Return to Greece, 2016. Part Four: Santorini, Heaven on Earth

This is the fourth post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

Approaching Santorini by ferry, my first thought was, “What beautiful snow-capped mountains!” Wrong! These were not mountains, but pure white buildings perched on top of this unique volcanic island.

Santorini 1a by water

How can I possibly describe Santorini? It is truly a paradise — heaven on earth. Pristine. Breathtakingly beautiful. A feast for the eyes. There really are not sufficient adjectives! Seeing the pure white buildings and bold blue church domes against the barren mountains and blue, blue sea brings delight to the eyes and the soul.

Our first introduction was the drive up the mountain from the port, (I brought my rental car). We saw amazing views and photo op at every switchback mountain curve. Just when you think you can’t see anything more spectacular, the road turns and you are swept into yet another picture-perfect scene. The blue and white pallet is punctuated by brilliant flowers.

Hilltop view, Santorini, July 2016

Hilltop view of Fira, Santorini, July 2016

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Brilliant flowers bring a splash of color to the white and blue pallet

Me in Santorini! July 2016

Me in Santorini! July 2016

When we arrived at our accommodations, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was a resort hotel and spa with three pools, clubhouses, and lovely bungalow rooms. And it was half the price of other hotels on the island!

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There are over 450 churches in Santorini. An entire book could be written on them. Almost invariably, they are white and blue-domed, yet each is unique and inspiring.

The churches on the island are stunning. Despite the similar design, each is unique. Santorini, July 2016

The churches on the island are stunning. Despite the similar design, each is unique. Santorini, July 2016

The capital is Fira (or Thira), perched atop a cliff overlooking the caldera (or bowl-shaped bay). We were immediately transported into another world of winding alleys, adorable shops, and the prettiest views of the sea. The outdoor restaurants and tavernas are perched at perfect spots to enjoy the sunset and cool breezes.

The magic of Fira at sunset. Santorini, July 2016

The magic of Fira at sunset. Santorini, July 2016

The serenity of Fira at sunset. Santorini, July 2016

The serenity of Fira at sunset. Santorini, July 2016

Our tour guide, Eleni, introduced us to the archaeological site of Akrotiri which has Santorini Akrotiri 5 07-04been under continuous excavation since 1967. It is meticulously preserved and we were able to visualize life in this prehistoric settlement which dates from 4th century B.C. It was one of the most important ports of its era, eventually evacuated in the late 17th century B.C. when a series of earthquakes brought massive destruction to Santorini.

Excavations at Akrotiri, Santorini, July 2016

Excavations at Akrotiri, Santorini, July 2016

Getting around on motorcycles and all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) are the easiest and fastest (although not safest) modes of transportation. Sharing the hairpin turns with cars and full-size tourist buses can be almost suicidal. It takes a certain attitude adjustment to navigate the roads with novice motorcycle tourists!

Ben and me, Santorini, July 2016

Ben and me, Santorini, July 2016

And, of course — the beaches! This was my first time seeing a black beach, pebble-filled with tiny specimens of volcanic material. Bring flip-flops as it is extremely hot to walk on the black rocks! The sparkling, crystal Aegean Sea and quaint seaside tavernas provide an ambiance that envelopes one in total relaxation, both physical and mental.

Santorini Beach Collage

Taverna on the black beach, Santorini, July 2016

Taverna on the black beach, Santorini, July 2016

It wouldn’t be Santorini without donkeys! Whether in the fields, making their way up the steep hills with packs, or being guided by their master, these animals provide the perfect touch of nature in this perfect place.

Donkeys remain an integral part of the island. Oia, July 2016

Donkeys remain an integral part of the island. Oia, July 2016

Oia, amazing Oia! Tourists throng its tiny alleyways and sprawl over every inch of walkable space to explore its whimsical shops and experience its out-of-this-world sunsets.

Bookshop on Oia, July 2016

Bookshop on Oia, July 2016

Despite the crowds and tourists with selfie-sticks, it is worth every push and jostle just to be there. We learned that brides will transport their entire wedding entourage to Oia, simply to have a wedding album of spectacular photos. After being there, I can understand why.

I wonder what it's like to live here? Oia, July 2016

I wonder what it’s like to live here? Oia, July 2016

City on a hill, Oia, July 2016

City on a hill, Oia, July 2016

Headed for the view. Oia, July 2016

Headed for the view. Oia, July 2016

Every available spot is taken, Oia, July 2016

Perched at the top, Oia, July 2016

Every available spot is taken, Oia, July 2016

Every available spot is taken, Oia, July 2016

Jockeying for position to view the sunset, Oia, July 2016

Jockeying for position, Oia, July 2016

Getting close, but not yet sunset, Oia, July 2016

Getting close, but not yet sunset, Oia, July 2016

Andrew and Ben, patiently waiting. Oia, July 2016

Andrew and Ben, patiently waiting. Oia, July 2016

It's worth the wait! Oia, July 2016

It’s worth the wait! Oia, July 2016

It was so hard to leave, but we are so blessed to have been to heaven on earth!

