Monday, December 30, 2013

Rome again, Rome again

Once we disembarked we took the train back to Rome to see the rest of the city we missed during our stop at the Vatican city.  Mom's first reaction to the Colosseum was priceless. . . "I just can't believe it!  This is incredible!  I can't believe I am here!" . . . hehe.  (I got it on film but unfortunately the process for uploading video on is not working at the moment.  Maybe someday it will work and I can upload some videos).
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world!  Construction was started in 70 AD and was completed by Titus in 80 AD.  It is estimated that the Colosseum could hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests as well as many different public spectacles.  When in the interior of the Colosseum we could see where the floor used to be and beneath it the various cages to hold animals and men for the contests.  It is still quite unbelievable that these types of games actually took place in history.

Above is the Arch of Constantine ~ A triumphal arch built in 315 dedicated to a victory of Constantine won in 312

The Roman Forum is an ancient plaza surrounded by several important ruins of government buildings at the very center of Rome . . within walking distance to the Colosseum.  It was the center of ancient Roman public life.  This site is in constant excavation and it was crazy to see the same site from a Youth on Missions Trip years ago that was now completely dug up and unearthing more ruins from below.

The Pantheon (above) is a Roman temple constructed "to all gods" and was built in 126 AD.  Unfortunately it was closed so we were only able to see it from the outside this time.

Gelato continued to be a favorite "snack" throughout our Italian journey . . . such smoothness. . . sweetness. . . coolness . . . and the colors!! Such bright, vibrant colors! 

Our last stop for the day was the Trevi fountain . . . the most famous fountain in the world! And for good reason!  It is absolutely beautiful!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Chania, Crete

Our last destination on this fabulous journey over sea was in Crete.  No excursions were scheduled for this day (except for dad . . . he took his excursion under sea) and we meandered through the streets of the city.  

 We also found our way down to the coast and it was just a relaxing as it was a little creepy.  This part of the city was deserted . . . shops were boarded up, graffiti surrounded us, no human interaction . . . it was sad.

We headed back to the "market place" and things picked up quite a bit.  There was shopping a' plenty with booths set up consisting of leather bags, sandals, ceramics, olives, spices and interesting food items.

It was a nice stop . . . sunny and bright . . . even it was a big uneventful.  Sometimes one needs a day of soaking in a culture and "experiencing" rather than just "seeing".

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ancient Ephesus, Turkey

Our stop in Kusadasi, Turkey was an eventful one and definitely one of the highlights of our cruise!  We decided to take one of the cruise ships excursions for this stop and were assigned to Bus #20 . . . our guide never did let us forget our bus number, exclaiming "Bus numba 20" in the most annoying voice constantly throughout the day.

Bus #20!!
The Basilica of St. John was our first stop of the day.  The building was built in the 6th century and is now mostly in ruins.  The highlight of this stop was to see the believed burial spot of the apostle John located within the ruined basilica.  After it's completion, the basilica was regarded as one of the holiest churches of it's time.  It was here that dad was lured aside under some ruins by a local and offered to have him purchase some "ancient coins" he had dug up at the site.  Dad was excited, but nervous as he did not know if he would get in trouble.  After all . . .they were coins that were thousands of years old and he could get them for $300!!  He became slightly suspicious when the local then dropped the price to $150 as he was walking away.  Mom was also hassled by these same locals as we were leaving the basilica and had to get somewhat violent with them.  LOL!  Our guide informed us that this is a great way for the locals to obtain easy money . . fake coins are made to look old and then sold to unsuspecting tourists who are wanting a keepsake of ancient times.  Luckily dad kept his money safe in his pocket.  They emerged unscathed!
Tomb of St. John in the background


It was extremely windy this day making it hard to breath or talk through the sand that swirled about our faces.  The landscape was grey and gave a solemn feeling to our surroundings.  In the distance we were able to see what little was left of the ancient temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It was destroyed in 401 and only the foundation and sculptural fragments remain at the original location.

