So I didn't get arrested, I just haven't seen a computer in a long, long time.
Camping near Glyfada was amazing. We set off on our crazy journey and headed for Syndagma in search of cheap sleeping bags, armed only with five pounds of pasta and a couple of sausages. We made it to Plaka and sited some small sleeping bags for 15 euros and proceeded to haggle (really, just ask) then down to 10 euros a piece. Afterwards we hopped on the tram towards the coast. And of course, the sun was going down about the time we arrived at the southern part of Glyfada. We wandered aimlessly for a while trying to find the water and eventually realized that we were a little south of the peninsula that we'd been aiming for. So we backtracked, looking for a place to get onto the beach, and eventually cut through an outdoor indoor soccer complex and made it to the beach. We hopped a few fences along the way and made it to a rocky outcropping that was the southern face of the peninsula. There was a path that we followed, in the dark, up and around to the point. It was a beautiful night, warm, plenty of stars. A little windy though. We climbed up to the point, saw a few fishermen still at it and luck shined down upon us: there was a little cove down below us, surrounded by the rocky walls of the peninsula. We climbed down and marveled for a while before collected a big pile of driftwood and started a fire on the rocky beach. You really can't beat campfire-roasted sausages and beer. We ended up sleeping on a big rock above the high tide line, which was a little uncomfortable, but all in all, a fantastic find. The next morning we woke up with the sun and sat around a bit. There was an island off in the distance a few miles away and Teage and Adi had the crazy idea that they were going to swim to it, and they definitely didn't believe me when I told them how far away it was. In any case, we all jumped into the incredibly cold and salty Aegean for a swim. I think Bob was complaining about the cold before his body was even completely submerged as he jumped in. That water is cold. Bob and I lasted a few minutes in the frigid water, and Teage and Adi swam for the island. They made it a couple of hundred meters out and then swam back...and shivered for about twenty minutes straight after getting out of the water. After warming up in the sun we packed up our gear and walked north across the peninsula back to the tram. As it turns out, we had been next to an abandoned campground, complete with dilapidated bungalows and a big box turtle walking down the road. I think we all slept the whole way back on the tram, we were exhausted but it had been really fun.
The following week was the start of our four-day excursion around various parts of Greece. We packed into a charter bus Tuesday morning (way too early) and headed off to our first destination, the Hosias Loukas monastery. Hosias Loukas is an incredibly well preserved Byzantine monastery situated in the middle of a bunch of scenic mountains, covered in olive and almond groves. The surrounding area was really gorgeous and the monastery itself was very impressive. The interior was lined in mosaics depicting various biblical events and included a very cool crypt with vaulted ceilings where the tomb of Saint Loukas is kept. After thoroughly exploring the monastery, we climbed back into the bus and headed for Delphi. Delphi is pretty fantastic. That afternoon we visited Marmaria, a little sanctuary at the foot of Mount Parnassus, and then walked back to our hotel, which was located on a little hill in town, overlooking a spectacular valley. We went past the sacred spring where ancient pilgrims would purify themselves along the way and I walked up a hill and found a couple of horses just hanging out. That night we all went out for dinner of the U of C's bill and ate for about two and a half hours. It was kind of ridiculous, and fantastically good.
The next morning we headed to the main site at Delphi, the sanctuary of Apollo. We hit up the museum first, which had way too many people in it and then started walking the sacred way up Mount Parnassus past ancient treasuries and to the temple of Apollo where the Pythian priestess would give suppliants oracles; a pretty impressive site. There were about fifty million too many people there though, and I was kind of wigging out by the end of the trip. After viewing the rest of the ruins, we got back on the bus and headed for Olympia.
We arrived late in the afternoon and walked around town for a bit. A few of us grabbed some dinner at a local taverna and explored the rest of town, of which, there wasn't much. In the morning, we headed to the ancient site. It was phenomenal. These flowering purple trees covered the entire site, and looked beautiful next to the columns of the ancient buildings. The lichen-covered marble of the ruins is absolutely stunning in the morning light. Just look at the pictures, I can't describe it. The temple of Zeus was very impressive; I can't imagine what it would have been like to walk into that temple while it still stood, and came face to face with Phideas' 13 meter chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We were a little rushed to get through the site, which was a pity, since I could have lingered there, taking photos and absorbing the sights, for hours.
After Olympia, we bussed up a mountain to Bassae, where a temple to Epicurean Apollo stood, until a tent to protect it. It was windy and cold on top, which was strange, since I had been very hot down at Olympia. Bassae is in the middle of Arcadia, which is very mountainous and suitable only for raising sheep and goats. The vistas were magnificent. And we were all cold and cranky.
