The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Waiting for my ferry to Athens

Hi everybody ---

Crete is interesting. It is making the history I learned back in my college years come alive for me. Now I understand so much better what I only learned on a superficial level back then.

Since this blog is as much a record for me (sort of a journal) as it is a ride report for my readers, I will probably be boring many of you with this post today.  If so, please join me again at a later date.

So, here we go --- it is time to go visit the oldest civilization in Europe, and one of the oldest in the ancient world. I am talking about the Minoans who settled this island many years ago and built their kingdom here.

Sorry, Odysseus. They don't let motorcycles into the castle ruins. You will have to stay here in the hot Cretan sun. At least you have another motorcycle to keep you company. From the looks of the stickers on it, that motorcycle has seen a big part of the world also, so maybe you two can compare notes.

The castle I am visiting today is named Knossos. It is pretty much smack dab in the center of the north Crete coast. This area was first settled 128,000 years ago. That is a lot of thousands. Can you imagine what life must have been like back then. That was the stone age. Civilization, meaning cities and trade with other countries, didn't get started until 2700 years before Christ. I wonder what everyone was doing during those missing 125,000 years. Hmmmm.

That 2700 years ago date -- that is about 500 years before Abraham's story starts in the Bible. There was a strong Egyptian civilization on Africa at that time, and an early Babylonian civilization in Asia (Mesopotamia), but the Minoan civilization that I am visiting today was the first in Europe.

The symbol of the Minoan civilization was the double bladed ax. It is called a labrys

The labrys is scratched on the hallway walls all through the ancient palace of Knossos. Knossos was quite the place back then. This is what anthropologists think it looked like.

The hallways in that place went every which way and often ended at dead-ends. It was a regular maze in there. And remember, I said  there were labrys (or double-headed ax) symbols scratched into the hallway walls, so the place came to called the labyrinth. Got that? Good.

Lets take a break. It is too hot. I have to go buy a hat. Do I look like Indiana Jones it it? Wait, did somebody say I look like Jed Clampett.? I'll get you for that Ha.

The Minoans worshiped goddesses.

Now, I was told by a guide that one of the religious rituals involved boys and girls who, when they turned 12, leaped over a bull in the public areas of the huge palace. You can see them doing that in one of the murals found in the palace.

There were dozens of murals found when this city was uncovered sixty or seventy years ago. They were not all of kids leaping over bulls. In the murals, females are always white and males are always red.

After the city was destroyed by fire, and after it was buried by earthquakes, Homer, the Greek poet, told the myth of a bull-like monster who lived in the labyrinth and ate young girls. Later, in the myth, a hero from Athens, Theseus, killed the monster. The name of the monster was the Minotaur (Do you remember that story from your long-ago college days?). I guess this myth built up over the years from the old practice of bull jumping.

In its day, the palace of Knossos was really advanced.  It had the first paved road in all of Europe.

It had clay pipes that brought fresh water from a distant mountain.

It had flush toilets, and an elaborate drainage system that separated rain water (used for hand and clothes washing) from the brown water coming from the toilets.

The palace was several stories tall and had a marvelous system of ventilation.

I could go on longer, but I doubt that anyone besides me is interested. As I say, this is my journal, so if you are still with me all I can say is "thanks"

I will try to do more motorcycle riding stuff in future posts -- stuff that might be more interesting to the majority of my readers.

Today, I am mostly killing time while I wait for tomorrow's ferry to Athens. I have done a wash (something I very much needed to do), and my clothes are hung up to dry. I went for a long ride to the eastern end of Crete this morning, but it is too hot for that sort of thing (nobody but me rides in boots, jacket and pants around here, and I can see why. Whew!).

I don't know if there will be a lot to post about from Athens. I will be meeting my daughter, Jessica, and my son-in-law, Renaud, there. We have an apartment rented.

I will be in Athens with them about a week, and then I head back toward Germany. My flight home is on the 14th of August. After I leave Athens, I think I will try to go to northern Italy. There is a famous pass over the Alps from there. It goes to Austria. I bet the weather will be a lot cooler up there. (I hope).

More later,

Monday, July 28, 2014

Crete and the Greek Isles

Hi from beautiful Santorini

I left my campground at Sparta (they say Sparti here) and went off without my Kindle Fire that I use for reading books, and that I have my guide to Greece on. Sparta is too far for me to go back after it, so I guess it will make someone a nice paperweight.  I have it password protected, so I don't think anyone can use it. That's too bad, actually, because if I can't use it I would like whoever finds it to be able to use it. Oh well-----

When I left Sparta, I wanted to go to Olympus where they used to hold the games back in the Olden Times, and where they light the Olympic torch that they carry to the Olympic Stadium of modern host countries. It should have taken me about three hours to get to Olympus, but my GPS took me up through some narrow mountain lanes and through some tiny Greek towns.  I was kind of angry about that because it could have routed me on a perfectly good highway, but by the time I got it all figured out it was too late to turn back.

