six days, along the northern coast of Europe, down to Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, the base of the fjord area. The ship is the only way some locals get around, since there are not always roads connecting the islands along the coast, but now it's also geared toward tourists. It was a nice vacation from our vacation, since we didn't have to look for a place to stay (having given up on camping itself, but still staying at cabins at the campsite for about $50 a night), having buffets for breakfast and lunch (instead of bread with jam for breakfast and bread with salami for lunch), and nice dinners and great seafood. We could go out and explore the cities where we stopped, and although there were some sand beaches, it was way too cold for a swim (and we had to be careful that the trolls didn't come and get us . . .).
Since Scandinavia put such a dent in our finances, we camped one more time in Bergen, but it rained so hard, water started coming into the tent. We were ready to go back to Goldach, so decided to only make a few more stops. One was at a Stave church in Norway; they're wooden churches, usually built between 1100 and 1300. Many have been restored/renovated over the years, but some of the original structure can still be seen. We also saw rock carvings/paintings in Sweden from 1500 to 500 BCE. Our last stop was in Alsace-Loraine in France, with its half-timbered houses.
Some of our highlights from the last two months:
Pete: Eating moules (mussels) almost every night in Brittany; the Tollund Man, a 2,000 year old corpse that was perfectly preserved in the peat of Denmark - apparently he had been a sacrificial victim - you can still see the stubble of his beard; visiting friends in Germany that he met on earlier travels.
Car: Seeing about 10 lighthouses flashing at the same time during the night in Brittany; all the reindeer, and IKEA's all over the place in Scandinavia.
04a-France and Benelux
We had to break this trip up into three parts since there were so many photos (how could that possibly have happened???), so we've included just northern France, Belgium and Holland in this section.
We started out driving west from Goldach through Beaune, in the French Burgundy wine region. One of our first stops was Flavigny where parts of the movie "Chocolat" were filmed. We didn't see any chocolate stores, but they make flavored bon-bons, with beautiful tins.
Driving through the Loire Valley, we stopped at a few chateaux. The chateau in Blois has four wings, each built in a different period and style:
Medieval - 13th century
Louis XII is the figure on horseback (photo 017), and the porcupine was his heraldic symbol (photo 018). Blois was one of the stage endings for this year's Tour de France; we saw some of the preparations but missed seeing the race.
Francois I wanted a "hunting lodge" in addition to the chateau at Blois, so had Chambord built around 1519. This chateau is associated with Leonardo da Vinci's "double-helix staircase" which "consists of two spiral staircases that wind around a central axis but never meet." Chambord was a beginning stage for the Tour this year.
King Henri II built Chenonceau for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, in the 1550's, but when he died, his widow (Catherine de Medici) kicked her out and took over. Villandry "has some of the most spectacular formal gardens in France" (LP, pp. 397-411).
We gradually made our way to the west coast, to the Alignments (in Carnac, and also in Camaret-sur-Mer). Le Conquet is a small town in the northwest corner of Brittany near Brest; that's where we saw about ten lighthouses flashing during the night. It's also the area where Pete was eating mussels for dinner almost every night (and we saw fresh lobster at the market).
Mont-St-Michel was "one of the sea tombs to which the souls of the dead were sent." A saint "appeared to a bishop in 708 and told him to build a devotional chapel at the summit," and in 966 the Duke of Normandy gave Mont-St-Michel to the Benedictines. The Benedictines turned it into an important center of learning; by the 11th century it had become a kind of fortress, and just after the French Revolution in 1789, a prison. In 1966 it was returned to the Benedictines for its 1000th anniversary (LP, pp. 272-3). We stayed at a chambre (a French B&B) nearby, in Ardevon, which was built in the mid-17th century.
The cathedral in Amiens was begun in 1220 "to house the (purported) head of St. John the Baptist" (LP, p. 227). If you're into relics, this was cool to see, but we found the carvings and statuary around the cathedral more impressive.
Lonely Planet, France, 2005
We had to switch from Greek and Roman history to the Vikings for this part of the trip. Lindholm Hoje, near Aalborg, is the site of nearly 700 graves from the late Iron Age (roughly 500 BCE to 500 CE) and early Viking Age (800-1050 CE), set up in patterns of triangles, ovals, or ships, with the larger stones representing the stem and stern of ships. It had been covered over by sand, preserving the site for over a thousand years. The bodies had been cremated, but some objects from the 5th century CE have been found in the burial sites (GG, p. 134, LP, p. 121).
The original theory that Viking long houses "served for Viking warriors preparing to raid some far-away country" is being questioned, since there are signs of women and children having lived in the fort. There were usually four long houses in an encampment, and each long house could accommodate 50 people; these were protected by a thick circular wall. The original long house in Fyrkat was built around 980 CE (GG, p. 78). Along with the full-size reconstruction of the long house is a reconstructed farming settlement of nine houses, which shows different aspects of Viking life. Pete learned a new way of cooking. The bread was bland and could have used some butter and jam, but it was interesting to see how it was done 1,000 years ago.
The Tollund Man is the preserved body of a man who lived around 200 BCE. He had been "offered in sacrifice to the gods, possibly in thanksgiving for successful peat cutting, then carefully laid down in the bog with the rope still round his neck; the expression on his face is uncannily real and very moving" (GG, p. 120). He had a very peaceful expression, and you can still see the stubble on his face.
Egeskov Slot was built around 1554. It was built as a defensive castle, to protect against "warring lords or bands of marauders" (GG, p. 75). It is hard to imagine any defensive needs in such a beautiful setting.
Aero is a small, charming, Danish island not far from the German mainland. The majority of houses had thatched roofs and colorful decorations. Some houses appear to be on the brink of falling over, but are still being lived in. The windows of several houses are made of hand-blown glass. There are beach huts, which look like there is just enough room to change in. It also has an old windmill converted into a house.
We didn't spend much time in Sweden, but we did see that there is an IKEA in almost every major city, and sometimes two!
We took a ferry to Helsinki. All over Scandinavia we learned to be ready for changeable skies. Pictures 084-090 are examples of those changeable skies. At 5:15 p.m. it was a beautiful blue sky; at 5:40 a dark cloud rolled over and we got dumped on; at 5:55 the rain was over, and there was a nice glow on the wet trees. A rainbow followed, and soon after, back at the campground, it was a beautiful blue sky again, like it had never rained. The colors of the rising sun were already visible by 1 a.m.
The Siida Museum is a showcase of native Sami (Laplander) houses and their way of life, and their ability to adapt to the extreme temperatures of the area.
Our next stop was to cross the Arctic Circle, and to visit Santa Claus at his office. He's there every day of the year, except Christmas. After we saw Santa, we also started seeing reindeers (those will be in the next batch of photos) . . .
Lonely Planet, Scandinavia, 2003
The scenery in Norway was too gorgeous! We had a hard time editing, so kept Norway in its own photo album.
We drove north from Finland into Norway. Our first stop in Norway was the North Cape (Nordkapp), the northernmost point in Europe, where the sun doesn't set from mid-May until the end of July. This was early August, though, and the "Midnight Sun" was again setting (at 10:48 p.m. on the night we were there, and it rose around 1 a.m.). There were a lot of thick clouds in the area, but a clear sky beyond, so the colors were fantastic, especially driving back to our cabin afterwards. The next day the weather was like a bowl of thick soup (as Pete says); it was windy, foggy and rainy, and you couldn't see a thing (photo 023). The North Cape is one of those destinations, though, that a lot of people go to just for the adventure and challenge of getting there, like the 15 motorcyclists we met who had ridden up from Rome, or Pete's parents, who took a tour there a few years ago.
We drove east to Kirkenes (near the Norwegian-Russian border) to catch our ship, the Nordnorge (North Norway). The shipping line (the Hurtigruten Coastal Express) started out as a postal shipping line over 100 years ago by carrying mail and passengers along the west coast of Norway, since much of the area, including many of the islands, is not accessible by roads. The trip takes seven days northbound and six days southbound. It's timed so that if you pass some place during the day northbound, you pass it during the night southbound, so if you take the trip both ways, you can see the whole coastline during daylight hours (in summer, at least). You can get a cabin and meals, but some people just sleep in the lounge chairs. You can also just take it for short hops (some locals still use it for getting from Point A to Point B). It was a great way of seeing the area. The scenery was the entertainment.
We boarded the ship in Kirkenes and went south. Trollfjorden is one of the smaller fjords in Norway; some of the Norwegian trolls are said to hang out there. The Seven Sisters mountain range supposedly formed when seven beautiful sisters were dancing naked in the fjord, and were seen by a local. The sisters fled his advances, but because they didn't return home by sunrise, they turned to stone. Someone shot an arrow to stop them, but someone else threw up his hat to intercept the arrow. The hole in the hat can be seen in Torghatten; it's possible to get off the ship on the northbound journey and hike through the hole.
We spent a little time in Bergen and then headed towards Sweden. Along the way we saw some Stave churches, wooden churches which were built between 1100 and 1300. Although they vary in shape and size, they have similar characteristics: "the stepped roof structure is covered with wood shingles looking like fish scales. The wood tar used to preserve the structure from decay makes them look dark and austere." Once inside, it appears even darker, since there were originally no windows (the daylight came in through openings in the walls). The Heddal Stavkyrkje was built in 1242; it's has been altered many times, but now is supposedly as it was during the Middle Ages (Michelin Green Guide, Scandinavia, 2001, p. 53, 162). It is covered with many wooden sculptures depicting powerful animals, such as snakes or dragons, to ward off the evil spirits.
Halloween was early in Flesberg . . .
Our first stop after leaving Norway and getting into Sweden was the Bronze Age rock carvings and farm in the Tanum area, from about 1500 to 500 BCE. We hadn't planned to see this, but since the area was a convenient stopping point for the night and the carvings were just down the road, we figured we should see it. It turned out to be one of the nice surprises of our trip. Photo 02 shows two of the rocks in their natural setting; most of the details were taken from the lower rock.
Boats are the most commonly carved figure on the rocks (there are over 10,000 carvings of boats at different sights in the area) and might represent the journeys to the kingdom of death. Some of the stones at the grave sight in Denmark are also in the shape of boats.
The Lovers is one of the most famous rock carvings in the area. It represents a sacred marriage, which took place in many pre-Christian religions to promote fertility in humans, animals and crops. Marriage scenes appear on many rock carvings in the area. Rebirth and the cycle of life were central concepts for the people of the Bronze Age.
There are different theories about the snake. Some believe the snake was a symbol of life-giving rain in many pre-Christian cultures, so the figure may be praying for rain. That said, it looks more like his arms are raised in fear of the snake.
The whale probably represents a blue whale. Representations of fish and sea mammals are rare, despite being so close to the water, and having so many symbols of boats.
The birds are probably cranes, which represented the return of spring. In many religions they also served as messengers or scouts for the gods, even when the gods themselves did not take the shape of birds (GG, p. 231 and Vitlycke Museum information).
The Dom in Köln was begun in 1248 but not finished until 1880. It survived the bombing of WWII. The spires rise 157 meters (470 feet) (LP, p. 501).
Trier became one of the capitals after the Roman Empire split up. The Porta Nigra Gate is from the late 2nd Century; the Constantine Basilica was built in 310 CE. It was made entirely of concrete, not just brick-face, which was a new development. The windows in the apse are shorter and narrower than others, so they look bigger and deeper, and it adds emphasis to the apse; the placement of the windows also make the building look taller. It was an approach to new technology, perspective and building materials. (I kept my Roman Art History class notes for something.)
Our last stop was in Alsace-Loraine in France, with its half-timbered houses and flower-filled window boxes (and storks' nests). The whole valley was filled with beautiful towns.
Saentis is a mountain in the heart of Appenzellerland, about an hour's drive from Goldach. You can take a cable car to the top, or hike up. It was a sign that we were almost "home" after more than two months on the road.
Lonely Planet, Western Europe, 2005
We took trains around Northern Italy in mid-September, and the weather was gorgeous. Beautiful, sunny days, not too hot, but very crowded. Our first stop was Venice.
Venice started out as a haven for refugees while the Roman Empire was disintegrating in the fifth century. The "locals" started a series of refugee settlements in and around the Venetian lagoon, hoping that the invading Visigoths and Huns would stay away from the wet areas. "The lagoon is a delta littered with tiny, muddy islands created by sediment dropped by rivers. As refugees squatted on this wet and miserable land, they kept certain streams from silting, and these streams eventually became canals. A motley collection of about 120 natural islands eventually became Venice" (RS Venice, p. 248).
From these humble beginnings came such a beautiful and romantic city. Byzantium was expanding into Italy and trade routes were being established in the area. Because of its location on the trade/shipping route between "east" (Byzantium) and "west" (Europe), over time Venice grew rich and powerful. Some noble families showed their wealth by building luxurious palaces around the developing city, and along the Grand Canal. Marco Polo set out on his travels to China from here.
The Basilica of San Marco was built to house the remains of St. Mark. He was credited with bringing Christianity to the region, and his symbol, the winged lion, can be seen throughout the city. The Basilica was finished in 1071 in the eastern style to reinforce the Venetian decision to split from the Holy Roman Empire, and to join with the Byzantines (Venice would be ruled in name only as a distant outpost as part of the Byzantine Empire, rather than "up close and personal" as part of the Holy Roman Empire; RS Venice, p. 249, 252). The four bronze horses are more important for their meaning than their artistic value. They "symbolize Apollo, the Greco-Roman god of the sun, and secular power." They are least from the 4th century and were "acquired" from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 (RS Venice, p. 61; copies are on the outside, the originals are inside, in the museum). Napoleon also had his hands on them temporarily, when they stood on a triumphal arch in Paris. There was a long line to get into the basilica, so I couldn't stop and ponder to appreciate any of the grandeur, but had to keep moving along; Pete didn't want to deal with the crowds at all, so didn't go in. If you are overwhelmed by the crowds of people and pigeons on the piazza during the day, come back in the evening. There were only a few people around, not many pigeons, and you can listen to competing restaurant orchestras playing to their customers. Early morning is also nice; you don't get the orchestras, but you do get the quiet solitude.
People get around the city by walking along the canals, or by taking a vaporetto ("water bus") which makes stops along the Grand Canal. The gondolas are a romantic way to experience the city, but we took the vaporetti for a fraction of the cost. It wasn't quite the same atmosphere as in a gondola, though, since we didn't have a gondolier serenading us with romantic Italian songs. There was a gondola workshop near our hotel, where we could watch gondolas being built or repaired.
From September to March Venice is often plagued by high tides. A local team is ready to assemble raised wooden planks so that if the piazza is flooded, you can still walk along the planks to get across the piazza (they're also good to sit on and take a break, if necessary). We could see the high waters as we took a vaporetto around the city, but were still amazed to see how much water filled Piazza San Marco (the lowest point in the city). Many buildings along the canals are empty now on the ground floors because of the rising waters. There was even water at the entrance to the Basilica. It was a beautiful, sunny day so it wasn't because of rains. After the water receded a few hours later, the planks were set aside. There are plans underway to protect the city from flooding by building a levee.
We took a ride to Burano, a nearby island where women traditionally made lace. We had been there in 1993, when it was a quiet little island with only a handful of stores, and you could see many women in the shade of their doorways, crocheting. This time it was overrun by tourists and souvenir shops, and we only saw one woman crocheting. It is a very colorful island, though; the houses are all brightly painted and the canals are filled with small boats.
The best view of Venice is from the top of the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore on a small island across from Piazza San Marco.
We only spent a few hours in Florence, enough time to take a quick stroll around the city and see the famous Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. The Duomo was begun around 1300, without any definitive plans for a covering. Brunelleschi designed the impressive dome in 1420, based on the Pantheon in Rome (which was built about 1300 years before). The Ponte Vecchio was built in the 14th century and is the only bridge to survive Nazi bombing in WWII. It's filled with touristy shops, but the walk west of it is really nice, especially when the sun is going down over the Arno River.
We tried to go to Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, but after calling about ten hotels to find out there were no vacancies that night or the next, we spent the night in La Spezia (nothing to write home about), and decided to go to Lucca the next day instead. I had heard about Lucca from one of my professors, but had no idea what to expect. "Surrounded by well-preserved ramparts, layered with history, alternately quaint and urbane, Lucca charms its visitors. Romanesque churches [and tower houses] seem to be around every corner, as do fun-loving and shady piazzas filled with soccer-playing children" (RS Italy, p. 352). The city wall, 2.5 miles in length and from the Renaissance, is now a park. It's a great place to walk, bicycle or ponder and watch the sunset. The Roman amphitheater is gone, but the outline of it remains, lined with shops and restaurants. One of the churches is from the 12th century, but it is more interesting for its layers of remains from different periods of history (including Roman mosaics) underneath it. You can walk through the excavations, and see how people incorporated new things on to the old.
We finally made it to Vernazza, which was our last stop on this trip. We had called ahead this time, and got a room at the "top" of the city with a balcony and great views overlooking the bay. Our room was so tiny that the shower was on the balcony. We spent the afternoon sitting on the balcony, watching life go by. Vernazza is one of Rick Steves' favorite places, and we saw too many Americans carrying his guidebook (we kept ours hidden). We took a boat to Riomaggiore and walked along the coastal path to Manarola; I took the train back to Vernazza and Pete walked the rest of the way back. It was a beautiful area, but I would go back when it's less crowded.
From there, back to Goldach to plan the next adventure . . .
Rick Steves, Italy, 2005
There were a few cities we had passed up on our drive down from Scandinavia (Berlin, Prague and Munich), that we went back to by train in October. Pete had been to Berlin in 1990, shortly after reunification, so it was interesting for him to see the changes made since then.
There are only a few fragments left of the "Wall," but the "Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Museum" remains. It was begun by a local citizen while Berlin was still split, right in the face of the guards who patrolled the border between East and West. It shows different means of escape by those fleeing to the West (some successful, some not). Not all the guards protected the border very zealously; there were 5,043 documented successful escapes, including 565 East German guards (RS, p. 531). It made us think, to see a hang-glider built and used by a Czech man in 1988 to flee communism; I was backpacking through Europe that summer, with no concept of what was happening so close.
Brandenburg Gate still stands as a reminder of the former division between East and West. There is a cobblestone path leading from the Gate along the former demarcation line, showing where the Wall once stood. The funny looking red and green Ampelmännchen are another reminder of the former East.
Berlin has several museums, and one is the Pergamon Museum, which holds the Pergamon Altar. (A few weeks later we went past Pergamon in Turkey, where the altar was taken from, but weren't able to stop there.) The altar was built in the 2nd century BCE, and dedicated either to Athena or Zeus, or both. The frieze shows the battle between the gods and the giants (guess who won?), bringing order out of chaos; it covers almost the entire length of the altar (about 360 feet long and 7.5 feet high). The sculptors even incorporated the steps of the altar into its design, as figures continue their battle along the edges of the steps. One of the characteristics of Hellenistic art is that the action depicted is either right before or right after the critical moment. In the Athena scene, Athena is pulling Alkyoneus by the hair. As long as he keeps contact with his mother, Gaia, whose domain is the earth, he will survive, but if he loses contact, he will die. His leg is touching his mother, but Athena is just about to pull him away. Nike, the Winged Goddess of Victory, is in the background, waiting and watching. The Ishtar Gate from Babylon (580 BCE) is also in this museum.
We had heard only good things about Prague from people who had been there. One of the first things I did was to go to the Terezín Concentration Camp outside of Prague. In theory, it was only a "transit camp," but people were still tortured there. It was another sobering reminder of the horrors of WWII.
Prague wasn't bombed during WWII, so the buildings from different time periods (Baroque, Art Nouveau . . .) remain. A true Kodak Moment was to sit in Old Town Square as the sun went down, and watch the light and colors on the buildings change. Charles Bridge, from the 14th century, is for pedestrians only. It's another nice place with views, as is the 9th century castle, overlooking the city. Prague had been one of Europe's largest and most cultured cities, with the first university in Central Europe. It is also home to St. Wencesles from the 10th century, who Bing Crosby sings about in Good King Wencesles - "The Good King Wencesles looked down on the feast of Steven . . ." (White Christmas with Bing Crosby).
In 1969 Jan Palach immolated himself in Prague to demonstrate for Czech independence from Soviet rule; the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of his death began the "Velvet Revolution." In November, 1989, ten months after the Velvet Revolution began, the Czech Communist government was overthrown, without any casualties (which is why it is called "Velvet," RS, pp. 145, 157) and the East began to open up.
Munich is always good for beer, bratwurst and sauerkraut . . .
Rick Steves, Best of Europe, 2003
We went to Turkey in early November. It was such a variety of experiences - historical sites (Greek, Roman, Lycian, Byzantine), ways of pampering yourself (mud baths, thermal hot springs, Turkish baths, walking through calcium terraces), and different cultures where East meets West (Asia and Europe). The weather was great for most of the trip. It was sunny most of the days, but as soon as the sun went down, it turned cold very quickly. We also had a bit of snow in the mountains as we drove back to Istanbul, but overall it was especially good for November.
We took a 17-day tour (called "Turkey Explored," organized by a British company - The Imaginative Traveller) with eleven people, plus the guide. All the transportation and accommodations were included, but we had to pay extra if we wanted to see any attractions. It worked out nice, because if we wanted to see something, the tour guide either organized it for us, or told us how to get there, but we didn't feel obligated to see everything that was offered. The group was a nice mix of people from England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada (and us), so everyone spoke English.
Our first stop was Troy. According to mythology, the first "beauty contest" was held between Hera (wife and sister of Zeus, and goddess of marriage, among other things), Athena (goddess of wisdom) and Aphrodite (goddess of love). Paris, the son of Priam and Hecuba of Troy, was to be the judge, but he was bribed by each of the goddesses. If Hera won, she promised Paris he would be the most powerful king; Athena would make him the cleverest king; and Aphrodite would give him the most beautiful girl in the world (which was Helen). Aphrodite "won" and Paris brought Helen with him to Troy. Helen, however, was married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta (Menelaus was the brother of Agamemnon, and had women problems of his own when he returned from Troy). The Greeks attacked Troy to get Helen back (hence, the Trojan War).
Historians and archaeologists believe that there are nine time stages (layers) of Troy (Troy I-IX). The German businessman Heinrich Schliemann was obsessed with the idea of finding the Troy of the Trojan War, and started excavating today's site. He kept digging lower and lower, disregarding the layers of history he was destroying to get to the treasures of Priam (either Troy VI or Troy VII), nor did he take photos or make notes of what he was destroying, so we have no record of what was found where. When he found what he believed to be Priam's treasures (in 1873), he and his wife hid the artifacts from the workers and the Turkish authorities, left the site overnight and smuggled them out of the country. The "treasure" Schliemann took, though, was from 1,000 years before the time of Priam (Troy, pp. 23-25, 64). There wasn't much left to see of Troy, but your imagination and the words of a local guide like Mustafa Askin can bring the stones back to life. Mustafa talked about the duel that is believed to have taken place between Achilles and Hector at the Scaean Gate, and you can almost imagine that happening (the area around photo 008).
After a bit too much of the local drink (Raki), we still made it to Ephesus the next day. The area had been inhabited as early as 5,000 years ago, but the city had changed locations a few times. The area was once a center for the cult of Cybele/Artemis (Artemis is the goddess of the hunt and the moon; also of childbirth); the version of the Temple of Artemis that is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was built in 550 BCE over the site of an earlier temple. That temple was destroyed by arson in 356 and (the night Alexander was born - Artemis, as the goddess of childbirth, is said to have been too busy concentrating on his birth to save her temple); the temple was rebuilt again and destroyed again. All that remains of the temple is one column; most of what had been left of the structure went into building Aya Sofya in Istanbul. Later, the city became Christianized and St. John is said to have settled here, as had the Virgin Mary. Justinian had the Basilica of St. John built in the 6th century, which supposedly contains St. John's remains. St. Paul also lived in the city for three years (and wrote the Letters to the Ephesians).
The Ephesus that we see now was founded by Lysimachos, a general under Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BCE. It was an important trading post, and the population at one time reached 250,000. During the Roman times, Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor. The remains are truly spectacular, even though only about ten percent has been excavated. The Library of Celsus is probably the most famous building left there; it once held 12,000 scrolls in its wall niches, and the statues represent the Virtues (LP, pp. 252, 256). The roofs at the building front alternate so that what is open on the lower level is closed off above. The arches also alternate between rounded Syrian arches and triangular pediments.
We met a couple at Ephesus from Seattle who have spent the last nine years sailing all over the world. They usually dock their boat in the winter and spend time in Seattle; he's a high school substitute mythology teacher. They also lived two years in Phuket (Thailand). Hmm . . .
