Jan 262017
 

Knossos—or Knosos, what with flexible Greek spelling—is to Crete as Denali is to Alaska: the #1 tourist attraction, the must-see, the favorite, the most talked about and promoted.

Ruins and restorations, Knossos, Crete - Jen Funk Weber

Ruins and restorations of the Ancient Palace at Knossos

Minoans and Mycenaeans

Knossos is an ancient Minoan palace site that dates back over 4,000 years. The Minoans are considered the first European civilization, and they ruled the Aegean area for 550 years during the Bronze Age, trading far and wide, and spreading their influence.

In mythology, Knossos was the seat of King Minos. Daedalus built his labyrinth here beneath the palace, and a Minotaur hunted the people who got lost inside. Eventually, Theseus killed the dreaded Minotaur and found his way out with the help of a string.

In history, the “First Palace Period” in Knossos started around 2,000 BC, and some of the ruins at Knossos date all the way back to this time. In the mid-1700s BC, an earthquake destroyed the original palace, but it was rebuilt bigger and better shortly thereafter in what is now called the “Second Palace Period.” Clever names, no?

After 1500 BC, the second palace on the site was partially destroyed, but stayed in use for another 50 years, when it finally burned and crumbled. We always have a little trouble comprehending how rock structures burn, but the ceilings tend to be wood, so in the end, I guess it makes sense.

Gypsum, Knossos, Crete

Weathered gypsum

Here is yet another example of new being built on top of old; although, the “new” in this case is more than 3,700 years old.

The Minoans reigned at Knossos until about 1450 BC when Mycenaeans from the mainland took over. Remember all that Mycenaean gold from the National Museum? Those people. I’m not sure anyone knows exactly what happened to create this change: disease, war, natural disaster, something else.

The Knossos palace included private royal quarters, public meeting rooms, shrines, workshops, and storerooms, all surrounding a large central court.

Excavation at Knossos

Heinrich Schliemann (we talked about him finding the Mask of Agamemnon) was convinced that Knossos held an important ancient Minoan palace, but he died before being able to excavate. Sir Arthur Evans, who had visited Schliemann’s other sites, enthusiastically picked up the Knossos reigns after Schliemann’s death, and shortly after Turkish rule of Crete ended in 1897, he got to work.

Born into a wealthy British family, educated at Oxford, and employed by the prestigious Ashmolean Museum, Evans purchased the farmland above and around Knossos and spent 250,000 pounds of his family’s money to excavate it.

Dear Mom and Dad, will you please buy me an archaeological site and then fund the excavation?

Beginning in 1900, Evans spent 30 years excavating and restoring Knossos.

Yes, restoring. Hmmm.

Some think Arthur Evans over-reached, letting his imagination run riot and then imposing the results on history. Others think his restorations make the site more interesting and accessible to visitors, helping them to imagine what might have been.

I’ll show you some of what we saw, and you can decide what you think.

The Entrance

Knossos entrance, Crete

Knossos entrance, Crete

Entering a site always excites me, the anticipation of discovering something new and making new connections. Memories of Pompeii invariably spring to mind, probably because it’s a favorite for me and is the bar by which all other visits back into history are measured.

Kouloures, grain storage pits, and Signature silhouette, Knossos, Crete

Kouloures, grain storage. Look, Lexi: A hole with steps down into it!

These kouloures (granaries) seem to be outside the palace, and I’m curious as to why. Maybe this was grain for people who lived outside the palace complex. Maybe it was grain for animals that lived in the fields surrounding the palace. Or maybe this is where grain was collected from surrounding farms, perhaps part of a tax system.

Arthur Evans got to contemplate this stuff.

Pottery

The ubiquitous clay pots:

Pithoi, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Clay pithoi or vessels of another name

Giant pithoi, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Giant pithoi

But look at those giant ones. How heavy do you think those are? Can you imagine moving one? Well, that’s what all those handles around the outside are for. They used some sort of pulley or crane system to hoist those puppies. Ancient engineering.

