Italy Greece Aug-Sep 2015

Home/Italy Greece Aug-Sep 2015
Italy Greece Aug-Sep 2015 2017-05-23T09:13:44+10:00

ITALY –

GREECE

21 Aug – 10 Sep 2015


From Munich by train to Venice, then by hire car to Milan, Florence, through the Tuscany countryside to Rome then by plane to Crete, ferry to Santorini, plane to Athens and then back to Edinburgh.

Venice
Milan
Florence
Rome
Crete
Santorini
Athens

VENICE

Friday 21st August 2015

Take the train through the mountains from Munich to Venice via Innsbruck. Good trip just reinforcing the impressions we had of the beautiful country in Southern Germany Austria and Northern Italy.

Reach Venice just after 6pm and fairly quickly find our hotel nearby while trying to ignore the constant offers from numerous hawkers of all manner of services.

Venice in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon. It is a maze of very narrow alleys and somewhat dilapidated buildings. We accept the recommendation of the young lady at reception and find the restaurant for a fairly average meal.

Saturday 22nd August 2015

From the time we got up this morning we have had a smile on our faces. Venice (popn 260,000) seems to do that to everyone. Our hotel host at breakfast was about my age but also personable and genial and he produced a great capaccuino – it set the mood for the day.

What a unique and fantastic city. Situated on a number of islands in a lagoon Venice is, but I will leave it to Wikipedia to sum it up exceptionally well: “Venice, capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, is built on more than 100 small islands in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. Its stone palaces seemingly rise out of the water. There are no cars or roadways, just canals and boats. The Grand Canal snakes through the city, which is filled with innumerable narrow, mazelike alleys and small squares.”

First thing we do is get the 2-day transport pass at 30 Euro each, this seems to us the best way to travel. It covers every form of transport except private gondolas and walking on water. Boats of every conceivable description are everywhere and they are all piloted with incredible expertise and finesse. There are no trains or buses or cars. An ambulance whizzes by at one point its siren incredibly noisy. It must be unloading its stricken occupant at some seaside or canal side hospital.

We catch the water taxi to the port at St Mark’s Square. Lilly snaps away. The Bridge of Sighs in the distance is another Venice icon. It was a bridge between the court and the prison and the last opportunity for a prisoner to see the beautiful city of Venice before imprisonment.

The queus to view the basilica and bell tower stretch for ever. The usual crowds are boosted by the presence in town of a cruise ship. We are about to head off elsewhere when we are confronted by a bronzed, well-spoken, middle-aged Italian gentleman with an official looking badge who declares a number of times he is representing the city and promoting free trips to Murano to see the glass blowing. We accept and he leads us to the pier where one of the many motor boats milling about sidles up and off we go. We are privileged, just the two of us on one motor boat. After about twenty minutes we arrive at one particular glass blowing company on Murano. Lilly later reckons that money passes surreptitously to our boat captain when we are unloaded.

We are ushered into the building that houses the furnace. We watch the demo where the glass blower makes a cat and then a mouse. He is the true professional and it is nicely done. An elderly gentleman who is also mayor of Burano keeps up a running commentary on everything but glass blowing. There is an open dish displaying many 5 and 10 Euro notes as if we are all expected to contribute. Nobody in the group that we join, contributes. Perhaps the little cat and mouse game is just too obvious for them too.  It is a polished, well-orchestrated presentation and the showroom exhibits are really beautiful if not mind-blowingly expensive. We fancy buying a striking but relatively small decanter as a belated gift for a wine connoisseur friend of ours but at 1700 Euro it is way too pricey.

We are taken off the island on another small boat and have to go back to a Venice port before going on to Burano. It is a hot day and spending time on the water even inside the ferries is very pleasant providing we can find seats, not always possible. There are tourists everywhere. Burano is well-worth a visit. This densely populated town of about 3000 is an archipelago of four islands linked by bridges. It is not a place for glamorous buildings but for small, brightly painted houses. The colours of the houses follow a specific system originating from the golden age of its development; if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot. We take pics of the Church of San Martino, with its leaning bell tower.

On the way back we get off at the Rialto Bridge and explore the area. It is a bustling market area with a maze of small alleys. The map is almost impossible to follow and it is easy to get lost. The Rialto stone bridge itself is one of the architectural icons of Venice. It was completed in 1591 and is similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico, the covered ramps carry rows of shops. The weight of shops and human traffic on the bridge must be incredible but thus far it has borne it all. Later after a rest we go back to this area and happen upon a supermarket. That helps solve our desire for a quiet evening back in the hotel with salad and ham and a couple of welcome cold beers.

Sunday 23rd August 2015

The traditional founding of Venice is identified with the dedication of the first church – that of San Giacomo at the islet of Rialto, said to have taken place at the stroke of noon on 25 March 421. Later the city became a flourishing trade center between Western Europe and the rest of the world with a naval power protecting sea routes from Islamic piracy. By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. Its long decline started in the 15th century, when it first made an unsuccessful attempt to hold Thessalonica against the Ottomans. It also sent ships to help defend Constantinople against the besieging Turks. After Constantinople fell a thirty year war cost Venice much of its eastern Mediterranean possessions. Venice’s land route monopoly was lost and its oared galleys were at a disadvantage when it came to traversing the oceans. It was left behind in the race for colonies. Fast forward a few hundred years and we note that at the end of the Second World War it was New Zealand troops who first reached Venice to relieve the city and the mainland. Sorry to mention the war again.

The first thing we notice from the ferry today is that in many old houses, the former ground floor has been overtaken by the sea and the houses are now abandoned. I read that the city is threatened by more frequent low-level floods that creep to a height of several centimetres over its quays, regularly following certain tides.  The city was subsiding, if sea levels rise it could spell disaster for the city.

