CHAPTER 9 : GREEK FABLES – INSPIRATIONAL GREECE & GREEK ISLANDS
MY 15 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ATHENS – TRY TO DO ALL!
1. Acropolis – climb to the top to see the Parthenon and Erechtheion, and great views of lovely Athens.
2. Acropolis Museum – housing the artefacts found on site belonging to the Parthenon. These are restored in the museum as best to show how the Parthenon originally looked. We know that many of the carvings and statues were taken by Lord Elgin back to London where they sit in the British Museum. This museum was built in the hope that one day they would return to Athens.
3. The Plaka – this is the very old district of Athens at the foot of the Acropolis, with very colourful streets and shops and is a very lively area at night.
4. Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon
5. Panathenaic stadium where the modern day Olympic Games were held
6. Lycabettus Hill, catch the funicular car from Kolonaki to reach the top and see magnificent views of Athens and visit 19th century Chapel of St. George
7. Take a day cruise to the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina
8. National Archaeological Museum a very important museum, largest in Greece devoted to Ancient Greek art.
9. Walk through Hadrian’s Arch to see the Temple of Olympia Zeus
10. Benaki Museum – the oldest museum in Athens housing over 40,000 pieces of Greek art dating back to antiquity.
11. See changing of the pom-pom guard at Hellenic Parliament House and Syntagma square
12. Go down into the Metro system to see the artifects dug up during building of the rail system housed behind glass like a museum.
13. Visit Ancient Agora – the longest standing classical building in Athens
14. Monastiraki Flea Markets
15. Dinner and traditional Greek dancing at Geros Tou Moria in the old Plaka area at base of Acropolis. A must to do.
Ever since first seeing that great movie “Shirley Valentine” which must have done wonders for promoting tourism to Greece, I had this insatiable fantasy of going to the Greek Islands to get my stretch marks kissed, just like that jovial lass. Read on to ascertain if my mission was accomplished!
On our first exploration trip to Greece for Michelle’s big birthday, we were transferred by Siva Travel and coach to Piraeus harbour for embarkation for our 3 day cruise on “The Olympic“. Now this was to be the start of one of the most fabulously romantic holidays any imaginative travel agent could possibly dream up. There have been, over the years some very memorable movies filmed in these waters, like, “Boy on a Dolphin” where Sophia Loren initiated the “wet T-shirt look”, “Summer Lovers” filmed on Santorini, “Never on Sunday”, “Who pays the Ferryman”, “Zorba the Greek” etc. all whetting the appetite.
Loading and embarkation went smoothly with the help of my friend Michelle the Trafalgar on-board Tour Manager & representative, and one of the main reasons for the voyage, as it was to be her big 50 birthday and we had a few surprises in store.
After a short briefing by Michelle our Trafalgar tour manager on on-shore excursions, and safety drill we were steaming down past Cape Sounion toward the open Aegean. From the rear deck, the minute you see the blue and white striped Greek flag waving in the breeze, you know you are off on your seafaring adventure.
Straight away that unique light that is typically Aegean lightens the heart, it is such an ethereal azure blue. So too the indefinable colour of the sea, unique only to the Greek Archipelago. The waters are literally dotted with islands, you are never far from one. Each has its own barren beauty, as one of our guides stated “those rocks surely have tales to tell“, as they have stood like sentinels over the centuries watching all marine traffic crisscrossing from early civilization. Only the white houses dotting the hills break the stark barrenness.
The MTS Olympic was an old but comfortable vessel, capacity of 1200 passengers and crew. Boasting three lounges, a Cinema, Casino, Night Club, Dining room etc, it had every convenience a modern ship could offer. Every night the on-board entertainment was fantastic, and when one bar closed, another opened, one could stay up all night on board, which certainly has a cult following.
Our first port of call was Mykonos, which did not disappoint this tourist. It was everything ever dreamed of. The flagstone streets, narrow and winding past quaint little white cottages with blue doors and windows and quainter still shops, almost like toy town. The outdoor tavernas offered a setting to write home about. And those gold jewellery shops with beckoning displayed windows. All that glitters really is gold there.
Mykonos even has its own resident mascot, a pelican named Petros who pops up all over the place. The walk from the water-front to see the intrinsic wind-mills along the restaurant dotted shore known as little Venice, is a photographer’s dream. Especially if you are there when that sun sets as an orange coloured ball, and unlike Homer’s “The sun went down, and all the ways grew dark” from ‘The Odyssey’, this place lights up at night, to myriads of lights and reflected lights, of a cheesy glow.
It has so much atmosphere. To add to the mystique of the place, although fine and sunny when the tenders took us across, storm clouds were brewing at a great rate, winds gathered to gale-force, and heavy rain speared across the bay, creating havoc. Disembarked passengers from the ships ran in panic, as they watched their vessels up-anchor and shift to the sheltered side of the island. They thought they were being left behind. But as quickly as the storm hit, it passed leaving a Venetian looking setting, soaked but happy tourists, having seen nature vent a fine show of tempest.
We did go back to Mykonos for a short stay at the end of the cruise, to really explore the island on foot and by mo-ped which is the universal way of getting around the small islands. Though small, they can be a little misleading, and all of those rock-walled roads and white houses and lanes tend to look the same at dusk. We did get thoroughly lost on our moped, John yelled out to me which way left or right, and I gave the wrong call, and the video recorder I had perched on my shoulder in the pillion seat recorded “you stupid bi.ch”! Not nice. We stayed at Shirley Valentine’s beach, Platys Giallos which was more by luck than travel agent’s design, and it was just like in the movie, with shore lined tavernas and beach furniture, just wonderful. Greek music and dance issued forth from along that area every night.
