Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Athens is not the reason I go to Greece. Not this time anyway. It's a big, bustling city that unfortunately, beyond seeing the ruins, doesn't particularly speak to me. But we went again because my Mom can't go all the way to Greece and not see the Parthenon! So we went, and we wandered the Plaka, and hit some museums. The new Acropolis Museum was an amazing tribute the the Acropolis itself, in full view from the museum. The top level replicated all the friezes and columns of the Parthenon and was the same size and alignment as the ancient temple itself. Difficult to explain, but sometimes in museums the context is lacking. You see wonderful things without a solid, tangible sense of where it came from. Not so at this museum, with the real deal always in the background and with such thoughtful design choices.
For the first time ever, I got to see the real Caryatids, up close. This made the whole trip to Athens worth it for me. Unlike the reproductions at the site that you just can't get quite close enough too, you are able to walk right up to these. I circled these ancient ladies and pondered the burden they literally bore, as well as my own sense of burden and responsibility. I looked at them from different angles, and marveled at seeing them from the back for the first time. So I stood, and sketched. I took my moment to connect with the past and the beauty of these columnic statues. I was at it for a while, when the young museum guide came up to me. Just to look and to talk. He was sweet and admiring and shared how most people just come, look, snap a photo and leave. They spend more time shooting photos than experiencing, and it all gets put on a cd labeled "Greece 2010", rarely to be looked at again. He told me about the sketches on the top floor that helped them determine how the Parthenon once looked, before looting and fires changed its appearence. Drawings made by "someone like you", he said. That made me feel like a historian, an artist, an archaeologist even. That's me, capturing my little bit of the story with my journals and sketchbooks. Mine becoming intertwined with capturing what I see around me. But isn't travel a little bit like that? Your own path converging with the paths of many. Sharing with those on the same journey, at this present moment as well as all those who came before you. People living in and seeking out this place you have been fortunate enough to set foot upon. The first time I went to Greece I felt so close and so far at the same time. How odd and comforting it is to know what is going on somewhere else, that we are all connected by this time, this moment, regardless of where we are.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
One of the places I insisted upon going to this time was the sacred isle of Delos. This barren island was once the center of the Cycladic Greek islands, geographically and otherwise. Going here determined that we would indeed go to Naxos, seeing as boats leave from there to Delos. These boats as it turns out, go to Mykonos as well. Which is how we ended up going to one of the most known and touristy islands, against all desire to do so. The day as it turned out, was a really long one. The boat ride to Delos was peaceful and being on the water is a favorite of mine. Delos holds history and artifacts, but unfortunately the magic was stifled due to the hordes upon hordes of people. I had this fantasy of exploring the island quietly, slowly. But the schedule is firm and only as we ventured farther and farther out did I feel any peace. But we "discovered" ancient wells and mosaics along with temples and homes. My visit to the Lion terrace was heartbreaking. One of my truly guilty pleasure films is the movie, Summer Lovers, and I had the deluded fantasy that I could walk right up to the lion (replicas) just as Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah did. Just like most sites, it was blocked off and I had to admire at a distance, feeling very disconnected to this ancient place. I accepted this and moved on, thinking I could at least sketch the real deal in the museum, but naturally it was blocked off too.
After Delos, the boat took us to Mykonos and we had no plan, no intention other than to not get sucked into mindless shopping while we were there. First things first, we wandered aimlessly along the edge of the port town, through beautiful Little Venice, finally ending up at the windmills. Once the obligatory photos were taken was when the fun really began. We sat upon a high rock, overlooking the coast, marveling that we were truly here again. At last. We walked and wandered to tiny, quiet beaches moving further and further from the crowds. After more wandering through town, and a necessary gelatto stop, we headed back to the Church of Panagia Paraportiani. We stumbled upon this church earlier and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I realize that thousands of tourists "discover" this church in the same way, but it felt like it was there just for me, heaven on Earth. So we sat and looked and sketched. While tours passed by and gave it a quick glance, we stayed and basked in it's simple lines and beauty. Like the adobe churches of New Mexico, the lines were both crisp an organic, standing out against and disappearing into the blue white sky. Who knows where you will find your own sacred spots. When you have no expectations, even no desire, the most magical things can appear. The day was long and hot, windy and draining, but there is something to the trick of being alone in the crowds, and finding the undiscovered among the endlessly explored.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Naxos was new to me, unfamiliar, uncharted... It's one of those islands that is less travelled to in the Cyclades even though its on the main ferry hub. It's a big island too, the biggest of the Cyclades. It had one of the most charming main port towns that I've been to. Sure, there are plenty of things to lure you in right off the ferry, but beyond it there is so much more. The food was spectacular. No kidding. For a place that already relies on fresh food, we ate like kings here. Long stretches of sandy beaches and a curving coast line of lesser explored coves. Ancient temples and Venetian castles. The Venetian influence on Naxos town was quite stunning. In September, on this island, felt...quiet. But it was still warm enough to swim, windy though it may be at times. We rented a car and toured the island, stumbling upon tiny old untouched towns, potter's hamlets, winding vistas, goats, abandoned giant kouros, and the sea, of course. It was a special island, one I would explore more deeply given the chance. We stayed at theAlkyoni Beach Hotel which has lush grounds (for the Cyclades), and is right on the beach (a plus in the off season) and close to town. While Naxos doesn't hold the magic for me of Santorini, or the peace and untouched feeling of Sifnos, it was still a wonderful time. One evening, in particular stands out. Listening to traditional Bouzuki music in the castle, sampling local wines and raki. The sound of the sea in the distance, while the music and dance filled us. It was one of those pure moments, the kind you can never capture and never need to.
Friday, December 3, 2010
I found myself back at one of my favorite and magical places this September, Santorini. This time we stayed in Oia, where it was a little more relaxed and plenty spectacular. If you have never been there, I recommend you go at least once in your life. It is Heaven on Earth to me. Of course, it is over crowded, and over priced, which is not my thing, but going late or early in the season is an improvement. I dream of going in the winter, when it is empty of tourists and full of artists and writers. When there is brisk air and I watch the fishing boats bundled in my coat instead of bathed in hot sun. Even better would be to go to all the places I feel I have missed out on so far in the Cyclades. The islands that are so close, but people just don't go to because they haven't heard of them yet. Maybe Anafi as just as amazing as Santorini. Then there is the dream of Amorgos, Serifos, and the dream of dreams... just staying put on one of my favorite islands by far, Sifnos. Where there could truly be time to explore and settle in, cook food from the market and better yet, meet the locals. I am happiest when traveling when I feel like I am having an authentic experience, not the same one everyone else is having. Already I am dreaming of new places, Spain, Ireland, Mexico, but the call to Greece is unending for me. No sooner am I back, happy to be resettled into my life, that I dream of my return.