Greece Travel Skills

Greece Travel Skills

Thank you. Kalimera. No Greek speakers? Good, I’m one of you. Okay we’re going to head off to Greece today. Thanks for coming. I always appreciate when people come out on a busy Saturday to hear about travel. So many things going on in our lives these days, it’s always nice to see people willing to prioritize travel, to take time out to learn about one of our great travel destinations. We’re on the clock today so I don’t want to waste any time. I’m going to jump right in here, we’re gonna head off to Greece. I’m sure while you’ve been sitting here you’ve looked at this slide and you know that you’re looking at the Parthenon, right? It didn’t take anybody up here standing on the stage to tell you what you were looking at. This is an icon of the Western world. As a matter of fact one of the reasons I’m most excited about taking groups to Greece is that it is the birthplace of the Western ideal. So, visiting there we get to see many many many of those icons, but there’s so much more to Greece than just the archaeological remains of the Golden Age. There’s beautiful islands; other archaeological ruins about the country – not necessarily from the Golden Age – leftover Venetian and Ottoman fortresses; some things you might not know about at all; some beautiful natural wonders. One of the comments that so many of my tour members make is that they didn’t expect Greece to be so beautiful. The Gibraltar of Greece.
Oh! Well I’m glad a few of you laughed. I always put this slide in to remind myself to say a few words about the Rick Steves philosophy, but again, because we’re on the clock, today I’m going to cut that really short and say this: At Rick Steves’ Europe, we are all about making the cultural connections. The way Rick says it is: “Travel as a temporary European.” So this morning we’re going to travel as temporary Greeks vicariously heading off to Greece. Not just seeing
the tourist sights, not just doing the recreational side of travel, but really making cultural connections to be temporary Europeans for a while. So first thing you want to ask yourself is: what kind of travel, what kind of a traveler are you? Are you somebody who wants to put yourself in someone else’s hands, sign up for a tour either one of ours or somebody else’s, for them to take care of all the ins and outs all the logistics of the tour? Or are you somebody who’s a little bit more independent? If you decide you’re an independent traveler there’s all kinds of resources out there. You’re doing that today. You’re here learning about Greece. There’s books, there’s the websites, there’s Internet, there’s Rick’s audio guides. There’s all kinds of resources that we have for you but also out there on the Internet for planning a great independent trip. Now when I talk about travel I like to say that there are three P’s to be considered: traveling with a plan; traveling with perspective; and traveling with purpose. Traveling with a plan is what I already talked about, you know, making plans ahead of time, coming to a talk like this, learning some things, talking to other travelers. Traveling with perspective is what I refer to, meaning, being a savvy traveler when you’re on the ground. But the most important this morning is the third “P,” traveling with purpose. Yeah, I’m sure you’re looking up at the slide and saying, “This isn’t in Greece,” and you’re right. This is Michelangelo’s statue of David, which is in Florence, but it’s a great slide for me to demonstrate what I’m talking about. Traveling with purpose is learning a little bit about your destination. If you’re going on a tour you have somebody like me to make those connections for you and share those things, but if you’re traveling independently –
and, of course, we embrace that at Rick Steves’ Europe – that’s what the guidebooks are for. That’s what the Travel Resource Center is for. If you’re traveling independently, you need to find ways to make those cultural connections, to travel with purpose. For instance, if you were to visit this museum in Florence and see the statue of David, you could enjoy it completely and thoroughly without knowing a single thing about it, it’s magnificent. But if I were to tell you to take note that David here is left-handed… did you take note of that when I first put it up there on the screen? David’s left-handed. He’s got the sling in his left hand. He’s got rocks in his right hand. There’s only one reason for that: he’s going to throw left-handed. Michelangelo was left-handed. Isn’t that interesting? Doesn’t that make it a little bit more rich an experience, a little bit more purposeful for your visit? That’s what I’m talking about, traveling with purpose. Rick’s been saying for 35 years: if you see four cute guys on a bench, ask them to scoot over right? That’s traveling with purpose, right? Making connections with the locals here. Now, my own experience is a little different. It was in Greece. I was visiting Dimitsana, a little town in the back of the Peloponnese, and the only reason we go there is to take people to a place that’s completely untouristed. One time when I was there with a group, there was a funeral for a important person in the Orthodox Church who had been from Dimitsana, so this was his funeral day. There was about 200 of these priests and nuns in the town and I really really don’t speak Greek. There’s a reason we say, “It’s Greek to me,”
it’s an impossible language to learn, but I can do sign language like
anybody else. These four guys were sitting,
having a cup of coffee. I pointed to my camera and I smiled and the guy, the guy on the right said, “Yes. We are pretty.”
