RTW Timeline: 4th Century BC

After seeing so many interesting sites and learning many facts about places all around the world, we thought it would be interesting to arrange the different places and events on a timeline to provide more of a context for the different highlights.

Towards the end of the fifth century BC, Athens lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta and the classic era of Athens came to an end. However, Greece was still a major player in the events of the world, with the conquests of Alexander the Great spreading its influence far and wide.

380 BC – Butrint Fortified With a New Wall

The city of Butrint in present-day Albania was a Greek city that grew in importance during this era, enough so that a large wall was built to protect the inhabitants of the island. We walked through this wall on our visit to the ruins on a day trip from Saranda. This site was later a major Roman city, so the Greek ruins were mixed in with those from later time periods.

IMG_2668

375 BC – Temple to Aesclepius constructed at Epidavros

The Greek city of Epidavros was a pilgrimage site for those looking to be healed of physical ailments. Therefore, a temple to Aesclepius, the god of health, was built here. Not much is left of the temple today. We visited Epidavros as a day trip from Nafplio.

The temple

The temple

360 BC – Tholos at Delphi Built

One of the most iconic ruins at the Greek city and pilgrimage site of Delphi is the partially reconstructed ruins of a tholos, a circular temple. Archaeologists are still debating the purpose of this structure.

In front of the Tholos

In front of the Tholos

Mid 4th Century BC: Stadium at Olympia Moved to its Current Location

The city of Olympia was the site of the ancient Olympic games, a Panhellenic competition between athletes from all over Greece. We spent a nice afternoon in the ruins of this stadium.

Racing the track

Racing the track

350 BC – Tomb of Amyntas built by the Lycians in present-day Fethiye, Turkey

The Lycians were a civilization based along the “Turquoise Coast” of southwestern Turkey which existed concurrently with the Greeks and Romans. They were known for creating elaborate tombs in which the rock was carved to look like wood. A grand example of one of the tombs is carved into the hill overlooking Fethiye.

The Tomb of King Amnytas

The Tomb of King Amnytas

Sometime in the 4th Century BC – King’s Tomb built in present-day Kaş, Turkey

Another type of Lycian tomb we saw was in the style of an elaborate sarcophagus elevated off the ground on a large platform. There is an impressive example of this style of tomb called the “King’s Tomb” in the middle of the modern city of Kaş.

King's Tomb Jelfie

King’s Tomb Jelfie

340 BC – Antikythera Ephebe sculpted

This bronze sculpture was found as part of the Antikythera shipwreck, hence its name. It is considered one of the classic Greek sculptures. Since we can’t see what object the subject is holding, we aren’t sure who it is, but many people believe it is Paris holding the golden apple. We viewed this sculpture at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Paris

Paris

338 BC – Phillippeion in Olympia constructed

Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, had a monument constructed at Olympia to celebrate his victory in the Battle of Chaeronea, in which he defeated an alliance of Greek city states including Athens.

The Phillipeon

The Phillipeon

330 BC – Temple of Apollo at Delphi rebuilt after an earthquake

The main attraction at Delphi was the Temple of Apollo from which the oracle would issue prophecies and give advice.

Jelfie in front of the entrance to the temple

Jelfie in front of the entrance to the temple

330 BC – Initial Construction of Theater at Epidavros

As mentioned earlier, Epidavros was a pilgrimage site for those looking to be healed. Its main attraction today though is its large Greek theater, which has been amazingly well-preserved. We enjoyed taking turns standing on stage while the other person ran to the top to test the amazing acoustics.

IMG_2863_edt

329 BC – Panathenaic Stadium rebuilt in marble

This large stadium in Athens was the host site for the Panathenaic Games, another Panhellenic festival held every four years. It was extensively renovated and reused for the first modern Olympics as well. We stayed in an Airbnb just behind this stadium during our second visit to Athens.

The view from the end of the stadium. They were setting up for the marathon finish line

The view from the end of the stadium. They were setting up for the marathon finish line

Last Quarter of 4th Century BC – Doric Tomb built in present-day Kaş

In addition to the King’s Tomb mentioned earlier, Kaş also has another impressive Lycian tomb on a hill overlooking the city. It is called the Doric Tomb based on the shape of the column outlines carved into the wall.