We queue to see St Mark’s basilica today and are rather surprised when we enter that we are first directed up a steep and narrow staircase. Rather strange to be ascending a staircase like this into a church I say to Lilly. It is slow going as there is downhill traffic as well. Half way to heaven there is a little man sitting behind a window with a sign up saying Euro 5 for entry. Hello. Why is there not a sign up below showing the entrance fee and what you get for it? It gets up my nose a bit to pay an entry fee to enter a church, even more so when that entrance fee is not declared up front. Having come this far and taken this long, Lilly persuades me to cough up and shut up but I do ask him “what will we see for the money”? He responds the museum and the church. Well that turned out to be half right – there is a small museum of sorts with some bronze horses and various bits of stone that have presumably fallen off the church from time to time. The church itself is closed – we can see parts of the roof but not into the church itself. Perhaps there is another entrance and another charge. I do not begrudge a tourist attraction charging a fee. I do not expect to see a product disclosure statement at the entrance but do expect some up-front honesty, particularly in a house of God. Suffice to say we don’t join the queue to see the bell tower.

During the day we wander through various areas of the city. We have a very accurate map that is fairly easy to follow. There are many churches and other old buildings, too numerous to keep a record of. Lilly faithfully records our way, particularly after acquiring an iPhone selfie stick. (Later I have a good giggle when I notice she is also using it in place of the traditional sword in her Tai Chi routines.) There are canals and bridges and alleys and boats and gondolas everywhere. We resist the temptation of taking a gondola ride. Mostly families are in to it and it is obviously enjoyed by the kids. Later we find the fee is 100 Euro which is about double what we would be prepared to pay.

Venice is still and certainly has been a magnificent city and is still one of the most fascinating places to wander around. Our admiration for it is tinged a little by its decline and obvious decay. Some areas almost seem abandoned and everywhere there are indications of rising damp and dilapidation. Can Venice be saved from rising sea levels and could it at least be preserved at its current level? (Questions that have undoubtedly been agonized over by very capable minds for possibly many decades.) Probably not without a methodical Netherlands-type approach and a huge injection of funds.

MILAN

Monday 24th August 2015

It is raining as we pull all our cases along in front of the railway station and over the bridge to Europcar. It is a struggle but we make it and then wait half an hour to get our tiny VW Polo. Thought I booked something a bit bigger. It is an automatic and underpowered and it takes a bit of adjustment after driving a manual and very peppy Audi A1 for a month.

Out on the roads we are suddenly confronted with toll gates and are not prepared for the eventuality. We don’t know what to do but the voice lets us through so we head off for Sirmione on Lake Garda. About 90 minutes later we of course don’t have a ticket at the unmanned exit booth, our joint Italian is one word and they pump out a strip of paper with the maximum payable of 64.8 Euro, a bit steep. Various ways of paying it and silly us we see a post office in Sirmione and pay it immediately, thinking better to do so when we have the chance. Tourism Info at Sirmione says a lot of people have the same problem and advises not paying but proving we had just picked the car up and only came from Venice. Worries Lilly all day and what worries Lilly, inevitably worries me.

Sirmione and Lake Garda is a pleasant area but we head off after taking photos for Milan.

We have lunch nearby while waiting to book into our apartment then take off via Tram 14 for the city. The Apartment has run out of maps so we are travelling blind. Milan Cathedral is a massive Gothic cathedral in the middle of the city which took six centuries to complete (starting in 1385). It is the 5th-largest church in the world and the second largest in Italy after Vatican City. The entrance fee is only 2 Euro each and for that you get to wander around and take photos of the interior of the cathedral and see the extensive exhibits in the nearby cathedral museum. Stark contrast with St Mark’s in Venice.

Later in the afternoon we go window shopping in the adjacent up-market mall and try to find a map so that we can find our way home. Not much attention is paid to the obvious fashion brands and expensive jewellery, our preoccupation is to find how to get back to the apartment and locate an ATM.  We catch the 14 tram in the right direction, get off at Chinatown for some supplies, get back on the tram in the right direction but miss our stop and overshoot by about six stops. A very kind young man at the nearby Best Western helps out after we log in to Booking.com and establish the exact address, via General Govone but does it not have a Giuseppe in it? Anyway we re-trace and finally get home about 8:30 for delicious dumplings about 10pm.

FLORENCE

Tuesday 25th August 2015

We get underway about 9:30 for Genoa. We are very careful to pick the right lane for the tollways today. About midday we get into the city and park our car at the City Park, fairly handy to the square and the old part pf the city.  We wander around looking for the Tourist Centre and toilets. We find a private tourist place who give us a map but indicate there are no toilets. Strikes me a city without public toilets is a bit primitive but Genoa is otherwise OK, even fascinating.

Later we head off for Portofino taking the coastal route. It is narrow and winding and for a while we don’t see much of the sea. Then it climbs, the homes improve and so does the view. Somewhat like the French Riviera. We can see the beaches below but there are no ideal places to stop and take photos. We eventually find a narrow place overlooking Margherita and stop for lunch in the car. On the valley sides are olive orchards and down below a cruise ship is parked offshore from the town. It is a beautiful scene. It has taken a while to get this far and I decide to shelve Portofino and press on to Pisa.

At Pisa we stop only for half an hour for photos of the tower. The complex comprises a cathedral, and the tower. There are a huge number of people about many of them holding their arms up for photos. The lean is quite alarming, there must be enormous pressure to fall over yet somehow it stays upright. Some foolhardy folk have climbed to the top even venturing to the side leaning over the void. One day a particularly large person may be the last straw. Hope they make their peace first in the nearby church.

We make Florence without any incidents but that’s when our troubles start. It is about 7:30 pm and I have entered to the GPS by mistake just Florence so we go to the centre of the city. The next choice from the GPS was also wrong and then when we get the address right in the GPS, we have a lot of trouble finding the apartment in a maze of narrow and sometimes one-way alleys. Then we have an argument with the hosts over room rate. Strangely they say we have booked only for one person. Don’t understand how that came about and Booking.com can’t explain it either. I thought when I searched for accommodation that it always defaulted to 2 persons. Hiccup this time. It is 9:30pm by the time we get settled and we are both too tired to go out to eat. Typically Lilly has enough of a snack to get us by.

Wednesday 26th August 2015

First stop today is the Piazza del Signoria to see the Palazzo Vechio, The Palazzo Vecchio or old palace is the town hall of the city. This massive, Romanesque, crenellated fortress-palace is pretty impressive for a town hall. We go into the courtyard of the place. Overlooking the square with its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy, and it host cultural points and museums. impressive 14th-century Palazzo Vecchio is still preeminent with its crenellated tower.

