High Seas Adventure at Cabo San Lucas

When we boarded the boat and noted the boat operator had the cover off the outboard motor, we should have expected adventure. In fact, Jim commented that it wasn’t a good sign. A fisherman with some experience with motor problems, it was an omen to him.

Instead of taking the cruise line’s excursion to Land’s End for 1 hour at a cost of $29 per person, we hired one of the water taxis on the dock for $20 each when we got off our tender at Cabo.  We were joined by our friends, Lori and Rick, and a mother and her adult daughter from our cruise ship.  (We later found out the mother and daughter negotiated a $15 rate.)  This is billed as a glass bottom boat tour but that’s a bit of a stretch.  The boat would seat 12 persons at most and the glass bottom is a glass insert on the floor of the boat providing a murky view at best.  We donned well-worn, somewhat grungy life vests and away we went.

Located at the end of the Baja Peninsula where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean, the rock formations found off the coast of Mexico at Cabo San Lucas are collectively called Land’s End. It’s a short boat ride and the photo opportunities were excellent.  The boat operator kept up a steady description of the area although some of his English was difficult to understand over the competing motor noise.  We saw the iconic landmark, El Arco (The Arch); caves in the rocks, and Lover’s Beach in the bay while hearing that Divorce Beach is located through the rocks on the Pacific side.  We even spied Pedro, the sea lion of youtube fame who was captured on film stealing a fish.

Land's End

Land’s End, Cabo San Lucas

The Arch

The Arch, Land’s End, Cabo

Lover's Beach

Lover’s Beach, Cabo San Lucas

The Arch

The Arch, Land’s End

Pacific Ocean, Land's End

Land’s End from the Pacific Side

Land's End

Opening in the rocks from the Sea of Cortez to the Pacific Ocean

 

Pedro, the Sea Lion

Pedro, the Sea Lion

As we reached the other side of the outcropping, where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean, the engine died. The water was considerably rougher out in the open ocean and the operator pulled the the cord repeatedly to start the engine as the bigger waves bounced us farther away from the coast.  The motor fired then died, fired, then died again, about five or six times.

boat, Land's End

Our boat operator trying to start motor, note orange rubber glove

This is when the adult daughter began to hyperventilate, indicating a panic attack. I sort of expected it. When I saw her put on orange rubber gloves earlier in the trip, I thought she might have some issues. Her mother tried to comfort her and the others of us weren’t sure whether we should ignore the situation to give her privacy or add our two cents worth. I finally said, “With all these boats out here any one of them can tow us in.” Sure enough, the operator used his cell phone, called someone, and another boat approached. Of course, about that time, the engine fired and finally stayed running so a tow was no longer needed.

All’s well that ends well, but it was, nevertheless, an adventure worth recording. The juxtaposition of feeling very vulnerable on a small boat compared to the security we felt on our huge cruise ship merits contemplation. Then when I compared these experiences with the events I was currently reading in the book, Unbroken, in which three airmen from a B24 crashed into the Pacific during WW2,  surviving for 47 days in a 2 man rubber raft with no food or water while surrounded by sharks, it gave me additional pause for thought.  Like, thank goodness for cell phones.

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Packing for a 2 week cruise

Seriously, I can’t believe what fits into a 22 x 14 x 9 carry on suitcase.  For a 2 week cruise through the Panama canal, this is what I packed.

10 tops

10 tops

3 hats

3 hats

2 swim suits, 1 cover up

2 swim suits, 1 cover up

2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair leggings

2 dresses, 1 skirt, 1 pair leggings

2 sets workout clothes

2 sets workout clothes

3 sweaters, wind jacket

3 sweaters, 1 wind jacket

3 shorts, zip off pants, skort

3 shorts, 1 zip off pants, 1 skort

5 pairs shoes

5 pairs shoes

So how does all of this fit in a 22X 14 X 9 suitcase?  2 tips: select lightweight, super thin garments (except for the denim shorts) and roll everything. Rolled items can fit into nooks and crannies in the suitcase and rolling minimizes wrinkling as well.

rolled clothes

rolled clothes in my suitcase

I also have 8 panties, 2 bras. 2 light scarves, and 4 pairs of socks tucked in here.  I plan to wash underwear at some point and there’s a line in the shower on most cruise ships to hang them. (TMI?) Make sure anything you plan to wash is lightweight and dries quickly.  Honestly, this is WAY more than I normally take on any trip of any length. Ordinarily, I would take half this much.  On a cruise, however, you don’t have to keep carting your stuff around. You board the ship and your bags stay put for the duration. It’s also dressier than most of our travels. We dress for dinner and a 2 week cruise includes a lot of dinners. Because all my clothes essentially mix and match, I have nearly limitless combinations.

