Sunday, 25 May 2008

Cyclops story

This is an engraving of Odysseus' men putting the stake into the Cyclop's eye

Sonia, Jo, Jenny, Mikis and Alexis will remember this story, told to them when they were children by Jim, at dusk, by the olive groves in Corfu. Here's a shortened story for the new generation

Odysseus and his companions were on their way home from Troy, but their boats were blown off course and they were lost. They landed on a small island -nobody there..but they could hear people talking and see smoke on land across the water. Odysseus decided to take one boat and 12 men with him to the mainland. They took with them a goatskin full of wine and other provisions. They found a big cave; someone's home, and waited for them to return. In the evening a huge man, with only one eye (a Cyclops) came in, driving his sheep and goats before him. He rolled a big stone over the mouth of the cave, milked his animals and started to make his dinner. The men were terrified, but trapped. When the Cyclops saw them, he snatched up two of the men and ate them!

The next morning he ate two more of the men, then went out with his sheep and goats, rolling the big stone back over the cave mouth. The stone was too heavy for the men to move. It seemed they were going to all die unless they could think of a way out. Odysseus found a trunk of olive wood that the cyclops used as a walking stick. He and his men cut a p[iece off and sharpened it to a point at one end and then hardened it in the camp fire and hid it in the dung on the cave loor. When Polphemus (for that was the Cyclops name) came back that evening, he ate two more men! Then Odysseus stepped forward offered him some wine, and asked him to let them go. Polyphemus said no, he was going to eat them all, but because the wine was so good he would eat him last. He asked Odysseus his name, and he replied 'I am called 'Nobody'', and offered the giant more wine. Soon he had drunk so much that he fell into a deep sleep. Quietly, the men took out the the pointed stake, heated it up in the fire then crept up to Polyphemus and plunged it into his eye.

The cyclops leapt up and roared in pain and anger, but he couldn't catch the men. The other cyclops living in caves around heard the noise and came running to find out waht was wrong. 'Nobody has hurt me' shouted Polyphemus. 'If nobody has hurt you, we can't help you' they replied and went back to their caves to sleep. Meanwhile, Odysseus tied the sheep in pairs with a man tied under each pair and waited for the morning. At last Polyphemus rolled back the stone, and the sheep and goats trotted out. Polyphemus felt all the animals as they left the cave, but didn't think to feel underneath them. Odysseus kept back the largest billy goat and jumped up under his belly, holding tight to his wool. Polyphemus stopped him and said 'My big ram, why are you last, when usually you are the first to go out in the morning?" Odysseus thought he wasn't going to escape, but the cyclops let the ram past. Odysseus jumped down, untied all the other men, and they ran like hell for the beach, driving the flock of sheep and goats before them.

Polyphemus heard them and stumbled after the men. He tore rocks off the hill and threw them after the boat. The wash almost sent the boat back to the shore, but the men rowed as hard as they could and at last escaped. Their companions were so relieved to see them back again, but shocked to hear what had happened to the six missing men. Dividing Polyphemus' animals between them, they pushed off their boats and continued on their long journey.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Something for the Kids

Here we are about to put on our helmets and do something very silly -rrrroar round the island very slowly on this quad bike.

This man is taking his catch along the harbour in Naxos to his cafe. Fresh octopus for lunch.
The little boy lives in this mountain village with his grandparents. Here is with his yayia.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Santorini 17th-20th May

Coming into Santorini by boat is quite an experience. First you see a long line of black cliffs with what looks like snow on top. Then you find your self entering into a space between cliffs, and soon you're surrounded by islands, all rising up high. What we thought was snow turns out to be the white houses of the towns and villages,perched along the cliff edges. We could see the zig zag path from the harbour of Fira, the capital, (goes up 580 steps!) but the big ferries go to a new harbour a bit further on. There we were met by Petros, who was commended to us by Iannis at Naxos, who took us by minibus up to the family pension. Nothing could have been as good as our Naxos pension, but Petros was spartan, and located in a dull part of town. That evening we wandered up the town agog with the stupendous views over the caldera, and found another pension perched at the highest point, with views over the sea on both sides of the island, and went there the following morning. It cost 10E a night more, but how often do you come to Santorini?

