I’ve returned home and am still pondering all the impressions of Greece. The 3,000 pictures I took are a mere tip of the iceberg. So was all the research I did prior to flying off. I have more questions than answers after seeing 9 ruins, visiting 8 museums, and catching a glimpse of 8 different communities.

All that history has been researched by numerous archeologists, historians, travel writers native and non-native to Greece. Is there room for another person’s impressions of islands that have been studied so thoroughly already? If so, what is my ‘angle’?

Right now I am just letting everything simmer and allowing myself to reintegrate into my life.

While I have no conclusions about the trip yet, one big conclusion I have drawn is that I love where I live. Everything was in bloom upon my return, and I was reintegrated into a warm weekend.

Then the wind started howling and two days were spent cloistered inside while Thunderstorms made day seem night. During those days the question cropped up again: What if this IS my life for the rest of my life?

We spend the bulk of our time looking forward and ‘can’t wait’-ing. I anticipated my trip, and then each day was packed with the sights to see and getting ready for the next leg.

Now there is a sense of limbo. I am processing the past month and have no plans yet for the next. I am basking in the luxury of letting Greece sink in without having to move on to projects and schedules.

Yet it is awkward too. I have not yet defined my new life, which completely flusters the Type A side of me. I can see how people get absorbed in spouses, children, work or activities to not face themselves. The comment I heard most on my travels was “You are traveling alone? You must really be getting to know yourself.” But I’ve spent so much time in solitude even prior to the trip, that I merely learned more about how I like to travel than being confronted with a particular aspect of myself. In fact, there were some affirmations of whether I had mis-judged my own outgoingness/attractiveness. Based on the connections I made in Greece both among fellow tourists and locals, I do not need to worry about becoming a recluse. 🙂

I just soaked up everything, and absorbed each sight, snippet of history, ray of sunshine as much as I could.  I will say that being a complete stranger for 17 days was hard. Landing jet-lagged in a country where both the alphabet and the language itself have no similarity to any of the languages I speak is jarring as well. While I overheard Dutch, German and Russian and communicated in English the bulk of the time, it was my first time entering a country without studying its language. Funnily, the flight attendants spoke in such rapid-fire English that none of us would have understood the emergency procedures had it been our first flight ever. I was able to decipher words as I picked up on the alphabet, but the dialect and the rapid-fire pace at which Greeks speak wouldn’t let me pick up on anything but “OK” (Daksi) and “Hello/Goodbye” (Yassas) in conversations.

Coming home it was good to be recognized by the barista at my corner cafe, having my ‘bronze glow’ noted by the Lucky Platter waiter, and spending an afternoon with a friend who didn’t ask “Where are you from and what are you visiting?” To understand all conversations by the locals going on around me was a relief!

It was also good to be unplugged. There is a restfulness in just sitting. I was so full from statues and timelines and the magnificent historical sites that I didn’t feel like reading most evenings. Vacation is for sunset watching and observing as people pass by. I will be doing more of that at home. I truly didn’t miss much in terms of headlines or Facebook statuses those 17 days. Even the local one-day strike had no impact on my experience.

Hopefully I can hold on to that restfulness as I figure out my next move. There are no ‘if onlys’ blocking my path now. There is no longer ‘after this trip’ thinking as there was before May.

The rest of this year completely belongs to me, distraction free. Just me and the cat and my home and my dreams.

It is going to be an interesting journey. 🙂


DVDs about/featuring Greece

While I’m island hopping, I figured I’d entertain you with a list of documentaries I rented via Netflix. Most of them were by mail but some are available digitally. I have arranged them in the order in which I recommend watching them.

Visions of Greece 2 hours and 47 minutes total, copyright 2002

This DVD has stunning aerial footage of the most tourist-attractive sites of Greece. It really helped me see what awaits me, and helps prioritize which ruins to really go and explore. In the main 55-minute segment, text is blended in briefly to indicate where you are, and the narrator provides nonintrusive nuggets of history for some locales. The soundtrack is nice. A very relaxing trip with your eyes and a great overview (literally) of the types of ruins/buildings and beaches that await you. A 30-minutes extra footage segment shows additional scenes (again with locations blended in) with more music but no narration. Visions of Greece: Off the Beaten Path (56 minutes) is peaceful and nicely narrated (by a man this time) and covers more mainland sites. It invites you to go further off the beaten path, which segways into a final 19-minute segment of additional footage. Watching all these back-to-back is a bit repetititve, but when spaced out can make for a soothing journey for the eyes. 🙂 Areas viewed from above: Mikonos, Delos, Naxos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos, Thrace, Thessaloniki, the Peleponnese, Paras, Egina, Athens, Lycabettos, Hydra, Corfu. Thraki archipelago, Macedonia, the Lake Region-and more.