That afternoon we arrived in Nafplion, where we had another dinner on the U of C and celebrated a few birthdays of group members. The next morning, we trekked out to Tiryns, one of the two Mycenaean cities nearby. All that's left of Tiryns is the huge cyclopean wall (so called because it’s made of huge stones believed to have been put in place by said one-eyed giants) and the foundations of the magnificent palace that once stood there. Afterwards, we bussed around the bay to Mycenae, a fantastic site. Mycenae is located on top of a small hill nestled in the craggy mountains, surrounded by huge cyclopean walls. At the foot of the hill is the so-called Tomb of Clytemnestra, a subterranean dome made of stone, which was very cool, and grave circle B. We walked up the path to the city, through the famous lion gate and up to grave circle A, where Schliemann found the "Mask of Agamemnon". We continued up the hill through the remains of the palace to the backside of the hill, where an underwater cistern secretly provided the city with water. We went down the unlit stone passageway with flashlights and candles. The walls were damp from condensation and it was pleasantly cool. It really made me want to go caving again. Down at the bottom of the stairs there was a small rectangular shaft that in ancient times would have been filled with spring water from a spring 20 kilometers away, fed via clay conduits. Mycenae was really impressive, particularly strategically; you'd have to be completely nuts to try and storm that hill. On the way out we swung by the Tomb of Atreus, which was similar to the Tomb of Clytemnestra, but significantly larger, and had a small chamber connect to it, presumably where the actual tomb would have been.
After Mycenae, we traveled to Epidauros, the site of the sanctuary of Asclepious. The site wasn't very impressive, though it did have a few uniquely shaped buildings. Next to the sanctuary, however, is the most well preserved theater in all of Greece. The acoustics were amazing. Standing in the center, you could hear someone in their normal speaking voice at the very top, in addition to being able to hear a coin drop and the awesome chirp echoes from the seats while clapping at the hyperbola's focal point. There were some German tourists there who sang and you could hear them easily anywhere in the theater. A few of us recited some Homeric hymns and the kids who are studying ancient Greek recited a passage from the Iliad in Homeric Greek.
This is where the story gets interesting though. At this point, Teage, Adi, Nora, Hajnalka and I stayed behind as we watched our bus head off back towards Athens. We were headed south to Portoheli and then to Spetses, the island south of there. After consulting the guy at the concession stand about bus schedules, we decided to camp at Epidauros that night and head to Portoheli in the morning. So we walked about a kilometer towards the town next to the site and stopped in the outskirts at a little pizza place and had a nice dinner. We could tell we were in the middle of nowhere: all of the houses we passed seemed empty, all of the tavernas were closed and while we were eating about three tractors and a herd of sheep passed by. After dinner, we walked back to the site with the crazy idea that we were going to sleep inside of the site at the Abaton, an ancient sleep healing center. However, one of the people who works at the Athens Centre told us that there were guards there at night since the site is still being excavated, so we decided to try and find them, so as not to piss them off. It's a good thing we didn't decide just to hop the fence too, since as we walked up to the main entrance, two really big guys with big dogs emerged from the shadows wanting to know what we wanted. They soundly rejected us, but told us that as long as we were 100 meters away, we could sleep wherever we wanted. So we found a nice grassy patch and camped out, only slightly freezing our asses off at night with the stray dog that had been following us around, which we named Moonshine.
The next morning we hopped on a bus to Portoheli through Kranidi. Kranidi was nothing special, just a little town; we didn't stay there for more than an hour, waiting on the bus. Portoheli is a beautiful little town in the center of a very circular cove. Little white houses and citrus trees all around the blue water...amazing. The reason we came here though, was the ancient acropolis of Hellias, which is underwater. We didn't know how deep the ruins were going to, but as it turns out, they were only about two feet under. We ate lunch next to the site, watched a horse wander past, skipped stones for a while and walked passed the land portion of the ruins to the submerged area. We hopped in the water, which was just as cold as last time, and had a nice swim. The Aegean is much more salty than the Pacific or Atlantic, and I could tell. My skin wasn't too happy being covered in salt afterwards, but it was really nice. And ancient ruins are sharp...I managed to give myself a nice pair of cuts on my leg swimming over the top of a foundation that I thought was a little deeper than it really was.
