|Harding University in Greece||
HUG fall 2016
|Harding University in Greece||
HUG fall 2016
Mixing personal with professional while the students are traveling independently at mid-semester
The students are traveling on their own this week. A counseling conference in Switzerland allows me to mix business with personal - both are a pleasure for me. We have a couple of days before the conference, so after a late arrival to Geneva, we make plans to escape the city hustle before the time for business.
On Wednesday, thanks to our Airbnb owner's suggestion, we eat a beautiful breakfast at a cottage restaurant by the lake (date and ginger cake, bread with cherry jam, prosciutto on bread with olive oil and spices). We locate where my conference is to be held and figure out my transportation plan, twist through the streets of Old Towne Geneva stopping for lunch along the way, and have a supper snack of tasting fondue for the first time in a fancy restaurant overlooking the lake. Geneva treats us well on our first day here.
Thursday, we bus to Chamonix Mont Blanc, France. Traveling through the Alps in October is a beautiful experience. I wonder if any other trees in the world are as colorful right at this moment. Rust and brown aren't my favorites except for in the fall when no other colors seem appropriate. Surrounding the village, not far in the distance at all, are snow-covered, towering, intimidating mountains (Mont Blanc - white mountain). The village seems comfortably nestled and hidden from the outside world between the colorful foliage of the mountain trees. After a lunch of hot soup, pizza, and burgers we wander the village and the outskirts and come upon what appears to be an adventure park. A-C and I team up to ride the alpine slide, and then she wants an individual ride. We hear screams of delight and hear a splash, so we follow our ears and discover what reminds me of the log slide that I rode as a girl at Memphis' Liberty Land. Oh, my poor mother for braving the water. Why did she go through that? A-C rides the "nautic jet" alone and comes out dry. It's a good thing because we are light packers when we travel. Clay wants a turn. He gets wet just a touch and then tries to talk me into riding. I cave. Then I'm hooked; I slide and fly through the air twice. A-C even gets a slow-motion video with which she can blackmail me later. Back down in the village, it's time for crepes and ice cream. After souvenir shopping, we head back to the winding bus for the ride back to Geneva for supper and rest. It's been an unplanned day of adventure in the Alps!
Friday has a lazy beginning. We drive to Annecy, a French village about forty-five minutes across the border. We get lucky - the street market is on Friday, so we sample cheese, bread, meat, and fudge that is too tasty to pass up. The vendor is all smiles. Lunch is at a pretty little French cafe - onion soup, steak, and pizza fill us to the brim. We wander the streets, enter the church we see, and rent a boat to glide across Lac de Annecy. After walking a bit more, coffee calls us. To end the day, we decipher the Swiss self-pay machine at the petrol station, return our car rental, and feel accomplished.
I am in Geneva for the counseling conference on Saturday and Sunday, so Clay and A-C have two days to play. They ride the free bikes provided by the city, go to the zoo, and explore more around our area of town. Easy, relaxing days are almost medicinal. Fun times together are important and needed. The three of us feel re-energized, continually educated, and blessed with each other and our roles overseas in our family and in our work. We're thankful.
St. Paul Outside the Walls was our first stop of the Rome tour. This is the first time I've been here when there was mass in progress. The music and the gold ceilings make me think I'm floating. I love the reverence of the service in this church built to honor Paul.
Eating a sandwich in front of the Colosseum is hard to beat. The Arch of Constantine is in our background. It's time to enter the Forum and hear about the different buildings in the forum from the students.
More sites from the day include the Mamertine Prison, St. Peter's in Chains, San Giovanni in Laterano, Holy Steps, gelato before Pantheon, and eating in that piazza.
Piazza Navona and the Fountain of the Four Rivers and Trevi Fountain are also on our list. Rome is the City of Fountains, and seeing them lit at night is romantic and relaxing. It's been a very full and exciting first day in Rome.