Michelangelo’s David  a copy of David.[3] The original by Michelangelo is being kept at the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts.

and The Loggia del Lanzi. The Loggia dei Lanzi consists of wide arches open to the street, three bays wide and one bay deep. The arches rest on clustered pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The wide arches appealed so much to the Florentines, that Michelangelo even proposed that they should be continued all around the Piazza della Signoria

Then on to heart of Florence to see the Bapistery of St John, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Bell Tower. The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style.

Piazza San Lorenzo for the Basilica di San Lorenzo and Cappelle Medicee

Leather markets

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella and the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Back along both sides of the River Arno

Lunch

Granary

Stone Bridge

Palace

Gardens

ROME

Thursday 27th August 2015

After recovering our car from the parking garage and having an Americano breakfast we do our best to avoid the motorways. Our GPS insists at one point but after five minutes on a motorway, we put it in its place and generally follow the SR222 route to Siena. This is great rolling Tuscany countryside with forests and olives and grapes. Are we following an ancient road into Rome? Perhaps so depending on how far back the phrase was coined that all roads lead to Rome. We go through Ferrone, Greti, Greve, Montefioralle (home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa apparently, I knocked at the door but was ignored) Panzano, Castellina, Croce Fiorentino, Fonterutoli and Quercegrossa stopping frequently for photos of the countryside. Took us about three hours, we could have spent a day or so in this area.

At Siena we are also in a rush. We park the car in a square which we think is handy to Piazza del Campo (the principal public space of the historic center of Siena, regarded as one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares) but find it is half an hours walk away down through the old town. We thought an hours parking would do it but after taking photos had to rush back to head off any conscientious Italian parking inspectors. Lilly buys some tasty pizzas on the way back and we have lunch in the car in a cool spot.

We take the motorway from Siena to Rome. Wish we could do otherwise and see the countryside but we have to get the car back into Europcar by 7pm. We travel into the city without any hassle and unload our suitcases at the apartment so that Lilly and luggage can wait for our apartment host.

I go to seek petrol and book the car back in. Finding petrol is a nightmare. The first two self-service depots are closed and the third looks disused and anyway I can’t find how to operate it. In desperation I stop at Europcar at the Railway Station and ask them. They point me to a self-service on the other side of the station. There is an Indian gentleman there who takes the money, no credit cards or change is possible. I give him 50 Euro which is the only money I have and luckily it seems enough for the tank to register full. Fortunately Europcar has directed me to another address for depositing the car back. There is always something amiss with Europcar drop-off addresses and we have also had trouble locating their offices. Why can’t they be clear about both? After being grossly overcharged last time because we did not have the tank absolutely full and given the rigmarole in finding today’s drop-off, I resolve this is the last time I will use the company.

Friday 28th August 2015

After the stop-start and problem-ridden day yesterday, all goes smoothly today. Perhaps God is watching over us on our visit to the Vatican. We book tickets on-line for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel and after a phone call the tickets are validated 20 minutes later.

We take the train from Cavour to Termini B and thence to Ottaviano. We have tickets so we avoid the queue and go straight into the Vatican Museums.  There appear to be about 15 museums and there are numerous other halls, galleries and rooms. It is impossible (for us anyway) to get any more than passing impressions of the collection of all manner of art going back to the beginnings of civilization. The sculptures are amazing. These art museums receive more visitors than all but four others in the world (the Louvre being number one followed by the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY and National Gallery in London).

I read there are 54 galleries in total with the Sistine Chapel being the very last room within the Museum. The collections started in 1506 with the purchase by the pope at the time of the statue of Laocoön and His Sons. The collections are all well described and the auto guide is a worthwhile supplement. The little map showing the various museums is, however, not easy to follow. Many people around us were bewildered by the map and the sequence of galleries.

Ironically the map gallery, about 120 metres long, is much easier to follow. It was the creation of Pope Gregory XIII, who we know today for devising the Gregorian Calendar which we use today. His vision was that the entire world be under the writ and control of a Catholic Church bossed from Rome, and the map gallery started in 1578 was a bold attempt to map this dominion.

The Sistine Chapel is crowded and the guards have trouble keeping the noise down and controlling people who want to take photos and sit around on the steps. We listen to the guide. Today this chapel is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel, which was restored between 1477 and 1480 lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, painted between 1535 and 1541. The image on the ceiling of the chapel of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become an icon and has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies.

The Vatican City with an area of approximately 44 hectares and a population of 842 is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population. Besides the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums, the city features gardens, St Peters Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. We take many photos of the square and queue for about half an hour to see St Peter’s Basilica.

According to Wikipedia by catholic tradition, the Basilica is the burial site of its namesake St. Peter, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ and, also according to tradition, the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. The pope is regarded as Peter’s successor as Bishop of Rome. Tradition and strong historical evidence hold that St. Peter’s tomb is directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

Although not as impressive from the outside as some of the cathedrals we have seen it is colossal inside and ranks as equal first in the world in terms of volume. It is absolutely awesome wherever you look, not just in its dimensions but as a work of architecture and in its lavish decorations with marble, reliefs, and sculptures. It is justifiably regarded by many as the greatest building of its age.

St Peter’s Square is the plaza located directly in front of the Basilica. The measurements of the square are impressive: it is 320 m deep, its diameter is 240 m and it is surrounded by 284 columns, set out in rows of four, and 88 pilasters. On special occasions such as the election of a new pope or on Easter, almost 400,000 people fill the expansive square.

Saturday 29th August 2015

 

First stop a couple of hundred metres away is the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, a Roman Catholic church, best known for being the home of Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. First rebuilt on older foundations in 432–440 to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem this church underwent major rebuilding from 1471 to 1503.

Past the university and Parco Tralano a rather unkempt park is the Domus Aurea. This site features the remains of a large landscaped villa built by the Emperor Nero. He built after the great fire in AD 64 had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine Hill.

Down the road is the Colosseum, a massive structure that we pay 24 Euro + guide to enter. Built of concrete and stone, this the largest Amphitheatre ever built. It is considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering. It is impressive particularly given it opened for business in AD80 and has therefore lasted almost two millennia. It could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions and re-enactments of famous battles. The Colosseum is generally regarded by Christians as a site of the martyrdom of large numbers of saints but that is disputed by some scholars. Most of the action in the stadium ceased about 600 AD and for the next 1000 years not much happened except parts were looted and others bits used to build other structures around the city. Today it is a major tourist attraction in Rome.

