Category Archives: Athens

Travel Memories – Greek Island Hopping

Backpacking Greece Paros

“Somewhere…I once found a list of diseases… and among these occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit.  These are people…who somehow find islands irresistible.  A little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with indescribable intoxication. – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’

Island hopping with a bulging rucksack strapped to my back was an immediately brilliant idea when Sally mentioned it in May and invited me to bring my credit cards along and join her for a week or two in the Greek islands.

Sun drenched beaches, friendly tavernas, Mythos and ouzo, I knew immediately that I would take up the offer but at first I was slightly wary of committing to a holiday with two girls addicted to the internet and who sleep with their mobile phones but I have always wanted to be more imaginative about my holidays and to take control and make my own arrangements rather than rely upon a holiday rep from Thomsons or Airtours and those tedious welcome meetings that seem to go on for ever in a dingy hotel lounge when all you want to do is get outside in the sun.

So the chance to do things my way was a real opportunity and I signed up.

Naxos Back street Cyclades Greece

Preparation involved booking the flights and finding suitable hotels on line. This, I later had to concede, turned out to be a bit of a cheat because proper back-packers, I am told, take their lodgings chances when arriving in port, but I just wanted to be certain of a basic level of accommodation.  I was fifty-two years old and had certain standards to maintain! I wanted Olympic size swimming pools, air conditioning as fresh as the mountain air and at the very least a minimum standard of bathroom facility.  Most people go backpacking in their teens or in their twenties – I had left it all a bit late!

Packing the rucksack was quite a challenge! There wasn’t a lot of room in there and it took a number of clothing/essentials trial runs before I achieved the perfect combination of items. I needed my snorkel and essential bathroom items and some books of course and after that I had room for some clothes. It was like doing the hokey-cokey, in, out, in, out and shake it all about until I got it right.

Blue Star Ferry Athens to Naxos

Like most people I always take too many clothes on holiday, that extra pair of shorts, another shirt just in case, and usually some items just go for the ride there and back and never get worn, this time I was sure I had got it about right but for some unexplained reason I took some socks along for the trip. I didn’t wear them of course because all I had for foot attire was two pairs of sandals including my favourite gladiators.

I had the gladiator sandals since 1999 when I went to Rhodes and they accompanied me abroad on every single beach holiday after that – always the first item in the bag.  They were showing signs of wear and not expected to see through this adventure. I  made it my mission to see how long I could make them last.

Gladiator Sandals Naxos Greece

Footnote (please excuse the pun):

The Gladiators made it through the holiday and lasted another two years when an important part of the shoe infrastructure failed (one of the straps snapped) and they had to be thrown away soon after.  I left them in Greece, I thought that was appropriate – a little bit of me is in a landfill site in Athens!

Have you been to the Greek Islands?  Which is your favourite?

Oia Santorini

An Alternative World Showcase at EPCOT

American Adventure

Some time ago I wrote a post about a visit to Florida and a day at Walt Disney Epcot and an hour or two in the World Showcase.  I called it Around the World in Eighty Minutes” and I took a look at the eleven countries represented there – USA, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Norway, France and Morocco.

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.

epcot map 2

This is partly explained by the fact that at the time of construction the Walt Disney Corporation was at a watershed moment.  Walt Disney had recently died and with him passed the inspirational concept of the whole park.  The accountants had taken over and with mounting costs of construction and strapped for cash tried to find sponsors for the showcased countries and failed in all but one attempt – Morocco.

The bottom line is that selection and inclusion was based on simple economics.

This also 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 almost a dozen 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 reason 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 also 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 2014* Canada with almost twenty-three million visitors provided 33% of all international visitors and Mexico with seventeen and a half million contributed 24%.  Way behind in third place was United Kingdom with 5%.

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 easily convinced that it is based on US ethnic heritage 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 surely also 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 also firmly in the top ten. Conversely, in the top ten but not represented at EPCOT are Brazil, India 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.  So authentic in fact that there is a story that it was deliberately constructed with deliberate errors because Muslims believe that only God is perfect (might be true, might not).

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?  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 2014.

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:

Moscow Metro Park Pobedy

Parthenon Acropolis Athens

First, Australia with an IMAX film narrated by Mel Gibson and Kylie Minogue and a ride based on the theme of the World’s deadliest snakes.

Then Russia  because now the Cold War is ended there must surely be space for Red Square and the Kremlin and a Moscow Metro ride.

Next, Brazil, with a ride based on the Rio Carnival and then Peru because Machu Picchu would be a good replacement for the Mexico Aztec pyramid.

After that, Egypt with a Nile Cruise ride;  India and a train journey ride to visit the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple of Amritsar and  perhaps Equatorial Africa, which was once suggested but abandoned.

And from Europe:  Greece with a visit to Mount Olympus to meet the mythical gods in an animatronic show, each one popping up in turn to introduce themselves; 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 for children).

And finally, wouldn’t it be fun to include the World’s smallest sovereign state – The Vatican where Disney cast members would be dressed as priests and nuns and with a roller coaster ride around St Peter’s Basilica!

