worth every penny
Oh the horror
Well the pick pockets didnt get us in rome and the civil unrest in libiya didnt get us while we were in Istanbul nor did the gorgons in athens…well thats all there was to be afraid of in Athens, and the humidity hasnt got us in singapore, Yes we admit to almost having been ‘got’ by the british home office, but we dodged that hail of bullets like a firing squad wall, which technically isnt much a feat as there is only one bullet and it should lodge in the head of the punished, but you get my point.
a 17 hour transit in singapore has reminded us of possible heat we may encounter in OZ but never fear that is a few months away so we can aclimatise just like the rest of you.
Anyway rome was full of old broken down stuff, the Pantheon ranks as the best of the Roman Buildings in my opinion and to be truthfull I am an expert, the Zaha new Maxxi building was a pretty good building for what we saw and in Italian could understand. I have been vocal of my thoughts of thoise types of buildings but like the fire station in , no i dont have terberculosis, the vitra museum it wasnt al bad in fact the fact im writing about it suggests Im impressed. Nah
Athens was warmer that both istanbul and rome in fact, ther is that word again, remember im an expert so I can use it, was warmer than the uk in all our time there, not saying much, possibly warmer than if you added up the average daily temperature for the duration. Yes thats how Im going to describe my time inthe UK from now on, the duration, If i was an empire builder it may be the occupation, but Im not, In fact, yes one more time, The singapore condition is also a victim of the ‘Empire’ what an interseting and recent history. So to end our empires tour meeting the turks, romans, greeks and british.
I dont think I have complained enough,
Rome had too many broken old things, the hotel was nice though but the hotelier gave me almonds int he shells for breakfast, not only almonds I did get other stuff but. Of course I had to break the shells with the nut cracker and Jane thought it drew attention to us and our special milk and special youghurt that the other plebs didnt get in their breakfast, I like being special, I am special, I am an expert so anything that identifies me as special is OK by me.
Anyway being shoved towards the aircraft so
I know, cheesy title. But there is quite a lot of cheese in Athens – feta, halloumi, saganaki – to name but a few. Actually the food has been generally excellent, with pita breads, eggplant salad, greek salad, giant beans, fresh orange juice etc featuring regularly for us. We’ve come to the conclusion that any food, no matter how simple, looks and tastes better greek-style, with the addition of a little drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice and a scattering of dried herbs, so henceforth shall add these to everything.
We love Athens! Everyone seems to be very friendly and laid back, fabulous sights to see, and some really lovely urban spaces. We walked and took the funicular up to Lykavittos hill yesterday and the view from above is quite different from somewhere immediately picturesque like Prague or Venice with their distinct individual sloped terracotta roofs. Here, a lot of development seems to have occurred in the last 100 years, and it looks like a very cluttered collection of squares, with lots of blocky apartment buildings, flat concrete roofs, rectangular sunshades and solar panels (good to see!) such that the aerial roofscape looks like a pixellated white/grey expanse that stretches for miles. However at street level it’s a completely different story. There are not a lot of parks, but loads of street planting and trees everywhere, including the delightful fragrant orange blossom. There are heavily vegetated balconies and roof terraces and patios everywhere, vines climbing up walls and over the streets… I know Athens has a pollution problem but it actually smells fresher than London… except in our so-called non-smoking hotel room…
Thus far we have visited the Acropolis complex including the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion, plus the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Library. Quite an impressive architectural roll call! Although ruined, there is something quite amazing about seeing this original Classical architecture in the flesh. Although it is amazing to think of the impact this architectural style has had on the cultural landscape of the western world, the millions of Neo-classical and post-modern buildings saturate our built environment to the extent that the forms can seem familiar and almost hackneyed. To try and strip away the cultural layering and view the raw power of these originals is just stunning. The forms are so clean, minimal, and fundamental; while the layering of finely crafted detail is a plea for the importance of beauty in our surroundings.
