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Stephen Instone Travel Fund - Reports of Trips 2010
Cherry and Amelia’s Trip to Greece
In the blazing August heat we began our tremendous two-week adventure in bustling Athens. After a comfortable night and a taste of the local cuisine, we were fully prepared for a day spent at the Acropolis. To avoid the midday sun and brush up our ancient knowledge we first visited the newly refurbished Acropolis Museum which is fit to burst with kouroi, vases, inscriptions and models of the site. The caryatids were particularly impressive and we would have liked to share photographs – but as we were informed by an angry Greek museum assistant, photography is NOT allowed! Nonetheless, the museum made a great impression on us and it really brought to life all that we’d studied about Ancient Greece at university. We visited the Acropolis in the cool of evening, hoping to catch the sunset – which indeed we did. Standing beneath the Parthenon, in all its glory, as the sun slowly set below the modern city skyline was an experience we will never forget.
The next day was to be our last in Athens, so we arose early to visit the Panathinaiko Olympic stadium and found ourselves getting carried away imagining how it might have been to witness the first Olympic Games. Very close by is the National Archaeological Museum, which was a real highlight. We were amazed and shocked by the sheer size of the statues... It was a brilliant feeling to stand before Kleobis and Biton, famous statues we had only ever seen next to small print in text books, and finally experience the true majesty of Greek sculpture in its homeland. The fine detailing of the bronze statues, which we are so lucky to have, was exceptional and something we never could have comprehended from books alone.
After an emergency change of itinerary (due to cancelled coaches and a change in ferry schedules) we eventually found our way to Andros: a beautiful island at the northernmost point of the Cyclades. We spent the next week getting to know the island inside out and revelling in the hospitality of the lovely Greek couple running the quaint hotel we lodged at, nestled in the hills overlooking the sea. We visited the most renowned museum of the Cyclades, an ancient cemetery, a fabulous museum and various ruins dotted about the island which the locals often directed us to. We frequently finished our days of adventure in a brilliant little outdoor cinema, soaking up the atmospheric surroundings and the warm evening climate.
Reluctant to leave, we eventually tore ourselves away and headed on to our last stop which was to be Paros. Once again we fell in love with the incredible landscape and found ourselves in the company of yet another friendly Greek hotelier, Stella, who was invaluable in helping us discover the island’s hidden gems. We spent our first day strolling around the narrow streets lined with the Cyclades’ trademark white-and-blue houses and practising our Greek in the local tavernas, where we discovered one of the national dishes, gyros, is perhaps the most delicious thing on earth! A stones throw from the beach, we spent that evening reading our guidebook on the balcony, where we decided to hire quad bikes to visit ancient sites that were further afield. Staying in Parikia, we were next door to the exquisite Church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani, which is perhaps the most significant Byzantine monument in all of Greece and occupied us for hours. We discovered a charming historical folklore museum in a tiny town en route to the Delian sanctuary of
Apollo, which after a windy climb to the top provided some of the most breathtaking views we encountered on the whole trip. A few days later we ventured out to some ancient quarries and got lost on the broken roads in between the mountains – although a little bumpy it was a truly memorable experience! This summer has been one of the best of our lives because of the opportunity given to us by the travel prize. It’s near impossible to express adequately all the incredible things we saw and experienced and to explain how they have enriched our studies and our lives – the entire trip was truly unforgettable.
A Minoan Tour of Crete - Hugh Black
Having spent the night on a ferry from Piraeus in a shared berth with a Greek Orthodox priest, I picked up my rental car in Iraklion and headed straight for Knossos. I met Dr Don Evely and Dr Colin MacDonald of the British School at Athens, who not only gave me an introduction to the Minoans and allowed me to use the library, but also gave me a full tour of the Knossos Palace site and of Villa Ariadne, the house built nearby by my ancestor Sir Arthur Evans. The palace of Knossos is a fantastic place to begin a Minoan tour, since much of it has been reconstructed and repainted. Although not fully accurate, the reconstructions give you a great feel of what it actually may have looked like and arm your imagination so that you see more than just piles of stones at the other Minoan sites. It’s also amazing to think that this is in some way the place linked to Theseus and the Minotaur, but although it is certainly quite labyrinthine and difficult to find your way around I didn’t have to resort to a ball of thread.
