Category Archives: Athens

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

Serifos, Cyclades, Greek Islands

After visiting the redundant and abandoned windmills, now being converted into holiday accommodation, we followed the signs to the Kastro.  On the way we passed through pretty streets where the walls of the buildings squeezed in close to the narrow lanes but then opened out into the delightful main square of St. Athanasios about halfway to the top that was a complete contrast to the agoraphobic streets that led to it from all directions.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes

Rhodes Windmills 1

Three Windmills, Rhodes, Greek Islands

We were at Mandraki now which is the original town harbour and we were looking for the famous deer statues that sit on two columns at the entrance.  For some reason we expected them to be much bigger than they actually are so we shared a sense of disappointment when we finally came across them.  How much more impressive it would have been of course to have been able to say that we had seen the Colossus of Rhodes that is thought to have once stood at this very spot.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

Greek Party Night – Family Night Out!

A couple of weeks away in Greece are just not complete without going to a traditional Greek food and entertainment night and this really must include participative Greek dancing.  A real enthusiast will prepare for such an evening by purchasing a CD of Greek music to practice beforehand but this is not strictly necessary and all you really need to be able to do is to recognise the opening chords of ‘Zorba’.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

Koufinisia Greece Ferry Terminal

Greek Ferry Artemis in Paros

Beginning a Journey…

Soon after we arrived at what is euphemistically described as the departure gate our boat, the Anek Lines, Artemis, arrived on time and we made our way with the handful of fellow passengers to the top deck in the sunshine and as soon as everyone was on board it set off and slipped out of port.

The Artemis, named after the Greek Goddess of the wilderness, the hunt, wild animals and fertility (so quite a spread of responsibility), is a slow boat with a reassuring rhythmic throb of a reliable old engine and we sat in the middle of the boat and took comfort from that.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

Priest on a mobile phone

Two Bad Habits!

Like all island towns Plaka on Milos was predominantly white with blue doors, external staircases, playful kittens and discreet little shops, most of which were closed on account of this being siesta time.  There must have been some sort of priest’s convention in town today because there were dozens of black robed ministers everywhere, in the bakery having morning coffee and later in the taverna having lunch and what we thought was really strange was that they were almost constantly on their mobile phones.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

Greek Priest Island of Milos

Greek Monk Wearing his Habit!

Catalonia, Greek and Roman Antiquities and the World’s Oldest Profession

Empúries Greek Statue

“here then, is the proper setting for things Roman, – not Hadrians’s Wall or Bath or St. Albans in cold, wet Britain at the outer edge of the civilised world, but Empúries… on the edge of the great tideless sea – Mare Nostrum.”            John Payne – ‘Catalonia, History and Culture’

As I said, I had no real expectation of seeing the excavations at Empúries but then Kim took me by surprise and without any prompting suggested a visit.  I expressed my astonishment and reminded her that only recently she had told me that she didn’t especially like ancient ruins but then she corrected me on this point and being more specific told me that she didn’t mind visiting archaeological sites but she would prefer not to go every day!

So with that misunderstanding sorted out we drove to the entrance and paid the very reasonable admission price of €2.40 – so reasonable in fact that it didn’t raise my expectations very much above zero!

How wrong I was however, because this was a very impressive site indeed.  At the lower level we walked through the two thousand five hundred year old Greek city which turns out to be the most important Greek archaeological site anywhere in Spain so rather surprising then that it is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remains for the time being on the tentative list already having been rejected once.

After the Greeks came the Romans and they made some improvements and adapted the city to their own preferences and style and later when militarising the peninsula built a whole new city further inland and here we walked around the remains of the Forum, the Temples, the Amphitheatre and sections of the old city wall and inside these the public baths and the once grand villas of the city patricians.  It wasn’t on the scale of Pompeii or Herculaneum of course but as only an estimated 20% of the site has been excavated then who knows what treasures lay buried under the parched dusty fields.

Empúries L'Escala Catalonia Spain

Between the Greek and the Roman cities there was a small but informative museum with a chronological history of the site and several display cases with largely unimportant finds on account of the fact that all the interesting stuff is in a museum in Girona.

After the Romans left the city was occupied by the Franks, the Visigoths and the Moors and then in the Middle Ages it began to be dismantled and used as a quarry and a convenient source of building materials for new towns and villages springing up along the coastline.

This is something that has always perplexed me. The Romans built a great city with roads and aqueducts, fresh water, sewage and waste disposal systems, palaces and gardens grand villas decorated with mosaics and statues and then medieval man came along during the dark ages and tore them down – not to build something better but to construct something significantly inferior.