One of our very fond, and funny memories was after an atmosphere filled dinner where we were getting more and more adventurous with the local dishes, and really savouring them, and a warm feeling from the Greek red wine, which is light in colour and smooth on the palate, feeling quite resplendent after a few of these, and after downing a couple of fast complimentary ouzo’s to compliment a great meal, we headed for the water’s edge. All dressed up in the Shirley Valentine dress, the idea to emulate that great love scene in ‘From Here to Eternity’ with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster sprang to mind.
The suggestion to my Stavros (John of course Just in case you are worried) was not received favourably, and he declined and reclined in his deck chair. Meanwhile my deck chair folded up sending me to the sand, and lying helpless, with legs in the air was engulfed by a huge wave from nowhere. King Neptune had got me, or was it the God Poseidon? Johnno said all he could see was my nose sticking out of the foam. Very funny.
You can hire your very own boat to visit one of the many beaches around the island, secluded, or popular like the famous Paradise and Super Paradise nude (and super-nude) beaches.
Of course when you get off fully clothed, the nudists look at you like you came from Mars, so “when in Rome” or Greece as the case may be, get it all off – who gives a continental! Not even the boatman gives a second glance at the bared bod, which is a little disconcerting! Like I mightn’t be Elle Macpherson, but…! At least, the video ‘cracked-up’, and refused to work anymore. Turned out, my face wasn’t as red as some private parts on the beach. John thought it was funny when I got off the boat and said “you don’t know anyone here do you”?
Prudence (whoever she is) dictated you still wore some clothing, so a hat, sunglasses and a corona etc.would do for this chick who would probably never come back to Super Paradise again in this lifetime anyway. Most memorable about Mykonos is the little white chapels with their red or blue domes. Each one would only seat about 8 people at a pinch, so you couldn’t hold a Royal wedding here. It is said the reason why there are so many, is that each time a fisherman is caught in a life-threatening storm, he promises if his life is spared, he will build a chapel as a form of thanks-giving.
Meanwhile back on board the Olympic, we were on our way to our next port of the beautiful island of Rhodes or Rodos to the Greeks. Rhodes is both a very modern city as well as preserving its origins in a proud well preserved manner, for example the Palace of the Grand Master and Street of the Knights, as left by the crusading Knights of St. John.
Our fabulous guide, Phyllis (a good friend of Michelle) had a “way with words”. We all hung on her every issuance as the coach wound its way from the harbour of Mandraki, over the moat surrounding the old walled city heading for Lindos, on the eastern side of the island 55kms distant. As we passed a local beach she called it “Rotisserie beach” we thought that a funny name until seeing a glint in her eye, we all got the meaning.
The visitor to Lindos is never quite prepared for the mystery and magnificence that abounds at the acropolis there. Thereon stands the remains of the medieval castle and temple to the goddess Athena and even today the modern day crusader climbs the steep precipice as did the 3rd and 4th century BC worshippers, winding up to that Great Staircase, part of which still remains, past the graceful boat of stone. There is an air of the past being present, an uncanny awe -someness about the place hard to define.
Before ascending the staircase to Lindos Phyllis said to all “if you open your heart and mind to accept a spiritual encounter at this very special place, it will show and manifest itself in the most amazing form, so be prepared”. And so with that provocation in an open mind one was readied for any unusual occurrence. Would it be an encounter with someone up there, would it be in the aesthetic formation of the Temple to Athena, would it be in its approach along the long winding stairway, as if to heaven, How? To me it came as the most radiant of light shone off the sea, reminding one of how lucky we are to have the light and warmth of God given sunlight every day.
Lindos, which is 55 Ks from the city of Rhodes, looks imposing from miles away, with its steep cliff rising 166m from sea level. It has two beautiful harbours either side, one named after St. Paul who anchored there on his journeys. The temple at the top is dedicated to the Goddess Athena and its remains depict the beauty and architectural genius of the place. The ancient temple has no alter, as the original founders, the Heliades were sun worshippers, and it is no wonder, as here the sun emits such translucence and reflection, with 360 degree vision. In the ancient city, medieval remains of a Byzantine Empire can be seen, and are quite charming with their cobbled streets. Also the Crusades which were of great historical significance with their holy wars and consequent Orders of the Knights leaving a legacy of grand buildings such as the Palace of the Grand Master.
The entrance of the harbour at Rhodes still remains, but not the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the ancient seven wonders of the world. It was the work of a Lindian sculptor, stood 31m. tall in bronze, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 BC.
One of the most significant Rodian art forms, which I have had the pleasure of seeing in the Louvre Museum in Paris is ‘The Nike’ or Winged Victory which depicts the grace and beauty of the Hellenistic period of sculpture. It originally stood on the prow of a ship in 190 BC. One feels quite young, over there, as you hear a lot about antiquities.
On we sailed to Patmos – one could spend days exploring these small Greek Islands on foot, but in just a few hours you get to visit the grotto of St. John the Divine where he wrote the apocalyptic Revelations and lived to the age of 104. To this day I think he must have been on magic mushrooms to write the last chapter in the Bible
The cave where he actually lived is now the site of a quaint little Monastery. Another history book tells us that St. John was liberated from Patmos and was taken to Ephesus where he continued his work.
At any rate, we have his written legacy found in the Revelation, of his description of the appearance of Jesus Christ in the Cavern wherein a rock split in three and remains to be see to this day, as testimony.
Patmos really is a pretty little island in the Dodecanese group, it is only a tiny 34 sq.kms. and only 3,000 people live there in the delightful little white buildings. When you arrive you see perched high above the village, the majestic walls of the Monastery of St. John. Ownership of Patmos went back and forth between the Turks and Greeks over the centuries.