We began at Santa Maria Della Vittoria to see the Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Barberini. Santa Maria del Popolo was our next stop; two of Caravaggio's paintings are here - the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter, which is my favorite. We spent time in the Museum of the Vatican and in St. Peter's Basilica - the largest church in the world. In fact, down the center nave, there are gold inlays marking where the second, third, fourth (and so on) reach, reminding all people that St. Peter's is the longest, as if we could forget. It's elaborate, impressive, and overwhelming, which is exactly the message the designers meant to convey. Purpose achieved.
Driving through the city is welcoming. Yes, Rome is a busy city. It's crowded. It's fast. It makes one feel small. But it's also pretty wonderful. Trees line many of the sidewalks. Buildings with downstairs shops and upstairs apartments are painted in creams, yellows, peaches, and shades of soft taupe. Their dark green shutters are thrown wide and welcome the morning sunlight. Street-sweeping trucks clean debris from the night before and make the atmosphere clean and pleasant. People are proud of their city. The metro isn't complicated and even features artwork! Turn a corner, and the Colosseum jumps into center stage; turn another, and there's another church waiting to share its domed ceiling, paintings, or sculptures with passersby. The people here are kind and open, full of smiles. Their smooth language and friendly expressions make me want to dance. There's something magical about Italy - another of the world's treasures.
Southwest of Giza lies Fayoum, which means water, lake, sea. That is our destination. We pass a cemetery which looks like many 400-800 square-foot homes, housing a whole family's dead. The homes are built tightly together. The "neighborhood" goes on and on.
The Hebrews bring sheep and the chariot and wooden log wheel into Egypt. The Egyptians develop further the wheel and make improvements - they make the wheel hollow with spokes because of the lack of wood. This means the wheel is lighter. The Egyptians add a horse to the chariot, so now they have two-horse power pulling. The chariot is faster than when it arrives in this land. In our lecture, we steer to Joseph's arrival here. The brothers sold him, Joseph is in jail, he interprets dreams and gets promoted from prisoner to leader whose name now means "son of pharaoh," he receives four things from pharaoh - white garment, seal indicating power of attorney, a new name, and a new car, well, a new chariot. Pharaoh chooses and equips Joseph to do his bidding very well. The land changes from desert to green as we drive southwest; geographically the land is lower here than the Nile, so water can be routed here to use for wheat crops. Joseph made a decision to divert the river west and plant wheat here to provide food for the world after the seven prosperous years because he knew that seven years of famine were to follow. To our right is the lake that saves the country and beyond during the seven years of famine, the water landing here from a water fall from the Nile. We step out of the bus to get a geography lesson. The ground is still cultivated today - wheat, orange blossoms, jasmine. Close to the desert, green surrounds us. Joseph was brilliant. And the pharaoh was smart to listen and use his ideas. He profited as well.
We stopped at a mud-brick-with-straw pyramid (Middle Kingdom) beside a man-made river named Bahar Joseph. There are only three of this type of pyramid left. This tomb was here after Abraham, during Joseph's time, before Moses. We discussed how the jewelry was hidden inside the tomb. The mummification temple was just north. The storehouses are just south on the same piece of land. We are on the property where multiple storehouses stood. Goshen, the land given to the Israelites after they come for food, is 17 miles northeast of Cairo, on the other side of the Nile from us now. We share communion service under the trees near the storehouse that remains overlooking the dunes where some of the other storehouses were lined during Joseph's time. It hits me like never before, as I sit in this land, that God uses people to equip others for HIS purpose, HIS glory, HIS will. And He equips us to do His will by giving us His powerful Spirit. We, ourselves, are our only limits. Through Him and for Him, we are equipped to do Kingdom Work. And that's important stuff. We are equipped, armed, and ready. Praise the Lord.
Lunch is fish from the Red Sea at the oldest restaurant in the city. Afterwards we head to Coptic Cairo, Old Cairo. As we drove through the streets, I notice donkeys tied up, children happily running and waving, adults in traditional dress walking, Suzuki vans that look like they're about to tip over full of men, fruit stands with dates (Egypt produces the most dates in the world followed by Iraq then Saudi Arabia) and guavas, paved main streets but dirt side streets right in front of the homes, many vehicles, laundry hanging to dry on balconies, and dirt hanging in the air. I suppose the desert makes the air a bit cloudy.
