Athens: Days 11 & 12 – Final Exploration & Departure

December 23, 2013
by L Fitzhugh

(from the series: Opa! In the Spirit of Athens)

(DAYS 11 & 12: Nov. 16-17. This and subsequent posts in this series are being filed ex post facto for security purposes.)

ημέρα 11

Day 11 – Final Exploration

Well, this is it. I should be sad as this is our last day in Greece, but the adrenaline is still hightened given we have a lot of ground to cover on foot. Much to see and do!

IMAG2911IMAG2922Today starts with a group run up Panos Hill using Jeff Galloway’s run-walk-run method. Many in the group used this method for the first time on this trip. It really does cut down your overall long distance run time. I’ve used this method in training when I add miles to a long run, but have yet to use it during a race. The truth is, I’m one of those people who find it difficult to take a walk break in earnest; meaning, I tend to speed walk instead of taking a recovery walk. I’m getting there—literally and figuratively. Anyhow, up, up, up this hill we go, this time with the company of a street dog (perfect); running, walking and shooting photos. The view? Spectacular.

On our way back down the hill, the group breaks into several smaller groups and with two of my new friends, we find our way down an unbeaten path. Okay, we’re lost. Realizing our [ahem] “detour,” we link up with a local runner who guides us back to our hotel. Just enough time to eat breakfast and shower (almost simultaneously) and hop on the bus to head into downtown Athens.

The intent is to hit the plaka, buy final souvenirs, have lunch and get back to the hotel to pack for the journey home. The group votes to make a side trip back to Olympic Stadium for more commemorative photos. The flexibility of everyone is a testament to the bonding of this group—including our phenomenal bus driver. This man has driven this giant rig hundreds of miles over the course of 8+ days and our lives have been in his hands as we wind through narrow roads (sometimes wet), up and down the coast of the Aegean and Ionian Seas. The skill and patience required for this role are unique and much appreciated.

New plan: before shopping and before lunch, our honorary tour guide (and Galloway coach) offers to lead anyone who’s game to see the Church of St. George. Okay. I’m not familiar with the history of the church, but why not? I’m game.

DSC_1348DSC_1350This is the collective thought of the takers as we head toward what we soon realize is the highest point in Athens. It matters to say that the terrain (and altitude) was a surprise to most of us as some were in heels, sandals or flip flops. Neat. No problem. We manage to conquer the incline streets followed by several flights of stairs and a steep, winding, woodsy path up to this highest point in Athens. Worth it. The view is once again spectacular and the church is quaint, beautiful and amazing. I drop some coins in the donation box and light a couple of candles to accompany prayers needed back home. I’m sure this unexpected side trip is divinely led and I thank our honorary tour guide personally for his efforts.DSC_1354

Back, back, back down the hill we go. We meet up with most of the group for lunch at a designated restaurant. A well-chosen place, courtesy of our tour guide. It’s beautiful. It has areas of glass-bottom flooring showing off the excavation site below. Excellent. Warm, hearty fish soup for me and the company of fabulous people: 12 of whom now make up our official ragnar team! Go Athenians!

Back at the hotel for our last formal dinner together, we chatter, laugh, take photos and make plans for the future. Now the melancholy mood sets in as we hug farewell (not goodbye), linger and some head upstairs to pack bags and others fit in one more round of backgammon.

I’m catching the 4 a.m. tour bus to the airport to board an early flight, so crawling into bed is not really on the agenda tonight. That’s okay. No sense crying myself to sleep that I’m leaving Greece. Just keep busy and focus on future plans with my new friends and of course, a reunion tour.

ημέρα 12

Day 12 – Departure

Connecting flights of two, nine and three hours respectively get me into Phoenix not surprisingly sleepy-eyed and flat-tailed. I’ve just come off the experience of lifetime in Greece after all. This trip is now a standard by which all other trips will be judged.

Although I slept (or zombie-walked) most of the way home, I’m not oblivious to the return to reality and some of the unpleasant features of a 23-hour travel itinerary. The good, bad and ugly? Abysmal customer service at the check-in counter and destroyed luggage (Swiss Airlines) was balanced out by the remarkable flight crew of the same airline. Long delays were balanced out by warm meals (including the one my brother had for me in the car upon arrival in Phoenix), and cramped seating was balanced out by, well, a safe trip home. In the end it all balances out and the key is letting go of negative energies and harnessing positive ones.

DSC_0394

I’m not likely to forget the journey in to this experience and I’m certain I’ll forever carry the sights, sounds and tastes of my journey throughout Greece. I’ve received the gifts of great new friends, a more deeply validated spirit and renewed energy for action. This blog series, 1,000+ photos and souvenirs on my shelves may eventually get lost or fade away, but what will always remain in my heart, mind and soul is this remarkable sense of accomplishment and, of course, the Spirit of Athens. Opa!

