Stepping Across a Controversy in Venice

Venezia_Ponte_di_Calatrava_-_panoramio
Ponte della Costituzione  | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Santiago Calatrava’s infamous bridge made my bucket list

This past June, I returned to Venice, Italy for five days to visit my daughter who was serving an internship at the U.S. Pavilion of the 2019 Art Biennale. While there, my goal was to experience a few sights I had missed in 2017 when we visited while she served another internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small modern art museum on the Grand Canal. (By the way, I plan to write a future post about her overall experience with the PGC internship. If you, your child, or your grandchild are interested in a career in art museum operations or administration, this paid internship is worth looking into.)

There were three Venice sights I missed seeing in 2017: 1) The Basilica of St. John and St. Paul (known in Italian as the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni y Paolo); 2) The Venetian Ghetto (where Jews were compelled to live starting in 1516 and the origin of the English word ghetto); and 3) The Constitution Bridge (known in Italian as the Ponte della Costituzione).

On the last full day of my visit in June, my daughter and I took a vaporetto to Cannaregio, the part of Venice where the Jewish Ghetto and the Ponte della Costituzione are located.

IMG_9812
The Constitution Bridge is located at the busy bus terminal known as Piazzale Roma. | Photo: M. Yung

I had first learned of the famous bridge, one of four pedestrian bridges that cross from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, when I read The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice. This book, written by Venetian transplant Polly Coles, reveals the daily routines of ordinary Venetians who have made the lagoon city their home. (What’s it like to live in one of the most heavily touristed cities in the world? Read this book. Where are the schools, the hospital, the post office? Read this book.)

Within one chapter of her book, Coles tells of her own experience with the infamous pedestrian bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

FullSizeRender (14)

I first learned of Calatrava when we visited “Sculpture into Architecture,” a 2005 exhibition of the artist’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The architect’s unusual skeletal forms intrigued me and still do today. For example, the Oculus transit hub near NYC’s One World Trade and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is one of Calatrava’s more recent U.S. designs. The Oculus’ soaring bird-like structure is a fitting symbol of recovery and growth for the formerly devastated Ground Zero area.

IMG_8345

However in Venice, Calatrava’s bridge is a controversial piece of architecture that continues to gain attention today even though it was completed in 2008. Indeed, its troubles started long before the current ones. For example, during its construction, the bridge was budgeted to cost 7 million Euro, but wound up costing 11.6 million Euro. In addition, several delays were required during its construction.

Moreover, other problems have come to light since its construction and subsequent use. These have added to the bridge’s notoriety. Some of these problems include:

  • Limited accessibility for the disabled
  • Its modern design that conflicted stylistically with the city’s historic architecture
  • Its relative close proximity to other bridges that cross the canal, of which there are four in total
  • Glass panels that pedestrians walk on, which become very slippery in rain and even fog
IMG_9771
As you can see, the bridge’s upper surface is more like a glass arch. On dry days, it’s no problem, but on rainy days, it would be difficult to cross.  | Photo: M. Yung

In addition to the slippery surface, because so many tourists (and residents, alike) carry wheeled luggage over the bridge, the glass panels have worn down, which has caused damage to the panels and to pedestrians alike, if they should fall.

So how was my walk across Calatrava’s Constitution Bridge?

Let’s just say that I was glad it was dry the day we ventured across… it was slick even then. (But let me tell you… the marble steps on nearly every other Venetian bridge are slick, too. On these bridges –and there are hundreds across the city– I had to take care to avoid the worn-down, curved edge of each step where I had nearly fallen more than once.)

On Calatrava’s bridge, there is a narrow walkway of another material (stone? concrete?) you can step across on. And truth be told, that optional surface was more comfortable to use even though it was only a strip the width of a narrow sidewalk positioned in the middle of the walkway, far from a handrail.

But still, I will say this about the Constitution Bridge: it is elegant.

Its long arch gracefully extends across the canal. If you have the chance to take the lengthy stroll across it, do. Despite its controversy, the bridge is beautiful, simplistic, and a refreshing contemporary note amidst Venice’s historic facades.

It is also officially crossed off my bucket list.  Been there. Done that.


After traversing the infamous bridge, we then ventured on to find the Jewish Ghetto. I’ll write about this district, which provides the actual origin of the Italian word “ghetto,” as well as the museum title. Stay tuned for that upcoming post, as well as the post about the Peggy Guggenheim Collection internship.

Click like and feel free to leave a comment!

Advertisements

My Kit-Cat clock died two years ago

IMG_1581

I only have the Kit-Cat Klock company to blame, but I won’t even do that.

I’ve held onto my Kit-Cat clock for long enough. I’m giving up. I won’t throw it away, mind you, but I’ll relegate it to the back of a shelf in the laundry room.

In 2014, my daughter  gave me the clock as a birthday present. It operated beautifully for about two years and then stopped. After consulting the trouble-shooting website, none of the possible remedies for the malfunction fit. The only one that seemed plausible was to replace the batteries, so I did. Still no success.

So I put the dang thing away for another day. That day came and after piddling around a little more, I figured out that I had earlier replaced the batteries incorrectly. After correcting that, my Kit-Cat Clock swung again and it was just peachy… until it wasn’t. About a year later, those eyes and that tail stopped again. The clock still worked, but the eyes and the tail—the reasons one purchases a Kit-Cat Clock in the first place— didn’t.