It is quite a climb to reach the acropolis where the Monastery stands, and on our first visit there, on reaching the top, an elderly gentleman just, very elegantly dropped dead in front of us, on the marble stoned floor of the exonarthex, which prompted me to write a poem, as it was such a moving moment in time.
ODE TO THE DEAD MAN AT PATMOS
As we all gazed in awe,
To see the dead man’s face,
Had he climbed up to Apocalypse now
To see his Maker’s face.
He lay there all so peaceful,
Upon rounded cobble-stones,
In white slacks and blue shirt,
A quiet heap of bones.
There was no look of anguish left,
Where once there was life,
His spirit surely gone now,
To bewilderment of wife.
Tell me, did he have a notion,
He would pass away this day?
And if he did, would he think to ask,
Where the ferryman to pay?
Because we all have to pay our dues,
Upon the judgement day.
When we all meet our Maker
Far across from Patmos Bay.
C.Woodward c copyright
The Monasterie’s artifacts are made up of many significant Christian relics such as a piece of wood from the Holy Cross, the scull of St. Thomas the apostle, well preserved writings of the saints and martyrs, and beautifully embossed icons. We have docked at Skala the seaport of Patmos twice, once at sun-rise when the dawn light painted the white houses an orange-pink, and again at sunset, when all the fairly lights glow around this picturesque little piece of Greece.
We then sailed to the Turkish coast and port of Kusadasi, here the waters are greenish in colour not like the Aegean blue. Hence why it is called the ‘turquoise coast”. It is amazing how water colour can change in such a short distance.Compare below photos Turkish coast on left, Rhodes harbour right.
From Kusadasi port you are met by tour coaches to take you to one of the most enthralling places anywhere in the world Ephesus. Ephesus was originally a Greek city with population of 250,000 in the 1st century BC one if the largest cities in the western world. Later a Roman city. The city was well known for its Temple of Artemis (about 550BC) and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
From 52-54 AD St, Paul lived at Ephesus. Whilst living here 53-57BC he wrote his letter to Corinthians I from Paul’s Tower where he was imprisoned . He became embroiled with the artisans of Ephesus for selling statues from the Temple of Artemis. He wrote his letter to the Ephesians whilst in a Rome gaol in 62AD
Here you stroll down the ancient Marble Way, and Hark! you can almost hear the sound of chariot wheels as they pass by the magnificent facade of “The Celsus Library” whose edifice is still standing after all these centuries. How well it must have been constructed not like today’s rush jobs. Then you hear groups break out into gaggles of giggles as the tour guide explains that the row of holes in stone were the first public toilets ever built in the world, and they are still there, with the drains behind that took water to and from the toilets. Amazing.
One of the most spine tingling moments in travel anywhere in the world is seeing the Great Amphitheatre where St. Paul was arrested preaching to the Ephesians, and imprisoned close by before being cast from the city. The hair stood up on the back of my neck sitting in the theatre, and imagining St. Paul speaking to me and the throng from down below on the floor of the theatre. Mighty stuff, and makes you go back to read your Bible to go over the words spoken 2000 years ago. Wow. I defy anyone not to be moved by this experience.
We cruised back to Mykonos to stay as mentioned previously,at the Petassos Beach hotel. This is where I wrote the poem ‘Prenuptials” on a beautiful moonlit night on one of the balconies. Then we ferried to Paros to stay for 2 nights half way up the hill behind this quaint little town, on one of the largest of the Cyclades islands.
We then went back to Santorini which is one of my favourite of all the Cyclades and Greek islands.
Our three night stay on Santorini was at Kamari beach, a black volcanic area, where thousands of tiny black pebbles tickle your toes as you swim in the clear water there. It is offset by a huge cliff, where divers jump from dizzy heights. Kamari has a very cosmopolitan feel about it, with its hundreds of open air restaurants along the fore-front of the beach. Sunsets there from behind the cliff look almost of volcanic origin.
Perched high on the rim of an ancient volcano is Fira and Ia looking like icing sugar or snow on the rim, which is really just the white houses and buildings only interrupted by the blue domes of churches.
The winding little streets hold all sorts of enchanting shops and tavernas. These are the ideal spots to throw back an ouzo and Greek salad as you watch the sunset over the caldera. The Greek bouzouki music spills out from all of the tavernas just adding that little bit of magic.
GREEK ISLAND HOPPING
Greek island hopping’ conjures up lovely images of romantic islands bathed in sunlight surrounded by bluest of blue waters, music, relaxation, beautiful memories. And that is so right. A good way if you have insomnia is not to count sheep but count Greek islands, and I have counted up to 68! I don’t know if anyone has every visited all 68 or not, I certainly haven’t, but would like to! As you could see from the start of “Greek Fables” I have visited quite a few.
I am often asked which Greek island do I like best, and my answer is always “all of them” because they are all intrinsically different, and have their own identity.
It was very fitting that with my great love of the Greek islands and island hopping I became the first Australian wholesaler to actually issue tickets on all of the Greek ferries dealing directly with Blue Star Ferries domestically and Superfast ferries on their international routes. Mind you this did not always run smoothly with my ticket printer often ‘spitting the dummy’ and I would have to call the Greek help desk in the middle of my EST evening and be talked through getting the system up and running again in Greek. Also Greece has its fair share of strikes it could be said without reservation and this is very frustrating trying to get people from one island to the next when these strikes or protest movements eventuate.
The Cyclades group of islands is quite lovely, for instance Mykonos, the white houses, blue doors and window shutters, grey patterned narrow winding streets, its patron Petros the pelican, its nice white sand beaches at Platys Gialos, and other beaches.
Santorini or Thira is very special perched atop an extinct volcano like nowhere else in the world.The houses look like sprinkled icing sugar on top of the grey clifftop, and the blue domed churches look like the icing on the cake. It is said that this vast bottomless crater was where the lost city of Atlantis was said to be.
