Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wild flowers

 The ubiquitous white daisies, when they form this huge white 'carpet' they are spectacular.
 The cute blue muscari.
 a kind of white snow drops.

This pictures don't do it justice but there's  more spectacular pictures later. The wild flowers are also blooming near where I live near the Santa Monica bay in Southern California. It's an irony that I have to travel thousands of miles to see wild flowers while I have them in my back yard. The wild flowers of the Peloponnese is renown, most of the varieties are only found in the Peloponnese. The weather was terrific, only raining in the evenings and into the night. It was nice and cool while sunny at the same time. It's almost as terrific as Primavera Sicilia!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Palamidi castle

 High above the town is Palamidi castle. There are castles and fortification everywhere in the Peloponnese. This area was conquered and reconquered numerous times. It passed from Sparta rule to Roman and when the Romans lost to the Byzantine empire, the crusaders came to reconquer it. Greece and its surrounding area was divided between the Frankish crusaders and the Venetians. This fortification was built by the Venetians. It later fell to the Ottoman Turks. So in this little town one sees some Orthodox churches and a mosque. The mosque has been converted into a cinema but we couldn't find it. Anyway one can climb the 900 steps up to the castle or.....
 take a taxi up there and walk down the 900 steps. This was what we did.
 It had stunning views of Nafplio down below, the sea and the surrounding farmland areas.

We were more interested in the wild flowers. They were everywhere. The wild flowers were such a delight. The most ubiquitous were the little white daisies. They form a white 'carpet' under the trees and they cascade down the slopes. They were my downfall, in one town I got so excited, I fell and rolled down a hill. I'll tell you about it later.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


 Slated by guidebooks as the prettiest town in the Peloponnese, it was true to its reputation. Both the old town and the waterfront  are so pleasant. There were so few tourists around at this time of the year. It is more frequented by Athenians who spends their weekends and holidays here. We asked the taxi driver if there were  a lot of foreign tourists around. He replied, 'mono Greeks.' The expression was surprising, he used 'mono' instead of solo or maybe to us, being so used to Spanish, would use 'solo' instead of 'mono'.
 How many kinds of ouzo is there?
 The narrow streets, the buildings being built close together means its cooler in summer.
 It's all Greek to us!

 Orthodox priests are a common sight all over Greece.The Palamidi castle is up on top and we would get to climb the 900 steps to get there.... not really. We cheated.
 There is a castle out in the sea. Castles and fortifications are a common sight all over the Peloponnese. It showed the troubled history of the area.
Again, its all Greek to me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Peloponnese

This is the bus stop at Isthmos, near Loutraki in Corinth. This is a very important place to know if you are heading into the Peloponnese. Loutraki is the port area and is also where the Corinth canal is. The Peloponnese is actually a peninsula but the Corinth canal now cuts it off from the mainland. The canal is very short and narrow and all transportation on the ground passes over it. We arrived in Athens airport late in the afternoon. We took the suburban railway between the airport and Corinth and by the time we reached Corinth, it was dark and we couldn't see anything. We arrived at Korinthos and the station was in the middle of nowhere. There was a bus waiting and we asked (by way of hand signs) for a place to sleep (a hotel), the driver beckoned us to get on board. We had no clue where we were going and where the hotels were. Apparently, it wasn't apparent to us when we first arrived, they do have a town center. My first thought was, 'oh my god, this is going to be one big adventure.' There was this guy sitting next to us. I asked, 'do you speak English?' He did and he led us to a hotel and to the bus stop (next to the hotel) where we can take the bus to Loutraki to catch the long distance buses.
So the bus stop at Isthmos is very important, all buses from the Peloponnese passes through here to go to Athens. Similarly all buses from Athens goes through here to go to the various towns in the Peloponnese. One can also take a taxi to get here, which was what we did one morning because the bus to Loutraki wasn't forthcoming. There was this crazy local woman who shared the taxi with us. Taxis are much cheaper here than in other European cities. The names Corinth and Korinthos are synonymous. Just as we call Sparta, the locals call it by the Greek name, Sparti. Before long we were using the Greek names ourselves. Then there is the Greek writing for these names, forget about that, they were indecipherable to us. We spent 3 days in Sparti and we could then recognize its Greek writing for it and also for Athens. I need to learn the Greek alphabet before my next trip.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wars and earthquakes

Matthew Chapter 24: 6 to 7 "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains." Throughout the history of mankind there has been wars, nations rising up against nations, kingdoms against kingdoms. There has been famines and earthquakes. We are reminded of the recent one in Japan. There are wars going on in the middle east. The Parthenon, built in 490 BC has seen its share of wars and earthquakes. It was built to worship the Greek gods, it was a church later, it was a mosque after that. It was partially destroyed by an explosion, it was looted for it stone to be used as construction material, it was looted for its friezes and reliefs and some of it is in the British museum. The Greeks are quite quick to remind the world's visitors that some part of their beloved Parthenon is in the British museum. Just imagine that at one time there was a cross on top of the Parthenon when it was a church and also imagine that there was a minaret on top after that when it was a mosque. I never knew that till I went to the Acropolis museum. It is one of the most amazing places in the world. March is a great time to visit. There were practically no visitors in the Peloponnese and not that many in Athens.
Athens is choked with traffic. it's quite cheap to go by taxi. We used taxis quite a bit. It's easier than trying to navigate the public transportation system. We travel by bus a lot in the Peloponnese. There are gypsies all over Athens and street urchins are everywhere hustling. One does have to be careful. The local Greeks are friendly and helpful.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ancient Greece

