Greek life

Visitor collage!

Other people give us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

This post speaks for itself.  Our hearts are full with gratitude to our friends and family who made time to visit Greece … and us.

Sadly, not pictured are Kristina and Canyon Scala.  Not sure how we let them get away without a photo.

quote from greatergood.berkeley.edu
Greek life

The WALL

We’ve spent a good amount of time at this Athens fun center. A few of Michael’s classmates had their birthday parties here, and it’s a great rainy day destination. And because it’s summer, The WALL has minimal staff and customers, which meant Michael and Peter got what was essentially a private climbing lesson from Kostantinos. The boys took photos and videos of each other and snacked on grapes between climbs. Michael is a good little climber and liked it when Kostantinos would use a laser pointer to guide him through the tough spots. Peter, still 5, has great strength and got up almost 40 feet. After an hour, they were smoked. Rainy day success!

Travels

Evia

The island of Evia, or Euboea as it’s transliterated, has been on Demetri’s exploration list for some time.  It’s Greece’s second largest island, full of mountains, trees and even a few hot springs.  It’s easy to get to from Athens, too — a bridge connects the Attica peninsula to the island, and there are smaller ferries that you can take (with car) if you’re coming from elsewhere on the mainland. That’s what we did.

img_0097We left Meteora and drove to the little town of Glyfa for a 19 euro (4 people plus car!), 20-minute shuttle ride to the small port of Agiokambos on Evia’s northwest side where we docked, watched some little boys fish with a spool of fishing line and a hook (no poles needed thank you very much!) and headed east to the village of Agia Anna. Demetri found a small, beautiful hotel right on the 7 km long Agkali Beach.  Agkali looks to be of the best-known beaches on the island, but it felt private and secluded and may be the most relaxing place I’ve been to in Greece.  The beach itself is known as a ‘pebble’ beach. They were more like rocks: the coolest, most beautiful mix of colors.  Peter and I spent time two afternoons inspecting and collecting a bunch of different ones. The next day, Demetri found one that looked just like a human ear!  Cue several “I-can’t-hear-you” jokes.img_0101

Demetri invited Papou and Sandy to join us there and one morning at breakfast, Papou strolled in at an amazingly early hour. The boys loved having him with us.  Together, they shuttled from beach to pool, where Papou taught Peter to dive — really dive instead of belly flop. I think the kids had the best vacation of all: the hotel had a fantastic kids program with activities in their ‘magic forest’ all day long, games at the pool, soccer on the beach and movies at night.  They would leave breakfast, we’d drag them away for lunch and some swimming mid-afternoon, and they’d come back so we could head into the village for dinner.  Unless of course they were having dinner at the all-you-can-eat-souvlaki-or-pasta-with-fazolakia kids buffet.  While the boys were playing soccer and capture the flag in the magic forest, Demetri and I sat on in shady chairs on the beautiful, isolated beach and watched the lone ferry that travels from Evia to the island of Skopelos across the water.  Skopelos is in the Sporadic island group and is famous for being the film site of “Mamma Mia.”

You can’t really see it, but the photo above on the beach is a horse in the water.  Across from the hotel is a little farm with roosters and horses. Kyria Nancy offered a little field trip to magic forest kids to feed and brush the horses, which Peter took full advantage of, and she also took groups riding on the beach.  One day a group came by and the next thing we knew, one of the horses was swimming.  It was astounding.  The rider stayed on as the horse frolicked in the water.  It was absolutely beautiful to watch.

img_0076In terms of Greek history, Evia was the site of a famous battle with the Persians in 480 BC, at the exact same time that Leonidas and his 300 Spartans were fighting at Thermopylae.  The battle on Evia is said to be a draw: a severe storm caused both the Greeks and Persians to cut their losses and skedaddle.  Evia is also where the huge, famous statue of Poseidon was found by fishermen in the 1920s. The statue is a central piece today in the National Archaeological Museum.

We liked Evia so much that our three-days turned to six.  There was a great breeze so it didn’t feel too hot. We watched the World Cup finals in our pretty little room facing the sea, and we came home with good tans, magic forest crowns and fun paintings.

We’re back in Athens with the air conditioners getting quite a workout.  We swam here one afternoon and the water was so warm it felt like a jacuzziOur last set of visitors arrive today and we’re starting to separate things to pack, purge, and give away.  My mom sent photos of our yard this week and both kids are dreaming of barefoot soccer in the cool, soft grass.

Travels

Meteora

This fantastic rock formation in central Greece is evidenced to have been inhabited since the ice age. In the 9th century AD, some hermit monks dwelled in the caves and fissures; in the 14th century some 24 monasteries were built — some for monks and some for nuns. Six remain today and are open for visitation.

Seven hundred years ago, the only way to get up was via a series of ropes and ladders. This was both ideal and deliberate. The monks and nuns could control their ‘village’ completely, plus when threats of Turkish invaders increased as Byzantium began to wane, they could pull up the ladders to keep anyone (everyone) out.

