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Patmos...called "The Jerusalem of the Aegean Sea"...is where the final chapter of the New Testament of the Christian Bible was written while John of Patmos was supposedly exiled from the Roman Empire... Some of our group visit the cave where he lived, near the site of the Monastery of St. John, built on one of the island's highest points...others stroll the harbor town, walk the narrow streets, shop, or grab a bite to eat...After Patmos, it is time to return to ship for our whole group dinner...a lovely meal shared together, with celebratory music played by crew members in honor of a birthday boy's special day! After dinner, we head to bed to try and catch up on sleep; tomorrow we will awake at the island of Crete, for a visit to the ancient ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos -- built around 1900BC!
The sun is shining and the wispy clouds are blowing off as we leave our ship, boarding a bus at the port city of Heraklion to drive to Knossos. The hills are colored with wildflowers and noisy songbirds are as excited as we are to see the sun. Along the path into the monument, oranges are dropping from trees, and Mrs. Noble finds out the hard way that they are ornamental and most definitely not tasty! Our new guide walks us slowly through the crowded palace grounds; this is the quiet season...how crowded does it get by mid-summer??! The 4,000 year old palace is in ruins, and much has been rebuilt in modern times to show how it would have looked back in the day, but there are still small sections intact. The elements have eroded the stones until they are but crystalline skeletons of their former solid shapes. We tour past storage jars the size of wheelbarrows, a throne room, the king's and queen's chambers, one of the world's oldest theaters, and reproductions of colorful frescoes: dark-haired men and women, dolphins, event the famous bull-leaping painting from our Journey Across Time textbook!
At this point we have been traveling for almost two weeks, with early mornings and busy days, so despite the historical importance and simple beauty of this site, sleep deprivation stalks our group, finding easy prey among the kids (and adults)! If we are going to truly enjoy our afternoon in Santorini, we are definitely going to need to nap on the boat...
Most of us do catch up a bit and are in good spirits as our ship glides into the massive volcanic crater of Santorini...like a super-sized Crater Lake...past a Wizard Island of cooled lava, still leaking hot spring water into the sea...then take small boats to the shore. Some of us take a bus across the island to the stunning village of Oia. Others climb on donkeys to take the zigzag path up the steep caldera walls, to the white stuccoed village of Thera, perched atop the cliff's edge like snow capping a brown ridge of hills. The village is a maze of twisting alleyways and cute shops and lovely restaurants with terraces of tables with unbelievable views of the caldera's crescent rising from beneath the sea...
We take taxis down the outer slope of the island, gently dropping in elevation to the shore, where mountains of buoyant pumice spill across the land and find their way to the beach, where a few of us test out our Aegean Sea body surfing skills in the still cool waves... Back in Thera we catch a beautiful sunset, then jump in the gondola for a quick ride down to the dock, then back on our shuttle boats and back to the ship for the night journey back to Athens!
In the morning we disembark for the last time, say goodbye to the Celestyal Olimpia, and load the bus for our last day in Greece. We visit the Olympic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics in 1896, drive by neo-classical university and government buildings, and park at the base of the Acropolis. Our new tour guide walks us up through the excited crowds of adults and teens and young school kids who are making their way the tree-lined pathway. This the most crowded site we have been to, but it does not detract from its majestic beauty...rather it reinforces that this place is still a living part of the spirit of the city. Passing through the Propylaea (entry way), we find ourselves confronted with possibly the most iconic structure in world history: the Parthenon. It soars above us, larger than it looks in photographs...and everything about this site makes perfect sense. Of course this is where you would build the temple to the namesake goddess of your polis...the city stretches off below us in every direction...to the hills and to the sea...a brilliant blue sky glows with a light of other-worldly clarity...matched by the bright stone of the Parthenon and Erechtheion...far below the cliff's edge are the various Greek and Roman theaters and temples from throughout the ages, but the acropolis is above it all...floating above the mundane life of the city below...
