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Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Greece is an interesting place.  I had a great time there and sure enough will be back.  Our next visit will be for island hopping.  In my mind the perfect way to do it is to plan and organize a group of 6-8 friends.  Then rent a bare boat and sail at our own pace through the Islands. Each can have responsibilities in the boat, which should include preparing traditional Mediterranean meals, cultural evening. organizing on board and so on.  But that will be another trip, from our present trip here are a couple of things I learned:

1. Greeks love coffee freddo (iced coffee), so do we – in particular the cappuccino freddo.  Its is a good way to keep you going on the hot days and the cafes were always crowded with all types of people;

2. Strikes – it seems like common place. There was one before we arrived and one while we were there.  I am not sure how successful they were, but they certainly affected our plans as it made me miss a Drama at the Odeon of Herode Atticus;

3. They do not get intimidated by the Font 40 warnings on the cigarettes packs. Sayings included: “Smoking kills”, “Smoking seriously harms you and the ones around you”, “Smoking can cause a slow and painful death”, “Smoking damages sperm and reduces fertility” and if those don’t stop you… try my favorite: “Smoking causes premature skin aging”;

4. They are not shy about starring: That was the same in Turkey.  For me it was not such a novelty as in Brazil there is also a lot of people watching and commenting.  On the other hand, after a couple of years on Boca Raton/West Palm, it can be hard, because we were used to not even being acknowledged in the street – in the rare event that you actually cross by someone on a street in Boca Raton, FL;

5. Fish and overfishing: The fish was good and tasty, but the large fresh ones not that easy to find. The reason is that Greece is suffering from over fishing and tourism plays a major role on this.  It is not surprise that Greece receives a lot of tourists but I was surprised by the numbers: Greece population in 2004 was estimated in 10.6 million (almost half of that in Athens), and the same year Greece welcomed 16.5 million tourists;

6. Getting info on public transportation was at minimum challenging.  It is quite hard to extract some useful information and you need to make the perfect question in order to get the information you want.  Also, they LOVE last-minute.  I just could not understand.  If we arrive in a train station to buy tickets for a train that would leave in half hour it was almost like they would refuse to sell tickets to you until the train made it first whistle to leave, and then they rush the sales.  All our tickets were like that and I was not sure what to make out of this.

7. In comparison to Turkey, my impression (E- here) is that there is a bigger gap between people with money and without.  This is only an impression.  I think the impression came from our walk through the Omonia neighborhood in Athens, shortly after arriving in Greece.  We passed by junkies picking at their needle marks and two blocks to the south we saw something like the Cadillac of scooters, and many of them in both cases.  In all our time in Turkey, we never saw really snazzy scooters like that but we also didn’t see any junkies, and alike.  Of course it could just be a matter of where we walked.

PS- I also was amused by the description of some places we went in Greece as having “mild climate.”  It was quite interesting reading those promotional city flier at 44 degrees C. It might just be me, but 44C does not feel mild.

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We decided to make our stay in Greece shorter rather than longer.  There were a few reasons for this and the heat was definitely one of them.  We decided to make our way to Patras, Greece and take a ferry to Ancona, Italy.  And we decided that along the way to Patras we would stop in Diakofto.  Getting from Argos to Diakofto by train and bus was a rather frustrating experience.  One reason was because the train tracks along the northern coast of the Peloponesse were under construction.  We got a nice hotel in Diakofto, the Chris-Paul.  T- must have caught somebody’s eye, because right after we got into our room, room-service showed up with a belgian chocolate hagen-dazs ice-cream specifically for her.  😉  I took a swim in the pool and watched the little birds continually swoop down to take drinks.

In the evening we ate dinner at the water’s edge.  We picked out our own sea bass to have it grilled.  It was spectacular and reasonably priced.

Diakofto is a small town on the sea where you can catch the Odontotos Rack Railway that goes inland to Kalavryta.  The rails are only 0,75 m apart in order to deal with the route topography, making Odontotos the narrowest gauge in the world.  As one could expect the project finished over budget and out of schedule.  There were about 5 years delay in the construction and it was about 3 times the estimated price.  But the result is a majestic trip through the Vouraikos Gorge, following a snow melt river and going through tunnels.

