Month of Travel: Thessaloniki

The final installment of my month of travel series…this work trip took place at the end of January 2017.

With a layover in Munich, I get plenty of airtime over the Alps. Yet the awesome sight does nothing to control the overpowering drowsiness I feel. Not even the piercing wails of two children prevent me from sleeping.
I have heard so much about Thessaloniki’s beauty, but the city greets me with gray skies and rain. After checking in at the hotel and reading e-mails, I walk to orient myself.
Along my loop, I stop at the Arch of Galerius, built in 297.
Later, two work colleagues and I have dinner in the Ladadika area at Ρόδι & Μέλι. Through the window, three cats watch us and I finally get their picture when we leave.
The next morning, I attend a ceremony at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to commemorate a new fellowship program between my work and AUTH. Following a leisurely lunch at the faculty club, Keith and I — we the two happy Americans — receive a tour from Anna, a colleague and AUTH faculty member.
We stop to marvel this gorgeous place, a rare historic building that is not a Roman monument, Byzantine church, or an Ottoman bath. Due to the 1917 fire, WWII, and a 1978 earthquake, much of the city center now looks like…
this: concrete high rises, here with a view of a Roman theater at the forum.
We continue our walk through small streets near Tossitsa, where shops sell antiques, used books, and carpets. Anna takes us through a covered walkway to a hidden courtyard filled with restaurant tables. For now, there are only two old men resting their feet, but I can imagine it being a popular spot to spend a warm evening.
Here is an 1891 building that originally housed the Ottoman governor; now it is the Ministry of Macedonian and Thrace. The Ottoman occupation ended a little more than 100 years ago.
More than once, someone told me to read Mark Mazower’s Salonica: City of Ghosts to prepare for the trip. I didn’t end up reading the heavy tome, but I can understand why Thessaloniki might be described as such. There are monuments to the past and to the city’s previous inhabitants everywhere. Of course I didn’t expect to find any  Romans, but I found other absences more eerie. The numerous Ottoman mosques indicate a rich Islamic past, but the 1923 population exchange program between Greek and Turkey forced the city’s Muslims to leave their homes (and the same for Christians living in Turkey). And while the city once boasted a robust Jewish population (for much of the 19th century, Jews comprised 50% of the city’s population, see Wikipedia), now only two synagogues remain. This one, built in 1927, survived WWII because the Red Cross occupied the building.
In the evening, a large group of us walk again to Ladadika, this time for dinner at Ζύθος, which has an impressive list of Greek beers. I commit something of a faux pas by ordering a salad for my main course, but I’m an unapologetic vegetarian (χορτοφάγος). Following dinner, a smaller group sets out for Malt n’ Jazz, where a blues band takes the stage at 11pm for a fantastic set. Five of us dance happily to songs like “Born Under a Bad Sign”, “Down in Mexico”, and “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow”.
Staying out late dancing exacerbates the jet lag…big time. By the next morning I have barely slept and I can detect the unmistakable symptoms of a cold. I survive a morning meeting and then retreat for a nap. My plan to go to the Archaeological Museum is quite dashed by my exhaustion. Later Anna takes me and Keith for lunch at Αγιολί, where we sit upstairs overlooking the bay. In the afternoon, I  walk along the water to catch the sun and reset those circadian rhythms.
