Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Road Trip in Greece

One of my favorite experiences in Greece was renting a car and driving out across the country and into the Peloponnese. This gave us a chance to see the countryside, roadways, some alternative energy installations, and some world-class archaeological sites. Driving on the freeway in Athens we got to see their sports arena.

We found graffiti in every country that we visited and I took many pictures that will show up in a special post on European Graffitti later in this blog.

Athens is a sprawling city with pretty good public transportation although it is not always on time. It has a great port and many mountains scattered throughout the city area.

This is the car that we rented and the view down to the town of Itea and
the Gulf of Corinth.

The speed on the freeway was 100km/hour and we did not see many cars on the freeways when we were outside of the city.  The roads were in good condition for the freeway although some of the smaller roads were a bit rough. 

The countryside was very nice with mountains, ocean, and dry Mediterranean vegetation and climate.

We passed a reservoir as we drove out towards Delphi to the north of Athens.

Delphi is located in the mountains and further along in the distance were snow capped peaks when we were there in March.  The area around Delphi was also known for skiing. It would be a great recreation area at any time of the year.

We passed a few catholic grave yards in the cities and rural areas.

From the Greece mainland to the Peloponnese we crossed a suspension bridge outside of Patras called the Rio-Antirio. It was a very nice bridge that had a beautiful form as well as a good function.

The first town that we visited was the town of Delphi which was relocated from the archaeological site over 100 years ago. The town is on the side of a hill and has two one-way roads going through town.  Throughout the town are shops on the first floor and residences on the upper floors which is where we stayed in a lodge. The entire town covers about a one mile stretch of the road.

We drove on to Petite Planete hotel which was located just outside of the archaeological site of Mycenae. This was a nice place with french cuisine that used to have many visitors and could easily handle 100 people, but today it does not seem to have many visitors since most people take bus tours out of Athens.

The archaeological site of Mycenae dominates the local landscape with views out to the horizon. The countryside is still spotted with olive and orange trees. We also stopped at a roadside stand where we bought some olives and oranges.

We took a side trip to the town of Napflio which is a medieval town with three castles and a strong venetian influence. It was a beautiful town with small roads. We actually had to back the car out of one roadway because it became too narrow to drive down.

On our drive back to Athens, we passed through the modern town of Corinth with the Archaeological site off on the mountain top. This is one site that I would really like to visit in the future. You can just see the fortifications along the mountaintop in the picture below.

As we drove along we observed many of the different forms of energy production used in Greece. Outside of Athens was an oil refinery.

We observed wind turbines along many ridge tops and coastal locations.

Many areas had concentrated photovoltaic solar production areas.  These seemed like small plots that decided to pursue solar power in a dispersed fashion because there were many on the landscape but they were not very large.

We also saw some larger areas that were under greenhouses along the roads. This makes a lot of sense in Greece because the winters are not very extreme and it allows the local growers to grow throughout the winter.

At the end of our road trip, we finally tired the kids out for the drive home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Nafplio Greece

The port city of Nafplio has been an active port throughout ancient Greek history with an early mention of the city around 1350 BC, but most of its modern architecture and history was developed during the Middle Ages. The city has been ruled by the Byzantines, Franks (in AD 1212), Venetians (in AD 1388), and Turks (in AD 1540).

The city has multiple castles including Acronauplia, Palamidi, and Bourtzi. The Acronauplia is some of the best preserved older portion of the city and was the center of activity in the 13th century.

Bourtzi was also built by the Venetians and was completed in AD 1473 in the middle of the harbor to protect against pirates.

Palamidi was constructed from AD 1686–1715 by the Venetians, but did not have a large force of soldiers and was not occupied for very long.

The city has a great playground right near the water’s edge with a good view of the Bourtzi castle in the middle of the harbor.

I was impressed with their sustainability efforts here as well.  They had a mike share program and if you look closely, you can also see a series of massive wind turbines along the ridge on the horizon.

Today the city is a tourist location with many shops filling the old town streets. We found the city to be a nice place to stay for an afternoon.  It would be interesting to spend more time here exploring the old castles.

Mycenae Archaeological Site in Greece

Mycenae is an amazing archaeological site that is located up on a hill overlooking a dry Mediterranean valley in the Peloponnese which is a peninsula in southern Greece. Mycenae is 120 km (75 miles) from Athens and about a half hour drive from the coastal town of Nafplio (see a subsequent post).

