Greece, '17

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greece itinerary


Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns,

driven time and again off course, once he had plundered

the hallowed heights of Troy.


Saturday, April 1

It all comes down to twenty-two pounds, a pair of shoes, and a stretch of time. Matilda on my back, I step to the public thoroughfare, namely my alley, and pour a libation to the gods. Eighteen minutes to the Lake Street light rail station. Let the Odyssey begin......

MInneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, 4/1

In Flight

With a flight delay, I had extra time to stride the vast shopping mall that is our airport. In due course, we arise. Lake Huron trickles picturesquely into Lake Saint Clair. A pause in Toronto. We rise again, into the night. Turkish Airlines is reputed to have the best food in the industry. After the bulgur salad and the Turkish minced beef, I don't doubt it. And the wine came free. Just so you know......

Sunday, April 2

......Sunrise in the North Atlantic, and the shades get pulled. After the token nap time, I lift mine and feast my eyes on the snowy Carpathians. At length, the ropy channels of the Danube delta, and we creep over the Black Sea. I was on the wrong side of the plane to see Istanbul or the Bosporus as we curved around, but I saw a lot of shipping out there in the Sea of Marmara. Arrive Istanbul airport, adding Turkey to the Netherlands and Iceland as an airports-don't-count country I've (not) been in. I commence pacing the vast shopping mall that is the Istanbul airport. The people watching is pretty spectacular here at the crossroads of the world. However, this has become grueling, and I'm getting a little dotty. Awake for twenty-six hours, with six to go. Just get me to Athens and a bed at the Hotel Cecil.

Ataturk Airport, Istanbul 4/2

In Place

Touchdown, Athens. The good news is that I got through customs and got my bag in a matter of minutes. The bad news is that my ATM card doesn't work. I exchanged a few dollars expensively and got on the metro. Forty minutes to the Monastiraki station. Released at last from the transportation stream, I emerge to the living, beating heart of Athens. The plaza is thronged and full of vitality. God, these people are beautiful. And their language so melodious! I'm in love already. My compass assures me of north, and I make my way a few blocks to the Cecil Hotel. Marble stairs wrap around a narrow elevator cage up to the fourth floor. From my balcony, up yonder, floodlit in the night, is the Parthenon. I have arrived.

Monday, April 3

I slept to the bones and advanced well into my eight time zones. The Cecil puts on a nice breakfast, of which I partook. Now to partake of Athens. I aimed to get lost, which happened soon enough. The city is hilly and the grid is all over the place. I got a fair sense of the gentrified, touristed area, as well as the grittier peripheries. My first religious edifice was small, eleventh century church, built on a classical foundation, and, I was glad to see, open to the public. At another old church, the priest invited me in. But before I got too involved I broke off my ambulations to attend to the pressing problem of my cash card not working. This took some hours of fussing, but it worked out, and spared me from resorting to an expensive plan B. (They'd applied my pre-trip travel alert to a nonexistent debit card, not my ATM card). A couple of hours devoted to the archeological museum, to prime myself for antiquities to come. (I got pretty riled up in there. God, those people could carve marble.) I had a nap at the Cecil, good for another time zone. Then out for the moussaka at a street side, tourist friendly establishment. Then a beer on the rooftop of the Cecil, in view of yonder Parthenon, to compose this post. Thus a day in Athens. Now, some towns I've been in have gone to the dogs. Not Athens. The dogs are on leashes here. Athens has, however, gone to the cats. There are also more priests walking around than you might expect. Also lots of euro college students and school kids with their teachers, all advancing in phalanxes. And plenty of foreigners generally, and lots of gorgeous, voluble Greeks. The graffiti art, or vandalism, is as extreme as I've seen anywhere. Antiquities abound. I'll examine them more closely when I swing thorough Athens at the end of my trip. I've checked out the bus stop, and will be going forth in the morn.

Athens 4/3

Cities of the Living, Cities of the Dead

Tuesday, April 4

Time to make a move. My bag and I stride a few blocks and corners to the bus stop. At length, I board the 051. The driver informs me that one pays one's fare at a kiosk somewhere, not on the bus. So he lets me on for free, giving me the occasion to stack a "poli" (very much) on top of my "efcharisto" (thank you). This local bus drops me off at the terminal for the regional bus that will take me to Corinth. A forty minute wait, then an hour and twenty to Corinth. I made a few missteps with the orientation, but found the hotel I'd booked from home soon enough. I check in, drop off my bag, and get moving on the day's excursion, a visit to the ruins of Ancient Corinth four miles out of town. A local bus serves the village/suburb up there. I managed to figure out getting on this bus, but would have gotten off too early had the nice Greeks not swooped in like gods and saved me from a common travel blunder. Nevertheless, fate still thwarted me. I'd had reason to think it a good bet that the off season hours were now extended, and that they would not apply in any case to my proposed climb to the acropolis way the heck up on yonder peak. I discover at the ticket booth that I judged wrong on both counts. Disappointing, but not a total surprise. I would have had to spend two nights in Corinth to make this work, over stretching my itinerary. So, no giant climb to great views from an acropolis layered over with remains from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, and Turks. And so I gave my attentions to the lower site, certainly cool enough, with the doric columns of a Greek temple to Apollo, and a vast stretch of Roman rubble. A highlight was the platform from which Saint Paul defended himself against the charges of the Jews of Corinth. The Roman proconsul declined to involve himself in this local religious dispute and gave Paul a pass. Anyway, Paul had had enough and gave up on the Jews, much to their relief, and aimed for better luck with the Gentiles. It all happened right here. With the ruin closing at three, it was back to Corinth much earlier than I expected. I share the roadside bus shelter with a Australian couple and their mute teen, out on their typically Australian lengthy, open-ended world tour. Our travel banter got sucked inevitably into the galactic vortex that is Trump. Now I'm on vacation from our national disgrace, but I will engage any traveler who brings it up. And so I did. I hope I relieved some of their puzzlement. Back in Corinth, I wander its grid, and find myself in a bar over a coffee, and got a lot of struggling but able English from the owner, who held forth on welfare abuse, moral degeneracy, the sorry state of the Greek work ethic, and most importantly, the absolute need for the expansion of the mind. I declared him a classic Greek philosopher. My formal "yassas" as I left he rejoined with the informal "yassou", and so I revised to "yassou" accordingly. More grid wandering. Modern Corinth is of unremarkable concrete construction, having gone through many rebuilds over centuries of earthquakes. At length, I settle down over some pork skewers and a cold Alpha, and retire for the evening.

Wednesday, April 5

At the bus station I'm told to go to the bus stop downtown, so I do as I'm told and pick up the bus for the junction on the highway. A forty minute wait there for my main ride, which will convey me the length of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Through scrub, shrubs, a few patches of bigger forest, and lots and lots of olive trees. A bus change in Sparta. Big, snowy mountains. Arrive Gythio. The bus stop is on the waterfront. I pause and look over the harbor and the aging architecture perched steeply on the slope above. This town is going to be cool. I make a round with bag on back before settling in the Hotel Aktaion. (My first guidebook/web choice had a jackhammer operation going on.) My balcony opens right up to the harbor. Out to wander more thoroughly, pausing to savor a sidewalk cup of coffee in this savory time and place. I dip my hand in the Aegean, something I've been meaning to do for fifty years. A look at the local Roman theater. I walk out to the island of Marathonisi, now connected by causeway, where Paris and Helen are said to have first embraced. The teenagers canoodling there demonstrate that history does indeed repeat itself. I climb into the crumbling passages and alleyways high above the waterfront. A classically picturesque labyrinth, half inhabited, half in ruin. In due course, a waiter troll touts me to a sidewalk table at his tourist friendly place. The food was indifferent, but the wine was plentiful.