What a great cultural connection experience, and only because I was willing to put myself out there, push the envelope a little bit, smile and point to my camera. And then of course he invited me over for coffee, so I went over, had a cup of coffee. Turns out that, “Yes, we are pretty” are the only four words of English spoken at that table, but lucky for me Greek coffee is very small and you can throw it back pretty quick and move on. So I thanked them – I do know that word in Greek – I thanked them kindly and I moved on, richer for a great cultural experience. Traveling with purpose. Okay, enough of that. Let’s dive right in to Greece. Now this is the itinerary of the Rick Steves Greece tour. I’m just going to use that as a template to talk about the whole country If time allows at the end I’ll talk about a few things that we don’t do on the tour but this is what we think the best two weeks of Greece is and so I’m going to use it, as I said, as a template for getting us around Greece. Arriving in Athens, which you most certainly will do, you’ll be introduced immediately to the fact that there’s been a huge infrastructure upgrade in Athens and southern Greece since 10 years ago. 10 years ago was the 2004 Athens Olympics. There was a huge amount of European Union subsidy money that poured into the country and a lot of it was very very well used. This is the metro that now goes all the way out to the brand new airport, also built in 2004. So this logistical upgrade just makes everything easy in Athens, and it’s actually quite beautiful as you can see. Once you’ve arrived, there’s all kinds of things to see and do in Athens, although I’ve always felt like this is not one of Europe’s great, beautiful capitals. Unfortunately, most of Athens, all four and a half million people of them, grew in the post-war era without much in the way of building codes. So a lot of Athens is really rather unfortunate, but the historic core of the Plaka around the Acropolis is really quite quite lovely and engaging and that’s where you’re going to want to spend all your time. This is the Parliament building in Syntagma Square. This is where all the protesting was going on the last few years that you’ve all seen on the news. This is the political center of the whole country. They’ve got the ceremonial guards out front with their – how should I say this? – the ceremonial military uniforms are the traditional dress of shepherds, right? And they have these skirts that they wear. This particular guy doesn’t have…there’s one skirt that they wear that has 400 pleats. 400 pleats to represent the 400 years that they were dominated by the Ottomans. Anyway, these are the guys that do the sort of the goose-stepping changing of the guards at 11:00 on Sunday morning. It’s great for a photograph and these guys are pretty fierce. You’ve got to be tough to stare down your enemy wearing a skirt and pom-poms. So now what I love about Athens is the cafe culture – I’ll show you images of that shortly – but there are also a number of ancient Greek Orthodox churches right where the city has sprung up around them. Notice on this slide that the ground level of the church is about three or four feet lower lower than the current street level, right? So the city has just been built up right around them, kind of interesting to see. You know right away, not only are you not
in Kansas anymore, Toto, you’re not even in Western Europe anymore, right? We’re separated from the Catholic Church history that dominates Western Europe, you know, for two thousand years. And you’re in Greek Orthodox territory where icons are very very important, even to this day, so you see icons. The Greeks are very very superstitious people. These are the mati, these are the talismans for warding off the evil eye, which a lot of contemporary Greek people still believe someone can hex you with the evil eye. One of the great things about Greece is the food there. The food is a little more pedestrian than, say, French or Italian cuisine, but my goodness it’s filling, it’s tasty, it’s flavorful. I just absolutely love going to Greece just for the food. You can get a gyro sandwich on the street these days still for €2.50, so $3.00, a whole meal in your hand. There’s great restaurants all over the place. The Plaka is the place to spend your time – I’m talking to you, independent travelers, right now. By the way, how many people are planning a trip to Greece sometime in the next year or so? Fantastic. How many people of you are planning to go on a Rick Steves Tour of Greece? Those of you who raised your hand, okay, a lot of independent travelers, that’s great. Love to see that. Anyway for those of you who won’t be on a tour, the Plaka is definitely the place to spend your time in Athens. That’s where all these great restaurants are. The Plaka is the little neighborhood that leads right up to the flanks of the Acropolis. By the way, just to be 100% clear, the building on top is the Parthenon. The Acropolis is not the temple, it’s the hill. Seems to be some confusion about that occasionally. Anyway, so when I say the flanks of the Acropolis, I’m talking about the the sloping ground that leads up or down – down from the hill or up to the hill – where there are all these fun restaurants available. I already talked a little bit about the Greek food. They do love to grill their meats, you know, it’s lamb and pork and chicken and fish that are the primary things that they serve. Tavernas all over the country will have great wine. Greek wine is one of the best-kept secrets of Europe. We all know about French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese wines. The Greeks are not exporting a lot of wine. Most of their wine producers are very very small and don’t have the resources to export their wines but guess what? They invented it. The Greeks are the ones that we believe invented wine, and they do make great wines, great value wines, so in a taverna situation like this, where you’ve got these barrels, you know the house wines are generally very very drinkable and very very inexpensive, especially by European standards. There’s a whole Roman area of of Athens to explore, and of course the Acropolis. The Acropolis is probably the number one site for everybody to see. It’s certainly a place that you want to not miss. This is the Propylaea, the ceremonial monumental entrance to the Acropolis. You have to walk up a long set of steps to get up to it. You enter in and you see the Parthenon on top. There’s a number of buildings in addition to the Parthenon, but the Parthenon is the big star. This is, of course, built by Pericles in the middle of the 5th century BC as a sort of a celebration thank you to the fact that the Persian threat had been vanquished. The Greeks fought two big wars with the Persians in 490 and 480 BC and in 480 they finally defeated them and signed a peace treaty and it allowed there to be peace in the land, and this is why you have this flowering of philosophy and intellectual richness that become the foundations of the West, because you have a sustained period of peace where people can devote their lives to exploits other than just putting a roof over their heads and food on the table every day. I mean it’s a fundamental fact of history. Anyway the Parthenon – you know, one of the sad things about the Parthenon that most people don’t know, most Americans don’t know, is that it was still perfectly intact until 300 