Nothing is more ancient than ancient Greece except maybe ancient Egypt. It is said that one cannot go anywhere in Greece without running into some ancient ruins. They are all over Athens, some remnants from ancient Greece, some from ancient Roman, some from the Byzantine empire. All over Athens, there are little old Byzantine churches, the newer buildings just build around them or over them, while still leaving them intact. We stayed in the Monastariki area which happened to be the Byzantine area of Athens and little old Byzantine churches abound. I love the fact that they are always opened and local Greeks just pop in anytime, light a candle and say a prayer. The pictures show Mystra, the last bastion of the Byzantine empire. After the fall of Constantinople, the Greek Christians left and began to live out on the Peloponnese which is rocky and inhospitable, they hope to live an unmolested life, away from marauding invaders. Here the dying Byzantine empire built their last churches and community till they too were extinguished. It is conjectured that the last fresco painters left Constantinople for other places, Mystra on the Peloponnese peninsula being one of them. Here in these churches, we can still see what remained of their work.
Spring is the best time to visit the Peloponnese, it is the time of wild flowers. One can ask, 'where do you go to see wild flowers in the Peloponnese?' Anywhere and everywhere. It is so beautiful. They are everywhere and most of these wild flowers are only found in the peloponnese. The end of March into early April is the best time. The place is hilly, rocky and quite inhospitable. There are some beaches but otherwise it is just a sheer drop into the the sea. The sea is rough and the waves just pound away at the cliffs and the wind is strong enough to blow anyone off their footing in some places. Right in the middle of the peninsula is the town of Sparta. It is no wonder why they are called Spartans or maybe because of their way of life, we called any life that resembled it, a spartan life. Seeing the place, knowing the history gives new appreciation to the word, 'spartan'. We spent 5 days visiting various places in the Peloponnese and another 2 days in Athens which is not quite enough. But in life we take what we can get. That was an introductory visit to Greece. I do intend to return and visit central Greece.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Things we don't see in our neighborhood

This is an open pit latrine which I had to use while visiting a village outside of Kunming, China. It didn't smell because the weather was cool and it was open air so the smell kinda dissipated. When one travels especially to places that are not as civilised as our own, the question of clean toilets come to mind. Surprisingly they have very clean facilities in Muslim countries. China is one of the worse offenders. While the modern parts of China has modern toilet facilities, there are still a lot of primitive ones. It also reminded me of an incident at a gas station in China where there was no running water and the day's business is just piled on top of each other. Other travelers to China wrote about the dismal state of toilet facilities at bus stations in rural China. It's something a traveler has to put up with. For a long time I've resisted visiting China because of this and I know of family who still refuses to visit China preferring to wait till they catch up to the 21st century where toilet facilities are concerned. I hope this doesn't spoil your appetite for traveling.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'll be back

When you read this, I'm already abroad, chasing after that elusive picture, similar to this one. Picture shows girl in Szentendre on a beautiful Autumn Saturday morning. It's my most favorite photo and I know some of my readers liked it too. I envy her spirit and I'm sure she has not been corrupted by the cares of the world yet. She never knew communism. It's incredible to be born in a free world. But the Bible says, 'to whom more is given, more is expected.' We need to be aware of our responsiblities, living in the free and western world. When we see boatloads of people from Africa and India landing on the shores of Western Europe and the hordes of Mexicans crossing the border into the USA, we must reexamine our contribution to the world.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Outside Budapest, Hungary

 The Danube and the parliament building in Budapest.
 Szentendre, a village just outside of Budapest

We arrived on this little train in this beautiful bucolic village called Szentendre which is just outside Budapest. This was 2 years ago. It was a very lovely Autumn day and the locals were all out enjoying their environs and the day. All along the railway tracks were cute little houses with gardens full of fruits, vegetables and flowers. It was so delightful. Outside the train station old local ladies were selling home grown flowers. That must be the only thing they have to sell to raise some hard cash. We, in the Western world, don't realise how hard cash is to come by. They may have enough to eat because they raise their own food but to have a few florints in their pocket is a different thing. It's one of the reasons why I work so hard at work, I don't want to be without hard cash. It's such a blessing to be able to stick my ATM card into the wall and be assured that cash will be dispensed. I don't even need to check my balances. We take so many things for granted. We need to stop and think about the rest of the world. Why are they rioting? Money or the lack of! It's wonderful to see Hungary thriving after they left communism behind. We had a great time in Budapest. The main train station at Keleti was a different story. It looked dismal because it was a relic of the communist era. I saw trains leaving for Kiev and other such places further East and the patrons looked really sad. I would be sad if I had to live in these places. It'll be interesting to visit and come away with fascinating stories and another thing to live there as a permanent resident.