Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Only 30 minutes!" ...and three hours later...

ORIGINAL POST: 12 Mar 2008

I have been in Greece 54 days - March 9 makes it exactly half-way.

By this point in this adventure, we all know (for the most part) what to expect from one of our outings into the world. Seeing how Egypt was probably the high point of the first half, it is really hard to rate anything against that. The Peloponnese trip where we visited Corinth, a couple castles, and ancient Olympia really put up a good fight, though!

Excursions in our part of the world have very few - if any - boring or lethargic moments...

...or so we thought.

Maybe it was because we had all just returned from a holiday weekend...?

Maybe it was because we had a new on-site instructor that none of us - not even our director - had ever met or heard of...?

Maybe it was because our bus driver was new to the area...?

Maybe it was because roads in Northern Greece tend to make no sense...?

Maybe it was a combination of all of the above...?

For a total of four days on the road: if we weren't in the hotel, we were on the bus; if we weren't on the bus we were in truck stops...

...a grand total of - no exaggeration - less than 6 hours off the bus during the daylight hours.

At least I had a camera to entertain myself...

Alright... in all fairness, we are in Greece - seeing all this stuff while our hair is not gray. That, in itself, is really enough for me.

But to convey the sluggish pace that we seemed to travel at during our trip to Thessaloníki last week, I must use a few negative phrases. In any case...

Day One:

Delphi WAS rather awesome. Covered in cats and flowers and bees, it was mighty cool. The cats were the excessively friendly kind, too.

After most of us had just been on an amazing holiday for 3 or 4 days, it was nice to see that the places we were going and taking notes on were in such picturesque locations.

Sidetrack: I make it a point to never pose photographs. I HATE contrived images, posed, cheesy, stand-and-smile, grip-and-grins... life has too many good things to photograph that AREN'T fake to ruin it by faking something. From time to time, photographs like the one above are released that almost look like I said, "Now hold it right there..."

In 10 years when people think back on this trip, they're probably going to remember me as "the camera guy" and that is alright with me! Because people just accept the fact that I'm going to do things like the above picture from time to time. I get close, I get personal, and people just understand that I do it whether with a smile or a sigh of defeat.

I digress...

A pretty place...

Delphi was where the great Oracle of Delphi was located for the better part of a thousand years. The Oracle helped in changing the fate of the modern world with its cryptic riddles and fortune telling. From fissures in the earth deep beneath the Temple of Apollo, priestesses would inhale the noxious ethylene vapors, growing intoxicated by them, and uttering syllables and speaking in tongues. The priests would then "interpret" in a rather cryptic way.

"How do we defeat the Persians?" was one of the famous questions.

"The wooden wall will prevail."

One general wanted to build a literal wooden wall around Athens. Another wanted to build a fleet of (wooden) ships.

So they did both, just for safe measure...

...and the famous naval battle in the Straits of Salamis turned the tide of the Persian Wars and led to their eventual defeat. The small, heavily armored boats would ram the large Persian ships and caused them to sink by the hundreds. Many even go as far to say the Battle of Salamis was the battle than ensured democracy would spread into the modern world - that was in the middle of the 400's BCE.

Attribute the win to the Oracle at Delphi.

And Nic just got stuck coming out of their little hole...

But otherwise, Delphi was a really good site to start off our Northern Greece trip. Only about 3.5 hours or so from Athens. Not bad at all...

The major disappointment came from the fact the Delphi museum was closed because of a strike... of course, it was a strike.

Yet another side note: at the present moment, there are major strikes across all of Greece. For the most part, they are unrelated. Our newest development is the power going out for hours at a time per day because the electric company is striking. The public transit is striking, cutting our bus access by half each day. The post office is striking - I can't send mail out for weeks and weeks now. The local news TV stations strike because the public transit people strike. The air traffic controllers strike was a week or so ago... And now the Delphi Museum?

Yes, it sounds like a nerdy thing to wish a museum was open, but countless major statues and antiquities are housed within in the museum - most of which we had been studying all semester... the Charioteer of Delphi and other that defined the art of the Hellenic and Hellenistic Age.

Wow... that sounded super-nerdy...

In any case, this was our experience of the substantial museum.


"Its storytime boys and girls!"

But, lunch was good.

And then on to another 5 hours to Kalambaka for the night.

Day Two:

Have you ever seen the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore?

In the ending sequence of the movie, he scales a huge cliff to a monastery at the top. He then helps all his friends up to the top using a winch and pulley system.

Check out the trailer on YouTube. It'll probably jog your memory.

Or maybe this picture...

Which is the one they climb up in the movie!

Okay, not to destroy the romanticism of James Bond scaling a cliff HUNDREDS of feet tall... but, the ground isn't really that much out of the frame.

How about this?

This place is just unreal.

Meteora Monasteries outside Kalambaka, Greece, is one of the more bizarrely beautiful parts of the world that you just have to see to believe.