There isn't much left of Olympus today, but back in its heyday it must have been quite the place.

You can still walk around and kind of get an idea of what it looked like back about the time of Christ. Back then, people came from all over to watch the games, and cities tried to outdo each other with the monuments they gave Olympus.

This is one of the Temples in the city. Doesn't look like much, does it?

This is what it looked like back then.

Besides temples, there were gymnasiums, practice arenas, swimming pools, hotels and much more. Here is a picture of the main arena. It could hold 45,000 people on those grassy slopes. Everyone from my county in Illinois could have fit it it with room for plenty more.

The whole place was dedicated to the god Zeus. He had a big temple there, and the Giant Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was in it:


That statue was carted off to Istanbul a long time ago. But there are plenty of other statues at Olympus to give you an idea of how special the place was back in those days.

Lets go, Odysseyus. Times a-wastin'.  Gotta go catch a ferry to Crete.

I have a long way to go to get to the ferry, but I don't have to be there until 11:30 tonight. I have time to visit the famous city of Monemvasa. It is on an island, and the only way to get there is by crossing a causeway. It reminds me of the more famous Mount. St. Michael on the coast of France.

Sorry Odysseus, but you can't go in.

It is a warren of narrow lanes, stores and hotels inside.

That was Saturday. The ferry got me to Crete early Sunday morning. I only have a few days in Cfrete, and then I have to be in Athens to meet Jessica and Renaud. I think I will save the places I want to see in Crete for later and take a ferry up to nearby Santorini instead.

Santorini is probably the most famous of the Greek Isles. It is certainly pretty.

It might be even more beautiful at night.

Tomorrow I am going to swim at the volcano out in the bay. They say the water is warm there.

So, more to come later.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

South Greece

Greece is very, very rugged. The mountains are steep and craggy, and the streams that should flow down the valleys are all dried up.  I rode up a twisty mountain road to get to a highly recommended cog railway.

It went through a very narrow gorge with several tunnels and a deep ravine on each side. I sat up front to watch how the driver did it. I think I could drive one of these trains myself.

When we got to the steepest sections, the train went on automatic and slowed way down. A gear located somewhere in the middle of the train hooked onto the cogs in a middle rail and chugged us along at glacial speeds.

The driver didn't have to do anything after that. The train just sort of went on automatic pilot.

After the train ride, Odysseus and I continued riding on down toward the south of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. This is the land of myths----

Look, Odysseus, we are close to Mycanae---

What's Mycanae, Ron.

Don't you read, boy? Mycenae is where Ulysses'  friend Agamemnon was from.

I can't read, Ron. I'm too young. Besides, who's Ulysses?

Ulysses was the guy I named you after. His Greek name was Odysseus, and he was a hero in the Trojan War. You remember, we went to Troy when we were in Turkey a few weeks ago.

I remember that Paris stole Helen and took her to Troy. The Greeks launched a thousand ships to get her back.

Yes, and the ships were led by Agememnon who came from just up the road.

His city it just a bunch of ruins now, but he lived here almost 2,000 years before Jesus. Like in the time of Moses. Look at this wall around Mycenae.  Nobody could lift those rocks, so the Greeks made up a story: they said that giants with one eye named Cyclops built the wall.

Gotta be careful of the roads around here. You never know when you might go around a hair-pin switchback and hit rocks in the road.

Look at this: my stupid GPS loves to take me down narrow lanes, but in this case it turned out very interesting because lining the road on each side are kilometer after kilometer of orchids, apples and limes mostly.

I was riding along at a pretty good clip when I felt a bug fly up my jacket sleeve. I guess it was a wasp, because before long it got tired of being up there and it stung the heck out of me. I smashed it through my jacket, so I never got to see exactly what it was.

I stayed the night near Sparta. There it is, way down in the valley. This is modern Sparta. The old Sparta disappeared almost 2,000 years ago. Where I am standing, by the way, is near where the Spartans brought babies that they thought were too weak to make good warriors when they grew up and left them to die. Pretty rough bunch, those Spartans.

Up here on the hill overlooking Sparta is a most interesting ruins built by the Byzantines about 400 years after Jesus died.  The name of the place is Mystras, if you are interested.

