Athens & goodbye

12-16 October, 2011

Hello Athens!

And goodbye Middle Sea!

This the 101st post will be my last. The last 6 months have been amazingly good but all things (good and bad) must come to an end. I have purchased my ticket to fly back home to Melbourne on Monday, 17 October.

Most museums and archaeological sites are closed due to strikes Wednesday and Thursday (so I will have to wait until tomorrow, Friday, to visit the Acropolis). And there is a public transport strike Thursday and Friday. This is in addition to taxi strikes which are unpredictable. I was lucky that the Metro was still running Wednesday evening when I arrived at Piraeus port from Santorini. My accommodation in Athens (Athens Backpackers & Studios) is very central (with a view of the Parthenon from the rooftop bar) so I can easily walk most places. The weather is sunny and warm (unlike Santorini which was rainy).

It was not planned that way but it is fitting that the alpha and omega of this Middle Sea journey have turned out to be Rome and Athens respectively, the capitals of the two great classical Mediterranean civilisations.

To all my family and friends, see you soon!

           

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Greek Crisis

Strikes, protests, riots…

But traditional Greek life goes on as it always has.

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Santorini

9-11 October, 2011

Thira in Greek (but everyone calls it Santorini), an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, part of the Cyclades group.

My boat from Rhodes was a slow one, leaving at 8am and not arriving at Santorini until 11pm. We did call in briefly at about 5 or 6 other islands (including, I think Patmos), so I don’t think the route was direct by any means.

The main town of Fira, where my lodgings, “Hotel Flora” was located, is on top of the sheer cliff face leading up from the port. During daylight hours there is a cable-car. There is also a pedestrian route via many steps (with donkeys for transport in the day if your luggage isn’t too heavy). Eager to get to my bed quickly, and not keen on stepping in donkey poo in the dark, I took a taxi for 15 euro. The road zig-zagged up with seven 180 deg. switchbacks.

Update: In the harsh light of day, I discover that the preceding paragraph is not strictly true. The ferry docked at the New Port, some kilometres along the coast from the Old Port with the cable car and donkeys.

When I got there reception was closed, but there was an after-hours telephone number posted. My mobile had no carrier signal, but I remembered I have Skype on my netbook computer. I got through and the owner was there in five minutes to show me my room (double bed, en-suite, balcony, fridge and TV for 20 euros per night).

The next day (Monday) was grey and rainy. I took an umbrella, braved the wind and rain and snapped some pics of the spectacular view over the caldera (explanation later).

                    

The island of Santorini today is semi-circular in shape, about 18km long and from 2 to 6 km wide. It was formed as the result of the eruption of a volcano around 1500BC. The former island (Strongyle) was round, about 15km in diameter, and had a tall central cone about 1000m high, with a crater at the top.

When you look out now over the caldera (Spanish for “cooking pot”, referring to the bowl-shaped void left by the collapse of land) to the only remaining bits of earth (Thirasia and tiny Aspro on the other side, and the current volcano, Nea Kameni, in the middle) it is hard to imagine the immensity of the event that blew up a mountain, and sucked it down into the abyss of the crater, 800m deep. The sea rushed in and flooded it creating the present-day lagoon, encircled by Santorini, Thirasia and Aspro. It is thought to have been by far the most violent explosion in recorded history, 4 times greater than that the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

The people living on Strongyle at the time of the explosion were part of the Minoan civilisation based in Crete. That civilisation afterwards went into decline, possibly as the result of a huge tsunami which swept the coastline of Crete. It seems possible that this historical event is the basis for the myth of Atlantis, a legendary continent with a flourishing civilisation that sank to the bottom of the sea.

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Rhodes

5-8 October, 2011

Rhodes has a long and fascinating history. It was the site of yet another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, erected around 280BC, standing 100m tall. It stood for only about 50 years before it collapsed after an earthquake in 226BC.

Rhodes was also for centuries the main base of the Knights of the Order of St. John who set up a hospital for injured crusaders here.

It is a wonderfully atmospheric experience to wander the cobblestone lanes of the Old Town (within the magnificently preserved mediaeval city walls). You can visit the building where the hospital wards were located (now the Archaeological Museum), the Palace of the Knights, and the very atmospheric “Street of the Knights”. The latter is remarkably well preserved arcitecturally, with most of the original buildings surviving (e.g. the auberges of the “lingua” i.e. meeting places for crusaders of the same language – Spanish, French, English, Italian etc, the Inn of the Knights, the Palace at one end and the Hospital at the other).

                                       

“Costa Fortuna”? I don’t doubt it.

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Marmaris

4 October, 2011

After a three hour bus trip from Bodrum I checked in to my pension (pansiyon in Turkish) and walked down to the harbour to buy my ferry ticket to Rhodes (for tomorrow morning). It cost 40 euros. I think the trip will take about 3 hours.

