Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar. We were surprised when talking to some Greek gentlemen at mini-market that the population of Loutraki would swell this weekend. They were right. We were about to experience our second Easter celebration because of the difference with the Western Gregorian calendar.
Good Friday proved to be an interesting evening. Sarah was up for going downtown to see the procession from the church to the square.
The video is three minutes long. I tried a shortened version by cutting portions out, but it lost its impact. It is amazing how long the band continued to pass, and then the people coming from the church stretched out in lines just as long.
The next day I was in the market. It was packed. Cars were in a queue to get any spot that opened up. Once inside the store, it felt like being in Big Red on the night before the Little 500 in Bloomington. Instead of lining up for cases and kegs of beer, the hot item was lamb. In one person’s cart there were two full size lambs sans heads. There was a long line waiting at the butcher’s counter. At the checkout, each checker had 6 or more people with overflowing carts. For a change I picked the line that moved the quickest. As soon I pulled out of my parking spot there were two cars vying for it. The Greeks are polite drivers so one of the drivers gave the other the nod.
In the early afternoon, our neighbor across the way was setting up his grill to accommodate a full lamb.
Argos is on the northern tip of the Gulf of Argulis. The first settlement at Argos is estimated to be 3000 BCE. Due its location on the gulf Argos profited by trade with its abundance of crops. According to some, Argos was known for music and poetry. Argos was a powerful city-state on the Peloponnese peninsula, until Sparta defeated the city in 550 BCE and again in 494 BCE.
When we visited, there was not a lot of the site reconstructed. The pictures below give a sense of the foundations of the buildings. After our visit I checked a number of websites. At the Britannica website, there were was picture of a large Roman theater at Argos. A search with google earth revealed the ancient theater to be in the heart of the urban Argos area. We were high above the modern city. We missed the Roman theater, which from pictures on the web looked extremely impressive. I copied an image off the web and put it at the end of post.
Ancient Heraion is a 30 minute drive from where we are staying in Loutraki (more on Loutraki in the next post). To keep as many people happy as possible, we collectively devised a new system for deciding what we will do each day. Sarah came up with the idea of brackets that worked like the NCAA basketball tournament. We explored all the various things to do in the Peloponnese peninsula and put them in brackets. For each pair we voted. The item that won moved to the next bracket. Eventually, we voted for Heraion and the Vouliagemi lagoon. The real attraction for the kids was swimming in the crystal clear waters of what is essentially a sea lake. The sea lake and Heraion are only 3.5 km apart, so Marcia astutely suggested to stop first at Heraion. Rather than get out of the car and explore the site, the kids choose to stay back and read kindles. Someday they will read the blog and realize what they missed, an incredible view of Heraion and the rocky coast line.
Corinth is on the narrow land bridge which connects the Peloponnese peninsula with mainland Greece. Its position on the isthmus meant travel from the Peloponnese north and vice versa passed through. Likewise sea travel west to Rome and east to Mediterranean also passed through Corinth. Due to its position on the isthmus, its population grew to 750,000 and was known for great wealth.
Corinth’s first inhabitants date back to between 6000 and 5000 BCE. In the 8th century BCE the leading export of Corinth was pottery.
The morning started with packing, and transferring bags to the car. We paid the consumption fee for the 53 Euros of electric we used during the week, plus the 2.5 Euro per person per day city tax, and the 100 Euro fee for cleaning. Since the fee for the apartment for the week was reasonable, the added fees were not too onerous.
Once the car was loaded, we headed south along the Amalfi Coast. It was an absolutely breathtaking drive. Both in the sense of sheer rock faces, terraced plots of lemon and olive trees, and grapevines in the early stages of budding out. The 45 km of hairpin turns also had provided many times where we gasped for air. Multiple times I thought there goes our side view mirror. A couple of times the only reason we did not smack mirrors with an ongoing truck, was their mirrors were higher than ours. In my mind I had said, if we hit mirrors, I’ll drive on as though nothing happened. About two-thirds of the way through the hairpins, Marcia said it will be a miracle if this car is returned without scrapes along the side. It’s good that zero deductible insurance came with the lease.
When we arrived at Sorrento, the road was wider and straighter. We climbed over the mountain and found ourselves on a welcome autostrada. What a relief to be able to set the cruise control and relax at the wheel. We stopped at a service plaza, and had a light lunch. Ella and Rachel connected via Skype with their friends, Iris and Jessica in Bloomington.
Below is the ferry that took us from Bari, Italy across the Adriatic Sea to Patras, Greece.
While waiting to board the ferry in Bari, we found a small restaurant/bar along the harbor. After the driving, I enjoyed two Peroni beers and some potato chips. At about the one and half beer point, I thought I heard two motorcyclists speaking English. I asked them where they had been and where they were headed. They had been on the road for 5 days and were headed to Iran. Joe and Arash both worked in Berlin for a mobile gaming company. They were on a 4 week holiday. They had the proper gear for riding, body armour to avoid road rash in the the event of a spill.
