Category Archives: Uncategorized

On the Road Again.

I’ve had a busy two weeks and now an opportunity to collect my thoughts as I take this bus ride from Cappadocia to Ankara and from there a flight to Trabzon on the Black Sea. Various family members have been pressuring me to visit Cappadocia and so as I was in the area, as it were, and on the way east I thought why not. I should have flown from Istanbul to one of the local airports, either Nevsehir or Keyseri, but being a train enthusiast I took the train. Bit of a mistake as Istanbul’s main train station is closed indefinitely which means a long Metro ride or traffic-ridden taxi to the station at Pendik though there is a ferry from Eminonu which might have been the best option. Excellent train to Ankara with speeds up to 250 kmh it only took four hours, there was a café car and the loos were clean. Arriving in Ankara there was a quick and cheap taxi ride to the bus station for the bus to Goreme in Cappadocia (tickets at desk#50). The buses are becoming more like airplanes with seat back screens for movies, a steward who serves tea and sandwiches plus reclining seat backs. Not too painful.

Arrived In Goreme (Guh Reh Meh) in darkness, found taxi, delivered to hotel for about $2.00 and the main man greets me with a ‘what would you like?’ Shortly afterwards a bottle of the local red appeared and after a couple of glasses I went to bed. Morning came at around 5.00am and there was an intermittent roaring noise above me and I immediately thought, dragons! Grabbed some clothes and went outside ready to do my St George act (kidding) and there was Goreme in daylight with all its fantastic Fairy Chimneys and above were hot air balloons, lots of them, forty or fifty, I didn’t count. What an amazing sight to start the day. The Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia are now world famous, I’m sure you have seen photos but just in case – they were formed over the ages from deposits from two local volcanoes being eroded away leaving the local sandstone, protected by a layer of basalt, which the local people have carved away to create storage areas, flocks and herd shelters and now, hotel rooms. I read somewhere that the landscape resembles a Salvador Dali fever dream. True.

It gets better! There are underground cities! Nine or ten stories deep! The guide warned that with high blood pressure, a weak heart, claustrophobia or a nervous disposition one shouldn’t descend. I did. It was truly evocative. Originally dug by the Hittites in the eleventh century who found raids from invaders tiresome (Persians, Alexander the Great etc), they would dive down under the ground at the first sign of attack and close the door with massive circular stones. Unbelievably these ’doors’ have spy holes to see who has come knocking, also suitable for shooting arrows through. It is estimated that 2,000 people could live in the city for up to six months, but imagine the smell! There was a winery and kitchen area, little caves for a family and on the bottom floor there was access to an underground river. We crouched and almost crawled down and down and it got colder and colder and we all got dirtier and dirtier. I banged my head a few times but all in all it was a high point of Cappadocia for me.

If all that isn’t enough there’s more! 12th Century churches. Lots of them. When Christianity was outlawed by the Roman Empire many Christians fled to this area which with its underground cities, remoteness and hidden valleys provided a reasonably safe haven. Hewing away the soft rock they created very tiny churches, some holding only ten people. The frescoes they daubed on the wall are still visible though not in a very good state of repair but they are there nonetheless. Some of the frescoes are being restored by, if I understood it correctly, an Italian University. I’m not sure if this is a great idea but what do I know.

Cappadocia then, what a great place and I’m so grateful to Nat and Erin for keeping up the pressure on me to visit. The local wine is drinkable, the food is abundant, accommodation is widely available from one to five stars, it is rumored that there are over 200 places to stay in the tiny town of Goreme. I wonder therefore why the place wasn’t packed with North Americans and Western Europeans. It wasn’t. I met Indians, locals, Chinese and Central Asians but no Westerners. Perhaps it has something to do with Iraq and Syria being just down the road?

Moving on, well backwards actually, before Cappadocia I spent a week in Istanbul which is as exotic as ever. I wised up a little and bought an ‘Istanbulkart’ which allows one to travel on buses, trams, Metro and ferries and with the aid of Google maps and its timetable widget I easily navigated the city and ended up in some rather “interesting’ parts! After a few days the shopkeepers in my neighborhood stopped trying to sell me carpets and many a happy tea break I took on a stool on the sidewalk. I went back to the old favorites, The Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosques, Topkapi Palace. Took a ride up the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Ate leisurely meals and went to bed early, got up early and walked the streets in the early morning before it got hot. Again I have to say I got lots of the look that said ‘Goodness a Westerner’, but I felt quite safe everywhere I went, there are soldiers with large guns patrolling and even the occasional tank! Maybe its Erdogan but lets not go there just now.