Cruise Greece93 minutes, copyright 2004

To dive into your Greece research, watch this DVD’s Top 10 episode: 1. Athens’ Akropolis, 2. Santorini, 3. The monasteries of Meteora, 4. Padmos (during Easter), 5. I didn’t take notes fast enough here, OOPS-I will guess Olympia 6. The Palace of Knossos on Crete, 7. Lindos on Rhodes, 8. Sissi’s palace on Corfu the Achilleion, 9. Delphi near Mount Parnassus, 10. The Blue Grotto at Zakynthos
The 93-minute armchair traveler DVD has short overviews of Athens, Corfu, Crete, Olympia, Lesvos, Mykonos and Delos, Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini, Thessaloniki, Volos and Meteora and Zakynthos. Catered toward the tourist, the script is sometimes a bit repetitive and ‘sugary’ (“passion, purity, vice and vision!”), but the visuals make up for it and you do get a nice tour and historical sampling of destinations in Greece.

Helen of Troy 2 hours, copyright 2006

This was the most captivating documentary about Greece to me. It has a great balance of showing the actual sites (with easy-to-understand map inserts), period art and re-enactments of the time that are currently being studied. Bettany Hughes pursues the life of Helen of Troy, starting with a reference to her in Homer’s Iliad displayed at the Oxford University to Athens, Mycenae, Sparta, Troy (with a detour to Istanbul) and Hattusa. I found the narrator/host engaging, the timeline (from 1300s to 1200 B.C.) easy to follow and the demonstrations of warfare of that time quite illuminating. In spite of the debate on whether Helen of Troy existed or is a symbolic thread to tell a story, the documentary is rich with perspective that can be applied to modern times.

Greece, Secrets of the Past 45 minutes, copyright 2006

Narrated by Nia Vardalos, this made-for-IMAX movie is rich in computer graphics and provides a beautiful computer-generated view of the Akropolis and the Pallas Athena statue. It provides an update on the research of Santorini, referencing the famed Atlantis legend and showing beautiful footage of the uncovered murals. Watch the end credits and you can see that the crew had fun making this movie.

Greece: Crucible of Civilization three 1-hour episodes, copyright 2000

I was excited to listen to Liam Neeson narrate this three-part DVD. It took me two tries to get into it though. Part I covers the time leading up to the Athenian revolution. It touches on Cleisthenes’ biography since his birth in 570 B.C.  And outlines the events leading up to the 508 B.C. Revolution. Part II picks up in 490 B.C. and covers the leadership of Themistokles (Persian Wars) and the subsequent rise to leadership of Pericles. Part III picks up in 431 B.C and describes Athens during the Peloponnesian war up to Socrates’ execution in 399 B.C.
I personally liked Parts II and III best as it gave some insight into the life of Athenians at the time. It provides an educational overview of the time leading up to Athens’ democracy and illustrates the pitfalls that led to its decline.

Athens: The Dawn of Democracy 2 hours, copyright 2007

Narrated by Bettany Hughes, this 2-part DVD covers the same time period as Crucible of Civilization. However, where Liam Neeson’s narrative is a chronological account, Brittany provides us with a more critical approach to our perception of the  Athenians. With interviews of various experts and the latest discoveries about classical Greece, Bettany indicates that our romantic notion of democracy was in fact founded on imperialism, slavery and much persuasion. This DVD is rich with engaging perspective, visuals of the city, beautiful computer generated reproductions of the ancient sites, and a pretty cool animation of the battle at Salamis.

St. Paul in Greece 41 minutes, copyright 2000

This is one of the various movies that looks like it was shot in the 80s in spite of a later copyright date. Published by the Christian Organization Vision Video, this DVD traces the steps of Paul when he was a missionary in Greece. Host David Nunn is cheerful and engaging, blending history with the actual quotations of the book of Acts as he retraces Paul’s journey from Neapolis through Thessalonica, Boroea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. There is a bit of an evangelical slant in David’s commentary, but I found this a good basis to understand more about Paul’s journey through Greece and the communities he encountered. If you Google “St. Paul in Greece” you will also find that tours tracing his travels are available, if you’re so inclined.

In Search of History: The Greek Gods 50 minutes, copyright 2005

If you prefer to watch over reading the lovely Mythology, here’s your DVD. This takes us to Olympia and covers the stories of Zeus, Dionysus, Appollo, Esqulpius, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena and Hercules.

