Trip Start Dec 27, 2012
Trip End Mar 26, 2013

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Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Saturday, March 16, 2013

Today when we got up to get ready for the day tour Elysia had a really and headache and was feeling quite sick and so I would be tackling the day on my own. I went down to breakfast and met the tour bus as is the routine and then we set off on our journey. Our guide was really good today and initially she talked about what we would actually be doing. The first stop for the day (for food and bathrooms only) was the town of Corinth. Here there is an awesome canal that was built to join the Aegean and Ionian seas so that small boats can go through here rather than all the way around the Peloponnese peninsula area. We then go on to see an amazing theatre that apparently had fantastic acoustics due to the way it was designed at Epidavros. Our last stop before lunch will be the acropolis of Mycenae, which is famous for its lion gate. This area has been populated since 6000BC but its golden age and the gate are from 1600-1200BC and the gate is said to be the oldest monument of this type in Europe.

On the drive out the guide chatted pretty well the whole way. A lot of the information related to things I had been told already but there were sine new interesting things she old us that I will jot down. The first of these is their relationship with Turkey and why they are not yet in the EU. The official story that I had heard before was that Turkey weren't included as they had not met all EU regulations whereas the guide was suggesting that other countries don't want Turkey in as they have such a huge population that they would have a lot of say and because labour prices would change for the countries that have factories in Turkey. I also found it interesting that Greece gets lots of refugees and immigrants. People came from places like Albania when all the Yugoslavia problems were happening plus they get people escaping from Africa and Asia. Apparently when they arrive here they can't find work and so end up no better off. The big issues is once they get to Greece other European countries won't let them across borders and so they get stuck in Greece. There is a scheme in place though where the EU gives people a free flight back to their country and Greece gives them 300 euros if they go home and never come back. I also learnt a little more about the main religion here, most Greeks are Greek Orthodox and they do things a little differently to us. Firstly their Easter falls on different dates to ours and for them the 10 days prior to Lent is a carnival where people dress up and dance around and this is the last weekend of this period so on our dinner tour tonight we will probably see people celebrating in the streets. For Lent itself many people don't eat meat or do certain types of fasting for the whole 40 day period or at least for all of Holy Week - a little more strict than our Good Friday tradition.

On the drive we also saw some interesting things. We drove past the major port of Athens and the industrial zone where they make cement and have oil refineries and ship yards. We also passed a few little towns where she gave us some history and how the people of these towns explained things with their Greek mythology. She also talked about while Greece was a country in Ancient times and all the cities had the same religion and language and they participated in the olympics they did used to fight with each other all the time. And as I have mentioned in a previous battle they only really came together as one force when they were fighting off the Persians. We also talked about how the major Ancient Greek cities had outlying colonies in places that today are part of Italy, Turkey and Asia. It was the Greeks that first settled the area that became Constantinople under the Romans and then Istanbul under the Ottoman Turks.

As I mentioned the first stop for us was Corinth. We stopped just outside the modern town today and the old town (with an acropolis) is about 7km away from here. As is the case with most of the old cities Corinth was attacked and damaged many times by the Persians, Spanish, Franks, Turkish Ottomans etc. Back when Ancient Greece was at its peak though Corinth was a very wealthy city. In these days there was no canal and so when boats came to this area they would be unloaded here and the Corinthians would transport the boat and the cargo across the land to the other side of the peninsula. They obviously got paid for this service plus the sailors spent money in the town while they were there. Today the canal is awesome it took 11 years in total to complete and is 70m deep. Driving over it across the bridge was an awesome view but those afraid of heights weren't super happy with how slowly we drove over it for the photos! The other important thing about Corinth is that St. Paul spent about 18months here in about 48 AD after his failed attempts at preaching in Athens. He started a small Christian community here and he revisited the area years later. It was in the gap when he wasn't here that he wrote the letters to the Corinthians that are in our bible today. These letters were originally written in Greek and later translated to the other languages. He obviously had some success here (at least there was less violence than in Rome) but it did still take about 400 years for Christianity to become the main religion here and apparently one of the reasons the Greeks did convert was because they were fed up with all the varied God stories especially when these changed when Alexander the Great incorporated some of the Egyptian Gods into Greek mythology. The 400 year delay though is interesting because apparently there were lots of Jewish people here around 200BC and they have found evidence that the Old Testament was translated into Greek at this time.

The whole drive to this point had been really pretty but the scenery was awesome after we passed through Corinth. We were sort of weaving through the mountains and we had views of the ocean and the closest Greek Islands. Plus the countryside was dotted with orange, lemon and olive trees so it all looked really awesome.