years ago. The Parthenon was not one of those ancient buildings that was destroyed by the Church or by the ravages of war. It actually did succumb to the ravages of war but only at the end of the 1600s, when the Turks controlled Greece and a Venetian general was trying out a new cannon and sent a cannonball right into the Parthenon, where the Turks happened to be storing a lot of gunpowder and blew the lid off. So just 300 years ago you could still see the Parthenon intact. Now the statue of Athena was long gone, melted down to make crosses or cannons or something, but the building itself had remained intact. Now I mentioned this, this idea of traveling with purpose and this slide is specific to that end. I want you to notice that from this angle you can see how the base of the Parthenon bows up in the middle, can you see that? It’s about six inches higher in the middle than it is on the edges, and that’s because the Greeks understood 2,500 years ago that if you made it flat, that visually it would look like it sags. They understood that a building this big needed to have a little visual trick to make it look symmetrical, and furthermore, all the columns, if you were to extend them to infinity, they would all meet and you’d have a giant rectangular pyramid. They all tip in a teeny teeny teeny bit at the top. Same reason:
to make them look straight. Absolutely phenomenal what these people had accomplished 2,500 years ago. These are the famous caryatids. They’re just columns that have been carved in the shape of women. This is the the temple on which you find them – there you see the caryatids on the far left. This is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. It was –
Odeon, is, uh – by the way, you speak a lot of Greek. An “ode” – it’s a poetic,
you know, an “Ode to Joy,” means it’s all about music, it’s all about singing. So an “odeon” is a theater that has been built for musical performances, and at one time it had a roof on it. This is Lykavittos Hill. This is the highest point in Athens. There’s a little funicular that’ll take you up to the top. But here’s where you can see what I was talking about before – kind of an unfortunate landscape of Athens. Not a real pretty city apart from those areas right around the Acropolis. You can look right down from the Acropolis, down to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. An absolutely immense temple, at least in its origins and its original condition. I’ll show you a slide from down below a little bit later to give you a sense of perspective, of how how huge this temple actually is. So, you can you can see this from up on top of the Acropolis. For you independent travelers, it is a combination ticket that gets you into the Acropolis. I think it’s 12 euros, and it’s a six-part ticket, I think, and one of the secondary tickets is to get into this huge Temple of Olympian Zeus. You can also get into the Agora, the old cemetery, a couple of other sites around Athens. So it’s a really nice deal to get the combo ticket. You can buy individual tickets for any of those entrances as well but you might as well get the combo ticket and see as much or as little as you like. This is the brand spankin’ new Acropolis Museum, not to be confused with the National Archaeological Museum. The old museum up on top of the Acropolis was kind of…well, it was sad, let’s just put it that way. But they had some incredible art treasures in that museum and of course the Greek government put millions of euros into building this building in the hopes that it would entice the British Museum in London to give back the Elgin Marbles, right? The great statuary from the pediment of the Parthenon which was stolen by the Lord Elgin 200 years ago and now reside in the British Museum. So they have very very high hopes right now because George Clooney’s new wife apparently is going to go to bat for them, so we’ll all keep our fingers crossed. Personally I don’t think it’s ever going to happen because if the British Museum gives up the Elgin Marbles, then the Egyptians will come looking for the Rosetta Stone and, you know, the museum will be emptied out pretty quickly. So, we’ll see, but anyway, the brand spankin’ new museum, and take note – it looks a little odd. There’s a building and then it’s like, the top floor, you know, somebody was asleep at the switch when they designed that. But no, it’s meant to reflect exactly the angle of the Parthenon up above. You’ll see what I mean here in just a second. They had to work around all the ruins in the ground once they dug a foundation here, so, to get around that, that they needed to protect those antiquities, they built the museum right over these ancient ruins underneath. Very very smart. So here’s where – this is also the coolest museum cafe in the world, I think. It’s an outdoor cafe, spectacular view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon up above – and here you can see, you can imagine as you look up at the Parthenon, how that top floor of the museum is angled to reflect the same angle of the Parthenon up above there. You go inside, there’s lots of cool
audio-visual displays, including some of the really impressive artifacts that they found in the foundation. This is a statue of Aristotle that they found and it’s in really really good shape, so they’ve got it up in the entrance to the museum. The building itself is quite spectacular. It’s beautiful how they have everything displayed. They still have the priceless artifacts from the old museum. This is the Kritian Boy. I just, I have to say a couple things about this statue because it’s not very well marked in this museum, even in the new museum, but the fact is this is the statue that we have that represents the transition from the Stoic Archaic art of the previous centuries, where the kouros statues, the statues of men and women are very very stiff like I’m standing right now, and this Kritian Boy is the first statue, at least that we have, that shows the contrapposto pose, where the one knee is bent. It’s a much more natural look, as I’m standing now. Makes it look much more human, much more realistic. It was a huge breakthrough in art and of course that ability was lost for several hundred years, to be rediscovered in the Renaissance by Donatello. But this statue is just immensely important in the flow of art history. So, an absolutely spectacular piece that you see inside the museum. The original caryatids…the picture that I showed you from the top of the Acropolis is actually displaying copies of the caryatids there, to protect them from the elements. These were absolutely black, and they’ve got a video display set up that shows how they used lasers to clean these step-by-step, and they left left little blotches in certain places to show how dark they were originally after the first cleaning, after the second cleaning, after the third cleaning, and you see the gradations of blackness, if you will, of the grit and grime that they took off of them to get them in such
great shape to be displayed again today. But to me, what’s really spectacular about this museum is the top floor. They have designed it – you see the columns there that march down? Those represent exactly the columns of the Parthenon. They’re placed exactly the same distance apart, and then between them, they’ve put the metopes and the other frieze reliefs that they have, that weren’t carted away to the various museums all around Europe.