Another great building!
I perk up by the evening in time for a group interview before our lecture event at the Archaeological Museum.
Did you think this was an academic panel? Surprise! I sing “I Fall to Pieces” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as part of a discussion around the theme of “Disintegration and Reintegration” in ancient Greek poetry and the Greek bible. Read more at Classical Inquiries. Following the event, we have another big group dinner — some 15 of us — at a lovely, modern place with great murals, but I forgot to note the name.
On Saturday, my last day in Thessaloniki, I walk all around town with three different guides. First, Anna takes me and Keith via taxi up to the Vlatadon Monastery with its amazing view.
We listen to the rooster and watch the peacocks.
Here is the 14th century Byzantine church that is part of the monastery.
We then walk through the narrow streets of Ano Poli, a neighborhood that preserves the feel of the old Ottoman city.
The city’s Byzantine walls still survive too.
For better or worse, the Ano Poli district suffers from graffiti. This is my favorite picture from the trip.
Another favorite image, which shows a quiet, pretty spot in Ano Poli — high up away from the congested shopping streets in the city center. As we get closer to the downtown area, we become vigilant about dog poo, which seems to plague certain streets.
Anna takes us to Agios Dimitrios with its evocative crypt from the Roman period.
Dimitrios is the patron saint of Thessaloniki and the University features the saint’s face on its seal.
Next we visit the Rotunda. A Roman site that then became a church that then became a mosque with minaret that then became a museum.
The city sometimes holds concerts inside. Patches of mosaic still survive…
the City of Heaven
and peacocks. The gold is so stunning in person.
In the early afternoon, Keith and I head out for lunch with colleagues Christina and Evan, and graduate student Olga and her boyfriend. We pass the city’s modern cathedral.
Olga takes us for falafel and gryos; she also makes sure we stop in a bakery to try these cream-filled pastries. Thessaloniki is a city of bakeries! Next time I visit I will make a more systematic tour. Thessaloniki is the foodie capital of Greece, like Lyon is in France, I hear.
In the late afternoon, we meet Irini, who takes me and Keith for a relaxing walk and then a drive up to another part of Ano Poli near the Chain Tower, an old prison.
The view is lovely and we see it both at sunset and then later at night after we three have had a snack at an atmospheric cafe strung with lights. Later still Keith and I have a delicious dinner at Ionos, where (unusually) everyone respects the smoking ban. We split a beet salad, as we have learned that salads are starters and for sharing, and I have a tasty mushroom pasta. We even receive free dessert!
Once again I cannot sleep. I get up around 4am to shower and wait until it’s time to go to the airport. I have run out of travel tissues and stock up on toilet paper to blow my nose every time I visit a bathroom. It’s a rough, long journey home with yia-yias pushing me out of the way to get their luggage and excited families who shout Russian, but speak English. I try to sleep as much as possible. Here I am after arriving home and sleeping for 12 hours. Next time in Thessaloniki? I will keep to my East Coast rhythms; then I’ll be on a truly Greek schedule (waking hours noon to 4am) and will be able to take in all the nightlife and delights — music, drinks, salads, pastries — that this city by the bay offers.