Our first real stop was Epidavros and here the main attraction was the theatre. It is famous for its amazing acoustics and our guide told us that its design and its position in relation to the sea (and the breeze) are what makes the sound so impressive. Even today when they have performances here they do not use microphones because if the performer stands in the right spot they can be heard perfectly in the very back row. this is pretty cool when it can seat 15000 people. After our guide talked to us about the theatre we all found a seat and the guides demonstrated to us how good the sound was. First one lady walked around the stage clapping and on the outsides of the stage it just sounded normal but in the middle section it echoed all around, you could kind of hear the sound bouncing off the seats. Thy also dropped coins and whispered and the people up the back were Giving us the thumbs up to show that they could hear everything. The coolest sound though was when she struck a match! After this we had free time at the ancient site here. The site wasn't actually a city but was a medical centre and obviously even these areas were big enough to have their own theatre as it was very important for the sick to heal their minds (through art and learning) as well as there bodies. Before we explored our guide explained to us how the symbol we use now for medicine or pharmacy was based on Ancient Greek mythology. The symbol she was referring to is the snake wrapped around a stick. The story was that Apollos son was a god of healing and medicine (who was actually born at this site and so it was the most famous healing centre in ancient times) but he was mortal as his mother had been human. There are then many Greek reasons as to why the snake is important but our guide said to make Ascepius immortal he was turned into a serpent and placed into the stars. There were also stories of the snake throwing itself onto the stick or it representing the good and the harm in medicines. Anyway at the site there are extensive ruins of what was once a huge medical centre, with big halls and individual patient rooms. There was also a stadium and a gym. I wandered around the ruins with an American guy majoring in ancient history, who was honestly kind of annoying but he was travelling alone and I didn't have Elysia so I chatted to him.

After this we drove to our next site which was a massive tomb that is believed to have been built for one of the ancient kings of Mycenae. This was the first structure of the tour that we have seen that was built in what they refer to as the Cyclopian period. This is because the Greeks believed these structures made from huge stones were built by big giants with one eye, Cyclops. In reality it took crazy engineering skills to put the blocks in place. The tomb looks like a beehive and it is built into the side of a hill and so the entrance is lined with stones as is the inside of the hill. There is a hole in the top and this tomb was actually found when a local shepherd lost a lamb down the hole. The tomb is a couple of kms away from the actual city of Mycenae and there were apparently 9 kings here in ancient times and 9 tombs have been found in this area. The most famous of these kings was Agamemnon, one of the kings who went to Troy to try and take the city for the wealth it offered, although he said he went to help his brother (another king) get his wife Helen back. Agamemnon was a pretty harsh guy though, he sacrificed his daughter to the gods to get favourable winds for the voyage to Troy! this didnt impress his wife and when he returned from battle she killed him in his bath. whether this is his tomb or not (it is named after him), the design of the thing was seriously crazy, to think they hollowed out the hill and built this without collapsing - its so clever! We only spent 10mins or so here before heading off the actual city.

The entrance to the city has the lions I mentioned earlier above the gate. They don't have heads as they were apparently made of more expensive material that would have been looted but the carving is very cool (especially as it is 3500 years old and surrounded by Cyclopian walls). Inside the gates there are these weird circle things that were mass tombs for those not kingly enough to get there own tomb in the hillside. These were still pretty elaborate though. In the ruins it was obvious the burial area was surrounded with two layers of walls that were filled with pebbles to protect the dead and when this area was excavated they found 18 bodies in here. We had free time to explore this site and so we walked through the outer areas of the city (where the tombs were), through the main palace, past the cellars and storage areas and we even went underground into the tunnel where an underground river used to flow that provided the water for the ancient city. Overall very impressive, very old ruins!

After this we headed off to lunch. We had the usual Greek salad and lamb souvlaki which was delicious and then it was back on the bus again. We had a quick stop on the way back to Athens at a pottery place which was actually really cool. Watching the guy make the vase from scratch was awesome and he was pretty happy with himself posing for photos! I bought some traditional Greek earrings here and a justice cup that was designed by Pythagoras. On the way home I napped for awhile and chatted to the American guy who invited himself to dinner with Elysia and I this evening. As much as he was annoying he was lonely travelling alone so I said I would email him the details for our night out in Athens tour when I got back to the hotel.

When I got back Elysia was feeling better and she was sick of being in the hotel room so she was keen to come out for dinner. I had an hour or so to get dressed up and ready and then we met our guide (the one I loved that picked us up at the airport) in the lobby. We had a taxi as our personal car thing and so before going to the restaurant we were able to drive to the car park of the Athens acropolis so we could get photos with the Parthenon all lit up. It looked very cool lit from the bottom, even with the cranes and scaffolding near it. We also stopped at a lookout further away from the area to get some more night Parthenon shots. We also went to the stadium we have seen during the daytime for some lovely night shots. Our guide was playing the role of photographer and it was really funny as he couldn't get the flash to work and he missed the Parthenon completely in one photo! We eventually got some good ones though! Then we had our dinner in the Plaka region. My American friend never showed up and I found out later he fell asleep so that was annoying when I had gone to the trouble of emailing him, saving him a seat and telling the people on the door we were expecting someone. But the night itself was really good. I tried a local wine and all the food was really yummy, especially these deep fried Greek donughts. The entertainment was really good as well, the dancers were very similar to the Turkish ones but they were more fun somehow. Plus there was far less awkward crowd involvement which was good. I loved the bazuki player and when they smashed the plates it was really cool. I was exhausted after a two tours day and so as soon as the acts were finished we bailed and went to sleep!
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