Marcia had booked a room for 4 and a seat for me. Ella and Rachel were kind enough to sleep two in a small single bed. That allowed me to take one of the bunks. For a boat as big as it was, I was surprised the degree to which it rocked and rolled. The boat was full of long distance truck drivers, which was not a surprise given the large number of tractor trailers packed in the hull below. There was a surprise; the groups of rowdy Greek and British high school students. Unfortunately they were packed in the rooms surrounding us. The yelling and laughter did not abate until about 2:00 am. I think I fell asleep during the mayhem, but Marcia got little if any sleep.
The above photos give a clue as to the wind in the Adriatic.
The next day at 1:00 pm we exited the boat and made our way from Patras to Loutraki. It was an autostrada under construction for the whole 150 km. The speed limit was 60 km/hr (about 36 mph). If the construction would have been completed, we would have varied between 100 and 130 km/hr. The views were picturesque, with the clear blue water of the Bay of Corinth on our left.
We started the day headed toward Mount Vesuvius. Google maps and the car GPS showed us two different routes. I decided to follow the car GPS. Bad decision that turned out relatively well. We followed the GPS to the entrance of the Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio. From there it seemed we were still in an urban area with a lot of houses on both sides of the road. Finally, we eventually reached an area where the road was blocked and hikers were getting out of the their cars and headed up the closed road with their walking canes.
Since the girls were hungry we took a right turn to a restaurant/hotel. It was 10:30 and we learned they were not open till 12:00. We started up the road to Vesuvius and Ella was not up for the walk. She was car sick and not feeling well. To be fair on the way from the coast to the Parco we did many, many switchbacks that would make anyone queasy. Marcia and Ella stayed with the car while Sarah, Rachel and I headed up a closed road to the Vesuvius carter.
When the road ended there was a trail that we assumed would take us to the crater. Sarah took the lead on the steep trail. She powered up at a strong pace. Eventually, Rachel took the point and was keeping the same pace. It was hard for her dad to keep up. Once Rachel reached a point where there was a swarm of bugs, she decided it was her dad’s turn to lead. We fell into a pattern of taking turn at the front. We walked for at least an hour and half straight up. About three quarters of the way up, we found a spot to sit. Rachel commented, “Dad, you are glistening … You sparkle like a vampire.” To which Sarah said, “It is sweat, and you are sweating too.” Rachel denied sweating. Sarah disproved Rachel by trying to feel under her arm. Finally Rachel admitted to sweating a little. Bottom line we had worked up a sweat.
The walk down was brutal. We were tired, thirsty, and had to use different leg muscles to keep gravity from have its way. The path was a mix of dirt, loose rocks and large random rocks. I was afraid that one of the girls would twist an ankle or slip and hit hard. The thought crossed my mind that I might do the same. I worried about Marcia’s potential reaction. I also worried whether I had the strength to carry one of the kids if there was fall.
Rachel, Sarah and I eventually made our way back to the restaurant parking lot where we left Marcia and Ella. The restaurant, Capriccio, was way off the beaten path, but quite nice.
When we finished lunch we fired up our trusty Renault Gran Scenic and retraced several switchbacks and wove our way through tight city streets. About 45 minutes later, we arrived at Pompeii. The challenge at Pompeii was finding the entry gate and a place to park. After a second pass we found a pay parking lot.
Link to the Youtube video of Pink Floyd playing at the Pompeii colosseum. Although the stadium had a capacity of 20,000, Pink Floyd played the venue without an audience. They were seeking the acoustics with perhaps a bit of marketing/publicity.
From our apartment, we drove 25 minutes of switchbacks to arrive at Amalfi by 8:15. Marcia bought the tickets while I drove about a kilometer and parked the car in an impressive multi level garage built into the mountainside. There was a tunnel from the garage to the center of Amalfi. The tunnel was large enough to drive a truck through from one end to the other. We met up and waited a few minutes for the boat to show up. The boat made a stop at Positano, which has a reputation for being a high end town on the Amalfi Coast.
After the Grotto the boat circled the island of Capri.
From Rome the first three hours of driving to Furore were a piece of cake, basically four lane highways with minimal slowdowns due to one lane being closed for construction. The fun ended once we hit the mountains. The switchbacks were challenging and seemed to go on forever. Ella and Rachel complained about car sickness. Marcia was feeling a bit queasy too.
The final road to the apartment was essentially a single lane road with occasional spots where two cars could pass. Bottomline is that we made it without putting a scratch on the car. After being in Rome, Furore is a significant change of pace. The entire mountainside is terraced and planted with olive trees, tomatoes, lettuce, berries, and lemon trees. Sitting on the deck , occasionally we can hear chickens, and two mules. The mules communicate with each other. The one directly below us will bray and then the one down the coast to the south will answer.