The Romans also left their mark at Pamukkale (there are Roman ruins scattered throughout Turkey). The calcium terraces of Pamukkale "were formed when warm mineral water cascaded over the cliff edge, cooling and depositing its calcium in the process. The calcium built natural shelves, pools and stalactites in which tourists delighted to splash and soak. The Romans built a large spa city, Hierapolis, above the travertine pools to take advantage of the water's curative powers" (LP, p. 321). You have to take your shoes off and walk barefoot more than 250 meters each way over the calcium deposits to get to the ruins - it was like walking on one big pumice stone. It was hard on the feet, especially returning, since it was getting dark and there were no lights. We had the nicest, softest feet for days after, though. There are hot calcium "ridges" to stick your feet into along the way, and a covered "sacred pool" at the top, complete with Roman pillars which have fallen into the pool, that you can swim in (if you are willing to pay nearly $14 for a swim). The ruins consisted of a Roman theater, a Hellenistic theater and a shopping street. Outside the "city" was a cemetery with sarcophagi ("flesh eater"). The pension we stayed at was decorated in the local Turkish manner, with raised cushions instead of chairs. It was run by Mustafa, a funny Turk who could impersonate some words and phrases in almost any language and accent (even Swiss German!). Wicked.
Next stop was Dalyan - more ruins, more pampering, relaxing at the beach and watching the sun set while drinking apple tea (or a beer) by the water. Noble Lycian rock tombs were cut into the cliff in Kaunos across the water. (I couldn't find a date for these but probably by the 4th century BCE. LP, p. 352). We started the day at the mud baths - you walk into a waist-deep pool of mud, with the mud slithering between your toes (the warm mud was at the other end of the pool, so we had to make our way across the cold part to get to the warm stuff). We lathered the mud all over us (some more than others) and after waiting outside for it to dry (15-20 minutes), washed it off and jumped into the thermal hot springs. It felt wonderful (but our clothes reeked of sulfur for days afterwards). We took a boat cruise through reeds and passed a fish trap gate to get to the beach. During July and August the beach is closed since it is a major breeding ground for the loggerhead turtle. This kind of turtle can weigh up to 130 kg (286 lbs); the females come ashore at night to lay their eggs in the sand. After 50 to 65 days of incubation the turtles are born. The temperature of their incubation determines the gender of the young turtles - below 30ºC all the young will be male; above 30ºC they will be female; and a steady 30ºC brings an even mix. When the turtles are born, the light from the sea draws them to it, so it is important that there is no artificial light (i.e., from hotels or flashlights) to confuse them (LP, p. 354). On a previous journey to Malaysia, we saw turtles digging holes and laying their eggs in the sand; quite an amazing sight. Anyhow, the beach was open, and the water still a comfortable temperature to stick your feet in, and it felt great.
Kas was our next destination. It had a small pebble beach, but no one braved the cold water. Another Roman theater, more Lycian rock tombs carved into the cliff, and a Lycian sarcophagus in the middle of the city.
Although Santa Claus supposedly lives at the North Pole (or at the Arctic Circle, near Rovaniemi, Finland), we learned about his Turkish roots. Legend has it that a 4th century bishop from Kale (Demre) dropped bags of coins down the chimneys of dowryless village girls, which gave them the dowry needed to marry. His outfit is red, originating from a 1920's Coca Cola advertising campaign which used Santa Claus. The Church of St. Nicholas once held his remains; a few are in the nearby Antalya Museum (LP, p. 380). We'll probably find more legends as we keep travelling, but it was fun to get caught up in the moment.
On to Olympos, which was named after gods' home in Greece. This was an important Lycian city in the 2nd century BCE. More ruins to explore, but this time instead of being easily accessible, we had to do a little trekking through bush and forest to get to them. Olympos is set among "thick verdure of wild grapevines, flowering oleander, bay trees, wild figs and pine" (LP, p. 382). It is an interesting contrast to Ephesus and the other Roman sites which have had the surrounding foliage removed. The mosaics are from the 5th century, but were destroyed by a 15th century earthquake and ensuing water damage. We were still on the Mediterranean, so at the end of the "trek" is a pebble beach. Due to its location near the water, though, it had been a haven for pirates. It was a nice place to sit and ponder for awhile.
At night most of the group went to the Chimaera, which is also known as the Burning Rock, a "cluster of spontaneous flames that blaze from crevices on the rocky slopes of Mt. Olympos." The mythological explanation is complicated: Chimaera (a fire-breathing part-lion, part-goat, part-snake) was the son of Typhon, son of Gaia (the earth goddess). Bellerophon killed the Chimaera on the orders of the Lycian king by mounting Pegagus, the winged horse, and pouring molten lead into the Chimaera's mouth. The physical explanation is that "gas seeps from the earth and bursts into flame upon contact with the air." Methane makes up part of the composition, but the rest is unknown. You can extinguish the flames by covering them, but they will reignite when uncovered (LP, p. 382). The people worshipped Hephaistos, the "smith god," and believed that he had used Chimaera's natural flames as his workshop.
Askin, Mustafa, Troy: A Revised Edition, 2005
Antalya is a big beach resort surrounded by ruins, and has a great archaeological museum. One of its sarcophagi is from the 2nd century CE, showing the 12 Labors of Hercules. Each labor has its own "panel" and Hercules is shown at different stages of his life as he completes each of his labors.
The landscape of Cappadocia is very surreal. "Repeated volcanic eruptions around 40-50 million years ago covered the area with layers of a light rock called tufa creating a natural "lunar like" landscape. Over time the elements have eroded this surface rock to create unusual valleys and vast rock sculptures of "fairy chimneys" which have been incorporated into the building of towns, villages and underground settlements" (Turkey Explored Notes). Some of the rock formations resemble animals (i.e., the Camels, the Seals, the Family Group), if you use your imagination.
The Göreme Open-Air Museum is a "cluster of rock-cut Byzantine churches, chapels and monasteries" (LP, p. 505) built out of these rock formations. One is a Nun's Convent, which used to be seven stories tall, but all that is left of it is thought to be a large dining hall, and some of the holes in the floors held burial chambers (photo 146). Inside other structures are Byzantine frescoes, ranging from simple with just a few lines, to spectacular, displaying religious scenes (Christ on the cross and his betrayal by Judas, among other scenes).
There are about 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. Some of them date from 4,000 years ago, but some archaeologists believe they are even older than that. During an invasion, people would go underground, and "it's easy to believe that tens of thousands of people could have lived there for up to six months' (that's not saying anything for their sanity, though). Kaymakli is the "city" Pete visited, where "an unimpressive little cave in a low mound leads down into a maze of tunnels and rooms, carved eight levels deep into the earth" (LP, p. 501). You have to squat to get through some of the hallways, and mind your head. The wheel Pete is sitting on in photo 163 could be rolled up to block one of the entrances. It was a very strange area, but well worth visiting.
One of the nights we spent in Cappadocia, we went to a Turkish Folklore evening, with traditional Turkish dancing and a belly dancer. The other night we went to a Whirling Dervish "show." This was a "Mevlevi worship ceremony" a ritual dance representing union with God. The ceremony begins when a prayer is intoned and a verse recited from the Koran by one of the musicians. "The dervishes enter the 'whirling hall' dressed in long white robes with full skirts that represent their shrouds. Over them they wear voluminous black cloaks symbolizing their worldly tombs; their conical felt hats represent their tombstones." During the dance they are "reborn in mystical union with God." They hold one of their palms heavenward and the other downward to symbolize heaven and earth. They pivot on their left foot and as they "whirl, they form a 'constellation' of revolving bodies, which itself slowly rotates." It lasts for about ten minutes and they start over again three more times (LP, p. 27). We could see that they were in different stages of a trance - one looked like he was just going through the motions, but another's eyes were rolled up toward his eyelids. We had to be quiet, and taking photos was not allowed during the Dervish "performance." It took place in a caravanserai, which were "staging posts" that were set up centuries ago, each about one-day's camel journey apart (about 20 miles) along the Silk Road between Turkey and China.
We also went for more pampering at a Turkish bath in the area. It was wonderful; first a steam room, then a sauna, and finishing off with a massage and exfoliation.
Almost everyone in Turkey worships Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the "father" of modern-day Turkey. His picture is found in most buildings, his statue in most cities, and his picture on all denominations of the Turkish currency. Mustafa is probably the most common name of men in Turkey. The Atatürk Dam is a massive project in the southeastern part of Turkey, bringing much-needed water and hydroelectricity to the arid regions. It is capable of producing 8.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually from the run-off of the lake that the construction created; the dam wall is 1.8 km wide (LP, p. 611). Not everyone is happy with it, though. The dam is helping Turkey, but Syria and Iraq feel that Turkey is withholding more water than it should, and it is covering many archaeological sites (including mosaics). We also crossed the Euphrates River. The area around Euphrates River and the Tigris River (Mesopotamia, part of which is modern-day Iraq) is the "cradle of civilization."
Our last overnight stop as we went east was Urfa, a melting pot of different cultures (Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian). Some men wear alvar (baggy pants) and some women wear the black chador, but we also saw some of the younger women wearing a mix of jeans and a head scarf. We sat in a square drinking tea, while local men at nearby tables played board games or talked. Urfa is a pilgrimage site, since supposedly the great Islamic prophet Abraham was born and lived here. When Abraham destroyed some pagan gods to the displeasure of the local king, the king ordered Abraham to be thrown from the fortress into a fire. Miraculously, the fire turned into water and the burning coals into fish; Abraham landed in a bed of roses. The story is recreated by pools of water, filled with "sacred fish" and a nearby rose garden (LP, p. 614). The city has a bazaar, which is quite a contrast to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar is visited mostly by tourists and only a few locals. The Urfa bazaar was filled with a handful of tourists (mostly our group that day) watching locals shopping for their daily needs.
Some of the tour members were continuing to Cairo through Syria and Jordan, so we dropped them off at the Syrian border. The others stayed on the bus and continued back to Istanbul.
Lonely Planet, Turkey, 2003
Back in Istanbul, we still had a few things to see. The Roman Empire eventually split into East and West, and Constantine (eary 4th Century) ruled from "Constantinople" - modern-day Istanbul. He is thought to have built the original Aya Sofya (more about him and Christianity to come with the Rome photos). The "new" Aya Sofya (also known as Hagia Sophia, Sancta Sophia and other names) was built by Justianian and completed in 537 CE on the site of Constantine's earlier church, which had been destroyed. The Aya Sofya was part of Justinian's (unsuccessful) last-ditch effort to restore the Roman Empire. Some of the sculptures from the earlier church can still be seen outside, including the marble sculpture of the lambs (photo 224), which represented the 12 apostles (Hagia Sophia, pp. 11, 14). The church was a "shock and awe" moment for us. Absolutely spectacular. Huge, massive, but still proportionally nice. It was turned into a mosque after 1453, and Atatürk turned it into a museum in 1935. "The sense of air and space in the nave, the 30 million gold tesserae [tiles] that covered the dome's interior, and the apparent lack of support for the dome made the Byzantines gasp in amazement." The dome has had to be rebuilt through the ages because of repeated earthquake damage, though, and there was construction going on when we were there. "The dome is supported by 40 massive ribs constructed of special hollow bricks made in Rhodes from a unique light, porous clay, resting on huge pillars concealed in the interior" (LP, pp. 117-8). Justinian used materials to build the church from other buildings and temples, including the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The urns inside the church came from Pergamon (ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey; the Pergamon Altar (now in a Berlin museum) is from the same town; photos 232 and 233). The Romans had the technology to build this massive structure 1500 years ago, and it's still standing. Just amazing!
The mosaics inside are also stunning, and are mostly from the 10th and 11th centuries. The Zoe Mosaic from 1042 (photo 234) shows the Empress Zoe, her current husband holding a moneybag and, in the middle, Christ, with his fingers in the gesture of a blessing. Apparently each time Zoe changed husbands, the face of the moneybag-holder changed (HG, pp. 70, 89). The Deisis Mosaic (photo 237) is supposed to be among the most famous in the world, and is thought to be from the 12th century. The Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are asking Jesus for "intercession for humanity on the Last Judgment Day" (HS pp. 77-8); unfortunately the bottom is deteriorated. Another mosaic (this one from 944, photo 246), shows Constantine on the left, presenting a model of the city to the Virgin Mother, while on the right Justinian is presenting her with a model of the church. The Christ Child is sitting on her lap, making the sign of the blessing. MP OY means Mater and Theo - "mother of the God" (HS, pp. 45-7).
The Blue Mosque is impressive and probably the most easily recognized site in Istanbul. It was built between 1606 and 1616 to surpass Aya Sofya, but is "not as daring. Four huge pillars hold up the dome, a less elegant but sturdier solution to the problem of support." It is a "triumph of harmony, proportion and elegance . . . and its architect . . . achieved the sort of visual experience on the exterior that Aya Sofya has on the interior" (LP, p. 1270). It is called "Blue Mosque" because of the blue tiles used to decorate the inside. Tiles, tiles everywhere. I thought we had seen a lot in Portugal, but one area of Turkey (Iznik) specialized in them up to about 1700. It is beautiful, and if we hadn't seen Aya Sofya, we would have been more impressed by it. We had to rush our visit there since prayers were starting soon after (five times, daily).
Topkapi Palace is the other major site to be seen in Istanbul. It was begun in 1453 (after the Turkish Conquest ended the Byzantine Empire) and was lived in by the sultans and their followers until the early 19th Century. Topkapi Palace "consists of a series of pavilions, kitchens, audience chambers and kiosks built around a series of garden courtyards" (and more tiles). The kitchens once held a 12,000 piece collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, and were used to feed the palace's 5,000 inhabitants. There are 300+ rooms in the Harem, which you are briskly "guided" through (you cannot go through this section on your own). The Harem was the imperial family quarters, like the private quarters at Buckingham Palace; one sultan had 112 children. The women in the Harem were foreigners, however, since "Islam forbade enslaving Muslims, Christians or Jews . . . The girls would be schooled in Islam and Turkish culture and language, the arts of make-up, dress, comportment, music, reading and writing, embroidery and dancing. They then entered a meritocracy, first as ladies-in-waiting to the sultan's concubines and children, then to the sultan's mother and finally, if they were the best, to the sultan himself . . . Islamic law allowed the sultan to have four legitimate wives . . . but as many concubines as a man can support in proper style . . . The Ottoman sultans had the means to support many - sometimes up to 300 - although they were not all in the Harem at the same time" (LP, pp. 119-123). There were various displays throughout the Palace, and one room contained several relics of the Prophet Mohammed.
We also took a boat trip along the Bosphorus, to the borders of the Black Sea. It was a fun excursion, seeing the outskirts of Istanbul from the water. At the end of the cruise was a small town, where we had a nice fish lunch (and the cats were waiting nearby, hoping for some leftovers, either from us or from the fishermen).
Akuit Kulturve, Hagia Sophia, Turizm Yayunculuk, 2004
Pete needed a vacation from traveling, so I went to Rome by myself. It was a great way to end our European adventures (for me, at least), bringing together all the bits and pieces of Roman History into the place of its origin. We had seen Roman bridges, triumphal arches, aqueducts and amphitheaters in varying degrees of grandeur or ruin all over Europe and Turkey, but they only exist because of the power and strength of the Roman Empire. Going through the various museums in Rome was like a refresher course for some of my university classes - I saw so many things I had studied. I got carried away with the history bit, so if you've had enough, skip to the Paris part. Most of the information is from my Art History class notes.
Rome's legendary founding can be found in The Aenead (written by Virgil during the time of Augustus - part of the propaganda the Romans spread about the greatness of Rome and Romans). In that scenario, it was Aeneas' destiny to found a great Latin nation (Rome). He was a Trojan who managed to escape death at the hands of the Greeks during the Trojan War, and left Troy with his father and son to follow his destiny. After a little side trip to Carthage, where he met Dido, he continued on to Latium, the Roman area. Aeneas' mother was Aphrodite (Venus); his descendants include Romulus and Remus, twin brothers who were abandoned at birth and found by a shepherd who raised them and were suckled by a she-wolf. Romulus later killed Remus, and founded "Rome." The Romans believed that Augustus, being a descendant of Aphrodite, gave them divine ancestry. There are many statues showing Augustus with Cupid (Eros), another son of Aphrodite, and so his "brother." Closer to fact, Rome started out as a small settlement situated between Etruscan settlements in northern Italy (modern-day Tuscany) and Magna Grecia ("Greater Greece" - southern Italy and Sicily), and gradually expanded to encompass parts of England, Spain, Northern Africa, and parts of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).
The Etruscans (like the Egyptians) believed you could take it with you into the afterworld, so their tombs were filled with everyday objects, some more ornate than others, and fabulous paintings on the walls. The Vatican Museum has a lot of Etruscan objects, including things from the Regolini-Galassi Tomb, from 750 BCE. The Vatican also has many Greek vases, including one from 530 BCE showing Ajax playing dice with Achilles. The abundance of Greek vases found in Etruscan tombs shows that there was a lot of trade going on between the Etruscans and the Greeks.
The Lacoön Group (from around 160 BCE) was found in the ruins of Nero's house in 1506, just in time for the Renaisance ("new birth"), and an inspiration for Michelangelo to get some new ideas. Lacoön was a priest in Troy who did not believe the Trojan Horse was a "gift" from the Greeks; he knew it was something not to be trusted (he was right). No one believed him, though, and the Trojans let the Horse (with Greek soldiers hidden inside) into the city. The Olympic gods were having their own "war" over who they wanted to win the conflict. Some of the gods, especially Poseidon (Neptune), didn't want the Trojans to win the war, so sent serpents to destroy Lacoön and his two sons to keep them quiet before he could convince the Trojans of their mistake. The Lacoön Group is Hellenistic art, so the action depicted is either right before or right after the critical moment. The agony on Lacoön's face is amazing. The Suicide of Galatea is another example of Hellenistic art (from around 220 BCE); the couple knew they would be killed, so rather than die at the enemies' hands, the guy killed his wife and then himself.
I went to the Museo Archeologico in Naples, which has a lot of art and artificts from Pompeii. Pompeii was a well-to-do city about 3 hours south of Rome (by car) and destroyed by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. It was a place frozen in time, so much about Roman life has been learned by the excavations going on at Pompeii. Romans loved things Greek, and loved to imitate and copy Greek masterpieces (many of the Greek originals have been lost). One example is a mosaic of the "Battle of Alexander [the Great] and Darius." The museum has a copy found in Pompeii probably from 120 BCE, but it is believed to have been copied from a Greek painting from the 4th century BCE. There were some great sculptures, too, in the Farnese Gallery in the Museo. The Toro Farnese is a 3rd century copy of a Greek original, and carved from one piece of marble. It's not a nice story, but it is a beautiful sculpture. The Hercules Farnese is a Roman copy of 4th century Greek statue. He's about 3 meters high, and holding apples in his right hand, so he's just completed one of his labors and is tired.
The Roman Forum is the place where triumphal processions took place, and where Romans took care of all their business, including law courts, Senate meetings, shopping (Trajan's Markets), public speaking and announcements, religion (Temples of Saturn and of Castor and Pollux, and Basilica Maxentius, a/k/a Basilica of Constantine, among others), and the House of the Vestal Virgins (who were responsible for maintaining the Eternal Flame of Rome and the storage of important documents, among other things). As time went on, the Forum was abandoned and almost entirely buried, and a road was built right over it. It is still being excavated, and you can now see more of the Imperial Fori nearby, which is where the emperors started building as they ran out of room in the Forum itself.
Augustus was the first emperor of the Roman Empire, and after ruling as part of a triumvirate with Marc Antony and Lepidus, ruled alone from 27 BCE to 14 CE. (Augustus was the "adopted" heir of Julius Caesar; with Julius' death came the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire). Everything that the Romans built was a showcase of their greatness and power, either with the size of the project, or with the symbology of its details. The statue of Augustus of Prima Porta is loaded with symbology and propaganda. Cupid symbolizes Augustus' divine ancestry (both being descendants of Aphrodite), Augustus is riding in on a dolphin, which represents his sea victory over Marc Antony at Actium. Many gods, including Zeus, Apollo and Artemis are on the breastplate, evidence of their approval of Augustus and Rome. The cornucopia symbolizes prosperity, fertility and peace, which Augustus brought to the Romans after many years of civil wars (the Pax Romana; that was an essay question). In all the statues of Augustus, he always appears to be in about his 20's, even though he lived to be in his 70's; maybe his divine ancestry kept him from appearing old.
Nero ruled from 54-68 CE, and is accused of singing while Rome burned, among other things; he was not a popular emperor. His house was called the Domus Aurea (the Golden House), but emperors following Nero knocked down most of it to rid themselves and the Romans of his memory. They didn't destroy all of it, though, and you can still tour part of it to get a sense of its immensity, and see some of the frescoes (and that's where the Lacoön Group was found).
The Colosseum was built on the remains of a lake that Nero had dug up to be incorporated into his residential complex. The official name of the Colosseum is the "Flavian Amphitheater" after the Flavian emperor in power at the time it was built. It is called the Colosseum because of a "colossal" statute of Nero that once stood there. The Colosseum sat 55,000 people, arranged by social order - the emperor, senators and Vestal Virgins got the best seats, the slaves and women sat in the nosebleed section. It had the world's first retractable roof - a type of sail could be drawn over the structure to protect the viewers from the rain or sun. The floor was wooden planks, with sand to absorb the blood of the gladiators.
Under Trajan (98-117 CE), the Roman Empire reached its peak as far as expansion went. Trajan's Column (200 meters) is another example of Roman propaganda, since it records two campaigns that Trajan led against the Dacians (Romanians). 2600 figures in 155 scenes are sculpted spiraling to the top, beginning with the crossing of the Danube; some of the other scenes include Trajan speaking to the masses, sacrifices, and scenes from military campaigns.
The Pantheon was originally built by Agrippa (Augustus' son-in-law) in 27 BCE; Hadrian (117-138 CE) had it rebuilt in 120 CE after a fire, but kept Agrippa's name on it. Since it was built "pan-theon" - to all gods - it was not destroyed by Christians as they scoured the empire for building materials; it was converted into a Christian church in 608 CE. The Pantheon is one of the most important buildings in Art History, since the construction of the dome was such a new thing. The building is made of six different "zones" of materials, which are progressively lighter as you get to the top. The oculus (hole of the dome) is 8.8 meters (~26 feet) in diameter; the floors are sloped so that when it rains, the water runs out. Each granite column outside is about 14 meters high (42 feet) and comes from Egypt (showing that the Romans had a great confidence both in their shipping abilities, and their ability to stand it up once it arrived). Raphael is buried here, as well as Victor Emmanuel II (Italy's first king). It's a great place to ponder.
Hadrian also built a mausoleum for himself - Castel Sant'Angelo. It was later used as a prison and fortress, with a connecting passageway to the Vatican, so that the popes could use it as a refuge, when needed. In the movie Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn went to a party nearby.
Commodus was one of the more unusual Roman emperors and fought as a gladiator (not the thing for an emperor to do). He also believed that he was descended from Hercules, and so dressed up in a lionskin, as Hercules often did.
Constantine is responsible for "legalizing" Christianity in 312 CE; until then, Christians were generally persecuted, and sometimes executed for practicing Christianity. Nero had blamed Christians for the fire that destroyed a large part of Rome in 64 CE, and many people (including St. Peter) were executed at Nero's chariot racecourse, sometimes just for entertainment, because of their religious beliefs. Constantine had the first St. Peter's Basilica built (completed in 1590) on the site where St. Peter was executed. The "new" St. Peter's Basilica is built over the same site.
We had seen one of Constantine's basilicas in Trier, Germany; another was at the Roman Forum. There was a colossal statue of him in the Basilica Maxentius (a/k/a Basilica of Constantine), but all that remains of it are pieces, which can be seen in the Capitolini Museum. He has a triumphal arch between the Colosseum and the Forum, but most of the sculptures on it had been taken from other buildings.
There were so many ancient sculptures to see at the different museums, I didn't have much energy left to see paintings. But The School of Athens by Raphael (early 1500's) in the Vatican is a masterpiece. "Raphael pays respect to the great thinkers and scientists of ancient Greece, gathering them together at one time in a mythical school setting." Plato (portrayed by Leonardo da Vinci) and Aristotle stand in the middle. Plato points up to the world of ideas, while Aristotle holds his hand open between heaven and earth and the material world. The "thinkers" stand to the left (including Socrates, wearing green; Alcibiades; Alexander the Great, wearing armor; Pythagoras, writing on a slate; and Epicurus at the foot of the steps). The "scientists" (including Euclid, bent over; and Diogenes in the middle on the steps) are on the right. Raphael painted himself in, too, but I couldn't get everybody in the picture (RS, p. 151; Guide to the Vatican Museums and City, p. 95).
Michelangelo designed the Campidoglio (Capitol Hill). One building is used for the local government, and the other two buildings are museums, connected underground by a passageway through the Tabularium, an important building during the Roman Empire, and with great views of the Roman Forum. Since most bronze artwork had been melted down through the ages for recycling, not much remains. The Christians thought that the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback was actually Constantine, so it was not destroyed; it is one of the rare bronze pieces we have from antiquity (the original is in the museum).
