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Black Tie International Travel  1
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Black Tie International Magazine - Travel-Bob Nicolaides- Greece


Traveling Along… with Bob Nicolaides



Destinations For 2012



By the gods of Olympus, I must say I am impressed with how many blondes have cropped up in countries like Greece! I would grant you there are more golden tress gals there than in all of Skandinavia, but you’ve got to agree also, it’s only a matter of preference, right? You get tired of your black or brown locks sooner or later, so what better thing than to become a blonde since everyone knows that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. All it takes is one visit to your hairdresser-or not even! That is a far cry from the mandilla-covered head of the heavily wrinkled black-clad grandma four or five generations ago.


Athens and the whole country are in a state of flux for sometime now, wounded by the aftermath of the debt rate concealing by the Goldman Sachs derivatives a corrupt government bought into back in the early 2000s, and one sure sign of it is that car owners can’t concentrate on any one issue at the time, as they posture in stoical anticipation of what’s to come-the countdown to the impending default-the most brutal of austerities that rivals ascetism, or the return to the drachma, all of which are as bad an omen as one can gather in a flock of witches. It may have not been as bad had  had Germany, which now dispenses the cash to save euro’s economy had not been exempted from paying its dues to Greece, meaning the WWII reparations the Allies, during the London Debt agreement decided in 1953 as a whopping $95 billion as decided by the final treaty signed in 1990, which stipulated that after Germany had paid the circle of biggies like France and England,  it did not have to pay anything to the rest of the dummies such as Greece, which incidentally held-up the Axis’onslaught for six whole months and cause its machine to pull into the Soviet Union by mid-winter, which as we know, ended in disaster for Hitler.   


So current Greek philosophy, which may derive from the ancient philosophical school meeting under an arch (stoa) and thus taking the name Stoic, is, why bother washing the car when there’s no guarantee that tomorrow will come? Cars line up streets mainly in the suburbs, block after block, from Kalithea to Pangrati and from Kifissia to Glyfada thirsting for a soaking which never comes. Even if the default doesn’t happen, someone, without fail will hit your vehicle in the narrow streets they ride or park indiscriminately-particularly those in Plaka that surrounds the Acropolis, which no way can you widen without adulterating its flavor-and as Athenians get confey with larger cars year in-year out, and not because of wealth either. Even if you’re lucky enough not to have this happen to you, the blistering dust blowing from the North African coast will corrode them, bringing their untimely doom. 


Europe’s generosity promised pumping another €100 billion into the Greek economy and reduced the value of what bondholders held as a bona-fide commitment, to 50%, asking for much more austerity from those who burden of losing most of their incomes to cuts and taxes, levies and surtaxes every time Europe decided to offer money. But the oddity was that while their government accepted the offer in return for more hardship of its people, and while all politicians flocked around that European ‘offering,’ the people, in a plebiscite, gave a vote of confidence to the austerity-pushers. So there!


Enough about the economy! Notwithstanding what goes on in the political and economic arena, Greece will never cease providing a welcome mat to visitors and tourists and will never cease being the language which gave not only civilization but over 4,000  words to the English and most any of the world’s languages.. Antiquity provides a plethora of sites across its land-and as we know-even beyond, of marble marvels, of symmetrical structures, of imposing statues of incredible art to see, whether one wanders to Cape Sounio traveling eastward from Athens, where sunset is an astonishing sight or to Kythera, where that wondrous mechanism buried for centuries on end is a telltale of indescribable discoveries millennia earlier. Needless to mkention the Acropolis with the magnificent Parthenon albeit stripped of inch of the freeze, the Caryatids building in the adjacent area, and of course, the Propylaea, the entrance to the Rock of Fortitude. While in that area, do not omit to visit the brand new Acropolis Museum, a marvel of glass, where standing on one floor, you can view all the action below.


Perhaps a seven to ten day Mediterranean or Aegean cruise will serve the traveler best, since it will afford him an overview of points of interest across the islands in the sea that separates Greece from Turkey, simultaneously affording them Greek sites outside Greece’s boundaries, such as Byzantine locations in Istanbul (Constantinople,) Izmir (Smyrna,) Anatolia and Pontus, as well ancient cities such as Ephesus, a city in inland Turkey which was rebuilt seven times between the Hellenic and Roman era, with its 2-story Library, the 12,000-seat Odeon and the 17,000-seat stadium, plus a remarkable water distributing system of carrying it into the town, in the days when the sea reached ithe port of this land-locked bundle of ruins. Louis ruises, a Cypriot-based company, Celebrity Cruises, the former Greek-owned Chandris Lines and a number of other European cruise lines can accommodate your needs.