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura Spain  Amsterdam by DelphSt Peter's Square, Rome  Ireland Cliffs of Moher

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 Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway (sponsored by Guinness).

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

* US National Travel and Tourism Office.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

001

The ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’,  regarded as one  of the great surviving masterpieces of sculpture from the Hellenistic period, was unearthed by the French Consul to Turkey in 1883 and promptly shipped back to Paris.

It remains on display at the Louvre Museum.  I was privileged to see it on a visit to the museum in 1990 but I have a couple of questions…

…where should it be?

and with the Louvre bursting at the seams with stolen artefacts,

…why all the fuss about the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles?

Scotland – Edinburgh, the Scott Monument and the West End

Walter Scott Monument Edinburgh

“All towns ending in –burgh were instructed to change to –burg, whilst all those ending in –borough where henceforth to read –boro.  On the matter… the Board was nothing short of relentless and even now you can search a gazetteer long and hard to find an exception to these two terminations.  The main and obvious one is Pittsburgh (because) the city’s leading institutions… refused to buckle under.”  – Bill Bryson, ‘Made in America’

We found a back street pub now for a lunch time drink but didn’t need food on account of the large breakfast and the cement like consistency of the stodgy haggis – another reminder to myself not to have it again tomorrow.

Whilst drinking beer I wondered about the pronunciation of the name of the city Edinburgh. In the UK we pronounce it Edinborough but it spelt in the way that in America it would be pronounced burgh as in Pittsburgh.  Subsequent research tells me that there is an Edinburgh in Indiana but that is pronounced as in Pittsburgh and there is also an Edinburgh in South Australia also pronounced in the American rather than the UK style.  To complicate matters there is a town in England called Happisburg which is misleadingly pronounced as Haysborough – curious thing, language.

After struggling with our debate about conflicting linguistics we left the pub and made our way to the Walter Scott memorial because for a modest admission charge (sadly no concessions for over 60s) it is possible to take a winding spiral staircase to the very top for a grand 360° view across all of the city. It is quite a tortuous climb and people going up have to compete with people coming down for restricted staircase space which made me think how much better it would have been if the architect had made provision for two sets of steps, one up and one down!

Some people don’t like the Scott monument, Bill Bryson compared it to a gothic spaceship but I quite like it.  It is the biggest memorial to a writer anywhere in the World and a rather appropriate memorial to a man who regularly features in a top ten list of most important Scots although recently Alex Salmond has been creeping up that list which might devalue it somewhat!

I have been up the Scott monument before but once again I couldn’t really remember anything about it.  This is me in 1984 and Kim in 2015.

Walter Scott Monument & Edinburgh CastleWalter Scott Monument & Waverley Hotel

One of the views that interested me was the Old Waverley Hotel directly opposite.  I stayed there both times and as far as I can recall it hasn’t changed a great deal inside but at street view there were obvious changes of shops.  In 1984 there was the gentleman’s outfitters Dunne and Co. which ceased trading in 1996 and next to that a specialist kilt maker.  I imagine that this was quite an expensive store but today you can get a full kilt outfit including jacket, shirt, socks and a sporran for about £80 in the tourist shops.  Today there is a Monsoon and an Accessorize.

From the top we took the giddy steps back to Princess Street and in late afternoon Kim decided that there were a couple of shops that she had missed so disappeared back towards the shopping mall and walked along Princess Street under the shadow of the castle and towards the West End.

This is an area of the city that is trying to invent itself as an alternative tourist attraction away from the Old and the New towns.  It is an area of preserved Georgian streets with original shopping streets and terraces of granite houses.  It is an understated part of the city and I enjoyed walking along the pavements of an area of period splendour sitting effortlessly alongside modern corporate architecture.  I would have liked to have spent longer there but the day was ebbing away so I made my weary way back along Princess Street to the Old Waverley.

We spent some time in the room enjoying the view as the sun went down behind the castle and then predictably returned to Café Marlayne where we had an excellent second evening meal and reflected on our short visit to Edinburgh.  We had enjoyed it but it was almost over because in the morning we would be catching an early train back to Newcastle.

005Old Waverley Hotel Edinburgh

More From EPCOT World Showcase

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 andMorocco but I can’t post about Canada, Mexico, China or Japan because I haven’t been to those countries 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 almost a dozen 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 reason 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 2013* Canada with over twenty-three and a half million visitors provided 34% of all international visitors and Mexico with fourteen and a half million contributed 21%.  Way behind in third place was United Kingdom with 5.5%.

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 easily 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.

Boulogne Street Entertainer  ITALY EPCOT

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 also 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 2013.

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:

Parthenon Acropolis Athens  Lenin Mausoleum

First, Australia with an IMAX film narrated by Mel Gibson and Kylie Minogue and a ride based on the theme of the World’s deadliest snakes.  Then Russia  because now the Cold War is ended there must surely be space for Red Square and the Kremlin and a Moscow Metro ride.  Next, Brazil, with a ride based on the Rio Carnival and then Peru because Machu Picchu would be a good replacement for the Mexico Aztec pyramid. After that, 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 in an animatronic show; 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 for children).

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura Spain  Amsterdam by Delph

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!

