Kevin & Carolyn Invade France!

IMG_1794On June 6, 1944, the allies used the largest armada ever assembled to invade Nazi-occupied France.

75 years and three days later, Kevin & Carolyn ventured to the beaches of Normandy to see how well it was going.

As you can see below, apparently some of the troops didn’t get the memo that we won the war. They’re still out there bringing their vehicles to the fight.

One of these days they’ll pick up a newspaper and figure it out.

We ended up in Paris because of a delayed flight from Crete, as detailed in the previous entry. This was our second visit to the City of Light, so we decided to stay in the outskirts and rent a car. We looked over what we considered the “Tier Two” attractions in Paris, since we’d already been to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Monument to Rude Parisians.

One of the places I’ve always wanted to see was the beaches of Normandy.IMG_1816The beach views are so iconic that when I sent a picture of one to my son Josh, who is well-versed in World War II lore, asking if he could guess where we were, he got it on the first try. I was hoping he’d still think we were in Greece, but he’s too smart for that.

IMG_1108I gotta tell ya, the thing I didn’t expect was the emotional feeling of standing on the beach and looking over the water, picturing the mass of ships greeting the Germans who woke up that morning. You just can’t mentally picture that the same way on any other beach.

NormandyIt was and still is the largest seaborne invasion humanity has ever known.

IMG_1865There’s an interesting monument on the beach: the Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial.

It consists of three elements:
The wings of Hope
So that the spirit which carried these men on June 6th, 1944 continues to inspire us, reminding us that together it is always possible to changing the future.
Rise, Freedom!
So that the example of those who rose against barbarity, helps us remain standing strong against all forms of inhumanity.
The Wings of Fraternity
So that this surge of brotherhood always reminds us of our responsibility towards others as well as ourselves.
On June 6th, 1944 these man were more than soldiers, they were our brothers.

The sculptor said:
“I created this sculpture to honour the courage of these men.
Sons, husbands and fathers, who endangered and often sacrificed their lives in the hope of freeing the French people.”

This is the 1st Infantry Division monument. It stands in the middle of the area of Wiederstandsnest (WN62), which was one of the strongest defended positions in that area. It says, “In honor of the valiant Americans of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade who gave their lives in the assault on this beach on 6 June 1944.”

IMG_1813

IMG_1127Flags of the allies stand guard over the Les Braves Omaha Beach Memorial.

IMG_1893And yet another memorial, this one is called the Omaha Monument to the Allies. It says:

THE ALLIED FORCES LANDING ON THIS SHORE, WHICH THEY CALL
OMAHA BEACH, LIBERATE EUROPE – JUNE 6th 1944

IMG_1890I presumed these soldiers weren’t a part of some sort of time-traveling expedition.

IMG_1869Having not been there before, I don’t know if they were there for the 75th anniversary or if it’s a usual touristy thing.

IMG_1895Other than this sign, and whatever leftovers we saw from the 75th anniversary celebration, it wasn’t particularly touristy otherwise. A few restaurants, but mostly the focus is on the monuments and the beach, which it should be.

IMG_1897You can even eat at the L’Omaha. We checked the menu and it was overpriced, which was no surprise. What was surprising is that they didn’t offer Omaha Steaks.

IMG_1861Lots of signs around the area give you an idea as to what transpired.

IMG_1857Including detailed maps of the invasion force.

IMG_1815Or just a sign telling you you’ve found the right beach.

There’s a bunker/pillbox beneath yet another memorial. It was sobering to stand in a place where men died violent deaths.

Otherwise, we just spent a fair amount of time gazing over the water, being damned glad we were born after the disaster that was World War II. And all it took was one knuckle-headed demagogue and about 40% of a country that thought he was great… until they finally realized he wasn’t.

At least 70 to 85 million died in WWII, which was about 3% of the world population in 1940.

There’s a Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center nearby with a water feature commemorating the beach.

IMG_1803There’s also an Overlord Museum. I assumed it was put there to commemorate me.

IMG_1102We didn’t go inside because we got there a little late in the day, but they have lots of vehicles outside you can take a gander at.

IMG_1805Carolyn’s tanked.

IMG_1811Which means I had to get tanked too.