Athens, τὸ κλεινὸν ἄστυ

(Greece Part 5 of 5)

With the end of the trip looming near, I was grateful to spend the last three nights in one hotel. I had to fight with my door to get it open or closed and it was always a struggle to wedge my room key into the slot for the power to come on, but the bed was comfy. Had I known that there was a jacuzzi with a view of the Parthenon, I might have brought a bathing suit.

Athens is a city of contradictions: its exquisite ruins, sublime metro, sophisticated nightlife, its graffiti, grime, and packs of wild dogs. I’d been to the “glorious city” once before in March 2009, not long after some riots. On this visit, the city seemed quieter, calmer, less crowded. Despite all the debt crisis news, the post-holiday sales ensured packed stores on Ermou Street. I went out one night to a happening place near the Kerameikos where everyone was drinking 7 or 8 euro mixed drinks…life goes on.

Early on Thursday morning, we followed a wide pedestrianized street around the Acropolis to the Agora. (Picture from 2009)
A highlight of the agora is the Hephaisteion, possibly the best-preserved temple in existence.
Next we visited the Kerameikos to see reproductions of beautiful funerary stele, as well as the Pompeion, a structure along the Sacred Way that marked the starting point of the Panathenaic procession. (Photo from 2009)
We took taxis to the National Archaeological Museum, but before going inside, each of us had a restorative beverage of choice: coffee or milkshake. I've already mentioned some of the Mycenaean treasures on display at the museum in previous posts, but here's a favorite object of mine in ivory. The women's flounced skirts are Minoan in style.
This jaw-dropping golden cup, found in a grave at Dendra near Midea, features swirling octopi. We left the museum just as it was closing up at 3:00. In the afternoon, my fellow travelers exhibited their shopping prowess. I was on the look out for a good tea shop, but instead we found the motherload of chocolate shops -- about 5 of them all on Voulis Street. That evening I had the pleasure of going out with my Greek coworker, a friend of hers, and two girls on the trip. It was a little taste of Athenian nightlife and a much needed change of scene.
On the final day, we visited the impressive Acropolis Museum, where you can walk around the frieze panels and metopes all while gazing up to the Parthenon or out across Athens. Museum gift shop lovers take note: the Acropolis Museum has the best gift shop in Greece. Entrepreneurs take note: Greek museums need more swag. From the museum, one can only go to the Acropolis, where reconstruction and conservation work never ends. I loved the piles of Ionic capitals.
The Erechtheion remains one of the most creative and engaging architectural masterpieces of all time (at least in my opinion). As our exploration of the Acropolis neared its end, I could sense a kind of giddiness in our group. Unfortunately, I could also sense a cold beginning to creep upon me. I still needed to buy some gifts and I was eager to have a quiet afternoon, so I set off alone.
On a beautiful Friday, everyone was out. I saw a crowd around one man's wares -- he had super cool magnets featuring old movie posters and advertisements. Somehow he got me to buy 4. Gifts mostly taken care of, I turned to satisfy my stomach and on Voulis I found a bakery selling savory pies. I got one for lunch and sat in the public gardens not far away. I wanted to find the Greek Folk Art museum (if only to use their bathroom), but gave up after wandering in the circles around the Plaka. I did, however, find a lovely gourmet food shop, where I got some other goodies for family and friends. I had some time to rest and pack before our final dinner. It had been a good trip. (Photo from 2009)


Beyond the Argolid

(Greece Part 4 of 5)