We stroll down the hill in the growing heat of the morning...for a walk through the Plaka district's beautiful streets...winding alleys and pastel walls close in on you, then through a gap above the walls the soaring pillars of the Parthenon peek through, a reminder that Athena is always watching over you...to the large square of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, and its tiny neighbor, the Byzantine-era Agios Eleftherios church, which is no larger than a classroom and lit only by a couple of dim colored glass portholes...then off for shopping and lunch of fresh roasted gyros and spicy peppers and beautiful Greek salads topped with hefty slabs of fresh sheep feta...
After lunch, we split our group in two: some go on an adventures to the incredible and overwhelming National Archaeological Museum and a ride on the subway...the others visit the new Acropolis Museum...built on piers above the ongoing excavations of an ancient Roman town! A repeated theme within the walls of the crisp, light-filled Acropolis Museum: many of the statues and decorations of the Parthenon are being preserved here, but many others have been taken away during the ages...to the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris and elsewhere...and an ongoing effort to return these items to Athens has not yet met with much success...who can claim rightful ownership to the artifacts of history?
We head to our hotel for an earlier dinner (still late by American standards), and to pack our bags one last time...our bus to the airport picks us up at three in the morning, so it is early to bed and early to rise! Tomorrow we fly to Paris...to Salt Lake City...to Portland...and then ride the bus home!
Our next port of call is Kusadasi, Turkey...adding a fourth country to our list so far! We disembark and enter the country under a stormy sky. We walk past the bazaar and its eager salesmen (yes, they seem to all be men), load our buses, and head out into the countryside to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Running another gauntlet of oh-so-persuasive street hawkers, past the "Genuine Fake Watches" shop, we enter the Roman ruins of Ephesus. The polished marble of the main processional road gleams when the sun finally comes out, and the pillars and statues and brickwork suggest a bustling and grand city in its day. Temples, very public latrines, incredible stone mosaic floors, stone sarcophagi, one of the largest theaters of the ancient world and the mighty library of Celsus are all on display in the small fraction of Ephesus that has been uncovered so far. What other treasures lie underground to be found by future archaeological excavations? And how does a city become buried anyway? Slowly? Or all at once in a massive landslide in an earthquake?
We pass through the gates once more, past the street vendors hawking fake ancient coins, bags of silkworm cocoons and raunchy male anatomy figurines...and board our bus for a tour of a carpet factory. The tour begins with demonstrations of traditional wool dying, silk extraction from boiling cocooons, and masterful weaving of mind-bogglingly intricate and beautiful carpets. Small glasses of apple tea are passed around to all of us, then out come the carpets of wool and silk, large and small, tribal and arabesque, expensive, very expensive, and prohibitively expensive...and all works of hand-made art! Eyes swimming with color and geometry, we hop back on our bus, back to the port, and on to our ship, to set sail for several more of Greece's 6,000 or so islands...
Nike! (Victory!) We made it to Greece! We leave the night ferry and hop on our new bus; the driver greets us by barking like a small dog, and we travel north from the Peloponnesian peninsula, across a super-modern suspension bridge, to the mainland of Greece. We stop for lunch at a taverna in a tiny village on the edge of the sea to eat an amazing meal of Greek salad, octopus, sea bass, snapper, lamb, spanakopita, baklava, and fresh fruit. Who knew that the reason your table setting has a three-pronged fork for seafood is in tribute to the trident of Poseidon, God of the Sea? We stretch our legs and walk down the rocky beach strewn with thousands of small sea urchin skeletons...ripe lemons and oranges hang from branches and litter the ground along the shore, and the eucalyptus trees are covered in beautiful yellow flowers!
We drive on -- to our hotel in the foggy mountains: Delphi! Reminiscent of a Himalayan hill station in the clouds, this tiny village is tucked into the mountain side; the front of our hotel has five stories, the back has only one. Winding streets, rustic woodwork and stone masonry: the village is lovely, and its many small stores sell items that tell of its shepherding past: woven wool carpets, walking sticks, olives and olive wood carved tools, honey, and of course: souvenirs from temple of the Delphic Oracle! A toothless old woman dressed in the widow's traditional black sells odds and ends in the corner market and smiles as she tries to teach a couple simple words in Greek to an American customer unaccustomed to the tongue twisters of her native language...