IMG_1100I’m pretty sure our car couldn’t roll over these.

IMG_1798Putting the “art” in “artillery.”

IMG_1802It’s all Greek –er French, to me.

IMG_1846And then there’s the cemetery.  It covers 172.5 acres and contains 9,388 burials.

Pictures don’t do it justice especially in terms of how the monuments cover the ground almost as far as the eye can see. It’s a somber place.

IMG_1849And not one where we felt it very appropriate to take a big smiling selfie.

IMG_1789Once we left there we stopped at a -–gasp– McDonalds, just because we were in a slight rush and besides, we wanted to commemorate what the victory eventually brought the Europeans: McDonalds! Burger King! Disneyland! Heart attacks! The reason I took this picture is because the place was so busy, they were stacking food on the countertops. But it wasn’t just busy, it was haphazard. Probably these least organized McDonalds I’ve ever been to.

We don’t want another war just to straighten out how they do McDonalds in France…

Phaistos Than the Speed of Light

IMG_0946Actually, it should be: Phaistos then the City of Light.

We originally scheduled our trip for only Athens and Crete. Plenty to see in one journey, right? But somehow we ended up in Paris on the same trip.

(Only in Europe can you take a trip to Greece and end up in Paris… of course that may be because those two places are only in Europe, duh!)

Anyway, to make a long story shorter than it would be if I made it longer, after enjoying a great visit in Athens and Crete, we missed our flight to Lisbon from Athens because our flight from Crete to Athens experienced a significant delay. Since I had booked them on separate itineraries, the missed flight was our problem… so we were stuck in Athens with no ticket to anywhere.

I found a travel agency inside the airport while Carolyn went off looking for a dark corner with a cushiony carpet to lay on (as if), and asked the man to find us a way back to Lisbon. The next direct flight there was 24 hours later… and God-awful expensive. So I figured maybe we’d just stay in Athens for a bit longer; we certainly didn’t see everything there anyway. Whaddya gonna do, right?

Bates Motel NVThe only problem was that it was a Saturday night and the middle of busy season and some sort of convention was in town besides, so the travel agent simply could not find anyplace for us to stay in Athens. He even looked well outside of Athens, and then he got down to one-star hotels, and then to cardboard boxes on sidewalks, all with no luck. Well, to be fair, the cardboard box people never answered the phone.

After about an hour of fruitless searching, we knew we were in for a night at the airport.

So I asked him what was the next available flight anywhere west that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. He came up with a 6:00 AM flight to Paris for a couple hundred euros each. I thought it might be a lot easier to get to Lisbon from Paris than from Athens, and that ended up being true. That flight turned out to be reasonable as well.

Ultimately, I shrugged and just booked the flight to Paris, and then walked back to Carolyn, who was crouching fearfully in a dark corner (not really). “Hey honey, guess what? We’re going to Paris!”

She didn’t believe me until I showed her the tickets.

After that, we discussed the idea that as long as we’re going to Paris, why don’t we stay there another five days or so? We thought that was a great idea, so I booked us a hotel and the additional flight to Lisbon while sitting in the Athens airport, and off we were to another adventure! Burger King.gifOh, the joys of retirement! Of course, that still meant we had to spend the night in the airport, which is why you see me in the picture above with a sleeping mask on. We actually got kicked out of a Burger King where we had hunkered down, because you can’t have indigents sleeping in your restaurant, I guess, even in an airport.

IMG_1503But before we get to Paris, there’s one last place in Crete I want to share, a place called Phaistos, or faistos, according to that sign.

There are several major Minoan archaeological sites in Crete, the best known being Knossos, which is the site of the famous Minotaur maze. It’s also the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete, and has been called Europe’s oldest city.

While we were interested to see it, Knossos was way on the other side of the island from where we were, plus the reviews were a little mixed. They have rebuilt some of it instead of leaving it as discovered, and I guess it’s a bit touristy and crowded.

So we settled for Phaistos, which was much closer. We found it to be well worth visiting.