Today we went to the Acropolis museum – as luck would have it today is International Monuments Day, so we got in for free! – where all the best finds and sculptures from the Acropolis site are displayed. What an impressive museum! Clearly no expense spared on the building itself, very high quality materials throughout, lots of contextual information, and practically the entire lower floor is glass to showcase the archaeological excavations found on site during construction of the museum. The collection itself is incredibly impressive, and taken entirely from the Acropolis hill, showing just how dense the finds have been. The original Caryatids from the Erechtheion porch are here on display (copies are outside at the Acropolis) and are just stunning – I was millimetres away from them! I also really liked the sculptures from the pediments of the Old Temple of Athena (nothing of the building remains other than a few of these sculptures) which was destroyed in 480BC. The sculptures are perhaps less refined than the smooth, serene style of the later ones, but they have an incredible dramatic power to them – there were lions ferociously attacking a stumbling bull, and two giant serpents, their fat coils practically writhing. These sculptures and also some of the brilliant collection of kore dedication statues had been mainly buried after the first destruction of the acropolis, which preserved hints of the original bright paint colours and black outline detailing – quite a different effect from the austere white marble we mainly see today. Oh and of course there were the Parthenon marbles, with half the spots filled with plaster copies waiting for the return of the originals… hmmm controversial. Very impressive, and extremely well displayed, although I’ll admit to being slightly disappointed and saddened by the somewhat limited number of the originals (compared to how many there should be), and how deteriorated their condition was. Apparently much of the damage was done in 1687 when the Venetians decided to attack Athens which was under the control of the Ottoman empire, hitting the Turkish supplies of gunpowder – which were being stored in the Parthenon, of course… where else would you store your explosives other than in an irreplaceable monument of world significance…? Anyway, a great museum. Yet again we got kicked out at closing time, but at least we managed to see this one in chronological order rather than our usual backwards version.
So Athens comes highly recommended by us, and we’d love to see more of Greece. Tomorrow morning we see the Kerameikos then off to Rome!
The grand tour continues, and its being done in fine style better than any post renaisance british toff or prospective artist could ever dream, for starters ‘we are Australian’ read that as per we are sparta in 300 or even better, secondly we are not british toffs or perspective artists. After turkey we found ourselves in Greece, some 12-13 hours later than we planned but these things happen. Not sure what happened but rest assured we’ll never know and Im sure theyll never tell but we arived nice and on time for our Turkish Airlines flight to be confronted by cancelled, it wasnt cancelled when we booked it so a fair assumption upon arriving at the airport was it would be not cancelled then, wrong, so the check in aide bumped us onto the next flight some 7 or 8 hours later. No biggie, drop the check in bags, and hide the carryon in an overpriced locker and back on the train and tram into Istanbul for another half day sightseeying which was well nice, but on return to the airport everything was in mayhem, but no explanation, no help, the usual story. After having been bumped we were then delayed by 6 more hours which after a brief internet search is not uncommon with turkish airlines, and to mention the dirty ‘c’ word…compensation renders staff unable to speak English and of course my turkish, as excellent as it is was not enough to describe my fair and mild tempered frustration at no information or fair play. So we arrived in athens 2 hours after the last train left and was forced into an expensive and unecessary taxi fare to the center, fortunately Greece has craked down on its cowboy taxi drivers and a set fare was introduced and upon selecting our driver an obviously australian Greek taxi driver lauded our choice, I’m guessing he wanted to let the Aussies know he was there, how nice of him. The trip was actually quite painless as our taxi driver selection, aided by him being next in line, was actually a very friendly and helpful chap, in fact we are yet to meet a unhappy, well there was the sweet seller in Istanbul, person. I was worried the islamic turkey may have been a bit like Morocco. wrong! Islamic but not hasslers and was worried about Greece given its current economic problems, riots etc but it truly has been a great week so far. and of course the Grand tour continues having now seen the acropolis, hagia Sofiya and in a couple of days of to Rome.