In my personal item which is a lightweight back pack, I have:

1 ipad + keyboard

1 kindle

1 small purse

bag of toiletries

bag of meds

empty water bottle

deflated blow up neck pillow

Additional advice:  wear your heaviest and bulkiest items.  I’m wearing yoga pants, shirt, jacket, scarf, and tennis shoes on the plane.  I often get chilly while flying and it’s good to dress in layers so you can put on and take off clothes as needed in flight.

Happy Cruising!

 

 

 

 

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Cruising from the Port of Los Angeles

We always arrive a day early for a cruise departure, just to ensure that we have extra time in case of travel delays. This was our first departure from the Port of Los Angeles and we wanted a hotel near the cruise port with a shuttle to deliver us to the port. If you need a hotel, I suggest you book it when you book your cruise. I waited for several months after booking our cruise and the hotel I wanted was full so I settled on the Hilton Doubletree in San Pedro, as my second choice. I also arranged a deal with a breakfast buffet so we wouldn’t arrive hungry (don’t ask me why!) to our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star, for our 14 day cruise through the Panama Canal.

With an early flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and a two-hour time change to the earlier, we arrived by 9 AM in California at LAX. The taxi ride early on a Sunday morning to San Pedro took only about 40 minutes with little traffic. Our hotel rooms weren’t available yet so we left our bags there and took the hotel shuttle to downtown San Pedro. Not a lot was going so early but we stopped by the visitor’s center which was open, surprisingly, and with advice from a helpful staff person, quickly decided that a foursome from Iowa should check out the Battleship Iowa at the LA Waterfront.

Jim and I toured this ship in Norfolk, Virginia, back in the 80’s before it was decommissioned but we were game to see it again. We were delighted to discover that Iowa residents can now tour the ship for free because the State of Iowa contributed funds for its refurbishment and preservation.

Iowa Battleship

Iowa Battleship, San Pedro, CA

Iowa Battleship

Iowa Battleship Admission Prices

Recognition Plaque

Plaque Recognizing Contribution of the State of Iowa

The Big Stick (the Iowa’s nickname) was launched in 1942 as the lead ship of four ships in the Iowa class of battleships. The others are the Wisconsin, the Missouri, and the New Jersey. If Jim had a blog, he would tell you all about the 16 inch guns on the ship and other details that you may find fascinating about battle ships in general and the Iowa class specifically.

!6 inch guns on Iowa Battleship

Rick, Lori, and Jim in front of the 16 inch guns on the Battleship Iowa

I, however, prefer social history over military history. To me, the most interesting part of the ship was a tour of the rooms used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt while in transit to Tehran for the conference with Churchill and Stalin to plan the D-Day invasion of WWII. Doors had to be widened to accommodate FDR’s wheelchair; a kitchen was installed for his personal meal preparation; and the only bathtub on any ship in the fleet was installed for the President’s daily soak.

FDR's Rooms on the Iowa

Rooms Used by President FD Roosevelt While Aboard the Iowa

Volunteer aboard the Iowa Battleship

Volunteer Telling about President Roosevelt’s Journey to Africa on the Iowa

Another interesting tidbit involved the ship’s mascot, a dog called Vicky, short for Victory. The captain’s dog occasionally went AWOL from the ship but always seemed to turn up in time to set sail. One time she went missing in Long Beach, CA, and a call went out in the newspaper to help find her. Apparently it worked because a later report indicated she was back on board.

Mascot Vicky

Ship Mascot, Victory, during WW2

The walk along the waterfront in San Pedro is pleasant with a shopping area and locally significant sculptures to experience.

Jacob's Ladder

Statue of 2 Merchant Marines climbing a Jacob’s Ladder after a rescue at sea

Harry Bridges

Statue of Harry Bridges in San Pedro, CA, founder of International Longshore and Warehouse Union

Fishing Industry Memorial, San Pedro, CA

Fishing Industry Memorial, San Pedro, CA

Before heading back to the hotel, we ducked into The Whale and Ale, a local pub also recommended at the tourist information, for a late lunch. The owner was authentically British judging by his accent and the quality of the food was definitely above typical pub fare. We were all satisfied and ready to return to the hotel.

Local Pub, The Whale and Ale

Local Pub, The Whale and Ale, in San Pedro, CA

The Doubletree by Hilton is in a great location for cruising from the Port of Los Angeles. Overlooking the marina, the hotel is attractive and comfortable with a great breakfast. Our room was upgraded unbeknownst to us and we had a patio with a view of the marina. Some of the staff were a little wanting but most were topnotch. The carpet in the halls and stairways begs for replacement but overall, I would give this hotel high marks. The area is attractive with a long pedestrian walkway along the marina and my friend, Lori, and I felt quite safe walking without the men.

