Friday, July 3, 2009

Summing Up

Time to put this great adventure into a kind of overall context.

Since I don’t really have a home, per se, I don’t have the comforts of a home (or my favorite stuff) to pull me back emotionally from these trips.

And that makes getting on planes and being gone a long time work out much better for me than most.

It does not mean I don’t miss my friends, who have become, essentially, the two places I call home, Seattle & Portland.

(There's a third important place, but it's one I don't call home: The Road.)

That said, I’ll just observe that any day that begins when you put on a money belt and a photo vest has got to get really awful in some fundamental ways to be a bad day.

Cheap Thrills

Well, it was great seeing all those places, and meeting all those people, but I need to admit that one of the highlights for me was getting the Turkey reports picked up and posted on the web site.


As I learned to say in Turkish,

Turkey is very beautiful, but the people are even better.

And that began, of course, with the first two we met—Chetin and Jale. They offered up their home to us, Chetin’s the one who came up with the car, he’s the one who took two or three days off work to make sure we could get out on the road, and we kept thinking how lucky we were to hit such great people the first shot we had at it.

But we weren’t merely lucky: people in Turkey are that nice.

Often, when I was lost in a city, I’d stop in some shop and ask, in my dreadful (but much-appreciated) Turkish

Good day. Can you tell me please where X is?

And they wouldn’t tell me.

They’d leave their shop, walk with me to at least the first intersection, sometimes the second, and sometimes whistle up some pal down that street to take me in tow.

And I can’t tell you how many times I was offered part of someone’s breakfast or lunch, or fruit, or the universal chai.

Not to cast aspersions about the Greeks— it’s a different culture, after all, but only one person has offered me food here; on the other hand, no one’s tried to sell me a rug, either. . . .

I think if I had to live outside the US, I’d start the where-do-I-want-to-live list with Turkey.

Kim and I have already started talking a little about working out a way to bring photographers here. We have most of the itinerary mapped out already.

Best City

The best city I was in is pretty much Istanbul— it has everything, including some great, old, almost-village neighborhoods and all the big mosques. And bombing around on the water busses with the normal commuters was a treat.

Best Place: Turkish for Lap of Luxury

The nicest place we stayed was the Ephesia, in Kuşadasi, south of Izmir. That’s where we were given the rooms and meals by a friend of a friend. We shot a bunch of pictures for him for his new development, and I hope he’ll be able to use them. Here’s their URL:

If Kim and I put the photo safari together, we’ll be staying there for a couple of two-night stops.

Since I averaged just less than $20 a night for lodging, this place was far above the norm. but even if I hadn’t been traveling so close to the ground, it would have been a real highlight.


Crete was also a terrific place, but the people seemed a little more guarded and distant (hell, if you’d been invaded as often as they had, you’d be guarded and distant, too).

But it was also pretty good practice for the 2010 trip, which is looking like Tunisia, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Provence. Two new countries— maybe three. No Vermeers. Bombing around on islands. And only two languages to deal with: French and Italian.


Athens was terrific, but would have been better about 15 degrees cooler. The last month of the trip, I was dealing with temperatures that were about a month early in the year.

This is a terrible picture, and the last of the 7774 I took on this trip, actually, but it shows the Acropolis from the roof of the hotel where I stayed. It’s a shot from the roof and not from my room, but how cool is it to look up from neighborhoods in the city and see this?

When I was bumbling around trying to find the flower market, I was paying a lot of attention to my city map and the street names up on the sides of buildings, and I saw a young woman standing in the middle of the street taking a picture.

What was there to shoot?

Ah, merely the Acropolis. . . . .

Biggest Downside

Other than being away from friends for three months, the biggest problem with the trip was weather. The three days of rain early on weren’t the problem that the heat was toward the end.

Especially the last three weeks on Crete and the week in Athens, it was too darn hot. High 80s (at least) during the day for almost a month. And here and there in Turkey, especially the last third of that trip, it was getting so warm that I had to adapt to the heat.