Arthur Evans’s Restorations

Wall with Wood Beams

Arthur Evans imagined what the different parts of the palace complex were, based on the clues present, and he hired craftsmen to restore various parts. This, I think, is just a random wall.

Wall restoration, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Wall restoration. Note the wood beams.

Wood-grain fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Those wood beams are frescoes.

Now, my question is were the original palace walls painted to look like wood beams, or were there real wood beams in the walls? Did Arthur Evans know, or is he making this up? It bugs me that I don’t know what’s real and what’s made up here.

I remember a church in Italy where the interior was a giant fresco of brickwork. Um, if you want the church interior to look like brickwork, why not build with bricks and save yourself heaps of trouble?

The “Throne Room”

Throne room, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The “Throne Room”

We saw and discussed this room in our class, along with other parts of this site. While it does contain a stone seat that looks like a throne, it’s a small room, not easily accessed, and the throne faces a wall. The course instructor and I both think Arthur Evans was wrong about how this space was used.

Stairs

Stairs, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Restored stairs

Ancient people understood that building up was more efficient than building out, and most of these ruins that we see were multi-story complexes. They had to have a lot of stairs. For a reason I don’t fully understand, I find stairs at these sites exciting, perhaps because they suggest more. Whenever possible, I climb the stairs. They’re usually narrow and irregular. Sometimes they’re noticeably worn; those are my favorites. (I’m thinking of worn stairs at Pompeii and the Colosseum.) I always want to know where the steps went, what was at the top or bottom.

Brightly Painted Frescoes and Pillars

South portico, Procession fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Procession fresco, south portico

Charging-bull fresco, North Entrance, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Charging-bull fresco, North entrance

Most ruins are simply the natural color of the stone, the paint washed away by rain or faded by sun, but in the heyday of the palaces, bright colors prevailed. The restored areas remind us of this.

And they’re a little jarring, too, since they don’t blend with the rest of the site.

Horns of Consecration

Horns of Consecration, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Mike, get your hand off the Horns of Consecration!

This U-shaped statue, a limestone replica in this case, was a popular architectural design and motif in both Minoan and Mycenaean culture. Arthur Evans labeled this shape the “Horns of Consecration,” believing they represent bulls’ horns, since bulls also feature prominently in art and symbols of the time. Check out the fresco above—a bull. There’s another below.

It really looks like Mike’s touching the stone, doesn’t it? Good job, Barb! (She took the picture.)

North Entrance and Theater

Theater area, Royal road, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Theater area near the North Entrance

This theater area is my favorite part of the site. Look how warped the surfaces are; that’s one of the things I especially like. Now turn around, and you see this:

Royal road, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

The Royal Road to the North entrance

Beautiful! Evans decided this was the “Royal Road.” I like it enough that I can get on board that name. The road was restored to some extent, with new rocks laid, but it’s easy to imagine it as the original. The restored parts don’t call attention to themselves like the brightly painted columns and frescoes here or the bright white marble on the Temple of Athena Nike or the Parthenon.

Central Court from Theater, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Looking toward the central court from the theater

Don’t you love Barb’s blue coat in this picture?

Favorite Restored Frescoes

We had a couple of rain showers today, but the site offers several covered areas that provided excellent shelter. We spent some time in the Fresco Room, and so I made everyone pick a favorite fresco. Well, I made Mike and Barb pick favorites; I did not make the three twenty-something visitors taking a tour do it.

Mike

Bull-dancing fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Bull-dancing fresco

Mike’s favorite fresco. “Bull dancing” was a real thing. Athletes would vault over bulls in daring acts of grace and strength. I’d kind of like to see this, provided the bulls didn’t mind.

Barb

Ladies Under Trees Fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ladies Under Trees fresco

Female-heads fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Close-up of above fresco. Look at all those profiles.

Barb’s favorite fresco. She likes the ladies sitting under the trees. I love all those heads; although, I think it’s a rather strange design overall.