On the seventh day, we packed up for a night in Pylos near the southwestern tip of the Peloponnese. Our first stop, the Argive Heraion, wasn’t far from Nafplion. From this ancient Temple to Hera, we could see Argos. In Herodotus, Solon tells Croesus the story of two young men, Kleobis and Biton, whose lives were well-lived. Their mother was a priestess of the Heraion. One day she needed to get to the temple from Argos, but there was a problem with the oxen, so Kleobis and Biton pulled her cart to the temple. After the priestess prays to the goddess to give her sons the best gift for their devotion, the goddess causes them to die peacefully in their sleep. I always associate this story with Delphi, where the Argives are said to have dedicated statues of the brothers. This morning, however, we were all getting the tingles looking over the plain to Argos thinking of K & B (as one student on the trip affectionately called them) and Herodotus.
The drive from Argos to Sparta, where we stopped next, is about 2 hours. High above the valley of the River Eurotas sits the Menelaion, a hero shrine to Menelaus, who was the King of Sparta during the Trojan War. He was the brother of Agamemon, King of Mycenae, and the husband of the infamous Helen. As beautiful as the Eurotas valley is, I can totally understand why Helen ran off with Paris: Sparta is landlocked, in the middle of nowhere, completely bounded by mountains.
Heres’s a better view of the valley with the river running through it. That’s modern Sparta at center.
And now a better view of the Taygetos mountains, which the Menelaion faces. If Menelaus wanted to pay old King Nestor a visit, he would have to go through these mountains, which Odysseus’ son, Telemachos, crossed on his journey from Pylos to Sparta to learn of his father’s whereabouts. What amazes me is that the Spartans dominated their whole corner of the Peloponnese, which means they controlled land and people on the other side of two mountain ranges: the Taygetos mountains in the west and the Parnon mountains in the east.
While walking down from the Menelaion, the group found a family — all three generations — harvesting olive trees. A tarp collects the olives while the workers use an electronic branch shaker. At the same time, they also prune the trees and use another machine to take the olives off the cut branches. Especially in this area of the Peloponnese, I saw tall columns of smoke billowing up from the olive groves as other harvesters burned their pruned branches. An important note: do NOT eat raw olives off the tree. They are nasty little fruits with a potent, lingering bitterness.
Sparta has a small town feel. It was here that some of the girls on the trip took notice of a strange trend in men’s fashion: sweatsuits. A few of us ate lunch at the Ministry Music Hall on Sparta’s main street. We sat outside, but to get to the bathroom inside, one had to swim through a smokey sea of Sparta’s beautiful people, partying midday on Monday. No matter, the food was really good and we needed sustenance to make it through our epic drive through the Taygetus mountains.
A truly amazing drive it was on a narrow road that crossed under cliffs and switchbacked its way to the top of the snow-capped range and then back down again. Just on the other side is Kalamata (you know, like Kalamata olives), where our driver stopped at this donut place.
As the sky went dark, we arrived at the Hotel Philip in Pylos. I loved my room and the view. The bed had a distinctly non-Greek mattress (i.e. it was comfortable).
John wasn’t with me for this trip, so I tried to do the things he does when traveling, like waking up for the sunrise to take pictures. Here’s beautiful Pylos in the morning. On the islands in the picture are monuments to the French, Russian, and English Philhellene soliders who died in the 1827 Battle of Navarino during the Greek War of Independence. Navarino was Pylos’ Italian name, which stuck from the Venetian occupation.
The day began like usual at a Bronze Age site — this time the so-called Nestor’s Palace, famous for its humongous hearth. Some paint on the hearth still remains, looking something like flames licking the fire. The archives room in Nestor’s Palace has been the source of some 600 Linear B tablets, which were baked accidentally in a fire, probably around 1200 BCE. Archaeologists have also found Linear B tablets on Crete. These tablets are usually administrative records, like inventories of livestock.
This picture did not come out well, but I have to include it. The Mycenaeans not only kept warm in style with their fancy frescoed hearth room, they also bathed in style. What a beautiful tub!
At the unheated Pylos museum, we encountered a guard with his shirt open to his navel and this magnificent gold cup. The museum also contained fragments from frescoes which decorated the hearth room and other areas of the palace.
In the afternoon we arrived back in Nafplion with enough time to climb up to the Palimidi, a Venetian fortress with an amazing view of the town.
The ninth day began at Nemea, site of one of the four Panhellenic games and of this 4th-century Temple of Zeus. It was here too that Heracles killed a lion as one of his twelve labors.
At Nestor’s Palace, I saw a Bronze Age bathtub, while here at Nemea are washing basins for the athletes. Seeing everyday objects like this always brings the past alive for me.
A short distance from the religious and business complex at Nemea is the stadium.
One of the trip leaders and three of the students ran in a race, but they found it quite difficult to run on clay mud.
Next we stopped in Corinth to see the older (and shorter and stocky) Temple of Apollo from the 6th century BCE. Since the Classical and Roman periods weren’t our focus, we moved quickly through the huge site of Corinth. I think it’s one of the best sites to give the idea of what an ancient city was like.
Finally, we reached our destination and base for the last two days of the trip: Athens. (Allow me to confess: John took this picture on a previous trip.)

Part 5 When in Athens…

Mycenae Means Gold

(Greece Part 3 of 5)

Saturday morning, the fifth day of the trip, marked a low moment for me. After getting off the floating palace (or shall we say administrative center), I struggled to awake from my Dramamine-induced stupor. On the way to Nafplion, we visited Lerna, where settlement began in the Neolithic age, some 8,000 years ago. Among endless orange groves, we found the House of Tiles, a mudbrick building, from the mid-3rd millenium BCE, but I wanted only to sleep. Even my camera was dead.