During the first kingdom, Egypt rules the world. During the second kingdom, Babel is a ruling enemy. During the third kingdom, Babel is on its way down, and the Persians are on their way up. They swept through and destroyed much. Next will be Greek and Roman, but today we stay with the Persians. We see the site where in 650 BC they have built a fortress of six towers and a canal to the Nile. We enter a nearby building called The Hanging Church. In its courtyard, mosaics tell the story that Jesus was here in this area as a baby and toddler.
Mark "the Apostle" came here twice - years 43-45 and 61-67 AD. Those who claimed to be Christian were tortured to death. So some didn't claim it out loud but communicated in symbols and gestures to say, "Me, too," or Christians escaped into the desert. There are Christians here today, but they are few. And of those few, they are mostly Orthodox. This is mostly a Muslim land. We enter the church itself, the oldest church in Africa. It's called the hanging church because the beams are hanging from the towers without underneath support. Restored 4th century AD, the arcs in the building are geometrically painted, the ceiling looks like the Ark of Noah, there are eight columns (eight people were in the Ark), there are thirteen pillars under the preacher's pulpit, one painted black for Judas Iscariot, one painted gray for doubting Thomas, and there are icons everywhere in case people didn't read or write. Next in Old Cairo, we entered a Jewish synagogue. Beautiful inside, we sit to get an history lesson about the Jews coming back to Cairo.
To conclude our last day in Africa, we take a relaxing sailboat ride on the River Nile and enjoy the calm water. Maadi, Osman's neighborhood, is next to the water. We meet his beautiful family and eat a meal prepared by his wife Αλικη (Alice, in English) upstairs in his home. We felt incredibly welcome and loved and appreciated singing and praying with these special people. Joy is shared with Believers across the globe who freely give us love which proves easily returned, our hearts are full of appreciation for Egypt and her history, and we are blessed beyond measure from this experience. Words are inadequate.
The Mohammed Ali Mosque, built in 1815, looks like a palace. Yellow flowering trees welcome us on the grounds. The builder didn't want the mosque to be similar to the Persian mosques of Turkey. So alabaster decorates the walls instead of blue tiles and looms were brought in so that carpets didn't have to be imported from Turkey. The only import is the crystal chandeliers from the Czech Republic. The members of the Egyptian royal family were born here. Osman, our guide, teaches us about the dynasties that ruled this place for centuries, the people who built temples and mosques to their gods, and the influx of the Greeks to this land. We cover many years. As we listen to the history, I notice a man on scaffolding cleaning the inside and outside of the glass light fixtures with the Egyptian version of blue Windex. It appears that thoroughness is more important than speed. He is pushed from fixture to fixture by a lady below when she is not vacuuming. Someone else uses a mop to clean windows. They will be in this big building all day. We learn about dating a mosque by the style of the minarets, about the four people's names on the discs in the corners near the ceiling, and about different leaders in the ruling armies from the beginning of times until today. My brain is full, and it's not even lunchtime.
A local perfumery is our next stop. The owner of the business tells us where the flowers are grown, how the oils are extracted, which oils are the base of the international perfumes, which oils are medicinal, and which oils are relaxing. Surrounded by delicate crystal perfume bottles, we are given mint tea while we make our selections.
We eat at another shish-kabob place, outside with ladies making our pita bread in brick ovens sitting at its entrance.
Memphis is the City of the White Wall or the Beautiful Monument. Everything we see here is from 1550-1100 BC. And everything we see here is massive - columns and a statue of Ramses II (an army man, he was the first to sign a peace treaty in history). Abraham was here more than 3,000 years ago. Mind boggling.