IMG_1551Phaistos is the place where they found the famous Phaistos disc, which may be where they got the name for it I’m thinking. Anyway, without the Phaistos disc, you may not have been able to read this blog, because they’re the ones who invented typography! Of course, I’m sure some of you may wish they hadn’t after reading some of my dumb jokes. Since the Phaistos disc has never been translated, I’m rooting for it to be a dumb dad joke.

IMG_1519We hired a tour guide to show us all the particulars… oh, wait, that’s Carolyn. No wonder the tour was so cheap!

IMG_1527Here’s a question for you: How many jars do you see here?

Two you say? Nope! The answer is three. There are the two big jars on the right, and then Carolyn’s mouth is ajar too! I know, I know, you’re wishing they’d never invented that Phaistos disc.

Here’s a closer look at some of the jars, sans Carolyn’s ajar one. Judging by the size of them, it looks like the Minoans invented Costco as well!

IMG_1552And I thought stairs weren’t invented until the escalator.

Phaistos McDonaldsHere’s a view of some of the city from above. As you can see, the Minoans invented a lot of things we take for granted today, like fast food. It’s what ultimately led to their doom.

IMG_1540Phaistos was the home of Radamanthis, the brother of the king of Minos. In Greek mythology, Minos was the first King of Crete, and the son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to the labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur. Sounds like a lot of bull to me.

IMG_1507Phaistos is the second largest palace of Crete after Knossos.

IMG_1515The site was inhabited since the late neolithic era, which started around 10,000 B.C. To put that in perspective, it is about as long ago as the year 12,019 is ahead of us now.

IMG_1554Just like the other palaces of Minoan Crete, the palace was destroyed three times. This was rebuilt on the ruins of the old buildings in 1700 BC.

IMG_1544Despite its age, we were impressed at the sophistication of the layout, as well as the spectacular views afforded from its hilltop location.

IMG_1510The palace continued to be used even after its destruction in 1400 BC. It gradually lost its power until nearby Gortyn finally destroyed it in 200 BC. And no, Gortyn wasn’t the name of one of the minotaurs, it was another city/state on Crete.

IMG_1512Phaistos was inhabited from about 4000 BC; the first palace was built around 2000 BC.

IMG_1520This room rocks.

IMG_1528Pink Floyd would be proud.

IMG_1509Well: that’s a deep subject.

IMG_1536Why is it every hole is used as a garbage can, even in such an historical area?

IMG_1511In addition to the palace, they had a theater with a great view of both the palace and the panorama. There are no records as to which movies played in the theater.

IMG_1533Carolyn does her best Rocky impression.

IMG_1549This are the queen’s quarters. The fact that archeologists can figure stuff like that out will always impress me. I woulda thought it was the TV room.

IMG_2434… A few days later, we were sleeping in an airport waiting for an early morning flight to Paris. I was embarrassed to be seen with a sleeping mask on, so I wore the sunglasses to disguise myself.

 

Bull

Crete: Dangerous driving and sights galore

Greece is a country of many islands, so we knew we wanted to visit at least one of them. We settled on the largest one, Crete, figuring if some of it was disappointing, it’d be large enough to find something interesting.

IMG_1372
Definitely not a cretin, or Cretan.

Of course, I was originally going to make a joke with the word “cretin,” but thought I’d look it up first. It comes from the French crétin, originally meaning “Christian.” and was used to mean “human being,” apparently as a reminder that, though deformed, cretins were human and not beasts. I thought that was more interesting than a joke.

Of course, being a Cretan simply means you’re a resident of Crete. So being a cretinous Cretan means you’re a bit of a Greek asshole. We didn’t encounter any of those, I don’t think.

Anyway, Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the 88th largest island in the world and the fifth largest island in the Mediter-ranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica.

It’s an ancient part of the world: excavations have revealed stone tools that are at least 130,000 years old.

IMG_0477Driving in Crete was a minor challenge since we couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the signs.

IMG_0581Especially the ones that were all shot up. We learned there was at least one village that became uninhabited after an all-out war between another village due to some sort of revenge feud. I’m not sure Cretans should own very many guns.

IMG_0492Some of the signs direct you to crappy places.

IMG_0701While others direct you… everywhere.

IMG_0555The many canyons and ridges make for some interesting roads.