Thursday, April 6

When dawn with her fingertips of rose brought forth the new day, I rose, and greeted said rosy fingered dawn from my balcony. Half an hour later I'm on the bus back to Sparta for the planned day trip. This to Mystra, a Byzantine ghost town high above the city. An hour on the bus, and I get off at the plaza. The bus stop for the hop up to Mystra is adjacent, with a convenient ticket booth, which was reassuring. With a 9:15 departure, I have time to find some coffee and something to eat. The pastry monger responds to my "Minnesota" with "Wolves!" I have this breakfast on the steps of the church, the priest chanting away in there. In due course, the local bus gets me and a few other tourists up to the approach to the site, which is at the end of the line, just past the village/suburb. A vast hillside towers above, encrusted with ruins and stone buildings, and topped with castle walls. The Franks started this place up in the middle thirteenth century, but the Byzantines quickly took charge and built it into a thriving center of power and culture with a big population, protected behind two rings of walls. Nevertheless, it got traded off between the Venetians and Turks, and declined into something that us modern tourists can pick over. Pretty cool pickings, though, and I spent several absorbing hours climbing up through its inscrutable ruin, trying, with the help of the interpretive signs, to make some sense of it. The interiors of the religious edifices were heavily done up in frescoes, faded and decayed, but inviting lingering scrutiny. I pause at the castle ramparts on the summit and survey modern Sparta and its hinterlands below. Apparently there's not much left of ancient Sparta, but up on that hilltop, I swear I heard in the wind the howls of the souls of the exposed infants. Back down through the ruins to the restaurant adjacent to the parking lot/bus stop, where I have a cup of coffee on the terrace to wait for the 2:30 bus time to approach. The young bar man clarified some points of Greek for me in the meantime. With plenty of lead time I start waiting for the bus, but it either never showed up, or was the bus that made up for being fifteen minutes late by blowing right past the fellow who was standing there waiting for it in plain sight. Since I wasn't about to wait for the 5:30 which also might not show up, there was nothing to do but walk the four miles back down to Sparta. Good for energy waste and extra skin cancer. Fortunately, a Greek-Canadian fellow pulled over and offered me a lift in his microscopic convertible sports car, sparing me the second half of this walk. He dropped me off in the center of town. My guidebook map had a error which turned my short walk to the bus station into something more protracted, and then it was an hour and a half wait for the next bus back to Gythio. So, I had a few travails, but the frescoes and ruins, the cats and the knitting nuns, the howls of the souls, the nice human encounters, and the grilled octopus made up for it.

Gythio 4/7

End of the Earth

Friday, April 7

I talked over the beauties of the Greek landscape in the springtime with a Greek tour guide over the hotel breakfast. (Trump also made an appearance). Time to make a move. I'm on the 11:30 bus for the short jaunt to Yerolimenas for a three night sojourn. Over the spine of the middle claw of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Arrive Yerolimenas. Now this is a small town. A handful of locals, and a handful of tourists. My survey took but a few minutes. Hotel Akrotenaritis falls right into place for me. My terrace looks over the little harbor. The rest of the day devoted to puttering around. The only visible commerce besides accommodations and a few eateries is a little shop with a jumble of groceries and sundries. I had my second experience with "Greek coffee" (a little cup with a gritty slurry on top, and the bottom half grounds). I'll be an authentic tourist with the coffee and stick with the "Americano". (As elsewhere, espresso and water - they also do "filtro", but so far it's pretty bad). My hotelier, Spiros, is a kindly old fellow. When I sat down in his restaurant he explained his offerings in fairly comprehensible English. When I asked him to bring me a fish, and nodded to the first kind he offered, he paused, looked meaningfully at me, and assured me with deep conviction, "very good fish". And so it was.

Saturday, April 8

Over breakfast, my gracious host arranged for the taxi ride I'll need tomorrow to put me in place for a long walk. For today, a shorter walk in the offing. One side of the town's harbor is enclosed by a steep rock face. There's a set of marked switchbacks clawing up to the top. The map suggests an interesting hinterland beyond. So I aim to find the start of that trail, and would have walked past it had the lady who yesterday served me a delicious Americano not flagged me down and directed me to the trailhead behind her taverna. A steep climb on rough, biting rock. I top out and admire the town on its sapphire bay below. I walk a ways along the cliff edge, kind of aiming for heights of land. The end of the claw, from which I'll be walking tomorrow, is off yonder. The land is cluttered with rocks and prickly things. Spring is blooming. There are birds and bees and the drone of a host of unseen bugs. I aim for yonder pile of rocks. This turns out to be an enclosure for a couple of little booths with icons, incense burners, candle holders, and such. I wasn't quite sure how to be properly reverent here, but I gave it my best. And what is yonder post-like thing? It turns out not to be a Doric column, but the relic of some navigation apparatus. I had to know. More traipsing. The land bears the evidence of centuries of rock-picking. There are waist-high walls, but mostly the jagged rocks are in berms, with no real sense of regularity. I aim for yonder village, with a church with a bell tower. This would be Ochia on the map. I'd hoped there might be a cold drink for me there, but there was no commerce and scarcely a soul, though the place was well kept with recent stone construction. But there were also old buildings, the square, stone towers that I've read are characteristic of this region (which is known as the Mani), from which the clans would conduct their centuries-long blood feuds. An owl peers down on me from one such tower. The church was twelfth century, recently restored. The adjacent cemetery was the poshest city of the dead I've ever seen. Little marble houses with doors with glass windows, through which one could view the interior, which would be like a U-shaped kitchen. The honored dead would be in their eternal rest under the marble countertops. I could have taken the road the long way back, but opted to plunge back into the stones and flowers and prickly scrub, and work my way back down the way I came up. And so I caught two glimpses of the Grecian fox, out on his hunt, possibly for the quails I've been flushing. The coffee lady is out watering and welcomes me back as I emerge from behind her taverna. After a rest, I sample more coffee in this not much happening town. International conviviality in Spiros's dining room. The voluble Belgian would make provocative political remarks and then derail the responses, requiring patience on the part of the Scots, Dutchmen, and the American.