So I replaced the batteries again. Nothing. Dorked around with the eyes again. Zilch. I took the batteries out again, and then put in different batteries. Nada. Tapped and moved a few internal parts and still no go. Then I looked a little closer at the clock. No, it wasn’t working after all.

This was more serious than I thought. The Kit-Cat clock might actually be finally dead, I thought, ready now more than ever to just chuck the whole thing in the trash.

But I didn’t. I left it, still and silent, on the wall.

About a year later, we moved. And since I’m never one to give up, I packed the clock (all the while asking myself why am I doing this?!) and moved it into our new home, where I eventually tried yet again about a month ago to revive the pile of plastic. Still no luck.

By this time, my devotion to the clock began to wane. I had lost patience and chucked the poor, cute little clock into the trash. (Okay, it’s not as cute as it used to be. Could that grin actually be a smirk?!)

However, half an hour later, I knew I couldn’t leave it there. So I went back, lifted the cat from the garbage can, dug around for the tail, and found it. And then I placed the clock and its accompanying tail in the laundry room. It’s sitting there at this very minute.

And there you have how much I like Kit-Cat clocks. Even when they don’t work, I still keep them for two possible reasons: 1) I like old things; hence my collection of twenty-four vintage metal recipe boxes that looked really awesome alongside my Kit-Cat clock… when it worked, and 2) the clocks remind me a little of my childhood and a board game we kept in the hall closet based on Felix the Cat. I remember looking at the game, but not really knowing how to play it. Or maybe I did know how to play, but didn’t have someone to play it with. (Who knows?! This was a very long time ago and I couldn’t have been more than six years old.)

It doesn’t matter. My Kit-Cat clock is now officially dead. I tried to save it. Several times, in fact.

I can’t even blame the malfunction on Chinese manufacturing. The Kit-Cat Klock Company (yes, they spell clock with a K) is based near Los Angeles in Fountain Valley, California and makes every clock right there as it has since 1932.

I only have the Kit-Cat Klock company to blame, but I won’t even do that. Even though it doesn’t work, I still like my crazy clock, and even though it makes me a little sad to see it staring lifelessly back at me in the laundry room, I probably won’t get rid of it anytime soon. Call me sentimental.


Thanks for reading! If you can believe it, this post about my Kit-Cat clock is my highest-performing post of all time on this blog. Go figure. I wrote it at the last minute just before we ventured over to my in-laws in 2016 for Christmas Eve. Today, I thought it was time for an update on my clock, even if there’s nothing really to tell except that it is now officially dead.

 

 

We didn’t need a hashtag on 9/11

FullSizeRender (18)
I took this photo in 1997.

#newyorkstrong would not have fit

 

Even if social media, widely available public Internet, and other similar technologies had existed,  the hashtag #newyorkstrong would have been the last thing I would have wanted to hear or see on September 11, 2001. It simply wouldn’t have fit.

#newyorkstrong would have reduced the public reaction to the attacks to gimmickry. We would have been concerned and shocked, yes; however, however we would also have been visible, “on trend.”

On September 11, 2001, gimmickry didn’t exist. Instead, gimmickry withered in the face of…

Honesty.

Desperation.

Confusion.

Rage.

Impossibility.

Ferocity.

Powerlessness.

Now, eighteen years later, the memory of 9/11 fades. The shock subsides. And perhaps I’m beginning to understand the natural and receding course of painful tragedy.


 

 

A great man is always willing to be little

His expression compelled me to stop and linger at the display in Mycenae.

 

IMG_0122
This ivory sculpture is in the collection of artifacts at The Archaeological Museum of Mycenae

 

Only three to four inches in height, this ivory Mycenaean sculpture does not overwhelm with its size or weight, but with its expression. Made between 1250-1180 B.C. this “Ivory Male Head Figure” was excavated in the ruins of Mycenae (Mykines) in the Peloponnese region of Greece.

We saw a staggering number—thousands?—of artifacts this past summer; however, this little number above is still my favorite.

To realize it was conceived and shaped by human hands so very long ago is a lesson in humility.

Of what use  is our modern technology?

Of what purposes are our conveniences?

Of what skills can we boast in light of this quiet gem?


On May 29, my husband and I journeyed to Greece for about five weeks. Three weeks were spent on Skopelos, one of the three islands in the Sporades east of the mainland. The remaining two were spent venturing from Mycenae to Delphi to Olympia and finally Heraklion on the island of Crete to tour the sites at Knossos and Phaistos. Athens formed the bookends of our Greek odyssey. 

I posted daily for much of the trip, but still have so much more to tell. Follow my blog and stay tuned.

Acknowledgement: “A great man is always willing to be little.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I say Heraklion, you say Iraklio

At first, Crete’s largest city threw us for a loop

IMG_0981
Central Heraklion from the top of the Venetian fortress in the harbor.

The arrivals terminals at Crete’s airport may disappoint you.

First, it’s curiously dim. I remember telling my husband it felt like a Walmart store. Its cold LED lighting cast a cool glow on the blue and gray interior.

Second, the ladies bathroom was a mess. Forget toilet seats. Apparently, they were deemed unnecessary. And the hand dryers seemed pointless also. That’s because they blew a softer gale than the one outside. Shaking the excess water from my hands, I left the bathroom and joined my husband to explore our ground transportation options.

As we walked, I asked myself, This is Heraklion? My preconceived ideas of a sunny, bright and sparkling Crete had quickly evaporated and we weren’t even outside yet.