There is no place anywhere in the world like Oia at the top end of the island of Santorini, well when I say top, could be bottom because Santorini is about the only place in the world I cannot tell north from south, and always reckon the sun comes up where it should be setting. I think it is the magnetism of the place. It is where the sunsets are unbelievable and people sit as in an amphitheatre watching this natural phenomenon every evening, sipping lovely local wine grown in curling baskets at ground level in the unusual vineyards of Santorini.
Paros and Naxos are the largest islands in this Cyclades group and are very similar with mountainous regions and sparsely populated, they do not hold so much allure for me as the former two islands. Ios is called the party island as has a great appeal to the younger generation who sleep all day here, and party all night.
Michelle and I checked out Andros and Tinos islands which were quite different again. I would describe as rustic, scattered, different. Andros did not have any appealing beaches to call me to swim, it had an ancient castle wall, narrow streets, only a population of 9,000 to give an idea of size.Yianni the proprietor of Vincenzo’s units and a popular identity on Tinos showed us all the sights.
Tinos has a great religious significance with the annual festival to the Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary built in 1823 where people crawl on their hands and knees up the long street approaching it to seek an answer to a prayer. It is renowned for its marble and stonework, even the bus shelters are constructed of marble. It has architecturally attractive pigeon lofts all over the island (see below) I have only seen them built quite like this in Tinos, and so if I were a pigeon I would fly back to that lovely island too one day.
There are many small villages perched all over the island and is rocky and vast as well as verdant in some areas.
Also in this group I have not visited are Kea, Serifos, Kythnos, Sifnos, Kimolos, Milos Amorgos, Syros, Sikinos, Anafi, Delos. I always wanted to visit Folegandros in this group, near Santorini but so far never have been to that enticing looking place.
Now we are off to the Dodecanese group. Best know island Rhodes (Rodos) close to the Turkish coast where a daily ferry connects from Marmaris. Rhodes has the walled city and Castle of the Knights of St.John, which is very significant. It also has the Temple of Athena on top of Lindos which is quite remarkable.
I love Patmos in this group, when you sail into its port it tells you it has a secret to tell. It has a monastery on its hilltop that housed St John who wrote the Book of Revelations which tells you it goes back a long, long way. Islands I have not visited in this group are Karpathos, Kassos, Symi, Chalki, Tilos, Nissyros, Kos, Anstypalea, Lipsi, Kalymnos, Telendos, Pserimos, Leros, Kastelloriso.
Now on to Crete, You sail into the harbour of Heraklion the capital, and centre of Minoan civilization, and from here can visit the coastal towns of Rethymnon, Chania the Venetian fortress or Lassithi, also the Palace of Knossos. There is a direct ferry from Chania to Athens.
Close to Athens and its port of Piraeus are the Saronic islands with regular ferry services and day tours to the beautiful ports of very colourful Hydra, Aegina (has the Temple of Athena), Poros,Spetses and Salamis. Unfortunately most people only visit for the day, but it is wise to stopover at any one of these islands.
Now to the islands made famous in the movie “Mamma Mia’ the Sporades group Skopelos, Skiathos, Alonissos and Skyros. I have not visited these (yet) but because I loved the movie and show which I saw in London, would dearly love to.
Euboa, I did not know even existed but when you have a look at what it has to offer it looks very enticing, as do the islands in the East Aegean, Lesbos, Chios, Inousses, Psara, Samos (I have sailed by) Ikaria and Fourni. Also the North Aegean group Thassos, Samothrace, Lemnos, Agios Efstratios. Some of these I have done ferry tickets to but not myself visited.
Now we come to my favourite islands the Ionian islands of Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Ithaca,Corfu which I have visited on several occasions, (see below) but not Lefkada, Meganissi, Paxi, Antipaxi, Kythira, Antikythira, Elafonissos.
Well, all of those island names sure set the SPELL CHECK into a panic.
HARVEY WORLD TRAVEL COWRA BIG GROUP TO GREECE 1998
When we took our group there in 1998, on arrival Athens we visited all the main sites including the Acropolis and Parthenon with its magnificent Erecthion with Caryatid maidens. Some of us ran around the Panathenian athletic arena, well Val Burnett did in fast style, where the new era of Olympic games was staged. Our guide explained to us interesting historical facts that had happened in that age.
We had a delightful eveing in Athens walking from our hotel the Royal Olympic to the Plaka area to attend a plate breaking dinner with Greek dancing at the Gerou Tou Moria taverna.
We had a day tour to Cape Sounion to see the Sanctuary of Poseidon on which Lord Byron’s initials are carved for posterity. This temple has the most magnificent views over the Aegean sea.
We also had an interesting day trip to Delphi, to visit the Oracle! It is a fascinating place, elevated and very elevating spiritually. You see where ancient athletic events were performed as well as many very well restored archaelogical sites such as the Treasury building and the Sanctuary. These date back to early Mycenaen times 14th-11th century BC, in these ancient times Delphi was thought to be the ‘centre of the earth’
We also did a full day tour via the interesting Corinth canal which started construction in 1881 and finished being built in 1893, but would you believe Emperor Nero from Rome started to dig a canal here in 67AD and the philosopher Herodotus in the 2nd century AD also starting digging to no avail.
We traveled on to Mycenae visiting the oldest archaelogical site in the western world. And to Epidavrus with its amphiteatre with fantastic acoustic sound. I consider this to be one of the 7 Wonders of the New World
On boarding the Stella Oceanis our first port of call was Santorini, Plato described Santorini as the last fragment of Atlantis the lost civilization. Science has proven that between 2000 and 1500 BC a cataclysm occurred, eroding a huge crater out of the island, which filled with sea and ended the Minoan era. The diggings at Akrotiri at the south-western tip of the island reveal glimpses of that civilization.