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

View from our room to our patio at the Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Hilton Doubletree Pool and Hot Tub

Hilton Doubletree, San Pedro, CA

Pedestrian Walkway in front of the Hilton Doubletree

San Pedro, CA

Vestiges of Halloween at the Marina, San Pedro, CA

 

The following day we were delivered promptly to the cruise port to begin our adventure through the Panama Canal with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Costa Rica; and Columbia; ending in Miami.

IMG_8821

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Sirens of the Lambs

The plan was to rendezvous in Athens, Greece, with our son, Michael, who was then living in Belgrade, Serbia, and travel together to Santorini for a family vacation.  As the saying goes, the best laid plans…  My version is one (worried mother’s) story and my husband who stayed behind to wait for Michael in Athens while Brian, Abi, and I went ahead to Santorini has another version, and Michael himself has yet another tale.  They are all true.

This is Michael’s story, written by him as my guest writer this week.

Sirens of the Lambs 

It started sweetly enough like a siren song, when I’d been told by this blog’s author that I would fly to Athens in order to meet up with the family. It sounded good.

In a roundabout way, it ended more or less as planned.

I just hadn’t planned on the way round.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, 2013, I made my way with incredibly limited funds on a bus to Belgrade, Serbia’s Nikola Tesla Airport, where I was told my scheduled flight wouldn’t depart until the following day. While Nikola Tesla defined technology for his era, the airport that bears his name is far from “current”, so I had to take the agonizingly slow bus back into town and log onto the internet to inform the author that I would not be arriving in Athens that day.

On Sunday, I went back to the airport, my funds now three airport trips lower.

As a general rule, I usually avoid male police officers, but due to the cosmic alignment, I had no choice at airport customs that day.  He was young, fresh, and not bored by years of airport tedium.  Additionally, not another soul had queued up behind me.

Bad.

He questioned me in Serbian; I replied in a confused fashion in English, feigning ignorance in spite of my Serbian fluency. My charade didn’t work because the date stamps in my passport didn’t add up to a legal duration (since the standard visa-stamp covers only a 90-day stay and I was overdue to leave Serbia).

I was told I might go to Greece, just not today.

Instead, I would take a merry ride through the Serbian legal system.

Taken from customs to the police station in the airport, I was sent along to the Ministry of Justice, where I was placed in jail to await my judgment.

There, I remembered just days before I had thought that by this time I’d be enjoying succulent lamb and Mythos beer in Greece with my family but I was being summoned before a Ministry of Justice judge instead. At least it sounded important.

The judge was relieved that a court interpreter wasn’t necessary, so she told the clerk most of what I said, which the clerk dutifully wrote, even if those words never actually passed my lips. When it came time to pay, the judge told me a number, I went lower, she found a nice in between, plus the court tax, and I was off again, making my way around Belgrade to a. find a currency exchange, b. pay my fines at a post office, c. return to the Ministry with proof of payment, and finally, d. to get a document from the police responsible for vagabond foreigners. Needless to say, the sun hung low when I finally cracked open my laptop to inform the author that I wouldn’t be in Greece that day either.

At least the police had been nice enough to drive me from the airport to jail, so with my fines deducted from the scant cash remaining on my person, I was just able to pay for one more bus ride the next morning. As the bus inched down the highway, my fury began rising like bile in a spinning bed after a hard night of Ouzo.

But, it was going to get worse before it got better. The barely competent-to-dress-themselves folks at the check-in counter had no clue when the flight for Athens would depart.

Three days straight, numerous problems, and here I was, living my own personal Groundhog Day at Nikola Tesla Airport.

My eyes burned holes into the clock as I stared at it, hoping my gaze could slow time. They finally let us go just a hair late, which, upon my arrival in Athens gave me 10 minutes to sprint through the entire airport, swimming upstream past luggage-laden grannies to find my father and our flight to Santorini, where we would finally rendezvous with the rest of the family, and, where I should have been several bizarre days earlier.

The author, Michael, in Oia, Santorini, April, 2013

The author, Michael, in Oia, Santorini, April, 2013

 

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Greek Food. Opa!

When I think of Greek food, the first thing that comes to mind is olives.  According to Greek mythology, the goddess, Athena, gave the olive tree to the Greeks.  In a competition with Athena for the position of patron god of the city, Poseidon, God of the Sea, threw his trident creating a river where it struck the earth, but the water was too salty to be useable.  Athena gave the people the olive tree which provided the people with olives, olive oil, and wood.  The people chose Athena as their patron and named their city Athens.

