Category: Travel

Delphi to Meteora

By Ross in Travel on Fri 27 June 2014. Tags: Greece

This morning I woke up at 0500 to go to Meteora, which was also highly recommended to me by several people. All I knew about it was that there were monasteries on the top of rocks. That sounded pretty cool to me, and I was excited to check it out.

The only problem is that getting from Delphi to Meteora is not straightforward. There are many threads on websites like TripAdvisor about this, but no one seems to have found a good solution. One way is to take several buses in succession (Delphia -> Lamia -> Trikala -> Kalambaka), but I was doing this on a Friday, and the first bus does not leave early enough on Fridays to make this happen. 

With the advice of the attendant at the bus station, I found another way.

  • Take the 0530 bus from Delphi to Livadia. This drops you off at the bus station in the center of Livadia about 45 minutes after leaving Delphi. (About 4 Euro)
  • Take a taxi from the bus stop (the taxi stand is right across the street) to the train station. The train station is about 8 km away and is essentially in the middle of nowhere. (About 9 Euro)
  • Take the 0953 train directly to Kalambaka. This train originates in Athens and is scheduled to arrive at Kalambaka at 1318. It ended up arriving almost 45 minutes late (About 12 Euro)

Note: it might be difficult to do this in the other direction, since the train station is so isolated that getting a taxi back to the center of town could be tricky.

This itinerary was a little inconvenient -- it required getting up before dawn and involved a three-hour layover at an isolated train station -- but it worked perfectly. Had I known how isolated the train station is (and what time the train was scheduled for), I might have hung out at a cafe in Livadia for a few hours and taken the taxi around 0900. In any case, I got to Kalambaka in one piece with plenty of the day left to explore.

Here is the middle-of-nowhere Livadia train station.

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When I arrived, I was the only one there other than the two canine station attendants.

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Most of the train cars in Greece are covered in grafitti.

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Delphi

By Ross in Travel on Thu 26 June 2014. Tags: Greece

After lunch, I checked into my room and then took a break from the heat of the day. I though about taking a nap, but I used the time to hem my new pants. Around 1700 (after the tour buses and last public bus had departed), I set out for the archeological site.

Here is a view of the surrounding area.

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The Roman agora was built at the beginning of the Sacred Way, the processional route to the temple of Apollo.

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Along the Sacred Way are found the treasuries of various Greek city-states. These were small sanctuaries in which were placed offerings from the city-state to the oracle. Most of them, such as the treasury of the Sikyonians, are in ruins.

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The only treasury which is mostly intact is the Athenian treasury.

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Here I am in front of the treasury of Athens.

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This is the sacred omphalos of Delphi. This stone, or one like it (there are many), was believed to have been thrown down from the heavens by Zeus to mark the center of the world. I engaged for a while in omphaloskepsis.

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This is the Rock of the Sibyl, where legend has it that the first oracle declaimed her prophecies.

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This is the base for the column of the Sphinx, a gift to the oracle from the island of Naxos.

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These words, carved into the base of the altar of the temple of Apollo, say that the people of Delphi grant the people of Chios the right to cut in line to see the oracle. (The people of Chios paid for the altar.)

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Finally, the Sacred Way reaches the temple of Apollo. Only a handful of its columns remain.

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This picture shows the entire footprint of the temple.

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There are passages which run underneath the temple. You can crawl around a little in some of them.

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Here I am in front of the theater.

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The entire theater is best seen in panorama.

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Or from above.

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I like this closeup photo of the theater seats.

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At the top of the archeological site is the stadium, which was used for running races.

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At one end of the stadium are the remains of the entrance gates to the stadium.

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The judges get the comfy seats.

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While exploring the ruins, I met two couples from the midwest (one from Iowa, the other from Bloomington, Indiana). Interestingly, I kept running into them over the next several days. One of them is from Athens, and he pointed out to me some a blackberry bush (which was really more like a tree) and a pomegranate tree. The wild blackberries were ripe and juicy, but the pomegranates were just babies. He told me I could return in a few months to pick ripe pomegranates, but unfortunately I will be far away by then.

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All in all, Delphi was amazing. It sits in isolation up in the mountains, a very peaceful respite from the hubbub of Athens. Visiting in the evening was definitely the right choice, as the crowds were almost nonexistent and the light was perfect for viewing and photographing the ruins. 

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Pants

By Ross in Travel on Thu 26 June 2014. Tags: travel

After completing the Samaria Gorge hike, I noticed an approximately 8 cm tear in the rear of my Kuhl Kontra Air pants (the only pair I had). This was not part of the plan.