I would like to have overheard the town planning debates and the rationale applied to do this. “We don’t need stone roads”, they’d probably say “a muddy track will do just as well because we don’t need chariots and trucks either.” “We don’t need all these fancy sewers, we’ll dig a hole in the middle of the village to take a crap!” “We can’t really see the point of all these aqueducts and fresh water filtration systems, we’ll just drink the dirty river water!  “And finally we don’t need all of these fine villas with their air conditioning and shady gardens, we’ll take them down and use the stone to make the foundations for some mud huts!”

Empuries Guide Map

After an hour or so walking around in the blistering heat of the afternoon we left Empúries and set off back on the road towards Figueres along some busy main roads.  At a roundabout Kim spotted a young girl dressed all in white and looking like the women in the eighties pop group Boney M with thigh high boots, a mini skirt so short it was almost superfluous and a tight top at least two sizes too small to accentuate her bust.

What on earth is she doing?”, asked Kim and I told her that she was a prostitute, “No”, said Kim, “Yes”, said I, “No”, she repeated as she twisted around in her seat to look out of the rear window “Yes”, I said again and then told her the sordid story of roadside prostitution in Spain which for some is a real problem.

Well, I say a problem but it depends I suppose on your perspective.  It doesn’t seem to be a problem to the authorities who do nothing about it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem to the sex tourists who come to Spain to find a prostitute by the roadside and it isn’t a problem to the organised crime gangs who control this lucrative business and is probably the reason the authorities cannot stop it.

It certainly is a problem however for the girls, many of whom come from Eastern Europe and have been lured here by the promise of housing and employment and then find themselves trapped into sex slavery repaying their travel and accommodation costs, being kept permanently short of cash so that the debt never gets repaid and living in fear of beatings and abuse.

Here in Catholic Spain, in a country that prides itself on conservative family values, the country of the evening paseo in the Plaza Mayor and where children’s clothes shops are full of expensive embroidery and lace this nasty business all seems so grossly hypocritical, where people turn a blind eye to something that they cannot possibly approve of.

I can’t imagine anyone, except Xaviera Hollander perhaps, choosing prostitution as a career but to quote Thomas Hobbes life for these unfortunate women can be “nasty, brutish and short” and in the twenty-first century in mainland Europe it is something we should be collectively ashamed of.

I must confess to being a sort of Dorling-Kindersley tourist flitting between palaces and museums, historical centres and plaza mayors, beaches and mountains – picking out the best and turning a blind eye to the crime and the grime but there was no way of missing it here.  To be fair I have never seen that much of this roundabout prostitution in other parts of Spain but here in Catalonia it seems to be a particular issue that surely needs urgent attention.

I read once that the police in Llieda have addressed the problem by requiring the women to wear yellow hi-viz jackets so that they do not present a hazard to motorists and I have to say, come on Spain – I don’t think that that is adequately dealing with it!

Sadly of course it won’t get dealt with quickly because as we know prostitution has been around for a long time and a visit to a Roman antiquity such as nearby Empúries with their well advertised brothels  is ample evidence of that.

Pompeii Brothel__________________________________________________

Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

Verona

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Around the World in Eighty Minutes – Part Eight

American Adventure

So, that’s it, I started off with a simple recollection post about EPCOT World Showcase at Disney World, Florida and then I took off around the World to compare Disney with the real places that I have visited.  I have taken a look at the United Kingdom, GermanyItaly, France, Norway and Morocco but I can’t post about Canada, Mexico, China or Japan because I haven’t been to those places yet.

In the course of writing, dragging up memories and doing some research I started to think more deeply about World Showcase and became intrigued by the rationale behind the concept, design and construction and in particular the reasons why these eleven countries in particular were chosen for inclusion in the park.

This is partly explained by the fact that the Walt Disney Corporation, strapped for cash, tried to find sponsors for the showcased countries and failed in all but one attempt – Morocco.  This in turn explains why some of the Pavilions are so disappointing, the absence of rides and attractions and the over reliance on shops and restaurants all designed to get visitors to part with their money.

But the failure to attract government sponsorship or private sector investment still leaves us with eleven countries and no explanation why these eleven so I have been giving the matter some thought and whilst at first the inclusion appears to be rather random I think there is a credible explanation for almost all of them.

The United States is of course obvious and requires no explanation for its inclusion or for the fact that it occupies the prime position on the World Showcase Lagoon and is the biggest and the most lavish and expensive of all the Pavilions.

Canada EPCOT Postcard  044 Mexico EPCOT

Canada and Mexico are easily explained.  It would be rude I suppose not to have your nearest neighbours ( it would be like EPCOT World Showcase in England without Wales and Scotland) but there are some important statistics that reveal that it is not just about being neighbourly.  In terms of tourism by international visitors these two countries make up over half of all travellers visiting the United States and according to official data in 2011 Canada with over twenty-one million visitors provided 38% of all international visitors and Mexico with thirteen and a half million contributed 24%.

