Archive | October, 2013

Delphi… Gods, Oracles, Myths and the Pleistos Valley

First, apologies for the hiatus: I left Greece on the 12th, jet lag kept me from doing anything properly on the following Monday and then I left for a Greek wedding in New Jersey on the next Thursday. Yes, that’s right: I left Greece to go to a Greek wedding in the U.S. – and what a wedding it was!

But now, I’ve retuned to Toronto and have had a day of recovery, so I’m ready, willing and raring to take you back with me to Greece and to tell – and show – you about another one of my destinations….

Delphi 

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Delphi was once famously known as the ‘navel of the world’, the centre of the universe (of its time) where, as per the myth, the two eagles released by Zeus met.

One travel guide I read, though, perceptively pointed out that even without this mythical and spiritual import, someone would have been insightful enough to take advantage of Delphi’s incredible location high up on Mount Parnassos, overlooking the Pleistos Valley in some other way.

Many significant figures in Hellenic history made the trip to ask advice of the god Apollo. Today, the site still sees a steady stream of national and international VIPs and I can picture a few asking a question or two themselves. After all, some visitors claim that there continues to be a spiritual ‘something’, an aura perhaps, that continues to be felt. Wouldn’t you ask too, just in case?

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Whatever the truth, and whatever each of us is open to feeling or believing, this location attracts A LOT of people. Best times to visit are definitely first thing in the morning (admission begins at 7:30am according to the Ministry of Culture and Sports website, a great resource for those visiting Greece – http://odysseus.culture.gr/index_en.html) or late in the day just before closing in order to avoid the throng of tourists and tour buses. A tip: if you buy the special ticket package that includes entry to both the archaeological site and the museum, the entrances are completely separate; so, if, like me, you wanted to hang around the dig site for sunset, I would suggest going to the museum first because you can’t return to the site – I learned this the hard way. Check the website for last entry time to the site.

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Outside of the main site, there are two other sets of ruins that can be seen for free: the sanctuary of Athena and the gymnasium where the Pythian games were held (unfortunately closed to visitors during my visit).

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Additionally, for the actively inclined, the original pilgrimage path still exists: from the port town of Kirra (neighbouring Itea), you can trek through the olive groves and hike up Mount Parnassos to reach Delphi. A word of advice from friends who made the 3.5 – 4 hour trek… um, watch out for snakes.

For me, I cannot deny the sense of wonder and awe that I felt as I made my way up the winding roads with the billowy clouds staking much of the territory in the bright blue sky; as I sat before the Pleistos valley sipping coffee and watching the morning light break through and begin to expose the details of the greenery below; and as I stood among the ruins, high above the mountain road watching the flow of vehicles bring people in and take people away from this historic site. If nothing else remains, I would imagine that this would be enough to kindle a little spiritual magic in anyone.

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Goodbye Itea, Hello Athens

Goodbye Itea
Today’s post is going to be a little shorter but, hopefully, just as sweet. I am celebrating my 36th birthday in Athens, Greece and, as such, I’m giving myself a light work load.
This morning, I said goodbye to a grey and wet Itea. Well before my alarm went off at 7am, I awoke to the sound of thunder – so much for getting up early to take photos at sunrise. The weather over the last week has been… crappy, there’s no other way to say it. Several locals have remarked on how unusual it’s been to have such cool temperatures and so many days of grey skies in a row. Just my luck that it’s my last week in Greece.
In the end, I chose to see it as the universe’s way of helping me leave Itea with less sadness because even through the steady rainfall, the outline of the shoreline and the hills was still quite stunning.
I hope to return soon to Itea and its wonderful inhabitants. In the meantime, here are some photos that I hope will illustrate why I’ve become so smitten with this little port town.
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Hello Athens
After what felt like an annoyingly slow drive out of the region – having taken an alternate route that didn’t wind up and around Mt. Parnassos, I discovered where all the cargo, shipping and farm vehicles drove – I actually arrived into Athens in very good time.
That all went to hell when I got very, very lost listening to the GPS on my phone; it seems to have had an old location for the hotel… or else it’s not as sure of the winding, narrow and sometimes, weirdly branching roads of Athens as it claims to be. Following the directions spoken by the maddeningly calm, confident female voice in my phone, I ended up driving right past my hotel, down some ridiculously narrow road, followed by another… and then another and ending up… well, I actually have no idea where I ended up exactly.
Drivers in Athens park their cars on both sides of what, to me, is laughingly called a road, leaving you the thinnest of laneways to squeeze your vehicle through. I will never understand how Greek drivers manage to figure out exactly how much space to leave between parked vehicles to allow another car to make it through without knocking off one or both cars’ side mirrors. Everyone I’ve met has pointed out how big my rental car is ‘for Greece’: it’s an Audi A3, not that big in my mind but neither is it the economy car I originally booked (it was a free “upgrade”). Despite the panic that had set in and the sweat that had begun to leak out, along with a few sailor-ish swear words, I managed to stay calm enough to figure out that I was going in the opposite direction of where I needed to be. Figuring out how to turn around though was a whole other matter: streets here are not laid out in the grid pattern that is so common to North America. After much turning round and round about, a great deal of inching in Athens traffic and perhaps a few broken road rules (No U-turn, you say? Well, I’m following all the other cars who are doing it anyways!) I made it to my hotel without any (noticeable) dents or scratches to the car. My psyche is a whole other issue.
My only tourist stop for the day: the New Acropolis Museum. More on this beautiful building and the collection within it in another post, but for now, some photos of the visit that made my stressful drive so very worth it.
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Small Town Seduction