IMG_1616We occasionally ended up on dirt roads with no guardrails, often with drops up to, I don’t know, I’m estimating here, about a million meters straight down? One dirt road the GPS took us down was so narrow and dangerous we carefully backed up and went back the way we came.

IMG_0893I’m not sure if this sign means be cautious about the cliff or the guy with the gun.

IMG_1476Many of the towns have two-way roads that aren’t any bigger than a one-lane. You just have to wait your turn (or sometimes back up… or maybe sacrifice your side mirrors) if you spot a car down the road.

IMG_0792Even on the highways, they are a bit creative. This two-lane highway essentially functions as a three or four lane highway because everyone who isn’t passing rides the shoulder.

IMG_0580I’d hate to be the guy who dented that guardrail: on the other side is a drop straight down to death. Many of the roads would have done the Road Runner cartoon proud. I could imagine something plunging off the side… and then I’d hear a long, fading whistle… and then a distant poof! as Wile E. Coyote meets his temporary doom.

This bridge would have been perfect for that cartoon. We approached it with a bit of trepidation since any fall would have made a pancake out of the car. As we rolled across it anyway, it sounded creaky and groan-y like some of the boards were going to give out at any moment. The thing that gave us confidence was the crowd of people on the other side, sitting around a small roadside refreshment stand. Of course, they could have been gathered just to watch hapless travelers plunge through the bridge, but we took our chances and made it to the other side, to a bunch of hollerin’ and applause. Not really. But it sure seemed scary.

IMG_1489Sometimes it was better to just sit by the side of the road. But the many sightseeing areas also have huge drop offs, sometimes with no barriers. If she would’ve fallen over this one, she just would have just rolled downhill like a snowball in an avalanche instead of a straight plunge to instant death. So it’s possible she could’ve survived. I’m happy to report she didn’t test the situation.

Meantime, there are goats everywhere. They love to watch how ba-a-a-a-d the drivers drive. Especially since they can climb pretty much wherever they want and we’re stuck with only where four wheels can take us.

There are interesting churches galore, as well as a bunch of small memorial churches, including a number of small church-like memorial structures by the side of the road, often with just enough room for one candle.

The island also has a castle, and you know we love castles! This one is called Frangokastello. It was built by the Venetians in 1374. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as so many castles we’ve seen in Europe. I guess we’re getting kinda castle-jaded!

IMG_1428Even in ancient Crete, hobbits obviously built their own castles.

IMG_0865There are two interesting beaches we wanted to see: Balos Lagoon and Elefonsi Beach. They are both quite out of the way, with lots of tiny towns and narrow roads, including this one-way tunnel.

IMG_0855When you get behind a truck like that, you ain’t gonna pass him anytime soon.

IMG_0935The road to Balos Lagoon is one of the most treacherous roads we’ve ever been on… on an island with a lot of treacherous roads.

IMG_0906There are no guardrails next to a cliff called, “And we’ll never hear from you again.”

I think that’s a meteor streaking over the road into the water below. Oh, actually it’s just the dust from the windshield wiper. It was mighty hot and dusty on that day.

IMG_0883A few natural barriers might help if you find yourself wrestling control of your vehicle with a madman. Carolyn rarely has to do that.

IMG_0900Here it looks like a two-lane road, but there were long stretches were two cars couldn’t pass without one of them having its wheels halfway over the cliff.

IMG_0886The goats keep a lookout to make sure everyone drives safely.

IMG_0931They even man (goat?) the roadside stands selling the ubiquitous Cretan honey.

IMG_0939We just had to pay the occasional goat toll to be granted passage.

IMG_0937There’s one lane, and then a goat lane. I guess it helps to be a little sheepish when navigating that road.

IMG_0881It went on for a good number of miles. I’d guess it took us about a half an hour to get all the way there.

IMG_1650This gives you some idea why.

IMG_0912This looks like a traffic jam, but is actually just cars parked ahead of the actual parking lot. It was our first clue that the place was gonna be packed.

IMG_1647Note that for the most part, only one line of cars could move, so there could be a bit of a wait as you watch the cars going the opposite way roll by. I really didn’t want to have to back up on that road.

IMG_1646One foot from Pancakeville.