Jen

Ladies in Blue fresco, Knossos, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Ladies in Blue fresco

My favorite. These Greek ladies remind me of characters in Disney’s Hercules movie. The Disney folks do their research, of course. I just think they’re pretty; I love the dark, wavy, bejeweled hair.

Pro- or Anti-Restorations?

As much as I would love to see a site like Knossos in its colorful, multi-storied (literally and figuratively) heyday, I don’t like the restorations. I feel suspicious; skeptical of Evans’s interpretation; unsure of what is original, what is a replica of an original, and what is wholly of Evans’s imagination. Instead of drawing me into the site, it distances me from it.

I would prefer an Evans version next door to the original so that I can interpret and imagine the original myself. By imposing himself on the site, he deprives me of that pleasure.

But what do you think?

Jan 242017
 

Our short stay in Athens is over, and we’re off to Crete.

A travel day makes for a blog post about nothing, but if Seinfeld can produce a show about nothing for 10 years, surely I can do it for one measly post. Right?

We got up and at ‘em to enjoy yet another stroll on the promenade below the Acropolis, get a few more photos of the Areopagos and the mosaic pathway to the Bombadier Church, and buy stamps and send a couple of postcards. Then we lugged our bags to the Metro, through two airports, and to the rental-car office on Crete. Actually, we all have one checked bag, small enough to carry on when needed, and one personal bag. That’s it. The lugging is pretty easy.

Promenade, Athens, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Walking the promenade around the Acropolis

The traveling was easy, too; the checking in, passing through security, waiting, boarding, deplaning, and retrieving luggage all went smoothly. The only hiccup was a trio of large, loud, perhaps Russian men (I stink at identifying accents) who happened to have seats right behind us. They made the flight significantly less fun by pushing and pulling on our seats, using their electronic devices while we were landing despite being asked not to do so, and bolting out to the aisle as soon as we touched down, thinking they could somehow be the first ones off, despite being toward the back of the plane. Eventually, they resumed sitting, which required yet another round of pushing and pulling on our seats. Oh, and they needed help finding their seats to begin with; it was as though they’d never flown before, and perhaps they hadn’t. Even so, what’s up with not being aware of your surroundings and your impact on the humans around you? It was like sitting in front of four year olds but far less forgivable.

Olive trees on Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Sneak peek: Coast-to-coast olive trees. I will never think of Crete without also thinking of olives.

Getting our car and getting on the road was a snap. Things only got tricky when we got in the vicinity of our apartment. At that point, the GPS panicked and Mike was never able to calm it down or persuade it to cooperate. We had an address, but it meant nothing to the GPS, and of course the roads were not signed. (Hey, Greece, what’s up with that? You’ve had over 4,000 years of civilization here!) And we never did get a Greece SIM card for our phone. Ahem. Yeah, that one’s on us. (For the record, we have one now and haven’t used the ding-dong phone once. Theresa, I’m looking at you!)

Gortys amphitheater, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Sneak peek: A favorite ancient amphitheater, and another unexpectedly wonderful site

We summoned our traveler superpowers: Barb, behind the wheel, kept us safe while making last-minute turns when the GPS up and changed its mind, or when backing up to try a road we’d passed. Mike racked his brain and shared all the info he’d gathered in communications with the home owner and in studying maps beforehand. Somehow, he had a sense of where the building should be—a skill like magic that boggles my mind—and he’s the GPS wrangler and tamer, putting that zoology degree to good use, after all. I glommed onto his comment that the building was white with blue trim, and I craned to search each street we passed, noting other landmarks, as well.

On only the third or fourth pass through the neighborhood, I spied a tiny glimpse of a white and blue building two blocks over. Given that those are traditional house colors here in Greece, it’s surprising there weren’t many more such buildings, but it was the only one. I even noted and remembered how to get back to it based on a peculiar jog in a road.

One more lap and, bing-bang-boom, we were home. The home owner was waiting and came out to greet us.

Snow on Mt. Idi, Crete, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Sneak peek of a peak. Check it out: There’s snow on Crete!