We got up early to catch the first train to Kalavryta.  The ride was beautiful.  In Kalavryta we visited the museum dedicated to a World War 2 massacre which took place in town.  The massacre was carried out by German soldiers to control the Greek Resistance fighters.  The women and children escaped being burned alive, but most of the men above 15 years-old were killed on the 13 of December of 1943 – a total of almost 500.  The museum is in the old school building where the children and woman were locked when the whole town was set on fire. The clock Cathedral perpetually marks 2:34 the exact time that the events took place.   The city and its museum are worthy of a visit.

We got back to Diakofto and took off for Patras so we could catch our ferry to Ancona, Italy.  It turned out that all the rush was for naught since our ferry, which was supposed to sail at 7PM, actually left at 10PM.  It was a long day, and I slept well, “stretched” across three airplane seats on the ferry.

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Our second day with the rental car was a difficult one.  It seems that when you have a great day (such as our first run-about in the rental car or the two-wheel adventure) and you try to repeat it (not verbatim of course) it isn’t as good.  So the day was set to be a let down I suppose and I was already grouchy because I had not slept well after getting some sad family news the evening before.

We started the day by driving from Argos up to Mycenae.  When we arrived and got out of the car, I got irritated because I called T- a number of times to ask if she wanted me to bring the tripod or leave it in the car.  Other tourists nearby were looking at me like I was crazy because T-, who was standing about five feet away from me, apparently could not hear me.

I said let’s meet in an hour and went up to the other entrance and did some therapy shopping in the Mycenae gift shop.  I bought a book about the history of Mycenae.  Agamemnon, a character in Homer’s Iliad, was in real life from Mycenae.  Herakles (Hercules) was the son of a happy couple from there (Amphitryon and Alkmene), though he was born in Thebes.  During my hour off, I also spent some time in the Museum because, once again, it was a blazing hot day.  When we met again we walked around the citadel, which Perseus ordered the Cyclops to build (according to the mythology).

We also visited the site of Tiryns, which was first occupied during the Neolithic period and later hosted a famous Mycenaean palace.

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Since we saw what Argos had to offer in one broiling day we got ourselves a rental car so we could zip around and see more.  We played backgammon in the afternoon while waiting for the rental car to be delivered.  While we sat there with a cappuccino freddo and glasses of water some old men were sitting at a table nearby also killing time.  All of a sudden I heard another old man show up and greet his friends by saying, “Heil Hitler.”  I almost snapped my neck turning around in surprise.  He looked at me and said something I didn’t understand.  Maybe he was just joking around.

That evening after we got the car, we went to Kefalari where we saw a church built into a cave near the hill of Elijah (my biblical namesake).  There was a wedding party gathered at the church so it took us some time to get the courage to go through them and check out the cave.  T- lit a candle.  Nearby, we also saw the ruins of a pyramid and the dirt soccer field next to it.  We went back to town and happily watched Spain win the World Cup for the first time.

The next day we started by driving up to the citadel above Argos.  It was quite novel to get up there so quickly because we had been walking so much that visits like this usually take up half the day.  Instead we were there in ten minutes and not exhausted.  We walked around a bit and wondered why anyone would paint crappy graffiti in such a forgotten location.  Some graffiti can be interesting, but in Greece there seems to be a propensity for spray painting poorly formed letters and numbers on any old construction wherever it might be, even if it is in the middle of an olive grove with no people regularly within a three-mile radius.

So after checking out the castle we moved on to Epidavros and while we drove while Free Falling by Tom Petty played on the radio.  Epidavros is the site of a well-preserved theater and was once a sort of hospital.  By the time we climbed up to the top of the Theater the sun was ridiculously hot and we just wanted to hang out in the shade.  So we sat down to play some backgammon in a shady spot.  All the guidebooks must say that if you can drop a coin in the middle of the stage, people at the top rows can hear it (ours did).  So we heard some coins drop.  We also got a free concert of various members of a visiting family of singers, all of them pretty good.  There are also plenty of ruins to walk around.  By this point in the trip, though, I was getting pretty numb to ancient Greek and/or Roman ruins.