Some of the houses perched on the (now) cliff face, are old caves dug into the slopes, and are just breath-taking with their views. When we went through with our group, it was 7.00am when we arrived to a very quiet, tourist-free island shrouded in light misty rain which gave it an eerie feel, as we walked around the cobbled streets. Some braved the donkeys up the slopes, or should I say the donkeys braved some of the over-weight. The others went up in the cable cars allowing a great view over the caldera.
We had a funny experience last trip, when I was escorting some of my “oldies”, they happened to see John in a gold vendors, jewellery shop and pointed me in, saying he was probably buying me a present. However it turned out he was purchasing a bracelet with Greek meander pattern for the young female jockey who rides his horses at home, but asked me to try it on to see what it looked like. I got called out of the shop and started counting everyone back down the cable cars, when I nearly had them all down, and started to tell one of the remaining ones about the bracelet, when I just happened to notice it was still resplendent on my arm, with price tag, unpaid for! I had no idea it was still there. So, a ‘Stawell Gift’ dash, down to the shop again to confess the sin, to a completely disdainful merchant who could not have cared less, and did not even offer a thankyou. I could have had a lovely bracelet, as well as “the girl friend” but did not fancy the likelihood of a Greek prison term, and a group of Aussie tourists on “the loose” without their leader.
Oia is my favourite place, especially from which vantage point to see the sun set from a delightful little taverna, playing classical music. It is one of those places, you just have to keep going back to. Kodak do very well out of this place, as every footstep is a photo opportunity.
We docked at Heraklion, the capital of Crete and head for the site of the early Minoan civilization the Palace of Knossos Excavations only began a hundred or so years ago, to unearth the fabulous discovery of a site dating back to the Neolithic period (7000-3000BC), proven by radio carbon traces. Then in 3000-1900 BC the area was levelled and the first palace built, which was consequently destroyed by earthquake and the second palace of which there remains extensive features.
The advanced level of technology is evidenced by the remaining structures of beams used for reinforcing the masonry, light-wells, and complex water and drainage systems. A solitary bathtub remains in one of the early “bath-rooms”. The painted plaster walls and wall paintings also reveal technically fine art forms, and frescoes, and the central planning was architecturally unique. An alabaster throne still stands amidst paintings of lillies, alongside the Queen’s apartment beautifully adorned with murals of dolphins which look as if they were only painted yesterday.
All this reveals a great empire dating back, pre-Mycenaen, who in 1450 BC, actually established themselves in Knossos, and the Palace was finally destroyed in 1350 BC by a major fire, and the site re-built upon and occupied right up to Roman times.
According to tradition, it was the seat fo the wise king Minos One also recalls the myths of the legend of the Labyrinth, with the Minotaur (half man, half bull) and Theseus, who destroyed the monster and found his way out of the Labyrinth by following the thread given him by his love Ariadne, through the endless twisting corridors.
As I have said before, sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between myths, legends, and historical fact in ancient Greece, and it’s islands, but take me back to drink in the harmony and mystical wonder of this place, unique on earth.
Next port of call was Ashdod in Jerusalem before sailing on to Patmos where St John wrote the book of Revelations and we visited the grotto where this was written.
A few hours sailing and you reach the coast of Turkey. Here the harbour of Kusadasi, where the water is a turquoise green and so smooth, meeting a hazy sky. Not too far away is Ephesus which is one of the best preserved archaeological sites, walking down the marble road you can almost hear the sound of chariot wheels as they pass by toward the Library of Celsus, whose edifice still stands, towards the Great Amphitheatre
where St. Paul was arrested preaching to the Ephesians, and imprisoned close by before being cast from the city. A gaggle of giggles emerges from the tourists on inspecting what must be the first public toilets every built.
We then sailed back to Athens before flying to Egypt to tour and do the Nile cruise.
GEOFF PHILLIPS MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE 2003
This was a lovely group escorted by TV news reader WIN Wollongong, Geoff Phillips who took away quite a few tours that I put together, eg. America, Caribbean cruise Egypt and Jordan, and two Trafalgar Europe.
This one departed in September 2003, a lovely group of about 40. They flew into Athens and proceeded with a full city tour, including the Panathenian stadium, evening dinner from the roof top of the lovely Divani Palace Acropolis hotel, which our company used a lot in Athens.
Before joining the “Olympia Explorer” which cruised to Corfu, where most of the group did a tour or just wandered around the lovely old streets of Corfu shopping. Some did a coach trip up to the Palace of the Empress of Austria Sissi, and some to the monastery of Paleokastritsa.
Venice a real highlight sailing into that beautiful city early in the morning just as the reddest sun was rising to greet us, and leaving late afternoon just beautiful. All the group went on a cruise on the traditional gondolas, before all taking a boat ride to see marvelous Murano the glass making island and Burano a fishing village island with its beautiful colored houses and waterways, This island famous for lace-making was where the group had lunch together at a lovely outdoor restaurant.
Next port of call Dubrovnik “the jewel of the Adriatic” with its century old walls that many in the group took the opportunity to climb around and take photos of this beautiful place. We also did a coach visit to the lovely old Croation port of Cavtat where the group members declared it was the cheapest beers they had ever bought, worked out to about one Australian dollar per bottle. Dubrovnik aptly named the “Jewel of the Adriatic” seen from atop a look out not far from the city is just breathtaking.
Next port Katakolon where we all took a stroll instead of visiting the original Olympic games site as we were to do this later on the tour.Then on to Istanbul, one of the most beautiful harbors in the world flanked by minarets and mosques. Lunch and a tour of Topkapi Palace was included here for the group.