Following the apartment owner’s directions to non-tourist grocery stores, we walked a few blocks to gather dinner supplies. These roads are not really made for walking, but we managed, single file, keeping alert. We visited two stores across the street from each other. In Athens, both products and signs offered English alternatives. Here, not so much. It was all Greek. I love that! We had to sound out words to see if we recognized them, and when we didn’t, we had to guess. That’s adventure shopping!

All right, Crete, let’s see what you’ve got.

Travel-Day Favorites

Barb: Olympic Airlines’ stewardess’s outfits. The word “stewardess” is deliberate; these looked like 1950s or 60s uniforms, with a lovely, elegant hat. All the women wore their hair pulled back in a low bun to accommodate the hat. We wondered if some of the buns were, in fact, fake. Did all those women really have long, bun-able hair?
Mike: Finding the apartment in the warren of houses.
Jen: Grocery shopping in a non-touristy Greek grocery, with little English on products or signs.

Jan 142017
 

With “10 Things” being one of my journal games during this trip, of course Mike, Barb, and I came up with a collective 10 Favorite Things from the National Archaeological Museum.

First, though, we had to get to the museum, which proved harder than we expected, despite our preparations and familiarity with the Metro system. I did not anticipate needing the exact amount for our tickets in coins. Bills? Not an option. Credit card? No good. Only one out of four ticket machines worked.

I wasn’t keen to haul around a pocket full of heavy coins all day at the museum—one- and two-euro coins have some weight to them—so I’d left most change at home. Mike hustled back to the apartment to get what we needed.

The rest of the Metro experience was uneventful until the trip home when the cars were packed like those in Tokyo during rush hour. That wasn’t fun, but we got where we needed to go.

So . . . our ten favorite things at the National Archaeological Museum, in no particular order.

1. Schnozzes on cartoony Mycenaean warriors

Mycenean Warriors, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Fresco of Mycenaean Warriors. Are those colanders on their heads?

Mycenaean Profiles, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Gold charms of Mycenaean Men

Do these feel modern or what? This style feels contemporary to me, and how interesting that caricatures were an ancient thing just as they are a contemporary thing. Part of me thinks, “well, du-uh, it’s a natural human perspective,” and still another part is amazed at the connection we humans, specifically I, have with people who lived so long ago. In a world where Everything Changes, this feels like evidence to the contrary.

2. Reading stories on vases

Story Vases 2, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Pictures on vases tell stories

Story Vases, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

A story of the University crew team, perhaps?

Sometimes I recognize the stories depicted on vases, but I confess I don’t recognize these. Oh, Ba-arb! Do you know them?

Even without recognizing a scene, it’s easy and fun to make up my own. These are scenes that are familiar to people of that time, and that’s revealing.

3. Sounding out Greek Words

Sounding out Greek Words, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

Yes, this has the English right below the Greek, but not all signs do, and I tend to try the Greek first. This was one I got from the Greek alone (a different sign). This is the name of the Metro station where we exited.

Just as speaking Spanish was a highlight of visiting Isla Isabela in the Galapagos, sounding out Greek words and actually recognizing some and thus making connections with those words is huge fun for me.

None of us took a picture of the sign in the museum, but we all stood looking at a display, figuring out what it was, noticing the details. I sounded out the sign, Óμηροσ. O – m – e – r – o – s. That little symbol with the first O throws an H sound in, so Ho – m – e – r – o – s. Hearing me, Mike made the connection: Homer! The pieces snapped together. It was a display of The Odyssey.

Nope, this puzzle-solving never gets old.

4. Jockey of Artemision

Jockey of Artemision, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Jockey of Artemision

Few Hellenistic bronze statues remain today, as many were melted down during invasions, presumably to make armor and weapons. This one, however, was lost at sea, a victim of an ancient shipwreck. Archaeologists recovered it after its discovery in 1926.

Did you know that underwater archaeology is a career option? The professor of two courses we watched before coming to Greece—John Hale, PhD.—is, in fact, an underwater archaeologist.