Sakkara was built on a higher ground, away from the city, after it was discovered that burying the dead in one's home wasn't healthy. The cemetery in ancient times had to be on the edge between the desert land and the green land. Zoser was the first pharaoh to build the stepped pyramid at Sakkara. The first domed ceiling in the world was made here. Mastaba is a tomb like a house. Noblemen were buried in a mastaba. We are off-road now on our way to see a fancy tomb. Our main source of what life was like in ancient times are the tombs of these noblemen. We walk into a tomb and see ancient scenes in relief on the walls. In the noble's son's room, the pictures are colored. Protected from the sun, the paint remains. We see a picture of a nobleman eating bread. "Pet haw" is the ancient Egyptian word for bread. The words pita and pizza were developed from this word.
We walked into the oldest stone structure in the world. The walls are smooth and restored. The columns are ribbed like those in Rome that are so familiar to us, actually the columns in Rome copied these. The persistent vendors (that's being polite) give us a story or two to remember.
Our evening meal is served on a boat floating along the Nile River. The whirling dervish was fantastic! There was an upper level deck inviting us for an escape when the music got too loud in the dining room below. It's been a full second day close to the Nile in Egypt.
We are thrilled and thankful to be in Egypt this week. Osman, who has been touring HUG for fifteen years, is happy to have us back. His dancing brown eyes and sincere smiles communicate his love for past and present Harding connections. We feel cared for from the very beginning.
Cairo is the biggest city in Africa with 23,000,000 people. Our flight lands at 1AM, and we drive past the second biggest mosque in Egypt, right here in this city which never sleeps. There are one thousand minarets in Cairo. Motorcycles, horses, taxis, donkey carts, buses, camels, cars, and walking people along and across the highway keep this city awake, even at 2AM when the sky is dark. Stripes on the road indicating lanes are simple decoration, meaning nothing, if they exist at all. We merge all together. I'm thankful that I am not in charge of driving. After a nap, we begin the first day of our visit.
The western side of the River Nile (noun, then adjective here) is called Giza, the eastern side is called Cairo. The pyramids are named of Giza because they are just west of the Nile, which splits this capital city. Our first itinerary item is the ancient Pyramids of Giza. Following the signs, we listen to an Egyptian history lesson as we drive.
Egyptians know the three kingdoms of times past:
• Old Kingdom (beginning of civilization...capital was called Mennefer-Memphis about an hour away from Giza, which is where Moses would have met with the pharaoh...Nefertiti-beautiful...god was called Ra the sun god...pharaoh was thought of as the physical manifestation of their god...pyramid built of stone at the time of death and would take one to god...old kingdom was over around 2200 BC)
• Revolution until 2000 BC
• Middle Kingdom (1800 BC...this kingdom lasted 200 years...capital was Lisht; pharaoh was thought of as half man...pyramids were mud brick with straw...god called Amun, the unseen and powerful who made all things happen...1850 BC first evidence of Hebrews coming to the land of Egypt because of famine bringing their coats of many colors and sheep and goats...Abraham would've seen these pyramids)
• Third Kingdom (1550 BC...pharaoh becomes known as 100% man...Moses 1430 BC...Luxor was capital and the Nile flooded the lower area, so people went north during three months of the year, where the pharaoh's daughter found Moses as a baby in a basket likely made of strong papyrus)
Within view from the city center, each big pyramid at Giza has three smaller ones next to it; they are the wives' pyramids. Each pharaoh (and each common man) had three wives, as was the custom. The pyramids are the only remaining wonder out of the seven ancient world wonders. Joesph saw these. I stand in astonishment and thankfulness that I am here. After camel rides across the desert and pictures at the pyramids, we desire to enter a pyramid that is open for visitors. We hunker down and give our legs a workout. Inside, the tall people are at a disadvantage. We squat and walk at a forty-five degree angle down, down, down. The air is still. I was told that this is a smelly, hot, and difficult decent and climb back up, making my expectations not exactly high. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of odor and the medium temperature, but, admittedly, my legs got a good workout as we made our way back up to ground level. I'm so thankful that I let my excitement about being in Egypt outweigh my hesitation at going inside a pyramid. The experience was worth each inclined step. I've made acquaintances with the elliptical lately - it's not exactly a friendship but it IS a steady relationship - and the reward was felt today. Not a terribly difficult success.