All is good here, watching the best 30 dance pop videos on Greek TV, it is better than their soap operas…Oh It’s Thriller!
I know I’m in extreme post debt at the moment and have many to catch up on, including Norway, Iceland, the Lakes, Scotland, to name a few. However at the risk of messing up the post timeline, I’ll pick up with Istanbul… My Turkish is coming on a treat, I can say hello and goodbye (from both the departer and the departee), yes and no, please and thankyou (informal and formal), I can order turkish tea and fresh orange juice, state that I’m a vegetarian, identify a few types of breads, meze, and various sugary desserts, order tickets (any number from 1 to 4, or 11), and ask for the toilets. Pretty much sorted on the language front!
Today we started out bright and early and headed via the Hippodrome and its ancient obelisks to the Aya Sofya – absolutely stunning. We knew it undergoes pretty much continually ongoing repair work so were preparing ourselves for scaffolding obscuring the interior but it was completely free of scaffolding! Very lucky. The space is just amazing, such a huge dome span free of columns, built 1500 years ago, and constructed over only 6 years, commisssioned by Justin’s favourite and eponymous emperor, Justinian. I particularly liked how the extremely lofty space is so impressive and awe-inspiring, yet is rendered human scale by the decorative ironwork lighting rigs suspended by extremely long supports down to just above crowd level, although I guess on a practical note it makes it easier to change the millions of light bulbs. There is an incredible extent of marble wall cladding throughout the interior but it actually reads as reasonably subtle due to the fairly muted colours – grey-blues, grey-greens, grey-reds, while the remnant mosaics with their glittering gold byzantine tiles are anything but subtle. Amazing that it has been both a church and a mosque and now a museum, and remains intact rather than a lost victim of iconoclasm.
Next we headed to the Blue Mosque, which is still very much a functioning mosque, and were able to walk through the rear and view the building. While also amazingly beautiful (inside and out, in contrast to Aya Sofya which is quite dumpy and plain from the outside) and in almost immaculate condition, it is neither as large nor as technically daring as the Aya Sofya, relying on four enormous columns to support the dome span. I did not feel that the space was ‘neutral’ like the Aya Sofya, due to its ongoing function – I felt a bit of an intruder and didn’t want to hang around too long inside. I felt that it was more intrusive to the poor women rather than the men, as they stay in enclosed areas at the rear to pray, and are divided from the main space where the men are by the constant stream of tourists pouring through.
After this we went underground to the Basilica Cistern – an amazing Roman water storage space about 1500 years old, that although currently at quite a low level can hold 80 000 cubic metres, and I think runs underneath the Hippodrome. The brick vaulted ceiling is supported on 336 columns, through which raised walkways run. The space is quite eery, with dim lighting, dripping ceiling, and ghostly pale carp drifting around in the water. I particularly liked the fact that it was a functional space rather than a show space, so the columns are constructed from leftover bits of other buildings, with a mix of doric, ionic and corinthian columns, odd mismatching parts and a few standout carved stones including a column covered in carved peacock ‘eyes’ and two large medusa heads.
We then headed to the Grand Bazaar, but found it was not really our kind of place – less hassling than the Moroccan souks but also a bit less interesting, although perhaps we didn’t give it a fair go… we gave up with headaches and headed back to the hotel for a quick break before dinner.
Dinner! was fantastic. Found a lovely restaurant and drank Turkish tea while waiting for a free table, then the Bread arrived…. (yes it deserves a capital letter…) large, soft and steaming, scattered with sesame and nigella seeds, blown up like a balloon to the size of a football – perfectly inflated at first then slightly sinking before being torn apart and devoured… fabulous! We also ordered a selection of mixed vegetarian meze, with another Bread! And being too full of Bread to eat main courses we moved straight on to dessert (separate stomach) – a super-syrupy mound of semolina, toasted pine nuts and spices for me, and a turkish rice pudding for Justin. And so to bed, with the intent to visit the Tokapi palace tomorrow…