Cube Tomb Jelfie

Cube Tomb Jelfie

323 BC – Alexander the Great Dies

We didn’t see any artifacts related to Alexander the Great, but his death was such a large event that we thought it was worth putting onto the timeline for context. He had stretched his empire from Greece all the way to present-day Pakistan. He died at the age of 32.

After Alexander’s death, Greece entered into what is known as the Hellenistic period. Greece’s influence remained strong, but its art and culture would not continue to make the great steps forward that it had during the classical period. In addition, a new power began to arise in the Mediterranean which would shape the next few centuries.

RTW Timeline: 5th Century BC

After seeing so many interesting sites and learning many facts about places all around the world, we thought it would be interesting to arrange the different places and events on a timeline to provide more of a context for the different highlights.

In our previous installment covering the first half of the first millennium BC, we saw the Greek culture grow and develop, leading up to an explosion of culture and history in the period we will cover today, the 5th century BC. This is considered to be the classical era of Greece, and especially of Athens as that was the center of much of the development.

490 BC – Athenian Treasury built at Delphi to celebrate victory at Battle of Marathon

The sanctuary at Delphi was surrounded by structures built by the city-states of ancient Greece, given as offerings to the oracle in thanks for the good advice. After Athens defeated the Persians in the battle of Marathon (the one that gave the modern race its name), the city dedicated a treasury in Delphi to show its thanks and display the spoils of victory.

Failed jelfie in front of the Athenian Treasury

Failed jelfie in front of the Athenian Treasury

480 BC – King Leonidas of Sparta dies at the battle of Thermopylae

King Leonidas led the militaristic city-state of Sparta on the Peloponnese peninsula. He died in the battle of Thermopylae against the Persians (the same battle dramatized in the movie 300). There is a large contemporary statue of him in the modern city of Sparta which we visited.

A statue for King Leonidas (main character in 300)

A statue for King Leonidas (main character in 300)

478 BC – Serpent Column erected as part of a sacrificial tripod in Delphi

We actually saw this column at its current location in Istanbul. Emperor Constantine moved the column from Delphi to Constantinople for use as a decoration at his new Hippodrome.

The serpent heads on the top of the column were removed at some point

The serpent heads on the top of the column were removed at some point

474 BC – Charioteer of Delphi created

We viewed this well-known striking bronze sculpture at the archaeological museum in Delphi.

The famous Bronze Charioteer

The famous Bronze Charioteer

460 BC – Artemision Bronze Sculpted

Art historians don’t know if this depicts Zeus or Poseidon, since he could either be hurling a lightning bolt or a trident. The date for this sculpture is also just a guess, because it was found as part of a shipwreck about which not much is known.

Zeus/Poseidon

Zeus/Poseidon

456 BC – Temple of Zeus Built in Olympia

This was the largest temple at Olympia. Today, only one of the massive Doric columns has been reconstructed.

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

440 BC – Temple of Poseidon at Sounion constructed

This temple, located on a promontory overlooking Cape Sounion, was a pilgrimage site where those about to take a sea voyage could make offerings to the god of the sea.

The Temple of Poseidon

The Temple of Poseidon

438 BC – Parthenon Completed

The classic Greek temple dedicated to Athena, the patron of Athens, sits on the acropolis overlooking the city below. The decorative sculptures have been removed and it is under recontruction, but just seeing it in person was a great experience.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

432 BC – Construction of Athenian acropolis Propylaea halted due to outbreak of Peloponnesian War

Athens dominated the Classical age of Greece, but it didn’t last for too long. War eventually broke out between Athens and the Peloponnesian city-states (led by Sparta). Costs for the war drained money from the treasury, and the ceremonial entrance to the Acropolis, the Propylaea, was never completed.

The Propylaea is still the main entrance for tourists

The Propylaea is still the main entrance for tourists

420 BC – Nike of Paeonius created for display at Olympia

The dynamic sculpture is missing a few pieces these days but still does a great job of conveying motion.