IMG_0921Upon our arrival at Balos, we were of course greeted by the Welcoming Goat.

IMG_0919Now he’s off to greet the other new arrivals.

IMG_1644Time for a cigarette break.

IMG_1625Once in the parking lot, we discovered it was going to be a long walk just to get to the beach. So, while we didn’t have a lot of time owing to our impending flight that afternoon, these intrepid explorers made the trek.

IMG_1627The path was marked for us by the considerate goats.

IMG_1633Once we crested the final hill, we were greeted with a sight that elicited oohs and ahs.

IMG_1636I think we’re mostly happy here that we actually made it, risking life and limb as well as a long, hot walk.

IMG_1631Of course, the other thing we discovered was that the already-long walk was just to a vista of the lagoon. You have to walk all the way down there if you want to get to the beach.

IMG_1638We encountered a few people returning, all of whom were desperately out of breath after making the long, arduous climb.

IMG_1629So we settled for the gorgeous views of one of the most beautiful lagoons we’ve ever seen.

IMG_1634The smart people take a boat to the beach instead.

IMG_1639Everyone else just admires the views and laments the fact that they’re not twenty-years-old anymore. This twenty-something is simply a wimp.

IMG_0821The other beach we wanted to see is called Elefonsi Beach. Not long ago, Elafonisi Beach was a secret known only to some locals on Crete. Then, in 2014, TripAdvisor named it one of the world’s top 25 beaches, and all tourist hell broke loose.

It’s known for having pink sand beaches… and we wanted to see the pink sand!

Pink beachWe thought we were going to see something like this beach in the Philippines.

IMG_1611 (1)Instead, all we got was this.

IMG_0842It’s really just a little tinge of red on the edge of the water. I think we were sold a bill of goods!

IMG_1606I mean, it is a nice beach and all…

IMG_1609Appropriate for a selfie or two…

And other touristy shots…

IMG_1608And they have some nice flags.

IMG_0839And truthfully, it is a pretty beach, and well worth spending a day there. We were only there to take a quick look because we didn’t want to miss our flight.

IMG_0836And then the busses started arriving. Thanks TripAdvisor! I’m sure the locals love that site now. Not.

Otherwise, we’ll finish up this lengthy entry and just let you take a gander at the beautiful scenery of Crete before we head off to other parts unknown:

IMG_1382IMG_1377IMG_1373IMG_1470IMG_1479IMG_1488IMG_1603IMG_0698IMG_0680IMG_0746IMG_0666IMG_0742IMG_0656IMG_0655IMG_0653IMG_0564IMG_0571IMG_0521

 

IMG_1419After all that sightseeing, lunch is a welcome respite! Like the Portuguese, the Greeks are warm and gracious restaurant hosts. We had several lively conversations with our waiters.

IMG_1656We gotta finish up with a kiss… because you gotta kiss-a-mo’ if they tell you to!

IMG_1410…and then we drove off into the sunset.

We spit on Crete!

IMG_0466Phtew! Phtew! We were hocking loogies all over the place in Crete.

Well, at least in Chania anyway. Chania is the second largest city in Crete, and is where our flight from Athens landed. Shortly after arriving, we endeavored to find out how to pronounce it by asking a local.

The best way I can describe it is: “Hock-a-loogie + ehnia.”

Khkhkhehnia.

To say it properly, just pretend there’s a hair stuck in the back of your throat and that you desperately need to bring it forward. After accomplishing that, just add a sweet li’l “ehnia” to it, and you’re pretty much a Greek. Or Cretan. Or cretin.

(I’m thinking maybe “ania” means “Thank God that hair is gone from my throat!”)

We make fun only because there are no words in English that require you to use so much of your throat, except for when you’re barfing while simultaneously telling your spouse that you’re gonna need a bigger bucket.

I’d be willing to bet my Viking heritage that most of our loyal readers have also never heard of Chania. But it is a significant tourist town of Crete, originally brought to our attention for the sole reason that our flight from Athens landed there.

To our surprise and delight, we found it absolutely charming.

IMG_0458It’s a seaside town with a ring of stores and restaurants fronting the harbor. The artifacts in this picture (not the old guy) provide evidence of the town’s seafaring ways, and are one of the first sights you see when you first walk into Chania Old Town.