The light-colored ones like those up above are plaster copies of ones that exist elsewhere, and the darker ones are the original ones that they still have here in Athens. Just a beautiful way to display them so that you get a sense of what’s real, what’s a replica, and also how it would have looked on the ancient Parthenon. I think it would be really smart to visit this museum first and then the Parthenon afterwards because you get a sense for where things were, then you go up and see the actual building and you’re able to visualize what it must have been like when it was covered in all this incredible statuary. This is the little bit of the remains, the part that Elgin left behind, just beautifully done. And again there are the the square bar relief sculptures that flanked the pediments. And this isn’t a very good picture but it’s really important. Off on the left in the darkness there, the silhouettes – that’s one end of those friezes – but you can see out the window to the actual Parthenon up above. I’m trying to give you a perspective of what it’s like to be in this museum and see these pieces and there’s the real thing, out this huge glass window. Just a beautiful, thoughtful, inspired design for a museum, I think. I got to give the Greeks some kudos. By the way that’s a Greek word – “kudos.”
It means “the glory of victory.” See? I told you you spoke Greek. Anyway this is the Temple of Hephaestus. This is the best-preserved Doric temple in the world. It’s down in the Agora area where your combination ticket will get you entrance, and this then is that promised image of the Temple of Olympian Zeus where you can see how immense those columns are. That’s me in the foreground there, 20 pounds and 10 years ago, and and then you see the Acropolis off to the left, and you get a sense of scale, right? How huge this temple was. You remember that imprint from above that I showed you? There’s the whole Roman sector of Athens. You know, Athens and Greece was a favorite colony of the Romans once they conquered the Greeks. You know the Greeks dominated the ancient world in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, all the way down to Alexander at the tail-end of the 4th century BC. But then the Romans came along and basically took advantage of the fact that the Greek city-states were constantly fighting and battling amongst themselves. A very astute historian once said that “Ancient Greece was a place where peace
occasionally broke out.” Well-said. They would always fight amongst themselves and that made them vulnerable to the Romans, who came in and conquered them. But the Romans really valued Greek culture, admired Greek culture, and a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Instead of Greece becoming Romanized, the opposite happened. Rome became greca-fied. They brought in Greek sculptures and paintings and Greek tutors for their children to teach them Greek philosophy, the art of Greek rhetoric. And Rome becomes more Greek than the other way around. Another astute observer said, “Captive Greece held Rome captive.” Really says it in a phrase there. And why am I belaboring this for a few minutes here? Because this is our story. This is how all of these, the great philosophy of the ancient Greeks, the foundational intellectual building blocks of the whole Western ideal, make their way into Europe. It’s via the Romans. The Romans are the great transmitters of the Greek ideal into the west and Greco-Roman culture becomes the foundation of Western culture that we all still live in today. And it gives us the framework for our whole understanding of the cosmos. So really crucial, crucial stuff here. Okay, this is one of the many beautiful neoclassical buildings in Athens. Athens becomes the capital of the newly independent Greece in the middle of the 19th century, and neoclassicism is the architecture of the time. And what is neoclassicism? It’s just taking classical forms – Greek and Roman – and bringing them forward to modern times and modern materials. So these beautiful mansions, neoclassical buildings are dotted all around central Athens. This particular one is the
National Archaeological Museum. If you only have one day to spend in Athens, go see the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, and this museum: the National Archaeological Museum. Because this is just a
museum of the entire history of Greece from antiquity all the way up to the modern age. Just really spectacular. And this is a place that having a good local guide makes a lot of sense. This is part of that traveling with purpose that I was talking about – making sure you understand what you’re looking at. If you can’t – if you’re traveling independently and you can’t afford to hire a local guide – make sure that you pick up a good guidebook or an audio guide or something to make sure that you understand what it is that you’re looking at. This is the Mask of Agamemnon, found by Heinrich Schliemann very famously in the digs of Mycenae. The Mycenaeans are very unhappy that this is in the National Archaeological Museum, and they have a copy, but you know, they have all the treasures from around the country under one roof. It’s really pretty nice for us as visitors. This bronze cast statue of Poseidon is one of the signature pieces of the museum – just truly wonderful. This is a Golden Age statue. Very balanced, very lifelike, very realistic. But there’s also Cycladic art, you know, from prehistory, Cycladic art from the from the Cyclade Islands is something like, on the order of 2,800 to 4,000 years old. Inspired people like Mondrian and Picasso. This gold cup was also from Mycenae. There’s just, like I said, the treasures from all over the country. Greek pottery, of course, we all know about that, and then the third stage of Greek art – I haven’t really laid this out, but I did refer to the Archaic period, where everything was sort of stiff and more symbolic; Golden Age, where things become more lifelike; and then the Hellenistic period, when they become more overtly active, and here’s a horse and rider from the Hellenistic period, or the fourth and third centuries B.C. And by the way, that cycle of artistic expression will be repeated again about a thousand years later, where you’ve got Gothic and medieval art that transitions to Renaissance art that transitions to the Baroque, and the cycle is repeated. This is something you see all over Greece. Looks like a little church by the side of the road. It’s called an iconostasis. Now, you speak Greek – “icon,” you know what an icon is.