Paris . . . always beautiful, even in winter. Pete came with me, a few days after I returned from Rome. I had renewed energy to continue my museum marathon, and went to the Louvre first. There is too much in the museum to see everything at one time, and it's hard not to get lost in there. The last few times I've gone, I just concentrated on one area (Greek and Roman things) and that makes it much more manageable. More Greek vases to see, but also older, from the 8th century BCE, and the Seated Scribe from Saqqara, Egypt, from 2600-2300 BCE. Awesome, and in such great condition. The Etruscan sarcophagus "The Reclining Couple" (a/k/a "the Spouses") is a light into the Etruscan way of life. Etruscan women were on an equal status as men, since they're both shown reclining (affectionately) at a banquet (only Greek women of a lower status went to Greek banquets). The Winged Victory of Samathrace (a/k/a Nike, ~200 BCE) was alighting on the prow of a ship because of a naval victory. Venus de Milo (150-125 BCE) is just beautiful. It's hard to see in the museum's light, but depending on the time of day in natural light, either the horizontal lines of her body are emphasized or the vertical lines.
Pete went to the Eiffel Tour while I was doing the museum bit. He decided to walk up to the second level (no line, about half the price, and much different views of the tower itself). It was built in 1889 to mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. People didn't like it and it was about to be torn down afterwards, but they realized that it could be used for the new transmitting antennas, so it was spared. Fortunately the Parisian government restricted the heights of new buildings, so you can see it from many vantage points around the city.
A 3300 year old Egyptian Obelisk stands at the Place de la Concorde. This is where many people were executed during the French Revolution in 1789, and it has another great view of the Eiffel Tower. If you walk from the Place along the Champs-Elysées you eventually reach the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon had this triumphal arch built to commemorate one of his victories, the way the Roman emperors did. There are more great views of the city from the top.
The construction of Notre Dame began 1163, and it took 200 years to complete. It is amazing how they built such a masterpiece with the technology and tools available then. It's a great place to sit and ponder. Gothic architecture was meant to soar to the heavens, and the newly developed flying buttresses allow Notre Dame to do that. When it was built, the literacy rate was very low, so the stained glass windows inside the church not only let in a little light, but the pictures on them told biblical stories, so people could at least "read" parts of the bible in pictures.
The Montmarte area is where artists stand ready to sketch you, or to sell their paintings. It is also the location of Sacre Coeur, with great views over Paris. You can see the Eiffel Tower over the Parisian rooftops. The Place de Vosges is in the Marais district (our favorite area of Paris). It is lined with shops and restaurants, with a park in the center (just be careful where you step).
Guide to the Vatican Museums and City, 2005
I don't have any Swiss guidebooks with me [we were in Laos when I wrote this] so can only give a brief history of Switzerland, a/k/a/ Confederation of Helvetia ("CH"). It began as a "confederation" of three cantons (counties) in 1291 that eventually grew to about 26 cantons. There are four official languages - German, French, Italian and Romansch (a dialect spoken by only a few thousand people in the Alps). Pete's from the German section, near the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and also near the Austrian/German borders.
We merged all of our Swiss pictures from last year, and broke it up into two sections. The first is from two different areas of Switzerland - Säntis and Sogio.
In April we went to Säntis (a 2502 meter high mountain) nearby. It was still covered in snow, and very cold at the top, but on a clear day, you can see forever. We went back in October, when my niece, Chloé, was here. Both days were gorgeous. We took a cable car to the top; you also can climb up, if you're so inclined. It's in Appenzellerland, a really pretty area with undulating hills, but where the women just got the right to vote in local politics in 1990. And yes, the hills are alive with the Sound of Music - the cowbells jingling, the church bells ringing, and sometimes yodellers.
One of our favorite places in Switzerland is Soglio, a small town full of old stone buildings near the Italian border. It's reached after a short winding drive uphill. There are parking areas below the town; you walk on cobblestone streets and paths to get around. The view of/from the cemetery, with the mountains rising up in the background, must be the best that we've ever seen. There is also a nice view a few minutes' walk out of town, looking back towards the town, and also a few minutes' walk uphill, looking down towards the town. Most of the buildings there are a few centuries old, and we stayed at a 16th century palazzo. When we stayed there a few years ago, we heard a ghost during the night. It was quiet this time, though, and also when we took Chloé in late October.
Rick Steves, Best of Europe, 2003
These are the rest of our pictures from last year in Switzerland. In June we celebrated Pete's mom's birthday at Staubern. We took a cable car to the restaurant near the top of a hill (~1800m) and from there, trails lead to various places (if you're afraid of heights, don't look down).
In September Pete and I spent a few days driving around Switzerland. The flowers were still blooming, the sun was shining, and the hills were still alive with the Sound of Music. Between that trip and Chloé's trip in October, we drove over several mountain passes (Julier Pass, St. Gottard Pass, Sustenpass, Flüela Pass, Maloja Pass and San Bernardino Pass). The Romans left their marks on some of the passes, putting up mile markers throughout their travels in their Empire.
At the southern tip of Lago di Como is the Italian city of Como. We drove around most of the lake in September, and along part of it again in October. Val Verzasca is a valley between two mountain ranges; the bridge at Lavertezzo is probably from the Middle Ages, but no one we asked knew for sure.
The bridge in Luzern was originally built in 1333, but it was partially burned in 1993, when a small boat that was docked under it caught fire. The damaged part of the bridge was rebuilt and you can still walk through it, but boats no longer dock under it. It's a very touristy city, but still pretty with painted façades on its medieval buildings in the old town, and flowerboxes adorning nearly every window.
Pete went to a "stone cave" with his friend, Douglas, in September (Trip 2 - photos 051-069). If you want rustic, this is it. No shower, but an outhouse, and gorgeous views in a great hiking area. Douglas has another hut in a different part of Switzerland. (He's an American/Swiss, and the expert for trips in the Alps and around Switzerland; check out his website at www.bellaeuropaadventures.com; (just tell him if you need more than an outhouse) and tell your friends!!)
Trip 3 (photos 070-104) is from our drive with Chloé when she came in October (except for Soglio, which pictures were in the last batch). To get to Soglio, we drove through some beautiful countryside, and the leaves were changing colors. We stopped at a lake near Davos, which is where the World Economic Forum is held every year. We took a quick drive through St. Moritz in the Engadin Valley, a major hub on the way to southern Switzerland. St. Moritz is where the rich and famous come to ski and to play; for the rest of us, it's a place to pick up some food at the grocery store and sit by one of the many lakes nearby (i.e., Silser See) to have a picnic or to ponder.
Gandria is another of our favorite towns, a few kilometers east of Lugano. It's traffic-free, so you have to park your car at the top of the village and walk down. It was pretty deserted in October, but if you come in the spring or summer, the alleyways are filled with flowerboxes, and you can eat at one of several restaurants along the lake. If you stay overnight at the Hotel Moosman, you can sit on your balcony (or soak in the bathtub) and look out at this gorgeous scenery. It's also possible to get to Gandria from Lugano by taking a short ferry ride, or a pleasant walk along the lake.
We introduced Chloé to a natural perfume - the "essence of cows." You don't need to see the cows, but sometimes you can certainly smell that they are not far away. One day in early summer, the farmers in certain areas of Switzerland parade their cows up into the hills for better grazing (and back down again at the end of summer). The people dress up in traditional costume and the cows dress up in their Sunday best for the occasion (photo 052 is of a cattle market, but you can see the people's costume, if you look closely).
The rest of these pictures are from the Goldach area. Parts of the Hagenwil castle are about 1,000 years old; it was first mentioned in 1227. It has been owned by the same family for the last 200 years, and the inside has been converted into a restaurant. There's another castle (photos 112-3) in Goldach, which has been converted into apartments. St. Gallen is the "big town" about 15 minutes away from Goldach. It's supposedly "the biggest shopping area in Eastern Switzerland." More importantly, they have a Starbuck's and a McDonald's, for when I need an American fix. Photos 109-10 are of my favorite building in the area.
Pete's parents' house is separated into three different apartments; they rent out the ground floor, they live on the first floor, and we're staying on the top floor. In the summer his mom puts out the flowerboxes. It has a balcony, too, where his family likes to have a grill. It's also good for hanging out, watching life (and the trains) go by in downtown Goldach (photos 112 and 124-127 were all taken from the balcony). You don't need to be outside to hear the church bells go off. They ring every 15 minutes, all day (and night), every day. If there's a church service, there's an additional 10-minute musical thing, and there is another special chime each weekday at 11:00 and 3:00. We don't need a clock; we just look at the one on the church or listen for the bells.
Most towns along the Bodensee (Lake Constance) have their own swimming places. The nearby town of Rorschach has a unique one called the Badehütte, built around 1900. There is "officially" a men's side and a women's side (although that distinction has been blurred over the ages); the women's side also has a place for the kids to play. There are changing rooms along the outside, and an area for basking in the sunshine. There are three "rafts" out in the water (like what Grace Kelly was lounging on when Cary Grant swam up to her in To Catch a Thief). There's a kiosk/restaurant on the entry bridge, so you can have a small snack, even if you don't go for a swim. We took the photos in the winter at really low tide, but it's great for swimming.
We celebrated Christmas in Goldach and had raclette for dinner. Each person has a "shovel" on which to place a slice of raclette cheese for melting in the special stove on the table. You can add pickles or onions, or cook little bits of meat on the top of the stove. And then pour the melted cheese over boiled potatoes. Yummmmmy . . .
Rick Steves, Best of Europe, 2003
Sri Lanka is the tear-drop-shaped island at the southern tip of India. Pete first visited Sri Lanka in 1982, and our trip there in January was his eighth time to the island (my second). On his first trip, he stayed at the Heila Holiday Home, run by Punchi and Wansa. They no longer have the guest house, but Pete has kept in touch and stayed with them when he's in Kandy. We stayed in Sri Lanka for about 3 ½ weeks, and spent most of that time with Punchi and Wansa, making excursions in and around Kandy.
Kandy is a hill town in the center of the island, and has a cooler climate than the coastal areas; Punchi and Wansa's house is on a hill overlooking the town. They were not directly affected by the tsunami, but Wansa is a volunteer with different aid organizations and helped with the clean-up, both physically and with counseling. We stayed with friends of theirs in Unawatuna, a beach town on the south coast of Sri Lanka (near Galle). The friends were affected by the tsunami, and we'll include their stories about the tsunami in the next batch of photos.
Wansa has seven sisters and two brothers, and many live in the area. Sri Lankans are very family-oriented, and it seems that many Kandyans are friends or relatives of Punchi and Wansa. Punchi works as the coordinating secretary for his cousin, the Chief Minister of the Central Province in Sri Lanka, which includes the Kandy area. One of Punchi's former neighbors has a batik factory and shop; we went there to watch how the fabric is marked out and colored. It's a very time-consuming process, and requires a lot of patience in working the details, and the final product is beautiful. One of Wansa's sisters had a party while we were there; two of the boys played "drums," while the rest of the family joined in the singing.
One of the organizations Wansa volunteers with is SCI (Service Civil International), which has volunteer offices around the world. The Kandy branch runs the Blue Rose School, a school for mentally handicapped children.
The Temple of the Tooth is a Buddhist temple which holds a relic of the Lord Buddha, a sacred tooth. Each year, usually in August, Kandy holds the "Esala Perahera" - a parade of musicians, dancers and decorated elephants through some streets of Kandy, carrying the sacred tooth. The parade grows in stature every evening for about ten days, with more dancers and more elephants each evening, culminating on the "full moon" day. It's the biggest festival on the island.
We saw a traditional Kandy Dance (with a firewalker) and for Indian Independence Day, we received an invitation to an Indian dance, also in Kandy. Knuckles Range is a hilly area north of Kandy. The day we went it was pouring, but it was still beautiful.
Sri Lanka has an abundant source of tropical fruits. Punchi and Wansa have an avocado tree in their back yard; on my last visit, Punchi offered freshly picked avocados nearly every evening (after the first few days, it got to be too much, though). Avocados weren't in season when we went this time, but pineapples were, and durians were just coming into season. A few slices of fresh pineapple after dinner helps with the digestion, so that was usually our dessert. The huge greenish thing in the center of photo 073 is a jackfruit. Durians (photo 074) are supposedly a delicacy and very tasty, if you can get past their awful smell. Photo 075 is a fruit from a tree in Punchi's yard; it tastes kind of like a grapefruit, and is very sour. Bananas were also readily available; it was interesting to see how they grow. Different kinds of coconuts are also plentiful. The streetseller cuts one kind of coconut open, and you drink its milk from a straw, and then scrape and eat the "fruitmeat." The scrapings of a different kind of coconut make a nice side dish, mixed with different degrees of spiciness.
The Sri Lankans (and some other Asian cultures) eat with their fingers; they usually have a serving of rice in the center of the plate, and then add different dahls and curries as side dishes. Using fingers of the right hand, they mix the side dishes with the rice to their individual tastes. The food actually tastes better this way, once you've gotten the hang of mixing it.
Tea (Ceylon Tea) and rice are major products of Sri Lanka. You can see several tea plantations around Kandy and the hill country, and terraced rice paddies. It was harvesting time for the rice, so the rice pickers were out, even in the rain.
Sri Lanka (and other Asian countries) still use working elephants (photo 089) and water buffaloes (photo 058). You can see both on the street occasionally, the elephants picking up and carrying tree branches or logs, and water buffaloes pulling carts. There are still some elephants in the wild, mostly in national parks, and for various reasons, some were left orphaned. The Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage is a place where visitors can go see these elephants of varying ages. Some are handicapped (one's foot is missing), and there are many young elephants. They usually go in the nearby waters twice a day to keep their skin moist (and to provide Kodak Moments for tourists). We expected to see the elephants; the vampire bats we saw on our way came as an added attraction.
The conflict with the Tamil Tigers is an ongoing issue. They've been fighting for an independent state within the island for the last 25 years or so. Like in most conflicts, the ones who suffer the most are the civilians. Within the Tigers there are factions which fight amongst each other, terrorists who are not interested in any peace process. It looked like after the tsunami things might be getting better, but violence has started up again in the northeastern province of Sri Lanka.
Carry on, as Wansa would say.
Wansa, her 16-year old nephew Ranga, Pete and I hired a car and driver for a few days and we drove along the west coast towards the beach in Unawatuna, on the south coast of Sri Lanka. We stayed with friends of Wansa's and Punchi's, Ranjith, Chandani and their three kids. Ranjith is a head chef at the Unawatuna Beach Resort, and he invited us to a buffet dinner. Pete enjoyed it, but it was a tease for me - all this great food - local and western - that I couldn't eat because of stomach issues. (Ranjith and Chandani are planning to rent out rooms in part of their house to visitors; if you plan a trip to Sri Lanka, let us know.)
The beach was the best we had experienced so far on this trip, and my favorite for the whole trip. The waves were gentle, the water temperature was perfect, the air temperature was perfect, the sand was perfect. Ranga had not seen the beach since he was a toddler. He likes to get up late, but here, he was up by 7 or 8 each morning, waiting for us to go for a swim.
Pete's friend Winnie lives about two hour's drive away (with stops for Kodak Moments), so we went to visit his family. They made a great lunch for us. Their house is inland and so was not affected by the tsunami, but it was flooded twice in the last few years from a nearby canal (the water was about 20 feet higher than normal). On the way back to Unawatuna, we stopped to see the Dondra Head Lighthouse. The sunset there was gorgeous.
As we drove back along the coast to Kandy, we saw people pulling in fishing nets. Anyone is welcome to help. Afterwards, some of the "helpers" went for a swim.
The tsunami of December 2004 affected many people in parts of Asia. It hit Sri Lanka about two hours after reaching Indonesia and Thailand, but the people in Sri Lanka were unaware of what was happening, or the devastation and loss that would occur within just a 15-minute period. 40,000 people died in Sri Lanka alone. Many animals sensed something was wrong and managed to get to higher ground and escaped the tragedy.
The tsunami occurred on "full moon" day (a monthly holiday in Sri Lanka), as well as Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Many Buddhist and Christian fishermen had taken the day off to celebrate their respective holidays, which is why so many fishing boats and livelihoods were destroyed. Many Europeans and other westerners were in Asia to escape their cold winters and bask in the tropical sunshine during the long Christmas-New Year holiday. Since the effects of the tsunami were mostly felt along the shoreline, people scuba diving or out in their boats away from the shore were unaware of what was happening.
Driving along the coast, there is still much damage visible. The tsunami was not discriminatory. Both rich and poor lost loved ones, houses, furniture, and personal things. The richer people tended to have houses built of bricks and cement rather than wood shacks, but those too were damaged. In some places, walls and windows were washed away; in other places, only the foundation remains. Some of the structures that were destroyed were 100 meters or more from the sea; there was even some damage in places about ½ kilometer inland (1/3 mile or so).
One thing that saved some parts of the coastal areas were the mangrove forests and wetlands areas. They acted like buffer zones, lessening the impact of the waves so that houses lying beyond were not always so badly affected.
We went past the bus stop in Galle; that is probably the most memorable image shown on TV. A group of schoolgirls had been waiting for a bus and were swept away into the rushing waters; two of the girls survived. When we saw it on TV, it seemed as if they were being swept away into a river. It was actually only the overflow from a canal (photo 083), which is about 5-10 feet wide, but there was so much water around it and the current was so strong, it did look like a river.
Amazingly, many religious sites remain unharmed, even among the devastation surrounding them. There is a Buddhist statue, intact, near the Galle bus station, very close to where the girls were swept away (photo 084). Photo 082 is a statue erected near the bus station in memory of the people who lost their lives.
There are many "camps" of temporary shelters - sometimes tents, sometimes wooden huts. Some damaged boats remain along the coastline as a reminder of what happened. Pete found loose shoes washed up on the shore. There are several Red Cross Drinking Water tanks along the road.
The water itself has changed the landscape, moving the shore further inland in some places. The beach at Unawatuna (where we stayed with friends) is now closer to the house than it had been. The beach was also damaged, as a layer of limestone had been lifted out during one of the waves. Instead of a nice, gentle slope, the beach drops off sharply into the water. Some of the coral reef broke up, and it will take a long time to regenerate; pieces of coral were still being washed up when we were there.
Wansa is a volunteer with SCI (Service Civil International), and heard many stories in her relief work in tsunami-affected areas. Water came up and reached the tops of coconut trees; one woman selling souvenirs on the beach told Wansa that she survived by having been hoisted up into a coconut tree by one of the waves, and hanging on to the leaves until the waters receded.
In Kalamatya on the south coast, people ran to a huge rock and could see many people being swept away. A little boy, aged 12, saved his sister, but when he came to safer grounds and looked for his grandmother, she was gone.
Ranjini (Wansa's sister), her three kids and other family members (32, altogether) were at a beach 20 kilometers north of Galle on Sri Lanka's west coast whent he tsunami struck. Ranjini's words: "It was our last day at the beach. We went around 8 in the morning. The water was very wavy, we were told that the sea was different today and we should take care. My family thought Heshan [her son] was swimming, but he was being pulled by the force of the seawater. It was very sandy, up to the knees, like there was something moving, so we were going to go to a different [swimming] place after breakfast. The children wanted to play cricket, so they went to buy a ball to play with. They returned after about ten minutes, saying that the river was floating the other way, that the nearby tourist hotel was under water, and that the fishing boats were on the road, together with the furniture from the hotel. Nobody believed it, as we had never experienced this before. They thought it was all fun; we said not to lie. Then came a phone call from a nearby circuit bungalow that also belongs to Leaver Bros., saying that the house is under water and the sea water came to landside and is becoming rough. We should leave."
"We altogether went to see the sea. [By] then the first wave had come and gone. The water was very calm, and the water level was very low, compared to earlier, when we had bathed. The villagers showed us a big rock [visible] that they had heard about 80 years ago; their great-grandparents had experienced the sight of the same rock and that it is not a good sign (they did not say why) and that we should go home."
"The men were going into the sea as there were calm waters (the women were not allowed by the male villagers to go into the sea). We (me and my sister-in-law) climbed a big water storage tank to see the rock properly (imagine if the wave had come at that time); the tank was about 20 feet high."
"The villagers shouted at us and warned us, saying that although the place is safe, we must move out (200 yards away, we could see that the railway track was covered with water but not near us). In the end they shouted and said 'if you want to see your relatives one last time, see their faces, and say good-bye . . .' We saw nothing other than the water had sunk, and calm waters. We later heard that for 200-300 yards width around, only one spruce tree was saved; the rest of the places were damaged. We were lucky."
"We had lunch and came home by the inland road and only after we came to Hikkaduwa [a little further north of Galle] we saw how much it's been damaged. We were lucky at the least not to be an eye-witness even."
Ranjith and Chandani (who we stayed with in Unawatuna) lost no family members and their house is still standing, but it sustained much interior damage.
The boy, Kasun, had been sent to get some ice cream for a party later that day. Chandani was in a house, a bit uphill from hers. She heard that there was a road accident and thought something had happened to Kasun. By the time she was at the front door, the kids came running towards the house, trying to escape the huge wave coming towards them. Luckily they made it inside the house by the time the wave struck. From the back door they ran back uphill, unharmed.
The rush of water knocked out the front windows and door. The water stood about eight feet high, and left a layer of mud and damaged much of the interior. The furniture was broken, the kitchen cabinets fell from their sockets and floated in the water. The books and clothes of the children were washed away. The clock still shows the time when the tsunami hit.
Even with this damage, they took in some relatives for a few months, whose houses were totally destroyed or unlivable, while people began to get back on their feet. They've since begun construction on a second floor so they will have higher ground to go to if the area is flooded again.
The school building between the sea and their house disappeared entirely in the waves, but the Buddha statue next to the building miraculously remains, undamaged. (Some before and after pictures of their damaged house are in the second photo album sent today.)
Peter's friend Winnie and his family were on a bus from Colombo (west coast) to Matara (south coast) when the wave hit. They were going to take the train, but luckily decided to take the bus instead. The train they would have been on was hit by a wave and washed inland. Many people living nearby thought the train was safer than elsewhere, so they put their children into it rather than seeking higher ground; many of those children died. Many of the deaths on the train were not of passengers, but locals seeking refuge.
Winnie was holding his little boy on his lap; his wife had the other child with her, and her parents were elsewhere on the bus. When the passengers saw the first wave coming, some people said to leave the bus, but he said that they should remain inside and pray. The bus was then knocked onto its side, and the passengers had to climb out the windows. The force of the water stripped the sari from Winnie's mother-in-law, Winnie lost his cell phone, but everyone on the bus survived. Winnie lost sight of his family in the chaos, but eventually everyone found each other at a temple on higher ground by the time the second wave hit. The temple served as a place of refuge for locals and tourists for the next few days, until they could get out of the disaster area.
The tsunami brought out some of the best in people, but also some of the worst. Mr. N.M.M. Rajudeen, Secretary of SCI in Kandy (one of the organizations Wansa volunteers for), said that many "entrepreneurs" went to the beach to hide bodies, and then extracted money from people searching for their relatives. Other people claimed that they lost their fishing boats (a prime source of income for many along the coast); when they received "replacement" boats, they sold them (some as many as three or four) for a profit. SCI was in the process of adding to their facilities when the tsunami hit; the material for construction then sky-rocketed by up to 1000%. Even labor costs increased a lot. SCI was also affected because the funds they usually receive from donations decreased and instead went mostly to tsunami-affected areas.
In March Pete and I went swimming in Lombok (Indonesia). The pull of the water was so strong that I was unable to stand up and needed help to get out of the water. I never experienced a natural force this strong and immediately thought of the tsunami victims, as they struggled for their lives. I cannot imagine what the force of the tsunami was like.
From Sri Lanka, we went to Bangkok (Thailand) for a few days in early February. It's a really convenient place to organize cheap Asian travel tickets and visas, so we organized our visa and booked our plane tickets to Vietnam. It was extremely hot - about 35°C (95° Fahrenheit) almost everyday, all day long. After Vietnam, we went back to Bangkok to organize our other Asian trips, so we had a few stops there. The Thailand pictures will be at the end of Asia, a few photo albums down the road . . .
Pete had gone to Vietnam in 1991, soon after it had opened up to tourism. At that time, there was little tourist infrastructure. It was easier to hire a guide, as independent travelers had to have permissions to move around the country, so Pete hired Mr. Binh. They have kept in touch, and when we told Mr. Binh that we were coming to Vietnam, he got the welcome wagon ready. He is still a professional guide, so has many contacts in the travel industry. He hired a van and a driver to take us around, and he and his wife, Miss Lan, showed us the country. Miss Lan had worked in different parts of the country, but there were many parts she had never seen, or had not been to in a long time. It was nice (and convenient) to have "locals" with us, both to guide us around, and to bargain for things. Once a hotel person/shop owner saw a western face, the price of anything increased dramatically.
These are some facts from Mr. Binh:
In Saigon (a/k/a Ho Chi Minh City) alone, there are
In the whole country, there are
"[Saigon] may, at first, seem to be populated with a million bandana [face mask]-bedecked women bandits on the verge of a giant traffic accident" (LP, p. 865). (There were probably more men than women drivers, but the men don't usually wear anything to protect their faces.) Females usually wore some form of face mask, but unfortunately, helmets are only worn by a few of the people, and we saw a few accidents. Kids and others get around by bicycle. A motorbike doesn't always just carry one person, though; it was not unusual to see four people, sometimes even five, on a bike. These are called "overloaders." A toddler would usually be in front, then the driver, then another child, then another adult. Or three adults. Or an adult and baskets of food/livestock/furniture/you name it . . . Sometimes you could barely see the driver - he/she was covered by the load. A book of photos - Bikes of Burden: Vietnam on a Bike, by Hans Kemp, has amazing photos of motorbikes and their loads. Another way of getting around in the cities is by cyclo; a bicyclist pedals the paying passenger around to his destination. On some roads as schools let out, we were surrounded by bicycles. The girls wore the ao dai - the typical Vietnamese outfit of white pants, and a close-fitting "dress" over it (usually also white) and the boys usually had their own uniforms.