Before I go I have to tell what happened before that. I went to Prague. There was a Montessori Congress there and both Julia and Sophie (niece) were booked in, so I kind of tagged along. What a beautiful city and we all agreed that it really isn’t like anywhere else, though Vienna and Edinburgh were mentioned. We rode around on trams, frequented cafes, went for a cruise on the river, visited castles and cathedrals, just generally had a great tourist visit. Shame that the Most Beautiful Library in the World was closed but just another reason to visit again.

Thank you ladies.

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The famous Charles Bridge in Prague.

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The ‘Fred and Ginger’ Building, Prague.

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Ceiling of entrance to Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

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Look at that rug!

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Trying for the arty shot….

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Balloon rising.

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This one came straight at me.

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Deep underground at Kaymakli.

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Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia.

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Fascinating.

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The Man, Woman and Child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sulawesi and Borneo.

Off to Makassar in Southern Sulawesi I went from the Banda Islands, not a little reluctantly, but needs must and I really needed to pick up my card which had winged its way across the world in only five days. Arriving at the hotel it was produced at check in time with sighs of relief despite noticing the DHL package had been opened. Profuse apologies were offered and I have to agree my name on the envelope was written in tiny, tiny letters. Time therefore to address the next challenge which was to extend the duration of my tourist visa which I thought might be as easy as last time. Not! The first roadblock I discovered was that the immigration office in Makassar was miles away from the hotel, over an hour ride away. Add this to the ever-present late monsoon leading to torrential rain every day plus thunder, lightning and general gloom and it was time for a rethink. What to do, what to do?

I find if you worry about a problem a solution presents itself in time and lo, the solution presented itself. Two years ago I extended my visa in Balikpapan, Kalimantan, Borneo and a quick check on my phone informed me that a flight would cost less than fifty dollars. Plus I wasn’t having such a great time in Makassar what with the rain and all. I had vague hopes that maybe the weather might be better further north and actually as near as you can get to the Equator. Harrumph, no! More rain in Balikpapan but at lest it was familiar territory, I knew where the restaurants were located and best of all I knew the staff at the Imigrazi office. But as always one step forward two steps backward, the rules have changed; this time I needed a sponsor. Fortunately one of the friendly ladies at the office provided the solution and phoned my hotel manager who had no problem sponsoring me so that was one less form to worry about. There was an interview of course, why did I want to spend more time In Indonesia? The fact that I wanted to see more of the country’s seventeen thousand islands seemed to do the trick. A photo session and then it was done, I had my extension.

I had hopes of another boat ride on the Mahakan River but alas this was not to be. Perhaps it was the wrong season (see previously mentioned rain), maybe I should have booked in advance but everywhere I enquired it was the same shrugged shoulders and no help offered. Maybe there really weren’t any boats going upriver from Samarinda but every day at least four boats with large signs on their hulls cruised past my hotel. I was however quite content to watch the ship traffic on the water, mainly enormous towed barges loaded with coal! The adjacent Mosque was a wonder to behold, the largest in South East Asia and second biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, I will try and attach a photo.

A return visit to the Bahowo Lodge in Manado, Northern Sulawesi, was next up. I had stayed there a while ago and it was as eccentric as ever. Still Marmite for breakfast, scrambled eggs and all the joys of England set amongst the jungle. Extraordinary. Here too there had been exceptional rainfall, the rainy season was supposed to end in early February but there had been so much rain that even the pigsty had flooded. The result of this was that all the pigs had been released into the garden; we had pigs at the back door, pigs snuffling around the dinner table outside in the gazebo, piglets running everywhere. Actually it was all rather charming in a sort of piggy way. As with the school, the health clinic and school bus this pig project was developed for the benefit of the village. Phil and Paula contacted the relevant EU department for the required funds and after a visit from the officials the money was made available and now the village is in pig heaven, as it were. Coincidently my friend Alison who was staying there at the same time two years ago was also visiting and we had lots of laughs.