From here we continued on to see the ancient city of Ephesus. . . as did the rest of the cruise ship.  It was packed! We could barely turn around without bumping into someone!  Ephesus was amazing! Although the city was in ruins, with a little imagination one could almost see the city as it would have been in it's prime.  We walked along the main street admiring the ruins of baths, temples and the great houses of the day.  The Library of Celsus was the highlight.  This three storied Library was completed in 135 AD and was built to hold over 12,000 scrolls as well as serve as a monumental tomb to Celsus.  The interior of the library, along with it's scrolls, was destroyed by earthquake in 262 and only the façade survived.  The façade survived only to be destroyed at a later date by another earthquake that shook the city.  Restoration began in the 1960's and 1970's to restore the façade of this great library.

Original Mosaic floors above and original restrooms below

Library of Celsus

We then stopped for a "biblical lunch" in which we were served food in the manner of biblical times.  We were offered bread and oil, fish, dates, nuts, some sort of rice mixture, honey and yogurt.  It was interesting, if not very filling.

Our excursion then took us to what is believed to be the House of the Virgin Mary.  It is a Catholic and Muslim shrine located a short distance from the ancient city and is believed by some to be the last dwelling place of the Virgin Mary before her assumption.  Although the Catholic church has never pronounced in favor or against the authenticity of the house it remains a popular pilgrimage destination.  It is a small stone house consisting of two rooms, one is believed to be the sleeping place of the Virgin Mary.  We then visited a well outside of the house which is believed to have special miraculous powers of healing and fertility.  We were given a small ceramic jar with which to collect some of this "holy water" . . . unfortunately our "holy water" was gone in a matter of two days . . leaking all over clothes and other belongings.  We were able to be present in a special mass that took place on the site before our departure.
Our "holy (and leaky) water"

Our next place of business. . . a Turkish rug gallery!  Here we were given a demonstration of the collection of threads from the silk worms, how they were dyed and eventually woven into these magnificent pieces of art.  They were indeed beautiful!  We were "buttered" up with some delicious Turkish tea and then set free to explore on our own (so we thought!).  I made the mistake of entering one of the many side rooms and was promptly cornered by a sales associate.  I made it clear that I was not interested in purchasing a rug at this time.  He insisted on showing me some.  I picked out a couple that were not your ordinary Turkish rugs but were a patchwork rug of older rugs pieced together.  I really did love them!!  (but not for $800-$3000!)  My mother and husband watched with smirks on their faces as I tried time and again to inform my persistent friend that I had no interest in purchasing the rug . . oh the deals he made me!  He could ship it for me. . . . he could wad it up in a small ball so I could take it with me. . . . he could give me 5% off. . . he even brought the manager in.  Agghhh!!  And then they had the nerve to be upset when I finally did leave for good without purchasing the precious piece.  Sigh. . . I guess it was a fun experience :-)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Athens. . . . oh how I love thee!

Our second stop on this fab cruise was in Athens, Greece.  I had been told by several of my co-workers that the way to see Athens was not by the cruise excursion . . . it was very expensive and too large of groups. I looked at to find a private taxi to take us around for the day.  We met Kostas through George's Taxi Company and he was our guide throughout the day.  He was wonderful!  Having grown up in Athens and living the area he was such a wealth of knowledge!  We told him the sites we were wanting to see and he recommended skipping the Acropolis until later and first visiting the ancient city of Corinth.  He was absolutely correct in his recommendation!  Corinth was pretty much empty when we arrived as was the Acropolis in Athens!  We totally missed the throngs of cruisers! 

Corinth was a good 1-2 hours away from Athens but it was a pleasant drive . . . we also stopped along the way to break up the monotony.  Our first stop was the Corinth Canal. 

