The overview, so far
Trip Start Jul 11, 2006
25Trip End Aug 28, 2006
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I don't have photos to upload yet because I didn't bring the proper cables and didn't know how often I'd be able to post photos anyway. One less thing to carry around that I might not use.
Very briefly, the wedding of our daughter, Kirsten, and her now-husband, Andy, in York, England, where they are both students, was wonderful, if a bit unreal for me. There I sat passively at the York registry office while Kirsten and Andy walked down the aisle, were married and celebrated at a nearby pub. Our little daughter, now grown, is married. Where did the time go?
Next stop (sans bags, thanks to British Airlines), Bologna. I can't say I have much of an impression of Bologna because we were forced to wait around the hotel room for our bags to catch up with us. Our bags visited Gatwick on an extended tour, and all we got were these lousy t-shirts (since donated to charity). Late that day, we boarded a train to Florence.
Florence is just as beautiful and historic as I remembered from previous visits, but this time we had an acquintance there (a contact through Nancy's Red Cross position) who showed us the best gelateria, the best cafe and the best new friendship. The day he drive us with his girlfriend out to Panzano will remain one of our peak travel experiences, meeting the mad butcher of Panzano, visiting the church where they will be married and having coffee with everyone's Italian grandmother. Of course, there were the fabulous art museums and churchs of Florence, too.
On to Sorrento, where Nancy hoped to find warm sun but where we found chilly temps instead. Pompei and Positano were great, especially for our son, who had never been to Italy before. Sorrento itself is a shade too touristy for my taste, although there's no arguing that it's a lovely place. Nancy had to return to her job, but Braden and I stayed on to visit the archeological museum in Naples. All the travel guides have heavy warnings about Naples, especially about the central train station. Indeed, on the way in, we were selected by the infamous old guy in the light blue jacket who offers to guide unsuspecting tourists to the train to Sorrento and then demands exorbitant payment. Alerted in advance, we waved him off. So, somewhat to my surprise, I liked Naples in all its congested, gritty, noisy glory. It reminded me of people I knew when I was a kid growing up in a neighborhood with several Italian immigrants. The museum was wonderful, and we didn't allow enough time for it.
Braden stayed on another night in San Agnello, near Sorrento, and I took the train to Bari for the ferry to Patras, Greece. The ferry trip was very unlike the ferry Nancy and I took between Greece and Italy 30-some years ago. Deck passage literally meant sleeping on the deck back then. This time it was comfort all the way (with price to match).
I immediately caught a bus from Patras to Nafplio, experiencing the Greek bus system and its almost complete lack of information for the first time. I compare traveling by bus in the Peloponnese to basejumping -- you take off and hope you make your connection at the next stop because each bus terminal has schedules only for buses operating out its front door. And even with a schedule, the departure times are only approximate. I had my bus leave as early as 20 minutes before the scheduled departure and 15 minutes late. Be warned if you plan to travel that way.
Nafplio seems like a pretty happening place, very bright and hip, its fortresses dominating the skyline and the sea. It was the first capital of Greece before the western powers decided to make ancient Athens the new capital. That decision probably saved Nafplio the fate that Athens has suffered -- being overwhelmed by its status. I thoroughly enjoyed Nafplio.
But I had to move deeper into the Peloponnese to find the traces of the Byzantine empire that I'm trying to learn about. (I've read books and taken a class to fill in my typically inadequate American high school history education on the Byzantines.) Negotiating the bus system, I traveled through Tripoli and Sparta (several times, though not 300) to imposing Monemvasia (the Gibraltar of Greece) and mystical Mystras (the last stonghold of Byzantium). Monemvasia, particularly early in the morning, is like time-travel a thousand years into the past, but for a few visual clues of the now. Mystras, a mostly ruined hillside town, easily transport the visitor back into the everyday lives of the last Byzantines, with the bonus of the preserved site where the last emperor was crowned.
Finally, I traveled by bus into Athens, by taxi (without the storied ripoff) to Syntagma Square and the Plaka and by foot to the Metro stop in Monastirakis to catch the fast ferry to Crete for the Easter observances.
This morning on the waterfront, I watched an old man catch an octopus by line while a dad and his two little boys watched. Photos to follow.