Then it was time to move on again. Sorry this has been a bit and then and then and then but I wanted to catch up. I still haven’t because there is a whole week on Raja Ampat to tell you about, so next blog: Raja Ampat.

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Big Mosque.

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Another view.

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Logs on the river.

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It got kind of crazy sometimes. Not really!

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Coal barge.

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Manado Tua in Northern Sulawesi.

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At sunset.

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Lots of action at the village jetty in the evenings.

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Searching for scraps at the back door.

 

Experiences on the far side of the world.

I’m constantly reminded of the truly generous spirit of people here on the far side of the world. A sweeping statement if ever there was one but consider the following, which have occurred in just the last few days.

 

Samarinda, Borneo.

Imagine if you will walking into a shop/store that specializes in fridges, dishwashers and washing machines to look for a memory card for a camera. You wouldn’t even bother; you would go to a camera shop. I did ask at my hotel reception desk if there was a camera shop anywhere nearby and was confidently told to go to the Big Mall which sounded promising and off I went. Dropped at the main door I entered to discover three floors each as big as two football fields, maybe even three, with no signage not even in Behasa, the local language. Plus it was packed, packed with families, roaming bands of shoe kicking children, yes shoe kicking, balls were presumably banned, moms, dads, babies, the usual bands of happy shoppers. I did find a vast supermarket within that rivaled Costco or a large Tesco and discovered Twinings Earl Grey but that wasn’t the point of the expedition. I wandered about amongst the crowds looking for anything familiar, anything that resembled a camera shop but no, nothing. Endless bakeries and bread shops, bread I might add very strangely colored, bright red, lurid green, pink even. I left empty handed, except for the tea, and disconsolately returned to my hotel, which by chance was attached to the aforementioned fridge and dishwasher shop.

Entering I received some odd glances, I mean, here I was, obviously a tourist, why would I be looking at dishwashers! But I spied, in the corner a cell (mobile) phone shop and fearing ridicule took a chance. Lots of phones, Samsung to be exact, not many customers and a couple of staff attending to the cash register. Ok, here we go again, out with my best gesticulations and sign language but I had a prop, my camera and removing the chip I kind of waved it about and pointed to the cash register, hopefully. How pathetic can you get? But I nearly fell on the floor as the young woman piped up “ would you like to buy a memory chip for your camera? How many gigabytes do you want?” I gaped briefly and then described what I was looking for. “Oh no” she said, “ we don’t sell those here but if you want I can go to the computer shop in the town after my shift ends at nine o’clock, buy what you want and bring them to your hotel.” To cut a long story short, she, Linda, did, at ten o’clock at night, refused a tip, refused an offer of a meal or refreshment. Gave me my bits and jumped on her scooter and beaming pleasantly sped away.

 

Balikpapan, Borneo.

Again. As it happened I knew the lady, Anita, who now runs the Immigration office in Balikpapan, Borneo where once again I was extending my visa. When I was there two years ago to extend my visa she was running the visa extension department, she was promoted and now runs the whole ship. She recognized me and ushered me through the new rules and regulations including acquiring a sponsor, my hotel manager would suffice, and after the usual bureaucratic antics I got my extension. Then she asked if I would like to go for dinner with her family, well sure I said. The family appeared at my hotel to pick me up; husband Robbie and two children who spoke no English aged probably seven and eleven. We had a very pleasant meal in a Warung (local restaurant) where we ate crab and freshly caught fish with the inevitable rice and some sort of green veg’.

Nothing could persuade them that I wanted to pay my share and they took me back to the hotel. Very wonderful.

 

Banda Neira, Banda Islands.

I mentioned in an earlier post the generosity of the staff at the hotel Maulana in Banda Neira where they spontaneously not only baked me a cake for my birthday but also gathered round singing the birthday song and generally making me feel ‘in the spirit’. There were lots of other little things they did to make me feel welcome. One time, while I was packing I discovered that my shorts had not only split at the seams but the pockets had also come apart. I mentioned this to Galuh, the lady who was running the hotel, and asked if there was anyone in the small town who could mend them. “ Don’t worry,” says she “ I have a sewing machine at home and I will fix them, no problem.” Next morning, there they were, all mended and I’m wearing them now with renewed confidence!

