There is one place in the world that without a doubt easily lays claim to single handily having the most profound effect on the way we live and think today. As the incubator of western civilisation, this country of great gods and goddesses, poets and philosophers, politicians and athletes; has bequeathed modern civilization with the building blocks of our society.
I was always aware that English was derived through Latin but what I wasn’t aware of is Greek plays an almost equally important role as the root of the English language.
Over a Mythos beer I think I could easily argue with you that Politics, Democracy, History, Physics, Law, Ethics & Philosophy - all words derived from Greek - are some of the most important words in the English Language and have fundamentally influenced our societies as a whole.
“But” I hear you say, “What about War and Religion?”
True that. And although she is no stranger to either, I think there is something very noble and paramount to the understanding of Greek culture that of the many thousands of English words derived from Greek (including oxymoron
see above!) neither of these two are.
impressions of Greece were gained during the bus trip from the airport (which also doubles as an important archaeological sight) into the centre of Athens. Immediately I was struck by the beautiful clear blue sky; not too dissimilar to a classic late spring Sydney day. During the trip, a friendly young guy struck up a conversation with me and we discussed which, of the 1600 odd islands, the best to visit was.
My decision to go to Greece was a rather sudden one. Only two weeks earlier we were informed that as a reward for all our hard work, our bosses had decided all contractors should have one week off (without pay). Having only had one
holiday (snowboarding in the French Alps
, I love dropping that one!) since Christmas and having endured the longest harshest winter I’ve ever experienced, I felt I deserved a holiday somewhere in the sun
Although sun was my main criteria, I also wanted to get some kulcha into me and not end up in somewhere like Tenerife (think Eastenders by the beach). So I opened up my Europe on a Shoe String (thank you Litmus) and started flicking through the pages. Immediately Greece
Checkout the maidens
jumped out of the pages as the ideal mix of sight seeing and leisure.
It was this sequence of events that landed me in Syntagama square late Saturday afternoon. From there I hopped on the tube for the one stop into Monistiraki, which brings you right onto Athinas Street.
Probably compounded by the fact I had yet to orient myself or fully study the maps for that matter, I was fully awestruck by the sight of the Acropolis, towering above all else, that greets you when stepping out of the tube. In my trips so far I have seen a lot of things that make me gasp “Wow”, “Great” or “Fantastic” - but nothing so far has literally left me speechless, staring in absolute amazement. Its impact is far greater than anything I could possibly have imagined and neither words nor pictures come even close to doing this great wonder justice.
After ogling for some time at the Acropolis, I met up with Katie, a friend of mine who was coincidently in Athens for a work conference. Together we went out with Kerry to have a taste of the Plaka.
The Plaka sits on the northern
From a distance
side of the Acropolis and is a maze of cobble stoned streets lined with bars and restaurants, mainly selling Gyros (Kebabs!). After dinner we stumbled across the night club district and hit up the bars. That evening the Eurovision contest was taking place in Athens and it seemed like everywhere you turned there was a TV with crowds of people glued to it. Even the kebab shops full of middle aged men were almost at a complete halt as they all watched in huge anticipation. Much to the delight of a bunch of 15 year old Finnish super models (male and female/what is up with that country?), their country romped home with a death metal meets kiss type band.
Having seen that put to bed we decided to embark upon a pub crawl. The bars were all full of people and had a good vibe, but it did remind me of one thing: Of all the places I’ve been so far, I have to say, nobody puts a more rocking party on than the English do. Eventually I stumbled home at what felt like 4, but was more likely closer to 2!
After recovering from my throbbing headache
(amplified by the heat), I spent the day walking around the Acropolis and viewing it from every angle I could find. In the afternoon I finally went up and it was as every bit as good as I hoped it would be. Possibly even better. The view from ontop is simply breath taking and it's hard not to be philosophical about it. It is easy to imagine any one of the famous Greek philosophers such Aristotle or Plato sitting up here, admiring the views and formulating what would become the very basis for an entire school thought. Infact the world would not see so such a rapid evolution of ideas in the field of Philosophy again until the 18th & 19th centuries.
The next day saw me head out to the Island of Lesvos which is the 3rd biggest island in Greece and not as touristy as some of the more southern islands. I’d made the decision that given my tight timeframes I wasn’t going to island hop and instead was going to try to get to Molyvos, a Byzantium era castle village that guards a very important strait between Asia minor and island itself. It is infact much
closer to Turkey than it is mainland Greece. So important was this position that when the Turks eventually invaded, instead of destroying the fortification they instead strengthened and extended it.