St Peter's Square, Rome  Ireland Cliffs of Moher

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 Cliffs of Moher (sponsored by Guinness).

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

* US National Travel and Tourism Office.

Elgin Marbles Quiz Answers

Disputed Museum Exhibits

Just to close things off:

One correct answer…

1. Winged Victory, in possession of the French and claimed by the Greeks
2. Rosetta Sonte, in possession of the British and claimed by the Egyptians
3. Samsat Stele, in possession of the British and claimed by the Turks
4. Bust of Nefertiti, in possession of the Germans and claimed by the Egyptians
5. Venus de Milo, in posession of the French and claimed by the Germans

It is a good site, pop across and have a look…

One final piece of trivia; the Samsat Stele is claimed by Turkey, the hole in the middle of it is because sometime in the past someone made alterations to use it as a vine press.  No wonder the British Museum thinks they should continue to look after it!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone But Not Forgotten – The Elgin Marbles (2) and no Quiz

Parthenon Acropolis Athens

The Parthenon in Athens was built about 447-438 BC to house an enormous statue of the goddess Athena.  The temple was the crowning glory of a great programme of architectural renewal masterminded by Pericles, the leader of the Athenian democracy and it is still considered to be one of the most impressive buildings in the world.

Despite being burnt down by invading Goths in 267 A.D., conversion into a Christian church in the early sixth century and Ottoman occupation from the fifteenth century and another conversion, this time into a Mosque, it survived largely intact until 1687.   By 1800 however only about half of the original sculptural decoration remained.

And then along came Lord Elgin who helped himself to half of what was left.

This makes him the villainous tomb raider in the eyes of modern Greeks but what the Acropolis Museum  fails to mention is that at the time he removed the sculptures Athenians themselves were using it as a convenient quarry and a great deal of the original sculptures and the basic building blocks of the temple itself, were being reused for new local housing or simply being ground down for mortar.  There was no preservation, there was no cultural value attached to the sculptures and certainly no question of restoration.

It is all very well getting irritable about it now but whatever Elgin’s motives were for removing the sculptures there is no doubt at all that he saved them from possible even worse damage and without his intervention we might not be even having the ‘Elgin Marbles’ debate at all.

In justification of the non-return policy the British Museum rather provocatively points out that the statues are in fact relics of an Athenian civilisation rather than the modern Greek state so modern Greece has no greater legitimate claim to ownership.

I think this raises an interesting point because we really have to be careful not to apply modern political boundaries to the ancient world.  It is important to put things into historical context.  Two hundred years ago there was no UNESCO (and if there had been Elgin would probably  have been on the Board of Directors).

The classical Cambridge Scholar Professor M I Finley pointed out that “…Neither then, or at any time in the Ancient World was there a nation, a single national territory under one sovereign rule, called Greece”.  If we accept this then it begins to construct a counter argument against the modern Greek claims.  Even if they are a product of an ancient civilisation that happened to live in Athens they have no relevance to modern Greece.

The travel writer Lawrence Durrell considered this argument and although seemingly accepting it came to the conclusion: “Myself, I think I should have given them back and keep copies in plaster for the British Museum.  For us they are a mere possession of great historic interest.  For the Greeks they are a symbol, inexplicably bound up with the national struggle as an image of themselves as descendants of foreign tribes”.

I really enjoyed the Museum but what I did not like was the unbalanced narrative and the demonising of Lord Elgin and the unnecessary  provocative and belligerent anti-English sentiment attached to the explanations and the video commentary.  I found this to be slightly offensive as an English visitor and it made me feel uncomfortable and a little unwelcome and I am certain that is not what the museum really wants.

The descriptions of Elgin as a looter and a pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the USA who were encouraged to gasp in outrage and awe that an Englishmen could have done such terrible things.  I know that a lot of what should be in Athens is in London but let’s not forget that there is also bits of it in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Vatican Museums in Rome, the National Museum in Copenhagen, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the University Museum, Würzburg and the Glyptothek in Munich all of which seems to have been conveniently overlooked.

Let’s also not forget that there are other Ancient Greek sculptures which have been removed and are exhibited elsewhere – for example the ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’,  regarded as one  of the great surviving masterpieces of sculpture from the Hellenistic period, which was unearthed by the French Consul to Turkey in 1883 and promptly shipped back to Paris.  It remains on display at the Louvre Museum as does the ‘Venus de Milo’ discovered on the Greek island of Milos in 1820 and also spirited away to Paris in double-quick time.  Should these also be returned, perhaps there is a much wider debate to be had?

There are many factors to take into consideration.  We do not know for sure if Elgin’s actions were legal at the time but he had certainly obtained from the Ottoman authorities, then in control of Athens, permission to work on the Acropolis and it seems that he had a genuine interest in archaeology and the preservation of the past.

In my opinion the sculptures should be returned to Athens but let’s please acknowledge Elgin’s possible contribution in having saved these precious artefacts for posterity and for the World.  A hostile approach may just be counter-productive and harden a British commitment to retain the sculptures in London and that won’t be very helpful because that would be the wrong thing to do!

Have you visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens?  I would be interested in your views.

Acropolis and Parthenon Greece Athens