Across the road from the Colosseum is the Arch of Titus a 1st-century honorific arch. This arch was constructed in c. 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus. It commemorated Titus’ victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Many triumphal arches erected since – perhaps most famously the 1806 Arc de Triomphe in Paris – used it as a model.

We climb the Palatine Hill nearby where Rome had its origins. Indeed, recent excavations show that people have lived there since approximately 1000 BC. This is where many affluent Romans of the Republican period had their residences. The ruins of the palaces of Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian, all before 100 AD can still be seen. Augustus also built a temple to Apollo here, beside his own palace.

We descend into the Roman Forum, a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of ancient Rome. This was for centuries the center of Roman public life. It saw triumphal processions, elections, public speeches, criminal trials and gladiatorial matches. It was the nucleus of commercial affairs. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million sightseers yearly. In this area surviving parts of buildings include, Tabularium, Gemonian stairs, Temple of Saturn, Temple of Vespasian and Titus, Arch of Septimius Severus, Curia Julia, Rostra, Basilica Aemilia, Forum Main Square, Basilica Iulia, Temple of Caesar, Regia, Temple of Castor and Pollux and Temple of Vesta.

Across the Viale di Fori Imperiali road from the Roman Forum are more ruins of indeterminate origin.  The remains of the Basilica Ulpia are there just before Trajan’s Column. Completed in AD 113, this freestanding column is 35 metres high and is famous for describing the epic wars between the Romans and Dacians. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 steps provides access to a viewing platform at the top. We don’t go up!

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At the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II is an imposing structure located in the Piazza Venezia. It was inaugurated in 1911 to yield homage to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy after its unification. This colossal monument is 135 meters wide and 70 meters high. It is comprised of scores of majestic columns and endless stairs, all carved in white marble. The monument was strongly criticised at its construction, since it was necessary to knock down other so-called valuable buildings to make sufficient space. Some Italian citizens did not agree with the idea of having such an eye-catching structure next to the other classical buildings.

After seeing all the ruins of ancient Rome the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II is a refreshing sight. Many of the former emperors of Rome rebuilt, remodeled and renovated. The municipality should take up the challenge again. It is a great pity that so much of the ancient city with such historical significance now just lies an unsightly and deteriorating ruin. By all means keep a reminder of former glories – perhaps the Colosseum and Palatine Hill – but why not reconstruct and revitalise the huge area of the Roman Forum and also the area across the Viale di Fori Imperiali road?

Further around the square is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven which is located on the highest summit of the Campidoglio. It is still the designated Church of the city council of Rome.

On the opposite side of Piazza Venezia which is the central hub of Rome is the Palazzo di Venezia, formerly Palace of St. Mark. The original structure of this great architectural complex consisted of a modest medieval house intended as the residence of the cardinals appointed to the church of San Marco. In 1469 it became a residential papal palace, having undergone a massive extension. It currently houses the National Museum of the Palazzo Venezia. Quite ordinary by comparison with the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II.

We make our way towards the Pantheon stopping first at the Santa Maria sopra Minerva one of the major churches of the Dominicans. They began building the present Gothic church in 1280, finally completed in 1453.

Our next stop is the Pantheon, a bit disappointing from the outside, given its fame. The granite columns are a dirty grey colour but I have to remember it is still functional almost two thousand years after it was built. The Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The building was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, used as a church. There is a service on when we arrive, but after a wait of about 30 minutes we are allowed in. It is an impressive structure inside. The crowd is noisy despite several warnings of Silenco in several languages.

We stop at the Church of St. Louis of the French which is the national church in Rome of France. It was built between 1518 and 1589 and is quite ornate and beautiful inside.

At the Piazza Navona we stop to admire some important sculptural and architectural creations, the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers (constructed in 1651), the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone (a 17th-century Baroque church), and the Pamphili palace (built about 1650).

We make our way home at about 7:30pm by bus to the Colosseum and a bit of a walk uphill to our apartment. It has been long hot day, we have walked a long way today and we are tired.

Sunday 30th August 2015

We catch the train to Termini to get organized for our early start tomorrow. Just as well we do, the directions within the Metro and in the main station are incomprehensible. This is as bad if not worse than Paris. There are a lot of bewildered people milling about, including Italians. We follow the signs for the train to the airport and walk at least 200 metres in the wrong direction before having to double back. Can we find how to buy tickets? The guy on the main counter is abrupt and dismissive. We eventually find a ticket booth on the platform and buy them immediately instead of taking a chance tomorrow.

We go back into the Metro for the train to Republica and photos of the Piazza della Republica and surrounding buildings. At one end is the Planetario an ancient looking building and on the adjacent side is the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs. This basilica is more than 90 meters long, and 28 meters high. Does not look much from the outside but is massive and impressive inside.

In the middle of the piazza is the Fontana delle Naiadi. There are two quite grand buildings on the opposite side of the square but I was not able to establish their pedigree.

Moving right along we then stop at Barberini. At the centre of that piazza is the Fontana del Tritone. Another fountain is in the nearby Via Vittorio Veneto. Further along is

the Trevi Fountains. These were the largest Baroque fountains in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Problem is they are currently undergoing renovation and there is just a puddle of water left. This fountain was finished in 1762 and officially opened and inaugurated by Pope Clemens XIII.  It remains one of the most historical cultural landmarks in Rome and has appeared in several films.

On the way back we take snaps of the Quirinal Palace one of the three current official residences of the President of the Italian Republic. Built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a papal summer residence, it is located on the Quirinal Hill, the highest of the seven hills of Rome. It has housed thirty Popes, four Kings of Italy and twelve presidents of the Italian Republic. The palace extends for an area of 110,500 square metres and is the 9th largest palace in the world in terms of area.

Nearby is the Saints Vincent and Anastasius at Trevi, a Baroque church built from 1646 to 1650. Located in close proximity to the Trevi Fountain and the Quirinal Palace, for which it served as parish church, it is notable as the place where the embalmed hearts of 25 popes are preserved.