The heat limited how long I could stay out and shoot or prowl around much more than my age did.

I have noticed, even though I’m in somewhat good shape from all the walking all the time, that I can handle only about 6-7 hours before I start to droop and need to find shade and a seat and maybe some cold water and food.

But too much cold water leads to other facilities I need to find. . . .

And I met some pretty hardy travelers— they are the real pros at this much more than me. I stayed pretty safe, while they went 3-400 miles further east in Turkey than I did, and one of them is in Syria right now, learning Arabic.

And there’s a couple here, the Barcley’s, in the Athens hotel, who sold their home in Alberta, put everything in storage, and are taking a year off to travel. They’ve already been to Syria, Egypt, Jordan, some Greek islands, and are off to sub-Saharan Africa next, then to Thailand.

Their travel reports are at, I think.

So while I now have about half the countries that Arnie Panitch and Don Feller have on their Life List, and less than half of what Mary Feller has, some of the people I met on this trip seem like the real adventurers.

The Last Miles

The flight yesterday, from Paris to Chicago, was about 200 miles less than I drove in Turkey.

Yertle the Turtle

And here’s your intrepid (well, maybe trepid at this point) reporter, slightly out of focus

in the hotel room in Athens, with all the gear— 41 pounds of hold baggage plus the laptop in one hand and the camera gear in the front back-pack.

Pretty travelled out, at least for now, down to the last belt notch, needing a new pair of shoes-- this pair is giving out after 16 countries-- and eager to catch up with his friends and family.

Report 50: The Last Report

One Last Snipe

One thing I wanted to see before I left Athens was the Flower Market, which isn’t far from the Central Market I hit my first day here, but I may have not been there on the right day, or ???, because your local Fred Meyer garden store has five times the flowers this one lone little nursery had. . . .

The Historic Athenian Cemetery

I did score pretty well at the large (and still currently used) cemetery, and I suppose if I’d really wanted to see flowers, I could have got straight there. . . .

But one of Robert’s Rules is that sometimes, it’s not what you know, it’s when you know it. . . .

So I got to the cemetery and was pretty immediately adopted by some nice woman

(who must be a cousin of the old woman in Turkey who walked me through the local ruins and then whistled up her daughter to bring the stuff to sell tourists) because it became pretty clear pretty immediately that I was just in time for the tour.

She started out showing me the tombs of all the patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, then the marker for Melina Mercouri and her husband, the director/producer of Never on Sunday, Jules Dassin.

Well, his full name was there, but she was noted only as Melina, with no last name on the marker, which seemed a real tribute to her fame and prominence in Greek popular culture.

But then I remembered a (previously unreported) detail of the last full day in Crete, when I’d gone out to the city walls to see Nikos Kazantzakis’s (author of "Zorba, the Greek" and many other works-- came close to getting the Nobel for Literature, but was black-balled by the church) burial place— and it’s on a parapet and looks out across the city to the harbor, and there’s a pretty good-sized plaza around it—maybe 1,000 square feet or so, and a raised slab about the dimensions of a large dining room table, and a simple wooden (pretty straight tree branches, rather than milled lumber) cross—but here’s the really special component: there was no name at all near the monument/burial site.

Now that’s fame. . . .

But there was some great light and shadow at the cemetery, and I’ll be playing with these images over the winter to see what they’ll look like in black & white.

Cats Everywhere

It’s a coincidence, but cats form a kind of set of bookends to the trip. In the Kuzguncuk neighborhood of Istanbul where Chetin and Jale live there are scores and scores of feral cats, although a lot of the shopkeepers put out food for them, and we saw them in the dumpsters all over the place.

Well, the old cemetery (not the ancient one, but merely the old one) is also full of cats:

Don’t Forget to Pay Your Rent

And I was out exploring, snooping around the place looking for capturable images, and at one point could down into the work-yard of the place, and saw this:

I don’t know if these people’s relatives didn’t pay the rent one month, or if there’s remodeling or new construction, or what, but these folks have clearly been kind of evicted and even, a close scrutiny reveals, somewhat rearranged. . . .