Can I have a career do-over?

5. Giant painted vases

Giant painted vases, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Imagine the genie that could live in this!

Does anyone else want one or more of these? I want them in my yard and garden where I can plant things in and around them.

6. Mycenaean gold

More Mycenean Gold, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean gold

Mycenean Gold, National Archeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean gold jewelry

Ohmygoodness, the quantity of gold in this museum is mind boggling. We strolled past case after case of gold ornaments. Once again, I’m fascinated that ancient people were into the same precious metal that so many people today are. That shared feeling makes for a strong sense of connection.

Do we know how they mined and purified it? I should look that up.

7. Mask of Agamemnon

Mask of Agamemnon, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mask of Agamemnon. No, that’s not a blue mustache; that’s a glare.

This is a funeral mask, but it isn’t really the mask of Agamemnon; Heinrich Schliemann just hoped it was, and the name stuck. Modern archaeological research indicates the mask is from 1550–1500 BCE, which is well before Agamemnon’s time. Some scientists even wonder if this might not be a fake, given the differences between it and others found at the site. A few suggest that the mask, with its mustache and beard, looks like Schliemann.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822–1890) was a wealthy German businessman turned archaeologist, enamored of Homer’s stories and determined to prove the historical nature of them. His primary focus was on discovering Troy, but he excavated in Mycenae, as well, where stories say Agamemnon was king. This is confirmation bias in action: Schliemann interpreted the mask as evidence that the theory he wanted to be true was, in fact, true.

He was wrong.

Here are a couple of funeral masks that aren’t so controversial.

Mycenaean Funeral Mask, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Funeral Mask, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Funeral Mask 2, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Funeral Mask 2, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Barb suggested that the lines on the eyes may indicate the lids were sewn shut. I wonder if those might just represent eyelashes. Whatever they are, I like them better than the eyes without lines in the other mask.

8. Youth of Antikythera

Youth of Antikythira, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Youth of Antikythera bronze statue

We originally thought this was Perseus holding a now-missing Medusa head in his outstretched hand. The Museum calls it simply “Antikythera Youth.”

Sponge divers seeking refuge during a storm discovered the “Antikythera shipwreck” off the coast of the island of Antikythera in 1900. That year, apparently, archaeologists recovered this statue, among other things.

Over the years, archaeologists recovered more and more artifacts from the site, including the Antikythera Mechanism, which is a crazy-complex thing that we learned about in one of our courses. Some scientists consider it the first computer.

The site sat idle for about 40 years, and then in 2014 new investigations began. In August of this year, divers discovered a skeleton which they hope might still contain DNA. Not much is known about this shipwreck, and researchers are excited to see what else they can discover and learn. So am I!

How exciting that this statue is related to fascinating discoveries being made Right Now!

9. Bull and Lion Rhyta

Bull Rhyton, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Bull Rhyton

Lion Rhyton, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Lion Rhyton

A rhyton is a conical vessel used for pouring or drinking liquids. They’re pitchers! Sometimes they’re fancy for ceremonies; sometimes they’re everyday table vessels.

10. Zeus Throwing Thunderbolt

Zeus Throwing Thunderbolt, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Zeus throwing a thunderbolt. Or Poseidon with his trident. You decide.

There is debate whether this is Zeus throwing a thunderbolt or Poseidon with his trident. The weapon, you see, is lost.

I’m calling him Zeus.

Mike thinks he’s wonderfully well-proportioned, but I think his arms are disproportionately long.

An Impromptu Dinner Out

Walking home from the Metro, we stopped in the little three-aisle market to pick up some food. On the way home, however, a tiny cafe caught our eyes. The young, friendly cook/server (who turned out to be working for her mother-in-law) invited us to look at the dishes on offer, explaining what each was. We up and decided to sit down at one of the six or so tables. We gobbled down moussaka, spinach crepes, stuffed chicken and potatoes, and two Greek salads. And I do mean gobbled. Perhaps we haven’t been eating as well as I think we have been.