Santorini is a magnet for tourists from around the world, and there were already plenty of us. The attractions are obvious -its history, the amazing scenery and the style of the towns and villages. Unlike other Cyclades islands, where the little streets are all turned in upon themselves, Santorini's streets and houses are flung open to the sea. They cling to the sides of steep cliffs; many of them burrowing into the rocks, and often there is nothing bwteeen you and a long drop but low parapets. Santorini was the site of the biggest volcanic exposion in human history round about 1500BC, It blew apart the island, leaving the ring of islands, which surround a central active caldera. You can take a boat trip over and bathe in the hot lake in the caldera, but we didn't. Instead, we bathed in the sea from sand the colour of black ash, feeling the water temperature go warm and cold as we moved about. Nothing much grows on the islands except vines, looking oddly as if they are planted in grey ash. Occasionally you get a whiff like burning. But what the island lacks in the way of buccolic beauty is made up for in the architecture of its buildings - rather hobbit like; everything small, rounded and a delight to the eye. Many of them now of course shops,cafes, and tiny hotels

Santorini has a town like Pompeii, only very partially excavated out of the lava that covers it. The site has been closed for three years, and perhaps they are doing lots more excavation work. (perhaps not; we have seen museums closed for 2 years in Greece for minor improvements)
However, there are two great museums where the wall frescos and various other items from this and other lava-covered sites are on display. Many of them very beautiful.

But this is an expensive place, and only so long you can spend admiring the view, so time to move on to Crete, where we'll meet our good friends Rachel and Jim. (They lent us their kagools just before we left Santorini. It is now very warm, and they're probably packed away for good, and just as well. ..We must have been a comical sight; Andreas wearing one much too small, and Sabrina in one much too large!

Unfortunately John we've not seen even a bust of Homer, let alone anything more substantial. And we like the idea that he may have been female but it seems unlikely given the status of women at that time. Can you tell us more about him? We do enjoy reading you writings in the comments please do write more!

We just learnt how to upload pictures from our mobile, which you will find on the last posting.

xx A&S

Some wide angle mobile pics


Sunday, 18 May 2008

Naxos 13-16 May 2008

''Little Venice' in Mykonos. The waves lap at your feet as you sip your ouzo!
Our jolly bakers in Mykonos. Bread and spinach pies are our staple diet, and they have to be fresh
A heartfelt thanks to Alex for recommending Pension Panos in Naxos -the best we have yet stayed in -location, facilities and huge hospitality of Yiannis and his family. Where else would you find a barrel of home-produced cool wine in reception and snacks in the afternoon, freely offered to all guests? In between attending to his Pension, Yiannis works as a rope catcher for the huge ferries in the harbour. A well remunerated job according to Yiannis, with 50 weeks a year holidays and free health care for the whole family.

Naxos and Paros, so close together and so similar in size that they are usually twinned in guide books. They are in fact very different: Paros a soft gentle landscape, whilst Naxos is a mass of steep mountains, crinkly at the tops,. Naxos town, where we stayed, is medieaval, built up the side of a hill with 13thC castle and venetian mansions at the top. Every island has an archeological museum, and will tend to have a collection from 2-3 sites, all from around the same period of time. Naxos museum is a cracker. White figurines, the tallest about a foot high, of women, circa 3000BC made of white marble and in near perfect condition. So modern in style, they might have been created by Picasso. Also pottery dating back to 1200-1100BC (Odysseus time); black slip on a pale coloured clay in a wonderful free-flowing style. Mainly of octopi, with tentacles that wave wildly around the pots. Photos not allowed, so Sabrina drew one for future reference.

We hired a little white car, sharing with two young women from Vancouver of chinese origin, taking it up into the mountains and visiting villages there which time has forgotten.. Vanvi remembered having to duck into bomb shelters when the Americans were bombing N. Vietnam, and her family were among the 'boat people', ending up in Canada. Sabrina is currently reading Jane Fonda's autobiography, so we showed her the photos of Jane in Hanoi. Was she a hippy? Sophia asked. Neither of them knew of either Jane or Henry Fonda - fame is indeed fleeting! They offered us thin wafers of seaweed and cashew nut cookies for our picnic, brought all the way from Vancouver. Naxos and Paros are both sources of pure white marble, and we saw the strange site of a mountain cut into vertically, from its pointed summit down a few hundred feet. It looked like a white city.