Sunday, April 9

The taxi man shows up promptly at nine and takes me to the end of the road. (Today's walk to be about thirteen miles). This is at a little bay, with scattered Roman remains. The Temple of Poseidon is evidently more or less gone, but it's stones were used to build the little Chapel of Asomati. There was also a small sea cave, an entrance to Hades it is said. I had a good look around at excavations that I imagine were quarries, with the rectangular voids perhaps serving as interior walls. Stone walls and berms, who knows of what provenance. I was looking in the wrong place for the mosaics, but ultimately found them as I was leaving the area. Three sections of flooring, with a tub like cavity in the rock. Hard not to think of a bathroom. Very impressive. Now, a bucket list item from childhood, a walk to an end of the earth, the tip of the middle claw of the Peloponnese, the southernmost point of continental Europe. [Editor's Note, 5/26: Actually not, several references and testimonials to the contrary. The southern extremity is at Tarifa in Spain, which I visited in '01.] The wind blasts as I make my formal approach. I have a little picnic at the lighthouse. Plenty of shipping out there, as there surely has been for millennia. Odysseus would have passed by at least twice. The stretch of my walk back is in plain view up yonder coast, and I turn to it. Back to the end of the road, and onward. In due course, I step off the road and climb a hill, to examine an old stone structure up there and to get the lay of the land. I'd been thinking of a visit to the village of Porto Kayio and a cup of coffee, and opted to go directly overland and down, rather than the long way around on the road. It looked doable, and the dashed line on the map suggested it had been done. Thus I got entangled in a major travail. By the time I realized I was being eaten by thickets, I was committed. One crucifixion by thorn bush after another. One couldn't see one's feet to know if one was stepping off a four foot terrace. It got steep, too. Pretty bad. But it all worked out. My last move was to grab a bunch of thorns in both hands to let myself down off a six foot wall into town. I was pretty well scourged. After I picked most of the roughage out of my shoes, socks, and flesh, I sat down to a well earned cup of coffee. Then a visit to the little church out on the spur of the bay, and I went on my way. The towers of the Maniots perch here and there in isolation, or gathered together in villages. I pass through Vathia, noted for a fine array of this architecture. A fine day on this country road, with sea and sky, the world in bloom, and long intervals between traffic. A dog picked me up, dashing ahead as I would catch up with him, and stuck with me as I detoured from the road to go down to a little beach and visit a ruin (the Temple of Aphrodite at Kenipolis - some cut stone door jambs with stacked rock between - there was also a big sea cave down there). I was afraid the two donkeys were going to join us, but they broke off. Into town with the sun sunk below the cliffs. I guiltily ditch the dog (Five miles with me. One hopes he lives in town). I renew body and soul under the shower, and go down to Spiros' restaurant. The Scottish couple were there, and kindly offered me a ride back to Gythio in the morn, as they were to be on their way also. This was nice, as I've certainly enjoyed their company.

Monday, April 10

I settle up with Spiros, really feeling that I had been well hosted (I'd eaten nowhere but his place in my three days in Yerolimenas). So into the Scots' rental car and over to the other side of the peninsula for an alternative route to Gythio. Much thanks to them as they drop me off in town. I check back into the Aktaion. An afternoon and evening of puttering around town and on my balcony. Tomorrow, I sail for Crete.......

A note on language

My previous foreign travels have taken me to lands where I've had a few rudiments of the language (Germany, and Spanish speaking countries). Greece is my first venture to a place where the language is Greek to me. Employing a less-is-more approach, here are my resources: a card with the polite, social essentials, noted phonetically. These I've tried to implant in the noggin and use verbally. Beyond this, I aim to be mute, but am prepared with another card with written-out Greek designed to get my needs met. I've tried to anticipate how to make it easy for people to answer me. I've got a phrasebook, but skipped the dictionary. With no grammar upstairs, I'd just be picking at words anyway, and then there's the alphabet. So far, I've been impressed and surprised at how widespread is the use of good, medium English. Of course, I'm in the tourist stream of a touristed country, but English speaking city bus drivers? Still, I persist with my polite Greek, and my one word remarks (delicious, beautiful). It's the way to be human, and when I wield Greek thus I feel as though I've hurled the thunderbolt of Zeus.

Gythio 4/10

Wine Dark Sea

Tuesday, April 11

I spent the better part of the morning and afternoon wandering the labyrinthine back streets of the higher reaches of Gythio. In due course, I place myself at a sidewalk bar with a view of the harbor, there to watch for the arrival of the ferry with a cold Alpha. It did not arrive in a timely fashion. So I grabbed my bag from the safekeeping of the Aktiaon, and joined the waiters at the dock. The Vitsentzos Kornaros did eventually maneuver itself in, and made quick work of sucking in cars and passengers. The lines were cast off, and she turned for Crete. The oars beat the waves. Gythio shrinks, and the mountainous profile of Greece shifts as we ply the wine dark sea. I paced the deck, or sat in the sun away from the wind and exhaust. Most of the cars and passengers got off at Kythira. The big parking operation at little Antikythira was for the sake of a couple of bags, because no cars or people disembarked. The sun had gone down in the meantime, and I spent more time inside out of the ferocious wind. A cold Mythos was called for, for that giant tub of a vessel held pretty steady, in spite of the gale, and I never got queasy. I stepped out from time to time to check on the nearing of the lights of Kissamos. We approach the harbor, and I fix an ardent gaze upon the mountainous landscape looming ever larger under the full moon. "...Crete....Crete......," I sigh. That's a direct quote from the narrator of Kazantsakis' "Zorba the Greek", a character (the narrator, not Zorba) whom I resemble in the most appalling ways. My revery was soon broken, however, by a developing travail. There were surprisingly few people on that weekly ferry, and not much activity on the dock. I saw nothing like a waiting taxi, something I'd (foolishly) expected. Arrival time was supposed to be 11:00. It was now 12:30. Nothing to do but walk the two miles of highway to town. Followed by disorientation, a posted map offering false hope, French girls, kind Greeks, a short ride to what I should have recognized as a solution, communication difficulty, more disorientation, more walking around quiet but for pockets of life Kissamos, more kind up-all-night Greeks, orientation, my booked hotel like, nowhere, the other cheapster I'd remembered (all night reception - not), the prospect of just waiting out the dawn, and ultimately, the solution recognized and enacted. In bed at 2:30, with only forty-five minutes directly attributable to my stubborn boobery. I'll explain it all over a beer when I get home.

Wednesday, April 12

The rosy-fingered dawn renews everything. I sit down with my bag over an omelette in Kissamos as I plan my approach to a day in Hania. To the bus stop, and on the bus for the hour and a quarter journey. Arrive Hania. I check out two guidebook suggestions and settle in Hotel To DhiPorto. (For a longer stay, I might have been a little more creative in seeking out cheapness and coolness). I've got a balcony over a narrow alley/street that is given over to touristy leathermongers. I spend the day in ambulations around Hania, the second city of Crete, though it's said to be its heart. I aim for old churches, the fortifications of the successive occupants and defenders, minarets (one stuck to a church when the Turks repurposed it - it's since been rerepurposed), excavations (Minoan stuff, including under existing, standing buildings), and generally soaking up the atmosphere of this charming old city of narrow, passageway streets and intriguing old architecture (super-gentrified to the west, gentrification fated and advancing in the east). Scads of foreign tourists about. It must be madness in the actual high season. Touts. Buskers. A gypsy kid, mother hunkered nearby, attempts to sell me a packet of Kleenex. "pleasemoneythankyou". I brush her off coldly, without thinking, but minutes later repent of this. Such a perfect balance of mendicancy and capitalism. I step into the nearest awesome religious edifice to reflect on my guilt. There's a lot of piety evident in these places, lots of icon kissing. It can't be sanitary, or good for the art, but hey, it's the thought that counts. Hania is a fine town to gawk at people and interesting old stuff beyond my knowledge. But the dining and shopping and massive boutiqueiness is extreme, and to spend more than a day would really require a guy to be with a wife or girlfriend. And so, I am roundly and soundly ejected. In the morn, to Paleochora, on the southwestern coast.