The Greek Orthodox monks who came here in the 1100-1300's AD and started living in caves in the walls of these giant columns of rock. Everything is steeped in heavy Orthodox traditions and the few monks that still live there still go about their everyday lives as they have for 800 years.

With the assistance of modern electric winches instead of hauling it up the cliff manually.

We also visited the nuns at a nearby mountain top.

And on top of each monastery there was a chapel, of course.

Those Greek Orthodox monks really do know how to do it.

And one for the fam, of course, taken by a friend...

Honestly, this was a really fascinating place. It was truly one of those ridiculous places in the world that just has to be seen to believed.


...looking for a good segue here...

Let's let Tony express his discontent at being on the bus...

...for the REST of the day...

...yes, leave the monasteries at 10:30am and 4:00pm.

Alright, so the day wasn't a COMPLETE loss...

...the hotel was rather nice. Like, 5-star nice! Complete with HUGE poofy towels, his-and-her bathrobes and slippers, and multi-course meals.

Thessaloniki, if you ever get to visit, is a pretty great place.

So ended day two. Total time at sites: <2hour 30min.

Day Three:

Considering we were going to Philippi - as in the New Testament book of Philippians kinda thing - that pretty much makes it start out ahead.

Little did we know this required 3hours 45min worth of driving. We could not visit a few sites in Thessaloniki because of recent Macedonia vs. Greece demonstrations - more on THAT little thing later.

At our 2nd rest stop - we seemed to do this more often than in other trips - my good friend and I decided that we were still completely fine; after all, we had only been on the road an hour since the last stop.

20 minutes? Let's go!

The beach was only a short run through an orchard and down a steep embankment.

Alright, well... that made the morning, honestly...

And after that, as everyone was getting back on the bus...
... of course, that's when we needed to go to the restroom.

It wasn't hard to stay awake until Philippi.

It really was a pretty cool site.

Bobby found his happy place...

Okay, that one wasn't posed at ALL...


And since we're off-subject again: we had a cat earlier in the post... but what about the obligatory dog-per-post?


One more...

Indulging in my fascination with stairs of the ultra-traveled and worn down type...

Maybe our friend Paul walked up those when they were new?

That's not nerdy at all...

Back to the story...

Remember back last month when I came back from Egypt and I explained how we went to an alabaster workshop in Luxor, Egypt (the location of the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Karnak, and Luxor Temple where Moses grew up)? And I made the comment that the only place in the world that has alabaster is Luxor, Egypt... remember?

Oh, well...

These columns are green alabaster. Where did they come from?

Luxor, Egypt.

Kinda fascinating how two things can be separated by great gulfs of time and huge distances and still have little things - little cross references - so small that they almost don't exist...

...but they do.

The columns that supported this cistern that held the water for the basilica...

...including the water that filled this baptistery...

...Luxor, Egypt.

There's something deep and profound in that.

Alright, I'm just being all romantic and nostalgic about things.

Back to the story:

Did you get a good shot, my friend?

Philippi was one of the places where the apostle Paul was imprisoned. Go find your Bible and read Acts 16.11-40. That is all here...

...and a prison in Philippi. Was this THE prison where Paul was put in chains?

Archaeologist say, "Probably not." But it was similar to prisons of the period and this is kind of what it looked like. Not what you expected, is it?

Granted, there was a roof back in the day... but its not exactly what Sunday school portrays, is it?

Oh well...

The theater was cool, though!

This theater has underground passageways and tunnels so actors could come up through trap doors.

My friend Whitney.

...and Rachelle and Michael and Courtney...

If you haven't noticed, I'm eventually going to introduce you to all 40-something of my group by the end of my time in Europe.

After lunch, which was something like Hamburger Helper in solid block form (don't worry, we'd had it before and its not THAT bad), we went to the seaport town of Kavala for a little R&R. Actually, only about 30min worth...

It was a mighty pretty place, though.

While quite a few went to the Häagen Dazs, I walked around and enjoyed the seaport... and took a few photos.

If you haven't heard, Greece and Macedonia don't get along. In fact, to a Greek, Macedonia is just another part of Northern Greece, but if they have to deal with it, it is called F.Y.R.O.M. - the Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia.

Macedonia says that all of Northern Greece is "Macedonia" and Greece says Northern Greece is Greece and so is Macedonia.

Yeah, its all complicated... kinda messy...

It all really depends on who you ask. Greeks love the argument... if you ask them, they'll give you an ear-full! Since this area is the area that is disputed, it shows up in random places.

Like the end of the pier...

Others spend a little quiet time, too. After this long together, it really is getting to the point where everyone has a number of people they can talk to and share things with. Good conversation is a blessing of living together like this for so long.

Okay, so I kinda cheated on that one... telephoto... didn't want to disturb too much...

But, I'll often prefer 50mm.

So, that was a nice stop.

Now, a couple hours back to Thessaloníki. If you're keeping score, we're running on maybe a little over 4 hours 15min off the bus.

And back to Thessaloníki.