The inclusion of Mexico is even more easily explained by looking at population statistics that reveal that the second highest number of foreign born residents in the United States (by a very long way) is Mexican.

It is easy to see therefore that the inclusion of these two countries makes obvious commercial sense.  Strange however, and this is just a personal view, that the two Pavilions provide the contrast between the best (Mexico) and one of the worst (Canada).

EPCOT England   germany world showcase 1

And so we move on to Europe with five of the eleven Pavilions coming from the second smallest continent but why these five, why not Spain or Greece, Poland or Sweden and once again I am rather cynically convinced that it is based on US ethnic ancestry and visitor numbers.

In terms of ancestry the top ten European nationalities (in this order) are Germany, Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Sweden.  Germany (at 17%) genuinely surprised me and explained immediately why it is at World Showcase but (at almost 11%) why no Ireland? Why Norway and not Sweden? I suppose Poland, at the time of construction, was part of the Warsaw Pact alliance and that might have ruled it out but why not Holland because surely all of those windmills and canals would have made a great attraction.

Visitor numbers also explain why these countries are here because four of the five (but not Norway) are in the top ten of international visitors to the United States.

ITALY EPCOT  Boulogne Street Entertainer

Japan and China must be explained by visitor numbers.  After Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom Japan contributes the fourth most visitors to the United States and China is firmly in the top ten. Conversely, in the top ten but not represented at EPCOT are Brazil, South Korea and Australia.

Of all the countries at the EPCOT World Showcase I suppose the easiest to explain is Morocco and this is in part due to the fact that the Pavilion was the only one in which the country’s government aided in the construction and they did this so that they could retain some measure of Islamist control over the design of the mosaics and to ensure that everything was as authentic as possible in the representation of the Muslim faith.

I cynically conclude that any country could potentially be included if the government of that country was prepared to stump up the cash.

Epcot World Showcase

So who is missing?  Well, there is nothing from South America but the United Kingdom itself provides more visitors to the USA than the whole of Latin America combined so perhaps there is a clue there?  And apart from state funded Morocco there is nothing from Africa which might be considered surprising when 13% of the US population are of African descent but (and here is the crucial commercial factor) visitor numbers from the African continent are the smallest of all at only three hundred and twenty-seven thousand in 2011.

There is a small African Trading Post and Disney excuses the omission by pointing out that there is an entire African themed park at the nearby Animal Kingdom.

Finally, I have been giving some consideration to an alternative World Showcase and here are my suggestions:

St Basil's Moscow  Athens Parthenon Greece

First, Australia with an IMAX film narrated by Rolf Harris and Kylie Minogue.  Russia  because now the Cold War is ended there must surely be space for Red Square and the Kremlin.  Brazil, with a ride based on the Rio Carnival.  Peru because Machu Picchu would be a good replacement for the Mexico Aztec pyramid. Egypt with a Nile Cruise ride.  India and a train journey ride to visit the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple of Amritsar.  Equatorial Africa, which was once suggested but abandoned.  And from Europe:  Greece with a visit to Mount Olympus to meet the mythical gods; Spain and the legend of El Cid and the Conquistadors and the Netherlands with a cruise of the Amsterdam canals (leaving out the red light district as not being entirely appropriate).

And finally, wouldn’t it be fun to include the World’s smallest sovereign state – The Vatican – with a roller coaster ride around St Peter’s Basilica!

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura Spain  Amsterdam by Delph

Whoops, Sorry, I nearly forgot Ireland, lets have twelve countries (it’s my list and my rules) and let’s  have a visit to the Giant’s Causeway.

Please let me know your suggestions, I would be interested in your views…

Freshly Pressed

gutenbergpress

WordPress seem to go to a lot of trouble to convince users that ‘Freshly Pressed’ is fair, impartial and based on critical selection.

Consider this then from a blog page I chanced upon…

It has been interesting to look back over 2012 to see which posts were the most popular. Bagni di Lucca and Beyond has been Freshly Pressed twice this year, which has been great fun. Thank you WordPress for choosing.

It is a nice blog but it isn’t brilliant (sorry).

I say no more…

My Personal Greek A to Ω – Π (Pi) is for Πειραιάς or Piraeus

On arrival at Athens airport we avoided the Metro and the Taxis and took the only alternative form of transport available, the X96 express bus to Piraeus.  The man in the ticket booth was rather terse and didn’t have his ‘welcome to Athens, nice to see you’ head on this lunch time but I suppose anyone would be grumpy if it is their job to sit in a stuffy wooden box all day answering the same dumb question over and again (‘which bus do I need’, what time does it leave?’, how much is a ticket?’) for a dreary job on a minimum wage that was likely going to be cut by 20% sometime soon because of the economic crisis.