Today there are stairs that lead up to each remaining building. Important art and artifacts were rumored to be housed here, including a finger of St. John and the scapula of St. Andrew. World War 2 saw quite a bit of destruction from Nazi bombs and much of the art was stolen, just like in many other places in Europe.

We visited two of the monasteries, on a day with a good bit of cloud cover. The views from the tops of the rocks was, of course, terrific. In one place we had a silence contest so we could all imagine what it was like to live there in utter quiet. I lost.

We have seen photos of Meteora and though the photos really do show what it looks like, it was really cool to see them in person.

We arrived at Meteora on Sunday, after spending the weekend just outside of Kamena Vourla with Thodoris and Mina and Mina’s lovely parents in her mother’s village. We had two great days at the beach and in the beautiful water, paddle boarding and swimming and resting. Back in the villlage, Mina’s mom cooked up a storm for every meal all weekend! Soufflé for breakfast, spinach pies, homemade pizza, kontosouvli, chicken and potatoes in the oven, roasted lamb, fazolakia, sautéed eggplant, sautéed zucchini, Horta and lovely desserts. All of her produce and herbs were local and from the village. She sent us on our way with some freshly dried oregano and a black cherry spoon (Greeks call it ‘sour cherry’) sweet to enjoy with yogurt.

Central and Northern Greece is quite pretty. At a few spots, the big mountains and vast valleys looked like Colorado. In fact at one spot, if we didn’t know better, it seemed as if we were rounding the corner on 285 into South Park. We listened to another installment of Magic Tree House and lots of Rolling Stones.

Where our road trip takes us next, we’re not sure. Ioannina maybe. Or Evia. We’ll see.

Greek life

Ancient Agora of Athens

With our time abroad ending in about 6 weeks, it seems important to write about some of our favorite Athens spots (see Aristotle’s Lyceum, the Benaki, and the National Historical Museum). The Ancient Agora ranks high on our list, not just because it’s a great outdoor museum where kids can run around and be loud or because of the many turtles roaming the grounds, but because the Greek government has preserved this space so well, you really get a feel for life in ancient Athens.  It also has one of the best preserved temples in all the city.

“Agora” is market.  The verb “αγοραζω” means to buy.  There’s a whole group of nouns in Greek that are based on verbs — it makes things very tidy.  Now, the most common ‘agora’ in Greece is the laiki, but there are other ones (gold for example) advertised here and there.

The Agora has been occupied without interruption since around 3000 BC; first as a residential and burial area and by 600 it became a public area. Its current shape is rectangular, and it’s been this way since the 2nd century BC.  It’s been rebuilt many times after damage by the Persians and then the Romans.  It was gradually abandoned after 580 AD until the 1800s when it again became a residential area.

The Agora was the center of ancient Athens: political, cultural, religious, commercial and social.  It even had a mint.  The most important buildings and temples were built between the 6th and 2nd centuries BC.  The entire area is basically a flat space that sits in front of the Acropolis between the Theiseion and Monasteraki areas (and subway stations). The Panathenaic Way crossed the Agora on its way to the Acropolis from the main gate of the city and the Altar of the Twelve Gods sanctuary marked the heart of Athens: distances to outside places were measured from here.

Representative government was alive and well: there was a circular building that served as the senate headquarters, where bills were drafted for discussion by a larger general Assembly.  If you look up the hill to the northwest, you can see the jail where Socrates was imprisoned and executed.

img_9070The Temple of Hephaestus stands on the west side and is one of the best preserved monuments in the entire city. Hephaestus was the god of fire, but also the god and patron of metalworking, stone masonry and sculpture. He was the son of Zeus and Hera and was married to Aphrodite, though Aphrodite cheated on him with Ares.  Hephaestus was the official blacksmith for the gods and made all the weapons for Olympus. Inside the temple were two bronze statues of Hephaestus and Athina. In the 7th century AD, the temple was converted to a church and in the 18th century, many prominent Athenians and statesmen were interred here.

The east side houses the official Agora museum in the Stoa of Attalos, originally built around 150 BC.  It was fully restored thanks to funds from the Rockefeller Foundation in the 1950s.  It’s a perfect building that shows what the stoas looked like and it’s adorned with statues and other artifacts found in the Agora.  The museum is small but quite interesting.  Stoic philosophers were named as such as they held their discussions under the stoa; as opposed to Aristotle’s walking school.

We love this monument so much that we pretty much insist that all of our visitors see it.  It’s right in the heart of the oldest Athens neighborhoods … but it’s also the best example of the ancient Agora in all of Greece and we think just standing there helps you visualize life in those classical times.

Greek life

Sounio

My dear friend Allison and her family had plans to travel to Italy this summer, and bless, them, they stopped in Athens first.  It was so not on their way. Our visit was way fun and too short, but one of the sightseeing highlights was Cape Sounio and the temple of Poseidon, the god of the Sea.