However, I couldn't stay tired and cranky for long in Nafplion, our base for the next two nights. Plus, there was laundry service for us! I have never been so excited about the prospect of clean clothes in my life. Let it be written, there is such a thing as packing too lightly and no matter how many times you turn something inside out, it's still not clean. We spent midday at the Center for Hellenic Studies building (above), looking on to Philhellene Square. Then we went to the town's awesome archaeological museum with its prehistoric and Mycenaean collections.
I haven't traveled extensively in Greece, but I feel rather certain that no town is as picturesque as Nafplion. True, it has the feeling of a weekend or summer resort, but its gorgeous coast, shops, and gelaterias can't be beat.
Strolling along the coast, I was reminded of California's Route 1. I saw some great plants: cacti covering rocky hillsides, wild grasses, pines, shocking flowers. One plant had fuzzy orange flowers, large bean pods, and prickles; I desperately want to know what it was.
On Sunday morning, I got up early to take some pictures, but the weather wasn't that great. However, I enjoyed hearing some of the church services as I walked through the narrow alleys.
After breakfast the group assembled for a day exploring the Mycenaeans, their cyclopean walls, and great megara. We began at Tiryns, which is close to Nafplion and therefore to the sea. It may have served as a kind of harbor for Mycenae. At the end of the trip in Athens at the National Archaeological Museum, we saw an amazing gold signet ring from Tiryns depicting lion-headed demons approaching a woman or goddess, while crescent moons fill the sky.
Next we drove further inland and climbed to the acropolis of Midea. From the top I could still see Nafplion and the sea. Though we didn't visit it, Midea's cemetery is called Dendra and has been the source of some unbelievable archaeological finds, including a suit of Mycenaean armor which is at the Nafplion Archaeological Museum. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens also holds finds from Midea and Dendra, including imported objects like ostrich eggs vessels.
Our third site of the day was the incomparable Mycenae, the center of an empire, located between two foreboding mountains. Ancient roads go from Mycenae to Epidauros, east to the Sardonic Gulf, and west to Corinth. To me, the heart of Mycenae is Grave Circle A. Unusually, the grave circle is inside the fortress walls and its location, adjacent to the fortress cult center, shows its religious significance to the Mycenaeans. The graves date to the 16th century BCE, but the walls enclosing the grave circle date to the 13th century BCE. Again, highlighting the special significance of the graves to the Mycenaeans are the double walls around grave circle. They are made from a special stone that comes only from Perachora, some 60 kilometers away.
Here's another look from the cult center to Grave Circle A.
Unfortunately, robbers long ago looted the treasure in Mycenae's tholos tombs. However, these bee-have-shaped tombs, constructed without mortar, still stand as architectural marvels. I've been to Mycenae twice and neither visit afforded me the opportunity to visit all the tombs. Maybe next time I'll get to see the progression of their building technique from the earliest tomb, named for Aegisthos, to the masterpiece known as the Treasury of Atreus (pictured above).
That afternoon, we headed back to Nafplion for some quality cafe-sitting and shopping time. At dinner that night, I was happy to eat my first serving of giant beans in Greece.

Additional Viewing: Mycenaean Treasure

Gold signet ring, Tiryns
Ostrich egg rhyton, Midea
Gold death mask, Mycenae, Grave Circle A
Gold rhyton, Mycenae, Grave Circle A

Part 4: Beyond the Argolid…

Chasing Rainbows

(Greece Part 2 of 5)

