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.

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. 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, of which Peter took full advantage, 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 jacuzzi. Our 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 II 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, playing, 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 sour cherry spoon sweet to enjoy with yogurt. Demetri’s favorite.

Central and Northern Greece is quite pretty.  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.