Santorini

I just spent a few days on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. Santorini’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC.

Accommodation was at Villa Danezis. This luxury villa was rather affordable at $70 CDN per night and is managed by the owners who live on site. The villa has ten beautiful appointed rooms with nice art work, a sizeable outdoor pool, a beautiful patio area, and morning coffee with delicious home made muffins.

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During my stay I rented a car as it was a lot easier than trying to take the local transit, despite it being a more expensive choice. When I was on the island I did the famous Fira to Oia hike in reverse, which took about 3 hours to complete and is rated moderate. The hike takes you through both the ancient districts, and along the mountainous terrain between the two districts, with many beautiful old churches painted in blue and white. All of the “towns” on the islands are now just referred to as districts of Thera (Thira), since 2011 when the government decided to do so.

I explored Oia and Fira in detail, visited the old Akrotiri Lighthouse on the south side, and the ancient towns of Akrotiri and Ancient Thera.

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The ancient town of Akrotiri date’s back to as early as 5000 BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By about 3000 BC the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri continued to prosper over the years with the introduction of paves streets, an extensive drainage system, and high quality pottery and craftsmanship. This all came to an end in 1627 when the volcanic eruption of Thera buried the entire community in volcanic ash. The community wasn’t found again until 1867 when some locals found some old artifacts in a quarry. Extensive modern excavations of the site occurred in 1967 by Professor Spyridon Marinatos. Excavations are still ongoing to this day.

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The ancient town of Ancient Thera date’s back to 9th century BC until 726 AD when it was buried after a small eruption of the volcano of Santorini covered it in pumice stone. The ancient city was re-discovered in 1895 by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen and excavations started to occur between 1961 and 1982, and 1990 and 1994.

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I also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life. The meat and vegetables are so fresh and the Greek meals are delicious; whether it was traditional Greek coffee, Greek salad, fresh sea food, or vegetarian dishes. Yes you read that correctly, vegetarian dishes! Santorini has vegetarian only restaurants and they serve incredible food; my personal favorite being Tranquilo where I had Greek salad and goat cheese filled hot peppers.

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Another fantastic restaurant that you must visit is To Briki. I had traditional Greek coffee served with old wine grapes soaked in honey, deep fried Greek cheese, and amazing smoked salmon and avocado bruschetta.

Check back shortly for my next blog post where I explore the beautiful city of Zurich!

Athens!

I just spent the last three days in the city of Athens, Greece. Athens, the capital city of Greece, is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years. Most of the history has occurred within the last 3400 years, with many prosperous moments and many moments of decline. The city was named after the goddess Athena after she won a competition with Poseidon over who would become the protector of the city. The location of the city was chosen because of its mild climate which was suitable for growing food, and close proximity to the Saronic Golf.

In 1400 BC Athens became an important settlement because it was the centre of Mycenaean civilization and housed the Acropolis Mycenaean fortress. Athens suffered destruction in 1200 BC (the bronze age) and went into economic decline for about 150 years afterwards.

In 900 BC Athens again became a leading centre of trade and was rather prosperous. This didn’t last more than a few hundred years before massive social unrest led to the reforms of Solon in 600 BC and the eventual introduction of democracy by Cleisthenes in 508 BC. Athens was also invaded twice (lets call it three times) by the Persians; once in 490 BC (which was unsuccessful) and twice within the same year in 480 BC. The Athenians and Spartans eventually defeated the Persian army in the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

The following decades were the prosperous Golden Age, during which time Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece and the start of western civilization. During the Golden Age the Parthenon was built on the site of the Acropolis. Art, drama and philosophy were significantly developed during the Golden Age as well. The Peloponnesian wars between the Athenians and Sparta (yes Sparta turned on the Athenians) eventually brought an end to the Golden Age, but Athens continued to play an important cultural and intellectual center.

By mid 400 BC the Northern Greek kingdom of Macedon was becoming a dominant force and in 338 BC the army of Philip II ended Athenian independence. Alexander the Great made Athens obsolete by the 2nd century BC, and Greece was taken over by the Romans. The Roman’s ruled Greece for the next 500 years, and eventually converted Greece to Christianity and ended the Athens role as the center of pagan learning, and the schools of philosophy were closed in 529 AD, which marked the end of Ancient Athens and Ancient Greece.

The Byzantine’s ruled Athens by the end off 529 AD until 1204, a time of uncertainty and decline, but Athens was able to maintain its strong presence due to the Acropolis fortress. In 1204 the Fourth Crusade took over Athens and the Latins ruled Athens until 1458 when the Ottoman Empire took over.