“Stasis” – what does that mean? “Doesn’t change,” right? This is an icon that you don’t carry around. It stays put. Iconostasis. You see these on the road. They’re places where people – sometimes there’s celebrations where people had a close call, where they almost died and they want to sort of say, “Thanks God that I survived.” Sometimes they are memorials to people that weren’t so lucky and they lose their lives and there’s a little iconostasis left for them. So, icons, very very important in the cultural life of Greece. So you do see those all over the place. This is ancient Delphi. This is about a 2, almost 3 hours’ drive Northwest of Athens so it’s pretty easy to get to from Athens. This was the center of the ancient world. You know, Greek mythology suggests that Zeus released two eagles that flew in opposite directions around the earth and the place that they met, the navel of the universe, was Delphi. So Delphi was an important place in ancient times, but more important because of the Delphic Oracle, right? The Oracle, by the way, is the place. Again, just to be clear, and there would be sibyls, there were priestesses who would go into the temple and interpret for Apollo. This was the sanctuary of Apollo, the Sun God, and if you were anybody in the ancient world and you needed the stamp of approval you would go to Delphi, to have the oracle, to have the priestesses tell you what you needed to know about the future. Alexander the Great very famously went there to ask if he should be the leader of all the Greeks, and of course the Oracle, the priestesses, agreed with him. Anyway, yeah that’s a fun story by the way, again, traveling with purpose. If you show up in Delphi and you don’t understand how the whole thing worked in a modern way, understanding that they’ve discovered fault lines underneath this temple that probably at one time were producing noxious gases that caused the priestesses to swoon and babble and allowed the priest then to interpret whatever it was they were saying, and how the Delphic Oracle, the Sibyl, never gave a straight answer,
never a “yes” or “no” answer, always a riddle within a riddle, right? The whole message was, “You need to look within to get the right answers.” So how much has changed? Not very much, right? Anyway, you can see it’s a beautiful, beautiful setting on the flanks of Mount Parnassus. You get a sense when you’re there of what a spiritual place it is. This is our local guide Penny. This is one of the advantages of being on one of our tours that you just can’t get any other way, and that’s sort of our hand-picked local guides that have all been vetted and selected for their passion and their their sensibilities that match our own. She’s absolutely wonderful. It’s worth hiring her just to see her smile actually, but her content is also excellent. This is the Treasury of Athens – this was the CNN of the ancient world. They didn’t have newspapers, they didn’t have radio, they couldn’t announce their great victories across the Greek world in the ways that we think of. But everybody at one time or another would go to Delphi. So on the road up to the Temple of Apollo, you put not a temple, but a treasury where you had all the spoils of your great victories. And Athens, who had spearheaded the victory over the over the Persians in the 5th century B.C. had the most impressive treasury house there to show how important they were. You know, the Spartans were really powerful in the ancient world, but the Athenians were the ones with the great propaganda machine. So it’s their version of history that we have today. This is lower down in the site, the Tholos, the round building. We don’t really know what this building was used for, but it is a rather famous image. I think it’s on all the brochures of Delphi…and, you know, fun for a photograph. A beautiful museum
on-site here, built with money from 2004 that I already talked about here. Beautifully displayed artifacts that they found. By the way, the site of Delphi had a village built on top of it in the 19th century until archaeologists went in there, forcibly moved everybody 1 km up the road, and then excavated the site. And in their excavations they found all these things that are displayed in the museum. This is “The Charioteer,” probably the most famous statue in Delphi, and it once and for all puts to bed the idea that ancient statues were all blind, right? They did have eye. In this case the eyes have survived. Usually the eyes have not survived and we think of, like the statue of Poseidon that I showed you, we think all ancient Greek and Roman statuary is blind, basically, but the fact is the eyes were sometimes made out of semi-precious stones or ivory or something like that and they’ve been long ago lost, but this one still has its eyes which makes it extra valuable. Okay, continuing on with that itinerary that I showed you at the beginning, we head south from Delphi and loop around the Gulf of Corinth. Every drive in Greece is spectacularly beautiful. I’m not even going to waste slides trying to show you how beautiful