On the way back to our apartment, while searching for an ATM that has Euro, we come across the The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome.  The present church was built under Pope Sixtus III (432–440) and retains the core of its original structure, despite several additional construction projects and damage by the earthquake of 1348. Pope Francis began his first full day as pontiff with a visit to the basilica on 14 March 2013.

Later we take the train metro to Spagna to the Piazza di Spagna and photograph this stairway of 135 steps which was built in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations but there are crowds of people sitting on them, many of them eating. Not absolutely sure why so much is made of this stairway, I must be missing something.

Lilly takes snaps of the area, which is very pleasant.

We walk through to the Piazza Augusto Imperatore where we find the Mausoleum of Augustus a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC. The grounds cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks, and nestle between the church of San Carlo al Corso and the Museum of the Ara Pacis. The interior of the mausoleum is no longer open to tourists, as looting, time, and neglect have stripped the ruins of marbled elegance.

Lilly has lost her hat somewhere today. Pointless reminding her of her promise to eat her hat if she loses anything on this trip. We stop frequently as she tries on countless hats but for some reason they are all too small. I can’t resist making some salient points about the size of her head.

We cross the Tiber at the Ponte Cavour and walk along the river side to the Piazza dei Tribunali.  Here is the Palace of Justice, the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Judicial Public Library. This massive building is popularly called in Italian the Palazzaccio (the bad Palace). The palace was finished in 1911, twenty-two years after construction began and the whole process was tainted by corruption. Next along is the Tribunale di Sorveglianza another huge structure.

Going back almost 2000 years and adjacent is the Mausoleum of Hadrian, usually known as Castle of the Holy Angel. This is a towering cylindrical building initially commissioned by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. Hadrian also built the Pons Aelius (St. Angelo Bridge) facing straight onto the mausoleum. The Ponte Sant’ Angelo still provides a scenic approach from the center of Rome and the right bank of the Tiber. It is renowned for the Baroque additions of statues of angels holding aloft elements of the Passion of Christ. (There is an even older bridge built in 142 BC, the Pons Aemilius, later named Ponte Rotto – broken bridge-. It is the oldest Roman stone bridge in Rome.)

We can’t find a bus to our next stop and as it is getting late we walk about a kilometre to the nearest metro and get home about 8;30pm.

CRETE

Monday 31st August 2015

We are up early, after Lilly last night and this morning re-packs all our luggage because of luggage requirements on our Vueling flight from Rome to Heraklion in Crete. My beloved is the ideal travelling companion, always exuberant, always prepared to ask and get clarification from official and wayside sources (I prefer trying to work it out and asking is last resort) and when it comes to the background logistics of keeping our clothes and ourselves clean, tidy and fed she is just outstanding. Always efficient and totally dedicated to the cause, invariably making light of the inevitable hardships and little adversities we have faced on our trip.

And so ends our 10 days in Italy. Venice was unique and fascinating, Milan a little up-market, Florence arty, the Tuscany countryside picturesque and Rome in so many ways a reminder of glories long gone. In many parts of Italy, particularly Rome we have seen lasting evidence of the incredible skills of engineers, craftsmen, artisans, stone masons, bridge builders, fountain designers, aqueduct creators, and road makers. We have been inside so many special cathedrals, not as grand from the outside as the French cathedrals, but always special in one way or another inside. At the risk of generalizing, Italy, however, appears to us to be in decline. The country is not third world but everywhere you look there are signs of dilapidation and deterioration. Much of it is untidy and unkempt. Once Italy was the greatest empire ever, today it needs a lick of paint, a good clean-up and revitalization.

We spend plenty of time in queus after travelling smoothly and quickly from our station at Cavour to Termini and catching the Leonardo Express to Fucimnio Airport at 6:05am.  Our dummy run yesterday made all the difference. From then on it was all queues until we arrived in Heraklion Airport in Crete at about midday.

Mostly this afternoon we rest and catch up on work, emails and diary. That’s the plan for most of our stay in Greece. We need a holiday! My dear diary is also overdue for a rest.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

After a leisurely breakfast we visit the Historical Museum just a block away from our hotel. This island of Crete, the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, has quite a history and we apply ourselves a bit to getting a grip of the key events.

From about 2700 to 1420 BC Crete was the center of the Minoan civilization regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe. In 1420 BC, the Minoan civilization was overrun by the Mycenean civilization from mainland Greece. Crete was conquered by Rome in 69 BC and after about 300 AD remained part of Eastern Roman rule (the first Byzantine period) until 820 when it was captured by the Arabs of Spain. It was only regained by the Byzantines in 961. After the fourth crusade, Crete was given to leading Crusader Boniface of Montferrat who sold it to Venice. Venetian rule lasted from 1212 until 1669 when it was captured by the Ottomans. Following many revolts over the next 230 odd years, Crete was finally made a part of Greece in 1913. That’s it very roughly in a nutshell.

The museum is small but well-laid out and with English text descriptions. Very interesting and well worth the Euro 5 entrance fee. Besides many interesting exhibits it details the occupation by the Germans during World War II and events prior to, during and following that.

We walk along the seafront to see the Venetian Fort Koules which overlooks the harbour and was built by the Venetians in 1211. The construction of Koules anticipated the construction of new walls, as the protection of the harbour was much more urgent. It collapsed by the strong earthquake of 1303 and was rebuilt during the years 1523-1540. During the Ottoman domination the fort was used as a prison and many Cretan heroes of the revolts against Ottomans lost their lives in the dungeons.

We return to the centre of the town along Avgoustou Street visiting the Catholic Church and then the Church of St Titus. Saint Titus a Greek, was a disciple of the Apostle Paul and the first Bishop of Crete. The church was originally erected probably about a thousand years ago but was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1856 and rebuilt in its present form as an Ottoman mosque. The minaret of Saint Titus was demolished in the 1920s, when the last Muslims left Heraklion and other modifications were carried out in 1925.