The Greek Revolution occurred in 1821, and Greece was established as an independent Greek state in 1830 by the Treaty of London and Athens was once again proclaimed the Capital. Population quickly grew after the Greco-Turkish War in 1921 when over a million Greek refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece.

Athens was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Athens again began to grow as people migrated into the city looking for world following World War II. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union, which was crucial as Athens was in dire needs for an infusion of cash as it was crippled with social and environmental problems. Athens even failed to secure the 1996 Olympics because of its environmental and infrastructure problems, which should have been a huge milestone as it was the 100 year anniversary since the first modern day Olympic Games in 1896!

Since 1996 major initiatives to improve Athens infrastructure have occurred. A new airport has been built, a new metro system, and limiting the use of cars in the city centre to reduce air pollution.

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, which were considered a great success, but the facility quickly fell into disarray due shoddy craftsmanship and human destruction.

Greece again has fallen into economic disaster since the 2008 world economic recession, and has still yet to recover.

During my visit to Athens I saw the following sites:

  • 2004 Olympic Stadium
  • Technopolis (A former Coal Gas Generation Site)
  • Ancient Agora of Athens (including Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos and Temple of Hephaestus)
  • Hadrian’s Library
  • Acropolis (including Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike)
  • Acropolis Museum
  • Kerameikos Cemetery
  • Zappeion
  • Hadrian’s Arch
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Panathenaic Stadium
  • Mount Lycabettus
  • Communities of Plaka, Psyri, and Thiseio

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics. What once was a beautiful facility back in 2004 has been thoroughly trashed by humans and left to decay in the weather. I wish we would build a few good quality Olympic facilities throughout the world and then have participating countries pay for upkeep of these facilities rather than financially burdening the cities these are built in. Prior to the 2000’s we could build an Olympic venue for under $1 billion but now the sticker price has shot to $50+ billion.

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The site of Technopolis is an old coal gas plant that’s been converted into a museum and a trendy area with a coffee shop, restaurant, and a place to host events. I love seeing old places like this preserved like this. Coal gas was used to heat homes and for gas lanterns from the last 1800’s to about the 1940’s in many large cities including Athens, and in Seattle (I posted about this one previously. Just look up my Seattle blog. That one was also preserved).

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The Ancient Agora of Athens dates back to 6th century BC and was used as a gathering place. The ruins were found in 1931 and currently being excavated even to this day. Over 20 buildings originally resided on the site, with only two currently standing. The Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed on the east side of the agora in the 1950’s, and the Temple of Hephaestus.

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Hadrian’s Library was created in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The building was built in typical Roman architecture style. The library was severely damaged in the Herculean invasion of 267 AD and wasn’t repaired until 412 AD. During the Byzantine times three churches were built on the site, with some of the remains being preserved as you can see below.

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The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop that towers above the city of Athens at 490 feet above sea level. The citadel houses the remains of many ancient buildings including the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, and Temple of Athena Nike. The Acropolis was constructed over time from the 6th Century BC onwards and was used to defend the city against many wars (see way above). The Parthenon and other buildings were severely damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder that was being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded. During the following years the Acropolis had a variety of Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman structures. After the Greek Wars of Independence (1821-1822 and 1826-1827) these structures were cleared from the site to restore the monument to its original form.

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The Acropolis Museum was absolutely fantastic, but sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs except in designated areas. The museum will open up a tour of the archaeological dig site underneath the building starting next year. You can already see the dig site through the glass floor, but it would be amazing to explore them up close and personal.

The Kerameikos Cemetery dates back to roughly to the 3rd millennium BC, but became the site of an organized cemetery around 1200 BC.

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Completed in 1888 in Neoclassical architecture, The Zappeion was erected specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world and used as the main fencing hall. The Panathenaic stadium was also refurbished during this time. It received many different uses throughout history:

  • In 1906 it was used as the Olympic Village
  • Between 1938 and 1970 t was used by the National Radio Foundation
  • In 1979 the signing of the documents formalizing Greece’s accession to the European Community
  • Between 1998 and 1999 it was used as the first hose for the organizing committee (ATHOC) for the 2004 games
  • In 2004 it was used as a press center
  • Today it is used as a conference and exhibition center

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Hadrian’s Arch, also known as Hadrian’s Gate is a monumental gateway that spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens. Built in 132 AD, it is believed that the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple. It was dedicated to the Olympian Zeus. Construction started in the 6th century BC but was not completed until 2nd century AD! The Athenian tyrants building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but this didn’t occur and it took 638 years to complete the project. The temple included 104 columns, and was the largest temples in Greece, but not in the world. The temple’s use was short lived and fill into disarray by 3rd century AD, and slowly reduced to ruins thereafter.