it is. You just have to take my word for it and go to Greece to see yourself. This is the bridge at Antirrio that crosses the straits. Guess where the money came from to build it? Yes, that’s right the subsidy money from 2004. There’s a funny story about this bridge that I have to tell. If you remember 10 years ago for the Athens Olympics, there was a great deal of concern that they would not be ready for the games to begin, right? There was a big rush at the last minute to get everything done. There’s a little bit of that Mediterranean mentality thereof, “We’ll do it tomorrow,” and things almost weren’t ready to go, so it was a big rush at the end, but this bridge is the one exception to that. This bridge was finished four months before the opening of the games, but because the ceremonial opening of the bridge was scheduled to be the Olympic torch going across, the bridge sat unused for three and a half months. The locals had to take the ferries back and forth. That is the best Greek story of all. In fact, if I can’t do anything else to help you understand the Greek mentality, that’s the story I want you to take away. And, by the way, in defense of the Greeks – you know, we think of them as our Western brethren, which they are, but they were under the domination of a Muslim power, the Ottoman Turks, during the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, and the Enlightenment. Can you imagine a society that missed those intellectual movements? They’re still playing catch-up. Not only that – there’s the Ottoman hangover, where the Ottomans didn’t really care much about administering the Greeks and investing in that part of their Empire, and there was an awful lot of corruption, and that’s one of those reasons that the Greeks, they still have a little bit of an Ottoman approach to business and whatnot and that’s what’s, that’s what’s gotten them into trouble in the last 5 years. So anyway that’s a subject for another whole talk so I need to move on. Beautiful gorge on the Peloponnese. This is another one of those things that we do on the tour that’s almost impossible to do in any other way. We drive way up to the back of beyond where they have a trout farm and have a whole trout lunch on the tour. By the way, if you’re concerned about fish with faces, that’s what travel is all about, you know, is pushing the envelope, you know. If at the beginning, if I had talked about celebrating the differences, everybody would have said, “Yes, yes” but you’re not thinking about eating a fish that’s staring back at you when I say that, you know, but that’s part of travel too. You need to
push the envelope a little bit, you know? I’m going to show you pictures of some octopi here in a little bit. If you’re not willing to taste octopus when you go to Greece, maybe you should go to Disneyland. I’m serious. Go to Epcot Center where they have a Americanized version of Greece for you to enjoy, right? If you want to see the real thing, you’ve got to embrace it with both hands. Ok this is Dimitsana that I had mentioned earlier, where I met the four priests at the table. Pretty much a place that we visit, as well as Ligaria. That’s for no other reason other than to, you know, be in a place that’s completely untouristed. So this is an opportunity to meet locals and rub elbows. This image of the flowers here is from that funeral and all the priests and and nuns that I had mentioned previously. Oh there’s our friends again. By the way, the guy in the back right never did warm up to me. On to Olympia, right? This is – I’m sorry, I should have mentioned when we left Delphi and crossed that bridge, we were on to the Peloponnese Peninsula. Olympia is one of the major sites of the Peloponnese. This is the stadium – by the way, “stadium” is a Greek word, and it refers to the length of the track that they run. In the ancient Olympics, you had races of one stadia, two stadia, ten stadia, etc. Hence from which we get our word “stadium.” So this is the
ancient stadium of Olympia and this is a place,
of course, where you need to line up on that start line, and you know, get a picture of yourself ready to go. Of course in ancient times they ran naked, but they discourage that these days. This is the entryway to that stadium and you know, you can imagine athletes who trained for years to arrive here and this would be the long dark tunnel that they would go through before they broke out into the stadium to perform. This is, you know, this is one of those sights that needs something to bring it to life, because this, you know, nary two stones still together, at least, that that haven’t been reconstructed, like this white column in the background. These are all the toppled columns of the great Temple of Zeus, right? This is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and I love this picture because it gives you a sense of scale. Look at the size of those drums. Also, it kind of shows you how they built those tall columns using a land ramp, one barrel at a time here. But my point, was, though that you need someone to bring it to life to explain where things happened, and what was going on, and what the “wall of shame” was all about, and what they did to cheaters, and where all the statues were for all the winners, because, right now, it’s just a lot of rubble, you know? You need someone to bring it to life. It has value to visit – it’s something that I call the “proximity factor,” you know, that we want to make connections to these incredible places, and there’s true and and wonderful value in that, but if you don’t travel with purpose, if you don’t find a way to to flesh out the story, you’re missing a lot of it. So this, I think, is the best of the historic sight museums in Athens. They’ve got great art in there. This is the pediment statuary, and this is all