~Θεϊκά ηγεσία (Theïká i gesía). Divinely led.~

wpid-get-attachment-2-1-1.jpg

Greek history is the inspiration for modern western culture including all sports—particularly, the marathon. The marathon starts in the epic town of Marathon and finishes in Athens adjacent to the Acropolis in the iconic marble stadium, which was built for the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Apostolos Greek Tours, Inc. is the official North American representative for the Athens Classic Marathon working in coordination with race administrators, SEGAS (hellenic amateur athletic association).
Host and Greek native, Paul Samaras, takes pride in escorting runners and sharing the Greek history and culture. His staff takes care of details so runners can relax and enjoy the marathon and Athens.
SEGAS endorses Apostolos Greek Tours to all US and Canadian runners and recommends them because they offer complete support packages exceeding all other tour companies; support which includes knowledge of Greece and the needs of runners. (http://athensmarathon.com/aboutus) 

Athens: Day 10 – Epidavros & Mycenae

December 21, 2013
by L Fitzhugh

(from the series: Opa! In the Spirit of Athens)

(DAY 10: Nov. 15. This and subsequent posts in this series are being filed ex post facto for security purposes.)

ημέρα 10

April 24! Another reason to pop that cork and cel-e-brate. It’s my name day! In Greece, name days receive more celebration than actual birthdays. Each day of the year is dedicated to a Saint (or martyr). On our bus ride to Epidavros, our tour guide goes through each one of our names to let us know what our name day is. Again, our tour guide is amazing. She’s part of our group and doesn’t just introduce us to Greece, she makes us part of her culture.

After winding through more of the country side, we stop at the site and museum of Epidavros and walk a short path to the theater, which is one of the best preserved theaters from ancient Greek times.

IMAG2889

It’s known for its perfect acoustics and ability to project sound at the same exact value from center stage out to every seat in the theater.

While we’re sure this is true, we test it out. The youngest member of our group (14) takes the stage and we occupy the theater seats from top to bottom, side to side. She sings beautifully. Pitch perfect and we take it in equally from every seat. So excellent.

IMAG2890Another group member takes the stage to recite poetry. Same beauty, same connection. Amazing. These two new friends, and all these new friends, enrich my soul as much as my long-term friends.

Into the museum we go to view all the collections from this excavation site. This stuff never gets old. Well, it’s old, but, well, you know. SEEING it … seeing it never gets old. Let’s move on.

I come to realize another reason why the feeling of this place is enriching and calming. As far back as prehistoric times, Epidavros is where Greeks went to worship the gods of healing. It was founded as the Sanctuary of Asklepios, the healing god. Maybe I’ll be able to harness healing power and bring it back home with me. Yes. A good plan and much needed.

DSC_1251On the bus to the next stop, we arrive at Mycenae, another amazing excavation site. The Mycenaean acropolis controlled the communication in all directions in 12th c B.C. My kinda place as it’s fitting of my profession. As tired as we should be, some of us walk up a winding path to the top of the structure and down the other side two or three stair flights into a dark, narrow tunnel. (Thanks goodness for my illuminated readers. I knew they’d come in handy.) At the end? DSC_1258 DSC_1262A brick wall and 8×8 mud pit. Was this sealed up? Was it a dumping ground for something sinister? The actual tomb of Agamemnon? Was there a treasure behind the wall? Not sure. (… not listening … taking photos …) Back up into the light we go. It wasn’t about arriving and finding; it was about the journey and stepping into the unknown. Adventure! Well worth it. Thanks, honorary tour guide.

Lunch! Famished and late in the afternoon, part of the discussion is about how Greeks eat meals later in the day than Americans. I’m guessing runners in both countries eat several times a day. NOTE TO SELF: always stash snacks. Sitting in yet another beautiful tavern, I tried my first plate of musaka! It’s built like a lasagna with potato wedges at the bottom, followed by sliced eggplant, ground beef (or lamb) and topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Basically, a hearty meat and potatoes meal with the daily allowance of veggies wedged in … and quite good! This is a ‘must cook’ when I return home.

IMAG2893Back on the bus to head ‘home’ to our original hotel in Vouliagmeni, a few more stops net more baklava, great photos of the canal and chatter about the Ragnar Relay actually coming to fruition. We stand at eight runners. Four more and we’re a team. Go Athenians!

IMAG2897Add to the net list, one of the Apostolos staff (our honorary tour guide who also works for Olympic Marathon champion, Jeff Galloway) writes up individual training programs based on each person’s goals.

Very generously, he offers up guidance and advice for me to stay on track for half marathons, another full marathon and the ragnar. So very much appreciated.

Finally back in Vouliagmeni, the last activities on today’s agenda include checking back in (new room assignment … yay) and hardcore sleeping. Tomorrow is a full day on the plaka for final souvenir shopping. (Gotta rest up for this new Olympic event.) So I take the memories and feelings captured from the day, excursion and entire trip and forever meld them into my soul … unless, they were already there.