Lost Civilizations: Aegean, Legacy of Atlantis and Greece, a Moment of Excellence 50 minutes each, copyright 1995

This Time Life Series provides a nice blend of expert commentary with computer generated re-enactments of events/sites. The Aegean episode covers Troy, Mycenea, Athens, Crete and Thera/Santorini. I enjoyed seeing how a skull was transformed into the face of a Mycenean “Thug”. More has been uncovered about Santorini since 1995, but there are beautiful visuals of ancient Thera murals.
Greece-A moment of excellence covers the golden age with the Akropolis, Delphi and the Nemean Games. It describes the events leading up to Socrates’ execution. This DVD provides some nuggets not referenced in the Crucible and Dawn of Democracy DVDs, and in particular sheds light on how the Akropolis came to be dismantled and pieces ended up in the British Museum.

In Search of Myths and Heroes: Jason and the Argonauts 56 minutes, copyright 2005

I enjoyed the other episodes by Michael Wood in this series, but whether it is because I had just read the Myth or because I am so immersed in Greece right now, I felt that this episode was a bit choppy. Seeing the workshop where the Argos was rebuilt was interesting, as was observing the travels to various sites along Jason’s journey, but I felt that more could have been done with this story. Michael takes you to the Bronze Age Palace of Jason, a workshop where the Argos is re-made, to Lemnos, through the Bosphorus to Cape Jason. He offers a map of the varied routes of Jason’s return, and concludes in Corinth.

Secrets of the Dead: Amazon Warrior Women 60 minutes, copyright 2004

Archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball takes us on her journey from finding 2500 year old remains in a Russian grave to confirm whether the Amazon women described by Homer and Herodotus actually existed. Surprisingly, this journey begins in Russia and ends in Mongolia, but also shows Greek artifacts. A nice documentary for those who are interested in the forensics of archeological discoveries.

Ancient Greece: The traditions of Greek Culture four 30-minute segments, copyright 1998 (feels like 80s though): Volume 1: Part 1: Art in Ancient Greece; Part 2: Mining in Ancient Greece, Volume 2: Part 3: Bacchus, The God of Wine; Part 4: Firewalking in Greece

This four-part series set me back to my 80s classroom when we had to watch movies that would put us to sleep. The narrator completely ruins this movie. The first episode was grueling because the narrator spoke in monotone and did not engage me at all. In addition, the soundtrack was jarring-which I later learned might have been the music Greeks played in ancient times, though we are told that not much historical evidence of music has been preserved. The segment about mining provided absolutely beautiful visuals though. The gold work Greeks did is mesmerizing, and I was tempted to watch this part without the volume, but then I would have missed the history behind the pieces. The series becomes more interesting in Volume 2, where we are provided a demonstration of a Dionysian dance by ‘maidens’. The Firewalking episode takes us to a small village (I am unclear where) and documents the festivities leading up to the day of Saint Constantine and Saint Eleni still practiced today. It shows the sacrifice of a goat and men walking over hot coals as they dance themselves into a trance.
While this DVD has excellent footage I haven’t seen in other DVDs, I cannot recommend it for entertainment. It will only appeal to those truly making a scholarly study of Greece who have the patience to sit through the most boring narrative I have experienced in 20 years.

Greece: Land of Sun 1 hour, copyright 2005

Buyer beware. Billing itself as “Plan your next vacation with this guide to the country that features breathtaking photography and a wonderfully complementary soundtrack.” It is hardly a vacation planner. This DVD is suitable as a backdrop to a Greece-themed party. It has beautiful shots of various locations in Greece with lovely local music, but that is all there is to it. Nothing indicates where these beautiful shots were taken, and while initially the sections (2-4 minute songs with pictures) seem to focus on particular islands, toward the end there is no telling what part of Greece the segment is covering. There are a lot of disappointed comments about this DVD, but if you need to take a vacation with your eyes, this DVD does do the trick, or it will provide your Greek party with music and background visuals.

Greece in “Hollywood”

For fun I also looked for movies featuring Greece. You can find more comprehensive lists on google, I just haven’t seen them all yet.

Mamma Mia! is likely the most popular in recent Hollywood films, and a joy to watch.

Opa! Is a sweet romantic comedy set in Padmos. One has to suspend disbelief a bit for parts of the storyline but I did enjoy it.

My Life In Ruins is a romantic comedy using a bus tour in Greece as the backdrop. I have to watch it again for the scenery, but found it a fun respite from deeper movies.

The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants films were shot on Oía, Cyclades and Santorini.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a fun perspective on a Greek family in America.