So blessed to be here! Oia, July 2016

So blessed to be here! Oia, July 2016

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Return to Greece, 2016. Part Three: Eleusina, Ancient Mysteries

This is the third post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

When my daughter, Kathy, requested that we visit Eleusina, I nonchalantly said, “sure,” not knowing anything about the history or mysteries of this ancient city. Some speed reading before our trip gave me a general overview, but it wasn’t until we set foot on this ground that I felt the power and spirit that emanates.

Peering into the ancient site of Eleusina, July 2016

Peering into the ancient site of Eleusina, July 2016

Giannis Michalakakos, Eleusina, July 2016

Giannis Michalakakos, Eleusina, July 2016

My friend, historian Giannis Michalakakos, kindly volunteered to be our guide. We were extremely grateful for his insights and knowledge–without which, our experience would not have been as rich or meaningful.Our photos could be mistaken for any ancient site without a brief summary of Eleusina:

The Eleusinian Mysteries, held each year at Eleusis, Greece, fourteen miles northwest of Athens, were so important to the Greeks that, until the arrival of the Romans, The Sacred Way (the road from Athens to Eleusis) was the only road, not a goat path, in all of central Greece. The mysteries celebrated the story of Demeter and Persephone but, as the initiated were sworn to secrecy on pain of death as to the details of the ritual, we do not know what form this celebration took. We do know, though, that those who participated in the mysteries were forever changed for the better and that they no longer feared death….Virtually every important writer in antiquity, anyone who was `anyone’, was an initiate of the  Mysteries1.

Wow! No wonder we felt a strong presence as we walked around fallen columns, peered into troughs and wells, tried to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions, and studied elaborately carved  edifices.

Eleusina ruins, July 2016

Eleusina ruins, July 2016

There are signs in Greek and English which describe the structures that had originally been on the site. Some signs have diagrams which enabled us to visualize the grandeur of the buildings.

Sign that explains, and diagram that depicts, the West Triumphal Arch. Eleusina, July 2016

Sign that explains, and diagram that depicts, the stately West Triumphal Arch. Eleusina, July 2016

The ancients were meticulous and elaborate stone masons. The carvings, even after 3,500 years, have retained their intricacy. One can only imagine the elegant edifices that enclosed the initiates as they performed sacred rites.

Masterpieces, carved by stone masons. Eleusina, July 2016

Masterpieces, carved by ancient artisans. Eleusina, July 2016

No ancient site is without its statues. Exploring the human experience lies at the heart of Greek philosophy, religion, and culture. Stately men and beautiful women grace monuments and temples, depicting God’s ultimate creations in man’s earthly kingdom. Their lives, conflicts, and loves are exhibited in intricate friezes and imposing sculptures.

Frieze, Eleusina, July 2016

Frieze, Eleusina, July 2016

 

Carving, Eleusina, July 2016

Carving, Eleusina, July 2016

 

Vase carving, Eleusina, July 2016

Vase carving, Eleusina, July 2016

 

Elegance. Eleusina, July 2016

Elegance. Eleusina, July 2016

 

The Museum at Eleusina is brimming with treasures excavated from the site. A model of the ancient city brings it to life.

Model of the ancient site. Eleusina, July 2016

Model of the ancient site. Eleusina museum, July 2016

 

Showcases of artifacts, displays of statues, and enormous vases breathe life into the city.

Artifacts excavated and showcased. Eleusina, July 2016

Artifacts excavated and showcased. Eleusina museum, July 2016

 

5001. Statuette of Dionysos holding a kantharos in his right hand. Roman period. Eleusina, July 2016

5001. Statuette of Dionysos holding a kantharos in his right hand. Roman period. Eleusina museum, July 2016

 

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Left: 5144. Portrait head of the emporer Hadyian, AD 117-138; 5262, marble head; 5286-5142-5143, three marble heads of bearded men. Eleusina museum, July 2016

Larger than life statue, with Kathy Lynard. Eleusina, July 2016

Larger than life statue, with Kathy Lynard. Eleusina museum, July 2016

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Vases used for both liquids and grains. Eleusina museum , July 2016

 

Experiencing Eleusina has given me the incentive to explore lesser-traveled sites and study diligently in preparation to visit them.

As Giannis so wisely counseled me, “Be a traveler, not a tourist.

l-r: Andrew Soper, Ben Soper, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Giannis Michalakakos. Eleusina, July 2016

l-r: Andrew Soper, Ben Soper, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Giannis Michalakakos. Eleusina, July 2016

 

1 Joshua J. Mark, “The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Rites of Demeter,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified January 18, 2012, http://www.ancient.eu /article/32/.

Links for additional reading:  http://www.crystalinks.com/eleusinian.html
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eleusinian-Mysteries
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleusinian_Mysteries

 

Return to Greece, 2016. Part Two: Acropolis Museum & Plaka

This is the second post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

The Acropolis Museum is the beautiful new home of the artifacts, friezes, statues and archaeological treasures that graced the Acropolis’ magnificent edifices. During my first trip to Greece in the 1996, fragments of the friezes graced the top of the Parthenon, enabling me to visualize its magnificence during its days of glory. Now, only the columns remain.

left: Parthenon, 1996; right: Parthenon 2016

left: Parthenon, 1996; right: Parthenon 2016

The Museum has 50 meters of the original frieze, with 80 meters in the British Museum. How sad that so many pieces remain outside Greece!