Olive trees

Olive trees in Athens

Today, Greece is one of the leading producers of olives.  A young Greek told me that since their entry into the European Union, many Greek olives are shipped to Italy where they are labeled as Italian products for export.  I don’t know whether or not that’s a “new Greek myth” but it was an interesting story.

If you’re a cheese lover, you can’t help but associate feta cheese with Greece.  Apparently, there is controversy within the European Union over this product, too.  The Greeks prevailed on the issue and obtained a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) from the EU which essentially requires that cheese produced in the EU outside of Greece cannot be called feta.  If you’re interested, you can read more about “The Feta Cheese Dispute” here (Peluso, 2005).  The restriction does not apply outside the EU, however, so if you’re buying feta cheese in the US, look for a product made in Greece.  If it’s produced in the US, it’s likely made from cow’s milk rather than sheep’s milk and not nearly as tasty.

With olives and feta we’re well on our way to a Greek salad and lots of other Greek dishes, too.  What I especially love about a Greek salad in Greece is that there’s no lettuce, just tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta, olive oil, oregano, and sometimes green peppers.  Yum!

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

On the other hand, I was never a fan of lamb. When I was a child and we had it at Easter, I think it was the mint jelly that I especially disliked.  As an adult, I prepared lamb one year for Easter and even the dog wouldn’t come into the house.  As you can imagine, I was hesitant to try it in Greece but I did and I’m happy to report I loved it.

Roast Lamb

Lamb roasting on a spit in the Plaka

We found several restaurants in Athens where we particularly enjoyed lamb as well as other Greek dishes.  Our favorite restaurant, Taverna Karavitis, sold lamb by the kilo and when you’re traveling with my family, that’s definitely the way to go.

Lamb by the kilo at Karavitis Taverna

Lamb by the kilo at Karavitis Taverna

We sat in the garden on a warm evening and enjoyed the house wine with our Greek salad, bread, tzatziki (cucumber yogurt dip), tirokafteri (spicy cheese dip), Keftedes (fried meatballs), and grilled lamb.  As my son commented, it was an epic experience.

Garden at Karavitis Taverna, Athens, Greece

Garden at Karavitis Taverna, Athens, Greece

Another favorite restaurant is located directly behind the new Acropolis Museum.  To Kati Allo is a small family run operation with food prepared right before your eyes.  We struck up a conversation with our waitress and learned she’s an American who met the son of the owners while studying in Athens, married him, and is still there raising a family and working in the restaurant.

To Kati Allo

To Kati Allo Restaurant

IMG_3239

My fish on the grill at To Kati Allo

To Kati Allo

To Kati Allo Restaurant

Along the pedestrian walkway of Makrygianni Street, you’ll find many restaurants that cater to the constant foot traffic of tourists to and from the Acropolis metro station.  The outdoor seating is especially pleasant on warm evenings.  We had some very tasty dishes at God’s Restaurant, which is recommended by Rick Steves, according to their sign.

Restaurant on Makrigiani

God’s Restaurant on Makrygianni

Mixed grilled meat

Mixed grilled meat with tzatziki

Lamb chops

Lamb Chops

Dolmathes

Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves with lemon sauce)

There are many other good basic restaurants as well as fine dining establishments in Athens.  Strofi Restaurant was close to our hotel with a terrific view of the Acropolis from the rooftop dining area.  We had an excellent meal but I somehow neglected to get photos.  In the Plaka, a charming old neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis, you’ll find lots of eateries but keep in mind you’re paying for location here in addition to the quality of the food.  If you want take-out, opportunities abound.  Be sure to stop somewhere for souvlaki, grilled chunks of meat on a stick, the Greek version of fast food.  (I’ll cover our favorite place for souvlaki in a later post about Santorini.)  Whether you prefer to wander and pick a place that appeals to you or do your research ahead of time, you’ll find plenty of delicious Greek food in Athens.  Opa!

 

Based on events from April, 2013

 

References:

Peluso, M. (2005). The Feta Cheese Dispute, Issues of Regional Identification Involving EU Regulations and “National” Brands of Food. Retrieved from https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/his452/fetawars.html

Categories: Greece, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Still More in Athens, Greece

I’d be content visiting Athens if it offered no more than the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum but it actually offers the visitor so much more.  There are additional ancient sites, both Greek and Roman, world-class museums, inviting green spaces, interesting neighborhoods, great shopping, and outstanding restaurants.  Here are a few of my favorites.

We particularly enjoyed several ancient sites within walking distance of the Acropolis and our hotel.  On the southern slopes of the Acropolis are two ancient amphitheaters, the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.  The former was built during the 5th century BCE as the venue for festivals and performances of early Greek plays.  To my knowledge, it was still in use until the major renovation project began in 2010 which is slated for completion in 2015.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a newer facility built by the Romans that opened in 161 AD.  Seating around 5,000 and restored in the 1950’s, it continues to be used for performances today, most notably during the Athens Festival beginning in the spring.