Hania 4/12

There's No Stoppin', the Cretans from Hoppin'

Thursday, April 13

(With apologies to the Ramones, and the Cretans). Coffee and a sweet roll, a classic bus station breakfast. The 8:45 spirits me away. Mountainous Crete unfolds itself voluptuously. There is more and bigger forest, and more greenery generally, than what I saw on the Pelopponese. Arrive Paleochora on the west end of the south coast. The town is stretched along a long peninsula. I gave it a good walking over, and parked myself on the pleasant little front patio of my favored hotel, poking the bell from time to time as I read, hoping the hotelier might some time show up. At length, an elderly lady discovered me and sets me to waiting some more while they clean a room for me. They were full of unnecessary pity for my wait and plied me with juice and little cakes. At last installed, and at large in the town. This town of 1600 is, unsurprisingly I guess, given over to a beachy, hospitality economy. I have a good walk around the remains of the Venetian fortress. Then a cab up and out of town to a village to see an old church. A little building well frescoed. The rest of the village was in a state of gentrification. A pleasant three mile walk back down to Paleochora. A cold Alpha on the patio is called for. Out to dine. A big fish dinner, everything savory, half liter of barrel wine. Seventeen euros, eighteen bucks. A blob of gelato and more than a little raki came with the bill. Hard not to exceed the customary upwards of ten percent tip. I waddle home overstuffed, satisfied, and half drunk.

Friday, April 14

The nice Polish couple with toddler started breakfast operations in the kitchenette outside my door at 6:30. They tried very hard to be quiet, but that was a lot of sizzling and clinking. They vacated at about the time my alarm went off. Loss of an hour's sleep. We'll call that a minor travail. Shower, sunscreen, and I grab my pre-packed day bag for the day's excursion. Down to the dock to board the Neptune, a small vessel that is part of the ferry system that links five towns on the western south coast. A timely departure at 8:30, and the oars beat the waves. I disembark at the first stop, the small town of Sougia, beloved of hippies of old, it is said. A beachy, accommodating economy. I pause for my morning coffee. Today's object is to walk back to Paleochora. Feet to the trail. Up a gorgeous gorge, to the warble of the springtime birds and the bleats of the sheep, accompanied by the dull clanking of the bells around their necks. Through the pines and into the open uplands, the sea stretching away down there. At length, I gaze down, with eye and monocular, into a lowland bowl that contains the remains of Ancient Lissos, occupied by layers of Dorian Greeks, Romans, Byzantine Greeks, and their ghosts. I descend and look over crumbling walls and foundations and what are said to be threshing floors. I spent most of my time communing with the dead up in their hillside necropolis, where I peered into many a barrel vaulted tomb, wondering where the occupants actually went. I never found the thirteenth century basilicas, nor the mosaics. Back up into the highlands. Where the trail crossed a dirt road, I turned right, aiming to climb another six hundred feet for a cross on the map. At length it comes into view, and I get myself through a livestock fence to gain its spur road. This little church is in the middle of nowhere, with a patio and a shade tree. This calls for a picnic, with a shoe and foot airing to boot. The church was plastered over and whitewashed, with a newish tile roof. But inside it was pure Middle Ages, with frescoes and simple architectural detail. As well as icons and candles and such trappings, for these places are used and cared for. A euro in the slot. Back down the road and on to the trail. At length, I have a second picnic in little grove in a crease in the barrenness, first pouring a libation to the resident dryads. The path takes me down to sea level. I pause where the rocks open into a kind of grotto, where there was about fifty feet of sand beach. There I expose my glorious flesh, and arc like a god into the Libyan Sea. A little shocking, but warm enough to get acclimated, so I bobbed around a good long time, and met the swells, and swept my gaze across the mountains and seascape. At length, I emerge from the foam like Aphrodite. This was a thing to have done before darkness shrouds my eyes and I become food for dogs and kites. Feet to the trail, and I come upon a lengthy beach, with reclining nudes. Back to civilization. The path becomes road. Back in Paleochora, I pass yesterday's taxi man and give him my report, as he was a great lover of the beauties of his country. About twelve miles today. So, a cold Alpha on the patio. I was a little worried about finding the hotel ladies to pay them, but I caught one as she was walking down the street and settled up with her. They never did get my name. Around the corner of my back street, in a stone building, is a family operation in which to dine. I had the roasted feta and lamb special. Very fine.

Saturday, April 15

Time to move on. Alarm set so I can meet the ferry. Packing and toilet done in a timely fashion, and it's only three blocks to the dock. But I do need to go now. (When I get home, ask me about the three minute where's-the-key idiocy and its consequences). But I'm at the dock in reasonable time (never in question), the Neptune turns her head, and the oars beat the waves. I survey yesterday's walk as we make for Sougia. Next stop, Agia Roumeli, a layover for me, as a car ferry does the rest of the line. Everything about this time and place says morning coffee. An hour for this ritual, plus another half for the Samaria being late. Underway. I hereby drop the Homeric waves being beaten by oars thing. The Cretan coast is well supplied with caves, at the waterline or well above. One hermit with a domestic bent has closed off his cave with a whitewashed wall, fitted with a blue door. The whole coast has a waterline about sixteen feet up, showing how far Crete was lifted out of the sea by Poseidon, the earth-shaker, sometime in historical times. (The port facilities of Lissos are well inland. You'd think this was the Big One, and that we could date it. I leave the googling to you). A stop in Loutro, and then Hora Sfakion, the end of the line. I do my walkaround and engage Hotel Stavris, with another comfortable balcony with a view. Again, tourism is the driving force here. I fulfilled a few tasks and squelched a larger hiking ambition in favor of seeing what this town of hotels and menu boards had to offer. So I aim for the heights. Above the harbor are the broken up walls of an old fortress and a memorial to the Cretan patriots who the Germans shot for helping some New Zealander soldiers escape after the allies lost the battle of Crete. There's a pile of skulls behind glass at the base of the obelisk. (Hora Sfakion was the evacuation point for the allies. The Nazis continued with reprisal killings in the villages, as they regarded resistance as no fair)....

A Note on the Holy Guidebook the way, please forgive my gassing on about Greece as if I know what I'm talking about. I am merely channelling the Holy Guidebook. I would feel quite disarmed without its divine aid. Its usefulness begins with directing ones attention to an interesting itinerary, general information about the country and culture you're visiting, city maps, an outline of the transport links, hotel suggestions (I try and usually fail to not be a slave to these recommendations), and other odd bits. No need for the dining recommendations. I eat where I think I can figure things out and where I feel socially comfortable. (Nothing high falutin here, especially for a steppenwolf). Anyway, as I travel the HGB becomes like another lobe of my brain, and its voice in my head may come through in this journal.