Nike - goddess of Victory. She stood on a pedestal where the Olympic victors were crowned near the Temple of Zeus

Nike – goddess of Victory. She stood on a pedestal where the Olympic victors were crowned near the Temple of Zeus

420 BC – Temple of Athena Nike constructed on Athens acropolis

This small temple is found on the southwest corner of the Acropolis. This was the oldest Ionic temple that we saw. Nike means victory in Greek, and Athena was worshiped in her victorious form here. Note the date – the Athenians were praying for victory in the Peloponnesian War which was still going on.

Temple of Athena Nike at the entrance

Temple of Athena Nike at the entrance

415 BC – Construction of Temple of Hephaestus completed

This Doric temple, found in the Ancient Agora of Athens, is one of the better preserved temples that we saw.

Temple of Hephaestus Jelfie

Temple of Hephaestus Jelfie

406 BC – Construction of Erechtheion on Athenian Acropolis complete

The Erechtheion is a temple on the north side of the Acropolis, dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Arguably its most famous feature is the “Porch of the Caryatids,” where the columns holding up the roof were carved into women in flowing dresses.

The porch with the caryatids on the Erechtheion

The porch with the caryatids on the Erechtheion

404 BC – Sparta triumphs over Athens in the Peloponnesian War

We visited Sparta, but there was much less to see there than there had been in Athens. Its culture was much more focused on the military than it was on building grand temples.

This is Sparta! No, really, this is actually the historical site of Sparta. And the modern town of Sparta beyond.

This is Sparta! No, really, this is actually the historical site of Sparta. And the modern town of Sparta beyond.

 

After Athens lost the war, its time as the dominant force in the region was over, and its boom of monumental architecture was through. Structures like those seen on the Acropolis in Athens were never to be equaled.

However, as you will see in our next entry, covering the fourth century BC, there would still be many sites in Greece producing architectural gems that are world-renowned to this day.

We finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite… Museums?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This third edition will cover our top 10 favorite museums around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

The museum started with the beginnings of Joburg as a mining town, and then went through the first attempts at segregation to the implementation of the full-fledged apartheid system in the 1940s. Then, there were displays about the realities of living under apartheid, and the first wave of resistance that led to Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. Then, as we went chronologically. We got into the student uprisings of the 70s. For the 1980s, there was a gripping video detailing the horrific violence that brought the apartheid movement to its breaking point. We then moved on to the 90s, which detailed Mandela’s release, then end of apartheid and the founding of the new government (and also showed how close the country came to total anarchy at the time). The museum is particularly gripping as it starts right out with you being randomly assigned to be white or non-white, and then having to enter through the respective door and then garnering a different experience for the first room based on what you picked. While we visited, there was also a large exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela.IMG_9186

Cradle of Humankind Museum, Outside Johannesburg, South Africa

This nice (and relatively new) museum is set up to explain the history of life on Earth and the history of human life as well. Once you enter the main building, you are taken down into the basement and you do this cheesy but fun boat ride that takes you though the different elements necessary for life. We then went through the different exhibits in the large space. There ranged from discussions about DNA,to extinct animals, to the different types of hominids that paleoanthropologists have identified (many of which have been found in the Cradle) to what it means to be human. We particularly enjoyed some of the interactive exhibits, for example, there was a long hallway with illustrations which helped to show the length of different eras in time.

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Shindler Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

This was the only museum we visited in Krakow, and it was excellent! The permanent exhibits walk you through what happened in Krakow during the years 1939 – 45, during the Nazi occupation. The museum does fascinating things in each room, designed to make you understand the subject with all of your senses. The room for before the war has nice, warm lighting and happy music playing. It feels like sitting in a comfortable room, watching old family movies about Jewish life in Krakow. Then you enter a hall which describes when Germany attacked. It is black and gloomy with red lighting streaking across the walls, representing the fire, and the sounds of shooting and bombs is everywhere. Even the floor of each room played a big role: in the room describing the initial attack, the floor was uneven; in a room describing life for the Nazis, the floor was fancy swastika tiles; in a room for a concentration camp the floor was actual white gravel. The last room was quite interesting as well. To get into it, you walk through a dark room with a spongy floor (we aren’t quite sure of the interpretation). Then, you enter the “room of regrets”, which is stark white and covered with snippets of writing. Upon closer inspection, the snippets are quotes from people who did something (or didn’t do something) during the war period. The building was actually Schindler’s Factory (from Schindler’s List), so his office is preserved and there are a few rooms dedicated to him.