With stops at Santorini and Mykonos, established tourist stops, do not expect tours to archeological sites, however, the island of Patmos and Iraklion in Crete yield interesting sites. On Patmos, after you ascend from the seaside village of Hora, towards midway between the top, is the cave in which Saint John wrote the Apocalypse. At the top, you’ll find a Byzantine monastery with a panoramic view of the sea that surrounds it, once armed to the teeth, ready to defende the entire island from Saracenes and Moores who plied the waters as the predecessors of the Pirates. It even features an elaborate system of alerting the inhabitants of the island of impending assaults with everyone flocking into the monastery which doubled as the island’s fort.


As you enter the port city of Rhodes, do not expect to see the Colossus of Rhodes as the colossal statue that dominated the harbor’s mouth as ships sailed below it to reach land, because it has not been there for eons, destroyed most likely by an earthquake. But the town is a most quaint one, past the most impressive grand palazzo Moussolini had built for his army’s occupational forces while the Dodecannese isles were under Italian rule up to WWII. The narrow, winding streets and bthe yellow to light brown one-story houses are charming and inviting. The Turkish-style Grand Bazaar in the center of the town clashes with the overall style of the island, but folks like it because this is nwhere they can find whatever they are looking for at an affordable price.


On the island of Crete, you must head for the palace ruins of King Minos in the ancient city of Knossos, surrounded by the modern capital of Irakleion. Minotaur, composed of two Greek words, Minos the King and Tavros, meaning bull, and according to the ancient myth, lived in a cave built by Daidalus and his son Ikarus, who then were held captive by Minos lest they reveal his secret. Also kept captive was the kingdom of Aegeas of Athens, which had to send annually six maidens and six young men as a ransom, who were devoured by the monster. The sacrifice continued until Aegeas son Thesseus joined as one of the 12 sacrificial youths on their sail to Knossos and killed the beast. Right in the outskirts of Athens there is a monument, not unlike a miniature Parthenon called Thesseum in memory of his feat.


Thought there are no scheduled stops by cruiseliners to the island of Samos, the island nevertheless is an important destination of archeology, being the island where Pythagoras, the famous mathematician who developed what is still used in schools across the planet as the Pythagorean Tablet, was born and kept a school high on a hill above the modern village of Pythagoras. Let us not forget that the island of Samos off the coast of Turkey known as Anatolia, where many Byzantine cities had thrived until the demise of the Eastern Empire built by Emperor Constantine the Great, the former slave who wrote Aesop’s Fables, still being used in school textbooks. Something that may not be a common knowledge is that Samos is also the home to Cleopatra’s Baths, where the famous last Egyptian Pharaoh of the Ptolemei Dynasty, the last descendant of Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemeus used to spend her summers in the company of Mark Anthony. In addition, there is a Temple devoted to Zeus’ wife-sibling Hera, called Heraion which attracted may worshippers from all over Greece and Rome.


That’s not even considering islands of mystique such as Delos, considered a sacred one, or Kos, the island reportedly visited by Hercules, in the Roman mythology, and which, during the Hellenistic period attained the peak of its prosperity. Its alliance was valued by the Pharaohs of Egypt, who used it as an outpost for their navy to watch the Aegean. As a seat of learning it rose to be a kind of provincial branch of the museum and (Greek) Library of Alexandria, and became a favorite resort for the education of the princes of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Among its most famous sons were the physician Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, whose oath is still administered to physicians inducted into the profession was born there in 460 BC. In the center of the town, also called Kos, there exists still the Plane Tree of Hippocrates, a dream temple where the physician is traditionally supposed to have taught. The limbs of the now elderly tree are supported by scaffolding. The town has a 14th century fortress at the entrance to its harbor, erected in 1315 by The Knights of Saint John of Rhodes (Commanderie St. John.) The small city is also home to the International Hippocratic Institute and the Hippocratic Museum dedicated to him. Near the Institute are the ruins of Asklepieion, where Herodicus taught Hippocrates medicine. Kardamena is a popular resort for young British holidaymakers and has a large number of bars and nightclubs. A Major League baseball player and executive, Al Campanis hails from that island.