IMG_0460A whole slew of restaurants await for prompt seating and a great view of the harbor. Almost every one of them is fronted by a pitchman encouraging you to come sample their offerings… other than a few that feature signs saying, “We won’t bother you!” Except I noticed they sort of bothered you anyway, as if the sign gave them some sort of reverse psychology permission.

IMG_0450A few musicians and other street entertainers provided for a jovial entrance into old town. This guy was playing some AC/DC if I recall.

IMG_0456It took a bit of work, but I finally got this light pole all straightened out properly.

IMG_0457So here’s Chania from the ocean view. As you can see, despite it being June, there’s snow on them thar mountains. We didn’t expect that in the middle of a Mediterranean summer.

IMG_0760They really do a nice job of making things cute and clean. It was this way all around Chania Old Town. The rest of Chania was just like any other town, but they really know how to cater to tourists in the tourist area.

IMG_0765If you see many pictures of Chania, one of them is bound to be one with this lighthouse prominently featured. It’s an iconic part of Chania. It was originally a Venetian lighthouse built around the late 16th century, although it’s sometimes referred to as “Egyptian” because it was built during a time where Crete was occupied by Egyptian troops.

IMG_0777Here’s a close-up, taken after a very hot fifteen minute walk around the harbor (the lighthouse is located at the end of a long protective breakwater that protects the harbor from the sea). During the Turkish occupation the lighthouse fell into disrepair. It was eventually rebuilt between 1824 and 1832, although they kept the original Venetian base. It was leaning badly due to bombings during World War II, but it was extensively renovated in 2005.

For some reason, taking one shot of something iconic is never enough. I’ve got dozens more if you want to see em! No? Okay, we’ll mush on then.

IMG_1581A tourist submarine is is on her way out of the harbor. We didn’t do many of the touristy things there, however; the town was charming enough all on its own…

…with sights aplenty and photo opportunities galore, including the Aegean Sea in 3D!

IMG_1348The Nazis bombed the hell out of Chania in 1941, especially Old Town. I think before that the town name was simply pronounced “Shania,” but the bombings rattled the residents’ fillings so much they couldn’t say the “sh” without sounding like they were hocking a loogie. I wonder if any of our Portuguese friends have ever heard the term “hocking a loogie?”

IMG_1593Apparently the Chanians pointed their cannons straight up to try and hit the German planes, but once they put them in cement this way, they couldn’t figure out how to put in the gunpowder and cannonball. No wonder Crete kept losing wars.

IMG_1595They do much better in peacetime, as evidenced by these clean and friendly promenades leading from the harbor.

IMG_1590Here’s a panoramic view of Chania from the seawall.

IMG_1575Here’s a view of the seawall.

IMG_1589You gotta admit it’s a pretty little town.

IMG_1568Here’s our view from the top of the hotel (really more of an Airbnb).

IMG_1565And here’s what we did up there. As far as you know.

IMG_1562As with so many places in Europe, old meets new everywhere you go.

IMG_1563And the sea meets land.

IMG_1560And the man meets woman. So if you don’t think we’re happy as hell being able to do all this traveling and stuff? Of course we are! These are our expressions before we put on our happy faces for the camera!

IMG_1350Horse carriages await tours around the town. We almost did that, but for no good reason we kinda missed it. Oh, well, maybe we only missed out on some horse farts.

IMG_1335I thought this salad bar was a little odd, and was glad we didn’t eat at whatever restaurant it was a part of.

IMG_1336Purple is one of my favorite colors. This tree (and my wife) is magnificent. I think she’d look good in purple hair, but I haven’t been able to convince her of that yet.

IMG_1343I thought of my son and his wife when we saw this store offering nothing but honey and honey products, because they raise bees in the state of Washington.

IMG_1342Honey is a big thing in Crete (so I’m not sure why this mannequin looks like the bees got put inside his hat). There are a ton of small shops and roadside stands around the island offering either honey, raki, or ouzo, the last two effectively being the national drinks of Crete.