Temples east of the River Nile worshiped pagan gods. Temples west of the river were built for mummification; funerary temples were also used as storehouses. The temples had alabaster floors; alabaster was brought from near the valley of the kings in Luxor, south of Giza. All of the world's alabaster of ancient times was a gift from Egypt. Today, seventy percent of the world's perfumes come from Egypt. Flowers' oils are processed in alabaster bottles that are buried deep in the hot sand for six weeks to six months, and the flowers ferment; essential oils remain. The result is sent all over the world to have each country's products added to make it there own; France is the largest buyer of Egyptian perfume...go figure. We hear of the mummification process in addition to the materials used for the pyramids. We learn that all the stones we see are limestone or granite, black or red. A sphinx is a combination of two animals- king's head and a lion's body. We see the Sphinx and take our "kissing the Sphinx" pictures. Lunch is a local shish-kabob place. My favorite is the chicken with hummus. We have a view of the pyramids and sphinx from our table. Incredible.
Egyptians used to write on the stones, bones, linen, and made a paper out of a plant "papyra" - Now known as papyrus, in English "paper that rises to Ra," so I can hear how the word is pronounced in my language. Oldest scripture was on papyrus. Takes two weeks to make paper from the Egyptian papyrus plant having a spiked flower. Moses was found in a basket made of the stem of a papyrus. We see the process before our eyes. Osman, our guide, explains a bit of the meanings of the pictures on the papyrus that we see in the processing place. We are served hibiscus juice, which helps blood pressure, perfect for the keepers of the purse while the rest of us decide on our papyrus purchases.
On a papyrus, I see a picture of an Egyptian cross that looks like a piece of jewelry that my mom gave to me. Ankh is the cross with a loop on the top. It stands for life and reminded the ancient Egyptians of the Nile because of the importance of water. The pharaoh used it upon which to lean because he represented life to his people, and the Christians say that Jesus, who was crucified upon a Roman cross, stands for life.
My favorite papyrus I see is the Tree of Life. Beautiful birds grace the branches of this tree of green, teal, and taupe. The colors remind me of my mother. Egyptians believe that there are five stages of life - baby, child, teenager, adult, older adult. The first four face east; the last bird faces west, symbolizing that the end of earthly life is approaching. This image makes me thankful for my parents who gave my roots to me. I get a little teary if I think too long about my love and appreciation for them, so I must go stand in front of another papyrus before I appear sad in the store. Sad I am not; blessed am I.
We pass Cairo University, the first secular university in Africa. Kindergarten through university education is free. There are 240,000 students here. We pass through a part of the city that is not exactly well-manicured (that's code for quite dusty, and I'm still being incredibly diplomatic). High on the road we can see that people put their junk on their roofs and throw straw up there and allow their goats to eat high in the sky in Cairo. I've never imagined anything like the scene in front of me. We make our way further into the middle of town, crossing the Nile.
The Cairo Museum has a replica of the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta is a branch of the Nile River. The original piece is in the British Museum in London. This is the only replica we will see today. In this stone, we see hieroglyphics, shorthand hieroglyphics, and Greek. We make our way upstairs to the museum's highlight exhibit.
In 1907, Valley of the Kings was being excavated and they found the name Tutankhamen (1350 BC) in hieroglyphics. The finding archaeologist didn't tell anyone but kept digging. From 1917-1922 he dug again with a five-year work permit but found nothing. After that, he paid people to dig all night and they found sixteen steps. They found a number of names, indicating a pharaoh because pharaohs had a minimum of five names. They found a wall of wood with gold, turquoise, amethyst, lapis, and coral. They found a golden coffin and the mask of the king - a baby pharaoh who became king at age nine. The Israelites plundered the ancient jewelry (it's not about the gold though; it's about stripping the power) and attempted to take it across the Red Sea. The only jewels we have left from the ancient Egyptian times are from King Tut's tomb. The footstool in front of King Tut's throne has his enemies pictured- the saying crush them under my foot comes to mind.