Moreover, if your preference is to view Greece via motorcade, first heading south from Athens and heading northwest, first stops must be Olympia and Delphi, where the Oracle handed Alcibiades, the Athenian leader who asked how could he win over the Persians, the decree that “the winner will be he who builds wooden castles.” The General read through that cryptic message and built ships, with which he bacame victorious. Going Northward towards Thessaly, it is advised to stop at the Olympus where myth has it was the abode of thye Twelve supreme gods of the Hellenic and Roman religion.

You’ll motor along the coast to the bridge crossing the spectacular Corinth Canal, on the Isthmus, visiting ancient Corinth, where St. Paul preached. Two more major features today: Mycenae, where 19th-century excavations revealed impressions of the splendors so vividly described by Homer. Admire the Beehive-like Tombs, the Treasury of Atreus, the Lion Gate, Europe’s oldest known monument, the remains of Agamemnon’s Royal Palace, and the impressive fortifications of the Citadel. Then, a short drive to Epidaurus for a tour of its amazingly well-preserved 2,300-year-old open-air theater, where you can stand on any given spot, high or low getting the same sound everywhere you might sit. I ccan attest to that, having tried the test when with a group with fellow-American journalists some years back, we had Barbara Bahni, a soprano who has performed repeatedly in New York, sing from the center stage with us strategically standing on random heights and hearing her perfectly.

Spending the night in nearby Nafplion one can enjoy the spectacular scenery on the way through the Arkadian Mountains, for an afternoon in Olympia, where the athletes of antiquity competed in honor of the king of deities, Zeus. You can pick up easily here the history of those original Olympic Games as you walk among the impressive remains of the Gymnasium and the Temples of Hera and Zeus. Also visit the Museum that displays Praxiteles’ magnificent statue of Hermes. The hustle and bustle seaport of Patras,and crossing the spanking new Rio-Antirio bridge you will be riding along picturesque fishing villages of the south coast of the mainland (Attica) to mystic Delphi, where the Oracle handed Alkibiades, the Athenian leader who asked how he could win over the Persians, the decree was that “the winner will be he who builds wooden castles.” The General read through that cryptic message and built ships, with which he bacame victorious. Devote an afternoon among the ancient sanctuary of the Apollo in its dramatic setting on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.. End the day with a visit to the Archaeological Museum to admire the Charioteer, an extraordinary 5th-century BC bronze statue. Going Northward towards Thessaly, it is advised to stop at the Olympus where myth has it was the abode of thye Twelve Supreme gods of the Hellenic and Roman religion. As you head north, passing Lamia and Trikala to Kalambaka you arrive at a surreal beauty of a landscape called Meteora (the same as the Meteors which derives from that Greek word.) The view is great below the 24 rock-hanging structures housing monastic orders, featuring a unique collection of icons, but it is breathtaking from the top. Meteora, crowned with these five-hundred year old monasteries which look like they are inaccessable to anyone but James Bond are some of the most amazing places on earth. Some of them may admit women, but most are for men’s eyes only. Women are advised to wear a skirt where they are admitted, but never shorts or pants as they are tabu. Forge north from Halkidiki to the northern capital city of Thessaloniki with its hundreds of Byzantine era churches and monasteries, and take time for a short excursion to the ruins of Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonian king Philip, father of Alexander the Great.

As you begin the trip southward towards Athens, a highlight is Thermopylae, the site of the heroic battle of Leonidas’ 300 doomed Spartans against Xerxes’ massive Persian army. Thebes should be on your itinerary, not only because of its place as one of the three major city-state3s to have flourished at different periods (the other two are Athens and Sparta) but also the setting of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Also of interest is Marathon, where 10,000 Athenians defeated more than twice that number of Persian invaders in 490 BC. The Marathon run originated from the run of one of the Athenians who ran all the way to Athens to announce their victory, and and expiring after doing so. The side trip towards the resort town of Loutrakiin Evoia is worth your time for it is famous for its mineral waters, beaches, nightlife and a casino

Meteora where giant rock formations crowned with five-hundred year old monasteries which look like they are inaccessable to anyone but James Bond is one of the most amazing places on earth. Visit my pages on Thessaloniki, the second largest and hippest city in Greece, and also my pages for Macedonia .The resort town of Loutraki is famous for its mineral waters, beaches, nightlife and a casino.

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