The canal, according to Wikipedia (I love this site), "is a canal that connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnesian peninsula from the Greek mainland, thus effectively making the former an island. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level; no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometers (4.0 mi) in length and only 21.4 meters (70 ft) wide at its base, making it impassable for most modern ships. It now has little economic importance.
The canal was mooted in classical times and an abortive effort was made to build it in the 1st century AD. Construction finally got underway in 1881 but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893, but due to the canal's narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslides from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic." 
(our guide Kostas with the guys at the Corinth Canal)

I guess I could have said all of this in my own words but it wouldn't have sounded quite as nice and I think I probably would have confused myself!  It was neat to see!  I remember hearing about it in History class and it was cool to actually see it in real life. . . quick pic is all it required, however, and we were back on the road.

The Ancient city of Corinth is a fantastic site to visit!  It was quite a bit smaller than Pompeii but was one of the leaders of wealth in ancient Greece due to trade.  Some believe Corinth to be inhabited as early as 6500 BC.  Corinth was a city-state of Greece and was ruled by a series of Tyrants through the early years.  In classical times Corinth was quite the popular destination as it was said to have had the temple to the goddess Aphrodite.  This temple is no where to be found in modern times.
(Temple of Apollo in Ancient Corinth 650 BC)

There is so much ancient history regarding Corinth that to recite it all I would have to write quite a long historical essay on the subject . . . let's just say that this was a great ancient city that had survived thousands of years and many rulers and wars.  Being a Christian the most significant part of the history of ancient Corinth to me personally would be the biblical aspect of this city.  Corinth is mentioned many times in the new testament of the bible with at least two letters actually written to the church in Corinth by the apostle Paul.  There is something so surreal about walking on ancient stones and pathways . . . touching marble from thousands of years ago . . . unbelievable!

Kostas then drove us up to the Acrocorinth (acropolis of Corinth) for some amazing views of the ancient and modern cities of Corinth.  We did not actually enter the walled fortress although it is said to the most important medieval castle site in Greece . . . we had to hurry on back to Athens!

Back in Athens Kostas took us to see the changing of the guards at the Presidential Mansion . . . these Evezones had guns alright, but they also had bright red shoes with very large pom-poms on the toes of the shoes as well as light colored leggings and a blousy shirt.  Not only was their attire very interesting but their movements as well.  One leg would come almost parallel to the ground during each step while the other leg remained firmly planted.  At intervals, the guards would allow the airborne leg to "hinge" at the knee and kick back and forth.  It was all very peculiar. 

We then enjoyed some absolutely wonderful, amazing, tasty, mouth watering Souvlaki!  Souvlaki is a type of Greek "fast food", if you please, that consists of (in our case) bits of lamb, veggies and special sauce wrapped in a fluffy and delicious pita. OH, if we had more time I don't know how many Souvlaki I could have downed . . . it reminded my of Doner or a Gyro . . . . as it was we had to take our Souvlaki on the road in order to have adequate time at the Acropolis.

Having been to the Acropolis at Athens once before I thought this time would be somewhat dulled by my previous experience.  I was wrong!  It is breathtaking to behold!  Not only are the ancient structures magnificent, but the view of the outlaying city from the top is equally as enchanting!  The Parthenon was once again covered with scaffolding but with a little creativity we were able to procure some halfway decent pictures the played down the awful and hideous steel beams.  I won't go into all the history of the Acropolis, but I do think it is worthwhile to mention that these wonderful and ancient structures date back as far as the 5th century BC.  Let that sink in. . . . this stuff is extremely old!!!!  The restoration of this historic site was started in 1973 and is still in progress.  Most of the structures on this great citadel are temples dedicated to different Greek Gods but there are also two types of amphitheaters on the premises (one in which I was able to attend a performance of Othello some years ago).  It is one of those places that I feel everyone needs to see at some point in their lives.
Temple of Athena-Nike : Built between 427 and 424 BC

Parthenon - dedicated to goddess Athena. Build in 436 BC

The Erechtheion - temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon 421-406 BC

 Dad on Mars Hill - Where Paul preached his message about the "unknown god"

From there we continued on to see the Temple of Olympian Zeus in the center of Athens.  This structure was started in the 6th century BC but was not completed until 600 years later.  Today only a small portion of the pillars remain but it tells a tale of the glory of the ancient Greeks.
Temple of Olympian Zeus

Hadrian's Gate