IMG_0781
We flew to Crete on Volotea Airlines, a regional carrier based in Madrid.

But that would change soon enough. After fielding a taxi to our AirBnb, checking in with our host, picking up some groceries at the small corner market, things improved.

Yes, Heraklion, the largest city on Crete with a population of 174,000 and Greece’s fourth largest city threw us for a loop at first. However, it took just overnight for us to become more accustomed to our corner of Greek life in Heraklion’s Fortetsa neighborhood.

Over the next five days, we explored much of Heraklion’s major attractions, navigated its bus lines, and took a daytrip into the countryside south of Heraklion to the Phaistos archaeological site.

IMG_0783
We sat down and surveyed the ground transportation options before deciding to take a taxi to the Fortetsa neighborhood. Our driver had a difficult time finding it. Apparently, the neighborhood is not a regular stop for tourists.
IMG_0811
At the top of Crete’s historical attractions is the Knossos Palace, the center of Minoan culture; read my post for more information. This is the oldest city in Europe and dates from 1380-1100 BC.
IMG_0913
This strolling Greek band was loud and persuasive. The man on the left approached out table and held out his tambourine for a 2 Euro donation.
IMG_0915
If you look deep into this photo, you can see several tavernas and restaurants ready to snag tourists with cappuccinos and gyros.
IMG_0936
This is part of the Venetian shipyards, erected during the Venetian occupation of the port and the island in general, which in those days was known as Candia.
IMG_0937
This sign will fill you in on basic Heraklion history, including a history of Crete in general. 
IMG_0998
This portion of the Venetian wall extends into Heraklion.
IMG_1071
This fountain is another relic of the Venetian period.
IMG_1144
Pedestrians pass under and through the Venetian wall on foot or in vehicles. They can walk up the stairs beyond the tree on the right-hand side of the photo and walk on top of the wall.
IMG_0952
This portion of the Venetian fortress extends into the harbor. It protected the city from invaders. Notice the symbol of Venice, the lion, in the relief sculpture at left. For scale, also notice people between the crenellations along the top of the wall.
IMG_0970
I just couldn’t get over the blue-green waters of the Sea of Crete north of Heraklion.
IMG_0967
We walked inside the Venetian Fortress Museum. It was well worth the 2 Euro ticket price to learn a little history along the way.
IMG_1005
This is Morosini Fountain in city center Heraklion. It’s a remnant of the city’s glory days under Venetian influence and rule.

IMG_1004

IMG_1022
This is the sunny plaza at noontime just outside the Church of San Minas.
IMG_1051
This statue of Eleftherios Venizelos stands near a downtown plaza. Venizelos is “Considered by most as the greatest Greek of modern times, he is the man whose name you’ll encounter almost everywhere: from the Athens International Airport to hundreds of streets all over the country. Born in Ottoman occupied Crete, he studied law in Athens, took part in several revolutions and fought for the independence and union of Crete with Greece (1913).
IMG_1143
The front entrance to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in the center of the city.
IMG_1044
Cathedral of Saint Minas
IMG_1017
The interior of the Church of Saint Minas
IMG_1033
Adjacent to the Church of Saint Minas is the Church of Saint Katherine Museum of Christian Art. It showcases a collection of Greek Orthodox artwork, including murals, tapestries, metallurgy, and, of course, incredible icons.
IMG_1036
A detail from a painting inside the Museum of Christian Art. This painting is called
IMG_1059
We rested inside this shady park situated next to a portion of the Venetian wall.
IMG_1136
This outdoor mural in inspired by the “Ladies in Blue,” a fresco originally found at Knossos. The original fragments are displayed inside the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
IMG_1046
Scooters everywhere!
IMG_1056
Snack kiosks such as this one are ubiquitous in Heraklion. Some of these also sell city bus tickets.
IMG_1138
This is a popular retail district in Heraklion. Notice the brilliant blue of the ocean in the distance.

IMG_0987

IMG_0942
The harbor at Heraklion with the Venetian fortress on the left.
IMG_1089
Pottery found at Phaistos, which we visited one day when we took a daytrip south. A post on this daytrip is forthcoming. Stay tuned! Check out this post for how to get to Phaistos by bus.
IMG_1148
The front door of our AirBnb in the Fortetsa neighborhood of Heraklion.
IMG_1063
The street outside our AirBnb. Our taxi driver seemed a little surprised that we were staying here. I guess it’s not the expected tourist neighborhood; however, it was safe and quiet. We felt like we were getting to see the real Heraklion that many tourists may not be privy to.
IMG_1147
We stayed in Fortetsa. Notice the Greek spelling above the Roman or Latin letters.
IMG_1146
Greece held elections on July 7. All 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament were in play, including president. Posters were plastered in bus stops and in other public areas throughout the city.
IMG_1070
I took this photo while sitting in the bus stop looking up into our Fortetsa neighborhood. We were getting ready to board a bus downtown.
IMG_0992
We stopped in at this market a few times during our stay in Heraklion. The melons were perfectly sweet.
IMG_1064
The living room of our AirBnb in Heraklion.
IMG_1067
Another photo of our AirBnB.
IMG_1160
The ceiling in the departures terminal of the Heraklion airport (above) is quite a dramatic difference from the arrivals terminal. The arrivals area was stark and uninviting  in comparison.