Itea has seduced me. 

I was a little wary upon first impression… few cars and fewer people, a seemingly deserted promenade, closed shops and scatterings of unfinished and abandoned buildings. I also had the misfortune of arriving on a cloudy, grey Monday (not the most active of days in the first place) during the afternoon siesta.

But I am quick to soften with the right inducements: Mount Parnassos sits solidly and protectively to the north, the Gulf of Corinth lays easy and open to the south, the presence of my two favourite natural features always felt and often both visible with just a simple turn of my body.

Then slowly, patiently, as if aware of its own charms and how they would gradually chip away at my initial misgivings, the town began to win me over: the palm tree fronds that rustle in the breeze; the unhurried pace of life; the quiet and unassuming manner of the inhabitants; the church bells that ring at 8 minutes and 38 minutes after the hour (and that go absolutely crazy on Sunday mornings, I assume, calling people to service); the locals who gather at water-side cafes to talk and watch the sunrise or the sunset, leisurely enjoying their beverage and the view for hours at a time.

My first Saturday here, I was invited to dinner with the family of V, my friend K’s cousin (the house where I’ve been staying belongs to K’s family). During the meal, V’s parents-in-law asked why I had chosen Itea, since it’s not a popular tourist spot.

A big reason is generosity: when I mentioned that friends and I were hoping to meet up in Greece for a holiday (we’re a little spread out geographically), K generously offered to let us stay at her grandmother’s old house in Itea. I’d already determined that I wanted to spend more time in Greece than my friends could manage given their jobs, and again, K and her family readily agreed to let me live in the house. As a restless wanderer, I can never be too thankful to friends and family who open their doors to me and allow me to stay in their homes. It’s a point of comfort, to be sure, but it also allows me to be on the road longer than I could otherwise afford.

At the same time, while I do want to see the major sites and cities of a country, I’m often just as happy to skip many of the venues that are on the ‘must see’ list or, at least, to limit my time there. After all, a list is just one person’s opinion. Some of my most cherished memories and experiences have been had at places quite far down on those lists where people have more time and willingness to interact with genuine reciprocal interest and friendliness and who haven’t been worn down by the oft times ‘hit and run’ nature of tourism.

I also find myself wondering about what experiences I might have in those less visited locales. What the more popular locations make up for in terms of sites and attractions, I think we lose in nuanced experience, growth (through challenge) and observation: the transaction with the fruit market owner via smiles and gestures; the seemingly severe stares that become big broad grins upon a smile and a ‘hello’; the lovely surprise of cheese filling in the pastry I randomly pointed at in the bakery; the realization that what sounds like arguing between generations of a family is the love of true conversation – honest discussion and debate.

I was recently introduced to the term ‘flâneur’, its ‘basic’ definition being an idler; dawdler; loafer1. The book that I was reading, though, used it in its broader sense which began to evolve in the 19th century2: that of a detached observer, one who participates in but remains outside of the scene before him/her and who, in its latest derivation, continues to adapt to and to change goals based on what he/she experiences3 – to my mind, whether in action, in thought, or both. This is what I love about spending more time than is ‘necessary’ in one location: that I can decide from day to day what to see, where to go, what to do or what to try – that I have the option to choose where and in what manner I take the adventure next. With a less well known place, I get more time to watch, learn and absorb the spirit of a place and its people.Do you ever feel like you’ve missed out?

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2 Yes, my source is Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flâneur
3 “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – thanks Mike L!
 

 

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