We see perfume and wine vases, papyrus, boxes, statues, a robe, a boat model of alabaster that is a jewelry box, four beds low to the ground with papyrus mattresses, mummification beds, a chariot, nine golden boxes inside each other, and something that looks like the Arc of the Covenant. We see the oldest metal statue in the world, the oldest inlaid eyes, the first painting with color (the six geese on papyrus), the prettiest couple of ancient times, the oldest mummy in the world from 3,000 BC in a papyrus basket. A special room containing the royal mummies will make us have fascinating nightmares.
Shopping for alabaster, hieroglyphic necklaces and bracelets, and mother of pearl boxes rounded out our first full Egyptian day. We are thankful for every bit of it.
A lakeside pedestrian walkway looks inviting as we pass through Ioannina on our way inland, back toward our campus. Mountains are on the other side of the lake. There's a village directly across from where I stand. Teams practice rowing in the lake. Tug boats give rides. People of all ages stroll together. Austria pops into my mind. We are heading back to campus today, but we take in this new beautiful town along the way. I special baklava, eel, carp, and frog legs are the culinary specialties here. Cute shops line the streets. This is the perfect town for lunch. It's a bit early, but we find a place serving. I chose salmon and fresh veggies. I'm told that I must try the dessert called Halvas Farsalon, named for region in the area. I taste a subtle mixture of butter, sugar, caramel, and almonds. I don't understand how, but it's not too sweet; it's just right. Goldilocks would approve. I must research. An attempt will be worth the effort in my own kitchen, and my parents would enjoy the taste. The internet has this to say about the dessert:
Halvas Farsalon is made as such: sugar is added into large rounded pots (with heavy bottoms) over moderate heat with the purpose of forming a deep copper-coloured caramel. Waiting in the wings is a mixture of more sugar, corn starch and water that’s added into the pot as soon as the caramel has formed in the pot. Constant stirring then ensues and slowly the caramel melts away into the corn starch then the liquid begins to thicken and that caramel that you watched over with patience has come back to life and a dense, transparent caramel jelly has formed. At this point toasted almonds are added along with melted clarified butter (in increments) while stirring some more. As soon as the butter has been absorbed and the halva no longer sticks to the sides, the treat is almost complete. The halva is left in the pot for a few moments to allow a crust to form on the bottom. Then, the halva is flipped/inverted so that the caramel-crusted bottom is on top and now the Halvas Farsalon is emptied onto a large round tray and allowed to cool. A sprinkle of cinnamon tops the Halvas Farsalon and it ready to be eaten – room temperature or chilled in the fridge... Ours was served chilled. I wouldn't change a thing.
It's been a wonderful weekend, full of new surprises and different experiences. We've learned together, and we've laughed along the way - the best kind of travel!
Ferry boats travel from the port of Corfu to the mainland daily. A day trip to Albania is an option which sounds exciting, so we are taxied through the water to another country this morning. We arrive at the port city of Saranda and easily find our English tour guide. Coffee is our first itinerary item, so I am already happy to be here! After a quick snack, energy arrives.
The Ionian Sea shines on our right as we drive toward the northern Balkans. We see a couple of US flags as we drive. I wonder why? I see what I think of as Mississippi magnolia trees without blooms scattered along our drive. Fields on our left used to be marsh lands and now look fertile and productively green. The Balkans hover in the background. The sun makes them appear as soft shades of blue, brown, and green - barely colors on this bright, sunny morning.
In this once communist country, tourism is increasing. Hotels are being built. Our guide points out an Orthodox church and a mosque that are nearby each other, saying that there are no religious problems in her country. I'm not sure I believe her. In today's day and time, I hope and pray that's true.