Thanks for reading! My husband and I are in the process of moving out of the house we’ve lived in for 25 years. It’s been a job accomplishing the move and writing more about our trip this summer to Greece. I plan to add several more posts over the end of summer and fall. That’s my plan; however, with a new teaching job starting in a little over a week, it will be a challenge. 

 

Need a new perspective on Ancient Greece?

IMG_1284
This plaque has Acts 17:22-31 inscribed in Greek. The scripture appears later in this post.

The Areopagus in Athens puts Ancient Greece in its proper perspective

This morning, we walked through Athens to the Areopagus, the location of a judicial

court, where Paul made his “To an Unknown God” sermon to the Athenians with—wait for it— the Acropolis in the background with its temples to Athena, Poseidon, Erechtheus and  other mythological deities of Ancient Greece.
364CC786-4AEC-4CEC-B8B3-ECC15A4047AF
The Acropolis is right there! Paul was pretty daring in his speech to those gathered. Notice the procession of tourists creeping up the steps of the Propylaea, the entry staircase to the Acropolis and its monuments. And yes, that is graffiti on the rock in the picture. There is graffiti everywhere. Some of it is artful, but much of it is mere vandalism.
How fitting that we saw this on our last day in Greece. Walking on the rocky (and extremely slippery) outcropping where Paul would have stood is a highlight of our trip. This spot puts all the pagan monuments and temples that we’ve seen in their proper perspective. Yes, they are beautiful works made by man, but they are worthless in the eyes of God.
IMG_1175
The rocky outcropping is expansive with incredible views of Athens below. I would tell you to wear good shoes, but even good shoes will slip on the time-worn marble. Everyone was sliding around, grabbing onto each other, scooting down on their rear ends. There are metal stairs, but even those are slick. 

Acts 17:22-31 

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a]As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

IMG_1182

IMG_1179
Our last day in Greece! Our plane leaves at 6 a.m. tomorrow!

Thanks for reading and for joining me on our trip to Greece! I have only missed a handful of daily postings during the time we’ve been here. Writing and posting daily was one of my goals, and I feel positive about my progress. Follow my blog for more stories and travel memoirs that I will be writing in the coming weeks. I have so much more to share! 

Are you traveling anywhere over the summer months? Leave a comment with your plans or a link to your blog!

Travel on Crete: How to get from Heraklion to Phaistos by bus

IMG_1075

It’s not easy, but it is possible to take the bus from Heraklion to Phaistos

Today, my husband and I visited Phaistos Minoan Palace, arguably the second most important Minoan archaeological site on the island of Crete in Greece. Phaistos has been on our bucket list for our journey through Greece, and because we’ve relied on bus travel for much of our trip, we’ve learned that things can go wrong.

For example, your driver may miss a stop, turn around, and go back. Your driver may make a package delivery you weren’t expecting, adding minutes to your ride and causing you to miss a connection if you have one.

That’s why yesterday we figured out EXACTLY how we would make the trip today. We bought our tickets a day early for not only Phaistos, but also for the bus station from where we would depart. In the end, we had a successful trip, but it wasn’t without a good dose of head scratching, miscommunication, wrong turns, and a frantic last-minute ticket purchase.

Part of our confusion was due to the scarcity of up-to-date timetables and not knowing the location of Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station (the main bus terminal in Heraklion). The rest of the confusion was due to a general lack of detailed, timely information on how to get to Phaistos in the first place. It’s not listed as a destination on the pull-down destination menu on their website; however, the printed timetable does list Phaistos as a destination. Go figure.

In addition, there simply isn’t much info on websites such as TripAdvisor and Rome2Rio. Instead, what you will mainly find are other people on TripAdvisor looking for the way there, too.

Here’s how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos:

  1. Get a KTEL bus timetable brochure from any KTEL ticket kiosk or at the KTEL Central Bus Station. You will need this timetable to figure out when the buses leave and return from Heraklion and Phaistos.  Read on for how to find KTEL Central Bus Station.
    IMG_1150
    I’ve circled the part of the KTEL timetable brochure that shows the Heraklion to Phaistos and the Phaiston to Heraklion schedules. Side note: There are multiple ways to spell Heraklion and Phaistos. Heraklion is also spelled Iraklio. Phaistos can be spelled Faistos and Festos. Moires is also spelled Mires. Take a look at the Greek spellings, too, so you can recognize them if needed.
    IMG_1151
    Here is the June 2019 KTEL timetable brochure. We used it July 6 and the times were still the same.
  2. Go to KTEL Central Bus Station (the main terminal) and get there well ahead of your bus’ departure time. Get there early (thirty minutes or more) on the day you plan to travel or buy them the day before like we did. Do this in case any unforeseen complications arise and cause you to arrive late and  miss your bus because you didn’t have your tickets purchased.
  3. To find the KTEL Central Bus Station, we asked a ticket seller in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. (We didn’t see any informational signs to direct travelers to the station from the popular museum where both city buses and KTEL buses drop off and pick up.) The ticket seller told us to walk behind the ticket kiosk on the circle next to the museum, and then take the stairs down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and follow the street until you come to a large dark gray bank (Pancretan Cooperative Bank) on your left. It has a modern look, with lots of large mirrored windows. When you get to the bank, you will see the KTEL Central Bus Station in front of you at the corner of Efessou and Leof. Ikarou.IMG_1072
  4. Walk down the stairs behind the bus station, go through the waiting area that looks like a large outdoor cafe, and go inside.
  5. Get in line at one of the six ticket windows and tell the clerk when you want to go to Phaistos based on the times available per the timetable brochure. We purchased only our tickets (7.10€ each) to Phaistos ahead of time. Because we didn’t know how long it would take to see the site, we didn’t know what time to schedule a return bus. IMG_1074
  6. You will take an approximately one-hour bus ride from KTEL Central Bus Station in Heraklion to Moires, where you will change to another bus bound for Matala. Phaistos is on the way to Matala.
  7. When you get to Moires, get off the bus so you can hop onto another bus headed for Matala. To do that, go inside the KTEL ticket office (there’s not a station–just a bus stop and a ticket office with a bunch of boxes scattered on the floor). The ticket office has a small KTEL sign on it and is about one hundred feet from the bus stop. Ask the ticket clerk how long it will be before the Matala bus arrives. In our case, it was about ten minutes away.
  8. Watch for the Matala bus. You will not need another ticket to get on the Matala bus.
  9. The bus ride to Phaistos from Moires on the Matala bus takes about fifteen minutes. The driver should stop at Phaistos, but he might not if you don’t tell him you need to stop there. Do that when you board or during the ride. Don’t assume other riders are going to Phaistos. (If they’re tourists, they’re probably going to the beach in Matala.) We were the only two people on our bus today headed for Phaistos. Here’s the sign for Phaistos Minoan Palace. Get off here.
    IMG_1129
    Here’s the sign for the archaeological site. Note the spelling variation.