Room of regrets

Room of regrets

Gallery 11/07/95, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

We paid a visit to this moving and disturbing exhibit in Sarajevo – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the war, mainly the genocide at Srebrenica. Our guide gave us a brief overview of what happened there. It’s hard to give a concise explanation in this space, but the gist of it is that over 8000 Bosniak people in the town, mostly males, were killed and dumped into mass graves by the approaching Army of Republika Srpska, even though the town was supposedly under UN protection. We walked through the photo gallery, watched a documentary, and also listened to the stories of some individuals who were affected. The gallery also included a small display and a documentary on the siege of Sarajevo. We vaguely remembered that Sarajevo was in the news when we were kids, but I don’t think we realized the scope of what the town went through. It was under siege for almost four years, which is the longest siege in modern history. The residents had to live in constant fear of being attacked by snipers in the hills surrounding the valley that the city sits in. The documentary, called Miss Sarajevo, was shot during the siege and showed the resilience of the residents in the face of this (and was later turned into a U2 song). It is extremely moving and worth a watch. (If you do watch the documentary, and you should… it’s linked in the previous sentences… and you find yourself as taken with the young girl in the beginning and the end as we were, here is a video of what she was doing in 2009!)

IMG_1743

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

The museum went in chronological order and was quite extensive. The first major area was the Cycladic figurines and other art, from the 3rd century BC. Then, they covered the findings from Mycenae. We were pretty excited to see the artifacts from Mycenae that we had heard about when at the site and from reading Greek Treasure. The next stop was the Archaic era, where we again learned more about the kore and kourous statues. The next major era was the Severe Style. The sculptures started to get more realistic, but the expressions were stern. For the classical era, many of the finds were split into different rooms. There was a large collection of rooms focused on the art found on tombstones in the ancient cemeteries. There were many elaborate marble carvings to be found. The next period is the Hellenistic era, which was characterized by sculptures which more realistic faces (instead of idealized) and more active movements. The final period covered was the Roman era. Here they tried to copy the Greek styles and were somewhat successful, although the art was less impressive. All of this chronological history was enhanced by enjoying the museum while listening to Rick Steves’ audio tour. There is much more to the museum so it could be worth multiple trips.

The Jockey of Arteision

The Jockey of Arteision

Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil, Sparta, Greece

It may not sound interesting, but we found it fascinating. The top floor of this little museum gives the history of the olive and discusses how it and its oil can be used for a wide variety of purposes: food, light, rituals, etc. The lower floor discussed all about how to make olive oil, and had examples of the different machinery that has been used to make the oil from ancient times until the present.

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Antalya Museum, Antalya, Turkey

This is a large archaeological museum, and we enjoyed seeing the different exhibits that included the Stone Age in the Antalya area, ceramics, Roman-era sculptures and sarcophogi, and finally a small exhibit on life during the Ottoman era. Our favorite exhibit was a room with different sculptures of Greek/Roman gods found at the nearby site of Perge, mainly because each statue included a sign with extensive text describing the myths around the god.

One of the goddesses

One of the goddesses

The National Museum, Singapore

When we visited, we were disappointed to discover that the main exhibits at this museum were under renovation, but ultimately it turned out that the temporary exhibit on the history of Singapore was very good! It walked us through the history as described above in a nice chronological fashion, with good displays. It also worked hard to set the mood and tone of each period in history through the size, color, and feel of the rooms.

The exterior of the museum

The exterior of the museum

COPE Visitor Center, Vientiane, Laos

COPE is an organization that helps provide prosthetic limbs to those who can’t afford them all across Laos. The visitor center describes their work in making the prosthetics, but also talks in detail about one of the main reasons so many are needed: the tons of unexploded ordinance (UXO) that remain in the country as a result of the many bombs the US dropped during the “secret war” as part of the Vietnam war. We also watched a couple of short documentaries about the efforts to go in the countryside and defuse the found items before someone is hurt by them. The problem is especially tough because scrap metal can bring in a significant amount of money, so people will risk harm and handle items that they shouldn’t. The visitor center was small, but we found that it contained a lot of interesting information and was quite moving.

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand

This museum is actually within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok and is free with admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.