In the centre of Heraklion Town, on the square of Saint Titus and along 25th August street, we find the Venetian Loggia, a typical construction in 1620 of the Venetian rule. This still functions as the town hall today.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

We hire a rental and take off about 9am along the northern side of the island, stopping first at Rethimno and later for lunch, beachside at Chania. Very civilized. Would be a great place to have a flat, airport handy, beautiful beach, weather hot today but I imagine balmy the year-round. The island otherwise is rocky, dry and barren, almost desert. There are “oasis” of green along the coast and the towns are quite picturesque. So many beaches and umbrellas and people. On the way back we stop for a swim, our first while on holiday. The water was cool but not cold and very refreshing. Travelled further than I thought today and got back about 6:30pm. Holiday time!

SANTORINI

Thursday 3 September 2015

Spare more than a passing thought for the twins today, my dear sister passed away more than 4 years ago and brother 67 today. Hope he is surviving, given his limited fare of a “dried biscuit every 2nd day”.

Ferry from Heraklion to Port Fira in Santorini. We are now in The Cyclades which are a Greek island group in the Aegean Sea, southeast of mainland Greece and a former administrative prefecture of Greece. They are one of the island groups which constitute the Aegean archipelago. The name refers to the islands around the sacred island of Delos. The Cyclades comprise about 220 islands, most of them though are uninhabited.

We miss the first shuttle bus to Fira and in talking to an American couple from Michigan while waiting for the next bus we decide to share a cab. The driver knew where they were staying but not where our apartment was. After dropping them off we finally decide to go to the centre of the town – it is not such a small place after all.  The roads are bad and the traffic close to chaotic but by now we are getting used to it. Lilly says it reminds her of China in some ways. It is a bit third world. The apartment has no address but luckily I see a small sign up as we go along and find it. Later we discover it is also wrongly placed on a Goggle map so how anyone finds them without driving around beats me.

In the afternoon we take the 20 minute walk to the bus depot and catch a bus to Kamari Beach. It is distinctive in that the pebbles are black – there is not really any sand, at least not along the beach. As I swim out a bit, I can see the sand further out. Water a bit colder here than at Crete but also very clean. Later we catch the bus back and walk through the town. There are tourists everywhere. The bus both ways was full of them.

The barren terrain of Santorini and the somewhat untidy and dry appearance remind us of what we have seen in pictures of the Middle East but the whitewashed homes certainly have a Grecian flavor and in many cases are quite grand. Grapes and olives abound but the grapes are left to grow on the ground which is stony so perhaps that’s the reason.

Santorini population of about 16,000 was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century B.C.E.  The eruption created a giant central, rectangular lagoon, which measures about 12 by 7 km and which is surrounded by 300 m high, steep cliffs on three sides. It is one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, The eruption shaped Santorini’s rugged landscape with the houses of its 2 principal towns, Fira and Oia, built on cliffs high above the underwater caldera or crater. The eruption also left volcanic ash deposits hundreds of metres deep and may have led indirectly to the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 110 km to the south, through a gigantic tsunami.

Friday 4 September 2015

Our apartment is spacious and overlooks the eastern side of the island. We have an uninterrupted view of the sea in that direction and the homes dotted all over the wide gently slope to the east. We have a swimming pool that looked from the adverts to be quite massive but in fact is little more than an eggcup.

Today we take off to Perissa and the beach there at about 10:30am. It is quite a bus ride to the opposite side of the island and further south. The beach is again black with a bit more red in it and the pebbles are much smaller (almost sand) and much easier to walk on. The water is a bit colder and a wee bit rougher. Lilly does not feel comfortable with it and after a short while gets out. I swim in and out and up and down and round in circles and thoroughly enjoy myself. We bask in the sun at the water’s edge, drying out and getting drenched intermittently. It is as close to bliss as you can get, or I can anyway. Lilly says she would be just as happy at home working on the planned renovations.

We catch the bus back after a couple of hours then argue about where we are going to have lunch. Lilly has suggested we eat out before we go back to the apartment for a rest. Usually I choose and just as often get the blame for the food being too expensive or not good enough or whatever. Today I insist she chooses the restaurant. Eventually after a lot of toing and froing she does. We don’t order big meals and the bill is only 22 Euro.

Later in the day after a rest at the apartment and with the cold war over we catch a bus to watch the sunset at Oia.

Saturday 5 September 2015

Bus to the Akrotiri station and by a small overloaded ferry to the Red Beach, White Beach and Black Beach then back to the White Beach then to the Red Beach then back to Akrotiri.  Get the gist? Eventually walk back to the Red Beach for a swim. The sand or small pebbles is soft but there is an uncomfortable three or four metres of rocks and stones that have to be crossed before you can find comfortable footing again in the sand. The water is murky but further out where I am swimming it is clear.

Nearby at Akrotiri we visit the archaeological ruins of this Minoan town prior to the volcanic eruption.  This settlement was destroyed in the eruption about 1627 BC and buried in volcanic ash, which preserved the remains of fine Frescoes and many objects and artworks. The site has been excavated since 1967 but is no longer being researched apparently.

The earliest evidence for human habitation of Akrotiri can be traced back to the fifth millennium B.C., when it was a small fishing and farming village. By the end of the third millennium, the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri’s strategic position on the primary sailing route between Cyprus and Minoan Crete made it an important point for the copper trade, thus allowing the town to become an important center for processing copper, as proven by the discovery of molds and crucibles.

Akrotiri’s prosperity continued for about another 500 years; paved streets, an extensive drainage and sewerage system, the production of high quality pottery, and further craft specialization all point to a remarkable level of sophistication achieved by the settlement. This all came to an end, however, in the late 17th century B.C. with the volcanic eruption of Thera. It’s astonishing to see buildings in Europe that go back 1000 years, then in Rome that date back 2000 years, but today we see structures that are 4000 years old and possibly more. Soil, wheat and water were the ingredients in the mortar that bound the walls together but at the corners heavy stone blocks were used. Beyond belief that we can see almost erect buildings that may be 4000 years old, covered by ash and rubble metres deep from a volcanic eruption 3600 years ago.