9. Tour Phaistos Minoan Palace. It might be a good idea to buy a guide book and thumb through it before entering the site so you can understand better what you’re seeing. Phaistos doesn’t appear to have the marketing support that other sites such as Knossos does. By the way, tickets to the archaeological site cost 8€ each. It took us about 1-1/2 hours to see the site. It would have taken longer, but some of it was closed for maintenance.

10. Leave Phaistos.  There were bus schedules taped to the windows at the archaeological site ticket booth and inside the bus stop out near where we disembarked. These should coincide with the KTEL timetable brochure. But to double-check, use the chart (see photo below), and find the bus that departs from Matala and arrives in Heraklion. In the photo below, I’ve circled the part of the schedule that contains the route that begins in Matala, stops at Phaistos, and makes the connection in Moires again onto a bus that returns to Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station where you started.

IMG_1131

11. When your bus arrives from Matala to pick you up at Phaistos, board it and buy your tickets from the driver. Our tickets were 1.80€ each. This paid our way back to Moires.

12. At Moires, you will need to disembark, (just like you did earlier), go inside the KTEL ticket office, and buy tickets to take you from Moires back to Heraklion’s KTEL Central Bus Station where you started. For us, these tickets cost 6€ each. We nearly missed our Heraklion-bound bus in Moore’s because it was fifteen minutes late arriving in Phaistos. As a result, we arrived at Moires at 1:55 for a 2 p.m. ride. If there’s any question that you might not have your tickets before the bus leaves, go ahead and board the bus, and as you board, tell the driver you will be buying tickets directly from him. We saw many riders on both KTEL and city buses buy their tickets directly from bus drivers.

13. Once you’re seated on the bus in Moires, enjoy the approximately one-hour drive back to KTEL Central Bus Station. Our return ride took a different route from what we took in the morning and it followed a windy, mountainous road with vast, breath-taking views of olive groves and vineyards punctuated with oleander and cypress trees.


Thanks for reading! Greece can be tricky to navigate, especially with changing bus schedules, language barriers, and stations that close or change locations. We needed a blog post about this very topic a couple of days ago. We searched quite a bit to find the way to Phaistos. I hope this helps some readers find their way there. By the way, I plan to write a post about our visit to Phaistos in the next few days. 

Click like, leave a comment and follow my blog for my daily travel posts from Greece and Italy, including our AirBnb stays and also to catch that Phaistos post. 

The strange situation I saw two days ago in Athens

IMG_0747 (1)
Photo: Marilyn Yung

An unsettling episode on our otherwise comfortable journey through Greece

I guess nothing came of the strange situation I saw two days ago in Athens.  Here’s what happened somewhere between the Omonoia and Ministiraki stations.

So, okay. I’m sitting on this gray metal bench waiting for a train to whisk my husband and I to our AirBnB in Paiania. As I stared at the departure sign’s red digital numbers, I noticed two security guards casually saunter up, talking between themselves. One, pale and tall, walked with his hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground as he spoke to his partner who, with his salt and pepper hair, appeared to be nearing retirement age.

I took note: two security guards.  Together.

Now I come from a small town in Kansas and have lived in rural Missouri for thirty years. I know next to nothing about public transit, let alone public transit in downtown Athens. Do security guards often travel in twos? Or just when a situation warrants it?

Whatever, I thought, my eyes moving from the guards back to the digital sign. It indicated our airport-bound train should arrive in about six minutes.

To the right, toward my bench on the platform, a man approached.

Here’s what I noticed:

  1. He was wearing a straw hat, a wide-brimmed style,
  2. and a too-small faded blue suit jacket,
  3. and black sunglasses,
  4. and a canvas hat under the straw one (yes, two hats),
  5. and long, wavy black hair stuffed under the neck flap of the canvas hat,
  6. plus, a drab white-and-blue plaid shirt under the ill-fitting suit jacket.

Here’s what I wish I had noticed: his shoes. They say shoes can say a lot about a person, but I didn’t look at his shoes. I couldn’t get past the straw hat.

