Sunday, October 26, 2008

Back to the Fall in Minnesota- And Snow??

I can't believe it's snowing outside, with winds up to 50 mph! This is October!

Even though I've been home for a couple weeks, I'm still remembering the warm weather I enjoyed in Greece. I even still have a tan from the warm sun there!

But, the wind is howling outside my house, and the flurries are falling. It's gray and cold. I think winter is on its way. Leaves are blowing everywhere today, as it's so windy. Ah, the reality of Minnesota weather.

For now, I'll just look at my photos from Greece and imagine being somewhere warmer... I may have to escape to Florida or somewhere warm this winter!

I have raked 14 bags of leaves in my yard so far... I think I probably have 8 or so more to rake yet. So, I hope we still have some nice weather during the fall.

Yesterday was a nice fall day. I enjoyed a day in Lake City. I went to a cafe with two friends, and had tea and a salad. Then, we drove down to the harbor, and walked by all the large sailboats, yachts, and boats that have been pulled out of the water and are now sitting in a large parking lot. We walked down to the shore of Lake Pepin, watching a few sailboats in the distance and a ferry. It was a sunny breezy fall day. We stopped at one of the apple orchards and stores nearby, all of us leaving with apples, apple cider, pumpkins, and more. On my drive, I noticed most of the trees leaves are past their peak- the oranges, reds, and golds are starting to disappear. Some of the leaves are bare already.

Traveling to Greece- Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Santorini and Other Islands






Alison at the Acropolis in Athens




A short overview of my trip to Greece: Athens, Olympia, Delphi, Santorini, Mykonos. Awesome trip and so many interesting experiences! Read on to hear more!

ATHENS, GREECE



First Impressions...



Sept. 21- I have been traveling for more than a day, more than 24 hours. I spent 3 hours on my first flight, 4 1/2 hours in an Atlanta airport, and 10 HOURS on a flight to Athens, where I got the last seat in the last row on the plane. It was just a long flight and not very comfortable.

So I began to be excited when we flew over Italy and then Greece- I thought, thank goodness we're almost there! And we arrived in Athens at last. I had to wait a while for my friend to arrive, so I decided to have a coffee and try to adjust to it being 10 am in Athens while my body thought it was 2 am. My first Greek experience was a Greek coffee at a kafe (kaffe?). The girl working knew a little English but not much. Greek coffee here is made super strong with grounds right in it. Then I was awake!

I finished my coffee, and then a French guy almost put out his cigarettte in my empty cup filled with grounds. I gave him a weird look, and he said he thought I was done. Strange. Also strange that I would be practicing my French soon after arriving in Greece. So now I'll go practice more of my Greek. On the first day, my friend and I got settled in Athens and we saw many of the major historical sites.


More Athens

Sept. 22-I'm still drinking coffee- I had a coffee with steamed milk today that I liked better.

My friend and I spent a long somewhat jet-lagged day yesterday walking around the Plaka (old town) of Athens. We are staying within walking distance of the Acropolis. The problem was, we couldn't find the entrance to the Acropolis. We ended up following narrow white stairs and walkways between small Greek homes on the hill in the shadow of the Acropolis, thinking we'd end up closer to the top of this huge hill and find an entrance. A sign even said "Acropolis" and pointed up one of the narrow walkways, but perhaps it was just pointing out that the Acropolis was up the hill, which was obvious. We eventually back-tracked and walked down a different street, finding the entrance at last. This seems to be a theme for us on this trip-- we find where we're trying to go in a roundabout way.





The Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens (and Me!)

In the Acropolis, I saw an old amphitheatre (Theatre of Dionysus) that has been renovated somewhat and is now used for concerts. Another old amphitheatre was on the property- it's said that Sophocles, Euripedes, and other famous Greek dramatists performed their plays here in approx. 500 B.C. Since I was a theatre minor in college and have been involved in theatre for 15 + yrs, I've had theatre history and read all the Greek tragedies. These plays were really the beginning of drama. It was cool to see a theatre that's been around that long. The Parthenon and the buildings surrounding it were really interesting to see. Some are under renovation, but it's still interesting to see buildings that are so old and have so much history.

We also went to Ancient Agora, the ancient marketplace and city of Athens next to the Acropolis. It's mostly ruins, but diagrams and illustrations show what it may have looked like in 6th or 7th Century B.C. Very interesting. One temple is pretty intact, and still had some of the frescoes and roof.



Ancient Agora (Marketplace), Athens

The next day, we took a mini-bus tour to the ancient city of Corinth. It was a fairly large archaeological site. Again, it's mostly ruins and stones, but one can imagine what it may have been like around A.D. 50 or so. We could see where the city baths had been, the church, the city council, the temples, etc. Corinithian columns, which are the style that have leaves towards the top, were originally built here, and some were still standing.