The third day of the trip was by far my favorite. It began in Gortyn, Crete’s Roman capital, with a look at some very old olive trees.
The most important thing to see is the Gortyn law code, the oldest Greek code of law, displayed in the back of the theater.
I liked that just beyond the site, sheep were grazing on the hill.
Next we headed to Phaistos, an important Minoan administrative center, which has a spectacular setting overlooking the Mesara Plain. I could imagine Minoan bureaucrats watching over the fields and waiting for the villagers to bring their livestock and produce for counting. Phaistos is a pleasure to walk around. It’s easy to get chills walking up the ancient steps from the theatral area into the palace complex (near the center of the picture). Phaistos has three large courts (the photo above shows two) and I was excited to see the treasury area where archaeologists discovered the famed Phaistos disk.
The Phaistos complex was built and rebuilt many times from 1900-1450BCE due to earthquakes and political instability. Here’s a view from the central court looking up to the sacred mountain.
From Phaistos, we drove just a few kilometers to Agia Triada, another key Bronze Age site. Under the covering is Agia Triada’s main structure, the Minoan “Royal Villa.” Interestingly, however, the villa also features a Mycenaean-style structure, the megaron. Outside of the site, which is bounded by a fence, a hillside covered with olive trees and wildflowers hides a  Minoan cemetery, comprised of tholos tombs and chamber tombs. Archaeologists found the well-preserved Agia Triada sarcophagus in one of the chamber tombs.
And the view from the site to the Libyan sea ain’t half bad.
One of the rooms in the Minoan villa complex shows the benches around the wall and the slots where wooden pillars would have stood.
After our picnic lunch at Agia Triada, we headed north into the mountains to Zaros, a village nestled at the foot of Mt. Psiloritis. In the strong winds, droplets from the day’s early rains began flying about, while a great cloud settled on top of the snowy mountain.
We were staying in a family-owned guesthouse in the village and before we could go to our rooms it was imperative that we do the guest-host dance and experience true xenia hospitality. Some cookies and Cretan tea awaited us by the fire. Cretan herbal tea is a mix of savory herbs; oregano and sage seemed to dominate here. Over the course of the evening, I became a big fan of the cure-all tea. We still had a few hours of sunlight, so I asked the proprietor where was a good place to take pictures. She drew me a map and said she would drive me there and I could walk back. At a modern outdoor theater, there was a huge rock with a large hole where I could climb in and get a picture of the whole valley. It was frighteningly windy, but I got my picture.
We had one of the biggest and most delicious dinners in Zaros. It featured great vegetarian fare (a potato frittata; salad of cabbage, beets, avocado, hard boiled egg) and a life changing dessert: a quince jam parfait. The next morning greeted us not only with perfect weather, but also a multitude of different filled pies for breakfast. Pies of all shapes, usually finger food sized, filled with cheese or meat or fruit or nuts, some fried, some baked. Heaven.
Our last day on Crete began with a pilgrimage to the Panagia Myrtidiotissa at Paliani, near Venerato. This nunnery is devoted to Mary, Our Lady of the Myrtles. A massive and ancient myrtle tree occupies a whole corner behind the church. None of my pictures came out because little light makes it through the tree’s pendulous branches where worshippers hang votives in shapes representing their prayers (so votives are in the shape of babies or houses, etc).
From Venerato, we had a short drive to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion. Only a greatest hits gallery is open to the public while the museum goes through renovation and earthquake-proofing. I rarely take pictures in museums, but some things I couldn’t resist, like this awesome Minoan pottery. If you’ve taken any Greek archaeology class, this is the place to go to see your textbook images of Minoan objects come alive.
With about seven hours until dinner, a few of us set out to explore the city. I love its mix of modern and Venetian buildings. At the Historical Museum of Crete, I learned that 2013 will mark Crete’s 100th anniversary of joining Greece. I wonder whether any festivities are in the works for “the other Greece.”
An essential dish to try is loukoumades, little donuts drenched in a honey syrup.
Heraklion has a long pier where residents go to exercise and walk their dogs. It makes for a spectacular sunset walk.
After a restrained dinner at the swanky Hotel Lato, we boarded the Knossos Palace, an overnight “ferry.” This massive vessel transports cars and trucks from Crete to the mainland. If you don’t want to sleep in your room, chair, or sleeping bag in the hallway, you can always swim, drink, and dance the night away. With a 6am disembarkation, a party pooper like myself chose sleep.

Part 3 Off to the mainland…

Oh, the Wind and the Rain

(Greece Part 1 of 5)

After all 12 of us arrived in Athens, we boarded a plane to Chania, a small city in the western end of Crete. We collected our soggy luggage and headed out into the dark, rainy night to meet our bus. Somehow we managed to pick up an extra passenger. Apparently he was heading into Chania too and wanted a ride. This seemed a hilarious introduction to Greece: our bus driver trying to explain to this man that this was a specially chartered bus just for the group and the man replying, yes, but you’re going to Chania anyway, and I’m not causing any harm, so why not let me sit here. Of course, we gave him the ride.