Butrint was a city that passed through Hellenistic, Roman, Medieval, and Venetian time periods. Forty percent has been excavated. We see the designs of ancient temples, special city gates, a gymnasium, and an ancient theater used by the Romans for theatrical productions, political discussions, and gladiator fights.
On our way to lunch, the guide speaks of the changes from the past communist rule to present day, listing pros and cons of each type of government. My upbringing is such that it's tough for me to consider positives of such communist control of people's everyday lives - their education, their comings and goings, their jobs... I can't relate. I have done nothing to earn my privilege of citizenship in my own country. I'm simply incredibly fortunate.
Later we pass trough the hills and mountains surrounded by laurel, pine, oak, acacia, eucalyptus, and olive trees. I notice what looks like wild purple violets on the ground. Hillside villages are tucked in valleys along the curvy, narrow roads. The Blue Eye Spring swirls water clearer than I've ever seen into a turquoise circle shape. We take pictures at the nearby lagoon and even put our feet into the spring a bit down the graveled walk way. It's a beautiful celebration of nature in the Balkans this afternoon.
The boat ride back to Greece entertains all. Singing games, word games, and the views keep us happy. Corfu Town's lights call some of the group after the supper meal. It's an early start tomorrow, so my pillow calls me. Night night.
A winding road takes us through the countryside. Gardens are on both sides - tomatoes, cabbages, I don't know what all... I bet neighbors along this road will share with each other and store for winter. There's a bountiful feast outside of our bus, still on the ground.
Further west, the Christmas tree-covered mountains are on my right while the blue of the sea is down on my left. Green and blue, green and blue. Every now and then a terra cotta colored tile rooftop peaks out. The country homes look like relaxing places. We travel up the west coast this morning. After a few minutes, we turn inland, and the sea is further away from the bus but still in my sight. There's a village situated to my left up on a little hilltop. Separated by light pink oleander along a road by only two minutes in a speedy bus, another small village is on my right. I wonder if these people interact or if village life stays as it was many years ago when communities married within their own communities and stayed separate from the folks down the road. Our goal is to catch a ferry ride over to the island of Corfu. We are at the port in minutes.
Our timing is perfect. The ferry pulls away less than two minutes after our arrival. The cold wind wakes us up. Hot chocolate hits the spot. Energy comes to go take pictures out on deck. The wind is our only challenge because ponytail holders are in my bottomless pit of a purse, but they are not to be found. Blue. The sky, the sea... His favorite color must be blue.
Corfu is a long, skinny island. Settlements along the coast are scattered. Small villages still exist on the whole island, and Corfu Town, capital city of the island, is the third largest city in Greece. We drive along the moat outside a Venetian fortress. An open air market is on our right, full of vendors and customers alike. We learned some of the history of this island, the first Roman-occupied Greek territory.
The Church of Jason and Sosipater is our first stop. The icons, silver and paintings, are ornate and attention-grabbing. I have mixed emotions, and I know that's due to my own cultural experience of growing up in the States. There are curtains on the sides of the "Holy-of-Holies" section in the church, a different experience for most of us. The curator allows the men to get closer to the relics behind the curtain. Women are not allowed in that area, such a contrast to our own culture.
In the old city, there are color codes to follow. Paint colors must be approved by the city, varying from cream to yellow to peach and taupe tones. The shutters are either light gray or dark green. The clay tile roofs are more brown, reminding me of the rooftops of the Umbrian region in Italy. The town square's bell tower is made of local limestone. There are wide streets, and there are slippery ally-stair-stepped side streets. Guitar and accordion music fills the air. We walk along the colonnade and peer into shops and cafes that face the public garden. Grass is inviting. But we take another turn on a side-street. Clothes lines stretch across from one side to the other. Shutters are flung open. Many if the buildings in Corfu Town were designed by a local architect who studied in France, so some corners of the buildings are curved; I love the curves. The streets get skinnier, so we go single file on our journey across the block.
We meander our way to the old Venetian fortress at the edge of Corfu Town. Almost all of our group climb to the top, but freshly squeezed orange juice at a table with a sea view in the shade sounds better.