Jan 072017
 

Never mind that the New Acropolis Museum opened in 2009; I suspect it will be called “new” indefinitely.

In case you missed it: We had the Kerameikos site in the morning and the stadium, National Garden, and changing of the comically clad guard in the afternoon. That evening, we explored the New Acropolis Museum.

Out with the Old Acropolis Museum

The previous museum was itty-bitty, situated up beside the Parthenon. People complained it didn’t do justice to the art and artifacts it contained. Having seen the building, I can’t disagree.

The nearly all-glass New Acropolis Museum, with views of the Acropolis through its windows, is beautiful and inviting, inside and out. It is built above the excavation of an early Christian site, and glass floors allow us to look down into the site, which wonderfully and concretely demonstrates how the land we’re walking on in Athens might be sitting on ancient ruins. It’s a bizarre feeling and idea to wrap one’s head around. I think that probably stands out more for young-landers like Americans than old-lander Europeans.

None of us took a picture of that, unfortunately. Some excuses might include the following:

  • it was nighttime and dark, so the exterior pictures might not have been great
  • we were not allowed to photograph certain parts of the museum, and that can be confusing and discouraging

I didn’t say they were good excuses.

Parthenon Friezes

Inside the museum, the top floor contains the friezes that were originally on the cella of the Parthenon. That’s an interior section of the building, so these shouldn’t have been weathered so much as the friezes on the outside. The way they are displayed in the museum mimics the way they were displayed on the Parthenon: around the interior court, facing outward, and in the same order. They make up a continuous scene depicting the Panathenaic procession, when the city presented the statue of Athena with that year’s peplos.

Parthenon Frieze: Leading a Sacrificial Bull - Jen Funk Weber

Leading a sacrificial bull during the Panathenaic Procession. Methinks the bull is wise to the plan for his future.

Slaves riding chariot horses, Panathenaic procession - Jen Funk Weber

Slaves riding chariot horses during the Panathenaic Procession

The designer left blank spaces between the bits in the museum collection to make a statement and, with luck, to have those spaces filled with the parts that belong there.

The Elgin Marbles

Between 1801 and 1803, Lord Elgin of England removed a bunch of friezes from Turkish-occupied Athens and later sold them to the British Museum, where they remain today as the “Elgin Marbles.” Greece wants them back. They’re hoping that visitors to the New Acropolis Museum will help put pressure on England to return them.

My opinion: An argument can be made that Lord Elgin and England helped save and preserve the pieces, and I’m grateful for that, but I think it’s time they go home to Greece. If nothing else, the British Museum should be leasing the artifacts so that Greece benefits financially. I’ve not heard the latter suggested anywhere; I’m making that up, but it seems reasonable to me. Greece should benefit somehow, and dog knows they need the money. Sorry, Lord Elgin, it’s time to lose your marbles.

The majority of the pieces are at the British Museum. The New Acropolis Museum has the next largest collection, and other bits are in six other museums or locations.

Parthenon Metopes

On the outside of the Parthenon, above the columns, were sculpted metopes depicting myths. Originally, 92 plaques decorated the building. Many were destroyed (like when the Turks chose to house munitions here, using the historical monument as a shield, and Venetians bombed it anyway); some are in the British Museum and elsewhere; some are here.

Centauromachy - Jen Funk Weber

Centaur battling a Lapith man

This is a centaur battling a Lapith during the wedding feast of one of Theseus’s friends.

The pediments on the Parthenon exterior also depicted myths. Some original bits remain, but these are miniature replicas. You’ll have to click on the pictures to see them at a decent size. Use your “back” button to return here.

Parthenon pediment replica - Jen Funk Weber

Parthenon pediment. Who or what do you recognize here?

Parthenon pediment replica - Jen Funk Weber

The pediment from the other end of the Parthenon

What characters and stories can you identify here? Tell us in the comments.

Caryatids

The original caryatids from the Erechtehion now live in the museum.

