Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Greece - Archaeology beyond Athens

Dedicated to Adam and the anonymous scholars on the bus

Today, rather than being shipped out to the Islands, I took a bus to a few ancient Greek/Roman archaeologically significant sites. It was a small group (only 7, three did not speak much English), with a small and box-shaped guide who always had something to say. Sometimes this meant she had several lines of thought running simultaneously, in spoken parantheses, and did not stop for air for up to an hour at a time. Her speech was occaisionally so convoluted that it became surreal - like watching a Chinese-language B-grade movie dubbed into English!

(I recall, as I wrote snippets of it down, "Because, you see, they say that it is that losing life is like a bus..." This was during a discussion on King Agamemnon, the Byzantines, Abraham and the Old Testament, local flora, and her mother's pork sausages!)

Despite her idyosyncracies, the sites were good. We drove past the Olympic (2004) region before passing over the sudden and dramatic drop of the Corinthian Canal. From there, a real highlight for me, was exploring (at a furious pace) the site of Mycenae. This was a city-civilisation in the time of the Minoans (of Crete), many centuries before the ancient Greeks, let alone the Romans. These were amongst the first people in Europe to build monumental tomb architecture. The major tomb on this site (the Tomb of King Agamemnon) was something I first encountered in my first Art History lecture in the ANU. The acoustics in the tomb were wonderful - loooong echos from the slightest sound, so a footstep on soft dust became an extended crunching noise. As always, the views from the acropolis were gorgeous, although it has not been reconstructed to the extent of Delphi or many other sites I've seen lately.

The next notable site was Nafplion, where we spent ten minutes geting a few photos from the jetty. It was once a Greek capital, but the only items of interest we saw were a massive fortifcation (a huge wall wrapped like an obese python around three-quarters of a mountain top, looping in seven smaller fortresses), the turquoise seawater, and a fantastic castle built edge-to-edge on a flat island maybe 200m out from shore. My notes say these were Palamidi Castle (the mountaintop) and Fortress Bourtzi (the island) - check them out through the links!

Adam, a Canadian uni student travelling before he finishes his degree, and I decided that one day we would buy Fortress Bourtzi. Being billionaires, we would fix them up, install a trebuchet (or several), trampolines, a flying fox down from the Palamidi and jet packs to get up there. Oh yeah, that would be so cool!

Dashing off after that, we checked out the excellent theatre of Epidaurus, which is said to have the best sound quality of the anicent theatres of Europe. Although our guide didn't appreciate our doing it, most of us sneaked off to explore the site museum and the associated ruins of the Askelpion. Like the one in Bergama, this was a hospital site, but very differently laid out. It was much larger and with more scaffolding in place, although the structures were in less pristine condition.

The bus trip back to Athens was loaded with discussion of Orthodoxy, Byzantine history and theology, Iconostasis and good authors on these topics. It was like a Uni tutorial! Great fun.

I'm planning to have a cheap day tomorrow, taking on the major museums of Athens. The next day I'll be off to the Cycladic islands, as I have booked ferries to and from Santorini (the island with the blue and white churches that appear on all the postcard stands here) and Naxos, which I know nothing about. Then off to Italy!

PS - Last night I was invited into a Champagne scam! I knew what it was from the outset of course, so don't worry (to those of you that do...). A friendly grandfatherly publican invited me to his coffeeshop, unambiguously named Pub Love, which was warm and dark with three goregous women sitting around looking lonely. I told him I didn't drink and was not interested, but asked him how much the drinks were regardless (why not? I knew I wasn't going in). He honestly (I think) told me that my soft drinks would be 5 Euro, and those for the girls were 20 Euro (32 Australian!). A dorm mate later that night told me his brother in Bucharest was almost stung with a US$1000 bill in a similar setup, but luckily he was playing pool with the bartender who warned him not to drink there.


  • At Friday, October 14, 2005 5:36:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Love,

    We are off to the Western desert in the morning with a mob of friends - safari to the black and white desert!

    Have fun and so will we.

    Love, M


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