Peloponnese

A woman selling woven wheat charms at the Corinth Canal.

A woman selling woven wheat charms at the Corinth Canal.

So after yesterday’s disastrous travels, I got up this morning a bit better prepared.  I had train schedules and station names all written down (tattooed on my arms, actually) so I couldn’t possibly screw things up today.  I also managed to sleep in an extra hour, catching my train with time to spare.  I met my tour bus across the street from the station in Athens, and after a few more stops, we made our way out of the city, past Pireas and towards the Isthmus.  Our first stop was at the Corinth Canal, a deep, narrow strip of water that connects the Aegean and Ionian seas.  The canal was built by a French company in the late 1800s, but is mostly unused today as supertankers won’t fit its narrow passage.

Next we drove past Corinth and through the plains of Argos towards Epidaurus.  The drive was quite scenic with rolling hills and thousands of olive trees.  We arrived at Epidaurus, which is basically in the middle of nowhere.  The main attraction here is a rather stunning ancient theater built into the side of a hill.  Built more than 2,300 years ago, the outdoor theater is in remarkably good condition and still hosts several events each year.  The setting is quite nice, with lovely views of the surrounding mountains.  The most remarkable feature, however, would have to be the extraordinary acoustics.  Even in the back row of the 14,000 seat arena, I could clearly hear normal conversations occurring down on the circular, earthen stage.  I thought it would be a very neat experience to come back someday for a live performance.

From Epiaurus we made our way west back to the coast.  We made a quick stop in Nafplio for a nice view of the towering Palamidhi Fortress then continued towards Mycenae.  We stopped for lunch at a taverna with a long, sweeping veranda which provided a pleasant, shady spot to dine.  Soon we were at the ruins of Mycenae, Agamemnon’s citadel tucked in the hills between Corinth and Argos.  This place looms large in the legends of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.  It was here that Agamemnon was murdered in his bath by his wife and her lover.

The ruins of the citadel still reveal some amazing structures.  The walled alley leading to the Lion Gate entrance of the citadel use gigantic stones.  So large, in fact, are these stones, that the walls have been called cyclopean, attributing their construction to the cyclops, the only beings deemed capable of such a feat.  I rather enjoyed perambulating the ruins, perched perfectly on the top of a small rise between two larger mountains.  The area afforded fantastic views of the surrounding beauty, and the ubiquitous evidence of millenia gone by elicited a nearly palpable presence of ghosts among the stones.  Oh the dramas, treacheries, gallantries, and sorrows that these stones were witness to, separated from me in this place merely by the thin veil of time.

Just down the road was the Treasury of Atreus, an immense bee-hive tomb where Agamemnon was most likely buried.  The entire structure is constructed with mortar-less stone and buried in a hillside.  Massive lentils weighing over 100 tons cover the large doorway leading into the tomb.

From here our bus made its way back to Athens where I successfully caught the correct train back to Afidnes.  I walked back to the Lawson’s house with plenty of daylight left.  Vanessa asked me to take a few photos of their children, and I was able to take some nice shots during the perfect light of the “golden hour” just before sunset.  A couple came by with dinner to visit for for evening.  Friends from Vanessa’s childhood, they were fine musicians.  One played the flute and the other the violin.  I hopped on the piano, and we did some improvised music.  Before long the kids went to bed, and the rest of us settled in the living room so Vanessa’s friends could watch the season finale of Eurovision.  I had never heard of Eurovision before, but from what I could gather, it is a sort of American Idol crossed with the Olympics.  Each country contributes their best pick for a musician or group, and all the countries compete against each other to select a winner.  I found the whole spectacle to be rather interesting.  Each performance incorporated rather extravagant staging and special effects.  None of the performances, however, quite got it on the “coolness” factor.  In fact, the grand winner, a group from Norway, won with a curiously quirky polka-celtic-pop crossover song called “Fairy Tale.”  Now I know why America continues to prosper with its only perennially successful export: culture.  Nobody else seems to quite get “cool” like America does.

Happy to have not screwed up my travels for the day, I went to bed prepared for church in the morning and an afternoon visiting ancient Corinth and Loutraki.

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