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From Jacksonville Beach, FL

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Highlights from my Greek Odyssey and Photos

      When we flew into Athens, my first impression was that the city is a bowl surrounded on all sides by mountains.  All of Greece is mountainous. Our ride from the Athens airport to the first hotel was a little like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.  Lanes didn't seem to exist and motorbikes  weaved in between cars creating their own lanes.  I expected to see accidents, but the drivers are evidently very skilled.  The ten days we were there, I didn't see one.  Athens is a very big city with a population of about three and a half million; nearly 1/4 the Greek population of 11 million live there. 
     Greece is very arid, but very beautiful.  We were never far from the sea and it's color is a deep blue with green in the shallow places.  I understand why Greece has a blue/white flag.  Those are the dominant colors.  The very blue sky, blue water and white houses stacked like white sugar cubes are the colors of every city and village.
     Almost every inch of countryside is used.  From the tall hills of monuments we visited, olive orchards dominated the horizon. Oranges, apricots, almonds and pistachio nut trees grow up and down hillsides and back roads.  I was surprised to see many of the flowers we have here in north Florida planted along road sides and in yards. I saw much oleander, bougainvillea, and other plants I have in my own yard.  The fruit trees and flowers are smaller than in Florida.  This has to be because of the very arid climate.  The countryside is not only dry but rocky.  I'm still cleaning the dust from my shoes.  We also saw sheep, goats and skinny cows on the dusty hillsides. 
      My husband and I were with a tour of high school girls.  My daughter had arranged the trip for the school where she teaches and we bought into the tour.  In all our travels, we had never taken a tour.  The advantages are that very knowledgeable guides gave excellent and interesting historical information about each location we visited.  We also realized that we could never have found some of the places we visited without a bus driver.  The disadvantages are that we like to set our own pace.  I never got to spend long enough at any museum or attraction we visited.  The pace was very rigorous.  We had six o'clock wake up calls and long bus rides.  All told, I probably will not take a tour again.  After the tour was over, my husband and I went on our own to Mykonos for three days.  That was heavenly!
      During the tour we visited the Acropolis in Athens; we took a day cruise to three small islands, Hydra, Poros and Aegina.  Boating on the beautiful Mediterranean was a highlight of the adventure.  Homer in the Odyssey described the water as the "wine dark sea."  I had to think of all the historical events and people that had been in that same place.  It is inspiring.  The land seems everlasting.  
      We toured Delphi and made secret wishes to the spirit of the ancient Oracle.  At Olympia, we actually walked on the same track the ancient contestants ran.  Some in our group, tried the run.  One of my favorite places was the theater at Epidaurus.  It is the best preserved Greek theater.  We had to stand in the center of the Orchestra to see if our voices really would carry all the way to the top.  They did.  
      At Mycenae, we saw the burial mound from an ancient civilization.  It was once filled with valuable jewels and treasure, but, of course, was looted.  Much that was valuable and desirable in Greece has been destroyed sometimes by enemies or thieves and even religions that wanted to remove what they did not believe.
     We visited the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion.  It's columns are still well-preserved, and I was excited to see that the Romantic poet Lord Byron had carved his name on one of the pillars.  It is still there, though hard to see.  
       The end of the tour was a Greek Evening with traditional music and dances including a belly dancer who was much too thin to be one.  Seems as if you should have a belly to be a belly dancer.  All the students enjoyed the show.  They were invited on stage to dance and to dance with the belly dancer.  They filled the stage.  We enjoyed a lovely meal of traditional Greek foods.  Many students from other tours were there in addition to ours.  
     Finally, the Odyssey ended when my husband and I flew to Mykonos for a few days.  It was blue and white like the rest of Greece with many little winding and narrow alleys filled with shops and restaurants.  We stayed at a hotel overlooking the sea.  After the bustle of the tour, it was absolute paradise.  

A very few photos of the zillions I took, click on photos to see them larger.

The Parthenon, the main building on the Acropolis
sits high above Athens.  At night it is lighted and is
visible from most of the city. It was a rigorous climb to
the top.

The Acropolis museum has a section of glass floor 
where visitors can see excavations of newly discovered ruins.

Beautiful Greek countryside.

Our girls enjoying a swim in the blue sea at Hydra 
Island during a day cruise.

The theater at Epidaurus, the best preserved in Greece.
From the middle of the Orchestra (circle) voices
can be heard to the top row.

Columns leading into Olympia.  In ancient times, 
there was a row of statues for the winners of games 
and a row for the cheaters.  The statues were stolen
and broken long ago, but the footprints of where the
statues stood is still visible on the pedestals.

Ancient tomb at Mycenae

Temple of Poseidon, god of the sea, overlooks the sea
at Sounion.  It is here that the poet Byron carved his
name on one of the pillars.

Blue sky, blue water, white rocks, the colors of Greece.

During Greek Night, the boys were invited to dance
with the belly dancer.  Many eagerly responded.

The town part of Mykonos is
a web, a labyrinth of tiny alleys
like this one.

Mykonos Harbor at sunset.  The photo does not do 
it justice.  This is just a part of it.  The harbor is horseshoe
shaped and this is one side.

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