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Other than the whole not-lasting-more-than-eighteen-days thing, I really liked the pants. They were well ventilated, comfortable in hot weather, and quick drying. In any case, I considered sewing a patch, but the buttock area is prone to strain, and I did not think such a solution would hold for very long.

So I found myself in the market for another pair of pants. I figured there had to be a hiking store somewhere in Athens, but I could not find one in any of the touristy areas. I went to the tourist information center near the Acropolis and asked the people there what to do (they had helped me before when I was looking for cheap food, which led me to a great souvlaki place at Monastiraki).

They found a place for me to go (Dimitriadis) and even called them to get directions by public transportation. When I got there, there was very little that was my size (long inseam but relatively small waist). I finally found a pair of lightweight hiking pants made by Fjallraven which had the right waist size. Their pants have an extra long inseam, and you have to hem them yourself (they provide thread in the correct color). Which I then proceeded to do. Eyeballing the hem lengths, since I had no measuring or marking devices. Using extra needles in the place of pins and nail clippers for scissors.

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The pants were slightly expensive, but they are comfortable and even have a fold-up inside pocket which can serve in place of a money belt. Who could ask for anything more?


Delphi Archeological Museum

By Ross in Travel on Thu 26 June 2014. Tags: Greece, museums

This morning, I woke up early to catch a bus to Delphi. Waking up was not especially difficult, since I was in an eight-bed dorm at the Zorbas hostel, and people kept getting up throughout the night to catch a wee-hours ferry to this or that island. So I was not exactly asleep to begin with.

The hardest part of the trip was getting to Bus Station B in Athens (Metro to Attiki, then take any bus four stops to the Liossion street terminal; the trick was figuring out which direction to take the bus in). From there, I caught the 0730 bus, which went to Delphi.

I did not want to return to Athens, so I found a cheap single room for the night in Delphi. (This turned out to be a really good idea, since the last bus back to Athens leaves before 1700, and it was lovely exploring the archeological site in the evening after everyone else had left).

Delphi came strongly recommended by a friend, and I was given explicit instructions regarding what to look for. My first stop (per instructions) was the Archeological Museum, which has a combined ticket with the actual site.

The museum tells the story of the three temples to Apollo at the site, each built after the destruction of the previous one. Sculptural decoration has survived from all the temples, so there are artifacts with which to create the narrative. The museum also contains other artifacts found at Delphi. Here are some of the things I found interesting.

Here is a cauldron on a tripod:

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Here are twin statues of Kleobis and Biton.

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Various Greek city-states would give offerings to Delphi, often in an attempt to garner some sort of favor. One of the offerings from Naxos was this sphinx, which originally sat upon a column approximately 12 m in height.

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These blocks were from the wall of the Athenian treasury. On them is inscribed a hymn to Apollo, along with musical notation. The item description claims that this is the earliest known notation of a melody. I am guessing that the symbols above the text represent the melody (it did not mention this specifically).

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These are two pieces of the "column of the dancers." (The figures at the top were thought to be in dance-like poses).

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This omphalos (naval) may or may not have rested atop the column.

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Here is a sleeping Eros.

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This is a statue of the youth Antinoos, known for his beauty and favored by the Roman emperor Hadrian. There are statues of him everywhere.

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This is the famous bronze statue of a charioteer.

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After leaving the museum, I headed up to the town to have lunch. The souvlaki pita I had at this place is the best I have had in my life (some French Canadian tourists I met there said found it on the advice of a guidebook, so I am not alone in my opinion). I am not sure what the name of the place is since it's not clear from the exterior, but from the museum, walk to the town, then up the hill past the bus station, and you will see it on your right.

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The tzatziki sauce contained lots of garlic and dill, which was extra yummy. 

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Museums in Athens

By Ross in Travel on Wed 25 June 2014. Tags: Greece, museums

I decided to start at the National Archeological Museum of Athens. I found a decent hostel (Hostel Zorbas) nearby, so I dropped off my bag and headed to the museum.

Unsurprisingly, the National Archeological Museum contains one of the largest collections of Greek art and artifacts in the world. As with the museum in Crete, the collection is overwhelming in size, so I decided to focus on a few things I found interesting.

One of the centerpieces of the collection is the treasure trove from Mycenae excavated by Heinrich Schliemann. The collection contains an impressive amount of gold, including a gold mask Schliemann (erroneously) called the "Mask of Agamemmnon." I really liked these gold objects.