A bus ride to Piraeus is a truly unique experience.  The roads were busy but the driver of the blue Solaris flexibus seemed totally oblivious to other vehicles as he charged along at high speed, switching lanes, clattering over tram lines and tossing the passengers about like the Saturday night lottery balls on hard unyielding plastic seats.  Luggage flew out of the overhead racks and passengers not gripping on tightly were thrown from their seats.  Suitcases were scattered along the floor and little children were thrown into the air.  It was like being in a car chase at the movies, anyone in the way had better watch out and at one stage I had to take a look to see if Sandra Bullock was driving.  Corners didn’t slow the bus down and the only respite from the madness was a few infrequent stops on the way to the port, which we reached after about fifty minutes and was greeted with a collective sigh of relief from those passengers who had the good fortune to remain conscious or who had not by this time been turned into a gibbering wreck.

In our experience dining options around the port are seriously limited and after we arrived in Piraeus there was about four hours before the ferry to Paros so we had made plans to visit a taverna/bar that we knew and to have a long lunch to fill the time.

This involved a walk along the busy harbour front and this was not as easy as it sounds because Piraeus simply has to be one of the most traffic crazy places in Europe that makes an Italian city look like Emmerdale on a late Sunday afternoon and there was a mad confusion of snarling traffic that almost defies description. In June 2007 Greece introduced a new highway code with strict new rules and penalties but visitors here may be forgiven for thinking that there are no driving rules at all.  Cars, buses and lorries were all growling aggressively through the streets with absolutely no regard for traffic lights, lanes, rights of way or pedestrians (especially pedestrians).  Swarms of yellow and black cabs drove around with complete disregard for anything else and for anyone foolish enough to irritate them it was like poking a stick into an angry wasps nest.  The madness was being ineffectively choreographed every now and again by traffic police blowing madly on whistles and waving arms in a totally manic way that quite frankly was completely unintelligible to absolutely everyone whether in a car or on the pavement and all in all didn’t seem to be making any sort of helpful contribution to relieve the mayhem.

We located the souvlaki place that we were looking for with its plastic tables and chairs on a grubby pavement and had a substantial chicken wrap and a first bottle of Mythos.  Despite a steady drop in the country’s fast-food business since 2009, when the debt crisis started to unfold, the number of souvlaki joints, known among locals as “souvlatzidika,” has actually grown.  Greeks reportedly consume an estimated three billion souvlakia and spend an estimated two and a half billion euros on gyros every year.  Between 1992 and 2008, the local fast-food industry grew at an average of fifteen percent each year as souvlaki, pizza and snack/sandwich shops proliferated and armies of food delivery bikes roamed city streets.

The meal came with tzatziki, salad, fries and an extra special topping of lead oxide because as we ate we watched the traffic chaos as a ferry arrived in port and disgorged its passengers onto the busy road right in front of where we were eating.  Piraeus is an interesting place, loud and busy and totally focused on the harbour and the ferries and is somewhere that is never ever going to be beautiful or is going to tempt any sane person to stay longer than necessary.  This is a place (in the words of Mike Gatting) where you wouldn’t even send your mother-in-law!

It is easy to imagine that Piraeus is simply a suburb of Athens but it is in fact a completely separate city, the third largest in Greece, with an interesting history all of its  own.  Most of this we fail to appreciate because we just hurry through on the way to somewhere else.  In 493 BC, taking advantage of the natural harbour and strategic geographical position, the Athenian politician and soldier Themistocles initiated the construction of fortification works in Piraeus to protect Athens, ten years later the Athenian fleet was transferred there and it was then permanently used as the naval base for the powerful fleet of the ancient city.

Themistocles fortified the three harbours of Piraeus with the Themistoclean Walls turning Piraeus into a great military and commercial harbour. The fortification was farther reinforced later by the construction of the Long Walls under Cimon and Pericles, with which Piraeus was safely connected to Athens. Piraeus was rebuilt to the famous grid plan of the architect Hippodamus of Miletus to a pattern that has been replicated in many cities in the USA and in Milton Keynes in England.  The walls were destroyed after the defeat by Athens to the Spartans in the Peloponnesian war and the port of Rhodes assumed predominance in the Aegean.  Later the walls were rebuilt but destroyed again by both the Romans and the Goths and during the Byzantine period the port completely lost its premier trading status.

Today, Piraeus has regained its importance and is a mad world of taxis, trams, back-packers and local people all competing for the same piece of tarmac.  This should not be surprising because it is the largest passenger port in Europe and the third largest worldwide in terms of passenger transportation where nearly twenty million people pass through every year.

Leaving Piraeus