 

There you are then, the generosity of mankind in a faraway land. I might add that one of the three woman wore an Abaya and Hijab to work, another, while professing to be Muslim had attended Catholic school while the third, who I met only briefly so we didn’t delve too deeply, lived a city that was just about 100% Muslim.

Just goes to show as they say.

The Banda Islands.

London to the Banda islands in one hop was really quite exhausting though I did have a couple of nights in Ambon waiting for the ferry across the Banda Sea which gave me a chance to catch up on my sleep a little. Ambon, is the major transportation hub for the Malukus which lie approximately between Sulawesi and Papua. Lots of boats and ferries stop here on their way to the outlying islands, planes call in here from all parts of Indonesia so it is relatively easy to get to, and leave. Banda on the other hand, is only serviced by the twice-weekly ferry, which leaves on Tuesdays and Saturdays, returning to Ambon on the subsequent days. There is a twice a month Pelni boat but the company, Pelni, don’t seem very forthcoming on the schedule. The story is that they say the ferry will leave at 9.00am but it actually leaves at 9.30am, this is so late comers can be accommodated. Be aware that both the port at Ambon and the one on Banda are hustler magnets, lots of people around to ‘help’, for a price, albeit a very low price. Helping me load and unload my bag cost about a dollar and this seemed to be generous.

Off we went, at 9.30 obviously, and I was able to make a video call, from the boat as we raced along, back home to California. I can’t remember what we talked about apart from marveling that we could actually do that, it really is miraculous. The signal faded and I glanced around to find two small hijabi clad children in the next seat. They played Angry Birds on my tablet and I thought back to the flight to Kochi where a similar thing happened. My economy class seat was just a little claustrophobic so I went up on the deck and enjoyed the open air for the rest of the six-hour crossing. Not much to see, just water, water everywhere but Banda soon heaved up on the horizon, dominated by its volcanic peak, Api, and we pulled into the harbor about two hours later. The lady who temporarily runs the hotel, Galuh, was there to meet me and off we set to the Maulana, a mere one hundred yards from the jetty.

Such a great hotel, built some years ago it still exudes Dutch colonialness though it has suffered a little over the years. The basics were all taken care of very efficiently, breakfast was always ready early, dinner was a veritable feast and the beer was cold. There is not a lot to do in the Banda islands, there are other little islands dotted around to visit including the famous Run, swapped with the Dutch for Manhattan, there is the volcano to climb, and there is an old Dutch fort to visit. The little town of Banda Neira is very relaxed and as always in that part of the world everyone says hello, as in ‘Hello Mister’. BUT, due to an altercation with the ATM machine at Ambon airport I didn’t have any cash, local cash that is. No trips for me! Accepting my cash deficiency I just stayed around the hotel, and let Banda come to me. I soon became a fixture in the garden and others would gather round and tell me of their diving expeditions, their hike up the volcano and their circumnavigation of the island in forty-five minutes.

How did you pay for the hotel you may ask? It took a while but the lady in charge and I signed up the hotel with a PayPal account and Julia, back in California, was kind enough to send photos of both sides of my reserve card before sending it by DHL to Makassar in Sulawesi. I did therefore have some form of ability to pay, just no cash!

There was a birthday, mine, and the hotel crew came through for me, cake, candles, Happy Birthday singing, it was all very delightful and reminiscent of two birthdays ago in Balikpapan on the island of Borneo. Very friendly and thoughtful people here.

The days came and went, ships came to the adjacent port to load and unload providing welcome diversions. Opulent liveaboard diving yachts passed through discharging their occupants under the water. One liveaboard captain proudly informed me that Tony Blair had been on his yacht, I can hear the Brits retching from here! Lady Diana Spencer once stayed at the hotel and drew a self-portrait which is kept in pride of place. Mr Jagger stayed there too as well as Jacques Cousteau. All in all Banda was everything I wanted it to be and the week or so relaxing there was the perfect antidote to the bad case of jet lag I suffered and I reveled in the remoteness.

Off I had to go, reluctantly to Makassar in Sulawesi to pick up my debit card. Without the ATM saga I could have stayed in the Banda islands indefinitely, but neither Fedex nor DHL service the smaller islands east of Sulawesi so that is where I had to go.