The Ancient Agora was the marketplace, the center of social, economic, and political life in ancient Athens where Socrates and his student, Plato, walked and discussed issues of the day.  There are many ruins in the Agora to explore while imagining what it was like to live in 6th century BCE Greece.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus must have been a colossal masterpiece judging by the remains.  Only 15 of the original 104 marble columns are standing today but they make quite an impression both from a distance and up close.  Note the fallen column between the two columns to the right and Hadrian’s Arch in the lower left area of the photo below.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus from the Acropolis

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The nearby Arch of Hadrian, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD, separated the Roman city from the ancient Greek area of Athens.  You can also see the Acropolis through the arch.

Hadrian's Arch

Hadrian’s Arch

On our first visit to Athens, we visited the National Archeological Museum of Athens.  Although it’s not within walking distance of the Acropolis area, it was well worth the bus ride to see one of the top archeological museums in the world if you have the time and the inclination.  Here are a few exhibits to whet your appetite.

We walked to the Panathenaic Stadium which is close to Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.  A stadium has stood on this site since 330 BCE but more notably, this restored stadium was chosen to host the revived Olympic Games in 1896.  For the 2004 Olympic Games, it was the site of the archery competition and the finish line for the Marathon race.

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium

There are also other sports facilities within this complex and son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Abi, were welcome to work out there.  One of the local coaches even offered some advice.

IMG_3257

IMG_3256

We enjoyed a lovely and leisurely stroll through the National Garden on our way to

National Garden

National Garden, Athens

see the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Parliament Building at Syntagma Square.  The traditional uniforms of the guards (Evzones) and the pageantry of the ceremony were particularly impressive.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Finally, we finished our tour with a little browsing through high-end shops near Syntagma Square, then a walk through the Plaka to stop at some souvenir shops on our way back to our hotel.

We enjoyed many other sights and neighborhoods while visiting Athens and I’m looking forward to repeat visits in the future to discover even more.

 

Next time: Our favorite Greek food in Athens.

 

Based of events of 2009 and 2013

 

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The New Acropolis Museum

The new Acropolis Museum beautifully showcases the treasures of the Acropolis with views of the citadel from the new location.   The old museum, situated on top of the Acropolis, displayed only a fraction of the artifacts but expansion was not an option in that space.   The new facility, with 14,000 square meters of exhibition space, now displays over 4,000 objects.  While I am not normally a fan of modern structures, this is an architectural masterpiece.  Built over an archeological site, construction of the museum was required to preserve the site below and incorporate it into the architecture of the museum.  Both goals were accomplished in an astonishing venue.

As you approach the entrance to the museum, below your feet you will see the archeological excavation through both an open area and glass floors.  As you enter the museum, the glass floor continues on the first level of the museum allowing the visitor to view ancient archeological remains.

Entrance to New Acropolis Museum

Notice the glass floor between the stairs and the open area where you can observe the work below

Entrance to New Acropolis Museum

Jim, Brian, and Abi at entrance to New Acropolis Museum with view of archeological dig below

Inside, the exhibits are arranged in the order they are naturally found.  As you enter on the main level you’ll see an incline to the second level.   This slope simulates the walk up the Acropolis and every day artifacts uncovered on the slopes are displayed here.

Everyday items found on the slopes of the Acropolis

Everyday items found on the slopes of the Acropolis and glass floor on the first level

The second level displays finds from the archaic period which preceded the building of the Parthenon, followed by a partial level that houses a coffee shop and terrace.

The fourth level contains the Parthenon Gallery, exhibiting marbles from the pediments, the frieze, and the metopes (meh’ toe pees).  On the photo below, the blue line points to the location of the pediments and the red line points to the metopes.  The  frieze would have been at the same level as the metopes but on the inside of the temple so not visible here.  Large sculptures depicting the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, and the battle of Athena and Poseidon over Attica were found on the two pediments (gables) on the east and west ends of the temple, respectively.  The frieze depicts a Panathenaic procession which was a festival celebrating Athena’s birthday.   Finally, the metopes are individual mythological scenes that were placed high on the outside of the temple just under the pediments.

Photo showing pediment is at the top with metopes underneath on the Parthenon

Blue line points to pediment and red line points to metopes at the top of the Parthenon

The photo below shows large sculptures from the pediments, the continuous frieze, and the individual metopes above the frieze.  They have been removed from the Parthenon and displayed for optimal viewing in the museum.