The boat trip was pleasant enough and at around 6:30 we took a sudden turn left and headed into the harbour. It was a beautiful quaint little harbour, probably not as big as I thought it would be, but nice nonetheless. Over the speaker they announced our arrival in Greek. Obviously I don’t speak Greek but was pretty certain I’d picked out Lesvos, or something ending with “os” atleast. I quickly grabbed my bags and jumped off the boat - which was surprisingly easy to do given its capacity of 10,000 people. “Not very full then, good time of year to travel” I thought.
Not only that, there were also huge queues of people waiting to get on the ship after us; “Gee, these Greeks don’t waste any time on the turn around do they?” I pondered to myself
So in I went to the first tourist office I found and patiently, let me stress this, very patiently
waited for a French couple in front
of me to complete their inquire about accommodation. I looked at the Maps; there weren’t any of Lesvos, but these ones of Chios. “Must be for day trips to turkey” I mused.
30 minutes later the transaction was completed and it was my turn. Excitedly I asked the girl “How do I get into Myntillini?” At this point the ship tooted it horns
“Myntillini?” she says
“Yes, well actually I’d like to get to Molyvos but it might be too hard to get there tonight. Unless there is a bus?”
“Molyvos?” she says again
Still it didn’t dawn on me. So I went grappling for me tour guide
“No no no, you must, quick, get on boat, this is Chios”
I turned around and there she was, 65,000 tonnes of ferry at full steam heading to Lesvos.
So island hoping it was for me and Chios my home for the next 24 hours until the massive Nissos Mykonos returned the next day. I found a great hostel run by a Kiwi guy (Don) right on the water just down the road. Don is one of those hostel owners who always has a fresh map within 30 centimeters of
The ferry steaming off towards lesvos, sans moi!
him at all times, so he can whip it out and scribble directions on. Hearing my story, he was determined to give me a day “I’ll never forget.”
The plan he had concocted for me involved catching at 6:40am bus out to Pergi which is the first in line of 3 medieval villages built around 200 bc to halt the advance of an attacking army. I was to then to catch the bus down to the next village, “But”, he warned me “Make sure you catch the last bus back at 3:00”, which made it sound like there was so much to see and do I’d struggle to make it.
So that evening I went and had a fantastic, cheap and authentic meal in a little restaurant that The Don recommended. I wandered around town a bit but was in bed early for my 6:00 start. Chios is an interesting Island - it was the home of Homer who described it as a craggy outcrop. Up until recently it has been very anti-tourism and doesn’t have an international airport like a lot of the islands do. It was also the scene of one the worst massacres in Greek
Not exactly the worst place in the world to get stuck
history by the Turkish who killed 30,000 people. More recently the majority of the island was flattened by a terrible earthquake. As such not too many of the older buildings still stand. However the bay was surrounded by lovely bars and restaurants that had just the right vibe for my liking.
At 7:40am I rolled in to Pergi which was a very interesting place. It was a series of winding cobblestone streets with patterns in the sides of all the buildings. The town was just waking up and I felt like the first person to step into this place, ever. But as amazing as it was, and having done 2 entire laps of the city, it had at best, 40 minutes in it. I tried to discover how far the next village was and this produced only a massive fight between two old men that I swear, nearly ended up in a fist fight between the two of them. So I had either 7 or 12 kilometres to walk, which according to my calculations would STILL get me there before the next bus (at 1:00!). So off I went.
It felt like something out of a dessert movie
Checkout the designs on the walls of the medieval village
scene. Long straight roads with heat waves, barren landscapes and snakes, lots and lots of snakes. After walking for an hour a car stopped and gave me a ride to the next village. This is where I discovered that it was 7kms to Olympi and then 5kms to Mestra (but Mestra was 12 kms from Pergi). And hence the near bar brawl in Pergi!
So I checked out both the other towns and even hitched back to Olympi where, by 1:00 I felt I deserved a beer while I waited for the bus. Once I finally got back into town, feeling I’d seen all Chios could offer me I bought the first ticket off the island. The rest of the day I spent swimming at the beach.
That evening I arrived in Myntilini which was a much bigger more happening version of Chios and not much to my liking at all. I got up the next day and took the bus to Molyvos.
So finally on the Wednesday, 3 days since I set out, I arrived at my destination. I ended up staying in a Greek families house in a self contained flat. For the next 3
days I did nothing more than relax and lap up the greek culture, drink beer, lie around on my garish Ferrari towel (which I began to match in color by the end) and get doted on by Maria (think big greek mamma). It was really really fantastic.
That pretty much wraps up my time in Greece. Having now travelled through this wonderful place, it’s hard to imagine these relaxed and friendly people ever having been at war with each other. The history and culture of this place is really amazing. I also think it's worth noting how ignorant I was of how much we in Australia have been shaped by the Greek culture.
I’m definitely going to come back sometime to visit some more of this great place. In the mean time, now its summer again in Europe, I’m probably going to head off for a month or so. I’ll be sure to keep u all up to date!
Miss you all
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