Banda Api, the volcano. I hear that it is about to erupt and people are being evacuated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘fast boat’ from Ambon to Banda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning up the trash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Maulana Hotel. Banda Neira.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boats, boats and more boats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big ship leaving through ‘The Gates of the Sun’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Birthday Party.

A Liveaboard. The si datu bua.

 

 

England in February.

Not sure how to begin since I left you all in Acre (Acco) Israel, it’s not been dull let me tell you and the miles have ratcheted up considerably. There are lots of stories to tell from Israel, Jordan, America and England but there just isn’t time. Maybe I will tell of some as the blog continues.

The blog continues…. I was in England during February, not the best month to be in that rather damp island. It was mostly gray every day, the sun didn’t shine very often, maybe for three days total. But then you don’t really go to the United Kingdom in February for the weather. It was a good day when we could go out without a coat. The weather forecast was interesting, it was as if they were addressing a Wiccan Coven with their sunny spells and spells of rain. I relearned the skills of hanging out the washing, no dryers there, we wait for one of those aforementioned sunny spells and rush out with damp clothes etc and hang it all out on the washing line. Then spend the next couple of hours gazing anxiously at the sky in case there is a spell of rain. I discussed this ritual with a New Zealander living in the States, we agreed that this never ever happens in America, it’s a sign of poverty. Interesting that. The milkman delivered the milk on most days, complete with milk float, a vehicle specially designed for delivering milk. I think this activity has died out around the world and is much mourned.

Driving too was something of a novelty. Most minor roads in England are little more than paved over cart tracks wide enough for two carts to pass. This is fine until someone, or many someones, decide to park, totally blocking one lane. There is of course a system, if it’s your lane that is blocked then you give way to oncoming traffic. Pretty obvious, but what happens when you can’t see what is coming. Again there is a system, some sort of light flashing code that I never did figure out. If someone waits for you because their lane is blocked then courtesy dictates that you give them a cheery wave by way of thanks. What I didn’t know was that if someone gives you the cheery wave for waiting for them then you should give them a cheery wave back by way of thanking them for thanking you! I had visions of being stuck in an endless cycle of thanking each other for thanking each other, maybe we would never go anywhere again, just sit there in the road giving each other cheery waves until the end of time.

In case you were wondering I was in England to help my Mom (well into her 90s) and hubby (almost a centenarian) make their cottage easier to stay in rather than move to an assisted living situation. I think we did quite well with grab rails throughout, new banisters, that sort of thing. Time will tell of course but hopefully they will be able to stay in their home for the foreseeable future.

My departure was slightly delayed due to my credit card being hacked. Someone took it upon themselves to run up a rather large bill at the Hilton hotel in San Jose, Ca. Endless phone calls to the bank and the situation was eventually resolved and funds restored but it was a bit of a wake up call and I’m now extra cautious. But the time came and it was off into the wild blue yonder from Heathrow to Istanbul for a four-hour layover then a bounce through Jakarta to Ambon and the ferry to Banda Neira, which is where I’m writing this. Miserable jet lag for nearly a week but reality is setting in and I’m enjoying the change of pace and temperature!

More next time.

 

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This is a milk float.

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A carriage drawn by two horses just appeared in front of me.

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The almost tame robin that insisted on being fed every morning.

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The milk. Delivered.

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A rather worrying road sign!

To Acre, or Akko, I go.

If there was an element of controversy on the pros and cons of Jamaica then any comment I make about Israel is bound to stir things up. I apologize in advance. Lets see. I was in Athens after a great trip to historical sites and a quick bounce around a few islands and was casting about for a new destination before returning home. After checking the usual web sites for cheap deals I found an Athens to Tel Aviv flight for about $100 and it seemed too good to pass up. I checked with immediate family and they all approved and away I went. It was a remarkably quick flight with a transfer at Heraklion, Crete, and there I was at Ben Gurian airport outside Tel Aviv. As usual I had made a plan only a couple of days before and had decided to take the train from the airport up the coast to Acre, or Akko as it is known locally. Pick up bags from the carousel and change money, find a local SIM for my phone (both easy) and follow the signs for trains.