Parthenon Gallery

Brian ad Abi with the Parthenon marbles: pediment sculptures, frieze, and metopes

Parthenon Gallery

Jim viewing the Parthenon marbles with the Acropolis visible through the window

Leaving the Parthenon Gallery, the visitor is routed back to the second level where artifacts from the Propylaia, the Erechtheion with the Caryatids, and the temple of Athena Nike are displayed.

Items that were removed from the Acropolis over the years and not on display in the new Acropolis Museum are the subject of controversy. The most well-known of these controversies concerns the Elgin Marbles which are on display in the British Museum in London. At the risk of totally destroying my credibility, let me tell you about my first look at the Elgin Marbles. I’d read that they were one of the most famous exhibits housed in the British Museum and, although I was anxious to see them, I wondered what could be so special about some marbles. I mistakenly thought I was going to see half-inch diameter glass balls. Imagine my surprise when I saw the collection sculpted in marble which “includes sculptures from the Parthenon, roughly half of what now survives: 247 feet of the original 524 feet of frieze; 15 of 92 metopes; 17 figures from the pediments, and various other pieces of architecture. It also includes objects from other buildings on the Acropolis: the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the Temple of Athena Nike” (The British Museum). Oh.

So how did Lord Elgin come by the marbles and what’s the controversy? The Greek version is simply that they were looted from the Acropolis and should be returned to Greece for display at the new Acropolis Museum. The British version is that Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, saved the antiquities from destruction in the early 1800’s when he was British Ambassador to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Mainland Greece was, at that time, part of the Ottoman Empire and mostly had been since 1456. The story goes that he was authorized by the Ottoman Empire to take antiquities and that he subsequently sold the marbles to the British government who then placed them in the British Museum (The British Museum).

The British long maintained that Greece didn’t have adequate facilities to protect or display the Elgin Marbles but that argument was effectively refuted with the opening of the new Acropolis Museum.  Today, you can tell where the missing pieces belong in the exhibit as they are replaced by noticeable bright white plaster reproductions.

Incidentally, artifacts from the Acropolis can be found in other locations outside Greece such as the Louvre in Paris.  But then there are Egyptian antiquities found all over the world, too, including some in Athens at the National Archeological Museum.

No agreement to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece has been reached to date.

 

Based on events from October, 2009 and April, 2013.

 

References:

What are the Elgin Marbles? The British Museum.  Retrieved from http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/w/what_are_the_elgin_marbles.aspx

 

 

 

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The Acropolis

A tour of ancient Athens begins at the Acropolis and my advice is to start early because it will soon be totally over-run with tourists. Arriving right after the 8 am opening, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Acropolis means high city, also called the sacred rock, and this iconic citadel is where people in ancient times sought refuge when the city below was threatened.  A rocky hill overlooking the city is easier to defend, so it makes sense that the most important and sacred monuments were also erected here.  The Acropolis went through many iterations but the ruins that are present today were built in the 5th century BCE after the previous structures were destroyed by the Persians.  This new construction occurred under the oversight of the statesman, Pericles, during the golden age of Athens and during the lifetime of the philosopher, Socrates.  (He’s the dude who proclaimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living” before he drank hemlock when sentenced to death for impiety which basically means he advocated questioning the religious beliefs of the day, aka Greek mythology.)

You’ll enter through the Propylaea, a monumental gateway built around 437 BCE that was definitely designed to impress the visitor.

Propylon, Entrance to Acropolis

Brian, Jim, and Abi at the Propylaea, Entrance to Acropolis

Entrance to Acropolis

Entrance to Acropolis

This fellow, however, doesn’t seem too impressed.  It’s just another day in the neighborhood for him.  Don’t be surprised by the number of dogs or the scaffolding you see when you visit.  Only some of the dogs are actually strays and 2500 year old ruins require shoring up on a regular basis.  The current restoration project has been in progress for over 30 years.

Once inside the gates, the main attraction is the Parthenon, a temple built in 432 BCE to honor Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and (sometimes) war, after whom the city of Athens is named.

Michael, Jim, and me at the Parthenon

Michael, Jim, and me at the Parthenon

A chryselephantine (ivory and gold) statue of Athena originally stood 40 feet tall in the center of the temple until the Byzantines took it to Constantinople in the 5th Century AD, where it disappeared sometime thereafter.  Athena held a six foot statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, in her right hand and in her left she held her shield with a snake behind it.

Today, a smaller replica is on display in the National Archeological Museum in Athens.

Statue of Athena in the National Archeological Museum Athens

Statue of Athena in the National Archeological Museum Athens

Much of the damage to the Parthenon that is still visible today occurred in 1687 when mainland Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire.  At that time the Parthenon was used as a storehouse for ammunition.  (Previously, it was a mosque among other things.)  When the Venetians attacked, cannonballs striking the Parthenon caused the gunpowder stored inside to explode, killing at least 300 people and destroying 28 of the columns along with other damage to the edifice (Nova, 2008).