Traffic stops for no one. We wouldn't have gotten anywhere in Saigon the first few days, if Miss Lan hadn't grabbed us by the hands and helped us to maneuver through the "lanes" of cars and motorbikes to cross the streets. After awhile, we got the hang of it - you take a deep breath and plunge right in. Once you've made your move, don't back up - cars try to avoid the path you're taking, but if you back up, that throws them off and confusion reigns.
Unfortunately environmentalism is not a high priority for the Vietnamese. They've had a high growth rate, and a high percentage of the people are under 30 years old. The increase in motorcycles and the construction necessary for the rising population has put more stress on the environment. The motorcycles (and buses or trucks) seem not to have any pollution restrictions; being behind one of the buses or trucks with the engine blasting out black smoke or fumes literally takes your breath away. Even though the (female) motorcycle riders usually wear some form of face mask to block out the fumes, that cannot be enough protection. From an aesthetic point of view, there were wires everywhere; we would have taken about double the photos if the wires weren't in the way.
In an essay at the back of A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester (Penguin Books, 2005, about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906), the author's friend had just returned from Vietnam, and commented that "In Vietnam, the literacy rate is 98 percent. They are poor there - but they are bright, they want to learn, they have passion, they have energy." Lonely Planet (p. 798) says to "[p]ractice ten minutes of meditation on the bus, boat or horse you ride on, for Vietnam will rush you like a hundred 110cc motorcycles. Wheeling and dealing, smiling and beguiling, the people of Vietnam possess a vitality as unstemmed as the flow of manic traffic . . . Though the culture shock can overwhelm, it's just as easy to be embraced by the graciousness and generosity of the Vietnamese. 'Understanding means to throw away your knowledge' (from exiled Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh) . . . And when the street begins overloading your senses, take refuge in it: Hoist a glass of [draught beer] with the working men while women with pole-baskets sway by with steamers full of rice noodles. Hire a cyclo and let the river of traffic flow around you. Or hunker down at a tea-party-sized plastic table over a bowl of steaming pho (noodle soup). And smile: it works wonders." (Pho is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner; Pete was in heaven with all the seafood, and I was really enjoying the bite-size spring rolls).
"Life is lived on the streets in Vietnam. In both the countryside and the heart of the most urban districts of Vietnamese cities, the streets are the capillaries on which people socialize, eat, shop, nap, and air dirty laundry (literally and figuratively). Folk squat at tiny street stalls along the narrow pavement balancing steaming bowls just as precariously as they navigate motorcycles loaded with basketfuls of pigs or ducks through never-ending traffic. Day and night, the streets are where it's at" (LP, p. 799-800).
That pretty much sums up most of our impressions of the Vietnamese people and life. The activity on the sidewalks was incredible to see - in many places you had to walk in the streets because the people were using their stoves on the sidewalks to cook dinner in front of their stores. Sometimes if the "tea-party-sized" stools (some as low as about 8 inches from the ground) were not blocking the pathways, motorbikes were blocking them, and you had to maneuver your way through the congestion. On "Backpackers' Row" (where we stayed in Saigon), or many other parts of the city, you could sit at a café the whole day and just watch people pass by. Kids, teenagers and adults hold hands; we often saw bicyclists holding hands while they're driving. It really is an amazing place; a visual feast for the eyes and ears. There are people everywhere, and street noise everywhere. Taxis honk if they want to pass, as they pass, and just because they want to.
The exchange rate was one of the hardest currencies to comprehend - US$1 is about 16,000 dong, so we had millions of dong in our money belts. US$65 is about 1,000,000 dong, so if you take out $200 from the bank, you have more than 3,000,000 dong. Banknotes come in denominations as small as 200 dong. A picture of "Uncle Ho" is on every denomination. Some tourist shops include prices in US$: prices like 160,000 dong may sound expensive, but it's only US$10.
We did not see or experience any anti-Americanism on the street, just smiles and laughs. I read someplace that, simply put, the Vietnamese history is full of invasions by other countries, so that the American invasion was just one more in a long line of invaders. Because the majority of Vietnamese people are under the age of 30, they do not remember the "war." But this was the most recent, and the photos we saw in the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, formerly called something like the War Atrocities Museum, showed photos of atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people, civilians and soldiers alike. According to the museum's flyer, the mission of the museum is to ". . . study, collect, preserve and display exhibits on war crimes and aftermaths foreign aggressive forces cause for the Vietnamese people," although there is no mention of the atrocities committed by the North Vietnamese army. Almost every photo ended with ". . . [something done] by the United States army/military/government." The flyer has pictures with labels such as "A GI from 25th Infantry Division carrying the debris of a Liberation Army combatant's corpse" or "A Vietnamese mother crossing the river with her children to flee from American bombs" or "Over 2 million hectares of forests and agricultural lands destroyed by toxic chemicals;" it also states that "during the 'Vietnam War' 3 million Vietnamese were killed (among them 2 million civilians), 2 million people injured, 300,000 people missed [sic]."
The museum has the famous picture of Kim Phuc running down the street, screaming, her clothes burned off; she was the little girl whose village had just been sprayed with Napalm. There is also an "after" picture. She was in the hospital for 14 months, and underwent 17 surgical procedures. (We saw a documentary later about Kim's amazing story - she still has the constant reminder of her injuries because of the painful scars on her back and arm and severe pain most days; she is married and has a son, and lives in Canada.)
There are pictures of deformed children born to parents exposed to different defoliants (i.e., Agent Orange). We saw a person on the street whose torso was cut off around the waist; he got around on a form of wheeled board, and we couldn't help but wonder what had happened to him. In some parts of Vietnam you can still see the stunted growth of the trees, due to exposure more than 35 years ago to the defoliants.
There are also pictures from the My Lai Massacre; we went there later in our trip and will talk about that when we get to Central Vietnam. Anyone seeing the photos at the museum or the My Lai site would be deeply touched, independent of their nationality, or their views on war.
The Reunification Palace has been turned into another museum; this is where "the first Communist tanks in Saigon rushed [to] on the morning of 30 April 1975, the day Saigon surrendered [to the Communists]. The building has been left just as it looked on that momentous day" (LP, p. 873). There is a replica helicopter on the roof, and the "Commando Rooms" with strategic war maps in the basement.
I knew that the museums would be the hardest things to see, so we went there first, and afterwards could concentrate on the more pleasant aspects of Vietnam.
Our first excursion was a two-day trip into the Mekong River Delta. "A trip into the nation's rice basket is a glimpse of life of Vietnam's agricultural workforce who feeds the nation on this life-sustaining river" (LP, p. 882). The Mekong starts out in Tibet, makes its way through China, Laos (another place where we saw the river, later on our travels) and Cambodia, before it meets the sea in Vietnam. We saw a "floating market" - each boat sells different produce; a sample of what they sell is sometimes displayed on a pole rising up from the boat.
"Over the centuries, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have fused with popular Chinese beliefs and ancient Vietnamese animism to form what's collectively known as the Triple Religion (Tam Gao). Most Vietnamese people identify with this belief system, but if asked, they'll usually say they're Buddhist" (LP, p. 800). Another religion they practice is Caodaism, a form of ancestor worship which "combines secular and religious philosophies of the East and West, and was based on séance messages revealed to the group's founder" (LP, p. 800). There is a Caodai Temple a few hours' drive away from Saigon, which we went to and saw a service. Many people burn incense either at an altar or a shrine in their houses, or at a temple in memory of their loved ones. We went past an area where incense was being made from some type of leaf. On the way back to Saigon we drove to the Cambodian border. We would've had to get a visa to enter Cambodia (US$30 each) and then another one to reenter Vietnam (US$45 each), so we just stopped and took photos and turned around.
We stopped at the Cu Chi Tunnels, part of a tunnel network stretching from Saigon to the Cambodian border. The Cu Chi tunnels were used "in facilitating Viet Cong control of a large rural area only 30 km from Saigon . . . In the district of Cu Chi alone, there are over 200 km of tunnels" (LP, p. 879). Unfortunately, it was too late in the day when we got there, so we couldn't go in.
About 23 years ago, Pete met a Vietnamese refugee who had moved to Switzerland, and they've been friends ever since. We all went out for a pizza while we were in Switzerland last summer. His plan was to return to Vietnam last October, with his family. We were looking forward to seeing him again in Saigon, but he suddenly passed away in December. Both of us were shocked and very sad. Pete lost a really good friend. We burned incense in his memory before we left the Saigon area.
The Central Highlands is an area in Vietnam which has beautiful mountain scenery, waterfalls and coffee plantations; Dalat also is the home of the "Valley of Love" (popular with honeymooners). Because it's at a higher elevation, the temperature in Dalat was really comfortable (the rest of South Vietnam was almost as hot as Bangkok - between 30°C and 35°C everyday). There are various miniature copies of the Eiffel Tower around the city.
From Dalat we went to Nha Trang, on the coast. We made a short stop on the way at the Poklaongiarai Cham Temple in Phan Rang; the towers were built at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries. The Chams were another of Vietnam's invaders; the Vietnamese successfully repulsed them, but integrated the Cham civilization into Vietnamese society (LP, p. 798). Nha Trang was great for a swim, once we bargained for a boat to get to one of the nearby islands. The water was a perfect temperature, and when we weren't swimming, we could relax in the shade.
Lonely Planet, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, 2004
A little bit more about "ancestor worship" - many Vietnamese believe that the "soul lives on after death and becomes the protector of its descendants. Because of the influence the spirits of one's ancestors exert on the living, it is considered not only shameful for them to be upset or restless, but downright dangerous" (LP, p. 46). That carries over to living adults - children are expected to take care of and provide for their parents when the parents are no longer able to. Mr. Binh is now retired, and he and Miss Lan are counting on their four kids (three are adults) to take care of them.
We were as fascinated by the people in Central Vietnam as we were in the South, so there are a lot more people pictures. We saw more "overloaders" on motorbikes, more women balancing baskets over their shoulders, more schoolgirls wearing the ao dai. Miss Lan and Mr. Binh were still with us, showing us around.
From Nha Trang, we went to Buon Ma Thuot in the Highlands to escape the heat and humidity of the coastal area. Coffee and tea is grown in this area; Pete says that the Vietnamese coffee is quite an experience. The highlands are also home to about 10% of Vietnam's "hill tribes." The women weave traditional patterns and many live in "stilt houses." The houses were originally built on stilts to protect against "overly assertive animals" like elephants and tigers. Photo 16 is probably a communal rong house - a "tall and impressive thatched roof building on stilts." This is where important local events such as meetings, weddings, festivals, prayer sessions and so on still take place (LP, p. 315-7).
Elephants are used for working in this area; we went for an elephant ride nearby. It was a very strange experience, especially when we were going downhill - I felt like I was going to topple off into the water.
The fruits in photo 26 are durians; we also had some in Sri Lanka. Extremely smelly, but if you can get past the smell, they actually taste pretty good.
One of Pete's favorite spots was the drive from Kontum to Quang Ngai. It was a rainy day, and all of a sudden, as we were driving down from a pass, we saw the fog rising over a clearing. It was a very eerie scene.
"The Son My (My Lai) subdistrict was the site of the most horrific war crimes committed by U.S. troops during the American War." According to Lonely Planet (p. 253), the area was known as a Viet Cong stronghold, and several U.S. soldiers had been killed and wounded in the area prior to March 16, 1968. The villagers were to be "taught a lesson" for providing food and shelter to the Viet Cong. Even if they had provided food and shelter, it most likely was not voluntary, since "the VC was known for taking cruel revenge on those who didn't 'cooperate' . . . The [U.S. Army] encountered no resistance during the 'combat-assault', nor did they come under fire at any time during the entire operation, but as soon as their sweep eastward began, so did the atrocities . . . As Lieutenant William Calley's 1st Platoon moved through Xom Lang, they shot and bayoneted fleeing villagers, threw hand grenades into houses and bomb shelters, slaughtered livestock and burned dwellings. Somewhere between 75 and 150 unarmed villagers were rounded up and herded to a ditch, where they were mowed down by machine-gun fire." Other platoons joined in the atrocities: "At least half a dozen groups of civilians, including women and children, were assembled and executed. Villagers fleeing towards Quang Ngai along the road were machine-gunned, and wounded civilians (including young children) were summarily shot. As these massacres were taking place, at least four girls and women were raped or gang-raped by groups of soldiers . . . One soldier is reported to have shot himself in the foot to get himself out of the slaughter; he was the only American casualty in the entire operation." Although the soldiers were ordered to keep quiet about what had taken place, many went public; "it had a devastating effect on the military's morale and fuelled further protests against the war." I'm reading a book - Four Hours in My Lai by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim; Lonely Planet calls the book a "stunning piece of journalism." I've only read a few pages so far, but it's already heart-rending: "[Calley], seeing a baby at My Lai crawling away from a ditch already filled with dead and dying villagers, seized the child by the leg, threw it back in the pit, and shot it" (p.1). "On March 16, 1968, [young Americans - mostly 18, 19 and 20 years old] entered an undefended village on the coast of Central Vietnam and murdered around five hundred old men, women, and children in cold blood. The killings took place, part maniacally, part methodically, over a period of about four hours. They were accompanied by rape, sodomy, mutilations, and unimaginable random cruelties" (p. 3).
Mr. Binh organized a guide to show Pete and I around the memorial site. There is a museum with graphic photos of what happened (some of the pictures are reproduced in the book Four Hours in My Lai). The foundations of some of the houses remain, with plaques saying to whom each house had belonged, and how many people from that family had been killed. The graves of the victims are set among the trees and rice paddies. One of the most profound moments of all of our travels was to see a survivor of the massacre, in her 60's, tending the gravesite of her family. We couldn't help but wonder what she had been through, and what she had seen. You can also look into the ditch where the victims were herded into and shot.
It was a very depressing afternoon, making us think of all the atrocities that are committed on innocent men, women and children in any "war," past and present. We did not take any pictures in My Lai; the images we saw, both of the survivor and the ditch, will remain with us in our memories.
The next day we were in Hoi An (Hanoi is in the North; we went there later), and it was Pete's birthday. Mr. Binh and Miss Lan knew of someone who runs a restaurant across the river and we were able to celebrate with a great dinner, a bottle of wine, and a nice birthday cake.
Hoi An is one of the most charming towns of Vietnam. It had been one of Southeast Asia's major international ports from the 17th to the 19th centuries and in its heyday, it was an important port of call for Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and other trading vessels. Lonely Planet says that it's a "living museum; . . . [it] oozes charm and culture from every corner. Emphatically the most enchanting place along the coast, this is one spot worth lingering in." Since it remained relatively untouched during the "war," a lot of the old buildings remain (including some gorgeous French colonial houses), and Hoi An "serves as a museum piece of Vietnamese history," with more than 800 structures of historical significance. Some have features of traditional architecture rarely seen today, while others have "watchful eyes" (mat cua) to protect the residents of the house from coming to any harm (LP, p. 230). A few restaurants in Hoi An offer cooking classes. Hoi An is a fun place to wander in, especially around the daily market. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has designated Hoi An as a World Heritage site. The mission of UNESCO is to "seek to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity;" the UNESCO designation helps countries to "ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage" (http://whc.unesco.org/en/about/).
There were more Cham towers near My Son, outside of Hoi An. The Chams flourished from the 2nd to the 15th centuries but were entirely absorbed by Vietnam in the 17th century (LP, p. 245). The most famous complex is probably Angkor Wat in Cambodia (the ones with foliage growing all over it). Some of the buildings in My Son date from the 8th century; some were destroyed during the "'war" since the VC found this area a convenient staging ground and the Americans therefore bombed it. The area is another UNESCO World Heritage site. We met someone at My Son from Seattle; his Mariners' baseball cap gave him away.
My brother had been stationed at Danang, so it was interesting to drive around that area. Mr. Binh had been in the army nearby, translating for the Americans, and that is when he met Miss Lan, who was working at an army hospital at the time.
The Hai Van Pass, north of Danang, is a tricky pass. Coming down, be sure to drive carefully, because it is a "sloppy road" (photo 68). China Beach is where the TV show was based in the 90's; it was a place for R&R during the "war."
Hué has "historically been the heartbeat of Vietnam, a center of political intrigue, cultural innovation, religious worship and educational excellence" (LP, p. 199). From 1975 to 1990, all the old buildings were "regarded as politically incorrect, signs of the 'feudal Nguyen dynasty' and everything was left to decay." Things changed around then, when UNESCO designated the complex of monuments (another) World Heritage site and restoration and preservation work continues.
Hué was the site of the bloodiest battles of the 1968 Tet Offensive and was under communist rule for about 3 ½ weeks, during which time approximately 3000 civilians - including merchants, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests and intellectuals, as well as people with ties to the South Vietnamese government - were summarily shot, clubbed to death or buried alive. About 10,000 people died in Hué during the Tet Offensive, most of them civilians (LP, p. 202-3).
The Citadel is one of the major sites of Hué; its perimeter runs 10 km long. The emperors carried out their functions from the Imperial Enclosure - a "citadel within a citadel." The detail on some of the buildings is amazing - they use shells to make up some of the decorations. We also took a boat ride up the Perfume River to the Thien Mu Pagoda. Besides being a religious sanctuary, the pagoda showcases the car in which the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc traveled to Saigon to "publicly burn himself to death to protest the policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem" in 1963. Diem was the Catholic leader installed to govern the South after the country was split up; Diem's sister-in-law "happily proclaimed the self-immolation a 'barbecue party'" (LP, p. 211). Diem was very unpopular and was overthrown and killed in a military coup on November 2, 1963; JFK was assassinated a few weeks later. Coincidence?
We also went to the Royal Tombs, outside of Hué; these are the tombs of the Nguyen dynasty from 1802-1945. Supposedly the emperor Tu Doc (photos 96-102) had 104 wives, in addition to concubines.
Something about the toilets - although we usually tried to adapt to the different cultures that we were in, and live the way "locals" live, Miss Lan tried to find hotels with "western" toilets for us. She was usually successful, but we did do our share of "squats." Lonely Planet describes squat toilets as those with "no seat for you to sit on while reading this guidebook; it's a hole in the floor." There are usually enamel or porcelain "footprints," so you know where to place your feet. "The only way to flush it is to fill the conveniently placed bucket with water and pour it into the hole" (LP, p. 465). Since many sewage systems weren't made to handle toilet paper (not just in Asia, but in Greece and Turkey), the paper is usually gathered into a wastebasket next to the toilet. We also saw squat toilets in Europe; a lot of the French campgrounds and roadside "convenience stations" had too many squats for my liking. Swiss roadside toilets, of course, were the most technologically advanced ones I ever saw.
Bilton, Michael and Sim, Kevin, Four Hours in My Lai; Penguin Group
This is our last batch of Vietnam photos. We flew from Hué to Hanoi. It had been so hot in the south, and Asia in general, that we weren't quite prepared for the cooler temperatures of the north. Mr. Binh is a small man, around 60, and was really struggling with the weather; it may have been the first time in his life that the temperature wasn't in the muggy 90's (it was about 15°C, which is about 60°F). Pete gave him a sweater, and he bought another one in Hanoi, but he'll probably never need them in Saigon!!
Hanoi was once called Thang Long - which means City of the Soaring Dragon. The name was changed to Hanoi (The City in a Bend of the River) in 1831. Lonely Planet says that it is "a city of timeless grace, a grand old dame of Asia who is ageing better than most of her contemporaries . . . The city and its inhabitants survived American bombs and Russian planners to emerge relatively unscathed in the early 1990's as a superb example of a French colonial city . . . Hanoi's centre today is a quixotic blend of Parisian grace and Asian space, an architectural museum piece evolving in harmony with its history, rather than bulldozing through it like many of the region's capitals . . . The bustling Old Quarter has been a cauldron of commerce for 800 years and is still the best place to check the pulse of this resurgent city" (LP, p. 75-6).
In medieval times, there were 36 different guilds in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, and each occupied a different street, for which it is named. So you can walk down "Silk Street" or "Gravestone Street" or "Bamboo Street" and purchase those products on that street. "Blacksmith Street" is full of people welding metal in all shapes and sizes. There's also a "Counterfeit Street" - where "monopoly" money is sold for burning in Buddhist ceremonies (LP, p. 94). I'm not sure where "stamping" fits in, but we found a few woodcarvers along the way hand carving stamps of typical Vietnamese scenes (girls wearing the ao dai, or on a bicycle). My sister and I make greeting cards with rubber stamps, so it was fun to find these (and of course I had to buy a few for my stamping collection). The "Herbal Medicine" street sounded promising for buying local remedies, but there were a few things I would rather not have seen.
There are "handicraft" villages surrounding Hanoi, each selling products from a specialized trade. We went to a village where almost every shop sells ceramics (some for as little as pennies, others not quite so cheap). Sometimes you could see the factories where the pieces are made and/or painted. There are also villages known for making noodles or silk or firecrackers. We passed on the village known for its snakes, which are used for "fresh snake cuisine" and "snake elixir" (LP, p. 115). We had seen a Lonely Planet video on Vietnam, and the host was encouraged to drink snake blood mixed with alcohol, which was supposed to be benefit her immune system.
We saw a performance of water puppets; this art is about 1000 years old. Lonely Planet (p. 108) has a great description of it: It began "with rice farmers who worked the flooded fields and either saw the potential of the water as a dynamic stage, or adapted conventional puppetry during a massive flood of the Red River Delta . . . The farmers carved the puppets from water-resistant fig-tree timber in forms modeled on the villagers themselves, animals from their daily lives and more fanciful mythical creatures such as the dragon, phoenix and unicorn. Performances were usually staged in ponds, lanes or flooded paddy fields. Contemporary performances use a square tank of waist-deep water for the 'stage;' the water is murky to conceal the mechanisms that operate the puppets. The wooden puppets can be up to 50 cm [20 in.] long and weigh as much as 15 kg [33 lbs.]; they're painted with a glossy vegetable-based paint. Each lasts only about three to four months if used continually, so puppet production provides several villages outside Hanoi with a full-time industry . . . Eleven puppeteers, trained for a minimum of three years, are involved in each performance. They stand in the water behind a bamboo screen and have traditionally suffered from a host of water-borne diseases - these days they wear waders to avoid this nasty occupational hazard . . . Some puppets are simply attached to a long pole, while others are set on a floating base, in turn attached to a pole. Most have articulated limbs and heads, some also have rudders to help guide them. In the darkened auditorium it looks as if they are literally walking on water . . . The music, which is provided by a band, is as important as the action on stage. The band includes wooden flutes, gongs, cylindrical drums, bamboo xylophones and the fascinating single-stringed dan bau . . . The performance consists of a number of vignettes depicting pastoral scenes and legends. One memorable scene tells of the battle between a fisherman and his prey, which is so electric it appears as if a live fish is being used. There are also fire-breathing dragons (complete with fireworks) and a flute-playing boy riding a buffalo . . . The performance is a lot of fun. The water puppets are both amusing and graceful, and the water greatly enhances the drama by allowing the puppets to appear and disappear as if by magic. Spectators in the front row seats can expect a bit of a splash."
I was so fascinated by the whole thing that I went back for a front row seat at a second performance.
Pete saw a lot of changes in all of Vietnam since his trip there in 1991. There is more of a tourist infrastructure in place, which helps in some places (more hotels and restaurants to choose from . . .), but sometimes it's been taken too far. We hired a car and driver for two days to take us to Halong Bay, which was the worst scene of people trying to get your business that we saw in all of Vietnam. Halong Bay is "undoubtedly the natural wonder of Vietnam. Picture 3000 or more incredible islands rising from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin and you have a vision of greatness . . . These tiny islands are dotted with beaches and grottoes created by wind and waves, and have sparsely forested slopes ringing with birdsong" (LP, p. 27). There are 4-hour, 6-hour and 8-hour rides, which include trips into caves to see chambers of stalactites and stalagmites. This was one of our few "been there, done that" moments, and we didn't want to see the caves; we just wanted to take a boat to see the karst formations. We tried to hire a boat that would take us farther out into the formations themselves rather than spend most of those four hours getting into and out of the caves. We found a boat owner who we thought agreed to this and hired her boat for four hours. We had to climb over several boats to get to the one we hired, but it seemed that all the other boats were taking off before us. Which they were, since our boat "driver" did not show up - his license had been suspended and we were waiting for another, licensed driver. We spent about an hour on the boat, waiting, waiting, waiting. A driver finally showed up, and we took off, but only to follow in the paths of the boats before us - it turned out that we didn't hire an "independent" boat after all, but one of the organized tour boats that followed the 4-hour boat route; if we didn't stop at any of the caves, that just made the ride shorter. The karst formations we did see were cool, but we couldn't believe that we were on our way back to shore, after less than two hours on the boat. We later figured out that if we were kayakers, we could have gone kayaking where we wanted to, not following an organized route.
