Having just returned from a week in Greece, my main objective with this blog post is to share some of my photos from this beautiful country. Together with my wife Susan and our traveling companions, Bill and Linn from my hometown of Columbus, Georgia, our week in Greece had been preceded by a week-long Viking Ocean Cruise from Rome to Athens, via Sicily, Crete, and Ephesus (Turkey). Prior to the cruise, Susan and I had spent a week in Ireland. (See my previous blog post about Ireland.)
Two and a half thousand years ago, Greece was the preeminent country in the world. Greece pioneered/invented democracy. It gave rise to the earliest documented philosophers, Pythagoras, Plato, and Socrates, whose words still resonate today. Greece created architectural wonders for the ages. Between the years 499-449 BC (a fifty-year war in a century-long conflict), an alliance of Greek city-states, led by Athens resisted and ultimately expelled from Europe the Persian invaders under Persian leader Cyrus the Great, followed by his son Xerxes, who had conquered the area now known as the Balkans, Turkey, Cyprus, and other Mediterranean islands. If Greece had not defeated the Persians, the history of the world and especially Europe would have taken a very different direction. (Another such turning point in history is when the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada, with the help of Mother Nature, preventing the Americas from becoming a wholly Spanish colony.)
More recently, Greece has suffered from being invaded by the Romans, the Ottoman Turks, and the Nazis. It is said that Romans conquered the Greeks militarily, but Greeks conquered the Romans culturally. Greece suffered from civil wars, Athens versus Sparta, and Communists versus capitalists in the civil war just after World War II. In the financial crisis that began in 2008, Greece suffered economically as a member of the European Union, because having adopted the Euro as its currency, Greece was unable to protect itself from defaulting on predatory loans from EU financial speculators.
Nonetheless, Greece survives and thrives. Its main industries are tourism and olive oil. There are literally millions of olive trees. Greece’s historical heritage of incredible architecture draws tourists from around the world. The Greek people that we met personally were all extremely friendly. Last but not least (at least from my personal perspective), the food is great.
Our two tourist days in Athens were filled with museums, the Acropolis, sidewalk cafes, and dinner with a Greek friend I had met in Germany in 1969. The city center of Athens is very conducive to walking around. Unlike other countries who depend on tourism, the street vendors selling goods to tourists were very respectful and reserved. They did not approach us, unlike the typically aggressive vendors in many other countries, as we wandered the pedestrian streets and alleys.
After two and a half days in Athens, we rented a car and drove for four hours from Athens west to the Peloponnese Peninsula. The Peloponnese is home to the cities of Sparta (famous historically for its athleticism) and Kalamata (famous for its olives and olive oil). It is also home to an American friend of mine, David, who emigrated to Greece two years ago from the US to live in a small fishing village on the Peloponnese, Agios Nikolaus (St. Nicolas), in a part of Greece called the “Mani,” where he plans to spend the rest of his life.
I met David in 1969 when I first traveled to Kiel, Germany, to undertake a college “junior year abroad.” I ended up staying away from the US for over three years, dropping out of college to travel to Sweden and India for the first time, all while avoiding the Vietnam War.
David is a New Yorker who became a physician, later an alpaca farmer, and finally an American expat retiree living in Agios Nikolaos. Having visited David in Greece, after having known him for so many years while living in settings from Germany to Queens, NY, to Jamestown, NY, and finally the village of Remsen, NY, north of Ithaca, I can understand the attraction of Greece for David as a retirement destination
David is a member of the group The Kieler Old Farts. This is the group of friends, including myself, who met while studying in Kiel in the early seventies. We’ve had reunions for the last fifteen years or so, coming together first every other year, then every year because we’re getting older and who knows how many more years we can meet. Locations where we have met previously include Kiel (Germany), Oslo (Norway), Stockholm (Sweden), Poros (Greece), New York (twice at David’s alpaca farm in rural New York), Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Reno. We will meet in June of 2020 on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca.
Luckily for us, David was available to act as our tour guide for the four days that we spent on the Peloponnese. David speaks enough Greek to handle everyday situations. But though he speaks fluent German and Dutch, David says that Greek is a much more difficult language. First, one must learn to read Greek script. So David says he can’t yet speak well enough to discuss philosophy or politics. I’m sure that eventually he’ll be totally fluent.
On one of our day tours, David led us around the coastal road on this middle arm of the Peloponnese Peninsula. The other arms of the peninsula are visible on clear days across the blue Mediterranean waters. We sampled some fantastic local seafood on our journey. Greek yogurt is excellent, served traditionally with honey drizzled on top. And of course, the salads are famous. The world’s best feta cheese is served as a single block of cheese lying on top of the salad. Traditional Greek salads do not contain lettuce.
On our second full day road tour, David took us into the mountains. Fresh snow was visible on the mountain peaks. Roads are relatively new in this area of Greece, called the Mani. The Mani people were traditionally very independent. When the Nazi’s occupied the rest of Greece during World War II, they mostly avoided the Mani, because there were no roads, and the native Mani people were known to be fiercely independent. They retreated into the hills, living often in caves, while being able to shoot down from above at any Germans brave enough to attempt to enter their traditional rugged mountain home territory. Some caves can still be seen on the mountainsides.
Having David as a friend, guide, and host certainly made this an outstanding introduction to this wonderful part of the world. Thank you David!
I would definitely enjoy visiting Greece again. I’m acutely aware that a one week visit is very superficial in terms of really getting to know a country as rich culturally as Greece is.
Below, some more photos from Athens:
Interestingly, in ancient Greek sculptures, the men are mostly naked and the women are mostly clothed. Only in the Middle Ages did the culture shift such that the feminine body was presented naked in sculptures and paintings, while the sculptured masculine figures were typically clothed.