Mykonos and Santorini, were the last two islands called into where the group wandered around the lovely old streets before returning to the ship to sail back to Athens.
The group then did a four day coach tour to the Pelopennese area passing firstly over the Corinth Canal to Mycenae to see the archaelogical site of one of the western world’s oldest civilizations. A stop was made at the scenic resort town of Nauplia for lunch before going on to Epidavrus to see the famous amphitheatre known for its brilliant acoustics which were tried and demonstrated by group members. The group stayed at Nauplia overnight.
Next day on to Olympia to see the site and museum of the original Olympic games overnighting here. Next day ferrying from Rion to Antirion (before the new bridge was built) through Nafpaktos to arrive at Delphi the home of the Oracle.
After overnighting Delphi, on to Meteora with its monasteries perched high on cliff tops, featured in many movies. Early afternoon drive back to Athens for one more night before returning home.
GROUP TO IONIAN ISLANDS FROM ITALY
This group had completed a villa stay near Florence in Italy with John, and then a Trafalgar tour of Italy before flying to Athens to do a tour and catch the ferry from Patras to Sami in Kefalonia staying there and doing tours to Fiskado, Assos, day cruise to Ithaca.
Whilst staying at Sami Beach each day we would go for swims at different beaches as above after lunch at Ag. Efimia, we walked through the local cemetery to the white pebbled beach and had a refreshing dip in the beautiful clear waters.
We then went on to Zakynthos by ferry to stay 3 nights at Kalamaki beach doing the circle tour of the islands and seeing the Blue caves, Shipwreck, sunset dinner, visiting monastery
My favourite islands are the Ionian Islands of Zakynthos, Cephalonia, Ithaca, and Corfu. These Greek islands are much more verdant than the eastern islands, and quite startlingly beautiful. I spent my 60th birthday in Zakynthos or Zante as the locals call it, “the island of dreams” staying with my friend Michelle who was living and working there at the time, and it was very rejuvenating hiring a motor scooter and tootling around under the olive trees amongst startled chickens and stopping at lovely beaches to cool down, and going for a swim or picking up a frappe. I loved it until I fell off and grazed a few patches as well as my pride, I actually did a back flip when turning around to pick up my hat that had blown off, and accidentally revved up on the side of the road!
Above Anna and Toim Stamiris with myself and Michelle at Zakynthos
Zakynthos is famous for its blue caves, its Shipwreck seen from atop a cliff looking startling below, its jutting limestone cliffs, sandy beaches, and very pretty town where the ferry comes in. You can spend hours exploring all the little villages and beaches.
It was from Zakynthos that Michelle and I dreamed up the idea to start an Australian wholesale company sending Australian tourists to Greece, Michelle said she intended to return to Athens to be nearer her two boys, and did I think I could send enough groups from Australia to Greece to keep her gainfully employed in the travel industry she knows so well. I replied I could send a couple of groups maybe but no more. Then on the trip back to Sydney in business class, the more I thought about Michelle’s idea, and the more peach bellini’s I had, the more convinced I became we could start a new company here to do just that. So when I hit Sydney airport I phoned Michelle, saying your on, I will look into the ins and outs of starting a whole new Australian wholesaling company to Greece. Which we did calling it Mediterranean Holidays and Tours which has become a very successful business.
So I returned to Zakynthos one month later after making all the feasibility studies and relevant enquiries to plan our programmes, brochures, logo etc. We started with Michelle doing the arrangements from the Athens office of Pilot J, and after a few years when we had expanded and we needed the professional largess of an excellent operator in Greece Siva Travel where Michelle then worked out of. Mediterranean Holidays & Tours is still thriving under the new management of Nic Rone, who is also very passionate about Greece, at Varsity Lakes at the Gold coast, as at age 69 I decided to sell and retire.
Cephalonia (Kefalonia) is equally beautiful, really appeals to me and is where Michelle now lives , so I have been fortunate to be back for several visits to take in every square inch, and swim on every beach, and call at different tavernas. Cephalonia is famous for the stirring book and film Captain Corelli’s mandolin. Also Melissani cave where the roof fell in exposing clear blue water. I love Sami Beach where you can take the short trip across to Ithaca, home of Homer and the Ilyads.
You can drive to a different place every day in Kefalonia and I think if you took a whole year, that is 365 days, you still would not see all the beautiful little nooks and crannies, and beaches, and caves, and mountains and monasteries, quaint churches, castles, the list is endless
There is so, so much more to see in Kefalonia, and one of the most amazing sights is flying high above the island you see it all below you and is a truly magnificent sight, and one wonders why one would ever really want to leave it!
Corfu the best known of the Ionian islands, Odysseus last stop before returning home to Ithaca, lies to the north at the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. The main town of Corfu has a Venetian appearance with narrow streets with lots of interesting things to see.
A visit to Mouse Island is a must to see the little church on an outcrop, the Palace of the Empress Elizabeth (Sissi)with its Achilles statue is one of the delights of the island. Very special scenic place perched high on a hill, Pontikonisi where a beautiful monastery has fantastic views.
Michelle and I escorted Glenn Morton’s art group there staying at the lovely old Cavilleri Hotel where the group painted and toured for a week.
We went up to a couple of the prettiest places in all the world, that just happen to be in Kefalonia Assos, and Fiskardo, These are drop dead gorgeous places.
Ithaca is another beautiful small island not far from Kefalonia by ferry ride from Sami Beach. Its main town is Vathy.
As my champion Lord George Byron had written on his epitaph – on a stone on a hill overlooking one of Kefalonia’s vast and beautiful valleys looking toward the sea near Michelle’s home “If I am a poet, the air of Greece has made me one”
As inspiration would have it, as we took our Cowra group on the day excursion from Sami Kefalonia to Ithaca, looking overboard into the ink blue water this poem sprang to mind.