IMG_1344The history of Crete goes back to the 7th millennium BC, preceding the ancient Minoan civilization by more than four millennia. The Minoan civilization was the first civilization in Europe and the first, in Europe, to build a palace.

After the Minoan civilization was devastated by the Thera eruption, Crete developed an Ancient Greece-influenced organization of city states, then successively became part of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, autonomous state, and the modern state of Greece. (Per Wikipedia.)

IMG_1354A good view of the charming seafront.

IMG_1332A panoramic view of the charming seafront.

IMG_1357A great view of a car in a gas station.

Actually, this is the little Fiat we rented to get around Crete. I’m posting it only to tell the tragic story of our car rental return. We rented from a small company called Autocandia (I fully expected them to have a small bowl of candy in the car, but came away very disappointed). Anyway, everything went fine until our return, when our tragic saga begins.

When we rented it, I was told that upon returning the car, I should drop Carolyn and the luggage off at the airport and return the car alone. I wasn’t sure why, thinking maybe they wanted to rape me without listening to a bunch of caterwauling from my wife? Well hey, the term “greekstyle” had to originate for some reason!

Despite my aversion to being, ah, greeked, I followed the instructions, and found myself in a line with no employee behind the desk in front of it. Apparently, their only other employee had called in sick so the remaining employee had to both man the counter and pick up people at the airport. Why they couldn’t use the same van that was to shortly later take us to the airport so she could be behind the counter, I have no idea, although the full story may provide an answer to that.

IMG_1325Anyway, finally after about a half an hour, a harried employee hustles into the small office and starts processing people. One rude man butted in line ahead of the rest of us, a circumstance much more common in Europe than in the US. I complained, but the employee just shrugged.

But the real tragedy of this sad story had nothing further to do with me. It is all about the two couples who were made to walk all the way to the airport with their luggage, simply because they didn’t follow the instructions. The walk is a good 20-30 minutes, and it was very hot. So there they were trudging to the airport, and the van taking us only had one other passenger in it besides myself. Once I figured out what was going on with these people who had shared my pain in the Line Without an Employee, I pleaded with the driver to let them in… it was certainly no skin off my back to let someone else ride, and there was of course plenty of room. He steadfastly refused, saying they were only contracted for one person per rental, and no luggage.

Crazy stupid. Just bad humanity. I felt very sorry for them, but that’s the lesson of the day: When a small car rental company tells you to jump, you ask how high!

But in between that and our initial visit to Chania, we explored Crete and had a great time. More of that to follow!

 

We Ruined Athens

IMG_1245Many world travelers surely list the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont as first or second on their sightseeing bucket list. Okay, maybe not in the top two, or ten, or hundred, but the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont is definitely something you’d want to look at if you were standing right in front of it.

While I have been to Vermont, I’ve never been to Montpelier, so for the time being I had to settle for the ancient Greek building that inspired the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont: The Temple of Hephaestus.

The temple resides in an area called the Ancient Agora of Athens. The Agora’s original purpose was as a gathering place or for commercial endeavors, as well as of course housing a reasonably cool temple.

Vermont Sate house(This is the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont, just in case you were wondering.)

The Agora (which is the Portuguese word for “now,” so we felt right at home) was just a block or two from our hotel. Actually, in Greek, the word “agora” means “gathering place” or “assembly.” So we gathered and assembled there just like two ancient Grecians.

The Temple of Hephaestus has largely been preserved in its original state despite the fact that Hephaestus was the patron god of metal working, craftsmanship, and fire. Which means I would’ve thought he would have burnt the place to the ground after he was notified that he was about to lose his god status.

IMG_1228Fortunately, he disappeared without much of a whimper, as most gods do, leaving this impressive building in his ashes, –er wake.

IMG_0379As you can see, this is a container for offerings to the dead. As you can also see, the dead already scooped everything up. Greedy bastards, those dead people.

IMG_0344This building known as the Stoa of Attalos (we’re still in the Agora, or as I like to say, “O Aqui e Agora,” which means “The here and now” in Portuguese, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything except the word “agora” and my desire to show off my still-very-limited Portuguese skills). “Stoa” means portico or covered walkway. “Portico” is where you have to go after you’ve drunk too much port. “Walkway” is a word that turns into “runway” just by adding some planes. Accordingly, “Covered Runway” is just not a term you hear anymore, not after that one disaster anyway.