Another ascent to some structure high up in a cave. This turns out to be a little bell arch and a chapel built into the back wall. Open (generally the case so far in Greece) to receive my touristic reverence and a euro in the slot. Back down for bread. My baker lady tells me that tonight people will gather at the church and make a big display of kicking Judas's ass. Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, they will celebrate the resurrection of the lamb of God by roasting lambs and getting drunk. We'll see how it goes. There's no big church in this town, but I've lost count of the little chapels. I think religious observance in this town of 150 winter residents will be conducted privately. From my balcony, I did attend to the ringing of bells, and a bit of chant coming from somewhere.

Sunday, April 16

Today's excursion to be a walk down the Imbros gorge. I needed to be positioned for this, but, unsurprisingly I guess, was discouraged from trying to engage a taxi, this being Easter. But the bus was timed well enough at 11:00, so plan B went ahead. A tight, serpentine climb, and the bus drops me off at the village of Imbros. Here, the valley bottom cracks open into a gorge. I plunge in for a stroll. A day of low cloud and damp. Down through the pines and cypresses. The atmosphere is quite flush with birdsong. Great walls tower. There are narrow sections rather like a Utah slot canyon. Quite a few Easter walkers are out. A three hour slow ramble, including picnic. I emerge to the road, pass through a little village, and walk the three miles back to Hora Sfakion. In the upper reaches of the town, big families are on their patios at long feast tables. Down in what passes for a town square, namely the string of waterfront tourist tavernas, there are indeed lambs being roasted, but the drinking displayed Grecian moderation. There was a band playing traditional music (specifically Cretan, I learn). I couldn't take this being amped right in my face, but from my balcony it really insinuated itself into my soul. These guys were fast and tight and real athletes. They were playing when I came back into town at 3:30, and kept up till midnight with only short breaks. I did come down into the blast zone a couple of times, to watch the band and see to what degree the Greeks could get their guests to dance. (A little, led by the baker lady). The leader and vocalist played a lute shaped bowed thing, propped on his knee. Also drums, guitar, some other stringed, fretted instrument, and a flute thing alternating with a bagpipe thing. No CDs for sale, but I scribbled down their name, for these fellows surely brought joy to my heart. Kalo Paskha, Happy Easter.

Monday, April 17

Time to move on. I'm at the bus stop for the 7:00 departure. Three of us waiting. By 8:00, the Greek guy had given up, and the Englishman and I had figured out the ambiguity on the schedule that explained why there was no bus. But there should be a departure at 11:00, giving me time to make this post. Next stop, Rethymno, by way of Vrises......

Hora Sfakion 4/17

Old Stones and Sheep

.......The 11:00 bus arrived in a timely fashion and bore us away. I had some travel talk with the Englishman, who was schlepping a pack all over the upper reaches of Crete. We went over the decline of civilization and the advance of barbarism. The vast emptiness that is Trump was referenced. We part at Vrises, where I switch buses and continue, arriving in due course at Rethymno. I wander the core pretty thoroughly, bag on back, aiming to find something low and humble for this layover stay, maybe twenty or twenty-five euros, but ending up with another perfectly nice place, a penthouse for thirty. Unburdened, I wander some more, because that's what I do. Rethymno is another dining/boutique heavy town, not as extreme as Hania, but still, a girlfriend is a necessary accessory. But hey, I was going to be on my way anyway. I navigate the narrow streets aiming for churches and mosques and Venetian fountains and whatnot. The grand feature of Rethymno is the sixteenth century Venetian fortress that presides over the harbor. Closed on Easter Monday, unfortch. I walked around it, anyway, which took some time. I certainly wouldn't attack this thing. It's quite intact and formidable, by the way, not in ruins. Having figured out the bus links, I'll have time in the morning to get inside. Now for an Americano, and an ouzo, for I was thirsty for everything. I retire to my penthouse for awhile, then out to dine. I let myself get touted in past a menu on a podium, kind of hard to avoid in a town like this. The cats really have the run of this country. The beef stifado was great, just so you know.

Tuesday, April 18

With my bus leaving at 10:45, I have time to get into the fortress and have a look. The vast interior is a flowery field, with a few groves of trees, and structures here and there. I walk the perimeter, peer through the gun slots and over the ramparts and bastions at the great sloping walls. There's a mosque, said to have been built as a church before the Turks got a hold of it to do their usual conversion, but it's hard to see how this mosque could ever have been a church; square base, with a single, very impressive dome, just like any old mosque. To the bus station. An elegant, direct approach to Pitsidia was not actually possible. I have to go out of my way to Iraklio and connect from there. Arrive Iraklio, bus station A. I figure out how to get to bus station B to make my connection, on a city bus, through choking traffic, with, oh, enough minutes to spare, not bad, actually. Now to cross the lovely width of Crete for the third time. Arrive Pitsidia, a small town a few miles inland from the coast. Here I intend to sojourn for four nights and spend my days ambling the hinterlands. I check out the town thoroughly, and engage Filia Rooms, with a view off the balcony of rural loveliness stretching away off yonder. I am serenaded by the chickens, sheep, a peacock with its big meow, and the usual melodious Grecian songbirds. There is a dining/boutique element to Pitsidia, with expat/retirees (mainly German), but it's a small town and obviously still part of the farm economy. This will be an agreeable place to come home to after my daily excursions. Out to dine. My Greek waitress's English is fair, but her German is better.

Wednesday, April 19

Today to be spent amid the ruins of the glory that was ..... Rome. On the bus at 7:00 to position myself in a town twelve miles out. Arrive Agii Deka, named for the ten martyred saints. I have a morning cup, and pick up a few picnic items. I find the twelfth century church and the nearby tombs of the (third century) martyrs, now displayed under a modern edifice and quite empty. I note reverently the stone on which the Romans sliced off their heads. Moving on, I amble a farm road out of town into the remains of Gortys, an important Roman city, indeed the capital of Crete, and of North Africa to boot, built as usual on the remains of its predecessors. At a little rutted two-track turnoff lay several chunks of columns. This place is going to be cool. I come to the praetorium, second to fourth century, an enormous compound of walls and chunks of columns and ruined structures, from which the governor ruled. Off yonder is his statue (I imagine - or maybe it's the emperor), with a nice toga, but as usual no head. I couldn't get a close look at this, as the area was fenced off. But I walked the perimeter, and around the Temple of Apollo, seventh to third BC, the chief Greek remains at the site. There were other fenced ruins, but what was particularly touching to the soul was wandering around the open areas and coming across columns lying around like logs, the bases of columns, crumbling stone walls (some fitted with drainage tile), a big Corinthian capital in a pile of rocks, and suchlike relics. Time for a picnic. I sit myself on a column stump. Partway into my loaf, I sense a rumble, and a big flock of sheep appears over my sightline. They advance as one in my direction, eventually splitting into two streams around me, and eyeing me as they pass with some suspicion. A "yassas" to the shepherd, who responds with "yaa", which seems to be a Cretan thing. More ambling among the ruins, eventually crossing to the other side of the highway to the more touristed and administered part of the site to see what's left of a big early Christian church, a Roman odeion (small theater), and a big wall of stone tablets with the inscribed laws of the 6th century BC Dorian Greeks, the letters nice and clear. Now, that's impressive. Also, the giant plane tree in whose boughs Zeus had his way with Europa. So it is said. With some time to pleasantly kill before my return bus, I walk the side road to the village of Mitropoli and look at its old church. On the side of the road is a big compound where all sorts of ancient rubble is sorted and stacked. In due course, the bus spirits me back to Pitsidia. [Editor's note, 5/7: I somehow neglected to mention another nice walk, from Pitsidia down to the Minoan site of Kommos on the coast, there to admire their excavated foundations, walk a nice stretch of beach, and walk back up through country scenes.] A cold Mythos, a nap, sew up the hole in my pocket, laundry in the tub....and, unfortunately, my new iPad refusing to power up. My grocer has no words to describe his dismay at Trump, and I have no words to console him. (Then again, civilization does have some staying power. I mean, look where I'm standing.)