Holy Apollo! The next morning we drive five minutes down the road to see the magnificent complex of buildings at the ancient site of Delphi -- chosen by Zeus, when the two eagles he released at the far ends of the earth crossed paths here. The magnificent, massive stones of the retaining walls are fitted together like puzzle pieces...not unlike the Inca buildings of Machu Picchu. And upon closer inspection, we see that volumes of history and mythology have been painstakingly carved on the surfaces of each stone...an archaeologist's dream discovery! This site was used for many centuries as the place of prophecy -- the Pythoness, or oracle, would communicate with the gods and answer in riddles the questions of countless generals and kings and other seekers who were confronted with major, perplexing decisions...this, like so much of our trip, is like stepping into the pages of Herodotus' Histories!
After visiting the site, we walk over to the Delphi museum, where we stroll in numbed silence through the halls, examining the beautiful artifacts of bronze and gold and marble that were brought her for safe-keeping: a horse and rider, a giant sphinx, weapons and tools, gold jewelry, carvings full of figures playing out scene after scene from ancient mythology and history. Minds spinning, we load the bus again...for Athens! We drive east, arriving in the evening, and settle into our new hotel. It is pouring now, and we throw caution to the wind and put on slickers and hoist umbrellas for a walk across the city to go shopping. In our tour director's words: "You aren't made of sugar, and you aren't made of salt!" Although Monique was born in the Belgian Congo and now lives in Rome, you can tell she spent time studying at our very own University of Oregon! Of the many items purchased, gyros, halvah and candied kumquats were among the favorites... Tomorrow, we board our cruise ship for our island adventures!
The next morning, we arrive at the port of Piraeus to load the Celestyal Olympia with another 900 or so cruise ship passengers. After navigating our way through security, the ever-present ship photographers, the lifeboat drill, the on-board beverage menu plans, the credit card registration, the cabin check-in and luggage pick-up, we are in our new home-sweet-home! Cabins are small but sufficient. Most of the showers work, but not all do. The pool is open, but a hot tub would be even better given the mixed weather we are enjoying! The food is great in all-you-can-eat buffet, and even better downstairs in the Aegean restaurant. Views from the many decks are stunning, but for the best view on ship, you hike up twelve floors to the crow's nest bar for a 360 degree panorama of the wide, blue yonder! We sit staring and journaling and sipping juice and smoothies for ages, until a shout announces that dolphins have been spotted, and we watch as they follow us, leaping playfully in the ship's wake...
By afternoon we dock in Mykonos! This island of whitewashed buildings and labyrinthine corridors transports us to a time before automobiles...and it does not take much imagination to drift back to a time before cell phones and electricity and the hum of modern life... Monique leads us through the maze to Little Venice, built right on the edge of the sea...to the iconic windmills of innumerable postcards. Dinner is at a small taverna only feet from fishing boats moored close to shore...near the marble fish cleaning station...classy! After dinner we walk back to our ship by moonlight, knowing that if we aren't back by last call, the boat will leave without you!
Breakfast in our hotel in Rome...then off to a rainy day tour in the Colosseum and Forum...today is the Rome Marathon, so silver-blanketed runners and colorful umbrellas are scattered among the colossal buildings left behind by the builders of empire some 2,000 years ago...after lunch we explored St. Paul Outside the Walls, subterranean catacomb burial tunnels, grand squares near the Pantheon and Spanish Steps, and then finally...to a Serie A soccer game: SS Lazio vs. Hellas Verona. Final score: Lazio 2, Verona 0! Forza Lazio, Forza Forza Lazio!!!
Breakfast in Rome - croissants, bread, cereal, yogurt, tropical fruit and coffee. Our stylish Italian bus driver, Dario, picked us up at our hotel and we rode southward to Naples. Looked to the left to catch a glimpse of Monte Cristo, a Benedictine monastery and mid-20th century fortress that repelled multiple Allied attempts, which is memorialized on the hill to the left by an obelisk and cemetery that memorialized fallen Polish soldiers. Arrived in the port city of Naples and caught the early ferry to Capri. Fell asleep next to a dog.
Docked and jumped on a tour boat that hugged the cliffside and skirted through the crystal blue water. The sun shone on the seemingly crumbling cliffs. Hardy trees and shrubs clung on to the steep white walls. We motored through archway-like rocky outcroppings. It was a spectacular, jaw-dropping tour of the island that we were about to climb. We disembarked and luckily caught three fast busses to dodge our way up to Anacapri.