IMG_6415

We visited a lot of museums on our RTW the world tour, and came up with a few observations about the ones we liked the best. It was important to us that the museum have good signage and/or a good audio tour. We also enjoyed when the exhibits were interactive or really created a good atmosphere. In addition, the museums that taught us the most about things we didn’t know about or if we were moved by their content.

Monthly Recap: Month 5

Month 5 has been our slowest moving month yet, with only 2 countries visited. We finished up with Greece and headed into Turkey, saw friends and family from home, and made some big decisions about our future travel plans.

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited: 2 (Greece and Turkey)

Beds Slept In: 11

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 4 (Sanctuary of Asklepios at EpidaurusAcropolis AthensHistoric Areas of IstanbulHierapolis-Pamukkale) Total on RTW: 34

We traveled by 2 planes this month!

We traveled by 0 trains this month!

We traveled by 7 long distance buses.

We traveled by 3 boats.

We traveled by 1 rental car which took us Izmir to Fethiye.

Top Moments:

~ Our first top moment came at Tlos, an ancient Lycian ruin near Fethiye, Turkey. We had been struggling with generally gloomy weather and experienced a crazy rainstorm just the day before, but the day we visited Tlos was grand. It is low season in Turkey and we were the only people at the entire site. It was a neat hilltop fortress and town that had been inhabited from the 2nd century B.C. by the ancient Lycians, through the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottoman Empire up until the 19th century. The ruins are expansive, well preserved, and nestled in a gorgeous mountain paradise. This was made even sweeter as Della’s entire family (sister and parents) were there to share it with us!

CAM01891_edt

Enjoying the view from the fortress citadel of Tlos

IMG_3444

Lycian rock tombs, Roman walls, and an Ottoman citadel, set on an amazing backdrop – Tlos

 

~ Our second top moment was in Athens. There is something magical about entering the amazing ancient Acropolis through the impressive Propylea, and seeing the Parthenon standing before you in all its (scaffold-ed) glory. We had been spying on the acropolis from different areas of Athens for a week but had stayed away, waiting for Della’s family to join us, so entering it (finally) was pretty awe-inspiring! It is definitely on the beaten path, and it really is disappointing that the Parthenon is so covered with scaffolding (Della’s parents said it had been when they visited 35 years ago as well), but despite that, it was pretty great to see!

IMG_2983_edt

Entering through the Propylea

IMG_2986_edt

Our first glimpse of the famous Parthenon

 

~ We also really enjoyed seeing the glorious Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It was our first full day in Istanbul, and the family headed straight to the famous church/mosque/museum. It was such an impressive building that was exquisitely decorated on the inside. It also felt massive, definitely awe-inspiring. It was the type of place where you come back with a huge crick in your neck from having spent hours allowing your eyes to explore the giant domes and impressive ceiling artwork.

IMG_3637_edt

IMG_3125 Inside the Hagia Sophia

 

~ We were so fortunate to have another visit from family! This time Della’s sister joined us and brought their parents along for the ride. It was really special for Della to get to celebrate her 31st birthday in Fethiye, Turkey surrounded by family. What a treat!

IMG_3707_edt

The whole family together!

IMG_3395

One of Della’s bday presents- Peanut Butter!

 

Runners up for Top Moments:

~ We spent several days in Nafplio, Greece before heading back to Athens to meet up with Della’s family. We enjoyed all of our time there, visiting nearby sites such as Mycenae and Epidavros. We also did NOT enjoy being left stranded by the Greek bus system KTEL on two different occasions. But, really, one of our favorite things about Nafplio was climbing the Palamidi Fortress. We got a late start on the climb and ended up having to book it up at top speed because it was closing quite soon. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend as much time IN the fortress as we had hoped. However, even after we were kicked out of the fortress, we were still on the top of this mountain, overlooking the beautiful town of Nafplio, with fortress walls surrounding us, witnessing a gorgeous sunset. We sat and relaxed, read our books, and watched the colors change, feeling on top of the world!

IMG_2836

Feeling on top of the world!

