Athens: Part 1… Armchair Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

The Acropolis with its graceful Parthenon shown above is probably the wold’s most famous historic site.

I continue to reach back into my archives today to provide more armchair adventures as the world reels under the coronavirus pandemic. Like you, Peggy and I are ‘sheltering at home’ while reliving past travel experiences and dreaming of future ones. They will come.

Athens was grumpy. Several years of extravagant spending by the Greek government and its citizens had come home to roost. The European Union had required steep austerity measures in Greece as the price of a pulling the nation back from the brink of fiscal chaos. Nothing was spared from spending cuts including social services, wages and pensions. A massive influx of impoverished immigrants and a nascent neo-Nazi movement added to the country’s woes. Everyone was expected to make sacrifices to help solve the crisis.

Since sacrifices are best made by someone else, there had been massive strikes and violence in the country.

Standing near the Temple of Zeus, we watched as yet another group of protestors hit the streets of Athens.
Standing near the Temple of Zeus, we watched as yet another group of protestors hit the streets of Athens.

We didn’t know what to expect but had decided to see Athens on our own. Tours offered by the cruise line are very expensive. They help assure a healthy profit margin. There is little encouragement for independent exploration. No handy-dandy sheets are handed out saying this is what you should do if you want to see such and such on your own.

Normally our self-guided tours worked great but Athens proved to be challenging.

From the moment we stepped off the ship, taxi drivers offering tours inundated us. Tourism had dropped with the fiscal crisis and was dropping even farther with the end of the tourist season. The air of desperation turned to rudeness when it was discovered we were planning to use public transit. Finding the right bus stop and the right bus turned out difficult, however. When we finally did find the bus, it was leaving. Out of frustration I turned to a taxi driver. We were able to hire two taxis for an all day tour for the six of us that was substantially less than the cruise tours.

Was it worth all the hassle? Absolutely.

Much of who we are in the West evolved from what happened in the City State of Athens between 500 and 350 BC. We visited the cradle of democracy and walked where Socrates and Plato had walked. We climbed up the Acropolis and admired the Parthenon and other buildings that have been a major inspiration for Western architecture for 2000 years. We watched the changing of the guard at the Prime Minister’s residence, visited the site of the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, and concluded our tour with an expensive but excellent Greek meal.

If you are a history buff, as I am, having your photo taken with the Parthenon as a backdrop is a true privilege.
If you are a history buff, as I am, having your photo taken with the Parthenon as a backdrop is a true privilege. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
This corner shot shows one of the few statues that remain of many that once decorated the Parthenon. (Many can be found in the British Museum.)
A close up of the corner  shown behind me above features one of the few statues that remain of many that once decorated the Parthenon. (Many can be found in the British Museum.)
Extensive renovation work is being done on the Parthenon, as well as other buildings on the Acropolis. ( Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
Extensive renovation work was being done on the Parthenon, as well as other buildings on the Acropolis. ( Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A full-scale replica of the Parthenon as it would have looked like originally can be found in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by to check it out after our Mediterranean tour while visiting with our daughter and her family.
A full-scale replica of the Parthenon as it would have looked like originally can be found in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by to check it out after our Mediterranean tour while visiting with our daughter Natasha and her family.
My grandson Ethan provides an interesting perspective in this Nashville photo on the original size of the Parthenon.
My grandson Ethan provided an interesting perspective in this Nashville photo on the original size of the Parthenon.
Another impressive building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. An olive tree decorates the front of the building.
Another impressive building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. An olive tree decorates the front of the building.
Another important building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion, which includes the Porch of the Caryatids, lovely Greek maidens who have been turned into graceful columns.
The Erechtheion  includes the Porch of the Caryatids, lovely Greek maidens who served as graceful columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A close up of the Elechtheion, windows, and an olive tree representing Athena's gift to Athens.
A close up of the Erechtheion, windows, and an olive tree representing Athena’s gift to Athens.
This is a shot looking upward at the end of the Erechtheon opposite the Porch of the Caryatids.
This is a shot looking upward at the end of the Erechtheion opposite the Porch of the Caryatids.
Looking upward at the Temple of Nike on the Acropolis.
A final view: The Temple of Nike on the Acropolis.

On Friday we will return to Athens and discover what gave Zeus his horrendous headache.

Corfu: Armchair Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

A view of Corfu with its multi-colored buildings and tree covered hills. I took this photo looking down from the Old Fort.
A view of Corfu on a misty day with its multi-colored buildings and tree covered hills. I took this photo looking down from the Old Fortress.