Lunch in Anacapri - salad, fish, pizza, ravioli and dessert. I am enjoying having dessert after every meal. Took a chair lift to the top of Mount Solara to look down on the shimmering waters that we were just cruising around on. We hovered over the rooftops, glided over the terraced gardens and some of us enjoyed some interesting chanting. Bussed over to the shopping district in Capri to meander through the alleyways as the sun ducked below the other side of the island. Caught the sunset on the ferry to Sorrento. Hiked up a stone staircase to catch our breath in a shopping row where lemon and leather lightened our wallets. Caught the bus to Hotel Mary for carbonarra, vegetable soup, bread and olive oil and meatballs.
From Sorrento we head to the buried city of Pompeii! Walking through the ancient town, the hulking shape of Mt. Vesuvius looms in the distance. It is warm and lovely, and although we explore only about 5% of the city, it is enough to get a feel for the complexity of this amazing time capsule from the past. We see a gladiatorial barracks around which wild animals and captive men would have be caged, two theaters with perfect acoustics which kids quickly test, streets with basalt paving stones and massive crosswalk stones with gaps at the exact width of the wheel-span of carts and chariots...we drink from the stone box fountains, examine the bathhouses, a villa, bakeries, delis, a fullery where urine was used to wash clothes, a large forum, storage shelves of amphorae, casts of bodies, a treasure chest, carved reliefs, painted murals, even reflector stones set in the sidewalk to guide night time traffic! After lunch and shopping, and a visit to a carved seashell cameo-making factory, we're off to the night ferry to Greece!
Our bags are packed, and we have booked our flight. Someone should have told the Dutch air transport workers not to strike.
Well, that was a long day of firsts. The sun was last seen two hours after we left Hedrick's bus ramp, on the fastest charter bus to Portland. Being too excited to sleep on the plane, multiple movies and the northern lights over Canada were instead watched by many. Uh oh, is that another sunrise? Landing safe and sound in the Netherlands, we added a bonus country to our trip. The unintended layover in the city of Amsterdam lasted long enough to take a guided bus tour, a walking tour, and a canal tour before laying our tired heads to bed in a hotel tucked into the coastal sand dunes where the half-buried concrete hulks of WWII Nazi bunkers still peeked out of the dune grass. It was whirlwind and jet lagged first day, but hopefully these photos give a taste of how spectacular this surprise ended up being.
There were old windmills and new wind turbines. There were old bridges over 17th century canals and new bridges to man-made islands. There were old churches surrounded by ancient businesses. Huge wooden clogs, daylilies and tulips about to bloom, cobblestone squares surrounded by huge brick buildings and thousands of bicycles. In a city where bikes rule, the cyclists wore no helmets and generally had little patience for pedestrian safety. We are learning to keep our heads on a swivel while following a leader.
There were immaculate residential buildings slightly leaning from soggy wooden foundations. House boats parked next to Teslas. It seemed like everyone we met was incredibly friendly, courteous and spoke excellent English. There were uber-modern buildings built around and above 18th century factories and warehouses. The juxtaposition of the works of long-dead master masons beside ergonomic high-end design left us feeling appreciative of Dutch history and inspired by the potential of human ingenuity. We are thankful for our brief glimpse of Amsterdam. Our group has gone with the flow and has been appreciative of the unexpected. While we are now minutes from boarding our flight to Rome, ready for our next adventure, many of us are most certainly hoping to return to the Netherlands...on purpose next time!
Wow...our trip is off to an amazing start!
After our amazing tour of the Roman Colosseum and a lovely fresh lunch in the open air farmer's market, thirty of us caught a bus to the Stadio Olimpico for an Italian professional league soccer match!
And just when we thought it couldn't get better, Lazio's star forward, Miroslav Klose, twisted his ankle, and because all of the subs were still stuck in the crazy Roman traffic, Mr. Johnson was called down on to the pitch to play...what a dream come true for this Southern Oregon native...and who could have predicted that he would score the game-winning goal in overtime? What a day!!!