‘Shalom’ was the greeting at the ticket office ‘shalom’ I replied which seemed to go down well and after a minor discussion about whether I was going to Akko or Acre I headed down to the platform, ticket in hand, to wait the ten minutes before the train departed. The train came, I found a seat, I relaxed a bit as the first challenge had worked out ok and then looked around. It seemed I was surrounded with great big burly guys and pretty girls, all in uniform and all armed to the teeth. Enormous automatic weapons, Uzis I suppose, were everywhere. There was a young woman sitting across the aisle, regularly clad in jeans and a top, rocking out on her headphones, but with this enormous automatic weapon on her lap. Sometimes I am naively British but really, can you imagine this scenario on the 8.10 from Surbiton to Waterloo? There was enough firepower in my carriage to repel a small army and I suppose that is the point. Someone texted me that I was in a war zone with no war. Well that’s ok then, long may it continue that way.

Acre, or Akko, or even ancient (Antiochia) Ptolemais, goes back into history like Athens perhaps, Rome? Even before it became the major port for the Crusaders it was famed for its beauty, its Mosques, churches, walls and as a major trading post between East and West. There have been many famous sieges down the centuries, Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin (1191) for instance, or Sir Sydney Smith with the Ottomans and Napoleon (1799). The old town is quite small, I walked around the walls twice in one day, but is a veritable warren of tiny streets and narrow alleys. Apart from the walls a Crusader castle on top of a hill dominates the town. You may have heard of the Knights Templar who provided protection to pilgrims making their way from Acre to Jerusalem. The Acre castle was built and occupied by the Knights Hospitaller, who of course provided medical treatment in their hospital to arriving and departing pilgrims.

‘Enough history’ you might cry but honestly history was my main reason for visiting Israel. Perhaps one or two will follow up on these stories, there is a wealth of information available online. I did not go as a pilgrim even though the thrill of Jerusalem as a  Holy City for three major religions cannot be discounted but I wanted to see as many of the historical sites I have been hearing about since aged five at Sunday school. That is what I did and in retrospect I could have stayed there much, much longer, there is so much to see.

I’ll stop here as tales from Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho, not to mention Masada, The Dead Sea and Eilat might be too much for one post. Be warned though, they are coming soon.

Saint John Church, Akko, with Crusader flag flying. I thought that was odd.

Saint John Church, Akko, with Crusader flag flying. I thought that was odd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poster outside a house to inform people that residents have performed Haj. Pilgrimage to Mecca.

Poster outside a house to inform people that residents have performed Haj.
Pilgrimage to Mecca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City walls from the sea, with fisherfolk.

City walls from the sea, with fisherfolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crusader tunnel that runs from the port into the city. A bit spooky.

The Crusader tunnel that runs from the port into the city. A bit spooky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The market.

The market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The castle.

The castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below ground level the old rooms have been excavated. This is the dining hall for the knights.

Below ground level the old rooms have been excavated. This is the dining hall for the knights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A view through the walls giving you some idea how thick they were. Blue sea beyond.

A view through the walls giving you some idea how thick they are.
Blue sea beyond.

Road Trip in Greece.

Write it all down I was told; let’s give it a try. Here I am on a bus thundering north out of Athens to Delphi, scene of the Oracle, then to Meteora where the famous monasteries perch on top of their pinnacles, then to the memorial at Thermopylae. Already we have passed the site of the Battle of Marathon where the Athenians defeated the Persians, after which a soldier (Pheidippides) ran the 27 miles into the center of Athens to spread the word of the victory. Poor guy dropped dead from exhaustion but his name lives on, and every year the Athens Marathon follows his route from the site to the City center. It takes place in a couple of weeks.

I’m live blogging this and wondering when the last time I did that was. Could it have been the marshrutka ride between Khujand and Dushanbe in Tajikistan? That was certainly memorable. I digress! This is a good road, three lanes in each direction, up and down through low hills, passing a couple of reservoirs which look to be in good shape, unlike those in California where the reservoirs have all but dried up after the long drought. There are cotton fields; Greece is the major producer in Europe. Solar and wind farms. We pass Thebes and lurid tales of Oedipus (the King). We all know the story but not perhaps that it is the first part of a trilogy by Sophocles and that the premier was in 429BCE. That is BCE! Old!