We had just extricated ourselves from the crowds around the Tivoli Fountains and found a quiet restaurant to grab a quick lunch. Sarah noticed there was free wifi. Marcia checked her instagram account and her niece Madeline had posted a picture of herself in front of the Tivoli Fountains. The timestamp said it was posted two hours ago. Madeline is studying in Copenhagen for the semester. She had visited us several weeks ago in Paris. With no prior planning, it seemed unlikely that we would be at the same fountain about an hour or two apart. Marcia contacted Madeline via Facebook Messenger. In disbelief, we traded messages and arranged to met later that night for dinner.
In the interim, we headed to the Colosseum. This time we opted to skip the line and get a guide. Although we were a few euros lighter, it was a good decision. It took a few minutes to get through security, but the guide was excellent. The girls listened intently to descriptions of the brutality of the Romans. There 80 arches that surround the Colosseum each served as an entrance gate. The said that 50,000 spectators could exit within 15 minutes.
Outside the Colosseum, were three girls dressed in togas. They were being photographed by a couple of guys with high end camera equipment. I just had to ask what they were doing. It turned out that they were completing the first day of the Red Bull challenge. 165 teams from 50 countries, each team started with 24 cans of Red Bull, and no cash. Their challenge was to get from city to city in Europe trading cans for rides. The three girls of Team Oklahomies were able to get from Florence to Rome by trading three cans of Red Bull for 3 train tickets. A lady from Phoenix said buying them tickets was her good deed for the day. More info see Team Oklahomies.
It took us a while to find the restaurant where we were to meet Madeline. Google.maps let us down. We walked past the restaurant, and then walked in circles. It was worth the extra 30 minutes of searching. We agree with the Lonely Planet, “Freni e Frizione draws a young spritz -loving crowd that swells onto the small piazza outside to sip well-priced cocktails.” By buying one drink, the buffet was free. Marcia posted the picture in Instagram and a number of people mentioned that Britney (sitting between Marcia and Madeline) certainly looks like one of the family. It was a fun get together.
At about 10:00 we walked along the Tiber River to return to our apartment. Fortunately at one point in the journey, Sarah said, “Dad, that would make a great picture.”
The word was to get to the Vatican before 10:00 am. Our goal was to be out the door by 8:00 and be in the queue by 8:30. Well, best laid plans… I think we arrived at the queue by 9:15. Everyone else had the same idea. When we entered the line, Rachel started her stopwatch and let us know how much time had passed at multiple points. Even before we reached the queue there were many tour guides saying we could skip the queue with a guide.Eventually after 1 hour 10 minutes we passed the security screening (as timed by Rachel).
Once inside the line for tickets took maybe 2 minutes. With tickets in hand we proceeded to follow the arrows. At one point there was a fork in the road. To the left up stairs was the short path to the Sistine Chapel, to the right was another arrow to the Sistine Chapel.
The short way had the most people, so went to the right. The right arrow took us to gallery after gallery starting with with mostly structures of Roman gods and occasional Greek gods, e.g., Hera shown with Marcia below.
Marcia and I had the same reaction upon entering the Sistine Chapel. “Is this it? It seemed smaller than the immense buildup given by Rick Steves and the various guidebooks. We stood there near the center of the chapel and craned our head upward. It took some time to find the panel with god’s finger about to touch Adam. Eventually we found it but after 10 to 15 minutes standing and looking up, our necks were reaching the uncomfortable point. Michelangelo spent four years on scfolds looking up and working quickly before the plaster dried. The colors were vivid and we were glad we saw it after the restoration/cleaning that was done from 1990 to 1994. As a New York Times article mentioned the result were richly hued frescoes. The entire floor of the chapel and benches on both sides were full. Even standing one’s personal space was a bit tighter than comfortable. Photos within the Sistine Chapel were forbidden. Appropriate for a place of worship there were multiple signs requesting silence. Unfortunately, neither request was honored by the crowd. We honored the requests by not taking photos, we could hear shutters clicking left and right. To calm the voice volume, the guards would occasionally yell to be quiet. The above photo is Marcia in front of Hera. Hera is the god of matrimony and wife of Zeus. Three years ago I drove up to Ann Arbor, Michigan to pick up a small sailboat. It was a gift from Jack to Jack, but since it was the day before Mother’s day, I sent Marcia a picture of the boat and said, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Next up was St Peter’s Basilica. If the size of the Sistine was smaller than we expected, St Peter’s was grander than either of us imagined. Designed by Michelangelo, the dome is the length of a football field off the ground. The scaffolding alone must have been an incredible engineering challenge. Built 500 years ago without the help of cranes or motors.
Below are two small sections of mosaics that are reached after about 300 steps up to St Peter’s dome.