From Epidavros, we drove south to the sea.  The road was beautiful and quite sinuous. We stopped and ate lunch in Vivari on a restaurant terrace right over the water.  I had four fried fish (Golpa) which I liked a lot. T- had fried shrimp.  The shrimp looked good and were large.  But after she peeled off the shells and deveined them, it was a lot less.  After lunch we went to the beach below the restaurant and swam.  The cool water a blessing in the hot sun.

From there we drove on to Nafplio where we watched the sunset while eating a crêpe and drinking more cappuccino freddo.  We discussed our plans for the next few days and weeks.  We started thinking of staying in Greece for longer and making a circuit around the Peloponnese. What a wonderful life …

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Greek Heat

In Argos we found a town that has less tourist development to offer.  A few hotels around the main square, some restaurants, one museum and one archaeological site.  Our first day there we woke up late again.  I told Eli we have been way too lazy; that we should wake up earlier and enjoy more of the day. Two hours later, I was pondering on the sanity of my words. Maybe we should have gotten up earlier, so that by 10-11AM, we could retire to a place with AC and rest up until 4PM. The temperature today was 44C (110F) and I am not sure if it was the historical importance of the sites we were visiting or the heat, but I could see Mythological Creatures and Gods.

I cannot understand how the high season in Greece is from July to August. People must be out of their mind. The country is gorgeous,  full of ancient sites, hiking trails and sandy spots, but the sun is brutal!!!

Still we’ve enjoyed Greece so far despite the heat. The fancy coffees (cappuccino freddo) and ice cream desserts and drinks being a big plus. We talked about staying in Greece just for a couples of days, but after one week I was not ready to leave. So much to see, learn and enjoy.  We decided to get a rental car for a day or two and explore the area around Argos since we had covered the local spots in one broiling afternoon.

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We left Athens by train in the direction of Argos which is in the Peloponnese.  We got off the train in Corinthos just a few kilometers after passing over the dramatic Corinth Canal.  T- had seen some photos of it and was determined to visit the project. Although we got off very close to the canal, getting back to it from the train stop proved to be a big ordeal.  First, we took a city bus into the town of Corinthos – south.  Then we took an intercity bus to Isthmeus – north – which is right at the canal.  All this with our bags on our backs in the burning hot sun as there was nowhere to lock them up.

To see the canal, we walked out over it on a foot bridge that is used by a bungee jumping company. It was worth all the trouble, as the view of it is quite fantastic! It was also reassuring. I (T-) was concerned that the Metro in Salvador would never be completed, but the history of the canal gave me hopes. It can take some time, but now I feel that at some point, somehow, Salvador will get its Metro system in place ;-).

The canal was first proposed in the 6th century BC, ground was broken was in 54 AD and completion 1893. In some places the canal was cut 90 meters from the top of the rock. One can get more information at this link.

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From Isthmeus, we took another bus to get to Argos.

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In our third night in Athens, we went to watch “I Love You Phillip Morris” in the Plaka neighborhood because it was playing at an open air cinema.  We knew nothing about the movie. I have fond memories of my first open air cinema experience.  It was in a colleague’s house in Zurich while I was living and working in Switzerland. It was some years ago now, but I can still remember the screen set  up on the roof top of his apartment. The movie was not as memorable, but as the expectation was high and the performance weak I still remember the title: Artificial Intelligence.

It turned out that I liked “I Love You PM”. Rodrigo Santoro was in it and I like him. I am still waiting for the day when he will draw crowds to theaters abroad. He gets really good roles in Brazilian movies but his foreign endeavors have not been that successful yet, even after some big name movies like: Charlie’s Angles, Love Actually, Redbelt and 300. The fact that the plot of the Phillip Morris movie is based in real events is quite something.

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