Delphi, high, high up in the mountains with fabulous views over the surrounding hills, valleys and down to the sea beyond. Of course the ruins are perched precipitously with endless steps up and down, still not easy, but quite a delight to explore. In the height of summer it must be hellish but here in late October the temperature is cool and the crowds, reasonable. Two hours to look at the ruins and then another hour in the museum. I’m not a big museum person but this one was fascinating. Lots of gods, gold and statues, I absolutely loved it.

Off into the foggy mountains we go, in the dark, heading for Meteora. Hope we get to see something of it.

Monasteries we saw, and a convent. The day broke foggy but in the elevator in the early light I saw, for the first time the rocky crags above the town of Kalabaka. Quite majestic, impossibly high, but no sign of a monastery. A hasty breakfast with my tour mates, two Grandmothers from Melbourne (I really have an aversion to cold fried eggs) and off out to pile into the van, pick up the younger folk, one from Argentina (Diego) and the other from Kazakhstan. There was a bit of a kerfuffle finding the local guide that resolved itself and away we went, up. Up and up. Have I mentioned I suffer from vertigo? I was nervous. We stopped for a quick look and craned, craned until we nearly fell over backwards. Meteora translates to ‘Suspended in the air’ and so it appeared. We were looking up at the Great Meteora Monastery where building started in possibly the 13th Century, nobody really knows, and on that day it was closed to tourists. There are six occupied monasteries surviving out of the original twenty-four and they take it in turns to open their doors to us tourists. The monks built their monasteries in such a remote and challenging environment to both be as far away from the humdrum of life and also to be nearer to God.

The word piety sprang to mind as we made our way through cathedrals, churches and chapels. I know nothing about Orthodoxy, perhaps I should read up on it, these religious sites are all dedicated to Greek Orthodoxy and, it is claimed, maintained the Hellenistic way of life during the Ottoman occupation (mid 15th – early 19th). This of course was a very good thing and I don’t think you will go far wrong if you imagine the monks, crouched over desks, copying ancient books and manuscripts to preserve the culture for future generations. They are there, the copies made and more are being discovered, because in times of trouble the monks would hide their treasures within the walls or bury them in the grounds. Perhaps one day the lost plays and philosophical tracts from Ancient Greece will reappear. We can always dream. I could wax on about the ever present incense, the extremely graphic paintings and drawings, the tranquility of the monks themselves, the quiet, the views out over the precipitous drops. You get the picture.

And of course there was James Bond. Yep, For Your Eyes Only was partly filmed at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Meteora. The result was that the small town below, Kalabaka, doubled in size within five years, and, more than half the monks left. I’ll leave an opinion to you…

On the way back to Athens we stopped at the site of the battle of Thermopylae, with the accent on the second syllable in English but in Greek, Thermopiles with the accent on the third syllable. I got some very strange looks when I said I wanted to go there. Actually there is not a lot there, as I was constantly informed. There is a rather large memorial to King Leonides and a bit of a plaque where the battle took place. Behind the memorial there is a four lane highway and above it, electrical pylons. I was pleased to visit and see that the memory lives on (480BCE) but disheartened today to read that the site is now a beacon for far right wing lunatics from all over Europe and America. The article was in today’s (November 7) Washington Post if you care to Google it.

Massive wall at Delphi.

Massive wall at Delphi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the excavations proceeded they realized the wall was covered with inscriptions.

As the excavations proceeded they realized the wall was covered with inscriptions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Charioteer. He may be missing an arm but he has eyeballs and seems to follow you as you walk about the room. Spooky.

The Charioteer. He may be missing an arm but he has eyeballs and seems to follow you as you walk about the room. Spooky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apollo and Artemis. The adornments were found buried in a box. After 2,000 years!

Apollo and Artemis. The adornments were found buried in a box. After 2,000 years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A monastery at Meteora.

A monastery at Meteora.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only way in and out in earlier times. A traveller waiting to be hoisted up asked when they changed the rope. "When it breaks"

The only way in and out in earlier times.
A traveller waiting to be hoisted up asked when they changed the rope. “When it breaks”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Memorial for the Battle of Thermopylae.

The Memorial for the Battle of Thermopylae.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burial site of the 300.

Burial site of the 300.