Frieze, replica. July 2016

Frieze, replica. Acropolis Museum, July 2016

Just walking up to the Museum is an archaeological wonderland. A clear glass pathway reveals the treasures beneath; remnants of everyday life, millennia ago, have been meticulously preserved. It made me wonder how man could build on top of the historical cache below.

Under the Acropolis Museum, July 2016

Under the Acropolis Museum, July 2016

Wandering through the halls and viewing the displays is a historical feast. The photos below are but a sampling of the riches within. Photography is not allowed in most sections of the Museum, so our pictures are very limited. However, the Museum’s website has many magnificent photos:  http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en.

The Metopes and artifacts, July 2016

Artifacts, July 2016

The Metopes, depicting battle scenes; July 2016

The Metopes, depicting battle scenes; July 2016

 

Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Ben Soper in front of the Karyatides, July 2016

Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Ben Soper in front of the Karyatides, July 2016

 

Ancient beauty, July 2016

Ancient beauty, July 2016

Windows encasing the museum provide astounding views of the area around the Acropolis, known as the Plaka. Waiting until the cool of evening to explore the Plaka is a wise move in July! The area is filled with hundreds of shops and tavernas. Both tourists and locals throng the area long into the night; shops don’t close until midnight and the tavernas stay open long after. You can buy anything from trinkets to precious jewelry to replicas of ancient artifacts. Accenting the streets are yet more monuments–a constant reminder of where you are and what this city has been, as well as what it is today.

A constant reminder of where you are! Plaka, July 2016

A constant reminder of where you are! Plaka, July 2016

Plaka, July 2016

Plaka, July 2016

 

Return to Greece, 2016. Part One: Athens

This iAcropolis flag 07-01s the first in a series of posts about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. This trip builds upon the research I conducted during my previous visit in 2014; those posts can be read here.  

The Acropolis never fails to move me. Through its 2,500 year history, the structures (Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaia, and temple of Athena Nike) have stood as beacons of majesty and edifices of glory.

Acropolis, July 2016

Acropolis, July 2016

I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my Greek grandchildren to the land of their ancestors. My daughter, Kathy, joined me as she did in 2014. Last time, we took her daughters, Elli and Christine; this time we brought her older sons, Ben and Andrew.

l-r: Carol Kostakos Petranek, Kathryn Lynard, Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, July 2016

l-r: Carol Kostakos Petranek, Kathryn Lynard, Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, July 2016

Acropolis Andrew,Ben,Kathy 1

l-r: Ben Soper, Kathy Lynard, Andrew Soper, July 2016

Although it was just two years ago that I stood on these grounds, I was elated to return and absorb the spirit that radiates from every column and piece of marble. I feel the “collective unconscious” of this land (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness); the pride of the Greek people; their triumphs, defeats and revivals.

Immersion in history is comprehending the timelessness of the human experience; connecting oneself with the whole of mankind. It is astounding and humbling–never to be dismissed or forgotten.

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Sunlight on the Acropolis; photo by Kathy Lynard, July 2016

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Pure majesty, July 2016

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Old Museum on Acropolis site; July 2016

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The flag of Greece flies proudly on the Acropolis, July 2016

Greece in July is hot! I quickly learned that 40 Celsius is 104 degrees Farenheit! It doesn’t matter that the heat is dry; I found myself wilting in the sun. Rather than walk, we decided to hop on a tour bus to take us around the city — a wise and refreshing choice.

Athens is a mixture of old and new; classic and modern. The contrast of stately Grecian columns with flat, square, concrete residential buildings is glaring. Sadly, graffiti covers many statues and buildings, detracting from their elegance. Churches are everywhere, as are motorcycles. Driving in the twisting, narrow streets is a nightmare. Several times, my GPS and Google Maps were as lost as I was!

Athens City

Athens City, July 2016

Many families in all parts of Greece have apartments in Athens. Work, school, and the need to conduct business in the city has created a massive urban sprawl, radiating from the city center into the foothills.

Overlooking Athens, July 2016

Overlooking Athens, July 2016

Monastiraki Square, in the center of Athens and adjacent to the Plaka, is a lively place to spend an evening. Our friends, Gregory Kontos and Giannis Michalakakos, met us for drinks and dinner. The rooftop restaurant gave us a breathtaking view.

Drinks at dusk, Monastariki Square. l-r: Kathy Lynard, Giannis Michalakakos, Gregory Kontos, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Andrew Soper, July 2016

Drinks at dusk, Monastariki Square. l-r: Kathy Lynard, Giannis Michalakakos, Gregory Kontos, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Andrew Soper, July 2016

And just when you think it can’t get any more beautiful, night falls on the city.

Acropolis night (2)

View of the Acropolis from Monastiraki Square, July 2016