Seven years ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Europe and cruised the Mediterranean along with her brother John, his wife Frances, and two of their friends Lee and Kathi. Now that our wings are clipped due to coronavirus, I decided a little armchair travel might help satisfy my thwarted desire to travel. Instead of ‘wandering through time and place,’ I am wandering in place. You are invited along…

“The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring.” Lawrence Durrell

I was visiting the Pioneer Bookstore in Placerville when I was first introduced to Lawrence Durrell and the Greek Island of Corfu. The bookstore was a favorite hangout of mine during my senior year in high school in 1960 and George Yohalem, the owner, had become a mentor, helping guide my 17-year-old mind to a number of good books.  He and his wife Betty had retired to the foothills of California after long careers in Hollywood where George had worked as a screenwriter and she as an actress.

I had picked up a new book that had just arrived and read the first couple of pages. Since it looked interesting, I carried it over to George for advice. “It’s quite good,” he had told me, “but don’t tell your mother that I recommended it.” That caught my attention.

The book was “Justine” by Lawrence Durrell. The quote above is the first line in the book and Durrell is describing Corfu. He had lived there from 1935-40 and fallen in love with the island. “Justine” became one of my first ventures into serious literature and definitely my first venture into erotic literature— thus George’s admonition. The book transfixed me, not so much by the sex (well, maybe a little), but by the sheer mastery of the language and the sense of the exotic. I was picked up and dropped into Corfu and then Alexandria… the main setting for “Justine” and the other three books in the Alexandria Quartet. It was magic.

Durrell wasn’t the only author to find Corfu a touch exotic. Homer had the ship wrecked Odysseus land on the island during his long journey and Shakespeare used it for the setting of Prospero’s magical realm in The Tempest. In Corfu’s long history Corinthians, Romans, Venetians, French and English had occupied the island as a gateway to both the East and West. At one point, the feared pirate Barbarossa laid siege to Corfu and succeeded in enslaving a substantial portion of its population.

Corfu’s location in the Ionian Sea sets it apart from its Greek cousins Santorini and Mykonos in the Aegean Sea. We found no more sparkling white washed buildings perched on treeless terrain. Corfu is an island covered with over a million olive trees and its buildings are multi-hued with a well-lived-in look. Two massive forts serve as bookends for its main town, also known as Corfu. We wandered through its winding narrow streets, visited an Asian museum housed in a colonial British mansion, checked out a Greek Orthodox Church, and climbed the steep hill to the top of the Old Fortress overlooking the town.

The most magical place for me in Corfu was the Old Fortress. Dating back to ancient times, the Venetians updated it in the Fourteenth Century. In this photo, Kathi Saage walks around a corner of one of the tunnels leading through the fort.
The most magical place for me in Corfu was the Old Fortress. I was fortunate to capture Kathi’s silhouette as she walked through the tunnel entrance. Dating back to ancient times, the Venetians updated the fortress in the Fourteenth Century.
I loved how the fort seems to be an organic part of the hill.
I loved how the fort seems to be an organic part of the hill.
This photo and the next, both by Peggy, also capture the ancient feel of the Old Fortress on Corfu.
This photo and the next, both by Peggy, also capture the ancient feel of the fortress.
This probably served as a a gun placement in the fort.
This room probably served as a gun placement in the fort. The clock tower peaks out on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
The clock tower located on the Old Fortress of Corfu.
The clock tower. The sky provided a dramatic backdrop.
A final view of the Old Fort. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A final view of the Old Fort looking Irish green. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
A Corfu Street scene. Once again we enjoyed the narrow, car-free streets as we did time and again in Europe.
A Corfu street scene. Once again we enjoyed the narrow, car-free streets as we did time and again in Europe. Peggy’s brother John and his wife Frances are walking in front of us.
Another view of Corfu buildings with their shutters and balconies.
Another view of Corfu buildings with their shutters and balconies.
Peggy found this pigeon hanging out on the broken shutters of an abandoned building.
Peggy found this pigeon hanging out on the broken shutters of an abandoned building.
Lamp posts don't get much strange than the one we found outside of Corfu's Asian Museum located in an old British mansion.
Lamp posts don’t get much more strange than the one we found outside of Corfu’s Asian Museum located in an old British mansion. Does it qualify as art, or just weird?
The Asian Museum, BTW, includes an excellent collection of art, as represented by this painting.
The Asian Museum, BTW, includes an excellent collection of art, as represented by this painting.
The adventure involved in travel is experiencing new sites and cultures. This was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church we walked into.
Part of the adventure in travel is experiencing new sites and cultures. This was a beautiful Greek Orthodox Church we wandered into.

There are some things that I am almost guaranteed to photograph when I travel…

Gargoyles...
Gargoyles…
ColorfulfFruit markets...
Colorful fruit markets…
My obligatory cat photo. I caught this guy sleeping on the seat of a motor bike at the entrance to the Old Fort on Corfu. It may be a new definition of contentment.
And animals… I caught this kitty sleeping on the seat of a motor bike catching some rays at the entrance to the Old Fortress. She may be a new definition of contentment. It’s a good place to wrap up today’s post.

FRIDAY’S POST: We made it up to Crater Lake National Park last week, practicing social distancing the whole way. Snow added to its natural beauty.