Later follows a long discussion about China and the famine and Mao and the ideological differences between China and the Soviet Union that led to the split.  Estimates of death by famine range from 30 to up to 70 million. Lilly was there and lived through it, some in her wider family died. China under Mao could not take the loss of face that having to admit to famine entailed and there was a massive cover-up. Many now hold Mao directly responsible for these deaths and for millions of others by Red Guards etc etc. Some rank him as a monster above Stalin and even Hitler. The lower class and uneducated Chinese still have no perspective, they have been brainwashed by the communist regime for fifty or more years and know little else. It will be generations, if ever, before the Chinese really come to terms with their recent history. The better off and the educated are more aware and have been moving out for a long time and will continue to do so. Anything is better than being disenfranchised, voiceless and subject to the authoritarianism of a police state.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Last day here today and we decide to walk south along the cliff top starting at Firostefani and then descend via the sig zag staircase to the bay below. It entails taking the donkey trail and getting use to the smell of the droppings and choosing your way carefully. We walk downhill and end up at the bottom sweating profusely. It is very hot. There are 2 cruise ships in and the passengers are being ferried to and fro and mainly taking the cable car up to the town.

We take a few photos. Not really much point in coming down here apart I suppose from the challenge. I had thought I might walk back up but Lilly and I decide to take a donkey back up the trail. They are sure-footed and reasonably well-trained, point them in the right direction, hold on and off they go. At one point one of the donkeys tries to get in front of mine and for about 20 metres they take off, including Lilly’s beast. But sanity prevails and they get back to their steady walk. The guide of the 4 mules in our group rides along behind. Does not do much except yell at them (or perhaps us) occasionally, but he does help us all dismount when we get to the top. Part way up some guy has taken photos of us and transmitted them to a woman at the top who confronts us for 4 Euro each, Lilly negotiates down to three each!

Today is hot and by the time we get back, have a cold shower, do a bit of work, have a snooze, there is not a lot of motivation to go out again.

I try to summarize Greek history a bit mainly extracting from Wikipedia (key stuff only and a gross over-simplification):

One of the earliest civilizations to appear around Greece was the Minoan civilization in Crete, which lasted from about 2700 BC to 1450 BC. Then the Mycenaean Greeks invaded Crete and adopted much of the Minoan culture they found on Crete. Mycenaean Greece refers to the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece (c. 1600–1100 BC). It represents the first advanced civilization in mainland Greece, with its palatial states, urban organization, works of art and writing system. Around 1100 BC the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Numerous cities were sacked and the region entered what historians see as a dark age.

(As an aside Ancient Greece was an ancient civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity (ca. 600 AD). In common usage it refers to all Greek history before the Roman Empire, but historians use the term more precisely. Some writers include the periods of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, while others argue that these civilizations were so different from later Greek cultures that they should be classed separately. Traditionally, the Ancient Greek period was taken to begin with the date of the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, but most historians now extend the term back to about 1000 BC.)

In the 8th century BC, Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages which followed the fall of the Mycenaean civilization. The Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, modifying it to create the Greek alphabet. From about the 9th century BC, written records begin to appear. Greece was divided into many small self-governing communities.

Two major wars shaped the Classical Greek world. The Persian Wars (500–448 BC) and

The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC).  The Persian Wars include notable battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea.) The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. The latter marked the dramatic end to the fifth century BC and the golden age of Greece.

The Hellenistic period of Greek history begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ends with the annexation of the Greek peninsula and islands by Rome in 146 BC. Militarily, Greece itself declined, to the point that the Romans conquered the land, though Greek culture would in turn conquer Roman life. Roman Greece lasted until Constantine and the transfer of power from Italy and the West to Greece (or should that not be Constantinople) and the East in about 325.

The history of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire is described by Byzantinist August Heisenberg as the history of “the Christianized Roman empire of the Greek nation”. The leading role of Constantinople began when Constantine turned Byzantium into the new capital of the Roman Empire, from then on to be known as Constantinople, placing the city at the center of Hellenism a beacon for the Greeks that lasted to the modern era.

After the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, the Venetians sailed into Greece, conquering all of the Aegean and the Ionian sea and much of the mainland. The tension between the Venetians and Ottomans grew stronger, though, and the constant crusades had created a climate of hostility between the two powers. When the sultan of the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, a few years later Greece was under Ottoman rule. The Turks drove out the Venetians and with the exception of Venetian rule of the Peloponnese 1699-1718, Greece was Turkish. When the Ottomans arrived following the conquest of Constantinople, two Greek migrations occurred. The first migration entailed the Greek intelligentsia migrating to Western Europe and influencing the advent of the Renaissance. The second migration entailed Greeks leaving the plains of the Greek peninsula and resettling in the mountains. The Ottomans ruled Greece until the Greeks finally achieved their independence in 1829.

In the evening we take a walk along the clifftop of Firostefani, not far from where we are staying. The sun is close to setting and it is really beautiful overlooking the caldera south to Firo and north to Oia. There are still plenty of tourists about but the restaurants are far from full. This is a relatively expensive area, the accommodation with pool is likely to be $600 to $700 a night, you pay for the view and fair enough. We take some cold beers home after many photos and the sunset. It has been another hot day.

ATHENS

Monday 7 September 2015

Our holiday in the Greek Islands comes to an end. Back to business! We are up at 5:30am to catch a cab at 6.50am to the airport. The driver has a large van and is parked just up the road ‘by the church’ as arranged. The door is open and he is asleep, I can hear him snoring from a long way off.  Likely he has been there all night! He has no trouble finding the airport and Ryan Air seem efficient throughout. We get into Athens mid-morning after a flight of about an hour.

Take the bus and locate our apartment, not too much trouble. It is spacious and comfortable and mostly functional but is far from the four star accommodation it purports to be. Anyway no real complaints, we are settled and the air conditioning works. It is in the upper thirties today. I notice Athens has the highest temperature every recorded in Europe of 48.7 degrees back in 1977. That’s centigrade by the way, a bit like the Australian outback.

First impressions of Athens are that we have stepped down a bit from Italy, which was a step down from Spain which was a step down from France, which was a step down from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Benelux countries and Scandinavia. Hard to generalize but the Greeks appear to have lost the plot, perhaps gone to the beach and given up. There are an awful lot of obese people about, Athens is untidy and a bit dilapidated. The roads are chaotic and roads/pavements are suffering from a lack of maintenance. I see the local Hotel Association is complaining bitterly to the city administration about violence and theft in the city and the disregard for tourism. We resolve to carry money bags unobtrusively and not be out late. The Greek financial crisis manifests itself wherever you look.