IMG_3315

Beautiful Nafplio

 

~ We both read a book last month called The Greek Treasure which was the story of Sophia Schliemann, a Greek girl married to the famous archaeologist Henry Schliemann, who discovered the ruins of ancient Troy. We actually only semi-enjoyed the book, but it did get our imagination running and give us a good background for some of the archaeological sites we would shortly be visiting. The book described how Henry and Sophia Schliemann built an amazing mansion in Athens where they lived and displayed the gold treasure that they found in Troy. The building was an homage to Homer’s stories and everything related to ancient Greece. We were super excited to discover that their mansion has been preserved as a museum. It has a small exhibition about them and their lives and discoveries, but is really dedicated to Numismatics. We visited! We loved seeing the place in our novel brought to life… and learned a whole lot about ancient coins!

IMG_3447

Exhibit sign about Henry and Sophia Schliemann with us reflected

IMG_3448

The mansion, dedicated to everything related to Ancient Greece. Those are quotes from Homer on the walls

 

~ We had a great experience this month when we semi-randomly ran into a friend from back home in Selcuk, Turkey! It was so much fun to stay at the same location and catch up with her! One evening, the entire group headed up to a small “Greek” town called Sirince in the mountains above Selcuk. The town is know for its sweet berry wines. As we explored the semi-dead town that evening, we ran into a local sitting on a bench drinking a bottle of wine. After striking up a conversation, he brought us back to a wine tasting bar where we enjoyed yummy wine and the great company of family and another familiar face from home!

WP_20141117_18_01_57_Pro

Chatting with our new friend

WP_20141117_18_33_35_Pro

Family and friends together drinking wine!

 

Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

1. Swiss Army Knife (we’re not entirely sure where we lost this knife…)

Added:

1. New sandals for Della (a birthday present)

2. New pair of smartwool socks for Eric, brought from the US by Della’s family

Packing Update:

Eric was excited to receive a new protective bag for his backpack. Della’s parents brought this bag from home so that Eric could use it to wrap his backpack in while flying. It helps keep all the straps safe! We have continued to use our cold weather gear so are so pleased we brought it all. We still have not used much of our warm weather gear and are tempted to strip it out of the bags… Though we think we will need it in Asia.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler, The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire  by Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (OK, so these last three are rereads of stuff she has already read, but she was getting ready for the new Mockingjay movie AND Kindle Unlimited is good…), and City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare.

Eric has read The Bookseller of Kabul by Asme Seierstad, Snuff by Terry Pratchett, White Death by Clive Cussler, Animal Farm by George Orwell, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes.

Eric and Della have BOTH read nothing this month.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3, Monthly Recap 4

Athens, Greece (With Family)

Della’s family – her parents and her sister – joined us for two weeks in November as we traveled through Greece and Turkey. The first stop on our joint trip was Athens. We had already been in town on our own for a few days, but held off on the major sites until they arrived.

Getting There

We were already in town, but the others had a much longer journey to get to Athens. Della’s sister flew from California to Denver, and then the three of them flew from Denver to Houston, Houston to Paris and finally Paris to Athens. They arrived in the late afternoon. We were very happy to see them! But, after such a long travel day they were pretty exhausted!

Meeting each other in the metro station

Meeting each other in the metro station

Where We Stayed

With a group of five, we decided that a rental apartment was the best bet. It was a little tough finding a nice place for five on Airbnb, but we eventually found a good deal on HomeAway for a two bedroom apartment in the fancy Kolonaki neighborhood. The apartment we rented turned out to be quite fancy – it was clear that it was the primary residence of the older woman who owned the place. It was very nicely decorated so we were very careful not to mess anything up. There was some confusion about the large security deposit we paid, which made us wish for the simplicity of Airbnb.

What We Did

The Acropolis – We were itching to see this star attraction, so on our first full day we headed straight here. We decided to visit using the Rick Steves audio guide – the first time we attempted to listen to the narration instead of read it ourselves. Walking up through the columns of the Propylaea and onto the top of the hill was awe-inspiring. Even with the large amount of scaffolding covering the Parthenon, it was still very exciting to see the large temple in all its glory. The other highlight of the top was the back porch of the Erectheion with its six caryatid sculptures.

