Athens to Istanbul and A Week In Egypt

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Corinth, Mycenae, Argolis and Epidavros

On April 2, after breakfast and a short walk to the Chat Tour stop at the Amalia, we are off towards Mycenae. The drive took us though the Plaka and Monostraki to Toll Road 1 towards Corinth and through the western districts of Athens, a veritable miasma of manufacturing and oil refineries where the air is dark gray. Once we got beyond the smog, the countryside was a beautiful blanket of citrus and olive trees dotted with white houses and tile roofs. We paused at the Corinth Canaland took a photo looking north and up the 400-meter deep trench, then continued to Argolis in Mycenae.

The Toll Road turned off onto the same road that had been used to get to Mycenae since it was first settled in 4500 BC. Of course it has been paved and improved a little bit since then. We wound through and over rocky hillsides, verdant with pines, climbing up and then back down to the remarkably protected acropolis. Before ascending to the acropolis, we visited the tholos (beehive tomb) of the Treasury of Artreus built in 1250 BC with its doorway topped by a monolithic lintel weighing 120 tons - it is fairly obvious that they were doing business with the Egyptians at the time. The entrance to the Acropolis is through the Lions Gate built in 1350 BC and about 10 feet tall. The palaces, now in ruins, were home to Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Orestes and Tisamenos who reigned there and in the region below that is still covered with vineyards and olive trees.

The complex was built to be impenetrable, has an artesian well at one end that supplied water in times of war and a huge granary at the other end that stored provisions. With mountains on one side that were nearly impossible to climb, a clear view to the ocean, and enormous cyclopean walls surrounding it, it was considered a perfectly defensible location. This is why it is assumed that the Dorians, who burnt it down, had to have help from inside to get in. Homer had written about this fabulous fortress 800 years after its existence. He did not mention that the long marble stairway to the palaces on the top is extremely slick, but he sure had the rest of its details down accurately.

From the summit, we descended through Argolis, the town. We passed La Belle Helene, a restaurant famous in these parts and thought of our dear friend Marc who had owned a restaurant by the same name here in Napa. The sinuous road passed by Frankish castles, cyclopean walls of old temples, and the lush green patchwork of agricultural land at its finest. We stopped at the Hotel Amalia on the edge of Naflia (Naplion) for lunch and shared a table with some pleasant people from a variety of places. (It was later on that we discovered that Harvey and Virginia from New Orleans would be on the cruise with us at the end of the week.)

The theater at Epidavros (Epidaurus) and was built in 3 BC near the sanctuary of Asklepios (6 BC). Asklepios was the son of Apollo and Coronis (a mortal), he was deified later and is symbolized by the serpent (a sign of healing because of its relationship with herbs). Patients would spend the night in a sleeping ward where they would dream of their "cure" and the shock of it would set them on the road to recovery (they treated a lot of psychogenic and nervous disorders).

The theater is considered the best preserved in Greece and has had minimal restoration (on its sides). It is still used today. There were 34 rows in 12 sections of limestone seats which was increased to 56 rows in 22 sections around 2 BC to allow for 12,000 patrons. A narrow strip of marble circles the orchestra area, and the floor is packed earth. Behind the orchestra are the skene (scenery) building and the periacta that carried the painted sets. The acoustics are still absolutely astounding. Our guide sent us into the stands, stood on the keystone, spoke in a normal voice and a whisper and could be heard clearly at the top. She dropped a variety of drachmas that resounded in a variety of clearly distinctive tones. Finally, we listened to her inhalation and exhalation as well as the tearing of a sheet of paper that was as audible as if it was done right next to our ears. Amazing! Before leaving the theater, we stood on the keystone to experience the amplitude of our own voices.

The small on-site museum contains vivid illustrations of what the theater was like in its prime, inscriptions, descriptions of therapies, medical instruments, copies of friezes and sculptures, and reconstructed monuments. It is well worth a visit. A walk through the area behind the museum gives one a feel for the enormous complex where guests from all over the country would stay for the festivals held here when actors performed three tragedies and one comedy daily. The dramas seen here were written by noted authors of the times - Sophocles, Aeschylus and Aristohphanes.

The trip back to Athens on the new (27- year old) road makes one wonder if they had ever heard of tunnels. The views to small harbors below were breathtaking. There are some pretty coves and new hotel resort areas, but mostly there are olive trees. We made another quick stop at the Corinth Canal for a southern exposure, then headed back to our hotel to find another protest rally in progress. We were so tired, we relaxed this evening, ate the rest of our cheeses and olives, and did the bulk of our packing before our transfer to the World Renaissance tomorrow.

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