Over lunch I read to Lilly about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, probably the three most famous Greek philosophers. Plato was a student of Socrates and Aristotle a student of Plato. Much of Western philosophy finds its basis in the thoughts and teachings of these three. Fat lot of good it did for the Greeks of today, they are in trouble. Live beyond your means and it’s inevitable. The Greeks need a new basic philosophy ‘head down, tail up’, call it the ten percent philosophy. Work 10% harder and 10% smarter for 10% less and save 10% of earnings. Aristotle’s economic logic would support that.

Archimedes was another leading scientist in classical antiquity. As a mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer, he anticipated modern calculus, calculated the area of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere (Eureka), and the area under a parabola. He derived an accurate approximation of pi, defined the spiral bearing his name, and created a system for expressing very large numbers.

About 2pm we take off for the Acropolis via the metro. The Athens metro is great, we can follow the signs, the elevators work, the trains appear new and are air conditioned, the stations look like new, the trains are frequent, first impressions, brilliant. We manage to obtain from the station master an “Athens Transport Key Map” which is equally good. It sets out the metro and tram lines and provides detail of how best to bet to a lot of the sights, the airport, port, beaches etc. Later

We stop by at the New Acropolis Museum and decide to leave a visit for another day. It closes at 4pm and it is already after 3.

At the Acropolis I keep searching for the building! Eureka, no the Acropolis “is an ancient citadel” containing the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. It was Pericles in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site’s most important buildings including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Others structures or sites include, Eleusinion, Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion, Chalkotheke, Pandroseion, Arrephorion, Altar of Athena, Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus, Sanctuary of Pandion, Stoa of Eumenes, Sanctuary of Asclepius or Asclepieion, Eleuthereus, Odeon of Pericles, Temenos of Dionysus, Eleuthereus and Aglaureion. This was the Golden Age of Athens. Almost two thousand years later the buildings of the Acropolis suffered significant damage during the 1687 siege by the Venetians in the Morean War. The Parthenon, which was being used as a gunpowder magazine, was hit by artillery fire and severely damaged. Today parts of it are being restored, a huge crane resides at one end of it.

We wander around reading the information on each site, taking photos and trying periodically to catch a bit of shade. The Parthenon itself is impressive but there is an awful lot of rubble and partial ruins. The Ticket Office should hand out a map of the locale, with each building or site clearly marked in a logical path. The Ancient Greeks could build such magnificent structures why can’t their modern counterparts put up some signs and build a few steps in a couple of places to make access easier? We eventually find a way down off the hill to the Theatre of Dionysis and from thence we exit and catch the metro ‘home’. We find a local supermarket and buy our supplies for the next 3 nights.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

We travel via Metro to Thissio to see firstly the ancient cemetery of Keramikos. This was the city’s cemetery from the 12th century BC to Roman times. It started off as a settlement for potters who were attracted by the clay on the banks of the River Iridanos. Because of frequent flooding, the area was ultimately converted to a cemetery. We don’t enter the grounds just take photos from outside. After a while the old foundations, odd fragments and piles of stone are no longer so interesting.

We then go back past the Thissio metro station to the Ancient Angora which is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora, located to the northwest of the Acropolis. The Agora was a central spot in ancient Greek city-states. The literal meaning of the word is “gathering place” or “assembly”. The agora was the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city.

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has been excavating here since 1931. There were more than twenty significant buildings and structures of the site as it was in the 5th century BC but the Persians destroyed it in 480 BC then Rome damaged it in 89 BC and the Herulians from Scandinavia levelled it again in 267AD. The Slavs had a go in AD 580. So it had been rebuilt several times and by 700 AD had virtually become a ghost town. The Church of the Holy Apostles built around 1000 AD still stands. As does the Temple of Hephaestus, possibly completed about 420 BC (but what occurred during the later enemy rampages?). The third structure is the Museum of the Ancient Agora (originally the Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos) reconstructed in the 1950s.

Not far from the Monastiraki metro station is Hadrian’s Library created by Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 132. The building followed a typical Roman Forum architectural style, having only one entrance, a high surrounding wall, an inner courtyard surrounded by columns and a decorative oblong pool in the middle. The library was seriously damaged by the Herulian invasion of 267 and repaired about 150 years later.

We travelled by metro and bus about 90 minutes south and mainly along the coast and picked a beach to swim at from among the many along the way. We had a lengthy swim a bit of sunbathing and then back same route. Mainly along this stretch there are up-market homes and apartments and some good beaches and coves for swimming and boating and fishing.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

After the X95 bus failed to stop for us, we catch the metro to Syntagma Square and walk through the National Gardens in the shade to the Zappeion. This a building now more generally used for meetings and ceremonies, both official and private. Originally it was the first building to be erected in 1888 specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world. It was used during the 1896 Summer Olympics as the main fencing hall.

We walk through the rest of the quite beautiful National Gardens and across the road to go to see the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We have no idea where the entrance is and end up virtually walking right round the whole complex before we see a sign up pointing to the entrance. It’s a long way round, it’s hot and we are no longer 18. Instead of just sitting around inside their little boxes chatting, why don’t the staff put their heads together and come up with some ideas (and implement them) of how to make the place a pleasant tourist experience? After all we are paying their wages. Like erecting a few signposts, printing off some maps explaining what’s what and where, providing toilets. Not rocket science, huge funds not needed, Archimedes level thinking not required.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus was dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC and completed only during the reign of the Hadrian in 132 AD some 638 years later. It fell into disuse after being pillaged in the Herulian sack of Athens in 267AD. It was probably never repaired and was reduced to ruins thereafter. In the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was extensively quarried for building materials to supply building projects elsewhere in the city. Despite this, a substantial part of the temple remains today.

Besides the Temple of Olympian Zeus there are upright remains of the Arch of Hadrian plus a lot of old marble fragments and much rubble. It may be sacrilegious to suggest that Athens keep the Temple as a centerpiece, make a new city centre here, with one of the entrances through the Arch of Hadrian. We are not going to learn a whole lot more from all the old foundations and fragments, why not move on?

Back to Edinburgh tomorrow for travelling in Scotland and Northern England and then return to London base.