The Ancient Agora – After the Acropolis, we headed down the hill to the ruins of what was the main part of town during the heyday of ancient Athens. The most impressive ruin left is the Temple of Hephaestus, one of the best-preserved Doric temples. The rest of the agora was a mix of Greek and Roman stoas (covered markets) and statues. The site closed at 3 since it was the low season, so we didn’t get to spend as much time in the on-site museum as we would have liked.

The Acropolis Museum – The Acropolis Museum is housed in a fancy new modern structure just south of the acropolis. It is built over the ruins of an ancient neighborhood, so various places in the floor have clear panels so you can see what is beneath. The museum has a large amount of space devoted to different items from the acropolis throughout ancient history, laid out in roughly chronological order. The ramp to the first level has ancient pottery. Then, during the Archaic Era, the predominant artifacts were the kore and korous statues. They did a good job of showing how colorful they must have once been.

For the main architectural elements of the classical era, they split the big items into rooms based on the structure they came from. This meant there was an area for the Temple of Athena Nike, an area for the Erectheion (showcasing the original caryatid statues) and then on the top floor all by itself, a large area for the Parthenon. There was also a video describing the decorations and layout of the Parthenon. The pediment, frieze and metopes are all laid out in the same order they would have been on the Parthenon, utilizing the entire floor which is of the same size. The museum is quite clear in multiple places that they would like the works of art that the British Museum “stole” back at this museum. The missing pieces are currently shown as ugly plaster casts.

The National Archaeological Museum

At the museum, we again all plugged into the Rick Steves audio tour. The museum went in chronological order and was quite extensive. The first major area was the Cycladic figurines and other art, from the 3rd century BC. Then, they covered the findings from Mycenae. We were pretty excited to see the artifacts from Mycenae that we had heard about when at the site and from reading Greek Treasure.

The next stop was the Archaic era, where we again learned more about the kore and kourous statues. The next major era was the Severe Style. The sculptures started to get more realistic, but the expressions were stern. The most classic piece from this era was a large bronze sculpture of either Zeus or Poseidon (we don’t know which because we can’t see if he is throwing a lightning bolt or trident).

For the classical era, many of the finds were split into different rooms. There was a large collection of rooms focused on the art found on tombstones in the ancient cemeteries. There were many elaborate marble carvings to be found. The sculpture of Paris was one of the highlights of this era.

The next period is the Hellenistic era, which was characterized by sculptures which more realistic faces (instead of idealized) and more active movements. Some of the highlights in the collection were the Jockey of Atemision and Aphrodite fighting off Pan with her shoe. The final period covered was the Roman era. Here they tried to copy the Greek styles and were somewhat successful, although the art was less impressive.

This concluded the main part of the tour. There was still a little bit to be seen of the museum, so we split up and saw the parts we were interested in. There was an ancient “computer” which calculated various celestial phenomenon. We also looked through the bronze collection, Egyptian collection and ceramics collection.

The ancient computer

The ancient computer

Rick Steves City Walk – We followed the Rick Steves walk of the main downtown area to get a feel for the more modern parts of Athens. The tour started at Syntagma Square, and we lucked out in our timing to see the hourly changing of the guard in front of the Parliament building. We then walked down Ermou, the main pedestrian shopping street. The second part of the tour focused on the Greek Orthodox church, so we passed by the main cathedral and a few other churches, plus some stores that sold Greek Orthodox icons. The highlight of the last part of the walk through the Plaka area was a trip through the small neighborhood of Anafiotika. It was built by residents of the island of Anafi, so it has that Greek island “feel” to it.

The Island of Aegina – One of Della’s dad’s priorities for the Greece portion of the trip was to make a trip to an island. We had read that Hydra was very nice, so we decided to make a day trip there on one of our days. We didn’t think we needed to stress about the ferry ticket, so we just showed up the morning of and went to buy our ticket… big mistake. They were sold out! We weren’t quite sure what to do, bu the ticket agent suggested the nearby island of Aegina. We decided to just head there and ended up having a pleasant day. We wondered around the back streets, sampled some of the local pistachios and found a beach that we ended up having mostly to ourselves. The archaeological site was closed for renovations, which was a bummer, but we could still see the lone remaining column from the Temple of Apollo from our beach. We rounded out the day with a seafood meal sitting next to the ocean, then caught the ferry back into Athens.