Thursday, April 20

Today, I am afoot straight out of town, mostly avoiding the highways for the byways, with picnic, map, compass, orienteering skills, and my usual surfeit of common sense. I really got into the olive trees. Spraying was in progress. The artichokes, heads held high, looked ready for harvest, but in April? Arrive Minoan archaeological site of Phaestos, high above and commanding a gorgeous view of the cultivated Messara Plain below. This place is in the tourist stream, and I shared the compact site with a good number of fellow dilettantes. I lingered a good while amid the half-walls and chambers and courtyards, interpreting the interpretations of the archaeologists on the signage, and interpreting where the work of the Minoans ended and that of the modern restorers began. A notable feature were the gigantic, decorated jars. No moving one of those when it was filled with olive oil or wine or whatever. Moving along, via back road, to Agia Triada, another Minoan site, this one much less touristed and administered. I pause before I enter for a foot airing and picnic. I then wander the stones of the old ones, wondering over their lives, and marveling at their work, and at their workmanship. God, these people could shape a stone block. And lift and set them, too. And then, two millennia later (14th century), the Byzantines built a beautiful little church nearby, with frescoes to refresh the modern eye. Time to amble back home to Pitsidia. This involved some up and down, on two-tracks, that may or may not have been on the map, and some unexpected orienteering challenges, as expected. Getting out of the village of Kamilari was particularly puzzling. But one is never really lost when one can survey the lavish world from on high. Afoot and in motion for probably five hours today. A shower, a cold Alpha on the balcony, the peacock meowing, and out for the beef stifado among some extremely festive German oldsters.

Friday, April 21

I had wished to expand my scope by bicycle today, but this was not to work out. It transpires that the one bike place, down on the coast in Matala, was not yet open for the season. So I reshape my plans and engage a taxi to position me some six miles out of town at the Odigitrios Monastery. I walk around its little compound a bit with a few other visitors. A monk dumps a plastic bucket of artichoke petals off the side of the path. That's it for drama. There's a great view of the creased and bulky landscape from the monastery. I study the landscape with eye and monocular, and reshape my plans further. So, I set my stride for the decommissioned Martsalo Monastery, further towards the coast. Off pavement now, on a rough road through olives, scrub, and a bit of irrigated pasture. A great geometric knob, named Kefali on the map, rises some 1200 feet out of the sea and beckons me. I turn at its base toward the little church, as usual out in the middle of nowhere. But what was unusual about it was its age. It turns out to have been built in 1992, albeit, seemingly, to medieval specifications. The icons inside were modern works, absolutely modeling, but not quite imitating, the Byzantine style. A euro in the basket. My devotions continued outside in the shade with a foot airing and picnic. Now down to the old monastery. There was a stone staircase, leading down somewhere, on the other side of the head of a gorge. I descend, not knowing quite what to expect. The clanking of the sheep bells is like a wind chime. Through a gate, and there, the monastery, consisting of four or so cells half carved into the rock face and walled in, two free standing cubes, and a fantastic chapel, carved into the rock, with a conical roof peaking in a light well, whose covering structure I'd puzzled at from above. There were plenty of icons and stacks of candles and signs of occasional devotions. Two euros in that basket. I have a look in the cells outside. One of them was cluttered with candelabras and religious furniture and rubbish, and, strikingly, three of those gigantic Minoan jars. Assuming they were not gift shop trinkets, this was a pretty cool place to find such artifacts. [Clear your head...not from the gift shop, but surely of modern provenance. -ed] Another cell had a lawn chair and a blanket, a few household implements, dusty bottles of olive oil and such on a shelf, an old picture of the old folks on the wall..... It all seemed left behind and abandoned, but the fresh lemon on the table made me realize, that though the monks had long since cleared out, I had intruded upon the lodgings of whoever was tending all these sheep in the gorge. So I was a little more circumspect in peering into the other cells, which were empty but for a bit of junk. I declare this place a real find. The sheep had perched themselves on the rock face at the gate, and peered at me inscrutably as I left. Back up to the new little church, where I had a supplementary picnic to fortify me for the walk back. I was highly tempted to climb the great ramp of the back of Kefali to its summit over the sea, but desisted, for the extra six hundred foot energy drain. But it turns out I could have fit it in, because the high road route I had planned for my return, which would have bypassed Odigitrios Monastery, and offered me a cross on the map and some route finding uncertainty, was fenced off with a locked gate. That's too bad. Who knows what kind of trouble I might have gotten into. So back down to the occupied monastery, and back along the paved road. The cultivated landscape below me, with its orchard rows and patches of pasture and groves of wildness, loomed by snowy Mount Psiloritis, was scenic beyond compare. A wedding was in progress as I passed through the village of Sivas. My twenty minute pause for a cup of coffee did not include coffee, as the coffee maker was experiencing a "problem". No problem. Back home in Pitsidia in due course. Actual striding time today again about five hours. I've become a bit of a regular at Anna and Alex's.

Saturday, April 22

Time to move on. The bus spirits me away at 7:00. Crete displays its voluptuous self again on this my fourth crossing of its width. Arrive, again, at Iraklio (also spelled Heraklion, and who know what else), the capitol and metropolis of Crete. Dropped off at bus station B, I make an effort to again figure out the city bus to get to bus station A, but resorted to a taxi for six euros. I'm not going anywhere from A, but I know they have a bag check there. So I check my bag and set off freely. I have a look at the defenses and infrastructure of the Venetians along the waterfront. There's a stiff, chilly north wind off the Sea of Crete, kicking up a big surf. Up the main drag. Over coffee and crepe at an outdoor place on a plaza, I realize I've parked myself directly in the heart of the city, at the Morosini fountain, whose lions spout into an ornately decorated basin. The post renaissance Christians who commissioned and carved this thing had Poseidon on top of the lions, but the Turks would have none of that idolatry, and Poseidon had to go. To an internet place to get online and google up a fix for my dead iPad. (it worked). I engage a room at the Hotel Rea, grab my bag from the bus station, and shuttle back to the hotel. After a few pent up web tasks, I emerge to a light rain. (Though I've had cloudy days in Greece, so far I've seen only a few hints of sprinkles). I hadn't thought I'd be fitting in the archaeological museum, but it was now clearly called for. I got a little wet getting there. I shared the place with quite a few other rain refugees. It started with perfectly relatable seven thousand year old artifacts. The collection was mostly the arts and technologies of the Minoans, well laid out by theme and chronology. Pretty fantastic. Also a section devoted to the Greeks and Romans. Judging by their statuary, these people were in great shape. The rain was a steady medium when I emerged. I dash and splash off to pick up my paper ticket for tomorrow's ferry at the designated travel agency. Departure is at 8:40 in the morning. I would have known this when I bought the ticket online early in the trip, but I'd somehow gotten it turned around in my head to an afternoon departure. I had been planning on fitting in a morning excursion to Knossos, the great Minoan palace and capital just outside Iraklio. So that is not going to happen. Here's my effort to give this omission the sour grapes treatment: It would have been an industrial tourism herding operation, where half of my attention would have been diverted toward admiring the beauties of Europe among the herd, and, I just spent a rainy afternoon among Minoan artifacts anyway. Weak, but there you have it. The little cascade of what-ifs in refitting my previous schedule (like skipping the night in Rethymno) all run up against the reality of this rain day. Even the Olympians were subject to fate. So then, Paris without the Louvre. I blame the world for being too lavish in its bounty. Back to the Hotel Rea, getting well into a stage one soaking along the way. Eventually, the rain does peter out, leaving behind a roiled, steely, dramatic sky. Out for a very truncated tour of Iraklio. It's big and urbane and lively and prosperous, but aside from the Venetian waterfront and a few grand old public buildings, it's not exactly pretty. (There'd be a lot more old stuff and less in the way of concrete slabs had the goddam Nazis not bombed the crap out of it). A fit habitat for a steppenwolf, but I won't be here long. I found a nice, quiet taverna in which to dine, and dine well.