Our driver took us on another two-day drive to a hill tribe and some other places outside of Hanoi. It was a very scenic drive to Mai Chau, through some very hilly areas (the "Tonkinese Alps"). The driver was very considerate in stopping when he saw either Pete or I getting the cameras out to take photos (very often); he also knew it would help determine his tip at the end. It was hard to draw the line sometimes between being generous, but without flaunting your cash, when tipping. US$1 might mean a can of Diet Coke for a westerner, but it could mean a full meal for two people. So a very generous tip might not break us, but it could be a life saver for someone struggling to find where the next meal is coming from.
Most people in Mai Chau are "ethnic White Thai, said to be distantly related to tribes in Thailand, Laos and China" (LP, p. 152). The houses are on stilts (originally to protect the inhabitants from wildlife), so you climb up a few steps to enter the house. Throughout Vietnam, Laos and other Southeast Asian countries, you have to take your shoes off when entering a building (most definitely at temples and pagodas, but often at houses and shops, too). Most locals and many travelers wear flip-flops, so that makes it a lot easier to get into and out of quickly. Lunch was served at a table just off the floor; diners sit on a cushion (photo 76).
There are often looms under the houses, where women weave "traditional style clothing" and other crafts (many sarongs). Again, it was hard to bargain for the finished products - how much is too generous, when US$1 doesn't mean that much to you, but it means so much to them, and all their hard work. I really had a hard time with bargaining for handicrafts, since I do cross-stitch and realize how much work can go into something, and to buy something for so little is amazing.
We spent the night near Tam Coc, the "Halong Bay on the rice paddies." This was a much nicer experience than Halong Bay. There was some tourism, but nothing like Halong. We hired two rowboats, one for Mr. Binh and Miss Lan, and one for us. No matter how many "locals" may be in a boat (sometimes 7 or 8), they usually have only one rower; "westerners" usually got two rowers. More tips to go around that way. It was very beautiful scenery, the same form of karst formations we had seen at Halong, but instead of being out on an open gulf, this was a little "alleyway" through the rice paddies, sometimes under the karst formations themselves.
We were amazed by the transport system. The tops of buses were often full, sometimes with motorcycles, sometimes with fruit. Boats and ferries plying the rivers were also packed with people and bicycles.
Rice is a very important staple in almost any Asian's diet. Rice production is very labor-intensive, and does not use much modern machinery. "Rural Vietnam today is in many ways similar to what it would have been centuries ago: women in conical hats (non bai tho) irrigating fields by hand, farmers stooping to plant the flooded paddies and water buffalo ploughing seedbeds with harrows" (LP, p. 395). Mr. Binh said that the women pluck the rice, gather it up, and then replant it.
Although we have no "favorite" places that we went to, Vietnam was certainly one of the highlights (even with Halong Bay). It was an awesome place to see. The people are happy and friendly, and out to make a buck, especially from westerners, but they do it with a smile, and you can't help but return the smile. The whole country was a feast for the senses . . .
We hope you're enjoying the photos.
Lonely Planet, Vietnam, 2005
Bali has always held a special memory for me and Pete - I picked him up at the airport there in 1991. I was in line to go through immigration, and was unsure of how to get from the airport to the backpackers' area at Kuta Beach. The guy in front of me was wearing a backpack and seemed approachable, so I asked him if he had already organized a place to stay that night. Since he didn't have any set plans, I asked him if he wanted to figure something out together. He was game, and we kind of had the same travel ideas for Bali, so we rented a jeep and drove around the island for a few days. We exchanged addresses after our time together in Bali; I went on to Bangkok, and he went on to Jakarta. A few months later, he wrote and said that if I came to Switzerland, he would show me around. We've been together since 1993.
This was our first trip to Bali since then, and although we tried to recreate the scene, it wasn't quite the same. We arrived after 10 p.m. this time, and we were tired from having been on the road most of the day. There was no line at immigrations to give me time to contemplate what I was getting myself into; and since Pete was carrying the U.S. dollars, I had to get some money from him to pay for my entry visa. The gods were certainly more favorable to our meeting in 1991 than this time . . .
Our tolerance for heat has dwindled in the last 15 years, and it was extremely muggy when we arrived, even that late at night. There have been a lot of changes since our last visit. Kuta Beach has been really built up since we first visited. The streets were filled with touts - people who try to sell things, especially to tourists. Women are often approached to get manicures and to have their hair braided. I had had my hair done in 1991, and couldn't wait to have it done again - it was really much cooler to have all my hair off my face (every little bit helped). Although my hair wasn't very long, I managed to find a place that would do it. My head felt like it was constantly being pulled - like sleeping on those pink curlers women used to wear (okay, so I'm dating myself). I left the braids in for most of the rest of our time in Asia - about a month.
While the rest of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, Bali is Hindu. Kuta is where radical Muslims are accused of having set off a series of bombs in October 2002 (and later). 500 people, mostly Indonesians and Australians, were killed or injured in the 2002 bombs. There is a memorial to the victims where one of the bombs went off. Many locals say that tourism is down drastically because of the fear of further violence; many had to close their shops throughout the country because of lack of tourism dollars. While we were aware of the "dangers" of many places, if we had avoided all those "dangerous places," we would be living in a sheltered environment, never going out, never experiencing the outside world and what it has to offer in terms of different cultures and new experiences. The chance of being injured or killed by a terrorist activity is minimal compared to something happening while living out your daily life, like a car accident. A more real concern, faced every day, was getting sick from the food we ate. Although we tried to keep to one of the basic rules of eating while in Asia ("peel it, cook it, boil it, or forget it"), we still had some minor issues along the way (I found out the hard way that I'm allergic to mangoes and pineapple skin, both staples of the Asian diet).
Lonely Planet calls Bali "a good candidate for paradise - so picturesque it could be a painted backdrop, with rice paddies tripping down hillsides like giant steps, volcanoes rising up through the clouds, lush tropical jungle, long sandy beaches and warm blue water. But Bali's landscape is more than a backdrop; it is imbued with spiritual significance, and forms a part of the rich cultural life of the Balinese, whose natural grace fits the image of how people should live in paradise" (p. 7). If you're into surfing, Bali is a great place to go - the waves are perfect for surfing, and some of the islands off of Lombok are supposed to be even better. We just like to stick our feet in the water (but sometimes more than our feet got wet) and play in the waves, or watch the sun set. The colors were spectacular! It's also possible to take tours from Lombok, another Indonesian island, to visit the home of the komodo dragon.
The first time we were in Bali, we rented a car and Pete drove around. This time he wanted to sit back and enjoy the scenery (and take photos) so we hired a car and driver (another service of the "touts" - we were approached by several). Our first stop was Tanah Lot - an important temple for the Balinese. For the tourist, it's supposed to be great for sunsets. We were enjoying the sunsets at the beach, though, so went to Tanah Lot in the morning, without the masses of other tourists going for the classic "temple at sunset shot."
We then went to the north coast of Bali - the beach was black sand, but it wasn't all that clean, so we stuck to the pool. The hotel was great - a lot of the furnishings were made of bamboo, including the bed and mirror, and the bathtub had special stones set into the side. There are examples of Balinese woodcarving; they also carve the soft stone used in their temples and statues. Pete got a huge "seafood sampler" for dinner for just a few dollars.
We then drove to a place overlooking Gunung Agung, a volcano which last erupted in 1963 (more than 1,000 people were killed, and 100,000 lost their homes, and entire villages were destroyed). It was hard to see the top through the clouds but the surrounding terrain was covered in lava and hot volcanic mud. It's possible to climb the mountain (1717 meters high) if you're so inclined.
We were a few days too early for Nyepi - the Day of Silence, which celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of the new (it's usually at the end of the rainy season, some time around the end of March or early April). People were getting ready for it, though, and we saw "huge monster dolls" being made or displayed around the island. The festival begins when the monster figures are "lifted on bamboo poles and carried through the streets, to frighten away all the evil spirits. This is followed by prayers and speeches and then, with flaming torches and bonfires, the [monster dolls] are burnt, and much revelry ensues." The day of silence is the next day, one of complete inactivity, even for the tourists. It is believed that if the evil spirits descend and see that Bali is quiet and uninhabited, they will leave the island alone for another year. "All human activity stops - all shops, bars and restaurants close, no one is allowed to leave their home and foreigners must stay in their hotels; even Bali's international airport is closed for the day. No fires are permitted and at night all buildings must be blacked out - only emergency services are exempt . . . Most hotels with a restaurant will arrange for simple buffet meals to be served for guests. Otherwise, stock up on snacks for the day" (LP, p. 70).
Ubud is the artsy, craftsy area of Bali, with dance performances and "international" restaurants (and cooking schools) lining the streets. Its "two main streets are completely lined with restaurants, travel agents, fashion shops and internet cafes, while the fast disappearing paddy fields are a bankable backdrop for some of the most expensive hotels on Bali" (LP, p. 186). There are a lot of walks around Ubud into the surrounding countryside, but it was too hot and muggy to voluntarily get hotter. The flowers were beautiful, especially the frangipani.
We liked to see performances of dancing and other forms of local culture in our travels. We saw a wayang kulit performance in Bali - a shadow puppet show. "The plays are far more than mere entertainment, for the puppets are believed to have great spiritual power and the dalang (puppet master and storyteller) is an almost mystical figure. He has to be a person of considerable skill and even greater endurance. He not only has to manipulate the puppets and tell the story, but he must also conduct the small gamelan [instrumental] orchestra . . . and beat time with his chanting - having long run out of hands to do things with, he performs the latter task with a horn held with his toes" (LP, p. 22). He holds up each puppet himself, but has assistants to hand him the puppets as they become necessary for the action. All that, sitting behind an oil lamp to project the "shadows" of the puppets onto the screen separating him from the audience.
The story is usually part of the eternal struggle between good and bad; on one side the puppet master projects the "good guys" and the other the "bad guys." The "tourist" version lasted about 90 minutes or so, but a "real" performance can last six or more hours; they begin late so that "the drama is only finally resolved as the sun peeps up over the horizon . . . The intricate lace figures of shadow puppets are made of buffalo hide carefully cut with a sharp, chisel-like stylus and then painted." The "nobles" speak high Javanese, the "clowns" speak ordinary Balinese, and we also heard some English, so the dalang also has to be able to speak those languages, along with all of his other duties.
We also saw a Legong dance performance - another battle between good and evil. "The dance relates how a king takes a maiden, Rangkesari, captive. When Rangkesari's brother comes to release her, Rangkesari begs the king to free her rather than go to war. The king refuses and on his way to the battle meets a bird bringing ill omens. He ignores the bird and continues on, meets Rangkesari's brother and is killed." The performance we saw was only a portion of the plot. The dancers' finger and toe contortions were remarkable. "Every movement of wrist, hand and fingers is important; even facial expressions are carefully choreographed to convey the character of the dance" (LP, p. 209, 212).
When we were in Padangbai (in eastern Bali), we took a ferry to Lombok; those pictures will be in the next batch.
Lonely Planet, Bali (with a chapter on Lombok), 2003
We took a ferry from eastern Bali to Lombok; it's supposed to be an "unspoilt alternative to Bali." We stayed by the beach in Sengiggi, and rented a car and driver one day to take us around Lombok to see some of the different handicraft villages and scenery. We visited a fabric weaving factory, a woodcarving shop, pottery and basket weaving shops; we also went to a factory where someone was making bamboo furniture. We saw a few different wedding parties, each with its own group of musicians and dancers, performing as they walked down the street. Each one was its own spectacle, attracting lots of bystanders, since traffic came to a standstill as the participants passed by.
An interesting form of local transportation that we only saw on Lombok was the horse cart - sometimes the horses and carts were decorated.
Lonely Planet, Bali (with a chapter on Lombok), 2003
We usually had an idea about where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, but we were always flexible and open to new ideas. When we got to Asia, we talked to other travelers and asked them where they had been, and what they had liked (and most importantly in Asia, how hot it was). A lot of people said that we should go to Cambodia (to see Angkor Wat, the culture of Cambodia, etc.), but you gotta go to Laos. We heard that enough times, and decided to see Laos for ourselves (we're saving Cambodia for another time).
Going to Laos was one of the best decisions we made on our trip. We both loved Vietnam, but there was something even more special about Laos. We stayed in Luang Prabang (the capital is Vientiane) for about a week, but it was enough to get a feel for the country, and we want to go back to explore more of the country. Pete had been to Vietnam in 1991, before it was opened to "mass tourism." As with Vietnam, as the countries are "discovered" and made more amenable to visitors, the character of the place will probably change. About half of our photos from Vietnam were of people that we saw on the streets there. In Bikes of Burden by Hans Kemp (the picture book he compiled about the "overloaders" on motorbikes in Vietnam), Kemp says that "eventually bikes will disappear as the favorite mode of transport. People will rely on fridges and freezers [which are rare today], as they are too busy to make the daily trip to the market. Roads will be widened, cars will become more available and the world will appear through a window. Therefore let's cherish these times and witness these astonishing species, these Bikes of Burden" (p. 3). The same could be said for Laos. People carried on their daily lives on the street; the shop and restaurant doors were always open, inviting passersby to come inside and look. Women crouched on the "sidewalks," selling their fruits and other products.
Even though Laos was recognized as neutral by the Geneva Accord of 1962, it was caught between "modern opponents [the U.S., North Vietnam and China] playing native pawns (the Hmong and Pathet Lao) against one another, while committing thousands of their own troops in support." Laos was bombed by the U.S. - "between 1964 and 1969, about 450,000 tonnes of ordnance had been let loose on the country, and afterwards that amount was fielded every year through to the end of 1972. By the [Secret War]'s end [1964-1973] the bombing amounted to approximately 1.9 million metric tonnes in all, or over a half-tonne for every man, woman and child living in Laos. This makes Laos the most heavily bombed nation, on a per capita basis, in the history of warfare . . . The secret air force dropped an average of one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years . . . costing the U.S. taxpayers around US$2 million a day (LP, p. 28-9). In One Foot in Laos by Dervla Murphy, the author bicycled around Laos in 1997 and visited with several people who are working with organizations to defuse the UXOs (unexploded ordnances, or "bombis"). One worker told her about eight children, aged three to eleven, who were gathering firewood earlier that year when they found a "bombi." Only the three-year-old survived the explosion, having lost an ear and probably his ability to ever walk again (One Foot in Laos, p. 215-6). Besides the loss of life and limbs, the bombs also affect the use of land - even if the land was arable before, it is too dangerous to work now. "Today about 40% of the estimated 60 casualties [or 130, according to LP, p. 252] per year are children, who continue to play with found UXO - especially the harmless-looking, bull-shaped 'bombies' left behind by cluster bombs - in spite of public warnings . . . Hunters also open or attempt to open UXOs to extract gunpowder and steel pellets for their long-barrelled muskets" (LP, p. 141). Not only Laos is affected by UXOs; the toll of people killed yearly in Cambodia is about 800. One of Diana's (Princess of Wales) last charitable events was to make the world aware of the problem; she was seen with children affected by UXOs (http://archives.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/europe/03/25/kosovo.mines/). Travelers should be pretty safe in Laos as long as they "exercise caution when considering off-road wilderness travel in [certain provinces] and don't pick up any strange looking objects" (LP, p. 251-2).
"Awakened from a long slumber brought on by decades of war and revolution, Luang Prabang has become Lao PDR's foremost tourist showpiece. Encircled by mountains and set 700m above sea level at the confluence of the [Khan River] and the Mekong River, the city's mix of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French provincial architecture and multi-ethnic inhabitants tends to enthrall even the most jaded travelers" (even those already on the road for almost 14 months). "[It] remains a relatively quiet place where most residents are sound asleep by 10 pm" (LP, p. 111).
I had eaten something disagreeable in Bangkok which caught up with me in Laos, so I was laid low for a few days. That set the tempo for our time there - to sit back and relax, and watch life go on. Pete went to a waterfall an hour's ride away, so he saw some of the outlying countryside. We had planned on taking a bus to an area north of Luang Prabang, then taking a slow boat back down the Mekong, but after the first few days of relaxing, we realized it wasn't going to work out, so we just parked ourselves and absorbed the atmosphere.
About 60% of the people in Laos are Buddhist. We saw a lot of "novice" monks - young boys (all over Asia, actually, usually dressed in orange) who were getting their education at wats (Buddhist temples). The families often send their eldest son there because of a lack of other opportunities for education. The "ultimate goal of Theravada Buddism is [Sanskrit] nirvana, which literally means the 'blowing out' or 'extinction' of all causes of [suffering]. Effectively it means an end to all corporeal or heavenly existence which is forever subject to suffering and which is conditioned from moment to moment by kamma (action) . . . By feeding monks, giving donations to temples and performing regular worship at the local wat, Lao Buddhists acquire enough 'merit' . . . for their future lives" (LP, p. 38-9). Many are still kids, though; one of the "pictures we took with our eyes" was of four young monks dressed in their orange robes, playing games and surfing at an internet cafe.
We just missed the Lao New Year celebration. All over Asia, the moon plays a vital role in local events and customs. In Sri Lanka, each full moon is a holiday and offices are closed. In Laos, "Songkan ('fully passed over') signifies the passage of the sun from the sign of Pisces into the sign of Aries in the zodiac." The Lao believe that the old spirit departs on the first day of the festival and the new one arrives soon after. It is a time for giving houses a thorough cleaning (the Asian version of spring cleaning?). In Luang Prabang the celebration lasts for seven days, and local people dress traditionally for the major events. It's also a festival of fun, and tourists should be prepared to get wet. People of all ages sit by the wayside, ready with a bucket of water (or better yet, a hose) to splash passers-by, tourists and locals alike. Even though it didn't officially begin for a few more days, we saw a few getting ready with their buckets of water, waiting for the unwary to pass by (photo 91). It's probably the hottest time of the year and the "locals revel in being able to douse one another with cold water to cool off" (LP, p. 116).
There are still remnants of Laos' history as a former French colony in the architecture and the street signs. Shops and restaurants line some of the streets of Luang Prabang. In the evening, one of the streets is closed to traffic for the night market (photo 50). People (usually women) from neighboring villages lay out their hand-made wares (not plastic imitations imported from other places) on a blanket or rug, one "stall" after another, along the road for a few blocks. There were hand-woven textiles and paper products (like journals or photo albums) and paper lanterns.
There weren't any "grocery stores" in Luang Prabang - sellers set up their stands along either side of the road, and you bargain for your purchases. Fruit and vegetables were everywhere. Beer Lao (supposedly the best beer in SE Asia) cost $0.80 for a little more than a pint. A bottle of beer cost as much as a can of coke. I'm not a beer-drinker, but I did try a few of Pete's, and that was the best I tried. Dinner for two cost $5 (including drinks). $9 for a double room, with fan.
Temples are all over and we climbed 320 steps to visit Phu Si; the view from the top really was good. And the flowers (frangipani) on the way there . . . Beautiful, with a beautiful scent. Pete was already back down the 320 steps while I was still at the top, taking pictures of the flowers from first this angle, then that angle, inhaling their scents . . .
The Wat Xieng Thong was begun in 1560. There are several buildings in the complex, and a few with elaborate designs on the side, including a "tree of life." Near the compound's eastern gate stands the royal funerary carriage house. Inside is an impressive funeral carriage standing 12m high, and various funeral urns for members of the royal family. The gilt panels on the exterior of the chapel depict semi-erotic episodes from the Ramayana epic (LP, p. 119). (The royal family was "exiled" from Luang Prabang in the late 1970's.)
Being on the Mekong River again was really awesome. The river starts out in Tibet, runs through China, Laos and Cambodia, and ends at the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. We had already been to the end of it; maybe we'll see the beginning on another trip?
Lonely Planet, Laos, 2005
Since Bangkok is a great place to get cheap, onward tickets along with the necessary visas, Pete and I have each been there a few times to organize our Asian travels. For this trip, we just had a one-way ticket from Zurich to Bangkok (with a stop in Sri Lanka), so that left us free to make plans as we went along, depending on where we felt like going. After our time in Asia, we planned on getting onward tickets to Australia/New Zealand/Cook Islands . . . We changed our minds, though and ended up back in Europe. Our last jaunt in Asia was flying Bangkok-Laos (Luang Prabang)-Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand), and by train back to Bangkok. This is our last batch of photos from Asia - Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is a smaller version of Bangkok, but still noisy, dirty and crowded. Also lots of temples - 300 or so. As with most temples and other religious buildings throughout Asia, visitors should show respect by having their knees and shoulders covered, and leaving their shoes outside. We went into Wat Phra Singh, which was established in 1345. The day we were there, some boys were being initiated as monks. We saw part of the service, when the initiates entered with their heads already shaved, wearing white. Their orange robes were waiting on a nearby table (photo 08).
There are many "handicraft villages" in the Chiang Mai area. The standard tour is to see an "umbrella" village (where people make umbrellas from paper), a silk factory and a wood carving shop. When we returned to the city, we jumped into the pool to cool down . . .
Like Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai has a night market. If you're into shopping, you can get some good buys (as long as you are a hard bargainer, since few of the prices throughout Asia are "fixed"). But the restaurants leading into the market - McDonald's, Starbuck's and Haagen Daz - were an indication of who the market was geared towards. An interesting sight on the way - six local "girls" dressed up and sitting at a bar, waiting for some "company." While it is illegal in Laos for a foreign man and Lao woman to sleep together (he can be deported if caught), Thailand has quite a different reputation . . .
We tried to travel on a budget, but we realized that as we get older, our tolerance for heat has gone down. The average temperature was about 95° and the humidity was pretty high, too. Supposedly it's more comfortable from November to January, and April is the hottest month, but we didn't notice any difference in temperature between our visits there in January, February and April - it was always too hot and humid, morning, noon and night. We decided that paying about $5 for a room while listening to the neighbors' music (usually Bob Marley) through paper-thin walls, watching the fan blow around hot air (without doing anything to cool the room) would be a thing of the past. So we "splurged" in Bangkok - our room with air-conditioning and a TV cost about $17/night. We stayed on Khao San Road, since that street is lined with hotels, restaurants, internet cafes and travel agencies geared towards backpackers. In the evening, the street is closed to traffic and locals set up food stalls, and everyone can wander and enjoy the atmosphere.
Twice a day, the whole country supposedly quiets down while the national anthem blares out of speakers. Khao San Road never quieted down, although some of the locals did stand at attention while it played. The king is very popular in Thailand; he's like a living god, and has been in power since 1946. His face is on all the currencies, and his picture can be seen all over the country. One of the king's grandsons was a victim of the 2004 tsunami which ravaged parts of Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. While it's almost unheard of to speak bad of the king and he is probably never publicly criticized, the prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is another story. Our last time in Bangkok was in April, right before a special election to replace him. While he was very popular in the countryside (he gave money to the villagers to get votes), he was accused of corruption. His government was overthrown by a bloodless coup in September, while he was attending a meeting at the United Nations in New York.
The 945,000 sq. meter grounds of the Wat Phra Kew (also called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) "encompass over a hundred buildings that represent 200 years of royal history and architectural experimentation . . . The wat structures are extremely colourful, being comprised of gleaming, gilded chedis, polished orange and green roof tiles, mosaic-encrusted pillars and rich marble pediments" (LP, p. 192). It's a great place to wander around and look at the different temples within the complex. Visitors must wear long pants; I had ¾ length pants on, and was told that I had to rent a long skirt (sarong) to cover the rest of my legs.
The Emerald Buddha is about 60-75 cm (2-2½ feet) and "considered the 'talisman' of the Thai kingdom, the legitimator of Thai sovereignty" (LP, p. 193). It's actually made of jasper or jade, not emerald, but that's beside the point. It's probably from the 13th or 14th century, and may have been carved in India, and has spent some time in Laos.
Bangkok is noisy, polluted and crowded, and getting around the city can be nerve-wracking on anyone's nerves. One way of getting around the cites throughout Thailand is to take a tuk tuk, an open 3-wheeled contraption (photo 13). They can scoot in and out of traffic easier than automobiles, but since they are open, you are exposed to the temperature and must breathe in the traffic fumes. Occasionally we were offered cheaper fares if we allowed the tuk tuk driver to take us to a souvenir shop (where he'd get gas vouchers for bringing someone into the store). Depending on your bargaining skills, a metered, air-conditioned taxi may be more comfortable. Another way to avoid the city traffic is to take a river boat along the canals.
Our flight back to Zurich stopped in Amman, Jordan. It was tempting to stay there a few days and explore the ancient city of Petra, built by the Romans into the rock formations. We couldn't change our tickets, though, so I went into the airport's Starbucks and bought a thermos with a picture of the ruins on it. I always look at the TV screens in the airports to see where flights are arriving from or taking off to; it was interesting to see the choices here . . .
It was still snowing in Switzerland - quite a shock to the system after having sweltered for the last three months.
Lonely Planet, Thailand, 1995
One of my majors at the University of Washington was Classical Studies, which was about Greek and Roman culture, so Greece was one of the places we had been looking forward to seeing. We had planned on going on to Australia and New Zealand from Asia, but I couldn't give up on the idea of Greece, so back to Europe and Greece we went (we had both been to Australia and New Zealand before, and are saving our return there for later).