IMG_1200This photo provides some perspective. Ha! Anyway, it was built by King Attalos II of Pergamon, who ruled between 159 BC and 138 BC. The building as it stands today looks a helluva lot newer than that, mostly because it was reconstructed in the 1950’s by American and Greek architects.

IMG_1223The Stoa of Attalos has a museum inside it and a second floor (or first floor in European). This photo gives you an idea as to the sleek beauty of those gams– I mean columns.

IMG_1216Everyone knows our species has gotten a little larger over the millennia, but few people know just how big a difference there is. And they say JRR Tolkien just made up the hobbits. This ancient life-sized sculpture begs to differ. This statue does explain a lot of the doors we’ve encountered.

IMG_1214Carolyn’s got this guy’s gnome-ber.

A lot of the statues on display lost their heads. We couldn’t make heads nor tails out of the reason. I guess they all simply had it up to here. It was neck and neck to pick the two most beautiful, but one was shoulders above the rest.

If I only had a brain…

IMG_1202We thought it appropriate to deface the photos out of respect for the defaced.

IMG_1207One example of the wares displayed in the museum. This vase demonstrates the mad jigsaw puzzle skills many archeologists find beneficial to their work. They have a hard time without the box top, however.

Some more museum pieces.

IMG_1222 (1)This is what the whole Agora area would’ve looked like back then. At least if you were either color blind or the whole thing froze over in a freak world-ending ice storm.

IMG_1252Moving on from the Agora, this is the neighboring Library of Hadrian, who was the Roman emperor from 117 to 138, and is now the patron saint of overdue book fines. His own fines were not forgiven by his successor Antoninus, so it’s now up to $82,423,122 with interest. I mean, there ain’t no Italian named Tony who’s gonna forget about yer debts, y’know?

All that made me ponder… do you realize there is a whole generation of people growing up who have no idea what an overdue book fine is?

IMG_1251Hadrian is known for being both personally generous as well as extremely cruel. He must’ve been generous to the right historian’s forebears because he made it onto the “Top Five Good Emperors List” (if he wouldn’t have been so cruel, he might’ve made the “Top Five Very Good Emperors List”… but alas). He also traveled a great deal outside of Italy, unlike most of his predecessors. When he passed by, the people would shout, “Yo Hadrian!”

IMG_0388Another set of ruins in Athens is the Dipylon Ruins. So of course I had to act like a dip. Actually, the entire area is known as Kerameikos, or Ceramicus in the Latinized version.

IMG_0399It’s a large area that resides both within and outside the ancient city walls. Since it was the potter’s part of the city, Ceramicus is what led to the world “ceramic.” True story.

I look kind of potted here myself.

IMG_1314I always look closely at walls in ruins, being continually amazed at the preciseness of their construction and alignment and the fact that they’re still that way even after thousands of years.

Buland DarwazaThe Dipylon (The Thrasian Gates) was the most important gateway in the Athenian city walls. It was the main entrance to the city, and was at the time the largest gateway in the world.

Since then, that honor has been taken over by the Buland Darwaza in India. We’ve never been to India.Yet.

Ceramicus was also the site of an important cemetery. There are still numerous funerary sculptures along the ancient road that led in and out of the city. They called it the “street of tombs,” reminding everyone that they, too, will one day be worm food. Today, America has replaced that with the “Street of Dreams,” reminding everyone that they, too, will never live in a house with eight big screen TVs, a five-car garage, and an underwater bar in the pool.

 

IMG_1302We simply stumbled across Ceramicus while taking a walk outside our hotel to places unknown. You never know what you’re going to find when you explore an ancient city!

IMG_1308Like almost every place in Athens, feral cats were plentiful. Some were even friendly. This one decided to share some of its fleas with Carolyn.

Overgrown
Pristine thorns
Sheep shorn
Tinkling below
Roofless walls
Rooks overlook
I told you so
Babbles the brook

“Ruins” by Samuel Menashe

IMG_1291And that ain’t no bull.

Well, it is, actually, but that line sounded better that way.