We decided to spend our last day in Naxos on a beach (it has only just become warm enough to make this an attractive proposition); and took the bus to Plaka, a 2km long stretch of pure yellow sand, backed with sand-dunes. It's a beach where dress is optional; so we slathered ourselves in sun tan cream and made the most of it -hardly anyone else there. So, will post a pic to make you all green with envy when we can unload some memory. Beaches draw us all like a magnet, and give credence to that lovely theory that we didn't come down from trees and make for the caves...(Desmond Morris style). No, we came down to the waters' edges and lost our fur as we waded about in the shallows, babies clinging to the remaining hair on our heads.

So now it's on to Santorini, that most unusual of Islands, where a live volcano still smoulders at its very centre. A great draw for tourists so could be expensive!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Paros 10 - 12 May 2008

Paros, Naxos and Santorini are not recognised as stopping places for Odysseas but are adored by all travel writers and friends, so we decided that we must see them!

The 10am boat from Mykonos to Paros was another travelling experience for us. A huge catamaran, the first boat we used in the Aegean for just passengers and no cars. It was much lighter and faster. It left dead on time and moved on the calm water as if sucking air and spitting a huge white spray of water from the back. Very smooth, but we wandered how it would feel in much rougher waters? 45 minutes later we landed in Paros and within minutes the Cat was hooting for departure. It is true what they say "... blink an eye and you would miss it!"

The room offering touts were in plethora and waiting for us at the port exit with their placards, some with photographs. At the start of our journey we would have followed our guide book advice and ignored them but after our lucky and very satisfying experience of Mykonos, we were ready for them with prepared questions about what type of accommodation they were offering, where it was, did it have any cooking facilities etc. We again struck lucky with everything we wanted, including transport to the inn, except a kitchenette but a cheap breakfast thrown in instead.

With no cooking facilities, we tried the next door taverna as recommended by our host Alex, a French woman in complete control of the hotel and charm to go with it. We liked the taverna, and the food and the Romanian owner who spoke 6 languages, that we followed our motto of roughing it, and ate there all the three nights we stayed at Paros.

The highlights of Paros for us was the bus ride to Lefkes, a village in hilly central part of the island and a 5km walk from there down to the seaside on a most impressive Byzantine marbled road that was built to carry goods to all the villages from one side of the island to the other. Looked for ancient coins but we were too late. Others must have had the same idea and been more lucky some time ago! Next was the quad bike hire for the following day. The winds were brazing and handling the quad was not easy. It was not a happy experience although it enabled us to visit a number of places that buses do not go, expecially a lovely private museum on the east of the island. It was full of minuture exhibits, all skillfully done by a local fisherman. The acre large yard was full of minute famous churches, ancient temples, oil mills, water mills, ports, potteries, ironmongers, you name it and everything, including the smallest item of such life, was hand made by this fisherman. Inside were some beautifully crafted model boats, ships and trimerenes going back to 500 years b.c.

On the third night we were beaten by mosquitos to b.................... , got up at 6.00am and plunged into the icy sea next to our hotel to escape. We watched the sun coming up and decided to be on our way!!!!!!!!

Naxos was waiting for us. A new experience to enjoy and write about.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Mykonos, Delos, Tinos 6th-10th May

Mykonos, so the Rough Guide tells us, is the most popular and the most expensive tourist destination in greece. Our preliminary enquiries for apartments and rooms before we arrived worried us; it looked like Mykonos was going to cost us an arm and leg. We couldn't believe our luck then, when we were met at the ferry harbour by room touters, and a young woman offered us a room, with use of kitchen, right in the centre of town for a reasonable price (35E a night). it turned out to be of monastic dimensions, but with a huge patio overlooking a crossroads of little pedestrian only alleys. Lovely. Mykonos town is a maze of these alleys, sandwiched between little white two and three storey houses with outside staircases, which seem to fit together neatly like a jigsaw. Even Andreas, who has a great sense of direction, could get lost in two minutes flat. The town has great charm and caters for elegant young people who don't mind spending alot of money. Displays of expensive jewellery, beautiful clothes, intimate bars and cafes; even the internet cafe was intimate. Although early in the season there were already plenty of people about. Lots of Americans and Italians; many same sex couples and small groups.
During our stay we made day trips to two other islands nearby. Delos, in Odysseus' time, was the religious centre of ancient Greece, and later also became an important trading centre (an equivalent to the modern stock exchange). In Homer's story, Odysseus remarks that Apollo's temple has a small palm tree growing by it. Now this tiny island (only a mile long) is barren. We wondered how such a tiny place could have had such importance. It is very central in the Aegean; We climbed up the small hill behind the ruins of the ancient town and found we had a spectacular 360' view over surrounding islands and sea. You could imagine the priests and priestesses, seeing boats coming from afar, saying 'Quick. light the sacred fires; put on the Mystique perfume; we have visitors'
The other island, Tinos, is the Greek equivalent of Lourdes, and an important religious centre for modern Greeks. (most of Andreas's relatives in Cyprus have visited, for their summer holidays). It was very quiet when we were there. The long approach up the hill to the sacred church from the harbour is a wide straight road. We noticed that on one side there were parrallel tracks, like the ones you hold carpets down with, lined on one side by cats eyes. We guessed that at busy times, carpet is indeed laid down for those who wish to can crawl up to the church. Oh my gods, I think I prefer the ancient ones...they were more human.