This city was one of the earlier Greek archaeological cities that experienced its peak between 1600 BC to about 1100 BC when it had more than 30,000 inhabitants and covered about 32 hectares (about 79 acres). That is about 3500 years ago and one of the older civilizations in the world with Egyptian culture going back to 3150 BC and Chinese culture going back to the Shang Dynasty that ruled from 1700–1046 BC.

Greek Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Thinking back to these early centers of human civilization puts me in awe of their achievements with language, tools, jewelry, and art. But then I think about some of the Bristlecone pine trees that I have dated that exceed 4000 years in age (reaching as old as 5000 years). It is amazing that these individual trees have lived through the entirety of human cultural development which suggests how short of a time humans have been on this planet compared to other organisms or compared to the 4.6 billion years of Earth's geologic history.

We stayed at a large hotel called Petite Planete which was a wonderful place that served great French influenced meals. The hotel was on the road out to Mycenae and was probably about 20 minutes walking distance from the archaeological site.

White African Daisy (Osteospermum Ecklonis)
We spoke with an English tour guide who was actually on vacation himself. He was telling us of times past when this hotel (which could easily seat 100 people for a meal) was usually full with tourists coming to tour Mycenae. The tourists would tend to spend a night or at least stop for lunch.  Now tour companies have developed larger tour buses that can travel the country roads faster and most tourists will take a partial day tour out of Athens to come to Mycenae for a few hours. With this massive transport of most tourists in and out of Athens, local business has fallen off and the hotel only had about four different couples of guests.

We took a walk on the evening that we arrived and enjoyed the olive and orange trees scattered across the landscape. Once we got to a higher vantage point we could tell that the entire landscape was spotted with cultivated trees throughout the valley.

It was a good time of year to visit, because the orange trees were in blossom sending their fragrant scents abroad on the air. Wildflowers abounded across the landscape painting the area in bright red, yellow, and purple colors.

On our walk, we could see the old structures of Mycenae on a hill in the distance and it was hard to wait until the next day to go up and see the archaeological site.


The ruins of Mycenae are famous for the Lions Gate which is the main entrance to the ruins. The marble sculpture of two lions makes the center piece to the entrance way.

The ruins were surrounded with thick defensive walls. Some of the walls were about 20 feet thick with a few back doors hidden among the rocks.

The archaeological site maintained a water supply through a couple of cisterns that caught rainwater and stored it for the cities use.

In AD 1876 Heinrich Schliemann uncovered a tomb whose occupant had a golden mask. Schliemann believed this to be the burial of Agamemnon but later archaeological work dates this grave at 1550 to 1500 BC which predates the life of Agamemnon, but the mask still holds that name.  Schliemann was a German businessman who was an early amateur archaeologist that was a pioneer in the field. He believed in the historical accuracy of Homer’s tales and excavated in Hissarlik in Turkey which is thought to be the city of Troy and in Mycenae looking for evidence of archaeological finds supporting the historical accuracy of Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid. Some of his techniques were a bit brutish such as dynamiting his way through nine archaeological levels at the site of Hissarlik including what was later thought to be the true archaeological units of the city of Troy. Schliemann was one of the earliest archaeologists and I can attest that the techniques of excavation improved considerably since his time.

Other circular burial mounds existed around the site as well. This one was near the museum and when it was complete, you could walk out of the bottom portion of the mound.

The artifacts found at Mycenae demonstrate the wide range of trade conducted at this site with artifacts coming from areas all along the Mediterranean and as far away as the modern day United Kingdom.

I was most impressed with the extent of writing and language that the Mycenae culture had 3500 years ago. Many of these tablets show bits of writing.

The beads were carved with fine artwork.

There were many human form artifacts that were found on the site including some articulated models or dolls.

Mycenae was at its height during the bronze age and many axe heads, swords, and other metal implements were found in the ruins.

Overall, I was amazed at the level of cultural development at Mycenae but in retrospect I can put that in perspective of other natural phenomena like the life of trees that grow to 4000 years in age, clams that can live to be 400 years old, or the age of the earth at 4.6 billion years. Humans have spent such a short time on the planet and our cultural development has been so recent; it is interesting that we now grapple with the issue of using up the resource that our society depends upon and we can measure the changes that we have made to the Earth's climate.

Purple Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)