IONIAN MISTS & MYTHS
The Ionian mists have captured my spirit,
And tugged it down beneath ink blue sea,
Betwixt jutting, jagged limestone cliffs
Where mortal past souls be.
The Ionian myths have captured my heart,
And tugged it onto rocks of Ithaki,
So that wherever I travel far or wide,
These quintessential feelings be.
copyrite Colleen Woodward
*Meaning of the word ‘quintessential’ would you believe “among the Pythagoreans the fifth essence in natural bodies, in addition to the four elements of earth, air, fire, water. And quintessence is the added element of magic of life.
One of the most memorable things I ever did when sailing around Ithaca, was to jump off the side of the boat with our friend Johnny Lowther and swim to the island and back to the boat. Well at least John made it right to the island, me not quite, as when I looked back to see how far the boat was away and it was a small dot, I nearly freaked out! I am sure I would not be game enough to do that again now!
HYMN I WROTE WHILST ON THE FERRY BETWEEN ANDROS & TINOS IN GREECE
It just seemed to me, that as I looked out over the deck at the beautiful edifice of the Greek island of Andros, that I could see Jesus walking along the mountain tops, and then walking upon the sea (as clear as day, no kidding) You could call it a ‘religious experience’ I daresay, but I think it was with such a depth of passion that I have for Greece, that leads you to feel closer to God. And it is right and meaningful to give thanks and praise to God for all of his bountiful beauty which he has poured abundantly upon humankind, to appreciate and care for and look after for generations to come. God made this very special place Earth for us Earthlings to laud and enjoy.
It is probably fitting that I wrote a couple of Hymns, poetry set to music (see the other one I wrote when inspired by the beautiful landscape of Alaska to write another “Hymn to LIfe”. I just love singing hymns, you ask my kids! Because in church I ‘let rip’, and I know I can’t sing for quids, in fact my voice is one that makes little kids in the pews in front turn around and giggle and point. I have to promise not to sing in Church to my family. However having said that my mother loved me to sing in church she would laugh so much her stomach would go up and down in fits of noiceless laughter.
My kids did give me permission to sing at my Mother and Father’s funerals as dispensation for how low I was at the time. Another funny story, the other day I said to my grand-daughter Emily, who says everytime I break out in song (which is fairly often) “stop Collywol I don’t like your singing” and I said replied to her, well your Daddy likes my singing, to which she replied “Well, he actually doesn’t you know Collywol”! Point taken.
I have to say, when I hear a beautiful choir singing Hymns and a beautiful pipe organ that ‘pulls out all stops’ especially for the last verse, slightly out of tune, I get goose bumpy, and I reckon if heaven is being close to God our Maker and Jesus our Saviour and singing hymns of praise out forever more, well that would be really OK by me. I reckon would be heaven!.
Have you ever asked why they are called a HYMN – really is praise to HIM ! Funny thing also, one of our very best friend, the Very Revd. Arch Deacon Norman C Kempson, who married John and me in Christ Church Kapunda SA, said that God could be a SHE and he meant what he said, although Norman was one of the most profoundly provocative, stirring people I met in my entire life, he always said things to make you think and muse over and, I came to the conclusion he meant, GOD is above and beyond gender, even though Jesus refers to God as his heavenly Father. There is a lot to reflect on, is’nt there?
We have been fortunate enough on our travels to hear some beautiful music being played in some of the best cathedrals in the world, and one place in particular the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and also St. Anthony’s in Padua Italy was something else. And that is something else (see Europe tour for report of St. Anthony’s.
People ask me why I like going to Church, well I say without fear of persecution from anyone “This is a most beautiful world we live in, and I feel it is our duty and right, to say thankyou to God as often as possible and sing this out in praise. “All people that on Earth do dwell, Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.”
I reckon if I asked for all of my favourite hymns to be played at my funeral it would last for 3 weeks! Rave on some of my friends and family would say, or another very good friend would say “You are up on that soap box again”!!
HYMN “MY FRIEND JESUS”
I have a friend in Jesus, I talk to him each day
I have a friend in Jesus, who taught us how to pray
He walked along the mountains,
He walked upon the sea,
Broke bread and fed the thousands
I have a friend in Jesus, I talk to him each day
I have a friend in Jesus, who taught us how to pray
He finds shelter for the homeless,
He cures the humble weak,
Each day He gives us hope,
In times that seem so bleak.
I have a friend in Jesus I talk to Him each day
I have a friend in Jesus, who taught us how to pray
He is our friend forever,
We talk to Him each day,
He gives us all His blessings,
And helps us on our way.
I have a friend in Jesus I talk to Him each day
I have a friend in Jesus, who taught us how to pray.
Having sung this over and over in my brain on the ferry until it was indelibly etched, on my return back home to Cowra, on my first visit to Church I offered the Organist Phyllis Goodacre a lift home, which I invariably did because she lived not far from us on the way, I asked her if I could come into her house and if I could sing the hymn to her could she play it on the piano, and write down the music so she did.
So this was a very uncommercial, unprofessional attempt to put this Hymn into perspective, but here it is. The Church choir with Phyllis as accompanist, and another time the Organist Maryanne Wright, a very good fluiist did a rendition of it on several occasions.
“IN THE STEPS OF ST. PAUL” – TURKEY, GREECE & ITALY – SEPTEMBER 2007 ESCORT REVD. SAMUEL MARSDEN. ITINERARY PREPARED BY MEDITERRANEAN HOLIDAYS & TOURS, AND SIVA TRAVEL
Day 1 – Depart Sydney, flight to Istanbul, Turkey.