The Schliemann’s Last Home

And here’s the burial vault of Heinrick Schleimann (Troy and Mycenae) and his Greek wife Sophie, who was 30 years junior to him, but became his full partner in the (I hesitate to call it) archaeology, but you know what I mean.

Feeding Pigeons

After the tour guide went back to work, I noticed a little procession of people in front of me, so I stopped looking for photography opportunities and followed them at a distance.

The person in the lead seemed to work or the cemetery, as he was carrying a large sheet cake, and at the end of the ceremony after the priest blessed the already accomplished interment, with a swinging, smoking censor, chanting, praying, and all the normal (what I refer to as the marketing the product) foofraw, he took some of the cake (maybe a large tablespoon’s worth, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, and cast some down in the little marble house of the mausoleum, and some more up on the roof.

The pigeons appreciated it, I’m sure— both versions. Almost as soon as all the people starting walking back to the entrance, there were a half-dozen pigeons eating the cake crumbs.

Day 87, Tuesday, June 30

Coins Everywhere

I started out the AM at the Numismatic Museum, partly to see the coins (boy, were there a lot of coins), but mostly to see the building, as it was the home of Heinrich Schliemann, the explorer/looter/plunderer of Troy and Mycenae.

You remember, the guy who found this:

And the house was a trip. It was decorated with all the expected ancient Trojan/Mycenean wall paintings, ceiling decorations, mosaic-looking floors, and it was almost a palace in terms of décor if not size— although it was three full floors about 200 yards from the big square in the center of the city.

There were even a couple of coins there of the subject of my favorite poem, “Terence, This is Stupid Stuff,” Mithradates, the king of Pontius.

He’s the one who took little doses of poison to build up immunity and protect himself from poisons, which was the normal mechanism of royal succession in Pontius in those days.

The New Acropolis Museum

The old museum up on top of the Acropolis, which has been in operation for about 140 or so years, has just this last week been replaced by a wonderful new, state-of-the-art world-class museum down at the level of the rest of the city.

This just opened late June, so it was in the papers and on TV a lot.

And it’s not just great exhibits (all the really great old stuff, including the Erectheum porch supports [5 of the 6 maidens/columns that support the porch roof]) but old pieces of the frieze— and right where you can see them, too, and not 50 feet up in the air.

But of course it was built over an old neighborhood that they excavated when they built the building, and they worked the building so you could still see what was down there.

This is the main entrance, and there’s not only an open space

but the platform you walk in on is covered with plexiglass, and you can see through it to more of the ancient city.

And they have put dots on the plexiglass, I’m guessing, so you don’t freak out
while you are walking across the top of it.

They did the same thing inside as well, with some exhibits that look like little troves of hidden objects, or places where pigs were killed and votive offerings were put under the floors of new-built houses.

Metro Stop Museum

And when they built the Metro system, or at least extended it, for the Olympics, they found all kinds of stuff, and the Acropoli Metro stop has some really gorgeous exhibits that many museums would love to have.

Socrates Was Here

There is more conjecture than history here, which runs along the lines of

Well, these cells were used for people who were arrested or convicted during this period, and Socrates was arrested and convicted during that time, and so this must be where he was incarcerated.

But here are the images, anyway.

The View of the Top

And on the way back to the Metro station from the Socrates cell, I cut through the woods rather than take the big 3 Km pedestrian promenade which I’ve been wearing out since Sunday, and found these shots of the Parthenon without the apartment houses or most of the construction equipment in sight.

Day 86; Monday, June 29

Scaling Peaks

I spent the day up on the two big hills in the city: the Acropolis in the AM and Mt Lycabettus after dinner.

Better Late Than Never

Although I was still recuperating from the heat and the long hours over the weekend, I wanted to hit the Acropolis early.