It was late and I was tired, but I knew the next morning I would get up early to take some pictures…

On a January morning, Chania's harbor looked like a ghost town and yet I could sense how beautiful and busy it must be in the summer tourist season. A few locals scuttled to work in the cold. I followed their example and walked as far from the water as possible.
Though occasional waves crashed over Chania's harbor, the jetty and Venetian lighthouse provided a sense of calm inside the walls. Outside, however, the sea was crazed. Its fury scared me and suddenly I understood why the ancients just didn't sail at all during the winter.
Chania has a small, but excellent archaeological museum. We saw some impressive Minoan seals, pottery, and sarcophagi, as well as linear A and B tablets. The bulls, pictured above at center, are votive offerings to Poseidon.
In the afternoon, I went for a walk through modern Chania. Unlike the silent harbor area, the city's center away from the water (and therefore the tourists) bustled with traffic and people. I walked by the market, city gardens, and stadium before the hail started. I spent quite a long time under an awning regretting my stinginess: I desperately needed a water repellent jacket.
Buoyed by the end of the storm, I walked a little too close to the water's edge and got drenched. My face tasted like salt the rest of the night. The mishap made me happy and at dinner the shot of tsikoudia (or raki), along with some delightful white wine, only lifted my spirits higher.
The next day, we headed east to central Crete. The road from Chania to Iraklion is stunning with its fertile green hills of orange and olive trees as well as grape vines.
We arrived in Knossos where Arthur Evans has irreparably left his mark. Here are his concrete horns on consecration.
I think on a future trip I would visit Knossos after having seen Phaistos. Knossos is so big and all the more complex due to the reconstructions. One member of our group pointed out that the elevated walkways prevent you from approaching and interacting with space in a historically accurate way. Maybe it was rain and wind getting me down, but I gave up and had a coffee.
Rain and hail slightly marred our experience at the next stop: Phourni, a Minoan cemetery.
Despite the weather, I enjoyed a beautiful walk up the mountain. A friendly dog kept us company and heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, when we finally reached the entrance to the cemetery, it was closed. Still, I'm glad to have gotten this magical picture.
We left the Minoan world for a foray into modern Crete and its capital, Heraklion or Iraklion. This gritty, but lively and -- I 'll even go as far to say -- enchanting city has truly labyrinthine streets with matching names (like Ariadne). From my window at the Hotel Lato, I could watch the racuous waves and, even as I tried to fall asleep after a tasty meal accompanied by more delicious white wine, the howling wind kept me from drifting off.

Part 2 Then, we headed south…

Greece as Winter Wonderland

Last week I returned from a two-week tour of Greece. As neither student nor Greek-speaking administrator nor trip leader, I occupied the curious role as the bumbling program coordinator from another continent. Occasionally, I directed the videographer accompanying our group, but more often than not, I served as the noble tripod carrier.

I’d like to say that this was a trip of personal growth, but really it brought into relief all my limitations: my inability to adapt to situations where I have no control, my constant need for domesticity and order, and my plan to pack only practical clothing, which totally back fired for three reasons:

  1. I always feel like an idiot in white sneakers and a windbreaker that screams AMERICAN. However, I was delighted to be told that I had a Greek face on two occasions.
  2. Turns out what I packed wasn’t so practical anyway. What I needed was a proper winter coat and a totally waterproof ensemble. An extra pair of shoes wouldn’t have hurt either.
  3. Clothes are such an important part of identity making and projecting. It’s easy to forget who you are and want to be when wearing a 10-year-old gray fleece everyday.

So maybe this trip didn’t burst my bubble, but it certainly made me aware of it.

The trip was also such a humbling experience, because I got to observe the excellent work of a Greek colleague. With her help, I learned a little Modern Greek and got some insight into the perplexing Greek bureaucracy. Even with the right paperwork, you’ll always have to negotiate with somebody.

The whole time, I was secretly planning a return trip so I could enjoy the sites at a different pace. I especially want to revisit Crete, which totally blew me away with its natural beauty, delicious food, unusual tea, and spectacular white wines. No wonder the Minoan art is known for its depiction and celebration of the natural world.

Two last notes before I begin my photo-journal of the trip. We spent four nights in Crete, a night on an overnight ferry, four nights in the Peloponnese, and three nights in Athens. Our daily schedule looked something like this:

8:00 breakfast

8:30 departure

9:00-3:00 visit sites

4:00 lunch and free time

6:30 preview meeting

7:30 dinner

Now, to begin with Chania…