Remember the big anti-Macedonia vs. anti-Greece demonstrations I mentioned earlier? The ones that prevented us from seeing the ancient parts of Thessaloníki? Oh, yeah... they had not yet started as of 6:30.

Good opportunity to see a peaceful demonstration, right!? Well, no... of course, we had dinner at 7. The demonstration started at 7.

Demonstrations in this part of the world are hilarious. This must be their conversation:

"Hey, I don't like what's going on!"
"Yeah, me neither!"
"Let's do something about it, then!"
"Alright! Lets do it! I'm so pumped!"
"Okay, how does Wednesday at 7 sound?"
"Sounds good."
"Okay, see you then."

Sure, that's a good peaceful way to do it, and I'm sure the police appreciate it, but what does it really get accomplished. All these strikes that are causing the power to go out and everything? Power to the people, by all means, but announcing in the paper DAYS ahead that the power company is going to turn off the power from 4:00-7:00pm on the 12th... kinda silly.

But anyways...

The strike was all over the local news stations and as soon as we could get away, we made haste down to the waterfront to see what we could see.

It was a pretty night for a planned demonstration. I guess its just what people do on Wednesday nights in Thessaloníki.

But, of course, we get there and they're packing up.

Oh well... again...

It was all happening right here at the foot of the statue of Alexander the Great and his campaign to spread Hellenism across the ancient world.

It was a beautiful night. Carnival was in full swing.

Good times.

Day Four:

I hate the part when we pack up and have to leave 5-star hotels.


Out of the courtyard we started out going right, towards the heart of the city. Little did we know, that almost 25 minutes later...

"Hey, isn't that our hotel?"

Yes, my friends, we passed it again going in the other direction. Well, that was weird...

...but it shouldn't be very long to Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Its only about 30 or 40 minutes outside Thessaloniki - we had even passed the first day.

Almost THREE HOURS LATER we arrive at ancient Pella. Hmm...

The small museum was kinda cool. It had a few things that most people associate with Greece. Like, the golden wreath given to the winner of athletic competitions...

They're real. Its not just a myth!

Honestly, I didn't know until after we returned that Pella was the birthplace and childhood home of Alexander, and this was where Aristotle taught him in the court of his father, Philip of Macedonia... information which our new instructor kinda neglected.

We just thought we were looking at some cool mosaics.

For lunch, we stopped in Vergina, where Philip and Cleopatra and Alexander's son are buried. The museum is built inside the tombs - actually pretty darn cool. The rooms are almost completely dark except for the exhibits. Needless to say, there was no photography in here and it probably would not have worked well even if I could.

Then we got on the bus and headed home. It was around 1:30pm or 2:00pm.

No less than nine - yes, you heard me right, NINE - hours later we arrived back in Porto Rafti.

That was one absurdly long bus ride. We stopped half a dozen times and by the end of it, most people were irate... the natural human tendency. Whether it was because we had been on a bus so long that our iPods had all started to die, or our backs were hurting or our legs asleep...

...or maybe it was that other reason... the reason I was irate.

My iPod was still running. My back wasn't really hurting. My legs were (mostly) awake.

I was irate because we arrived at Thermopylae long after dark and we parked on the wrong side of the highway. The stand of the Spartan 300 occurred here. Granted, the geography has changed quite a bit from the 400's BCE - the ocean is not as close as it used to be - but the pass (aka. the Hot Gates) are definitely still there... and its so awesome...

But all we saw of it was the mountainside dimly silhouetted against the night sky.

That doesn't make for very good pictures...

...and having been on a bus for 5 hours already anticipating Thermopylae...

Well, you can't win them all... the 300 Spartans taught us at least that much.

So, we arrived home around 10 or 10:30pm.

Total count for hours out of the bus: less than 6 hours at actual sites for the 4 days on the road. Think I'm joking? I have the capture times on my photographs to prove it.

We saw some amazing stuff. No quite in the most ideal way, but nevertheless, we are still in Greece - and that, in itself, is just about enough for me.

And many apologies if this post has sounded a little on the negative / sarcastic side... really, it might just be me venting frustration because it has taken a full three days to write this post - between the power outages and studying for tests.

Almost everyone on this trip has adopted a sort of journal - whether it be a Moleskine or a spiral notebook or a real leather-bound journal thing. Most can find an outlet for their discontent there...

...but what fun is that!?


Sometimes its good to see that this entire trip is not just butterflies and rainbows and me writing, "We saw yet another of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World today."

Celebrate life and be real... whether its in the pictures you take or the people you come in contact with, what fun is it to be fake?

Come back soon and see my big surprise for our next outing. Some of you may already know, but most of you don't. It is kind of a big deal...

Yes, its outside Greece.

No, its not somewhere simple like Italy.

In fact, its not even in Europe!

It is somewhere WAY out of most people's comfort zones...

We leave on Friday.

You'll see where I'm going in tomorrow's post...

Stay tuned,
~Noah D.

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