Trojan Women was quite impressive. Shot in 1971, I didn’t feel like this was an ‘old’ movie, likely because it is such a period piece and has great actresses. The storyline is incredibly tragic, but I watched it in one sitting because the characters generated such empathy.

On the don’t bother to watch list:

The isles of Greece featuring a Tour of Crete copyright 2005 (feels like 1980s) two 30-minute segments
My oh my, this video served as comic relief more than anything else. Originally a German movie, the English script is filled with superlatives enticed to get beach bums to come lie in the sun here with the option of ‘getting away from it all’ in remote towns. The Isles of Greece takes us to Athens, Hydra and Crete. The shots are focused on watersports, sunbathers, some shopping in small streets. The episode ends with an appeal to attend a pool party where food is of a “refined variety with a touch of international taste” that pans over a buffet ending with a chicken dressed up as a person! The ‘join-in-the-dance’ shots afterwards close this 1980’s show. A Tour of Crete is narrated by a woman wrapped in nostalgia about her recent visit there. Simon Cowell would call it “indulgent” as it seems more of a forum for this woman to reflect on her trip than it helps us determine our own itinerary. The music is good though.

Goddess of Love with Vanna White is as ‘tawdry’ as the reviews suggest. Not worth a minute of anyone’s time.


Some Greek reading

While I am exploring the isles, here is my roundup of readings thus far. There will be more to add over time I’m sure.

Greek Islands-Insight Guides, First Edition 1990, Fourth Edition 2010

This book begins with a spread of the main attractions and another spread of Editor’s Choice. The guide has an introduction of culture, an easy-to-read chronology, historic overview (10 pages with pictures) and 6 pages on the islands today. Topics covered include people, religion, architecture, food, cruising, sailing, outdoor pursuits, wildlife, flora, and an out of season page. Places (beginning on page 107) are supplemented with lots of color spreads of photos and include: Athens; Ionian Islands: Corfu, Paxi, Levkada, Ithaki, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Kythira; Islands of the Saronic Gulf: Salamina, Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Spetses; Cyclades Islands: Andros, Kea, Tinos, Kythnos, Syros, Mykonos, Serifos, Sifnos, Andiparos, Paros, Naxos, Milos, Kimolos, Folegandros, Sikinos, Ios, Amorgos, Dantorini, Anafi; The Sporades and Evvia: Skiathos, Skopels, Alonnisos, Skyros, Evvia; Northeast Aegean: Thasos, Samothraki, Limnos, Agios Efstratios, Lexvos, Psara, Hios, Ikaria, Samos; Dodecanese: Rhodes, Karpathos Kasos, Halki, Kastellorizo, Tilos, Symi, Nisyros, Kos, Pserimos, Astypalea, Kalymnos, Telendos, Leros, Lipsi, Patmos, Arki, Agathonisi; Crete. Then a section on travel tips including transport, accomodation, eating out, activities, language primers, further reading.

Ancient Greece, an explorer’s guide-Interlink Travel by Robert Emmet Meagher and Elizabeth Parker Neave, copyright 2008

For the adventurer who loves to navigate strange roads, this is the guide to read. The book starts with an overview on planning the trip, then covers the history of ancient greece in 29 pages. 3 pages on architecture, 6 pages on gods and legends, a 3-page primer on sacred sites, 4 pages about food, 9 pages on additional travel tips and cultural interactions. The guide then provides 4 itineraries: I covers Minoan Crete over a ten-day period; II focuses on Mycenean civilization in the Peloponnese over ten days; III focuses on Classical civilization in Athens and Attica over six days with a two-page spread of Athenian civics terms; IV covers Aegean Civilization on the Cyclades over seven days.  A list of sources/further reading and an index is provided in the back. What I like about this guide is that it provides a traveler with good itineraries to mix and match, gives driving tips for those more adventurous than me, and offers in-depth histories of each site along with a color map illustration. It also has beautiful photos throughout. Although it is more ‘scholarly’ than other guides, the book is easy to read.

Blue Guide: Greece-The Aegean Islands by Nigel McGilchrist, copyright 2010

Various of my other readings recommend the Blue Guide as a go-to-source about Greece. My caveat is that this guide is directed toward true readers. This guide is very text heavy, with the only illustrations showing island maps or site maps. It is also the thickest and therefore heaviest of the guides. However, for the self-guided traveler, this guide offers the most detailed descriptions of sites, blending suggested starting points with historical detail. For Greece in particular the Blue Guides cover various regions with individual guides-from one overall Greece guide to the individual island groupings, so rather than providing a TOC, I recommend you peruse the options available to you and select the one that covers your destinations. This Aegean Guide does not cover Crete nor Athens, but includes my other destinations.