One morning we went to Paradise beach with Carol, a fellow lodger in the town. When at home she swims every day in Tooting Bec open air (unheated!) pool. She has decided to leave her London life and is looking for a house in Mykonos. Her pleasure is swimming long distance, between islands. We watched her heave heself over a rocky reef and disappear, doing a fast crawl, not to reappear for another half hour. Phew! My brother Ben spent some happy times in Mykonos in the eighties. Cyprus is not so chic, but I think he should come there, with Karifa. They would like it.

Something for the kids

In Mykonos we saw some models of ships used by ancient Greeks. Here's a picture of a one which had forty rowers, like the ones used by Odysseus' band.

People on the island like to keep pigeons in very fancy coops. here's one. Unfortunately, they don't race the pigeons, like Mr Potter, but eat them.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Samos 2-6 May 08

Samothraki harbour, leaving for Limnos
Ferry arriving at Limnos at 4.ooam to take us to Lesvos
St. George's day at Therma in Lesvos

We haven't been following UK news avidly, but on May 2nd we looked up BBC anxiously to find the election results. Oh dear dear dear...Boris!. There was a village in Chios, Anavatos, where, in 1822, all the women and children threw themselves from a precipice to their deaths (their turkish overlords were giving them a hard time) It seems the majority of people of London have done the same. But we are far away, and burrowing into a past where people have been making innane choices over and over.

So, a fond farewell to Don in Chios, and on to a ferry for Samos the same day. So far we have been travelling South to islands that hug the Turkish coast. Samos is nearest of all, with just 2km of water between the island and the mainland. The coast cuts deeply into the harbout, Vathi (= Deep) and first impressions as land slides by the ferry on both sides are of a beautiful, verdant country. We have been delighted to find how different in topography and character each of the islands is. Samos is the first we have come to, where package tourism is obviously big business. (our nearest taverna has a plastic singing fish outside to encourage custom) . When we arrived we were accosted by a large man called Costas and soon found ourselves installed in a pension 'Dreams', 60 steep steps up from the harbour. We found that it is best to stay put in the harbours -always places with lots going on, and a hub for local buses,banks, archy. museums and other services. Chios and Lesbos are two of the largest Aegean islands. Samos is half the size of Chios, We hired a little orange car to explore the island. We find that we can get a lot more car for our money by hiring for one day, 1pm to 1pm the following day. Short distances; so see what the islands have to offer, then explore more by bus and on foot in subsequent days.
Our first stop is always to the archeological museum. This one had lots of small items, brought back from all over the Med. to furnish the temple of Hera, where they were found. The Samiots were great travellers and traders, and the island remains a prosperous place. You can always tell this by the number of children playing in the streets. No children=migration and depopulation. Two special items for us: a remnant of a tripod, 1300BC from Cyprus-these were decorative items used to hold great cauldrons. In the Odysseus story, they are frequently given as 'gifts', in bartering for other goods or favours. The other item was a piece of engraved bronze, 700BC part of a horse's halter, which pictured two of Odysseus' comrades with a long pole, with which they are putting out the Cyclop's eye. At this museum we were allowed to take photos, so we have them hoping to upload them on to the blog.
The main tourist resort in Samos is Pythagorios (Yes, Pythagoras lived there). Only a few tourist stragglers-too early in the year yet. It's an area full of ancient remains, and above the town there's a tunnel 1 mile long bored through the hill to provide water for the town. The tunnelers started at opposite ends of the hill (which we later climbed) and apparently met in the middle only one foot adrift. You have to give it the ancient greeks, they knew a thing or two about civil engineering.
One of the nice things about travelling has been the people we're meeting en route. Special mention here for Ian and Vera, an Aussie couple of our age and fellow lodgers in Chios Rooms. We met again in Samos, and over coffee they described the embarressing inconveniences from a recent operation for prostate cancer. We couldn't help but admire their candour, their 'that's life, so just get on with it...and don't give a XXXX!' attitude. More uptight, we felt unable to reciprocate with such personal information.
Leaving Samos, we're now going westwards to the Cyclades islands, starting with Mykonos on a high speed hydrofoil. Andreas has grim memories of such machines and is watching the weather with some anxiety.
And something for the kids:
The ancient Greeks usually lived near the coast and did nearly all their travelling by sea. Their ships were like long open canoes with sails and oars. Did you know why their big clay pots were wider at the top and pointed at the bottom? Well, they were used to carry wine and oil from island to island and they fitted nicely and safely on the boats.
If you have not read or been told the story of Odysseas, he was a fighting sailor during the war between the Greeks and the Trojans some 3,500 years ago. On his way back to his island, Ithaca, he had lots of adventures and did not manage to get back home for 10 years. Sabrina and Andreas are following on his foot steps and hope to do it in less than three months. We are at the end of our 3rd week and we have already seen many interesting places and things he has done. Look out for this space.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Andreas & Sabrina