P.S. The boat was a fast catamaran and only took about 1 hour.

       

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Bodrum

Bodrum 1-3 October, 2011

I arrived in Bodrum at the southern end of the Aegean coast of Turkey, after a 3 hour bus trip from Selcuk. Bodrum was called Halikarnassos in the times of Ancient Greece. It was the home of Herodotus (“The Father of History”). When he wasn’t wandering the ancient world collecting information for his famous history book. I read in “The Middle Sea” that until fairly recently he was regarded only as a fanciful storyteller, but subsequent archaeological discoveries have corroborated many of his assertions. Halikarnassos was once the site of another of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Tomb of King Mausolus (from where the word mausoleum comes). The structure survived for more than a millennium, but then was flattened by an earthquake.There is a connection with my home town of Melbourne, Australia. The design of the Shrine of Remembrance (for fallen soldiers) is based on the Tomb of Mausolus, being rectangular with 36 columns, 10 per side. On my last morning in Bodrun, befor catching the bus to Marmaris, I visted the Museum of the Mausoleion. There is a big hole where the burial chamber used to be and a scale model of the Mausoleum. Apparently it was topped with a marble quadriga (4-horse-chariot), probably with a statue of Mausolus holding the reins.

If you are looking for a truly authentic Turkish experience, you might need to look further than Bodrum. It is really a very touristy seaside resort town, with a lot of British visitors, cafes serving English breakfasts and bars with wide-screen TVs showing English Premier League matches. On the other hand, if you have been doing the hard yards backpacking through dirt poor Anatolian villages, this would be a welcome oasis. And there are some interesting things to see and do. The Fort built by the Knights of St John (Knights Hospitalers) is a nice place to visit. Their main base was on Rhodes. After that (and then Bodrum) was captured by the Ottomans they were forced to move a long way west, reestablishing their base in Malta. One part of the Fort (the Snake Tower) housed a hospital (the main mission of the Knights) as well as a torture chamber. Very eclectic of them.

The Fort also hosts the Underwater Archaeology Museum. A sign announced an important disclaimer. The Museum itself is not actually underwater, so don’t bother asking for your money back. There are details and exhibits from at least three shipwrecks. The first was a second century BC Bronze Age ship. One exhibit was an early example of a “folding book” (as mentioned by Homer in The Iliad). It consisted of boxwood covers, with ivory hinges. The recessed panels were covered in beeswax and written on with a stylus. The second was a Fifth Century BC Greek ship, with amphorae originally containing wine. The third was a Sixth Century AD Byzantine boat, whose hull was reconstructed (inside the Knights’ Chapel, later converted to a Mosque by the Ottomans).

I have just learnt that the season for ferries to Rhodes from Bodrum has ended, so I will have to go to Marmaris, probably staying Tuesday night and catching the ferry Wednesday morning.

                          

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Selçuk

27-30 September, 2011

Just arrived in Selçuk by bus from Bursa (7 hours). Since Odessa I have been heading south, prolonging the summer! One of the main reasons to come to Selçuk is to visit nearby Ephesus (Efes in Turkish), which is said to have some of the best Roman ruins anywhere outside Pompeii. Back to a dorm bed here (Nur -means “light” – Pension, run by a young guy, Sean, who sounds Australian).

         

Sights in the small town of Selçuk include the Byzantine aqueduct (with storks’ nests on top, but I think the storks have all flown south by now), the Ottoman fortress on the hill (closed for repairs), the Isabey Mosque and the remains of the Basilica of St. John the Apostle (which was possibly constructed over his tomb) . Tradition has it that after Jesus’ crucifixion John brought Jesus’ mother Mary to Ephesus to live in his house. The Gospel of John might have been written in Ephesus, while Revelations is thought to have been written by John on the nearby island of Samos. Ephesus is one of the seven major centres of Christianity in Asia mentioned in Revelations.

In the 1st c. BC Ephesus had an enormous population for the time of about 250,000 (second only to Rome) and was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. The results of archaeological excavations at Ephesus are impressive, with the major streets and remains of some buildings still visible (similar to Pompeii and Herculaneum near Naples). The interiors of some houses can be visited, with their mosaics floors, frescoes and indoor plumbing.

The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world but sadly little is left, apart from the many-breasted statue of Artemis in the Archaeological Museum in Selçuk, which also houses statues and other artefacts from Ephesus, including the well-endowed god Priapus (from where the English word priapic comes) and the lovely bronze Boy on a Dolphin. It also has a marble bust of my favourite Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (author of Meditations). The most striking building at Ephesus is probably the two-storied Library of Celsus, of which the facade has been re-erected from the original pieces.

If you are able to employ a little imagination, you can easily visualise how cushy and civilised life most have been here for the inhabitants, especially the wealthy.

                             

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