original, right? You can tell that it’s all broken up and there’s a lot of pieces missing but there’s no plaster reconstructions here. This is all the original stuff that they found buried in the ground when the archaeologists unearthed the site in the 19th century, and if you’ve got a good local guide who brings the story together and tells you who everybody is – this is Apollo. This is my favorite, I call this guy “cell phone guy.” But look at that, I mean, so realistic. And this is from the Archaic period. I know we use the word “archaic” to mean many different things, but in Greece it means strictly the 6th century BC. Just wonderful, wonderful statues in this museum. This particular statue of Hermes is by Praxiteles. Now, I gotta tell you, I’m running out of time, but I gotta tell you, seeing an original Praxiteles is amazing, so those of you who have been to Rome and seen the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican Museums – that is a copy of a Praxiteles and it’s a signature piece in that museum, but here you’ve got an original. This is the value of Greece that I think no other country can offer – absolutely spectacular. Then we go on to Kardamyli for a little vacation from our vacation. Beautiful seaside town, got this beautiful ancient tower architecture that dominates the little skyline there. Great cafe culture. A little bit of shopping, beautiful seaside setting for just about everything. Some beaches there. Tavernas line the water. It’s just idyllic. There’s a gorge nearby for hiking – that’s sort of the only activity that’s available in the area. And then we drive south on the Mani Peninsula. This is just a beautiful beautiful drive, and this is Kastania. This is a little bitty village up in the back of beyond. Again, we go there for one reason only. This is a banner, by the way, sorry, I happened on my group that I just finished with a week ago, we happened to be in Kastania when they had the chestnut festival – I had to think of what the nut was – chestnut festival on the 19th of October there. So we hit the town on the festival day. This is what you travel for right? This is traveling with purpose. You can’t always plan for it, but if you’re lucky enough to stumble into one of these things serendipitously, that’s what we really travel for. So they were giving away free chestnuts. Beautiful old old old churches. Many places along the coast to stop and have a beautiful seaside lunch. This is my group from a week ago. This is Gerolimenas, so a little bit further south. I mean everywhere you turn, just beautiful beautiful settings. And there’s the promised octopi alright? Drying in the sun. Look at that. Wouldn’t you like to be in that picture? And then here on the Mani, they have this ancient history of feuding between different clans, and the different clans would all build these great war towers, so this is Vathia. Quite far south, but you can see it just looks like a bunch of petrified asparagus up on the hilltop there. Photographers’ safari par excellence. This is the view from up there. And then on to Monemvasia. I had mentioned this in my introduction, it’s sort of the Gibraltar of Greece. It’s on the eastern side of the Peloponnese. It’s been discovered. It used to be sort of a secret place up until about 20 years ago. Now wealthy Europeans – Germans, French, Italians, Athenians, have now come in and bought summer homes there. It’s a fortified little town on the side of this big rock, and then you can climb all the way up on top of the rock as well. Views up on top are spectacular. Probably the best venue for a Byzantine church anywhere in Greece. Absolutely magnificent. So you can climb up there. This is a little hermits’ cell which you can access. And then this is Mystras. This is now back inland and on the way north. Mystras was very important. As the Ottoman Turks approached the crumbling Byzantine Empire in the 15th century, the capital moved away from Constantinople and the oncoming Turks, and for about a decade Mystras on the Peloponnesian Peninsula was the capital of the last vestiges of the Byzantine Empire,
I’m talking about 550 years ago. An old fortress up on top that you can visit, and then this is the view from the very top down into the valley and Sparta is down in the valley, although there’s not much to recommend Sparta these days. But the views are spectacular and this is probably our best Byzantine stop on the tour, where there’s several churches with quite well-preserved mosaics still inside. And on to Nafplio. Nafplio is just to the southwest of the Isthmus of Corinth, so you can access it in about 2.5 hours from Athens. This is an old Venetian fortress. Up on top of the hill there are actually three forts here. Here’s the second one,
the Akronafplia is the crown of that hill, and this shot is taken from the Palamidi Fortress that I just showed you. And then the little island out in the water,
the Bourtzi, all three – sorry, two out of three – built by the Venetians when this was a Venetian outpost. For about 250 years, the Peloponnese was a battleground between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetians as they duked it out for control of the eastern Mediterranean. These are the thousand or so steps to go up to the top, and then on top it stretches out for quite a while with many, many bastions. Here you can see, up above the arched gate, the winged lion of Venice as a reminder of that history. This is just a fantastic little town and this is our little hotel that we use there. Very, very picturesque, very relaxed,