We spent a few weeks in Goldach. It was hard to readjust from the sweltering heat in Asia to the cold and snow of Switzerland; we left for Greece at the end of April (2006). The Greek sky was usually a beautiful blue, the temperature was usually comfortable (but chilly at night), and the crowds hadn't yet descended on the islands. We stayed for four weeks, and it was definitely getting warmer, and the beaches more crowded, by the time we left at the end of May. We wanted to see some of the islands and a lot of the history, but we didn't want to get jaded or overwhelmed with too much history. We could have spent months or years island-hopping, since each island was special and has its own attractions for the visitor. I got a lot of ideas for future trips, though . . .
We flew into Rhodes and spent about a week there; we took a ferry to Santorini, where we spent a few days; another ferry to Naxos, stayed a few days; another ferry to Mykonos and Delos; and then our last ferry to Athens. The ferry to Santorini was a 17-hour ride by way of Crete; the rest of the ferries were less than eight hours. On one of the ferries, we were entertained by some passengers playing local instruments and other passengers dancing along to the traditional music. From Athens, we took buses around to various sites on the mainland, flew back to Rhodes for one last night of mousakka and ouzo, and then back to Goldach. It was just enough islands and history, without getting burned out.
Greek History in a Nutshell:
The main periods of Greek history are (all dates are approximate):
For more information on Greek history, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greece or for a timeline, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Ancient_Greek_history.
Most people in the Greek tourist industry spoke English, but the signs were in the Greek letters. After a few days we could make out the lettering so were able to get around okay, but we did find ourselves saying occasionally "I don't know, it looks Greek to me." Before Greece had converted to the Euro, it had been one of the cheaper European countries to visit. We realized that it wasn't going to be a bargain any more, but we were surprised at how expensive some things were. According to Lonely Planet, the government claims that inflation is only 4%, but "prices have risen by more than 50% in two years" (p. 14).
From the time of Zeus, the Greeks have been known for being generous hosts. We went to a restaurant in Rhodes three times not only because the food was great, but they also gave a generous portion of olives and ouzo (free). On our last night there, we asked about one of the after-dinner liqueurs they served (also free), and they said that we could get it at the shop next door, but because we were leaving early the next day, they gave us a whole bottle of it.
"The sun god Helios chose Rhodes as his bride and bestowed upon her light, warmth and vegetation" (LP, p. 468); Rhodes has over 300 days of sunshine a year. It was a bit chilly for a swim when we first got there (I stuck my feet in anyhow); by the time we returned to Rhodes four weeks later for our flight back to Munich, the water was bearable to swim in for a few minutes.
Rhodes is the "number one package tour destination of the [Dodecanese island group, near southwest Turkey]" (LP, p. 468), and is very popular with the Germans. The biggest city on the island is Rhodes Town, which is where we stayed. We arrived late at night and realized the hard way that the old town retains part of its charm by not allowing cars (including taxis) into it. The taxi dropped us off at the town gates, and we had to find our way with our bags along meandering streets, with few, if any, street names, in the dark, and search for a hotel. We knew we'd have a great time wandering and exploring the cobblestone alleyways in the daylight. "The whole town is a mesh of Byzantine, Turkish and Latin architecture with quiet, twisting alleyways punctuated by lively squares. While you will inevitably get lost at some point, it will never be for long" (LP, p. 471). The street names (when you can find them) include Aristotelous, Sokratous, Platonos, Pythagoras, Perikleous, Praxitelous - it felt like walking among figures of ancient history. As we were taking pictures of one of the really interesting entryways, the owner turned up and started talking to us; it turns out she's from Texas and had come to Rhodes and fell in love with the island and moved there (photo 077). There are guided walks along the town's 12-meter thick city walls. The poppies blooming around the walls and gates were beautiful. Once we left the gates of the Old Town and entered the New Town, "dominated by package tourism" (LP, p. 471), we could've been anywhere. Shops, travel agents and traffic lined the streets, but the northern tip of the town/island is engulfed by two beaches. Just across the water, we could see Turkey. Oh, so close, so tempting . . .
The Knights Quarter contains buildings from the time that the Knights of St. John ruled the island for about 200 years, starting in 1309. The Knights' order "began as an Amalfitan hospital founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to provide care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade it became a Catholic military order under its own charter, and was charged with the care and defense of pilgrims to the Holy Land" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_St_John).
It was hard in Rome not to get jaded by all the ancient sculptures and temples from the time of Christ; the museums of Greece hold so many things that are even older, from the 7th-6th Century BCE. The Archaeological Museum (photo 086) is housed in the Knights' 15th Century hospital. The museum holds a piece of sculpture that's probably from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (photo 093), one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. Its plaque says that it represents "the lower part of a frieze with fragmentary scene of the Amazonamachy [the mythological battle between Greeks and (female) Amazon warriors; Amazons usually had one of their breasts cut or burnt off so that it would be easier to shoot arrows]. Found in Rhodes. Preserved is a kneeling figure of an Amazon wearing a short chiton girdled at the waist and a chlamys. The fragment probably comes from the frieze of the Mausoleum of Halicarnasus (360-350 BCE)."
After awhile it became "1st Century BCE, not old enough to look at closely." There were several grave steles (tombstones); photo 092 is from 350 BCE and its inscription reads "If there is a highest praise in the world befitting a woman, with this died Kalliarista, daughter of Phileratos, for wisdom and virtue. For this reason her husband Damocles set up this stele as a memorial of love; and may a benevolent spirit follow him for the rest of his life." Photo 094 is an example of geometric pottery.
The Colossus of Rhodes was a giant statue (100-110 feet tall, the tallest statue in the ancient world) to the patron god of Rhodes, Helios. It was another of the Ancient Wonders and may have stood at the entrance to the port in Rhodes, but only for about 50 years or so. The debate involves the logistics of the statue - its remains have never been found, and it would truly have been colossal if it stood in the harbor, with a leg straddling each side of the harbor entrance, as some believe (if you've been to Lindau, Germany, imagine a statue standing over the harbor, with one leg on either side of it, with boats going under it). What is known comes from the histories of travelers. According to Pliny the Elder, "few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers was larger than most statues." For a photo of what it may have looked like, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colossus_of_Rhodes. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 BCE, and it remained lying on the ground until the Sarcarens ("Easterners") broke up its remains in 654 CE and sold them for scrap.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are:
Of those, we had seen the Great Pyramid (Egypt), the one remaining column at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the workshop in which Pheidias sculpted the Statue of Zeus at Olympia (that picture will be in the Mainland Greece photos), a piece of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the site of the Colossus of Rhodes. I don't see us going to Babylon (Baghdad) in the near future, but maybe to Alexandria to complete our "Ancient Wonders" tour . . .
The Greeks built many of their cities (polis) at the edge (acro) (=Acropolis), usually at the top of hills for defensive purposes. The height of the towns made them more easily defended, as the occupants could usually see anyone approaching the city, and the cities weren't always easy to approach. So each time you hear the word "acropolis" think "up." Lindos is one of those ancient cities, about a 2-hour bus ride south from Rhodes town. The lower town "is a showpiece of dazzling white 17th century houses, many with courtyards with black-and-white [pebble mosaic] floors . . . [Lindos] was an important Doric settlement because of its excellent vantage point and good harbor. It was first established around 2000 BCE" (LP, p. 479). There are pieces from an Archaic Stairway (photos 118-9), a propylaeum (gateway) from the 5th Century BCE (photo 115), a Temple to Athena (4th Century BCE; Athena had been worshiped in Lindos since the 10th Century BCE, so this temple replaced earlier temples on the site, photo 114), a Hellenistic building (200 BCE) and a Byzantine church (photo 116). The figure of a Greek trireme (battleship) is carved onto rock (180 BCE) as you enter the Acropolis (photo 108). If you're not up for climbing the stairs, you can ride a donkey up. There are other ancient sites on the island of Rhodes, one from the 6th Century BCE and another with remains from the 3rd Century BCE.
After a week on Rhodes, we took the ferry to Santorini, with its beautiful white-washed buildings and blue roofs . . .
Amos, H. D., and Lang, A.G.P., These were the Greeks, 1979,
"The Cyclades are what Greek island dreams are made of - rugged, multi-coloured outcrops of rock, anchored in azure seas and strewn with snow-white cubist buildings and blue-domed Byzantine churches. Add in golden beaches, olive groves and the scented wild gardens of mountains and terraced valleys, all under a brilliant Mediterranean sun, and it's easy to believe that the Cyclades were once the closest that humanity ever got to paradise on earth" (LP, p. 329).
"Fabulous Santorini . . . is regarded by many as the most spectacular of all the Greek islands. Vast numbers visit annually to gaze in wonder at the submerged caldera, epicenter of what was probably the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Santorini is unique and should not be missed but you need to brace yourself for relentless crowds and commercialism" (LP, p. 384).
Most people think of Santorini (Thera) and the other Cycladic islands when they think of "Greek islands." It is full of white-washed buildings with the typical "Cycladic" blue roofs, framed against the blue sky and blue water beyond. It is a perfect spot to spend a few days. The main town (Fira) is built at the edge of a crater: it "fringes the edge of towering cliffs like a snowy cornice" (LP, p. 384), with gorgeous views looking out onto the sea. There are benches along the main street of Fira, so people could sit and watch the view or have a picnic. Imagine having a house on the crater edge of Mt. St. Helens.
I had been to Santorini before so I knew it would be very touristy, but the experience would be worth it. The streets were clogged with tourists during the day; we could look down into the harbor each day, see how many cruise ships were in port, and prepare ourselves for the hordes of people. After the "cruisers" left for the day, we and the other "overnighters" had the streets to ourselves to meander and to watch the glorious sunsets. Anyone who comes here needs to spend a few days to watch the play of light on the buildings at different times of day, and see what the island is about without the crowds.
The island was originally round but a "colossal volcanic eruption caused the centre to sink, leaving a caldera with high cliffs - now one of the world's most dramatic sights. "[Around 1650 BCE] thirty cubic kilometers of magma spewed forth and a column of ash 36 km [high ~22 miles] jetted into the atmosphere . . . The eruption also generated huge tsunamis that traveled with dangerous force all the way to Crete and Israel. It's widely believed that the catastrophe was responsible for the demise of Crete's Minoan culture, one of the most powerful civilizations in the Aegean at that time." Reminders of Santorini's volcanic past include the black sand beaches, the "raw lava-layered cliffs plunging into the sea, earthquake-damaged dwellings and . . . the soil's fertility" (LP, p. 386). The island in photo 027 was created after an eruption in 1707. The most recent earthquake on the island was in 1956, which killed seven people and destroyed a lot of buildings in Fira and most of Oia, so the majority of what you see now is relatively new. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thera_eruption has a satellite view of Santorini; you can see how it used to be round.
Santorini is not a very big island (73 km², or 28 mi²). Fira (the main town) is pretty much walkable, and buses run frequently to places of interest to tourists - Akrotiri, Oia or the beaches, and these are mostly reachable in less than an hour.
Akrotiri is an ancient town on the island that is being excavated (but only 5% of it so far has been dug up). Visitors are usually able to walk around the site, but there had been an accident prior to our arrival, so it was temporarily closed to visitors. There are two museums in Fira with finds from the archaeological sites of the island. The colors from the Akrotiri frescoes were amazing. We don't have dates for the vases (photos 47-48), but since everything was destroyed around 1650 BCE, it had to be from before that time. There were not many human remains, so archaeologists believe that the people knew something was coming and left. Some people believe that Santorini is the lost city of Atlantis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantis).
We went to a pebble beach, but it still wasn't warm enough for a swim so we only stuck our feet in the water. At the other end of the island, past Fira, is Oia (reachable by bus, or a hard 10k-mile walk, which took Pete almost three hours to do). What a gorgeous spot. The play of light and color was amazing, especially against the bright blue sky. It's a very popular place to watch the sunset, but it's also magical right before sunset, with the late afternoon light reflecting off the buildings. Both Fira and Oia have doors that seem to go nowhere; there are usually steps behind the door, and then a building down below. I had two favorite buildings in Oia (besides the blue-domed churches). One looks like it's going off over the cliff (photos 107, 131). The other was painted a bright purple with blue doors and windows, and orange and white trim, down a flight of white steps (photos 122-23). The contrast between blue and white, especially with the sun hitting the buildings, was absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could've brought the door panels from photo 128 back with us somehow.
We spent the first few nights in Santorini at a hotel away from the crater view, but then walked around looking for a "Room with a View." We found Maria's Rooms listed in our Lonely Planet guide, and decided to check it out (listed as 45 (~US$60) but a few euros more; the "entertaining rooms . . . offer unbeatable caldera and sunset views. The rooms are small, but are immaculate and blissfully peaceful," p. 389). It was a perfect place to stay, with a fantastic view. Maria spoke very little English, but she didn't have to say much. The view from her terrace spoke wonders. She told her guests, "me, coffee; you cake;" she provided the breakfast drink (coffee or tea), and guests brought their own food (there was a grocery store nearby, and a refrigerator in the room). There were a lot of fancier hotels with views, but they were out of our price range. Most were stacked on top of other terraces, so guests would have to look down at their neighbors below before they saw the water. If they didn't want to see their neighbors, they could go further down to the next hotel (and then have to go back up that many more steps). Maria's terrace was near the edge of "town" and didn't look down on any one else, only the cliffs and the water. We spent some time sitting on the terrace, reading, relaxing, and enjoying the view. The sunsets in Oia were beautiful, but it was just as nice to sit on our terrace and watch.
We only spent five nights in Santorini, but it was so beautiful we had to make two albums - 1- Fira, and 2 - Oia.
Lonely Planet, Greece, 2004
We went to Naxos from Santorini . . .
Naxos is another of the Cycladic islands; another nice place to spend a few days. In Greek legend, Naxos is where Theseus abandoned Ariadne after she helped him escape the Minotaur and the Cretan labyrinth; Ariadne was "rescued" by Dionysis, the god of wine and ecstasy. Naxian wine "has long been considered a fine antidote for a broken heart, but you should take time over this delightful island and its captivating mix of superb beaches, lively port, mountainous interior and enchanting villages" (LP, p. 363).
A slew of hotel or domatia (private home) owners meet most of the arriving ferries (also in Santorini and Mykonos) to try and get you to stay at their place. Some were pretty aggressive and Pete normally bargained with them for a room for the first day or two, and then after exploring the area a bit, we could change rooms if we found something we liked better.
It was fun to wander around the winding backstreets of the residential Kastro (the old quarter), absorbing the light and atmosphere of the island. The "timber-lined archways" and whitewashed buildings with their colorful accents made for a lot of Kodak Moments. You'd be wandering around these tiny alleyways, and suddenly come on a fantastic view, or the sun hitting a building or a pot of flowers or a church roof. Naxos had once been part of the Venetian "kingdom" and there are "some handsome Venetian dwellings, many with well-kept gardens" (LP, 367). The museum in Naxos contained some Hellenistic and Roman terracotta figurines, and also some Cycladic figurines.
The island is very popular with trampers, especially the British. Old paths connect many of the villages; some people took buses to the start of walks, hiked a bit, and got back on another bus farther down the road.
Naxos is known for its marble (in addition to its wine). Many of the statues we saw from around Greece were made of Naxian marble. One of my professors recommended going to Apollonas, a small fishing village on the northern tip of the island, to see an enormous 7th Century BCE kouros (stiff statue), lying on the ground in an ancient quarry. There are three kouri on the island; at 10.5 m (30 feet), this is the largest of three. The head is more than five feet tall. It was probably abandoned, unfinished, because it cracked. Pete sat leaning against its feet (photo 32).
Apollonas also has a nice beach. The water was still too cold in the season for a good dunking, but I did get caught in some waves. Although the island isn't that large, it took almost two hours to get to this town by bus, going over hill and dale, up and down and all around. Pete and I were sitting in the back of the bus, crossing over to the other side to get better shots, and crashed into the seats a few times as the bus turned corners as it went up or down passes. On the return trip, we had great views of the sea from the mountaintops.
Next stop, Mykonos and Delos . . .
Lonely Planet, Greece, 2004
Mykonos has a reputation as a "party island" but we were more interested in going there because of its proximity to Delos, the "sacred island" - the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Since Delos has no overnight accommodations, Mykonos makes for the best jumping off place (you can take an excursion from Naxos or other islands, but then you spend most of the time getting there and away). According to Lonely Planet, "Mykonos carries its glamorous and faintly louche [disreputable] reputation with ease, but expensively so. Under the gloss it's a charming and hugely entertaining place, where hip camp and celebrity posturing are balanced by the Cubist charms of a traditional Cycladic town and by local people [and pelicans] who have had 40 years to get a grip on tourism without losing too much of their Greek identity. Be prepared for the oiled-up lounger life of the island's packed main beaches, the jostling street scenes and the relentless, and sometimes forlorn, partying" (LP, p. 344).
"The island's port and capital . . . is a warren of narrow alleyways that wriggle between white-walled buildings, their stone surfaces webbed with white paint. In the heart of the Little Venice area tiny flower-bedecked churches mix with trendy boutiques and there's a deluge of bougainvillea round every corner . . . The streets are thronged with chic fashion salons, cool galleries and jewellers, languid and loud music bars, brightly painted houses and torrents of crimson flowers . . ." (LP, p. 346). We were there in early May, before high season, so it was still peaceful.
Even with all its commercialism, Mykonos is still a beautiful island. Rhodes has history and beauty, Santorini just overwhelmed the senses with its beauty and Naxos was beautiful in a rugged way. There was one house, whitewashed of course, with a blue veranda, and branches of bright red flowers growing around it. How many photos can a person possibly take of one flower-bedecked veranda? From this angle, from that angle, close up, far away, in the early afternoon sun, in the late afternoon sun . . . (never too many, obviously).
As we were walking around Mykonos on our "photo tour," Pete saw a fisherman slapping an octopus on the rocks. I couldn't get my camera focused in time to get that photo, but when I saw the man a few minutes later, I pointed to his bucket (where the octopus was) and then to my camera; he took the octopus out so I could get a good shot of it. No language barrier there. That's one of my favorite photos (photo 005).
The Church of Panagia Paraportiani is "five small churches amalgamated, in classical Byzantine style, into one entity, asymmetrical and rock-like in its naturalness. The interplay of light and shade on the multifaceted structure makes it a photographer's delight" (LP, p. 348). Again, in the morning light, in the afternoon light, on a cloudy afternoon, on a clear afternoon, from this angle, from that angle . . .
We took a day trip to Delos from Mykonos; the boats to the island are timed so that you can meander slowly around the site and not have to rush. You can take a guided tour of the island, or get a good map and walk it on your own.
Delos is "one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece [and considering the wealth of archaeological sites in Greece, that's saying a lot], and certainly the most important in the Cyclades" (LP, p. 352). "Pursued by the incensed and jealous goddess Hera, the ill-fated Leto wandered from place to place seeking some corner of the earth in which to give birth to her son [Apollo, and daughter, Artemis], fruit of her union with Zeus, father of the gods. Islands and cities refused to receive her, afraid of the vengeance of Zeus' deceived consort [Hera], whom only a bare rock in the middle of the tempestuous sea dared to defy. However Leto's troubles did not end so easily. Although the goddesses of Olympus gathered on the island to witness the miraculous birth, Hera's wrath kept Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, uninformed on the holy mountain. Leto's confinement lasted nine pain-wracked days and nights, until Eileithyia finally arrived, notified by Iris, the messenger of the gods. With the birth of Apollo the island glowed like burnished gold, the ground was covered with blossoming flowers, dazzling the immortal goddesses, and singing swans glided upon the circular lake. This is how the birth of the god is lauded in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, composed in the late 8th Century BCE." (D-M, p. 5). For a lighter version of the birth, see http://wynkyn.com/delos.htm.
The island was inhabited as early as 3000 BCE, but many of the temples and shrines date from around the 8th Century BCE, when a festival to Apollo was established. The Sacred Lake is where Leto is supposed to have given birth to Apollo and Artemis (it was dried up to cover the malaria-infested swamp and is now covered with grass and poppies; photo 089). Watch out for the lizards! The Terrace of the Lions is from before 600 BCE; the lions were presented to Delos from the people of Naxos to guard the sacred area. Because of its connection to Apollo, Delos was always an important religious center. Because of its strategic location, it also became important to the Athenians in their quest to dominate the Aegean. It was here that the Athenian treasury was kept for a time (as part of the "Delian League" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delian_League). Later, merchants and businessmen came from places such as Egypt and Syria and made Delos their home. Some of the temples to their homeland gods remain, although Apollo remained the deity worshipped by most. The Theatre District contains some of the wealthiest homes on Delos. A great view of the surroundings is provided from the top row seats of the theatre itself, which dates from around 300 BCE. The cistern (photo 067) was used to collect rainwater.
Excavations began in 1873 and continue today. Many mosaics (status symbols from those times) from the houses are preserved either in situ or in the museums in Delos and in Athens. Some of the statuary on the site are replicas; the originals are also in museums. This was our fourth museum of Ancient Greece (one in Rhodes, two in Santorini), and Pete (definitely not a big museum-goer) did pretty well for himself.
Back to Mykonos, where we caught the ferry to Athens . . .
Lonely Planet, Greece, 2004
The Greek Islands are beautiful and the ones we had visited each have their share of ancient Greek ruins, but anyone interested in seeing the epitome of Greek (and even some Roman) architecture and sculptures needs to go to the mainland Greece, with a stop in Athens. This was not the "Greek" display at Epcot Center (if there is one) or the set for a TV show. I had read about and seen slides of many of the temples and sculptures in textbooks, but this was the real thing. The Ancient Greeks and Romans walked along these pathways, worshipped at these temples, were entertained in these theaters, and sat on these seats (with some renovations) 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.
As I worked on the notes, I got out my textbooks and this became a paper; the short version is if you want to pass on the details.
The High Classical Period (450-404 BCE) was a time of rebuilding in Athens; the Acropolis, with its complex of buildings including the Parthenon, was a major part of that rebuilding program. Temples were built to house statues of gods rather than congregations of people, and the Parthenon was a temple to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. It was built in the Doric style (which is the most basic form of column), but also has Ionic columns (ram's head at the top). The pediments at either end of the temple tell stories related to Athena. There was a continuous frieze on the inner panel of the temple, parts of which Elgin took back with him to London.
The Erechtheion (photos 016-22) is a photographer's delight, with the tops of the white Ionic columns (photos 021-2) against the blue Aegean sky. While the Parthenon is "considered the supreme example of Doric architecture, the Erechtheion is considered the supreme example of Ionic architecture." It was built on different levels to counteract the uneven ground (LP, p. 91, photo 016).
Many of the ancient theaters around Greece (and Turkey) are still standing, and some of those are used for Greek drama or for concerts. Greek theater was usually an interplay of history and mythology. You can see how important theater was to the Athenians from the size of the Theatre of Dionysus (photos 025-7), which sat 17,000 spectators. It's from 342-326 BCE; about 20 of the original 64 tiers of seats remain. The nearby Theatre of Herodes Atticus (photo 028-9) was built in 161 CE by a wealthy Roman. There are still performances here during a summer festival.
The Ancient Agora (photos 030-040) was the "focal point of administrative, commercial, political life . . . [and] social activity" (LP, p. 93). The Temple of Hephaestus (god of fire and crafts, photos 031-6) is one of the best preserved Doric temples in Greece; it was built in 449 BCE. The Tower of the Winds (photos 042-3) was built in the 1st Century BCE by an astronomer. It "functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. Each side represents a point of the compass, and has a relief of a figure floating through the air, which depicts the wind associated with that particular point" (LP, p. 95).
Near the Arch of Hadrian (132 CE; photos 045-6) is the Temple of Olympian Zeus (photos 047-56). It was begun in the 6th century BCE, abandoned for various reasons, and only finished by Hadrian, 700 years later. The columns are 17 meters high (57 feet) and have a diameter of 1.7 meters (almost 6 feet).
The Archaic Greeks copied the Egyptian style of the "kouri" the stiff standing figure usually with one leg a bit in front of the other, arms straight at the sides, and usually no unique facial features. Over time, the Greeks began to work with (and perfected) the contraposto pose the natural pose of a standing figure as one leg bends, the hip moves, the head and shoulder turns, and the other leg leans forward. A good example of that pose is photo 076; it's a Roman copy of a bronze original by Polykleitos. The Greeks began including props to hold up the heavy marble a tree branch, a garment hanging over the arms; sometimes it was just a straight piece attaching the extended limb to the torso. The detail in drapery and folds also increased over the years, and gowns became almost transparent (photo 079). The Greeks also worked in bronze, but since most of that was melted down over time, not many bronze sculptures remain.
Greek vases once served a practical use, either for storing grains or wine, or as drinking cups. Many were painted with mythological scenes (a lot with Dionysus, the god of wine and merrymaking), religious scenes, or scenes of daily life. Many were used at the symposia (i.e., Plato's Symposium) the Greek drinking party/philosophical discussion . . . Since vases do not decay (although they break) the paintings on them and the locations they were found at (i.e., in graves, as votive offerings outside temples . . .) have helped historians to tell part of the story of the ancient Greeks.