As an interesting side note, there is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon and the statue of Athena in, of all places, Nashville, Tennessee, in the USA. The Parthenon replica was built in 1897 as part of the state’s centennial celebration and the statue of Athena was completed in 1990 although the gold gilt wasn’t added until 2002.

The Erechtheion is a smaller temple on the Acropolis which was home to the famous Caryatids, six massive female statues.  Their meaning has been lost but their existence has not.  Five of the originals are housed nearby in the New Acropolis Museum and what you see today on the Acropolis are exact replicas.  The sixth is in the British Museum in London.  More on that later.

Erechtheion on the Acropolis

Erechtheion on the Acropolis

Caryatids

Caryatids on Display at the New Acropolis Museum

There is also another small temple on the Acropolis, Athena Nike, which is often overlooked because it’s to the right of the Propylaea upon entry.  Unfortunately, I overlooked it and didn’t get a photo. I did, however, photograph the elevator that makes the Acropolis accessible to the disabled.  That’s probably often overlooked as well.

Elevator up the Acropolis

Elevator up the Acropolis

And here are a couple more scenes from around the Acropolis.

View from Acropolis

View of Athens from the Acropolis

Acropolis from Below

Looking up at the Acropolis from below

Next time  we’ll visit the New Acropolis Museum as we continue our tour of Athens.

Based on events from 2009 and 2013

 

References:

Nova, (2008). Secrets of the Parthenon.  Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/secrets-parthenon.html

 

Categories: Greece, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Athens, Greece

I’m stuck on Greece.  I have a huge crush on Greece.  I <3 Greece.  You get the picture.  Greece has everything in great abundance that I seek when travelling–scenic beauty including both mountains and seaside, ancient to modern history, glorious weather, friendly people, and delicious food.  It’s the standard I use to compare all other places.  The picture above from Santorini inspires me every time I look at it.

So why is Athens, the capital city of Greece, so disparaged?  When I researched Athens before our first visit in 2009, I was prepared to dislike it.  Friends who had been there and articles I read called Athens dirty, crowded, choked with traffic, hard to get around, and a place to leave as quickly as possible.  I read only grudging praise about the improvements made for the 2004 Olympics followed by blame for the 2004 Olympics as a cause of the economic decline of Greece.

None of this bode particularly well so I was definitely pleasantly surprised when we arrived.  The Metro train system into the historic center from the airport is clean and attractive with excavated artifacts encased for viewing at stations, like mini museums.  Then when you get your first view of the Acropolis, with the Parthenon perched on top, the sight can’t help but impress you with the glorious history alive in this city.

Parthenon Atop the Acropolis

Parthenon Atop the Acropolis

I selected a typically European hotel, small and basic but it has a terrific view, Wi-Fi, and a great breakfast included in the price.  The helpful and accommodating staff didn’t cost any extra either.  The Acropolis View Hotel is located in the historic center and has a view of the Acropolis from the rooftop garden as well as from the balconies of a number of rooms.  I, of course, requested a room with a view at a rate of around $50 per night.  I see the best rate now listed by Trivago is $66.  I’d still pay it.

European hotels aren’t for everyone.  If you’re a Hilton kind of traveller who can’t live without all the amenities of a four or five-star hotel, you won’t be impressed by a two star European hotel.  For me, it’s fine.  This hotel is small but clean and charming, with an elevator (I’ve been to many hotels without one), and European bathrooms are always great, in my experience.  (My husband who is broad-shouldered doesn’t necessarily share my view on bathrooms, however.  Some showers have been a bit snug for him and this is one of them.)  The breakfast is amazing–various meats, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, breads, cereal, pastries, vegetables, fruit, yogurt, coffee, tea, and juice.  There’s even a panini machine which was a hit with my husband.  A big breakfast is a must for us.  We typically book hotels that include breakfast, eat enough to provide fuel for the day, and pay to go out for one meal a day in the evening.

For our $50 per day, here’s what we got.

And here’s the view from the Acropolis looking down at our hotel.  The hotel sign is circled in red.

Our hotel seen from the Acropolis

Our hotel seen from the Acropolis

The location is very convenient for seeing the historic area on foot which I will tell you about in my next post and a short 10 minute walk from the Acropoli Metro station where we arrived from the airport.  There are also plenty of restaurants and shops nearby.  More on that to come, too.

We like this hotel so much we stayed there when we returned in 2013.  And, when we return to Athens again in the future, I will certainly try to book this hotel.  If this post sounds like I’m advertising for Acropolis View Hotel, I am, sort of, but they don’t know it and they aren’t paying me.