We also toured the National Archeaological Museum in Athens. It had some amazing artifacts- jewelry, vases, and gold masks from the 15th Century B.C. Wow! Sculptures from the 7th Century B.C. All very interesting.


Greek Language- It's Greek to Me!
I still don't know any words in Greek, but have found most people can speak at least limited English. The phrase "It's Greek to Me" has come to my mind more than once! Especially when I look at some of the signs in Greek that I can make no sense of.


Food-Souvlaki, Gyros, Baklava and More!

We've also had some good food- pork souvlaki, Greek salad, Greek wine, gyros, etc. Every restaurant in the Plaka in Athens wanted us to eat there- the host/manager would tell us to come in, that they have so much good food and everything we could possibly want to eat. There's so many restauarants around there, and there's a lot of competition between restaurants.

Traveling in Rain or Shine

I've been taking many photos. I haven't had much trouble with jet lag, but my friend has been extra tired. The weather has been decent, but tonight we got caught in the rain as we were going around Athens. I'm hoping it clears up tomorrow. Tomorrow, we're off to Delphi and Olympia. I'm looking forward to it!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ancient Greece



The Peloponnese and Our Historical Tour


Sept. 25-It's pouring rain in Athens at the moment but has been nice overall. We have visited Olympia, Delphi, and other areas of western Greece. Olympia was of course the site of the original Olympics. We saw the first stadium, which could seat 40,000 people. A couple guys from another tour group decided to race to the end and back, just like they would have back then. When they returned, the group had olive branch wreaths for their heads, just as the winners would have received in ancient times.





Olympic Stadium, Olympia, Greece



Speaking of olive branches, we saw about 4 million olive trees- seriously! We also saw some really pretty mountain ranges.Delphi was an ancient site visited by pilgrims for in 5th or 6th century BC. It's way up on a mountain. I got a little motion sickness on the way up on some really curvy roads. My head stopped spinning after I rested at the hotel.





Delphi




We visited Mycenae, which has archaelogical ruins from the 16th Century BC. We had seen artifacts taken from this site at the museum in Athens- gold and bronze jewelry, vases, bottles, weapons, etc.






Epidauras, a Large Theatre in Greece



We also visited Epidaurus, which has one of the most intact amphitheatres in Greece and could seat about 7,000 people. It had great acoustics, and it was huge. That was cool to see, since I've been involved with theatre for so long. Tomorrow we fly to Santorini, which should be fun.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Santorini (Thira) and Mykonos


Perissa Beach, Santorini

SANTORINI or Thira
Sept. 28- I'm enjoying my time staying in a lovely Greek hotel in a small beach town called Perissa, in Santorini (or Thira). It has a large rocky mountain and a long beach of black volcanic sand. The water (Aegean Sea in the Mediterranean) is very blue and warm. The weather has been mostly good. Yesterday we sat in the lounge chairs for a little while on the beach, under straw umbrellas. I swam some as well. It got really windy and rather cold though, so we're hoping today is better.


Alison in Fira, Santorini

We're taking a sailboat cruise to a volcano to go hiking, to natural hot springs, to another small island nearby, and to the town of Oia. Oia is supposed to have the best sunset in the island. You can stand in the cliffs that overlook the Caldera and see the sun set in the midst of all the white buildings built in to the cliffs. The Caldera was formed in 1600 BC by a volcano that destroyed 3/4 of the original island, so now the caldera is sort of like a large bay. We went to Fira yesterday and climbed steep hills, walked through narrow stone pedestrian streets between the buildings, at at a restaurant overlooking the caldera. It was really nice there, and we had a beautiful view.



Caldera, from Fira, Santorini


Alison at Volcano


Sept. 30- We went on the boat tour around the Caldera in Santorini on Sunday. I climbed to the very top of the volcano and could put my hand over an area where the sulphur still smokes up through a hole. The volcano has erupted about 4 times I think. The earliest one caused one side of the island to implode in 1600 BC or so, hence the large open bay between the volcano and the island now. The bay is the Caldera.

So, after the volcano, we took the boat to one side of the volcanic island, and the guide said whoever wanted to could jump out of the boat, off the ladder, (the ship looked like a pirate ship!) and swim over to one corner of the island to the hot springs. So, I went down the ladder on the side of the large boat, swam 15-20 yards, and swam through the hot springs. They weren't really hot, really just warm. Sulpheric rock floated about us. It was a fun experience, but a long swim each way when I haven't swam in a while!

Soon after we all got back on the boat, it started raining really hard. I didn't get very dried off! The sails were over the seating area, pulled straight across to block much of the wind and rain. I was glad to have my rainjacket, as it got quite cold, windy, and rainy. We still had a few more stops.