A ten minute drive away, the town of Kanoni hosts us tonight. After we check in, we head to grab coffee at a view from the top of a lookout. After pictures and a snack, we're ready for our next site. The Palace of Achillieon, built for Empress Elizabeth of Austria, has an exterior as elegant as its interior. It would be fun to attempt to fit in here! I wander with my audioguide and am reminded that I know little of European aristocracy and the roles they've played throughout history. Sure, I know the main leaders, but the supporting characters have stories of their own about which I'd like to study. I'll add that to my growing list of things to do.
After a good supper, we strolled and shopped in Corfu Town, all lit up and hustling. Children on bikes, dogs on leashes, people eating their evening meal...Corfu Town is a happening place. Definitely a thumbs-up recommendation for a place off the beaten path.
Heading west, we pass mountains surprisingly full of green trees, different from the brown ruggedness of our Attica. I recognize olives, pines, and cypress, of course, but do not know the other green that covers the land... Blue or green. I am certain that God's favorite color is either blue or green. When we get to the Ionian Sea, millions of diamonds glitter on the surface of the water. The sun makes the blue water intense like sapphires at one view and calm like aquamarine gemstones at another view, just a few minutes later. Both sparkle happily. I like western Greece already.
Our lunch break is at the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, which is one of the world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridges and the longest of the fully suspended type. We eat a picnic lunch overlooking the view before we watch a short video about the bridge's construction. It crosses the Gulf of Corinth, linking the Peloponnese peninsula to mainland Greece. Engineering feats were overcome and there were amazingly zero major injuries during its six-year construction time. Completed a bit ahead of schedule, about a week before the 2004 summer Olympics, Olympic torchbearers were the first to cross the entire length of the 1.8 mile bridge.
Back on the road, we pass kelly green citrus trees, grape vines already trimmed after the harvest, a swaying weeping willow tree that brings memories of the backyard in which I grew up, and fields of green crops or grazing land separated by hedgerows, reminding me of the Scottish countryside that I enjoyed this summer. Each time I see hedgerows between field crops, I think of Mrs. Bennet's worry that she and her unmarried daughters would be forced to live in their hedgerows after Mr. Bennet's death and their subsequent removal from their estate because there was no son to inherit the property - my, how times have changed. I see white sheep enjoying green grass in a valley to my left. There are cattle lounging in a pretty meadow to the right. A few minutes later, horses are grazing on golden hay left by their owner. Where am I? Again I think I'm back in Scotland. The rolling green hills with their olives and cypress trees in the backdrop behind the animal scenes remind me of Tuscany. We drive down a road that snakes through the hills, making me dream of being on an Italian movie set. Then we round the corner, and the blue of the sea dominates the scene. I'm definitely in Greece. This part of the Mediterranean is a fairy tale.
Our next stop of the day is the museum and the ancient site of Nicopolis, the City of Victory, Greece's largest archeological site. Romans built roads and aqueducts, and we see the ruins of both here. The architecture is from Rome and the mosaics from Constantinople; this is a city where east meets west, even when it was established as a city for the Greeks who lived here. Nicopolis was built in 27 B.C. as a city not only to commemorate Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian's naval Battle of Actium victory of 31 B.C. but also as a doorway to control the strategic gateway of the passage to/from the east. The apostle Paul wintered here around 65 A.D. (Titus 3:12).
Our dinner is outdoors, naturally, in a cute little town ten minutes down the road. The owner himself welcomes us and brings out Greek salads, fried zucchini, garlic bread, tzatziki sauce. Then he gives us six choices for the main course. I struggle to decide between beef, chicken and potatoes, stuffed peppers, or moussaka. I select beef roasted in tomato sauce. We are full before the main course arrives. Dessert is a sweet, syrupy cake eaten with a spoon. Mercy. After we eat, we stroll around the town, admiring the window dressings, shops, and promenade by the sea.
Day 1 has been full of new discoveries. We're looking forward to tomorrow!