Sunday, April 23

To the port to meet my ferry. The Champion Jet II is huge, an absurd sci-fi Death Star. Noah probably could have fit the whole zoo on board. Twenty-eight seats across. No deck to wander. Passengers are expected to remained cooped up and watching the world go by from behind dirty windows. Fast, efficient, and inevitable though, so I'm a crank to complain. The thing takes off like a rocket. In four and a half hours, arrive Naxos....

Hora Naxos 4/23

Ideal Youth

..... The white cubes of the center part of town are stacked prettily below the walled "kastro" on the top of the hill. There was a bag check at the end of the dock, but the proprietor discouraged me from using his expensive service, so, bag on back, I step up into the maze of alleyways in the old town, aiming, with many a side glance, for the obvious guidebook recommendation. But when I inquired there, it was not salubrious, lacking any real way to connect with the outside other than the rooftop under the baking western sun. With a four night sojourn pending, I wanted a place I positively liked. So I descended, checked my bag expensively, and took my time to learn the town a little and find an apt spot to reside. I continued looking over the "Burgos" neighborhood below the kastro, seeking balconies, plausible rooftops, and plausible cheapness in this realm of the gentry. Nothing stood out (or seemed closed in the shoulder season), so, after a tourist friendly breakfast in waterfront tourist land, I proceeded doubtfully, south of the gentry on the hill, scarcely mentioned in the guidebook. Here I found a very agreeable neighborhood and lots of basic hotels. I plant at the Hotel Zeus, run by the very nice Zeus family, who were busily sprucing the place up for the season. I think I'm the only guest. Twenty euros, cheap, and it's a very nice place. All amenities close at hand. I claim the town with further ambling, ducking through the alley-streets below the kastro and whatnot, and at length retrieve my bag. An evening stroll to the Temple of Apollo, a sixth century BC ruin high up on a little island connected by causeway. Very obviously, this is the jewel and symbol of Naxos. Two uprights with a cross piece, making for a portal effect. Big blocks suggest the foundation of something larger, though reportedly the thing was never finished. Very evocative in the rays of the sun setting over the Aegean, with a few modern worshippers in attendance. Out to dine at an inviting looking place right around my corner. It turned out to be a little artier and pricier than I expected, but I was wowed by the stuffed chicken breast. The house wine was a wake up too. (By now I've guzzled plenty of the "barrel" wine that is standard on a Greek menu; plentiful, cheap, tepid, and served in a half liter metal carafe for four bucks). Then came the customary complimentary drink at the end. Not the usual raki, but some "Limnos", from the isle of Limnos, a sweet, thick, clear citrus cordial, in a little frozen art bottle. I am so drinking that up.

Monday, April 24

More artful food at the German organic hippy lady's place. I do a few errands, including getting a detailed map of Naxos. I pour over this for a while, rent a bike from the fellow around the corner, and head out for a short tour (a longer one up for Wednesday). Moving on a bike, just the thing after all this pavement pounding. I head for the Temple of Dionysos, south of town. Closed on Mondays, unfortunately, so I had to worship everybody's favorite god from behind a fence. I ride on, aiming for this or that on the map, but mostly just getting the lay of the land, and the feel of the scope of a bike on this island. A byway I took petered out in a farmer's field, and as the farmer directed me somewhere or another, I marveled to myself that I finally met a Greek without a word of English. I went through the villages of Glinado and Galanado, and had a memorable ice cream bar in Vivlos. I meander the beauties of the countryside back to Hora Naxos. That was refreshing. More beauty by way of an Aegean sunset.

Tuesday, April 25

Today, an ascent of Mount Zeus (a.k.a., Zas or Za), right in the middle of the island, and the high point of Naxos, indeed of all the Cyclades at 3290 feet. I'm on the 9:30 bus to the village of Filoti, at the foot of the mountain. The bus route actually goes further toward the trailhead, but I was aiming for breakfast in town. With the hour and a half interval till the next bus, plus it being thirty minutes late, I accomplished breakfast with plenty of elbow room. In due course, the next bus lifts me further above the town, and drops me, not at the trailhead (named as a destination on the schedule), but at its connecting junction. Making sure of this took some figuring out, with the insistent help of the (slightly irritated) Greek lady who had gotten off with me. I climb a few asphalt switchbacks and arrive at "Agia Marina", the place name I was aiming for, just a little church. From there, it's a trail, a ninety minute ascent through the usual Grecian rockscape, to the clank of the sheep bell. There's a few parties at the summit (including a French couple who had trundled their baby and toddler up there), so I let them be and had a long picnic and foot airing in a little patch of rock-shade a ways off. Eventually, I had the place to myself. A grand spot of grandeur, the whole perimeter of the island in view, or apprehendable beyond the sightline of the bulk of the landscape. Sugar cube villages nestle in the dimples of the landscape, and call out to be named from the map. The other Cyclades are scattered and arrayed near and far, abrupt and mountainous, yet quite afloat. (I'd name them too, if I had a map of them handy - nearby Paros is easy enough). Vultures a-soaring, and some sort of tern is rocketing around. How to make my descent? One route would be down the declining ridge of the mountain and off its flank to cut the road way off yonder, and walk its switchbacks into town - this was clearly the elegant approach, but too time and energy consuming. The other route right at hand and passing by the notable cave - very steep, and its route not really evident, though it should have been in sight. So I just did the climb in reverse as far as Agia Marina on the asphalt road. I knew there was a trail directly up from Filoti, but not having come up that way, I didn't know where it cut the road. I wasn't willing to spend the energy to possibly not find it, so I opted to just walk the road down to town, the same way the bus had brought me up. Probably a mistake. A trail would be graded steeply for the dirty old goat that I am, and thus nice and short. The road is graded gently for traffic, meaning serpentine and very long in that mountainscape. Anyway, I pound that long road back into Filoti. I was a little worried that I'd missed the last bus back to Hora Naxos, but had tentative confidence about the reasonable surmise I'd made about the (incomprehensible) schedule. I inquire at the soda/candy/cigarette kiosk that also vends the bus tickets, where this plan A is shot down. No more buses. The kiosk man emerges from his booth to commiserate with me, while the fellow he'd been talking with invited me to sit down with the juice I'd just bought. I now found myself bracketed by two Greek phenomena I'd been long expecting. One the one hand, a friendly old fellow with the biggest mustache you've ever seen in your life, and on the other, an affable guy with persistent inquiries into my marital status. Neither fellow really had more than a few word fragments of English. I feigned not to understand what the inquirer was getting at, though his ample bosom pantomime was clear enough. When this all ran its course, I crossed the street to my breakfast place, where I had a connection and I could communicate. Mama very helpfully called a taxi for me. A wave and a thumbs up for my friends at the kiosk as the taxi swept me up to convey me to the capital for an extravagant but reasonable twenty-five euros. Crisis managed. Tonight, as I dine on the sea bass at a harbor side alfresco restaurant, in strode the hungry women's Olympic volleyball team, steely-eyed six-footers all.