very laid-back. This is their Syntagma Square, their Constitution Square. Great cafe culture, both on the square and along the waterfront. Imagine having a drink sitting on a, you know, overstuffed couch, a big pillowed couch with the illuminated little Bourtzi Fortress out in the harbor there in front of you for your view. You can actually take a boat out and visit it. Not too much to see out there but you can go out and visit if you want. This was my last hotel room from just 2 weeks ago. You can see over the rooftops up to the fortress there, and this isn’t a very good image but it it shows you that they illuminate the big forts at night, so it’s just a spectacular place, great place to go to a local taverna. And in the old-style tavernas, they take you right into the kitchen and show you what’s available for the night. We go to one that’s not in the guidebooks anywhere, and we have a little dance performance for our tours. Again, this is one of those things that I think is only available on a Rick Steves Tour, is – you can go and see
Greek dancing, the professionals, but this is just some local dance troupe that performs just for us. They come and dance and we hear some Greek music while we have dinner, and of course, they pull the people from the tour up onto the dance floor and we all dance a little bit as well. So it’s a great evening for everybody. Yes, they have some 3,000 year old drinking games. It’s a gateway,
is Nafplio, to a couple of great archaeological sites. This is Mycenae, the Lion Gate, the famous Lion Gate of Mycenae. This is where – this goes back to the times of Homer, he Iliad, the king of Mycenae was the commander of the Greek forces at the Battle of Troy. This is the grave circle where they found the Mask of Agamemnon. It’s a big citadel on top. Fun to explore. And then the great beehive tombs that they’ve unearthed. These huge, monumental, monolithic stones. This is a very popular place in Greece for pottery. I like to take my groups to a pottery demonstration where they show you how to make the various kinds of pottery, and of course there’s some shopping involved if you’re interested. And then also nearby is Epidavros. This is the ancient Sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine. This was a sanctuary, but they also had games there, so they have a theater, and this is the best-preserved ancient Greek theatre in the world at Epidavros. This is a place where you can stand on that little center spot there, where the man in the white shirt is standing, and if the people that are sitting around in the seats are quiet, you can hear a coin drop on that stone, or someone speaking in a normal voice, so everybody takes their turn singing and whatnot. We wrap up our tour, and I’m going to wrap up my talk here, going out to one of the Saronic Gulf Islands, the island of Hydra. This is about
two-and-a-half hours by fast boat from Athens, so it’s pretty accessible, and it’s an absolutely beautiful and charming little island. This beautiful harbor. There’s a a rich history here. The Hydriots had their own navy. They were active in the war for independence in the 19th century. There’s no automobiles on this island. Everything gets moved by donkeys or foot. And you can see some pretty spectacular sunsets here. It’s a great place to just relax and take the slower pace of Greek life in stride. This is not a posed shot at all. I mean the Greeks really do sit around in cafes and drink great coffee and play backgammon. There’s a number of nice pebbly beaches around the island. You can take boats out to them. You can walk to several of them. The town of Hydra itself is kind of a “front door” stop, but there’s always “back door” secrets in even the most “front door” places. In Hydra – this is just one example – this little restaurant is run by an old Greek couple,
Panagiota and Leonidas. The Greeks do like to name their children from the names of ancient times, Leonidas being the great commander of Sparta. They also name their children for the saints of the Orthodox calendar. Anyway, Panagiota and Leonidas run this little restaurant. There’s no sign. You have to know it’s a restaurant. You have to make reservations, and it’s out of the center a little bit, so you can walk up here and completely escape the commercial feel
of the harbor-side area of Hydra. It’s just a beautiful place to get away from that. at the end of our tour, we board another one of the fast boats and head back to Athens, where we’ve got access to that beautiful brand-new airport, and this is where I’m going to finish up here. I appreciate your coming out today and learning about Greece. Efharisto, and enjoy the rest of your day.

7 thoughts on “Greece Travel Skills

  1. Massively informative in a very entertaining way. I know you were pressed for time but I still think you could have taken a moment to ask for some water and taken some deeper, "cleansing" breaths. Also, most people who travel are interested in history, so you don;t need to have an apologetic attitude whenever you get into the socio-historical context of what you're showing. I can no longer walk, so I travel now via armchair and people like you. Thank you so much and remember to include CC and introduce yourself at the
    get-go; You did great.

  2. Very very nice. I wish we had viewed this before our recent visit to Greece. Nonetheless we did cover many places in Athens.

  3. Mycenae is pronounced "My SEE Knee" not "My SEE knee uh". Also, Epidavros– it's not "Epi DAV ros". It's "Eh PEE dav ros. If you read it as it's written in Greek, you'd know. It's how my GREEK relatives pronounce it and they know. The rest of your Greek was great.

  4. I could be wrong, but I believe the Tholos shown at 35:38 is NOT at Delphi as mentioned, but rather is the Tholos of Philip at Olympia. I've lead my students to Greece for 15 years now, and both Delphi and Olympia are on my itinerary, so I'm quite familiar with the two. The Tholos at Delphi is, in my opinion, more remarkable than the one at Olympia.

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