I saw the incredible collection at the Iraklion museum then set off east along the confusing Cretan roads to the smaller but still impressive palace of Malia, after which I ascended roads of a spectacular gradient into the mountainous interior of the island, to the windmill-strewn Lasithi plateau. Just above the plateau is the Dictaean cave which is believed to be the birthplace of Zeus according to Hesiod. You can really see why; a tiny entrance near the summit of the mountain leads you down a previously unscalable route into an enormous cavern bristling with bulbous stalactites and stalagmites, everything a baby god could wish for. At the other end of the plateau I followed some very dodgy instructions in my guidebook through a hill-farm of goats and snarling dogs, and having parked the car I climbed for about an hour to the summit. The only hope I had of going in the right direction was a sign halfway up that had fallen over and was lying face down pointing the wrong way, and completely rusted apart from the letters ‘…FÍ’ (I was looking for Karfí). At the top of the mountain I got very excited about two late Minoan houses, but that were nothing compared to the surprise I got when, crossing a ridge, I realised that there were the remains of a whole Minoan town in the saddle between two peaks, complete with ancient landscaped fields surrounding it.
Over next day I saw Minoan sites of various types including a port that is now half underwater with each end poking out on the mainland and a nearby island, the only oval Minoan villa, and a villa that was discovered during roadbuilding and is now bisected by the road; it is very strange driving through a 2500-year-old sitting room. On top of that, I almost got the car blown off a sea-cliff in a high wind and stuck in mud on top of another mountain.
My plan for the night was to camp (I had brought my tent) on the east coast after seeing the Minoan port of Palekastro. But with the thundering rain and terrible Cretan road signs I took a wrong turning and found myself driving through olive groves for most of an hour from which I emerged into the wrong end of the site. As I got out of the car I saw the car park with a small dirt road leading directly over the site to it, so I got back in and turned the key. Unfortunately my battery had chosen this moment to run out. I spent a while alternately trying various methods of starting the car and looking at the site, although I was too distracted to really take anything in. With few other options I attempted a reverse jump-start onto this dirt track, trying not to be crushed by the front door but also to steer the car in reverse through the archaeological dig. It didn’t work, but at least I was now in the car park. Although I had my tent with me it is not quite legal to camp in Crete anyway, and camping inside a fenced site would not have looked good. So I walked down a road in the pitch black and, turning a corner, I saw a light a few miles away. Luckily it was a taverna with very kind owners and jump leads, who got me back on the road.
After the winding road down the increasingly rural east coast I came to the spectacular palace of Zakros which boasts such features as a swimming pool / fish tank (nobody’s sure) that still works and a holy ritual room / toilet (again, strangely, nobody’s sure), after which I thought it would be a good idea to take a shortcut back up the mountains via Death’s Gorge; I should have known better really. Alive and safe, I camped between a mosquito-ridden olive grove and a beach and watched a fearsome lightning storm that appeared to be happening over north Egypt.
Over the next few days I saw the Hellenistic capital of Crete, a hidden villa guarded by vicious dogs, a huge roman fish tank (4m by 4m) carved into rock beside the sea, the southernmost city in Europe and many more Minoan towns including Gournia, the best preserved, which was hardly different from some of the more run-down modern Cretan villages.
Returning westwards I stopped at Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete. It was a vast city, stretching out for miles, but of which only a couple of buildings survive. The rest can be seen as bricks, cut stones and occasionally parts of columns strewn about under olive trees and in goat fields. There was even an olive tree that had grown with a section of column inside it – a very Ozymandias feel.
Having camped on the beach in the former hippie resort of Matala I then visited the stunning palace of Phaestos followed by a Minoan cemetery and a peak sanctuary. On the way back to Iraklion I stopped at Anemospilia, a site with an incredible story behind it. It was destroyed suddenly during an earthquake and left untouched until discovered in 1979, when it was found to contain ritual offerings a well as four sets of human remains: one who had been running out of the chamber when it collapsed, one in priest’s clothing, one that appears to be a priest’s assistant, and one curled up on a platform with a knife in him. The most common, if still controversial, view is that this is the only evidence of human sacrifice ever found in the ‘peace-loving’ Minoan civilisation, caught red-handed.
I handed in my car with some trepidation given the state I had left it in. A week on and off Cretan roads had taken its toll, especially with the Minoans apparent predilection for living in the most inaccessible places possible. So having handed over the keys and signed off, I ran to the port before I could be called back and boarded the ferry back to Piraeus.