Wednesday, April 26

A day to very agreeably ride around Naxos on a bicycle. I reorder my itinerary a bit in consultation with my neighborhood bike man, set off, and find my out of town. I store up quite a bit of potential energy on the grinding way up to Flerio. I pause and lock up the bike. Here, 7th century BC quarrymen carried on a cult of a fertility goddess. I have a look around at the remains of her sanctuary. The quarrymen also left behind some of their discards, most notably two examples of kouroses. (The kouros is an art form of the archaic period Greeks, a nude male, with certain artistic conventions adhered to. There were great examples in the museum in Athens). These kouroses were still in their rough cut form, and were damaged as they were being dragged down from the quarry, and so were abandoned. The kouros is said to symbolize ideal youth, yet here these lie, old, changeless, unfinished, broken down, left behind.... I can relate to that. Moving on, I make something of a portage with the bike, a mile of rolling it, and at moments lifting it, along a rocky trail over a rise of gorgeous countryside to shortcut to the road in the next mountain crease. From thence, more climbing through the varied and inviting landscape, to the village of Halki, lovely in its gentrified semi-ruin, where coffee is served. This town also has a stunning old Byzantine church. (Locked, unfortunately). This is the high point, and I now will have the benefit of my potential energy earnings. So it's mostly a roll downwards (with some ascents too, of course). I paused at churches and views, and in the lower, farming reaches I navigated into some pretty rustic byways. My coursing through the narrow, alley like Main Street of the village of Vivlos was one for the ages. Not much to write about, but a full day. Rejuvenating.

Hora Naxos 4/27

Pilgrimage of a Western Man

Thursday, April 27

A walk through streets that have become familiar to me to the dock. The ferry is still out to sea, but it's bulky form chugs in soon enough, turns on a dime, opens its maw, sucks us in, and steps on the gas. The Blue Star Paros is nice boat, with plenty of open deck space on which to catch the sea breeze, and watch the parade of Aegean islands slip by. The volleyball women are on board, striding the decks like the Olympians they are. Five and a half hours, arrive Piraeus, the port of Athens. Finding the metro station was a little troublesome (my ineptitude), but soon enough I'm enroute to the metropolis. I emerge, again, at the Monastiriki station, and install myself at the Hotel Cecil. Out to makes my rounds, starting with a bite to eat on the sidewalk among the beautiful Athenians. Then to press in among them, making my way to the foot of the Acropolis, which I circumnavigate, reconnoitering for tomorrow. I get good and lost on further ambulations, and found again in due course. That half-order gyro earlier was pretty big, and I was pretty tired, so I skipped dinner in lieu of a cold Alpha on the roof of the Cecil, and retired early.

Friday, April 28

I rise and throw open the door to my balcony, and look on high to the object of my pilgrimage. I didn't quite aim straight for the eight o'clock opening, and so arrived with the hordes converging at nine. Ascending from the turnstile, I pause a good while overlooking the theater below the wall. Then up through the monumental entrance, the Propylaia, to the top of the Acropolis. I attend to the Temple of Nike Athena, the Temple of Poseidon, the Erechtheion, with (plaster casts of) the Caryatids, and the great walls, and all the rubble .....and of course to the Parthenon. It was built to awe, and awes still. Now the done thing here is to offer up to the goddess a burnt offering of the thigh bone of a bull, wrapped in two layers of fat. But lacking these materials, and frankly the inclination, I desisted. I did, however, face the great edifice, and raise my hand, and bow my head, to my sister Jan, who has travelled to the undiscovered country, and to Miss Glaus, my third grade teacher, wherever she may be, they being my mentors in taking an interest in this wide world. A few more slow rounds, and I come down off the rock. To the Acropolis Museum, full of pieces of the Parthenon and Acropolis, including the original Caryatids, and lots of other statuary, for a whirlwind tour. Then streets of Athens, and a pause at the Cecil to get off my feet for a while, because tourism can get a little grueling. Refreshed, more or less, for more streets of Athens. A coffee break in the bohemian quarter, a visit to the colossal Roman Temple of Olympian Zeus, and to other scattered sites of antiquity. I also did a bit of shopping, I must say, looking through the souvenir shops for a bust of my man Socrates. But though there were many busts, I saw none that approached the Platonic Form of the Bust of Socrates (a high standard, I admit), so I desisted, and spared myself from having to carry home a rock in my bag and possess it. (I did, however, carry away a small icon of Saint D-something). To the agora, with the Temple of Hephaestus, and then up again to the Acropolis, for evening rays, a lesser crowd, and conclusiveness. This was meet, right, and salutary. We are gently ushered down at eight. In and out of the Cecil, for dinner and whatnot. The city is thronged, with tourists and their beloved Greeks, and Greeks and their beloved tourists. On the rooftop of the Cecil, under the floodlit Acropolis, I tip back a cold Alpha.

Athens 4/28

Icarus with Better Technology

Saturday, April 29

Alarm at 6:15. A bad night to have bad insomnia, but there you have it. I stride through the pigeons to the Monastiriki metro station, and submerge to the transportation tubes that will ultimately spit me out on Lake Street. Forty-five minutes to the airport. Trump does indeed get my iPad. (Due to the current trumped up bomb-in-the-iPad Fear. My researches had given me some hope that my connection in Canada would make my flight not "direct" from evil Muslim land. So I had to step out of line and stuff it in my bag to be checked.). This airport, unsurprisingly, offers coffee and muffins. My hand went out unto the feast, putting hunger and thirst away. And that, people, is my last allusion to Homer. In due course, we lift off for Istanbul. That's it, I've been to Greece. It was an easy and always engaging country to travel in. Tick it off the bucket list. That's a harsh thing to say when I feel I just got started, but life is short and the world is huge. And say yassas to my prized little vocabulary. Poof!

Toronto airport 4/29


greece expenses

Cost of buying Euros folded in above. (3% for credit card. 3.5% for ATM card.)

Exchange Rate: 1.06 $ = 1 € / 1 $ = .94 €