This glorious temple was the last thing that the ancient Athenians would see as they sailed off into the Aegean. It’s perched on the cliffs of the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula. It was constructed in late 400s BC, around the same time the Parthenon was constructed and likely by the same architect who designed the Temple of Hephaestus.  Pericles ruled the city and it was the golden age of Athens.  King Menelaus of Sparta is rumored to have stopped here on his way back from Troy.  His sailing companion died en route and Menelaus landed at Sounio to give him a proper funeral.  Archaeological finds date back to the 6th century BC; in fact Herotodus mentions a festival that Athenians used to hold at this Cape.

Sounio is most beautiful at sunset; we went mid-day in between heavy rains. The dark grey clouds hovering over the water and surrounding the cape were almost as beautiful and dramatic as a calm sunset. The temple was constructed on the site of the remains of an even older temple, and there’s also a second temple to Athina just around the corner.  During the Peloponnesian War against the Spartans, the site was fortified with towers and walls to keep it from being overtaken by the Spartans.  The fortress was later seized from the Athenians by rebel slaves from nearby Lavrio.

img_9921What is super interesting is to learn is that there is a perfect isosceles triangle between the temple at Sounio, the Parthenon and the Temple of Aphaia Athena on Aegina Island, which is visible from Cape Sounio.  Mathematics were a very important part of ancient Athenian life — and geometry ruled the construction of the Parthenon — but this triangle proves that the location of various monuments was based on geometric shapes.  How they figured out these points and distances is hard to imagine, but it sure is fascinating.

img_9945We left Sounio for a ‘proper’ lunch in a traditional taverna in Vouliagmeni — lunch is always a good reason to wait out the rain.  It was our last day together, after two full days in Athens and late nights for food.  We spent the afternoon at the pool at their hotel, though the clouds and rain made it a little too cold to swim. Michael brought a deck of cards so there were a few rounds of go fish and crazy eights.  I kidnapped Allison her final morning for a walk reminiscent of our single girl days when we’d trek from TC Williams high school down to Old Town Alexandria and back.  They went onto Rome that afternoon.

Greek life

Aristotle’s Lyceum

Heard of the stoic philosophers?  Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus are a few of the most famous ones. The stoics got their name because their schools/sessions took place under the Stoa. Totally understandable; shade is a welcome gift in the Athenian (or Roman) heat.   The stoic school was founded in Athens in 300 BC, about 35 years after Aristotle returned to Athens from Macedonia and founded his peripatetic school of philosophy in Athens. Peripatetic comes from the Greek word for ‘walk,’  and if you visualize Raphael’s School of Athens, with Plato and Aristotle strolling along and debating, you’ve got it.  Aristotle liked to walk and teach.

The Lyceum, the site of Aristotle’s school, was discovered in 1996 in downtown Athens during excavation for what is now Athens’ Museum of Modern Art.  It was found thanks to descriptions from the writings of ancient philosophers — so it wasn’t a total surprise — which described Aristotle’s school as just outside the eastern boundary for ancient Athens.  Archaeologists first uncovered the gymnasium and a wrestling area and then buildings shortly after.  Visitors can see teaching rooms, the remains of a heating system, a reading room, and two rooms for the athletes to oil and powder their bodies.  Naturally, museum construction plans were altered so that the art museum could be built with the outdoor Lyceum museum right next to it, and it opened in 2009. They both sit right next to the Byzantine Museum, which has one of the prettiest outdoor coffee shops in all of Athens.

Aristotle modeled his structure after those of Plato’s Academy, the remains of which lie on the opposite-ish side of the ancient Athens border. Lessons for the ‘advanced’ students would take place during the early morning walk, while more beginner lessons happened during an evening walk.  Philosophy happened in the morning; rhetoric in the afternoon.  Aristotle taught here until 323 BC.

The Lyceum is beautiful, especially in the Spring.  The grounds that surround it are so well landscaped that it really is one of the most lovely spaces in the city of Athens. Demetri and I first visited at the end of May when the Spring flowers were in full bloom.  The photo above is from that day.  Then the Fisackerlys visited it last week on their Athens trip and in our quest to find them we walked in quickly too.  We returned yesterday with Ms. Scala, the head of Aspen Academy, and her son. It was considerably hotter than that April day, but the planting beds, filled with rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, and olive and pomegranate trees,  were thriving in spite of the heat.  The space itself is some 12,000 square meters and there’s a lovely little section with benches where you can sit and view the entire Lyceum.  In the late afternoon, there’s even a little corner of the benches that have some shade.

Demetri often wonders aloud about what things haven’t been discovered yet in this vast city of antiquities.  The Lyceum is a perfect example: if it wasn’t found until 20 years ago, what other astonishing treasures lie beneath the streets?