Neither could the security guards. Once Straw Hat walked up, they took note. They had been standing silently, but when Straw Hat entered the scene, the taller guard whispered to the other.

The two guards passed by me and walked to the platform edge. They watched the man approach my bench, stop two feet short next to a garbage can, and stand quietly.

I turned away from Straw Hat to my husband sitting to my left. “Do you see this guy?” I whispered.

“If he gets on the train, we’re staying behind for the next one,” he mumbled quietly.

I watched the security guards. The taller one occasionally glanced over at Straw Hat. He made eye contact with the strange dresser. It reassured me to see that the guard wanted Straw Hat to know that he was being watched.

Good, I thought. They’re on to him. And Straw Hat knows it.

I shifted back on the bench and returned my gaze to the digital sign.

Five minutes.

More passengers wandered to the platform. One camera-toting man, a tourist obviously, noticed Straw Hat. His eyes snagged on the hat, and then dropped to scan the rest of the ensemble. He turned away.

Three girls wearing summer tans and sundresses walked up, chatting away, oblivious to Straw Hat. A mother pushing a stroller rolled onto the scene, her eyes never raising from her precious cargo. Two more men walked up. Both glanced at the hat, one’s eyes resting for an uncomfortable three seconds on the costume.

IMG_0748 (1)
Photo: Marilyn Yung

Four minutes.

The taller guard glanced again at the costumed man and made a call on his cell phone. The other tugged on his belt, straightening his gray shirt that read “Private Security” in all capitals.

Three minutes.

The crowd had grown. The sounds had changed: wheeled luggage rumbled by, shoes and flip flops shuffled through.

Several old men gathered. Two were in a heated conversation. One repeatedly pressed and raised his index finger up and down into his palm, counting off some reasons he was fired up about. At one point, his eyes caught the Straw Hat. He stopped for a split-second, wrinkled his brow in curiosity, and turned away to continue his reasoning.

Two minutes.

I turned to my husband. “Still watching him?”

“Just hang back when the train gets here,” he said, looking straight ahead, keeping the man in his peripheral vision.

In the corner of my eye, I watched, too. Straw Hat gingerly tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves to lower them. They already hung too low, I thought, nearly an inch beyond the hem of his jacket. He then inspected his fingertips. Pale hands, I noticed. Dirty nails. The few tendrils of black hair that I could see were so black they shone blue under the overhead LED lighting. He spent time tucking his hair under the neck flap.

One minute.

From down the tunnel, we heard a dull, deep roar of an oncoming train. Its front sign showed that it was bound for another central Athens station… not the airport. It slowed to a stop at the platform and the doors slid open.

A rush of passengers disembarked, displacing the chatting girls, the camera-toting tourist, the old men, the doting mother. As the train emptied, those waiting flowed toward it, including Straw Hat.

Suddenly, another man appeared wearing a sophisticated, double-breasted gray suit and carrying a clear plastic bag.  Two packages were inside wrapped in white paper. He approached Straw Hat, paused, and turned to face the train.

Straw Hat leaned forward and muttered words into the space between them. Then he turned toward the second train car and boarded. Gray Suit boarded the first car. So did the security guards. The taller one kept his eye on Straw Hat in the next car. Had they seen the comment exchanged with Gray Suit? Were they aware that they needed to watch him, too?

More passengers boarded. A few last-minute riders scurried to the platform, scooting inside the train at the final second before the doors slid shut. A bell sounded and the train sped away.

We wondered.

What was about to happen? Anything? Why would anyone dress so conspicuously? Was Straw Hat planning to peel off the layers of his costume as his crime progressed? Was he the distraction to entice watchful eyes off Gray Suit, the truly dangerous one?

We still wonder. What exactly did we witness? We heard nothing about the incident, but then again we probably wouldn’t. Beyond the most basic phrases, we don’t speak Greek, so asking someone or watching the TV for news is futile.

Our Athens transit experience is one of those curious travel stories. A peculiar memory. A shared inexplicable moment that we trust resulted in nothing more than an eyebrow-raising incident to retell over the years. This one story is thankfully the only unsettling episode on our otherwise comfortable journey through Greece.

IMG_0749
Photo: Marilyn Yung

Thanks for reading! This happened two days ago in downtown Athens. It was very unnerving at the time. The two men could have merely been out pick-pocketing. About ten minutes prior to this story, a station employee had warned my husband to wear his backpack on his chest. “The pickpockets are out today,” he had said. Maybe that’s all it was.

Leave a comment if you’ve had a similar puzzling encounter. Feel free to follow my blog for more travel stories.

 

 

Knossos Palace: A Minoan Culture Club

IMG_0827
Classic photo of the Palace of Knossos. Behind the red columns, you can see the famous Bull Relief Fresco that is shown in the last photo of this article.

Treat yourself to Heraklion, Crete in Greece

“The Minoans. Very smart people,” the guard told me, tapping her index finger on her temple. She had just explained to me (without my asking, by the way… she was that enthusiastic and had walked over on her own to explain) the purpose of a raised ridge near the lip of a large pithoi storage jar at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The ridge was wide enough to hold a small bit of liquid. Why? To keep ants and other insects from reaching the grain, wine, olives, olive oil, or whatever else was stored inside. Yes, that’s innovative. But that’s the Minoans.

So even though we’ve been amazed at the age of the monuments and temples at Mycenae, Delphi, Athens, and Olympia, none of these are as ancient as Knossos and the greater Minoan culture.