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The Panathenaic Stadium was originally completed in 330 BC and was used as a multi-purpose stadium. The 330 BC creation was made of limestone, but today’s creation (since 144 AD) is made entirely of marble.

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The stadium was abandoned between the 4th and 18th century due to Christianity, and was even buried during this time frame. It was excavated in 1869 and used in 1870 and 1875 to host the Zappas Olympics.

It was then refurbished in 1896 and was used to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and as the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports during that time frame.

It was even used in the 2004 Athens Olympics as a finishing point for the Athens Classic Marathon and the last venue in Greece where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

Mount Lycabettus provides a fantastic view of the city. €5 will buy you a one way ride up or €7.50 for a return ticket. I decided to ride up and walk down as the funicular only runs every 30 minutes. I had a fantastic lunch consisting of Greek Salad and a Chicken Souvlaki.

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2018-03-17 – Lyon & Barcelona

Today I woke up at 7:00am naturally. I had some time to just be lazy and stay in bed. I  left at 8:30am to catch Rhone Express to airport. On the way I stopped at a Paul coffee shop along the way and had a delicious pastrami sandwich, bagel and coffee. The Paul coffee shop chain gets a routinely bad review on Google here in France but I thought they were pretty good. I arrived at Lyon airport 2.5 hours before my flight to Barcelona, Spain so I had a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
I was surprised when it was time for me to go through security because despite it being a new airport it was extremely poorly setup. There was not enough staff, and the security area did not have a large enough area for people to queue so the queues backed up where the escalators and elevators to enter the area are. This prompted people to backup on to the escalators requiring people to hit the emergency stop button to stop people getting trampled to death (I’m saying this tongue in cheek but it was a gong show). Security took about 2 hours to get through in total. Once past security the airport is very nice, spacious, and had an ample supply of shops and food.
The flight to Barcelona was rather turbulent, but was actually ahead of schedule about 5 minutes. I took the airport express bus from the airport to the city centre and then walked to my hotel, which was only 5 minutes away from the bus stop. I checked into my hotel, dropped off my stuff and went out to take some photos. I visited a local street market in the Gothic Quarter (also where my hotel is), Barcelona Cathedral, and a few Antoni Gaudi buildings.
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I was starting to get hungry so I stopped at Coco Vail Beer hall and has a delicious burger and two IPA pints.
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After I was finished at the beer hall I walked about 10 minutes to Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera or “the stone quarry”. Casa Mila was desined by Antoni Gaudi and was built between 1906 and 1912. The facade of Gaudi’s buildings are extremely unique and encompass the Catalan Modern style of architecture. It looks like something that you would see in a Doctor Suess book or movie.
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After finishing Casa Mila I picked up some local IPA beers from a local bottleshop and went back to my hotel. It was getting late and I was getting fairly sleepy. I also saw this interesting use of a mannequin on my way back to the hotel.
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2018-03-14 – Toulouse

Today I woke up at 8:00am. Toulouse has an amazing bike rental company called Toulouse Velo, which stands for Toulouse Bike. I rented a bike from right outside my hotel and rode towards the town Center where I grabbed some McDonald’s for breakfast before taking the tram up to The Aeroscopia Museum near the airport. The museum featured predominantly Airbus products, but had a few other products such as the Caravelle and not one, but two Concorde’s! The price was fairly reasonable at €12.50.
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The Caravelle, designed and built by Sud Aviation right here in Toulouse between 1955 and 1972, is such a unique aircraft because it had triangular windows, a unique T-tail arrangement, and was one of the first jet turbine powered aircraft to be built that was highly successful. The last aircraft was retired in 2005, a whole 50 years after it first flew. The only comparable jet turbine powered airliner that shares this same success would be the McDonnell Douglas DC9 or the Boeing 737 series, the later having just had its 10,000th unit produced and was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records. I also got to go inside the Concorde’s, an old Airbus A300, and a Super Guppy!
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After exploring Aeroscopia I went to the restaurant next door called La Ferme du Pinot, where I had a local Toulousian dish called Cassolette. Cassolette is beans, pork and duck confit; think meat and beans casserole. I really liked the aviation inspired chairs that were at the restaurant as well. Once I move into a nicer apartment or house I’d like to purchase one.
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After lunch I took the tram back into the city exploring lots of old architecture dating back to around the 1100’s and onwards including the old City Hall, Saint Sernin, and Church of the Jacobins.
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I went back to my hotel to relax for a bit before going out for dinner at the same place I had the donair last night because it was so good. After dinner I went to a local brewery/beer shop called La Matabiere, where I picked up four different beers; three IPA’s and one Amber. I head back to my hotel room and did some photo editing and drank the beers before heading out to do some night photography of the churches and old City Hall. I ended up going to bed around 10:00pm.
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