~Γλυκά όνειρα (Glyká óneira). Sweet dreams.~

wpid-get-attachment-2-1-1.jpg

Greek history is the inspiration for modern western culture including all sports—particularly, the marathon. The marathon starts in the epic town of Marathon and finishes in Athens adjacent to the Acropolis in the iconic marble stadium, which was built for the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Apostolos Greek Tours, Inc. is the official North American representative for the Athens Classic Marathon working in coordination with race administrators, SEGAS (hellenic amateur athletic association).
Host and Greek native, Paul Samaras, takes pride in escorting runners and sharing the Greek history and culture. His staff takes care of details so runners can relax and enjoy the marathon and Athens.
SEGAS endorses Apostolos Greek Tours to all US and Canadian runners and recommends them because they offer complete support packages exceeding all other tour companies; support which includes knowledge of Greece and the needs of runners. (http://athensmarathon.com/aboutus)

 

Athens: Day 9 – Ancient Olympia

December 20, 2013
by L Fitzhugh

(from the series: Opa! In the Spirit of Athens)

(DAY 9: Nov. 14. This and subsequent posts in this series are being filed ex post facto for security purposes.)

ημέρα 9

Arch Site Sign

I love archeological excavation sites. Uncovering clues and piecing together stories. Making sense of mystery. Determining myth versus fact. Plus, it just looks so excellent.

Today we start out at the muddy dig at the Sanctuary at Olympia watching grounds keepers pump water out of the ruins after heavy rains the night before. Even this looks pretty nifty. Walking on (“… and we’re walking …”) to more structures, pillars and historical markers, I take in as much of the verbal presentation as possible, but I can’t stay in earshot of our phenomenal tour guide AND take in all the potential photos at the same time.

I vacillate between stimuli to capture maximum information. Too highfalutin wordy? How’s this: I listen, shoot, breathe, smile and repeat. Yep. Everything is still amazing and pictures of pillars and columns never get old.

DSC_1166

I will say, the structures on site here—and the site itself—have a bit of an eerie feel. These grounds were the center for major religious, cultural and sporting attractions. I can only imagine because there was so much vulnerable expression of the the collective spirit that much of it still remains and can be felt in modern times. I sure feel it.

2013-11-14 04.20.27

Winding our way through the site, we arrive upon what would become an unexpected thrill. The stadium. Through a stone arch is a long stretch of dirt and gravel track flanked by sloping 2013-11-14 04.23.31Stadium Rungreen sidelines. No seats as spectators stood to watch the athletics and foot races on this course: and WE ARE UP! Our tour group, side by side at the starting line (some of us barefoot to be authentic), takes off running where ancient Greeks competed at the birth of the Olympics in 8th c B.C. Excellent. That’s only half the thrill. Running with friends was the unexpected highlight! Not training, not participating in a scheduled race; I mean all out, throw down,  running and laughing like kids at recess. I highly recommend at any given moment, challenging the person standing next to you to a foot race. Choose an end point and just taking off running, yelling and laughing. Totally worth minor injury.

Now inside the museum, the experience is much the same (less the foot race). More ancient  pieces from historical events and figures. Listen, shoot, breathe, smile and repeat. Showcases and objects, pottery and sculptures; they’re laid out in succession from Late Neolithic, Mycenaean and  Classical  periods and more. 2013-11-14 05.43.25The Helmut of Militiades, the ivory statue of Zeus, the god carrying the infant Dionysos … huh … so much … huh … to take … huh … in. Admittedly, I’m a bit frustrated that there is simply not enough time to take it all in during our visit. I could spend all day here … but not all night. Again this museum has the same eerie feel as the site. (The movie Night at the Museum comes to mind.)

Infant Dionysos

After an interesting lunch in the neighboring tavern (interesting because it included indoor birds fluttering about, hairs in the musaka, a broken camera and a reading of coffee grounds), we head back to the hotel and stroll the village for souvenirs and culture. Idea: souvenir shopping as an Olympic event. Hmmm, it certainly takes fortitude and focus. Anyhow, lots of great finds, decent prices and price haggling make going beyond my thin budget well worth it. After all, I’m in love with Greece.

The evening ends with lazy fireside chats, viewing marathon photos online, competitive backgammon and repacking for the rest of the three-day excursion.

~Τρελός Ελλάδα αγάπη (Trelós Elláda agáp). Mad Greece love.~

wpid-get-attachment-2-1-1.jpg

Greek history is the inspiration for modern western culture including all sports—particularly, the marathon. The marathon starts in the epic town of Marathon and finishes in Athens adjacent to the Acropolis in the iconic marble stadium, which was built for the first modern Olympics in 1896.
Apostolos Greek Tours, Inc. is the official North American representative for the Athens Classic Marathon working in coordination with race administrators, SEGAS (hellenic amateur athletic association).
Host and Greek native, Paul Samaras, takes pride in escorting runners and sharing the Greek history and culture. His staff takes care of details so runners can relax and enjoy the marathon and Athens.
SEGAS endorses Apostolos Greek Tours to all US and Canadian runners and recommends them because they offer complete support packages exceeding all other tour companies; support which includes knowledge of Greece and the needs of runners. (http://athensmarathon.com/aboutus)