If you’re unfamiliar with Minoan history or culture, here’s a short blurb from the foreword of a book we purchased in the museum’s gift shop. The book is called Knossos: A New Guide to the Palace of Knossos.

“Knossos, the capital city of the Minoan world, is the most important site in Crete and second only to the Acropolis at Athens in all of Greece. It stands as the symbol of the Minoan Civilization, the earliest to evolve in Greece and Europe. “– Dr. Antonis Vasilakis

The introduction continues:

“Knossos is five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, on the hill of Kephala, and west of the river Kairatos. This advantageous location, which controlled one of the most fertile regions in Crete, was to become the heart of the Minoan civilization, considered to be the first in Europe. The hill of Kephala, inhabited continuously since 7000 BC, was the site of the first Neolithic settlement in Crete and over the millennia it grew into the powerful city and palace of Minoan Knossos.” — George Tzorakis, archaeologist

If you’re like me, the Minoan culture has always been a familiar term, but I’ve never really understood it or been able to recognize its art. Sure, my husband has always admired the Minoans, and has even used Minoan art and pottery to inspire his work, but I’ve never been able on my own to intelligently discuss the Minoans.

But after touring Knossos, I know a little more.  Spending two and-a-half hours at the site and another two hours in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum yesterday has given me a better understanding about not only this culture, but others that either occurred later or were influenced by it.

IMG_0799
A photo taken across one area of the grounds. 
IMG_0842
An area adjacent to the grand staircase with the distinctive red columns and frescoes in the back.
IMG_0790
But Knossos has its controversy. The site’s reconstruction is largely the work of Sir Arthur Evans, who began a radical reconstruction program in 1925. Many of the excavations are based on Evans’ research for how Knossos would have appeared. The sign in the photo above explains the controversy very well and in an unbiased way; while some people think Evans’ team went too far in recreating the site, other people believe that without Evans’ reconstructive work, there would be little to show at the site.

 

IMG_0823
The Grand Staircase
IMG_0839
Large pithoi storage jars for holding wine, olive oil, olives, grains.
IMG_0932
Large pithoi jars made by my husband and inspired by the Minoan pithoi. These were made during his three-week art residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island. The residency ended June 25.
IMG_2800
We arrived at the archaeological site at about 8:30 a.m. Tour bus groups (above) arrived between 10-10:30. We walked right into this particular site (The Throne Room, below) at the grounds; these people will have to wait thirty minutes or more under a cloudless sky. 
IMG_2713
Panoramic shot of The Throne Room, a room used by the king.
IMG_0820
Mitch and I standing in front of a fresco reproduction on the grounds. The original is on display at the Heraklion  Archaeological Museum near the harbor in downtown Heraklion.
IMG_0805
This Bull-Leaping Fresco (1449 BC) is the most intact fresco from the palace. It’s also one of the most recognizable. It depicts a popular sport in Minoan culture, bull leaping. Contestants (male and female, according to the placard at the site) would leap and flip over bulls to compete. 
IMG_0882
The original of the Bull-Leaping Fresco hangs in the museum. Notice that only some of the original excavated pieces have been found. Archaeologists must research to make assumptions to recreate the larger artwork based on the found pieces. 
IMG_0854
Mitch photographing large blocks of gypsum, a popular building material used at Knossos. It was popular due to its ease of use and beautiful appearance when polished. These pieces are rough and have sharp edges due to being exposed to weather.
IMG_0846
A closer look.
IMG_0848
And still closer.
IMG_0855
In addition to using gypsum, the Minoans also used wood. The off-white trim work you see alongside the red is wood, probably cypress. Minoans understood wood’s plasticity that would support and complement stone and stucco.
IMG_0856
More gypsum walls and foundations.
IMG_0919
The Palace at Knossos was complex in that it included many layers of floors.
IMG_0923
The theater and River Road that visitors to the site use to exit the palace grounds.
IMG_1143
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum near the harbor in downtown Heraklion. Don’t let the museum’s plain exterior conceals the fact that inside is an incredible collection of Minoan art from not only Knossos Palace but other Minoan centers. 
IMG_0872
I was captivated by these Cycladic figures, small sculptures made by artists of the islands known as the Cyclades. These were made from 2300-1700 BC.

 

IMG_0874
These cups look so similar to ones we use today, but they were made between 1800-1700 BC.
IMG_0876
An incredible collection of jars. Seriously beautiful.
IMG_0877
This is my husband’s version of Disney World.
IMG_0894
And more jars around every corner. Truly incredible.
IMG_0879
Can’t get over this octopus motif, an example of the “Marine Style” common to Minoan art. 
IMG_0881
Knossos Palace. By the way, banish our modern notion of what a “palace” is. Back in the Minoan era, a palace was more of a center of a community or kingdom. The Knossos Palace included administrative buildings and other functional structures, in addition to royal quarters and the like.
IMG_0884
Double axes of monumental size. The Minoan culture spanned the Stone Age and into the Bronze. 
IMG_0890
Can you believe this carved stone bull was made from 1600-1450 BC? It was actually used to hold liquids. There was a hole in the back for filling and then the liquid would pour out from the bull’s snout.
IMG_0896
A collection of figurative pieces. So expressive!
IMG_0899
A collection of burial coffins known as larnakes. One actually still had a skeleton inside.
IMG_0929
A fresco known as “Ladies in Blue.”  This is the original. A reproduction is found at the archaeological site. 1525-1400 BC

 

IMG_0904
Famous Bull Relief Fresco. Its reproduction at the palace is shown behind the columns in the first photo in the article.
IMG_0933 (1)
The book we purchased in the museum gift shot.

