Athens and Istanbul both had great ferries. Athens had a system with boats that looked like cruise-liners while Turkey’s boats were more ferry-like, but they both were effective and enjoyable. In addition, Athens boats traveled longer distances instead of just over the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Given my positive ferry-riding experiences in these two countries, Dr. Derek Shepherd may have had it right when he chose to work in Seattle because of their ferry boats. A daily commute that includes a short ferry ride could be enjoyable (as long as traffic wasn’t an issue).
After a full day yesterday exploring Athens, Adam and I felt ready for a day of relaxation. What better way to relax than atop a sailing yacht in the Mediterranean. We sailed to and from Salamina Island, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch, sun bathing, and a quick swim in the water. The temperature was just right for laying indefinitely in the sun; however, it was a bit chilly to go in the water. Therefore, this affected the ratio of beach time to water time. The blues of the sky and the water seemed unnaturally vibrant.
On our trip back from the island, we sailed into a strong headwind. As a result, I received a quick lesson on how to tack and how to use such a wind to our advantage. In addition, at times while moving at speeds of around 10 knots, the port side was almost submerged into the water. This left the starboard side high and dry and ready for me to sit with my legs off the edge enjoying the strong, fresh wind off the sea.
In the evening, Adam and I stumbled upon a live music bar/restaurant playing traditional folk music. It was a particularly fun event as it was Fide Koksal, the main singer’s birthday and the whole restaurant celebrated by sharing a delicious cake.
Not long ago, I walked through the stadium of the most recent summer Olympics from 2008 in Beijing. Today, I walk through the stadium of the ancient Greek Olympic games. The place where the very notion of the Olympics was born. The track was a little smaller and the stadium held less people than in Beijing; however, without this stadium and this tradition, none of the other Olympic games may have occurred.
As I walk through the stadium, I imagine the athletes that would have competed here centuries ago. My sister introduced to me the idea of the “Normal Guy” when we were watching the games together. The Normal Guy Theory states that the athletes now are so accomplished at their individual sports that even the slowest Olympic runner, the shortest Olympic jumper, or the weakest Olympic weight lifter are so many standard deviations above the mean in their area of expertise that when paired with an average individual or even an individual who would be considered a superior athlete at the high school or collegiate level, the Olympian would be far and away the better. I bring this up now because possibly, many centuries ago, those competing in this stadium were fewer deviations away from average and did not spend the last four years focusing on one specific skill, but instead, were simply talented and athletic individuals who have chosen to compete.
I line up at the starting line and imagine the crowd roaring while waiting anxiously. I sit in the stands in both the standard and the honored seats and pretend a discuss or hurdling event is about to begin. As I walk out of the stadium humming to myself John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare, I smile knowing that the next games are about a year away in London 2012.
Kinsey, a third generation kindle who traveled to China, Southeast Asia, Nepal, and Greece and always a faithful companion and tour guide, died last Tuesday near the Acropolis of Ancient Greece. He was 5.
He died from a one meter fall onto ancient Greek ruins, and although at first glance it appeared that Kinsey suffered no damage from the fall, his glare-free, battery-efficient countenance no longer had that same spark to which his companions had become accustomed.
“Kinsey was dependable, high-energy, and always full of information,” said Andrew, Kinsey’s faithful and always curious travel companion. “I will miss him dearly, and although I may try, replacing him will be nearly impossible.”
In lieu of flowers, Kinsey would have requested that we all send books.
Kinsey was still full of life up to his last hour.
In Athens, I led a small private tour for Adam, Drew, Amanda, and Carley earning myself the nickname “Tour Guide Andy”. We ran around Ancient Athens from the Acropolis to the Parthenon to the Agora to the Temple of Zeus and to the original Olympic Stadium just to name a few. At each site, while dodging other tourists, we learned of the history from Lonely Planet’s kindle edition and marveled at the beginnings of western civilization.
The restoration process of some of these sites was in full swing. I have mixed feelings about such rampant restoration. I want to see the sites as they would have originally looked; however, I also want to see what remains from the original builders. Even if it is only a small piece of a much grander building, knowing that small portion comes from the original constructions in the 5th or 6th centuries B.C. would be magical in its own way. In addition, the sites would never be hidden behind scaffolding or bracketed by construction cranes.
That said, walking through the Agora and up the hill to the Acropolis and finding a panoramic view of Athens from its top, was inspirational. It was proof of what people are possible of achieving irrespective of what has been done in the past. It was proof that societies can make big steps forward when given the right mindset. And it was proof that owning the high ground in any situation is advantageous because no one can sneak up on the Acropolis.
Saying goodbye to Mykonos and the people I had met over the last couple days is no easy task, but I am excited to explore Athens and its historic sites. After a sunny, beach-side breakfast complete with Greek yogurt, Greek coffee, a slice of cake, and bread until I feel full, I get back on a ferry towards Athens. This time, I ferry to Athens’ Rafina Port, which is on the other side of the city, but the ticket price is a little better, and there is still a bus to take me to the center of town when I arrive. On the boat, I make friends with three Greek girls as we watch part of the movie “Center Stage” in English with Greek subtitles. One of them was looking for work on Mykonos island over the summer and the other two were accompanying her. Working on a Greek Island sounds like it could be a very nice summer job! Their English is pretty good and before parting ways, they give me some pointers of what to see and where to go in Athens.