I have been trying to come home a day or so early, partly to miss a 24-hour Chicago stay, and its expense, but mostly because if I get home at least one day early, I can attend the Freethought Fourth of July picnic in Seattle on Friday, the 3rd.

It’s a great chance to get some more feedback from the conference and to visit with some people who will be there who are important to me.

So I had to hit the internet this AM at the hotel to see what the schedule change news was— it was disappointing— but by the time I put the laptop away and got my gear and headed out (and went the wrong way on the Metro) it was 8:30 before I actually started up the hill.

And I was about 500 meters up the trail and I knew I was already too late—I heard some woman ahead of me telling her pouty trans-pubescent son:

“If you are tired, Jeremy, you can just take a nap when we get
back to the ship.”

So the cruise ships’ tour busses were already converged, although it was only the first disgorgement, so I thought it wouldn’t be too bad.

The Play Wasn’t a Turkey— It Was a Goat!

This is the theater down at the SE corner,

on the way up to the top, where the great tragedies were put on— and here’s another goat story for every one.

The word “tragedy” comes from the ancient word for “goat,” since the earliest plays were more religion and superstition than drama, they’d sacrifice a goat to appease whatever made-up deity they all agreed was in charge.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis (means “city on a hill” or “citadel”) started out as the whole city, then as walls were built in larger concentric circles as the population got larger and larger, the old center became the sacred temples and seat of government.

But you can see here the original fortress element of the place— it’s already on some pretty steep rock and then they build walls up on that

and restrict access with big strong gates— which were guarded by the night watch and all that.

Once you were in, you were in for the night, and if you were out it was just too bad for you.

A couple of social history detours here:

The first is that the word “curfew” comes from Medieval French and means to “cover the fire,” which meant that you had to extinguish any fires that were still burning.

The second is the honor that involved “Getting the Keys to the City,” which we don’t do anymore but I remember seeing newsreels of people like Lindbergh and Eisenhower and other famous people getting the (big, fancy, totally ceremonial) key to New York City, for example,

Well this goes back to guarded gates at night, but if you had the (actual) key to the city (gate), you could come and go as you pleased.

Construction Project: 2,500 years and counting

This is taking longer than The Big Dig, in Boston. . . . .

Well, with Greece in the EU there’s lots of Euros now for big cultural restoration projects, and in some ways, this one may be the biggest one of all.

About half of the Acropolis itself is a construction zone—

you can’t go inside any of the structures, as they are all roped off and hard-hat areas, and full of fork-lifts

and cranes

and some pretty beefy equipment.

And in spite of the cranes and the noise and the people from everywhere there are many little quiet, shady spaces where not much has changed for a great long time.

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees Off

And it was pretty packed up there and hard to get pictures of the buildings without a bunch of people standing in front of the building, facing away from the building, having their pictures taken by their friends (or even strangers).

I have never gotten this very common aspect of travel photography: you come 7,000 miles to see something, you turn your back on it, you block much of the view of it with yourself, and you have someone take your picture.

Help me out, here, people.

I was last here 49 years ago and in many ways it’s much better—safer walkways, for example, but that would still never pass on OSHA test--

But this is one of the great acres in the history of Western Civilization, even if it’s full of other people who have the absolute temerity to be here when I planned to be here.

The View from the Top

Here’s the next place I went—The Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.

And beyond it up to the left a little you can see the track that was built for the 1896 (resumption of the modern) Olympics, which I remember visiting when I was here when I was 18.

(I know some wise-ass will say it was right after those first Olympics, or right after the first modern Olympics, but no, it was in 1960.)

How Do You Get from Zeus to Jupiter?

Well, it was Zeus, Father of the Gods, and that reads as “Zeus, pater” in Greek— simple, huh?

Susan Strikes, Again

And I hit the best private museum in town later this afternoon, and shot a bunch of folk costumes and the like, mostly for Susan, my wonderful Balkan travel partner.


This is the highest hill in Athens, and although the light didn’t cooperate fully, here’s what it’s like looking down from up here.