Like other Greek archaeological sites, tickets for Knossos were 16€ and included both the site and the museum. The tickets were valid for two days. That means you have all the time you need to tour.


Thanks for reading!  This is the fifth archaeological site we’ve visited during our Greek travels this summer.  Follow my blog for more stories from our trip. 

Scenes from a sunny house in Athens

AirBnB delivers again

IMG_0758
Kostas, me, Mitch, and Tania

This is our first major trip where by the time we return home, we will have utilized  AirBnB seven times! Today’s post is about our stay near the Athens International Airport with Tania and her son, Kostas (yes, another Kostas!).

Tania’s house is called “Sunny House” and it’s ten minutes from the airport, which was perfect for our needs since we were flying out of Athens the next day for five days in Crete.

Despite some communication problems between Tania and me during the day about exactly when and how we would arrive at her house, we finally met up around 4 p.m.

IMG_0767
The tile patio 

It had been a hectic day! We had taken a three-hour bus ride from Olympia (along the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth), a subway transfer, and a ride on the suburbs-bound metro train. Tania could tell we were exhausted. After showing us the house, she said, “You look tired,” and she left us to rest.

However, before leaving, Tania’s son Kostas offered to handle ordering dinner for us later. We could look through the menus on the table in the apartment to make our choice, he said. After resting, we took him up on his offer and asked him to order two pork gyros from a local restaurant. In about fifteen minutes, a man on a scooter drove to our door with hot gyros in hand. Awesome!

Mitch and I ate our gyros on the sun-dappled patio table in front of our flat. It was a very warm day (some would call it hot), but with the breeze, it felt cool in the shade.

IMG_0762
I wish I had taken pictures right when we arrived. It was a great little place!

As we ate, Kostas was installing some tile around a concrete seating area on his mother’s patio. He came over and asked us if it would be all right if he cut some tile, as it would make quite a loud noise. Of course, that would be fine, we said. We didn’t want to get in the way of his project, obviously.

As Kostas worked, Tania swept leaves from her patio that joined ours. In front of her home, four trees provide lemons, oranges, apricots, and olives. She told us to help ourselves to all the apricots we wanted as there were simply too many to pick. We picked about six and carried them back to our place. Lucky for us that we’ve visited Greece during apricot season. (I never buy them at home because they’re rarely allowed to ripen on the tree.)

IMG_9872
Apricots fresh off the tree

After eating and resting some more, we both wandered outside to see Kostas’ tile project up close. As we spoke with him, Tania came out from her home.

“Sit, sit,” she said. Taking her cue, the three of us joined her around her wooden picnic table.

As the breeze stirred, we got to know each other a bit.

  • We visited about politics (Greece has elections in about a week; the United States’ 2020 election is already in the news).
  • We also talked about opportunities for young people in Greece, which seems to be a complex subject. For example, Kostas, a mechanical engineer completing a master’s degree in Romania, told us that engineers earn less pay than hair stylists. We relayed that teacher salaries in the U.S. also can reflect that disparity.

IMG_0763

  • We met their dog, Bruno. Kostas told us Bruno was a stray that they had adopted. Apparently, Bruno likes to chase cars. The road beyond the house,  a gravel one that feels like a country road, did occasionally have a car speeding by.
  • As we visited, a neighbor hollered in Greek over the courtyard wall. Tania spoke back and apparently invited the woman in. She greeted us with a smile, looked at Kostas’ tile project, indicated that it was coming along well, and went on her way.
  • Kostas gave us tips for visiting Crete, recommending that we check out Chania while we’re there.

Gradually, the clear night sky darkened. The sound of a flight taking off or landing could be heard in the distance and Tania rose from the table. About five minutes later, she returned with forks and plates of watermelon wedges.

IMG_0765
Olives are on the way!

We continued to talk and it occurred to me what a generous mother and son we had met. Both were eager to share about their lives and learn about ours. We told them about our daughter, who was returning to the U.S. from an internship in Italy, and our son, a college student studying photography and video production.

They were curious about Mitch’s familiarity with farming, raising livestock, and chickens. They were especially intrigued when they learned that Mitch even raises specific chickens for their feathers, which he uses to tie flies for fishing.

We also relayed to her details about some of our other AirBnB stays from the previous few days. One of those stays was actually a room in a small hotel. While it was a pleasant stay, it wasn’t quite the traditional AirBnB experience. People who choose AirBnb don’t want a hotel, Tania said. They want the experience of meeting local people.

IMG_0766
The next morning right before we left

Eventually, the conversation waned and a few yawns were heard. We all decided to call it a night, but before doing that, we went over our morning plans: Tania would taxi us to the airport at 7:30 in the morning so we could make our 9:15 flight to Heraklion, Crete.

With that confirmed, I asked if I could take a picture for my blog and, of course, they agreed. Kostas offered to take the picture. His long arms are good for that, he told us.

We thanked Tania again for the watermelon and wished Kostas well with his studies.  And with that, we turned in for the night.

watermelon-410329_1280
Photo: Pixabay

Thanks for reading! Click like if you enjoyed this post. What’s your experience with AirBnb? Follow this blog for more travel stories from Greece.