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I did not spend much time in the neolithic exhibitions, but these "violin-shaped" figures are interesting:

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The octopus returns in the Minoan collection.

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The museum has an impressive collection of bronze objects, including several large bronze statues which were found at the bottom of the sea. Here is one of Posiedon throwing a trident (or possibly Zeus hurling a thunderbolt, but I like the idea of a statue of Posiedon being found at sea).

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There is also a large bronze statue of Augustus in the museum, but it was out on loan.

On the upper floor of the museum, I saw largest collection of Greek pots I have ever seen. I particularly like these large vessels from the geometric period.

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The museum also contains an exhibit of objects and art found at Akrotiri on Santorini. I was especially interested to see this, given that I had recently visited the Akrotiri excavation site. Of particular note are the wall frescoes, which were well preserved by the volcanic ash. The "spring fresco" is the only fresco which was found in situ, and it covers three walls of the same room. It depicts the landscape of Thera. I especially like the swallows in flight, which I saw every night I was in Santorini.

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This is the "antelopes fresco":

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On the way out of the museum, I spent several minutes talking to this man who was playing a lyre in one of the Greek sculpture galleries (you can see the lyre in the relief scupture behind him). 

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His primary instrument is trumpet, and he has had a 30-year career both in the Athens opera orchestra and as a jazz musician. He decided to research and play the lyre to "do something different." His lyre was made by a modern luthier and it is played by plucking the strings with a bone-tipped implement. It has seven strings and is tuned to the phrygian mode starting on G. By using harmonics, he can play many other notes in higher octaves. He makes no claims to authenticity, since we know so little about music of the ancient Greeks or how the instruments were played. That being said, he is a very skilled player and I really like the music he makes.

The next stop was the exhibit of preindustrial tools at the Greek Folk Art Museum. Who could pass up a museum dedicated to hand tools? Certainly not I. The collection is contained in a small house in the Plaka section of Athens, right near the Roman Agora. Most of the tools are from the nineteenth and twentieth century, and they are all labeled with their place of origin as well as their use. Photography was difficult, as it was dark and most of the items are under glass, but I did take a few pictures to convey a sense of the place.

Here is a collection of farming implements and a wine press:

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Two of these tools were used by icemakers. The saw was used to cut blocks of ice, and the tongs were used to grab pieces of ice. (The third item is a harpoon, but it is unlike any harpoon I've ever seen.)

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This unusual device is neither an implement of torture nor a pot hanger, but was used to fish a dropped bucket out of a well.

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This is part of a set of tools used by a coppersmith.

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At the end of the exhibit, I spent a while talking to Maria in the small gift shop. She told me about other museums dedicated to tools throughout Greece, among them one dedicated to silk and one dedicated to olives. Unfortunately, they were not located anywhere I was going.

After I left, I took a break to buy a pair of pants, which is the subject of another journal entry.

When I returned, I visted the New Acropolis Museum, which is located right next to the Acropolis, on the side with the Theater of Dionysus. The museum opened in 2009, and while they were digging the foundation (surprise, surprise!), they found the remains of an ancient settlement. You can see it through thick glass windows, both in the ground outside of the museum and in the floors of the museum itself. They hope to one day open the site up to visitors.

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Pictures are not allowed in the museum, so words will have to suffice. The museum collection is entirely composed of objects which were found on the Acropolis. Many of the statues and friezes are from temples which predate those whose ruins lie on the Acropolis today. Several statues were buried until recently, and as a result, some of their paint has been preserved. These are presented along with a painted replica imagining what the statue may have looked like in ancient times. Notably, the museum contains five of the original caryatids from the Erechtheum (a sixth is in the British Museum).

The top floor is dedicated entirely to the Parthenon and is positioned askew from the bottom floors so that its orientation lines up with that of the real Parthenon (visible from the windows). The museum has constructed a framework with columns spaced the same as the Parthenon columns. This allows the friezes, metopes, and pediments (mostly replicas, since the British Museum contains the majority of the originals) to be displayed in the same location as they would have been found on the historic Parthenon. (Some heights have been reduced and other modifications made for ease of viewing.)

You can walk around all four sides of the structure and imagine you are walking around the actual Parthenon, only in a modern, climate-controlled building. It is a fantastic space, and I cannot imagine a better presentation of these pieces. If Athens built this museum to advocate for the return of the Parthenon marbles (I think this is likely true), then they have made their case. So move over, British Museum, the New Acropolis Museum has you beat. It's time to return the Elgin marbles to Greece.