For the next couple weeks of my journey, a friend from school, Adam is meeting up with me and we will explore Athens, Istanbul and Morocco together. After a short walk from the bus station to the Pella Inn, my hostel in Athens on 104 Ermou Street, I meet Adam and his brother Drew in our dorm room and our first adventure is finding food. But before we do anything, we appreciate the unreal view of the Acropolis that we have from our dorm window and the even better panoramic we get from the hostel’s rooftop. We leave the hostel in search of another cheap and delicious gyro place, we find the one that Drew had spotted earlier to be closed, and we start to improvise. We walk around Monastiraki and weave through its many narrow streets and alleys. As we pass every restaurant, we are semi-harassed with questions whether or not we choose to stop to check the menu and its prices, but eventually, we find a nice restaurant that produces a meat lovers plate with about 5 or 6 different types of meats. The three of us sit down, order Mythos beers, meat and bread, and all seems right as we watch the sun set on the Acropolis. After dinner, we wander around Plaka, an historic area of Athens located on the foothills of the Acropolis, and I find a fedora that fits and have a fun time bargaining for it. We make it an early night so that we can return to our hostel’s rooftop and admire the lit up Acropolis as we meet some of the other guests. We befriend Carley and Amanda from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and although originally they think they have a ferry booked heading towards the islands the next morning, after they wake up early and figure out how to get to the port, they realize that their days are off and they have an extra day in Athens. The good news is that it means the five of us will tour Athens’ highlights together.
Spanning a small area of only 33 square miles and with a population of about 10,000, Mykonos is easily transversed by motorbike or all-terrain vehicle (ATV). At this time, there are still few tourists and the island is pleasantly quiet. Also staying at Mama’s Pension, Kristen and I hire (a.k.a. rent) ATV’s and take off to explore what lay on the island. It is a bit cold to go for a swim, but that does not stop us from searching out many of Mykonos’ beautiful beaches and testing the waters with our feet while walking up and down the sand. Starting near our guest house at Agios Stephanos Beach, throughout the day we see many other turquoise coast lines, white houses nestled into hills extending from the water, and views that are meant for postcards. Other highlight beaches along our journey included Paraga, Paradise, Panaramos, Agios Sostis, Kalafatis and more.
The island being no more than 10 miles in its longest dimension allows us to search many of its nooks and crannies. We even move inland away from the coast and explore the village of Ano Mera. We find a wonderful bakery with an uber inviting smell, and I devour a feta cheese filled pastry to hold me over until dinner. Some of the roads that we travel along have a couple too many bumps and hills, but luckily on our ATV’s, we are semi-prepared to attack most paths that lay before us. I have limited experience driving such a vehicle, but after a day’s worth of riding, I can say I feel much more comfortable on an ATV.
The last goal of the day is to find an empty west-facing beach to watch the sun go down. We drive around the southwest extension of the island and eventually find a small stretch of unoccupied beach to watch the sun. We climb down from the road to the beach, spot a comfortable rock, and settle in to watch another colorful Mykonos sunset—a perfect ending to a full and fun day.
I land in Athens, find a bus to Piraeus Port, and figure out how the ferries operate. I arrive with a list of islands in mind that I might like to visit and learn which island the next ferry will be traveling to. In twenty minutes, there is a ferry leaving for Mykonos Island (one that was on my list), I figure out how to navigate the large, major port of Athens, and am soon on my way to a Greek Island. The ferry boat is less of a water taxi and more of a cruise liner, complete with 5 levels, bars, restaurants, couches and tables. After a windy and sunny four and a half hours, a quick stop at Paros Island, and a snack, I am greeted at the Mykonos port by many trying to sell their guest houses and hotels. I meet Christina from Mama’s Pension, like the sound of the place and the photos she shows me, and I am soon getting a ride in her car to the guest house. The house is run by Christina and her mother, “Mama”, both of whom are very friendly and helpful in providing tips of how to navigate the island. Mama’s Pension is about 2 km outside of town, but Christina gives me and another house guest, Kristen, a ride into the main town in the early evening. I look forward to a relaxing couple days while exploring the island and starting to learn more about Greek culture.
Kristen (from Australia who is currently studying in Sweden) and I explore the city as the sun starts to set, all the while looking for a perfect spot to enjoy a drink and watch the day’s final light. After exploring and photographing the windmills and Little Venice in various parts of town, we settle down at a nice bar called Katerina’s, which is located in Little Venice and has a small west-facing balcony. The food is a bit on the pricey side given our budgets, but we enjoy a drink to keep our seats, and after dark settles in, we move on to a small gryo shop down the street. A gyro is a delicious pita wrap filled with meat from a vertical spit, tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce, and french fries. Because they are inexpensive and my hunger still strong, I go back for seconds. The gyro may have been so good because of the delicious tzatziki sauce with its yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil and dill. I immediately know I will be searching this place out again before leaving the island.
“What a world of ruined sculpture was about us! Set up in rows—stacked up in piles—scattered broadcast over the wide area of the Acropolis—were hundreds of crippled statues of all sizes and of the most exquisite workmanship; and vast fragments of marble that once belonged to the entablatures, covered with bas-reliefs representing battles and sieges, ships of war with three and four tiers of oars, pageants and processions—everything one could think of. History says that the temples of the Acropolis were filled with the noblest works of Praxiteles and Phidias, and of many a great master in sculpture besides—and surely these elegant fragments attest it.”
Mark Twain, in his “Innocents Abroad” wrote the above quote when describing Athens. I predict Greece will probably be a bit different from Nepal, but I am excited for the change except for the difference in prices. (My dollar will not be going as far once I get to Europe.) It also seems fitting that as I move from the Eastern to the Western world, I start at the cradle of western civilization.