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 tripadvisor.com 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


Friday, November 15, 2013

First Cruise stop: Messina, Sicily

We did not book the cruise because of this port, that is for sure.  In fact, the excursions were so unexciting that we did not book any at all!  We decided this would be one of our "cheap" stops and we would invest in a walking map of the city.  It was nice . . . but pretty much uneventful.  It is an ancient city founded in the 8th century BC by the Greeks but much of the ancient structures were destroyed by a devastating earthquake as well as multiple attacks and plundering throughout the ages.

Our first stop after disembarking from the ship was the church of Annunziata dei Catalani.  It was pretty but definitely not as elaborate as other churches we had visited.  This church was built in the late 12th-13th century and had a series of arches and a noteworthy dome.   


We next continued up the Cathedral of Messina and the Astronomical Clock.  This cathedral was much bigger than the church and was very peaceful . . . we took some time to sit and enjoy the inside of this quite place.  The ceiling was rather beautiful!  It was built in the 12th century but the majority of the structure had to be rebuilt in the early 1900's due to a devastating earthquake. 

We continued our walk through the streets of Messina (stopping for gelato at various intervals) with my dear o'dad exclaiming "Bonjourno" to each Italian he saw . . . sigh.  After walking to the top of the city we were able to behold a rather pretty site of the city, ship and sea below.  We also met and Italian fellow dressed up as Mickey Mouse who offered so generously to drive us about in his car. . . I am sure his intentions were pure. 

That was basically it.  Like I said, pretty uneventful.  We headed back to the ship early.  Definitely not a must see location . . . but we were looking forward to the promise of Athens!