Some of the highlights of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens include the so-called Mask of Agamemnon (photo 060). It dates from the 16th Century BCE; since this is prior to the Trojan War, it can't be Agamemnon's mask, but it is still very impressive to look at. The frescoes (photos 062-3) are from Santorini, from between 1500-1100 BCE. Other highlights are the bronze Poseidon (or Zeus) of Artemision (450 BCE); the level of detail for a bronze sculpture was amazing (photos 072-3). Photo 085, a statue of Aphrodite and a happy satyr, with Eros watching over them, is called the "Slipper Slapper" (100 BCE). "Follow me" is written on the slipper she is waving, though, so she is waving a slipper at the satyr not slapping him away. The Greeks used grave steles to mark their graves; the steles often honored the deceased by having statues of them as they appeared in real life, waving farewell to their loved ones, or to honor the gods. Mourning Athena (450 BCE; photo 091) was one of the first pieces of sculpture to show emotion. The Acropolis Museum is also worth a visit (it just reopened in a new location in Athens). The Korae statues in both museums were votives dedicated to Athena, each holding an offering to the goddess. Elgin did not get his hands on the whole Parthenon frieze; a bit remains in the Acropolis Museum.
The Temple of Poseidon (Neptune) at Cape Sounion (photos 105-14) was another part of the Greek rebuilding program, from 444 BCE. The sight of it was supposed to "give comfort to sailors in ancient times; they knew they were nearly home." It is still an amazing sight, 2500 years later, even from land, especially as the sun sets.
On our last night in Athens, we saw the movie The Da Vinci Code, which had just been released. The setting was spectacular. After paying for our tickets, we walked upstairs, and outside a "drive-in" without the cars. To the left of the screen, all lit up, was the Acropolis. It was so beautiful! The movie was in English but with Greek subtitles, and the parts that were spoken in Latin or in French also had Greek subtitles. So at those points, and during the intermissions, we just kept looking over at the Parthenon. The movie lasted til about 1:00 a.m. and the Acropolis was lit up the whole time. It was a great memory to leave us with.
By the time of the "High" Classical Period (450-404 BCE), Athens was a wealthy city, and this was the high point of Greek civilization. Throughout the Classical Period, there was not so much advancement, but rather perfection and refinement in the building program. The Greeks refined the ratio of columns so that if there were six columns along the width of a building, they doubled that and added one for the length of the building. The Greeks knew that a straight horizontal line actually appeared curved, so they built porches with a slight upward curve to give the effect of being straight (rather than appearing to sag). They also built convex columns that lean in, to give the appearance of being straight. The columns are not one long, single piece, but rather a series of "drums" that fit on top of each other. The angles on the columns of the Parthenon were cut so that each drum fits only at a specific spot of that column.
Most of the Greek temples and much of the statuary were built to honor the gods. These are some of the major deities:
We had named the car we used in Switzerland Hermes; among other things, it was Hermes' duty to ensure the safety of travelers (he was also the patron of thieves, but you can't have it all).
Pausanias was the first "travel guide" from the 2nd century CE he traveled the "Greek" and "Roman" countryside and described many of the buildings and statues in his writings. Although things may no longer be visible or in the same condition they once were, much of what we know today was gathered from his travels.
Greek temples were not built for congregations of worshipers, but to house the statue of a god or goddess, and for worshippers to place any sacrifices on the altar outside the temple. The temples were painted in very ornate colors (okay, gaudy); most of the paint has vanished over the years so all that we see now is the white marble (with a few spots of color). The Doric column is the oldest and most basic form of column (the Parthenon, photo 004). The Ionic is the pretty one with the rams' head edges at the top of the columns (the Erectheion, photos 021-2). The Corinthian is the ornate one with carvings of acanthus leaves (Temple of Olympian Zeus, photo 52). Another difference in the columns is that the Doric columns have no base, while the Ionic ones do.
The Acropolis is the most famous building complex in Athens. It is a collection of buildings on a hilltop, and visible from almost everywhere in Athens. People had lived here until 520 BCE, when the Delphic Oracle (more on that in Delphi) declared that the hill should be the province of the gods. The Persians had destroyed the original buildings on the Acropolis and other parts of Athens and the Greek mainland when they invaded Greece in 480 B.C. Athens and her allies were eventually able to defeat the Persians. Pericles (an Athenian leader) began a rebuilding program to give thanks to the gods for having saved Greece; the Acropolis was a major part of the rebuilding program.
The Propylaia (the entrance way to the Acropolis, photo 001) was never finished; there are still fixtures hanging out. The roofing was all done in marble; coffers (recessed squares) and two beams of solid marble helped to support the weight of the ceiling: 11 tons. As you can see from the photo of all the people entering the Propylaia, it was very crowded up on the Acropolis (and this wasn't even high season). We spent a lot of time waiting to get shots without people in them.
The most well-known building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, which means "virgin's apartment" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenon ). The Parthenon is a temple built between 447 and 438 BCE to honor Athena, the "founder" and patron goddess of Athens, and is the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece (with a few Ionic touches). After all the experimenting with different sizes and ratios, it all came together with the Parthenon. There are eight columns on one axis, and 17 on the other (double the eight from the one axis, plus one; this became the new formula for building temples). The Parthenon is the high point of Doric architecture. Some of the sculpture was done in high relief; other parts were done "in the round" the figures seem to jump out of the pediment. No expense was spared in the construction or design of the temple.
There was a massive gold and ivory statue of Athena inside the temple; the statue was eventually taken to Constantinople and disappeared, but we know what it is believed to have looked like from writings of Pausanias. A Roman copy of it is in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (photo 074) and another copy is in Nashville (http://www.nashville.gov/parthenon/Athena.htm). It was 11.5 meters (~40 feet) tall, with gold plates over an inner wooden frame. Ivory was used for Athena's face, hands and feet, and jewels for her eyes. She wore an elaborate helmet, and "a long dress of gold with the head of Medusa carved in ivory on her breast." In her right hand, she held a statuette of Nike (the goddess of Victory), and a shield in her other hand. There was a pool with olive oil in front of the statue, reflecting the light. "The impact of this huge figure, rendered in the most costly materials, is hard to imagine. The combined effect of both statue and building must have been awesome. Compelling messages were being sent concerning the religious power of Athena and the political power of Athens" (Greek Art and Archaeology, p. 262).
The use of the arch to support the roof of the temple didn't happen until later (with the Romans), so the Athenians had to figure out a different way to support their roofs. "The roof had to take the form of horizontal beams and slabs supported at right angles by vertical walls or columns. Above these, the temple's roof usually rose gently from either side to a ridge running from the front to the rear of the building. This left a shallow triangular space, or pediment above the end columns" (These Were the Greeks, p. 119). Each of the pediments at either end of the temple show scenes relating to Athena: the east pediment shows the birth of Athena, and the west pediment shows the battle between Athena and Poseidon for the ownership of Athens. Sculptors used all the space of the pediments figures are standing up in the middle, but they start "lying down" towards the end of the slope. There was a continuous frieze on the inner panel of the temple depicting scenes from the Panathenaic festival. This was a procession of "maidens" every four years, bringing a new woven dress to the statue of Athena at the Erechtheion (also on the Acropolis, see below). The procession started at the Keramikos (cemetery used from the 12th Century BCE to Roman times; photo 057-8), went along the Panathenaic Way, and finished at the Erechtheion. It was a very elaborate, celebrated, affair. Elgin was a British ambassador who went to Greece in the early 1800's; he "brought" some of the marbles back with him to London, where they can be viewed in the British Museum. It would be great to see them at their original site.
The damage that was done to the Parthenon was rather recent, in relative terms. It had been used as a church and then as a Turkish mosque. In 1687, it was being used by the Turks as a warehouse for gunpowder; they were besieged by the Venetian army, and the Parthenon blew up and fires ravaged it for two days, leaving what we see today. It was being renovated when I was there in 1999, and scaffolding was still standing when we saw it last year.
The Erechtheion (photos 016-22) is a photographer's delight, with the tops of the white Ionic columns (the ram's heads) against the blue Aegean sky. "The gods had proclaimed that the city should be named after the deity who could produce the most valuable legacy for mortals. Athena [goddess of wisdom] and Poseidon [god of sea] contended. Athena produced the olive tree, symbol of peace and prosperity. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident [a three-pronged staff, or spear] and a horse sprang forth, which symbolized all the qualities of strength and fortitude he was known for. Athena was the victor, for the gods proclaimed that her gift would better serve the citizens of Athens than the arts of war personified by Poseidon's gift" (LP, p. 72).
Instead of having normal columns holding up the roof of one of the porches, the Erechtheion has caryatids (photo 017-20) named after the area where the models came from (Karyai). These are plaster casts of the originals; most of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum nearby, and one is in the British Museum. While the Parthenon is "considered the supreme example of Doric architecture, the Erechtheion is considered the supreme example of Ionic architecture." It was built on different levels to counteract the uneven ground (LP, p. 91, photo 016), and "consists of three basic parts the main temple, the northern porch and the southern porch, all with different dimensions. The main temple is . . . divided into two [inner sanctuaries], one dedicated to Athena, the other to Poseidon (thereby reconciling the two deities after their contest). The northern porch consists of six graceful Ionic columns; on the floor are the [cracks] supposedly left by Poseidon's trident. This porch leads into another area, where, according to mythology, the sacred olive brought forth by Athena grew" (LP, p. 91).
Because the Acropolis is such an important piece of Greek history, that's all we had planned for that day just spend as much time as needed, to get as many people-free photos as needed, and keep going back to areas we'd seen before to get it from different angles, with different degrees of blue in the sky (again, morning sun, late morning sun, early afternoon sun). Most tours are in and out of the Acropolis within an hour or so; we spent about four hours there. For links to different aspects of the Acropolis, see http://www.athensinfoguide.com/wtsacropparthenon.htm. For a view of what the Acropolis looked like, see http://asclepieion.mpl.uoa.gr/Parko/slides/images/Acropolis_20and_20Asklepieion_20artist_20reconstruction_20.gif.
Many of the ancient theaters around Greece (and Turkey) are still standing, and some of those are used for Greek drama or for concerts. Greek theater was usually an interplay of history and mythology. Most of the plays were written as part of the annual festival to the god Dionysus (god of theater, wine, merrymaking . . . "[T]he watching of the performances was punctuated by feasting, revelry and generally letting up" (LP, p. 92). You can see how important theater was to the Athenians from the size of the Theatre of Dionysus (photo 025-7), which sat 17,000. People came from all over the surrounding area to see the performances, which were sponsored by politicians. There has been a lot of discussion about whether women attended the theater or not; according to some, women did attend Greek theater, but sat in the back rows.
Some of the well-known authors of the Classical Age and their works include:
The Theatre of Dionysus was reconstructed on the site of an earlier theater between 342-326 BCE. About 20 of the original 64 tiers of seats remain. "The reliefs at the rear of the stage, mostly of headless figures, depict the exploits of Dionysus and date from the 2nd Century BCE. The two hefty, hunched-up guys who have managed to keep their heads are . . . worshippers of the mythical Selinos, the debauched father of the satyrs . . . His favorite pastime was charging up mountains in lecherous pursuit of nymphs; he was also Dionysus' mentor" (LP, p. 92). The nearby Theatre of Herodes Atticus (photos 028-9) was built in 161 CE by a wealthy Roman. There are still performances here during a summer festival.
The Ancient Agora (photos 030-40) was the "focal point of administrative, commercial, political life . . . [and] social activity. All roads led to the Agora, and it was a lively, crowded place" (LP, p. 93). The Temple of Hephaestus (god of fire and crafts, photos 031-6) is one of the best preserved Doric temples in Greece; it was built in 449 BCE.
The Tower of the Winds (photos 042-3) was built in the 1st century BCE by an astronomer. It's an "octagonal building that functioned as a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. Each side represents a point of the compass, and has a relief of a figure floating through the air, which depicts the wind associated with that particular point. Beneath each of the reliefs are the faint markings of sundials" (LP, p. 95).
Near the Arch of Hadrian (132 CE; photos 045-6) is the Temple of Olympian Zeus (photos 047-56); the largest temple in Greece. It was begun in the 6th century BCE, abandoned for various reasons, and only finished by Hadrian, 700 years later (the Arch of Hadrian was probably built to commemorate the completion of the Temple). The columns are 17 meters high (57 feet) and have a diameter of 1.7 meters (almost 6 feet). You can look down at it from the Acropolis (photo 047), but you don't get a sense of perspective until you're standing right there. Of the original 104 Corinthian columns (the fanciest kind), 15 remain. The one lying down fell in a storm in 1852.
Today, Athens is a big, noisy, polluted city. It was cleaned up for the 2004 Olympics, but it can still be overwhelming to the senses. Much of the "modern" city was built after the "exchange" of Turks and Greeks in the 1920's, with "nearly a million Turks descending on Athens" (LP, p. 73), which brought with it the "concrete sprawl." It is a mix of the old and new(er) the Arch of Hadrian (from 132 CE) is on a busy street, surrounded by wires and traffic. A shopping street was built up around a church from the 11th century. There was so much to see of the ancient world that we didn't have enough energy to appreciate the other periods.
"The sculptures of ancient Greece were works of extraordinary visual power and beauty that hold pride of place in the collections of the great museums of the world" (LP, p. 55). The Archaic Greeks copied the Egyptian style of the "kouri" the stiff standing figures, usually with one leg a bit in front of the other, arms straight at the sides, and usually no unique facial features. Over time, the Greeks began to work with (and perfected) the contraposto pose the natural pose of a standing figure as one leg bends, the hip moves, the head and shoulder turns, and the other leg leans forward. A good example of that pose is photo 076; it's a Roman copy of a bronze original by Polykleitos. As the Greeks advanced their skills in the marble sculpture, and body parts were no longer straight up and down and attached to the body (as in the kouri), they began using props to hold up the heavy marble a tree branch, a garment hanging over the arms; sometimes it was just a straight piece attaching the extended limb to the torso. They weren't always successful, which is why some limbs are missing from sculptures. The detail in drapery and folds also increased over the years, and gowns became almost transparent (photo 079). The Greeks also worked in bronze, but since most of that was melted down over time, not many bronze sculptures remain.
Greek vases once served a practical use, either for storing grains or wine, or as drinking cups. Many were painted with mythological scenes (a lot with Dionysus, the god of wine and merrymaking), religious scenes, or scenes of daily life. Many cups and vases were used at the symposia (i.e., Plato's Symposium) the Greek drinking party/philosophical discussion . . . Since vases do not decay (although they break) the paintings on them and the locations they were found at (i.e., in graves, as votive offerings outside temples . . .) have helped historians to tell part of the story of the ancient Greeks.
The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is another place we had no time limits on, and we took as much time as we needed to see everything. Some of the highlights include the so-called Mask of Agamemnon (he was killed by his wife, Clytemnestra, on his return home from the Trojan War; photo 060). The mask dates from the 16th Century BCE; since this is prior to the Trojan War, it can't be Agamemnon's mask, but it is still very impressive to look at. Photo 061 is blurry, but the detail on the gold cups is amazing, with scenes of men taming bulls carved into them; they're from 1500-1400 BCE. The frescoes (photos 062-3) are from Santorini, dated between 1500-1100 BCE. Other highlights include the bronze Poseidon (or Zeus) of Artemision (450 BCE); the level of detail for a bronze sculpture was amazing (photo 072-3); his arm is thrown back as he's about to throw a trident (or a thunderbolt). "The sculptor has captured the movement of the god, poised to hurl the trident that he holds in his right hand. The achievement of the sculptor lies above all else in the freedom with which he has rendered the legs apart, in . . . balance with the open shoulders, and also in the working of the head, the curls on the forehead and the hair tied behind in a charming plait" ( http://www.grisel.net/athens_museum.htm).
The Horse and Jockey from Artemision (photos 082-3) is another bronze sculpture with amazing detail. "The horse is racing at full gallop while the young jockey, dressed in a short tunic, is holding on tightly to stay astride. He probably held the reins in his left hand and a whip in the right. The work is a fascinating example of the human passion which artists of the peak period of the Hellenistic era [140 BCE] succeeded in infusing into their most inspired works" ( http://www.grisel.net/athens_museum.htm). Photo 085, a statue of Aphrodite and a happy satyr with Eros watching over them, is called the "Slipper Slapper" (100 BCE). "Follow me" is written on the slipper she is waving, though, so she is waving a slipper at the satyr, not slapping him away. The Greeks used grave steles to mark their graves; the steles often honored the deceased by having statues of them as they appeared in real life (playing with balls, photo 092), waving farewell to their loved ones, or to honor the gods. Mourning Athena (450 BCE; photo 091) was one of the first pieces of sculpture to show emotion. The Acropolis Museum is also worth a visit (it just reopened in a new location in Athens). The Korae statues in both museums were votives dedicated to Athena, each holding an offering to the goddess. Elgin did not get his hands on the whole Parthenon frieze; a bit remains in the Acropolis Museum.
Syntagma Square is where the Greek guards stand at the parliament building with their kilts and pom-pom shoes. We saw them during the changing of the guards.
The Temple of Poseidon (Neptune) at Cape Sounion was another part of the Greek rebuilding program, from 444 BCE. It stands at the edge of the Attic peninsula, "on a craggy spur that plunges 65 meters down into the sea," welcoming back sailors. The sight of the temple was supposed to "give comfort to sailors in ancient times; they knew they were nearly home." It is still an amazing sight, 2500 years later, even from land, especially as the sun sets. You can take a tour to the temple from Athens, or a bus for a fraction of the cost and spend some time with the locals. Again, there was a crowd when we went, but were able to get people-free shots. "Visit early in the morning before the tourist buses arrive if you wish to indulge the sentiments of Byron's lines from Don Juan, 'Place me on Sunium's marbled steep, Where nothing save the waves and I, May hear our mutual murmurs sweep . . .'" (LP, p. 129). But the late afternoon sun, towards sunset, was a magical time, too.
While the Greeks were known for beautiful things, the Romans were known for practicality and sturdiness, not necessarily beauty, but the Romans wanted that knowledge of Greek beauty in Rome. Horace said that "Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror;" although Rome had eventually conquered Greece, Rome wanted and copied things Greek. During the Roman Empire (around and after the time of Christ), the city of Rome was filled with many Greeks who came to teach (the Romans) the Greek language, philosophy and literature, and artisans to copy the Greek masters. Much of what we have left of the "Greek statues" and other works of art are actually copies that the Romans made of Greek originals. Hadrian and other Roman emperors spent some time in Greece, and left their mark either building in Greece (Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, both in Athens) or taking things with them back to Rome (Hadrian's Villa outside Rome had many Greek sculptures).
The height of Athenian power ended when they surrendered to Sparta to end the Peloponnesian Wars in 404 BCE. Athenians (at the encouragement of Alcibiades) had been trying to extend the reach of the Athenian Empire into Sicily, but were unsuccessful. Not only did they lose Sicily, but they also lost the glory that was Athens. Thucydides, in writing about the Peloponnesian Wars, said that it was the "supreme example of that arrogant self-confidence which he considered to be the cause of Athens' ultimate defeat" (quoted in These Were the Greeks, p. 103). Athens never regained her former glory.
On our last night in Athens, we saw the movie The Da Vinci Code, which had just been released. The setting was spectacular. After paying for our tickets, we walked upstairs, and outside a "drive-in" without the cars. To the left of the screen, all lit up, was the Acropolis. It was so beautiful! The movie was in English but with Greek subtitles, and the parts that were spoken in Latin or in French also had Greek subtitles. So at those points, and during the intermissions, we just kept looking over at the Parthenon. The movie lasted til about 1:00 a.m. and the Acropolis was lit up the whole time. It was a great memory to leave us with.
Amos, H.D. and Lang, A.G.P.: These Were the Greeks,
Dufour Editions, Inc., 1979.
We had already spent more than two weeks in the Greek Islands and Athens; even with my interest in history, there was only so much history and ruins that we could explore before we got too jaded, so we concentrated on Olympia (birthplace of the Olympic Games), Sparta (Athens' main adversary in the Peloponnesian War), and Delphi (home to the Delphic Oracle).
The Peloponnese is a peninsula separated from the mainland only by the Corinth Canal (photo 001). We took buses to get to the different cities; our first stop was Olympia. This is one of the areas that were devastated by fires in August, 2007. The fires did not destroy the ruins, although 60 people in the Peloponnese were killed.
The Ancient Olympics were a major religious festival in honor of Zeus (father of the gods, among other things); the first "official" Olympic games began in 776 BCE in Olympia. They were held for about 1,000 years, until 394 CE, before being banned by the emperor of Rome (in the Christian purge of pagan festivals/temples). The festival usually lasted five days; the first and last days were for religious observances, and the games took place on the second, third and fourth days. The Olympics probably hit their low point when Nero (the Roman emperor) participated in 67 CE; Nero had declared himself victor of a chariot race, even though he had fallen out of the chariot and abandoned the race.
The Temple of Zeus, built between 470-450 BCE, was one of the main features of the site. Inside the temple was one of the Ancient Wonders of the World - a gargantuan ivory and gold statue of a seated Zeus, 12 meters (50 feet) high made by Pheidias. It is said that if Zeus had stood up, he would have crashed into the roof. Pheidias had his own workshop near the Temple, which was later converted into a church, so it was not destroyed during the Christian purge (photos 007 and 008 show some sculptures found there). Since the 1936 Games in Berlin, the Olympic Torch has been lit at the Altar of Hera (photos 012 and 013) and is relayed over time to the site of the upcoming Olympic Games to light the Olympic Flame on Opening Day.
Praxiteles' statue from 340 BCE of Hermes carrying his infant brother Dionysus (photos 030-033) is one of my favorite sculptures in the nearby museum. "It is one of first actual depictions of a baby as a baby, not a baby with an adult face . . . Dionysos is looking up at and reaching for the bunch of grapes that Hermes, teasing his younger brother, is holding . . . They are shown as mortals engaged in mortal activity . . ." (GAA, p. 308-9). There are also sculptures in the museum from the pediments of the temples.
Sparta, being of a "spartan" existence, has only a few "ancient" sites to see. A few kilometers away from Sparta, however, was the "captivating ruins of the once-awesome town of Mystras, crowned by an imposing fortress" (LP, p. 168). The fortress was built in 1249 and at different times in history the city was ruled by the Byzantines, Turks and Venetians. In the 1600's, the city had a population of 40,000. This is not an easy hike; you begin by taking a taxi from Sparta part-way up next to the hill, walk to the top of the hill to visit the fortress, then begin your exploration by descending along the rocky pathway to the bottom of the hill. There are amazing frescoes in the monastery, churches and convent from the 14th and 15th centuries. It was a brief respite from "ancient Greece."
The site at Delphi was sacred to Apollo. The Sacred Way leads up past different treasuries dedicated in thanks to Apollo for winning battles. A few columns remain from the Temple of Apollo. The oracles were thought to "converse with the gods as intermediaries or intercessors" (GAA, p. 229). "The Delphic Oracle, the most powerful in Greece, sat on a tripod at the entrance to a chasm which emitted vaporous fumes. [The chasm has never been found, but it is somewhere within the temple.] When consulted for divine advice, the priestess inhaled the fumes and entered a trance" (LP, p. 206-7); it was up to the receiver to interpret the answers.
The theater is a bit uphill from the Temple. Still farther uphill was the stadium. Delphi had the Pythian Games every four years in honor of Apollo; the "Delphic" Games have been reinstated and will be held in 2009 in Korea. The Sanctuary of Athena is nearby; three of the original twenty columns have been re-erected, and stand on a three-stepped podium. The Delphi Museum was our last Greek museum (for this trip). Some of the highlights there include the Sphinx of the Naxians (photo 117) from 550 BCE, kouri from 580 BCE believed to be Cleobis and Biton (photo 118), and the bronze Charioteer (photo 120) from the Pythian Games of 478 or 474 BCE, which was probably a dedication by the victor.
The Peloponnese is an area of "outstanding natural beauty, with lofty, snowcapped mountains, valleys of citrus groves and cypress trees, cool springs and many fine beaches (LP, p. 134). This is also where Kalamata olives come from. The Peloponnese is a peninsula separated from the "mainland" only by the Corinth Canal (photo 001). Before the canal was finished (1893), ships had to sail 400 kilometers to get around the peninsula. The idea of a canal across the isthmus was an old one; Nero even began excavations on a canal when he ruled Rome (64-68 CE).
Olympia (photos 002-036)
We took buses to get to the different cities; our first stop was Olympia. This is one of the areas that were devastated by fires in August, 2007. The fires did not destroy the ruins, although 60 people in the Peloponnese were killed.
The Naked Olympics by Tony Perrottet gives non-Greek majors a very readable glance into ancient Greek society, and discusses the origin and the importance of the Ancient Olympic games. They began as a major religious festival in honor of the Great Goddess (associated with Rea) in the 11th century BCE in Olympia; sporting events were just a part of it. The first "official" Olympic games honoring Zeus (Rea's son) began in 776 BCE at the full moon in August and were held every fourth year (which is about when and how often the modern Olympics take place). If there happened to be a war going on at the time of the games, religion took precedence over the war; a sacred truce was declared so that people could travel to, attend and participate in the games (truces were also declared at harvest time).