Day 2 – Arrive at the captivating and mysterious city of Istanbul – met by English speaking guide, in air conditioned coach, and transferred to hotel in Istanbul 2 nights. In the evening we visit the exciting colourful Grand Bazaar.
Day 3 – Visit Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) sights – After breakfast visit Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace (once a royal palace and good example of the Ottoman period) and in the afternoon we take a cruise on the Bosphorus.
Day 4 – Leave for Göreme for two nights -Early morning flight from Istanbul to Kayseri. Met at airport by coach and taken to Göreme, the fascinating region of rock churches and strange mounds, once the centre of the Old Testament Hittite Empire. It became a large province in the Roman Empire.
Day 5 – Visit Cappadocia – After breakfast visit Cappadocia – tour the underground cities (Kaymakli, Derinkuyu), Ihlara Valley,favourite retreat of Byzantine monks. Overnight Goreme.
Day 6 – Travel south to St. Paul’s birthplace Tarsus on the Mediterranean coast, first service of holy communion here. Overnight Mersin at a waterfront hotel
Day 7 – 9 Pass through Karaman, with is 13th and 14th century buildings to Kerti Huyuk (the ancient city of Derbe) which St. Paul visited. Then on to overnight Konya The Iconium of Paul’s journeys, famous today for its architecture and Dervish dances.
Day 8 – Today follows St. Paul to Gokyurt (in his day called Lystra) then on to Antiocheia, (Antioch-in-Pisidia) from where Paul was expelled for his preaching. We continue westwards on to overnight Pamukkale, maybe relax in a thermal bath.
Day 9 – Pamukkale (meaning Cotton castle) the ancient spa city of Hieropolis, we see the gleaming white calcium formations of travertines and pools.
We then visit Ephesus, to see the famous marble way and Library edifice, and amphitheatre where St Paul addressed the Ephesians. Visit the house where the Virgin Mary was said to have spent her last years. We visit the museum of Ephesus and the prison of St Paul. overnight at Kusadasi
Day 10 Today we visit 3 more cities on Paul’s itinerary – Sart (Sardis) capital of the former kingdom of Lydia and also mentioned in Revelations , Ismir (Smyrna) and Bergama (Pergamon) site of one of the seven Churches of Revelation where the first Christians were martyred by Rome. Explore the Acropolis and Temple of Athena see the amphitheatre. The Red Basilica dedicated to St. John the Apostlecoastal village of Alexander Troas (TROY) where St Paul had a vision summoning him back to Macedonia (Acts 16:8-11 Assos, where Paul bid farewell to his fellow Christians. See the Stoa and Council chamber. Overnight Canakkale
Day 11 – Catch ferry from Canakkale over the Dardanelles to Eceabat and on to the battlefields of Gallipoli visit ANZAC COVE and site, before leaving Turkey for Greece to overnight Alexandropoulos Greece
Day 12- We continue westwards, following St. Paul to the Roman colony of Philippi, not far from (Kavála (Neapolis) where Paul landed on his first missionary journey. Overnight Thessaloniki.
Day 13- Tour the ancient city of Thessaloniki to include the Roman Market, Rotunda, church of Ag. Demetrios, church of Holy Wisdom (Ag. Sofia), see the White Tower (Byzantine museum) with some free time. In the afternoon we go to Veria (Beroea) travel on to Kalambaka overnight
Day 14 – Today we visit the stunning Meteora with its ancient monasteries, containing priceless historical and religious treasures. Then we continue through the pass of Thermapile (Thermopylae) where Leonidas and a few Greek warriors kept back the might of the Persian Army in the year 480BC .Then travel south to Delphi
Day 15 – Visit the site of Delphi famous for the Oracle, and visit the museum with its spectacular finds including the Charioteer, the Naxian Sphinx, the Statue of Antinous and see the Sanctuary of Apollo, with some free time. Travel on to Athens where afternoon is free to do any optional arrangements. We suggest dining at a tavern in the lovely old Plaka area. Overnight hotel Athens
Day 16 – Athens morning tour to see Acropolis, Agora, Stoa, Basileios (Aeropagos), (Mars Hill) where Paul preached. Then coach to Korinthos (Corinth) where Paul preached, and visit Mycenae the cradle of Greek civilization, before returning to Athens overnight
Day 17 – After breakfast transfer by coach to Athens airport for morning flight to Rome. Met by coach and check into hotel before doing a tour of Rome to include, St. Peter’s, Basilica and Sistine chapel, the Roman Forum, Pantheon and Colosseum at dusk. Overnight Rome
Day 18 – Paul landed in Italy at Puteoli, a suburb of Naples (Napoli). Full day tour to Naples, ride south down the Autostrada del Sole, see the sights of the ‘Roman Campagna’ travel past the Abbey of Montessino. Continue to Pompei and after lunch visit the excavations of the ancient city which was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in
Day 19 – Today travel the Appian Way (312 B.C) the oldest Roman road – the Domine Quo Vadis Chapel on way visit the Roman Catacombs (ancient Christian burial chambers) a real labyrinth, and Basilica of St. Paul’s beyond the Walls (San Paolo fuori le mura) where Paul’s body was buried after he was executed.
Day 20 – Early morning departure for Pisa to see the ‘leaning tower’ then on to Florence, to explore this city, see the Duomo, Baptistry Gates, Statue of David etc. overnight in Florence, then next day depart for home.
Putting together a group takes quite a great deal of preparation, and we liked to get everyone together and go through the itinerary. Each year HWT Cowra would get together at the Services Club and be told of our group tours. Michelle came out from Athens in 2001 for the launch of our new brochure for Mediterranean Holidays and Tours and talk to our group about the forthcoming cruise/tour in 2003.
For excellent packages to Greece now go to www.mediterraneanholidays.com.au