Where We Ate

The best restaurant we ate at by far was a little restaurant hidden away north of Omonia Square called Bread and Roses. The simple menu allowed you to choose a meat dish, a salad and a side (all homemade). Your choices were then prepared in the small kitchen just next to the seating area. The food was the best we had and the variety quite impressive as well (not your standard Greek taverna options). Highly recommended!

IMG_3097

Final Thoughts

We finished up our four weeks in Greece with a whirlwind of activity once Della’s family arrived. The limited amount of time made us feel a little rushed, but we are definitely glad we made sure to see everything that we got to see.

Athens Part 2

We already briefly visited Athens earlier in our trip when we needed to take care of some business. After we finished our tour of the Peloponnese, we wanted to make sure to get to Athens in plenty of time to meet Della’s parents and sister for a trip through Athens and Turkey starting on Saturday the 8th. So, we got to Athens on a Tuesday just to be safe. However, we didn’t want to see the major sights in Athens without the rest of the group, so instead we saw some of the lesser known sights. This post will just describe this pre-family part of the time in Athens.

Where We Stayed

We felt like Airbnb had provided a good value the last time in Athens, so we decided to choose an Airbnb for this stay as well. Unfortunately the place we stayed the previous time was unavailable, but we were able to find another nice apartment near the Panathenaic stadium. Again it was a decent-size studio apartment with a bedroom/living room, kitchen and bathroom. We took advantage of this space to do our own cooking and just relax during most of the evenings.

What We Did

Like we said, we still didn’t want to see the major sights, so we had to do a little research to decide what to see.

Panathenaic Stadium – Our apartment was near this large marble stadium, which was built in 1896 for the first modern Olympic Games. Our Airbnb host told us that there was a back entrance that would be more convenient to use, so we tried that. What we didn’t realize until we got in was that this got us entrance to the wooded park around the stadium, but not the stadium itself. On the positive side, the park gave us great and free views of the stadium. The negative side that we figured out the hard way was that the only way back out was the secret way in. Instead, we spent quite a bit of time walking around the park, encountering multiple locked gates. We intended  to pay to enter in the front gate, but by then time was running short so we decided it wasn’t worth it.

Philopappos Hill – Out Airbnb host also recommended climbing to the top of this hill next to the Acropolis near sunset for good views over the city and the Acropolis itself. We headed up just as the sun should have been close to setting… but it was a little overcast so the colors weren’t spectacular. Still, it did provide great views of the surrounding area.

Numismatic Museum / Iliou Metharon – We both read the book Greek Treasure on our trip, which described the exploits of archaeologist Henry Schiemann. In the book, the author described the large mansion that Schliemann built in the city of Athens. When we saw that the mansion still exists and can be visited, we decided to make a trip! It currently houses the Numismatic Museum. We don’t really have an interest in coins, but we figured it would be worth it just to see inside the mansion. We really enjoyed our visit, especially since the mansion is still decorated in the manner that Schliemann designed, with the walls covered with colorful paintings inspired by his finds. The museum also included a nice audio guide, so we ended up learning quite a bit about coins as well.

Temple of Poseidon at Sounion – We took a day trip out to the archaeological site at the tip of the Attic peninsula. The star attraction is the Temple of Poseidon, which sits high on the peninsula overlooking the sea. We took a KTEL bus from the station north of the Archaeological Museum, and enjoyed the two-hour ride down the coast. At the site itself, there wasn’t much to read or see, so we just spent some time admiring the views (and finding Lord Byron’s graffiti on one of the columns of the temple). After only a couple of hours, we decided to return home on another KTEL bus that was about to leave: after our KTEL frustrations at Mycenae and Epidavros we decided it was a good idea to catch a bus when we saw one!

Where We Ate

We again took advantage of having a kitchen and cooked a couple of meals. We also went to a local pita place and had souvlaki pitas a couple of times. And, we’re a little embarrassed to admit… one night we saw a Domino’s pizza and we decided to get just a little bit of taste of home. Please don’t judge!

Enjoying some of the traditional local cuisine

Enjoying some of the traditional local cuisine

Final Thoughts

We think we did a pretty good job of seeing some of the second-tier sights in Athens. It was a little tempting to sneak up onto the Acropolis, but we were able to resist until Della’s family arrived in a few days :).