Next time:  Seeing the sights in Athens

 

 

 

Categories: Greece, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Worthwhile in Wyoming

I’m frequently asked whether a place I visited was worthwhile.  If it’s worth the time, effort, or money expended, it’s worthwhile.  For me, this is true in all things travel.  For example, I’ve been a member of AAA for many years.  Some of you are likely thinking, what’s that?  AAA stands for American Automobile Association and they offer emergency roadside assistance.  Having used roadside assistance very little in all those years, you may think it’s not worthwhile.  But, they also provide travel services including TourBooks and maps, and that’s where I believe I’ve gotten my money’s worth.   You can purchase AAA TourBooks on Amazon for $7-$11 so getting them free with my membership is definitely worthwhile to me.  In addition, TourBooks are updated every couple of years so each time I visit an area, I get the new edition.  As part of my travel planning within the United States, I order the TourBooks and maps for each state before I visit and use them to begin planning.  Of course, with the internet, that’s really no longer necessary.  You can search any location and find exhaustive information for your planning purposes.  BUT, when I was in Yellowstone with no connectivity on my smart phone and no wi-fi in the hotel, the old stone tablet, aka paper books and maps, came in VERY handy.  And even outside the park, reception was spotty in Wyoming.  Apparently, ATT has some room for improvement in the western U.S.

Upon leaving Jackson, Wyoming, just like in the old days, my husband drove while I read out loud from the TourBook about every town and attraction along the route and some off the route in case we found something worth a side trip.  We decided to head to Thermopolis, Wyoming, by way of the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway.  Our first stop, however, occurred when we spotted some hunters on the side of the road.  Thinking maybe we’d see some wildlife, we pulled over.

Hunter with his dismembered moose

Hunter with his dismembered moose

Since this was the only moose I’d seen on this trip, I snapped a picture, even though he was no longer in one piece.  I told the hunter I’d really like to see a grizzly bear and he said to come back in the morning to the “gut pile” and I’d likely see one.

By this time, it was late in the afternoon so locating accommodations for the night was our first priority.  The TourBook also contains accommodations so I quickly found a good rate at the new Wind River Hotel and Casino in Riverton, WY.  We’re not gamblers but we like a bargain and this hotel owned by the Northern Arapaho Tribe fit the bill.  By the time we got our AAA discount and all the other perks including gambling dollars and meal vouchers plus some extras because it was my birth month, we figured our room cost around $40.  I found it ironic that no alcohol was allowed anywhere on this property although smoking and gambling were plentiful.

The next morning, we headed straight to the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway.  The varied terrain and vast rugged beauty is breathtaking.   The photos below are actually in the order taken showing the rapid changes in scenery.

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

IMG_4262

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway

Arriving in Thermopolis, the northern endpoint of the byway, at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center & Dig Sites  when it opened at 10 a.m. allowed us to see all the exhibits before the school children arrived on a field trip.  We were reminded of our own children when they were school age years before.  They would have loved Jimbo, the Supersaurus, and Stan, the T-Rex as well as the Triceratops on display at this delightful museum.

Today, the real draw to this small private museum is the famous Thermopolis Specimen, a fossil of an Archaeopteryx.  It is one of only 10-12 specimens in the world and the only one on display in North America.  It is also considered the second best specimen in existence.  The specimen was discovered in Bavaria and sold from a private collection to an anonymous donor who put it on display at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in 2007.  What a treasure!

"Thermopolis Archaeopteryx" by incidencematrix - DSC_0034. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thermopolis_Archaeopteryx.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Thermopolis_Archaeopteryx.jpg

“Thermopolis Archaeopteryx” by incidencematrix – DSC_0034. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thermopolis_Archaeopteryx.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Thermopolis_Archaeopteryx.jpg

This town of 3000 inhabitants has more to offer than just the dinosaur museum, however.  It is home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs with over 8000 gallons of water heated to 135 degrees flowing each day.  Hot Springs State Park, the first state park in Wyoming, is adjacent to Thermopolis with a free public bath house for mineral springs bathing and swimming year round.  In addition, boating, fishing, and hiking are available, and a herd of bison roams through the park.

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Tepee Fountain, Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Tepee Fountain, Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

A visit to Thermopolis was definitely worthwhile and I highly recommend spending some time there.  As we headed for home, one last beautiful photo of Wyoming begged to be taken.

Leaving Thermopolis, Wyoming

Leaving Thermopolis, Wyoming

Our AAA TourBooks and maps aided us in another worthwhile adventure.  And, we were happy to get out of Wyoming and South Dakota just a day ahead of more than 12 inches of snow in late September.

 

Based on events from September, 2013

 

Categories: Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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