We went to another small island nearby, Thirassia, that was also once part of Santorini or Thira. We had lunch there and I was able to warm up and get dry.

Oia, Santorini

Our next stop was Oia (I-uh), on the northern tip of Thira. Oia is in many postcards and paintings, it's very pretty with blue-domed churches and white buildings and homes, tucked into the side of a very steep cliff. When we arrived at the port, I looked waaaaay up to the top of the cliff, where the town is. Our guide says, "Ok, 2 ways up- walk up 285 slippery, wet steps, or pay this guy 5 euro and get a donkey ride up to the top." 285 steps? I went with the donkey ride. I was already tired from climbing a volcano and swimming many yards, and I have asthma with exercise, so I thought I should take it easy. So the donkey gave me a ride, nearly to the top. Poor donkey, it's quite steep- I wonder how many times a day he does that?

Oia is known for its beautiful sunsets, and we had arrived on time for that. But wait- it had been pouring rain for hours?! The rain stopped just before we reached the town. However, all we saw of the sunset was a few light pink clouds. I still got some good photos of the town though. Lots of good little shops too. It was fun to visit. At the end of the long day, we took the bus back to Perissa, quite tired.

On the next day, Monday, we had a large travel day, taking buses and ferries to get to Mykonos, another island a few hours away. Usually, travelling days are fun. However, I woke up feeling quite ill with stomach problems on Monday. It didn't start out too bad, but as we traveled on the buses and ferries that day, I felt worse and worse. I'll spare all the details- I think it was food poisoning/stomach flu/weird traveler disease. I haven't been that sick in years- after breakfast I couldn't eat all day, and I slept for 3 hours after we arrived at our hotel at last in Mykonos. I think something I ate the day before didn't agree with me. Ah well. I felt much better by the evening.

Mykonos is very pretty. Lots of nice beaches. I've explored much of the island today and rented an ATV, driving all over the island, going to several of the small towns and beaches.
We'll go to Paris in a few days. I've really enjoyed Greece, so I'll miss it. I found the people we met, especially, to be very friendly, hospitable, and relaxed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paris, France

PARIS

Oct. 4- Well, I am in Paris now and seeing the sights. I have been there a few times, but Paris is always fun to see. I have had a cafe creme (coffee with steamed milk), a crepe at a street stand filled with nutella and a banana, pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant), and more. I have been taking lots of photos.

The weather is much colder here than the Mediterranean. Its cold and windy and like fall in Minnesota. I am practicing my French skills (francais) and doing pretty well, I think. I've been able to order food, ask basic questions, greet people, etc. Yesterday we walked the city all day long, for hours and many miles. Very tiring, but fun.

We walked by the Seine River. Then we walked to Notre Dame, walking through the church and admiring the beautiful stained-glasss windows and the architecture. We walked through the Louvre courtyard, but we decided not to go there this time. I've seen it before. Then, we walked along the Champs-Elysees, window-shopping in some of the nice shops along there. It was rather windy and cold all day, so we warmed up and had lunch at an Italian place along the Champs-Elysees. We walked under the Arc de Triomphe. We walked down a side street and passed some of more designer shops, admiring the jewelry and clothing from the sidewalk. We walked over to the Eiffel Tower and walked around it. It's quite impressive, even if you've seen it before.
Today we have more to see. We will walk through the Latin Quarter and St Germain-des-Pres, a fun student area with many shops and cafes. Many Parisiens can be seen sitting outside at tables, enjoying their coffee or a glass of wine, and watching people pass by.

We may go to Cafe de Flore, one of the famous writer's hangouts, which has had authors like Hemingway visit, in the Latin Quarter. I want to sit with my journal and write there, just for the experience, and watch all the people of Paris walk by.

We went to Shakespeare and Co, an English bookshop near there, filled with books floor to ceiling on 2 floors, with notes tacked on shelves with people's recommendations. Fun place. We were caught in the rain for some time yesterday and hope for better weather today, so far so good.

The next day, we went to a nice French restaurant we found off a side street. It was great, the owners and servers were joking around with us (in both French and English), and it was fun. We had a classic French dinner, with some nice French blush wine, an entree of chicken and potatoes, salad, and chocolate mousse for dessert. It was very nice.

The following day, my friend headed back home, so I toured around on my own in Paris. I spent some time at a cafe in the Latin Quarter, just people-watching and writing in my journal. I went to the Musee Rodin, and saw some of Rodin's most famous sculptures. It was a nice, relaxing day. I returned back to the hotel early, as I needed to pack and be ready to find my way to the airport very early the next morning.

And, it's home to Minnesota!