National Geographic Traveler: Greece, Second Edition, copyright 2007

Introductory sections include: Greece today, food and drink, history of Greece (up to 2004), the arts. The “Places” include: Athens/around Athens; Peleponnese (the ‘hand’ of Greece); Central Greece, Thesaly, Epiros; Macedonia and Thrace; Evia; the Aegean Islands including the Sporades, Cyclades and Dodecanese; Corfu and the Ionian Islands. In addition to beautiful photos National Geographic is famous for, the place descriptions have great mini-maps, interesting sidebars and lovely illustrations of those sites would have looked. It even provides a strategy for the larger museums if you only have an hour or two to spare. It has various day-trip suggestions (drives). The back includes recommendations on where to stay, eat and a language guide.

The Living Past of Greece by A.R. And Mary Burn, copyright 1993

This book is packed with archeological detail about the famous sites in Greece and has been referenced as further reading in the more recent guidebooks. Organized in chronological order, it shows the difficulty of the excavation process and the mystery behind uncovering the uses and layouts of buildings. While much more information has been uncovered since 1993, this book is really comprehensive and a great reference for the historical geek (like me). It is a slow read because it is so packed with information, but well-written and laid out. Black and white photos with a lot of floor plans of sites. As an overall guide to Greece this book covers most of the major attractions, but I recommend supplementing it with more detailed guides on the islands you wish to visit.

Greek Art and Archeology by John Griffiths Pedley, copyright 1993

This big book provides a wonderful introduction to ancient Greek art with a comprehensive history of Greece (3000 until 31 B.C.) and photos of how the Greek style evolved. It covers all aspects of art: architecture, pottery, painting, mosaics etc. If it wasn’t so expensive I just might buy the new edition.

I also checked out two mythology books:

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

Edith Hamilton took great care to research the most original and least biased texts to combine the most common Greek (and early Norse) myths into an entertaining narrative. This book provides an easy-to-read ‘chronological’ summary of the tales, with some humorous interjections by Edith herself. I highly recommend this as an initial introduction.

A Brief Guide to the Greek Myths by Steven Kershaw is all but brief. This is a good reference tool if you wish to delve deeper into Mythology and some of its interpretations without doing the scholarly work yourself. This covers the same myths as Mythology but adds Plato’s Atlantis and quotes more of the sources (translated to English of course). At 320 pages I only glanced at a few sections, but it is easy to read and contains numerous ‘family trees’ of the mythological heroes. I’ll be re-borrowing this book later.

For an easy-to-read global history guide, I recommend A Little History of the World by Ernst H. Gombrich. I have the German version from 1981 and keep referring back to it.

As another point of guidance, the following are Greece’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  1. Temple of Apollo at Bassae — 1986
  2. Acropolis, Athens — 1987
  3. Archaeological Site of Delphi — 1987
  4. Archaeological Site of Epidaurus — 1988
  5. Medieval City of Rhodes — 1988
  6. Meteora — 1988
  7. Mount Athos — 1988
  8. Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki — 1988
  9. Archaeological Site of Olympia — 1989
  10. Byzantine City of Mystras — 1989
  11. Island of Delos — 1990
  12. Monasteries of Daphni (Athens), Monastery of Hosios Loukas (Beotia) and Nea Moni of Chios — 1990
  13. Pythagoreion and Heraion of Samos — 1992
  14. Archaeological Site of Vergina — 1996
  15. Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns — 1999
  16. Historic Centre (Chorá) with the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the Island of Pátmos — 1999
  17. Old Town of Corfu — 2007


The journey begins!

After counting the weeks and days the time to leave has suddenly arrived. Isn’t it strange how our perception of time changes depending on how much fun we’re having or how much we’re looking forward to an event?

Then in the blink of an eye (seemingly) the event has transpired. But as the adage goes, the preparation for the journey is as much fun as reaching the destination itself. I’m so inspired by all my reading that I’m looking forward to how my ideas will evolve as I walk the soil of Greece’s vast cultural heritage. Even more curious will be the disconnecting from multimedia.

Originally I had visions of blogging on-the-go with the iPad 2, but instead I will untangle myself from the Web and take in Greece the old-fashioned way. As tempting as the iPad sounds, I didn’t want to be overly concerned with a brand-new gadget as I navigate various islands. Having just watched Electric Dreams the electronics fast will be an interesting experiment.

I look forward to sharing my travel impressions with you when I return. May your summer be off to a great start!