After our swim, we sat in the sun, warmed up, and walked back to town, grabbing some food along the way. It turned out that the ferry we were going to take to Spetses had left about an hour before we got there, but after much confusion and disappointment learned that we could take a water taxi to the island from the town in the cove next door, Costa. It was about 5 kilometers away, and Teage and Adi decided to run there, mostly because they didn't want to pay for a cab. The cabbie we were talking with has a brother who works in Greektown...small world. Anyway, we paid our five euros and waited at the sea taxi stand/harbor thing for a bit. Once everyone was back together, we got on a boat and crossed the short (maybe 4 km) distance to Spetses. I can't describe how gorgeous this island is. The best I can do is obscenely beautiful, but I run out of superlatives quickly. We arrived just as the sun was going down and the sky was fantastic. We were in the new port area of the only town on the island (about 5 km across) and it was pretty touristy. We swung by a little grocery store, bought some sausage, pita and tzatziki for dinner and headed off away from town in search of a place to camp. We wandered past the new port to the old port, which had a bunch of little restaurants and bars and more beautiful water. We sat there for a while, trying to get our bearings and figuring out where to go and eventually cut inland past a peninsula with a big lighthouse. We walked through rows of white houses and past gigantic mansion/summer homes and luck smiled upon us again. I was walking up ahead of the group a big and turned a corner; I was met with an awesome site. Down the road, I could see all the way to the black water, with a huge full moon rising up out of it. Cutting into the reflection were the jagged rocks of little peninsula. I stood there agape for a while until everyone caught up. We were drawn to the moon likes moths to a flame. Down the road, past more mansions was a little, rocky cove. There were even crude steps cut into the rock leading down to it. Above the stars twinkled, and once we were at the water, you couldn't see any houses, only the magnificent sea. We split up in search of something to burn, since this beach was devoid of driftwood. Teage and I went north and the other three went south. We didn't find any wood, but we did find a big rock out in the water that we lay on for a good while, taking in the sites and wonderful smell of the sea. Eventually we walked back the other direction and met up with the others, who had found a field on top of the peninsula that had a bunch of dried bramble, almost yucca, type plants. We brought them back to our campsite and lit the fire. They burned quickly, but we had a lot, so our fire lasted for a good while. After eating we went to bed, this time making one giant sleeping bag out of two and sharing body heat, which worked quite well as we were all very warm all night. I think it was a little warmer there too, not to mention less windy since the rocks were sheltering us.
In the morning, I woke up a little after sunrise and climbed up to the top of the peninsula where the remnants of some kind of fortifications, probably from the Greek war of independence, stood. I climbed to the top of one of the squat towers and saw the sun coming up over misty islands in the distance. Behind me the island was bathed in the warm colors of the rising sun, the white stucco turned red. Below me, on the rocks, stood a little bluish purple church, which I climbed down to. The water was amazing. I climbed back north along the rocks towards our campsite, sometimes having to jump from rock to rock (I only got my foot wet once!), and marveled the whole way. In the sea, there were hundreds of sea urchins covering the rocks and I found a little cave that went back a couple of meters. When I made it back to camp, the sun was a little higher and the water in the cover was becoming this wonderful shade of blue. It was so clear; you could see the rocky bottom all along the shallows. I sat on the pebbles near the water for a long time, just looking at the scenery. It was unbelievable.
When finally we left the cove, we walked back to new port to figure out the ferry situation and Adi found us a fast boat back to Piraeus (Athens' port) later in the afternoon. En route, we walked past Ayia Marina, a nice beach next to the cove we camped at and through rows and rows of little white houses. We grabbed some souvlaki for a snack and wandered for a bit. Eventually we went back to old port and found a nice looking restaurant to eat lunch at. In the front of the restaurant was a big, chilled box...full of fresh fish. When we ordered, they didn't have what I wanted originally, so the waiter took me up to this box and basically said: which one do you want? I pointed to a tasty looking fish and sat in the sun while they cooked it. That fish...was amazing. They cooked it whole and served it likewise on a plate, with a little butter and seasonings. Fantastic.
The ferry ride back was uneventful though we did meet a New Yorker who had been living in Athens for the past four and a half years who's a graphic designer and owns a custom car shop. We chatted with him on the ride and he gave us his number with a promise to show us around the city some time. We'll definitely have to take him up on that since we still haven't quite figured out where in this city people our age are. We arrived in Piraeus late in the evening, took a bus back to Syndagma and walked back to our apartment building. The rest of the evening consisted of showering, eating and passing out. A completely awesome weekend.
This week is the week leading up to Greek orthodox Easter, so there are people getting ready for the festivities all over the place. Originally I had been planning on going to Istanbul this weekend, but since it's Easter weekend, it's going to be prohibitively expensive, so instead I think I'm going to go to Meteora with Adi and attend the services at the monastery there (which I believe is up on these crazy rocks that just shoot up out of the ground). It should be pretty amazing.
Next week we go to Crete for a few days and afterwards we have about ten days off, which I think I'm going to spending island hopping my way back to Athens. That should be completely incredible.
I’ve uploaded a bunch of new pictures, and be sure to check out the panoramas at the other site; I've added shots of Delphi, Bassae, the Epidauros Theater, Portoheli, Ayia Marina and a shot off of my balcony during this crazy dust storm that blew in from the Sahara!