There was sacred sightseeing to be done in Ancient Olympia: the "sanctuary of Olympia was an open-air museum, and visitors rushed between events from temple to temple, to view famous masterpieces . . . The Games were actually the ultimate pagan entertainment package, where every human diversion could be found at once, on and off the field. Each Olympiad was an expression of Hellenic unity, an all-consuming pageant, the meeting place of heaven and earth, as spiritually profound for pagans as a pilgrimage to Varanasi for Hindus . . . The site had grand procession routes, dozens of altars, public banquet halls, booths for sideshow artists" (NA, p 11).
The festival was also a time when "writers, poets and historians read their works to a large audience, and the citizens of various city-states got together. Traders clinched business deals and city-state leaders talked in an atmosphere of festivity that was conducive to resolving differences through discussion, rather than battle." Treasure-houses were also built by various city-states and statues were donated by individuals to give the donors publicity, as well as divine protection (LP, p. 191, TWTG, p. 89).
"Surviving a day in the Stadium was worthy of an olive wreath in itself. The summer heat was oppressive even in the early morning, and many in the crowd [in 150 BCE, there were 40,000 people in the stadium alone] would have been feeling the effects of the previous night's revelries . . . For the next sixteen hours, spectators would be on their feet (the root meaning of the ancient word stadium is actually 'a place to stand'), their bare heads exposed to the endless sun and dramatic thunderstorms, while itinerant vendors extorted them for suspicious sausages, rock-hard bread, and dubious cheese, to be washed down with throat-scalding resinated wine. Most excruciating, there was no reliable water supply at Olympia - so dehydrated spectators would be collapsing in droves from heatstroke. Nobody bathed for days. The sharp odor of sweat did battle with Olympia's fragrant pine forests and wildflowers, only to be overpowered by the intermittent wafts from the dry riverbeds, which had been turned into open-air latrines. And every minute of the day was a trial with Olympia's incessant plagues of flies." All that said, the games were very popular and the "Woodstock of antiquity . . . it was considered a great misfortune to die without having been to Olympia." People came from as far away as Spain to watch and participate in the festival; people from Athens had to travel 210 miles to attend (NA, p. 6-10).
The Temple of Zeus was one of the main features of the site. The temple was built between 470-450 BCE of local limestone, which could be sawed with hand tools. The columns from the temple that have fallen over are huge; see photos 003 and 004 for perspective. Inside the temple was one of the Ancient Wonders of the World - a gargantuan chryselephantine (ivory and gold) statue of a seated Zeus, 12 meters high (50 feet) made by Pheidias. It is said that if Zeus had stood up, he would have crashed into the roof. The temple was described by Pausanias (Ancient Greek tour guide extraordinaire) so although the temple eventually collapsed or was destroyed, scholars were able to reconstruct the recovered pieces to show what it had looked like (http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Arts/ZeusStatue.htm; photo 005). Like the pediments at the Parthenon, the sculptures on each of the pediments at the Temple of Zeus told a story - usually of the gods creating order out of chaos. Pheidias (who was also responsible for the sculpture on the Parthenon) had his own workshop near the Temple. A cup was found that said something to the effect that "Pheidias made me" (which was typical of Greek artists/vase painters). The workshop was later converted into a church, so it was not destroyed during the Christian purge (photos 007 and 008 show some sculptures found there). You can see the difference between the basic Doric columns from the Temple of Hera (Zeus' wife/sister, photo 011) from around 600 BCE and the Ionic column (photo 023), from the time of Philip of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great), 338 BCE. A fire was kept burning at an altar in Ancient Olympia to symbolize Prometheus' theft of fire from Zeus; the fire was reintroduced at the 1928 Games. Since the 1936 Games in Berlin, the Olympic Torch has been lit at the Altar of Hera (photos 012 and 013) and is relayed over time to the site of the upcoming Olympic Games to light the Olympic Flame on Opening Day.
An Olympic winner got an olive wreath rather than a gold medal, but more importantly, winners "would be treated like demi-gods around Greece, and guaranteed 'sweet smooth sailing', an existence of luxury and ease, for the rest of their lives" (NA, p. 14). There were no silver or bronze medals for second- or third-place finishers; if you didn't finish first, you got nothing, except the knowledge that "skill and achievement of any kind were a proper offering to the gods" (TWTG, p. 83). The festival usually lasted five days; the first and last days were for religious observances (sacrifices, oaths and checking of athletes on the first day, a banquet and sacrifices on the last day), and the games took place on the second, third and fourth days. Some of the events included the chariot race, a horse race (the jockeys rode bareback with no stirrups), the pentathlon (discus, long jump, javelin, 200 metres and wrestling) and the pankration - an almost no-holds barred wrestling event. One scholar described this event as a "combination of wrestling and judo, with a bit of boxing thrown in, in which the opponents punched, slapped, kicked, wrestled, much of the time on the ground, and even - although illegally - bit and gouged each other." One wrestler was declared winner post-humously because while his opponent was strangling him, he managed to break the opponent's toe and the opponent gave in (and lost) because of the pain in his toe (Pausanias, quoted in TWTG, p. 87). The Olympics probably hit their low point when Nero (the Roman emperor) participated in 67 CE; Nero had declared himself victor of a chariot race, even though he had fallen out of the chariot and abandoned the race.
Athletes performed naked and there are different theories about the reason: they performed faster without clothes; nudity was a "throwback to ancient initiation rituals, religious cult practices or even prehistoric hunting traditions, when men would cover themselves with oil to mask their scent;" or just the fact that "nudity appealed to the sheer exhibitionism of Greek athletes, giving them a chance to show off their physiques, and the naked male form became utterly ingrained in gym culture - in fact, the very word gymnos means 'naked'" (NA, p. 23). Also, "the gods were thought of as graceful, powerful beings: they would naturally appreciate these qualities in men" (TWTG, p. 83). That is why so many naked athletes are shown on Greek vases.
Married women were not permitted to enter the sanctuary (those caught trying to sneak in were thrown from a nearby rock), but they could watch events unfolding at the stadium from a nearby hill. Unmarried women (i.e., 12-18 year old virgins) could watch, and even competed in minor games held in honor of Hera.
Being in the stadium, where the sprints occurred, was a goosebump moment. Tony Perrottet describes arriving at and running on the track:
"I arrived at the ruins just before the sun, wearing an old pair of Nikes (named after the winged goddess of Victory). Even the guards were only half awake, nursing their potent coffees beneath the olive trees, but they waved me through the gates, letting me have the ultimate sports venue to myself. No tour buses would arrive for at least an hour to disturb my private Greek sanctuary. I followed a trail past the fallen columns of great temples, splayed out in the grass like skeletal fingers; purple wildflowers pushed up between memorials to forgotten sporting champions. Olympia's idyllic pastoral setting has changed little in the last twenty-five hundred years: the river Alpheus still gurgles in its shady bed alongside the Gymnasium; to the north rises an evenly conical hill, bristling with pine forest, where Zeus had wrestled his father, the Titan Kronos, for control of the world.
Soon a stone archway announced the entrance to the Stadium. My morning jog was suddenly starting to take on the contours of a redemptive ritual. The natural arena was bathed in golden light - that unmistakable Greek brilliance about which Henry Miller had rhapsodized [quoted later], just as Lord Byron had a century earlier and the orator Cicero two millennia before that - the light that seems to pierce the centuries, molding the past with the present, blurring history with myth. Rising on each side of me were earth embankments, now swathed in succulent green lawn. And there, at the very center of the Stadium, was the running track - a rectangular expanse of clay, bordered by stone gutters, vaguely suggesting a small landing strip. According to archaic legend, the track's 210-yard length was originally marked out by the demigod Hercules himself. For nearly twelve centuries, it was the focus of the greatest recurring festival in Western history.
I approached the ancient starting line - a white marble sill that is miraculously intact - kicked off the Nikes, and instead curled my toes into the pre-made grooves. Nothing broke the silence except the buzzing of bees in the distance. And then I was off, racing in the footsteps of ancient champions - Greeks with magical names like Skamandros of Mytilene and Leonidas of Rhodes. During my weeks of reading about the original Olympic Games, these figures had always seemed unreal, illusory. But now, as my feet pounded the hard earth, it was easy to imagine a time when the gaze of ancient spectators and their gods was fixed on this spot - and on mere mortals like myself" (NA, p. 3-6).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Olympics has more information on the Olympics.
The fires of 2007 went near the museum in Olympia, but firefighters were able to prevent any damage to the museum. Praxiteles' statue of Hermes carrying the infant Dionysus from 340 BCE (photos 030-033) is one of my favorite sculptures in the museum, and is a good example of the contraposto pose (as one leg goes back, the other hip goes forward, and the shoulder is turned). There is debate about whether this is a Roman copy or an original Praxiteles, but either way, it's beautiful. Hermes (the messenger god) and Dionysus (god of wine and merrymaking) were brothers, sons of Zeus. Hermes has his head inclined towards Dionysus: "It is one of first actual depictions of a baby as a baby, not a baby with an adult face. The statue is known for the interaction between Hermes and Dionysus. Dionysos is looking up at and reaching for the bunch of grapes that Hermes, teasing his younger brother, is holding in his right hand. Their gazes intersect, excluding the viewer, in a domestic, personal and playful moment. They are shown as mortals engaged in mortal activity . . . The composition highlights both the contrast in age between youth and infant and the humanization of the divine . . . Relaxed and idle, languorous and sensuous, Hermes exemplifies a far different aspect of divine life than those depicted by sculptors in the preceding century" (GAA, p. 308-9). The museum plaque says that the "sculptor brought out the beauty of the figure by expressing the Olympian serenity of the god's face and the harmony of his body." There are also sculptures in the museum from the pediments of the temples. Photo 036 is probably of Nero's wife, Poppaea Sabbina.
The Ancient Olympic Games were held for about 1,000 years, until 394 CE, when they were banned by the emperor of Rome. Because of the increase of Christianity, Roman leaders sought to purge signs of paganism (and pagan festivals) by destroying all the ancient altars, statues and temples throughout the Roman Empire, including those in Greece and Asia Minor (Turkey).
Sparta/Mystras (photos 042-079)
Sparta, being of a "spartan" existence, has only a few "ancient" sites to see. "If the city of the Lacedaemonians [Sparta] were destroyed, and only itstemples and the foundations of its buildings left, remote posterity would greatly doubt whether their power were ever equal to their renown" . . . "and yet it controls two-fifths of the Peloponnese, and is the leader of the rest and of many cities outside it" (Thucydides, The Histories, quoted in LP, p. 166 and TWTG, p. 58). The Spartans geared their whole lives for warfare. After inspection by a committee of elders, newborn babies considered too weak to survive were left on a nearby mountain to die of exposure. Boys had a rigid upbringing to "make them well-disciplined and steadfast in hardship and victorious in battle" (Lykourgos xvi, quoted in TWTG, p. 51). Girls were not spared; they were trained to have strong bodies so "they themselves would be strong for childbirth, and deal well and easily with the pains of labor (Lykourgos xiv, quoted in TWTG, p. 53).
A few kilometers away from Sparta, however, was the "captivating ruins of the once-awesome town of Mystras, crowned by an imposing fortress" (LP, p. 168). The fortress was built in 1249 and at different times in history the city was ruled by the Byzantines, Turks and Venetians. In the 1600's, the city had a population of 40,000. This is not an easy hike; you begin by taking a taxi from Sparta part-way up next to the hill, walk to the top of the hill to visit the fortress (not for weak-kneed or weak of heart), then begin your exploration by descending along the rocky pathway to the bottom of the hill. There are amazing frescoes in the monastery, churches and convent from the 14th and 15th centuries. It was a brief respite from "ancient Greece."
Delphi (photos 082-122)
The ancient Greeks believed that Delphi was the "navel [or center] of the earth." Zeus released two doves at opposite ends of the world and they met here. "Of all the ancient sites in Greece, Delphi is perhaps the fairest of them all - the one with the most potent 'spirit of place.' Built on the slopes of Mt. Parnassos, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and extending into a valley of cypress sand olive trees, this World Heritage-listed site's allure lies both in its stunning setting and its inspiring ruins" (LP, p. 205-6).
The site at Delphi was sacred to Apollo (god of truth and prophecy, among other things). The Sacred Way leads up past different treasuries from different city-states dedicated in thanks to Apollo for winning battles. Delphi "became a focus for the whole of the Greek world. Many [city-states] showed their respect for the god - and their wish for his support - by building treasuries in which their gifts accumulated. Its reputation grew so much that foreigners, too, asked the oracle's advice" (TWTG, p. 78-80). The Athenian Treasury (photo 086) has been reconstructed, and many of the original sculptures are in the museum on the site. The theme of the sculptures on the Treasury of Syphnians was not to mess with Apollo. This building was the prototype for using caryatids (women with "hats" to hold up the roof structure rather than columns; the Erechtheion in Athens was a later example of that). Photo 114 shows a reconstruction of this Treasury, with the Athenian Treasury in the background. Farther along the Sacred Way were columns in different states of disrepair.
A few columns remain from the Temple of Apollo. It was another goosebump moment. People had been coming to Delphi since at least the 4th Century BCE to seek answers from the Delphic Oracle. There were other oracles, but Delphi was the most important. The oracles were thought to "converse with the gods as intermediaries or intercessors" (GAA, p. 229). "The Delphic Oracle, the most powerful in Greece, sat on a tripod at the entrance to a chasm which emitted vaporous fumes. [The chasm has never been found, but it is somewhere within the temple.] When consulted for divine advice, the priestess inhaled the fumes and entered a trance. Her answers, though seemingly unintelligible, were translated into verse by a priest. Battles were fought, marriages sealed and journeys begun on the strength of the oracle's inspired visions. In part, the oracles' reputation for infallibility may have rested with the often ambiguous or cryptic answers" (LP, p. 206-7), since it was up to the receiver to interpret the answers.
Continuing uphill from the Temple, you come to the theater. This was a great place to stop and take a break, enjoy the views over the surrounding valley and mountains, and ponder. Still farther uphill was the stadium. Olympia had the Olympic Games in honor of Zeus, and Delphi had the Pythian Games (python = the snake Apollo killed at Delphi) every four years in honor of Apollo (alternating years with the Ancient Olympic Games, like the modern winter and summer Olympics). As with the Olympic Games, if there was a war going on, a sacred truce was declared, lasting for three months (the length of the games) for safe travel to and from the games. The "Delphic" Games have been reinstated; they'll be held in 2009 in Korea.
The Sanctuary of Athena is nearby; three of the original twenty columns have been re-erected, and stand on a three-stepped podium. More columns against the bright blue sky - gorgeous!!
The Delphi Museum was our last Greek museum (for this trip). Some of the highlights there include the Sphinx of the Naxians (photo 117), from 550 BCE; it was one-third lion, one-third eagle and one-third female. The kouri in photo 118, from 580 BCE, are believed to be Cleobis and Biton. Their mother was a priestess of Argos who was ailing, so they carried her, even though they were exhausted. Hera was pleased at the treatment they gave their mother, so she had them die in their sleep - it was better to die happy, even if they're young, than to take a chance on being miserable in the future. They could go out in blaze of glory because they had served their mother. The bronze Charioteer (photo 120) commemorates a victory at the Pythian Games of 478 or 474 BCE; it was probably a dedication by the victor. You can see the Charioteer's teeth, eyelashes, and the details of his toes; the eyes were inlaid in glass and stone, copper was added on the lips, silver on the headband. The statue is about 6 feet tall and was only a part of a large group consisting of horses, chariot, charioteer and a groom. To win the race was one of the greatest ways to achieve fame and glory. A Greek had to be wealthy to own a horse; to own 3 or more horses he had to be very rich. "With such stupendous dedications did the city-states of the West remind the Greeks of their wealth" (GAA, p. 228). Photo 121 is of Antinoos, who was the "beloved companion" of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, from 117-138 CE and the next photo is of the excavation of the statue in 1894.
These are some other quotes about Greece:
"Greek light acquires a transcendent quality: it is not the light of the Mediterranean alone, it is something more, something unfathomable, something holy. Here the light penetrates directly to the soul, opens the doors and windows of the heart, makes one naked, exposed, isolated. . . . No analysis can go on in this light; here the neurotic is either instantly healed or goes mad" (Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi, quoted in NA, p. 3).
Towards the end of the Peloponnesian War (mainly between Athens and its alliances against Sparta and its alliances, or anyone who was against the Athenian desire for more power), Athens undertook an unpopular invasion of Sicily. Thucydides wrote about it: "This, as might have been expected in a great and sovereign state, produced a host of blunders, and amongst them the Sicilian expedition; though this failed not so much through a miscalculation of the power of those against whom it was sent, as through a fault in the senders in not taking the best measures afterwards to assist those who had gone out, but choosing rather to occupy themselves with private squabbles for the leadership of The People, by which they not only paralyzed operations in the field, but also first introduced civil discord at home" (Thucydides, 2.65.11, p. 128). The Sicilian expedition was a disaster and in 404 BCE Athens sued Sparta for peace. It was the beginning of the end of the "Athenian Empire" and the Classical Greek Period.
We still have a few more batches of photos to work on, but this is it for Greece. Next will be Scotland; I will try not to write a paper on it.
Amos, H.D. and Lang, A.G.P., These Were the Greeks
("TWTG"), Dufour Editions, Inc., 1979.
London/Scotland/Paris was our last trip out of Goldach in June, 2006. We were planning to return to the States, but we weren't quite ready to finish our travels yet. I was thinking about spending a bit of time in Scotland so I could speak English regularly, and then a friend emailed that she would be in London in a few weeks to visit her sister. This worked out perfectly for us timewise, and we were able to meet and stay with her and her sister and family for our two nights in London.
Pete and I went to the British Museum - it pulled together some of the historical pieces from different periods we had seen on our travels. The exhibits included the Rosetta Stone (discovered in Egypt in 1799; it was written in three languages - Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and another language; since scholars compared the three texts, they were able to decipher hieroglyphs for the first time), some Greek vases, and the Parthenon Sculptures (taken from the Parthenon in Greece). The ancient sculptors used the whole pediment of the Parthenon for sculptures; you can see from the angle in photos 007 and 009 how the figures are laying down at the edges and slowly rise to a standing position towards the center. The frieze running along the inside of the Parthenon was 160 meters long, and was divided into four friezes. Photo 010 is the whole east frieze; photos 011 through 013 are details from that frieze. Photo 011 is of Zeus, "distinguished by his scepter and throne;" his wife/sister Hera; she is "drawing back her veil in the traditional gesture of the bride" and with Iris, a messenger god, in the background. Photo 012 is of Athena (patron goddess of Athens) and Hephaestos (god of blacksmiths/craftsmen), who is leaning on a crutch because he is lame. Photo 013 shows a man (most likely the religious leader of Athens) taking a folded cloth from a child; it probably represents the passing on of the sacred robe of Athena, which was placed on the statue of Athena in the Parthenon as part of the Panathenaic festival, one of the most important processions in ancient Athens. Photo 014 is "&ldots; compositionally one of the most impressive metopes. A centaur pressing a wound in his back tries to escape, while the Lapith restrains him and prepares to deliver a final blow. The Lapith's cloak fans out to provide a dramatic backdrop" (quoted text from the plaques at the British Museum). Photos 015 through 018 are from the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and photo 019 is from the Temple of Artemis, another of the Seven Ancient Wonders.
We took a bus from London to Edinburgh, and spent a few days there. Lonely Planet describes Edinburgh as "one of the most lovable, and livable, cities on the planet" (LP, p. 744). After 16 months on the road, Scotland was just going to be about scenery: we had seen so many cities, so many museums, so many "must-see" sites and just wanted to wander the city streets and country roads. Pete did try the national dish - haggis - a combination of "chopped lungs, heart and liver all mixed with oatmeal, and boiled in a sheep's stomach" (LP, p. 764). From Edinburgh, we rented a car and drove north. Dunkeld Cathedral was completed in 1350; part of the church is still in use today. There was a beautiful park nearby, and a charming little village.
Local Hero is one of my favorite movies about a Houston oil tycoon who wanted to acquire a town in Scotland; his plan was to buy the locals out and build a refinery. Pennan, where some of the movie was filmed, is a small, quaint village. We had lunch at the pub and I called my sister from the phone booth where the executive had called his boss in the movie, trying to explain the colors of the northern lights and yelled out in his excitement "It's red and green all over!! &ldots; It's red and green all over!!" (photos 045 and 046).
As was normal for our travels, we didn't travel in the most time-efficient manner, but criss-crossed the area according to what we wanted to see most while the weather cooperated. From Pennan we meandered west, heading towards the Scottish Highlands with its "epic brutal majesty of nature &ldots; Harsh, but beautiful beyond description, this area leaves the visitor dumbstruck as vista after vista unfolds, of rockfaces sliding down to dark lochs, of stern castles, of sun, mists, heather, and a coastline gouged out by the last Ice Age" (LP, p. 870). I LOVED the Highlander cows, with their hair in their face; I have no idea how they can see anything. So whenever we saw them, it was a "cow alert" and we had to stop/turn around so I could take some pictures. And then up to the Orkney Isands, north of mainland Scotland. Two of the sites we saw on the island was Skara Brae and the Ring of Brødgar. Skara Brae is the remains of a Neolithic settlement, which was occupied from about 3100-2500 BCE (predating the Pyramids in Egypt, and Stonehenge). It was like walking into the Flintstones set - stone furniture (box beds, dressers, and built-in storage spaces) from 4500 years ago are still in place. Indiana Jones gives a lecture about Skara Brae in his latest movie. The Ring of Brødgar is a Neolithic version of Stonehenge from about 2500 BCE. The purpose of the construction is not known, but the circle is 104 meters (340 feet) in diameter and originally consisted of 60 stones (27 remain).
In 1939, Italian POWs built the "Churchill Barriers" after a German u-boat got too close. "Using concrete blocks and old ships, the channels between [certain islands] were blocked to better protect the naval base." The Italian Chapel was also built by the POW's in their spare time, "using two Nissen huts, scrap metal and their considerable artistic and decorative skills ... It's a moving testament to faith and cooperation, and a useful lesson in management skills: the British commanding officer of the prison camp supported and facilitated the project" (LP, p. 903).
We meandered over to the Isle of Skye. Near the "entrance" to the island, the area around Eilean Donan Castle was first inhabited as early as the 6th century; the original castle was built around 1220 and has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years; the most recent reconstruction took place in 1932. We went past the castle a few times, both with eerie cloud cover and with a beautiful evening light shining over it. We then drove along Loch Ness, looking for the Loch Ness Monster; we saw a lot of signs and marketing for it, but no sign of Nessie. Kilmartin Glen and Temple Wood are other sites with prehistoric burial cairns and stone circles; some contain burnt bones, and the pottery found inside one dates to 2400 BCE (photos 164 through 166). Doune Castle (photo 173) is "one of the best preserved 14th century castles in Scotland, having remained largely unchanged since it was built &ldots;" and was used in Monty Python's Holy Grail (LP, p. 835).
We had some time left in Scotland, so went back towards Edinburgh to Roslyn Chapel. For those who read The Da Vinci Code, this is the chapel where the closing scenes take place. The chapel was to close in 30 minutes for a wedding so we were only able to have a quick look around; watching the guests arrive for the wedding was also interesting. The chapel was built in 1446 by William St. Clair. It's "steeped in beauty and symbolism," with "magnificent carvings" which include "biblical figures, examples of the pagan 'Green Man' [photo 181] and flowers, vines and imagery of plants apparently from America which oddly pre-date Columbus' arrival &ldots; With its wealth of Templar and Masonic connections, it's no wonder it's been central to many conspiracy theories" (LP, p. 770), including the rumor that the Holy Grail is buried in the chapel. Some of the other carvings include the seven deadly sins (photos 182 and 183), an angel holding up what may be a representation of the heart of Robert the Bruce (the King of Scots who died in 1329; this would show the strong connection between the St. Clairs and the Scottish king; photo 184), and an image of a knight, which may be the final resting place of William St. Clair, who died in 1330 and founded the chapel, or of the founder's father-in-law, who was the grandson of Robert the Bruce (photo 185).
We flew from Glasgow to Paris (yes, I did actually pass up seeing a major Roman ruin - Hadrian's Wall) for a few last days in the City of Light. We had been to Paris six months before, in December, but I can never get enough of Paris. We were rejuvenated enough to go to the Louvre; Pete wanted to see the Mona Lisa, but because of the increased interest due to The Da Vinci Code, we just walked into the room, saw the crowd (photo 196), and turned right back around. We had to wait for our boat ride along the Seine, so watched the picnickers dining al fresco on the tip of an island. The light and colors while we took the boat cruise were magical, with the beautiful blue sky and lights coming on.
We spent a few more weeks in Switzerland (next batch of photos) &ldots;
Lonely Planet, Great Britain, May 2005.
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