This place is quite the city. The Byzantines were the ones who built the big Christian churches in Constantinople. They started the Eastern Christian Church. This city on the hill over Old Sparta was so important back in those days that it was called "The Second Constantinople".

Here are some of the temple cats. Cats are everywhere in this country. I guess they like them.

This city is almost 2,000 years old, but it is still pretty cool. I like the old churches in it.

This double headed bird (Eagle?) is the symbol of the Byzantine Empire. I think it is supposed to symbolize East (Asia) and West.

The town used to be very active. There also used to be several monastery's there. Only one is left. It is home to a few very old nuns.

I guess the nuns kind of support themselves by doing needlework and selling it to tourists. I bought this (whatever it is) for my wife, Patrice, but please don't tell her because it is a surprise. Ha.

Eventually, the Ottoman Turks took over Constantinople and this Greek City as well (see how much I'm learning?). They mostly got rid of the Christian Churches in Istanbul, but not here.

I've been moving on south. The road up and over the mountains is interesting, but tough.

I am not sure if I really like, or really dislike switchbacks. I am on constant alert or cars and trucks.

I do think they are pretty.

I am taking my sweet time. I have to on some of these roads. I have been following the Mediterranean Coast, and the roads are narrow, twisty things. I think there is still a lot to see here in the Peloponnesian part of southern Greece, but I think my goal will be to head for Crete.

More later,

Monday, July 21, 2014


Greetings from Delphi, the navel of the Earth. I had a great time exploring this place today. It is so beautiful here. If the Greeks had not decided to make this special city on the cliffs thousands of years ago, someone would certainly have built a resort up here today. Look closely at the picture and you can see the Aegean Sea way down below, far off in the distance.

The story is that Zeus released two eagles at the same time, each at opposite edges of the earth. They flew toward each other until they met at the exact center of the world. Zeus dropped a stone where they met to mark the navel of the world.

The story is a myth of course, but no one yet today can explain where the stone came from. I guess the ancient Greeks sat around meditating about that stone until the story was revealed to them. I knew some people back in the seventies who did sort of the same thing: Ohhhh ----Navel --- Ommmm.

Here is a picture looking up at Delphi. Can't really see the temples, can you? They are there though.

People came from all over back then to visit this place. They especially wanted to visit the Temple of the god Apollo. This is what it looked like back then

And this is what it looks like today/ Not much left, is there?

Want to know why the pilgrims all came here to the Temple of Apollo? No? Well, dadgummit, I'm gonna tell you anyway---

Inside the temple was a crack going down into the earth, and gases came up through that crack. An old woman, the "oracle", would breathe those gases, get stupid as a toad frog, and start talking in strange gibberish ( I think I knew some people like that once and--- oh, never mind.) Anyway, a priest would interpret what she said and tell you your fortune and answer your questions about what you should do, like go to war or get married (If you just said to yourself that those two are opposite sides of the same coin then I give up on you).

The pilgrims who came to consult with the oracle would stop on the way up to the temple to buy gifts from the stores that lined the roqd. You can see the remains of those stores to the right. I guess they don't look like much now, but they were pretty cool gift shops back in the day.

Cities and rich people lined the streets with gifts. Some even built treasuries to keep the gifts in.

This city was so important back in those early Greek days that they even had their own race track (for foot races and other athletic events) and held the second most important games in Greece (After the Marathon games)

And they had a big theater for those famous Greek tragedies and comedies.

It is all ruins now. The really good stuff is kept in the nearby museum.  Like this thing that once stood on a pedestal in the city.

I sure learned a lot there, but I don't want to bore you with more.

I left Delphi about 1:30, and started going west, looking for a bridge that I had heard the modern Greeks built to get across to the huge island of Peloponesia.

Tonight I am camped on the shores of the Aegean, looking from Peloponesia north to the Greek mainland just a couple of miles away. I am so tired of hotel rooms that I am looking forward to camping again.

I think Odysseus is happy to be camping again too. He has been spending so many lonely nights on the streets outside the hotels that he is like a child again.

Look, Ron. Eye candy!

What are you talking about Odysseus?

Right over there Ron. Can't you see her?

oh for --- Get a grip on yourself boy. I think I've left you alone too many nights.

I am really enjoying this campground. I am listening to the gentle sound of the breaking waves, looking at the lights far out across the sea, nursing a beer as I type, and loving this cool weather. The air conditioner in my room at Delphi last night leaked all over the place and I woke up with wet riding gear. None of that tonight. I am going to sleep well.