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Chios 28th April-1st May

Our ferry docked in Chios (Ch as in loch) at 9pm. Chios is home to the Aegian University and all 1400 students seemd to be on the long harbour front, in the line of cafes blasting out disco music. The few lodging we saw were shut or seedy, all very noisy. And here, a small lament about pavements. Everywhere we have been cafes have the awful habit of filling up the pavements...and then there's the steps, the uneven surfaces, the sudden disappearances altogether. When you are pulling a wheeled suitcase you really curse them. Needless to say, wheelchair users are never to to be they need some good laws and enforcement!

By 10pm we're beginning to feel a bit desperate when before us, near the end of the harbour is a large old mansion, and in large blue neon letters 'Chios Rooms'. Eventually we gained entry and were shown round by its owner, a New Zealander called Don. It was such a beautiful house, ceilings 15 ' high, and cheap, that we decided there and then to stay a while. The following evening, in the communal kitchen, Don told us that he lets out rooms for 5E for three hours to soldiers, so that they can have a warm shower and relax. If someone said that to you, what would you be thinking? Of course, Don, just what young men, confined to barracks all day, need!
Chios is the reputed home of Homer, author of 'The Iliad (about the ten years of the Trojan War), and 'The Odyssey" (about Odysseus' ten year journey back home to Ithaca). He lived somewhere round 750BC, and was describing some real events, some mythical that occurred around 500 years earlier. it's such a long time ago that no-one can be very exact, or know how much Homer was working from ballads handed down over orally over the generations. (people didn't write down Greek until around 800BC so everything would have been mouth to mouth). Homer was a real life person and we are here to find him.

On the morning after our arrival, we took a bus along the north road to Omeroupolis (Homer's Town and found Daskaloupetra (Teacher"s Stone) on the edge of the town. We climbed up to a small area of flat rock, a stool size stone was in the middle and a semi circle of stone benches around, all very ancient. Homer was blind, and we took it in turns to sit on the stone with eyes shut and imagine him with his scribes; sound of waves lapping, and craggy mountains to our backs and we agreed that this was as good a place as any. Dictating those long stories all in verse, would have required intense concentration, probably only possible with no other detractions

Next day we visited the archaeological museum and were guided round the most important finds of Chios. We were shown two female figurines in clay dated around 1300BC in the shape of the Greek letters ψ & φ, the precursors of the Greek alphabet. Nothing specifically related to Homer, but our lovely guide suggested we visit the site of Emporium which was built between 800-600 BC. We hired a little yellow car and took ourselves to an amazingly kept limestone ancient village built up a steep hill ovelooking the Aegean, with a temple dedicated to Athena at the top. Our journey continued to two 1400 AD fortified living villages. One of them, Anavatos was stone built in exactly the same way, 2,300 years later but with a church at the top.

Ian, we are planning to have an Easter (Mayday really) meal to-night, our last evening on Chios. A lovely place which we would like to visit again!

Next Samos!