Caryatids from the Erechtheion, New Acropolis Museum - Jen Funk Weber

Caryatids from the Erechtheion, New Acropolis Museum

Caryatid back, New Acropolis Museum - Jen Funk Weber

Caryatid back side. Love the hair.

I like the hair and flowing robes, and that these are actually columns that once held up a building. You go, girls! These caryatids are all similar; I prefer it when they’re all different, as they sometimes are.

My Favorite Display at the New Acropolis Museum

I loved seeing the above artifacts, both the weathered originals and the replicas.

And then I came to a display that I initially thought out of place. Honestly, my gut reaction was not favorable. Bad, judgemental gut!

But then I looked closely, and I changed my mind completely. When Barb, Mike, and I chose our favorites for the day, I chose this:

The Lego Acropolis

Lego Acropolis, Erechtheion side - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Acropolis, Erechtheion side

Lego Acropolis, Odeon side - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Acropolis, Odeon side

The accuracy of this is impressive. All the ruins are there, along with structures that once were but are no longer, like the stoa.

Lego Acropolis Stoa - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Acropolis Stoa

Let’s look at some of the details.

Lego Athena and Poseidon - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Athena and Poseidon

This is outside the Erechtheion. That’s Athena and Poseidon battling for Athens. Poseidon brings forth a spring (the blue thing between them) with his trident, but it turns out to be salty. Athena offers an olive tree (the green thing in front of them and in her hand). Athena wins. Who wants a salty spring?

The display is full of such details, some myth, some history, some modern, some silly.

Lego Odeon of Herodes Atticus concert - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Odeon of Herodes Atticus concert

This is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Concerts are played here still. This Lego version nails the ruins and includes the modern lights used now.

Let’s zoom in.

Lego Elton John - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Elton John

Recognize that famous Lego entertainer, who probably plays that piano?

That’s Lego Elton John. This is historically accurate: He really played at the Odeon.

What do you see here?

Lego Theater of Dionysus, Acropolis - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Theater of Dionysus, Acropolis

That’s the Theater of Dionysus.

Lego Oedipus Rex, Acropolis Museum - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Oedipus Rex, Acropolis Museum

A play is being performed. Someone is lying dead on the stage. Those red circles are blood.

Another character is pointing a sword at his own eye, and he’s got blood on him, too.

Yep, this is Oedipus Rex being performed. Oedipus has killed his father, married his mother, and he’s now putting out his own eyes.

One more . . .

Lego Story of Theseus - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Story of Theseus

I don’t recall what the building is, but I recognize the story being depicted in it. Do you?

That is Theseus carrying the string that helps him find his way out of the labyrinth after he kills the minotaur.

I didn’t take a picture of it, but I’m pretty sure I saw a Star Wars vignette somewhere, too. I’ve never seen Star Wars, so the joke may have gone over my head, but I recognized the characters. Wrong! It was Gandalf from Lord of the Rings! Gandalf, Darth Vader . . . they look a lot alike . . . I mean, the differences are hardly black and white. Ahem. I do know the LOTR story. Anyhoo, I was so excited, jumping from detail to detail that I neglected to get a picture of it. I guess that means you’ll have to go see it for yourself.

Lego Certified Professional, Ryan McNaught, Acropolis Museum

Well done, Ryan!

Super fun display!

Legos and ancient Greek sculptures side-by-side. This stuff—archaeology, art, history, myth—is accessible to all. It all snaps together to build an experience, a concept of history, and some sort of understanding.

Well done, Ryan McNaught, Lego, and New Acropolis Museum.

Jan 052017
 

We interrupt our irregularly scheduled linear blog-post program to bring you a real-time event that we found particularly fun. Just keeping you on your toes. Jump ahead to the island of Leros where we are currently staying.

Walking on Leros, in Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Waddaya say we go for a walk?

When Barb was here and we had the rental car, we tried to find a chapel called Aghios Petros. (We say EYE-yohs PET-rohs, but do you really want to take our word for it?) Despite Mike’s best navigational efforts, we wound up dead-ending in someone’s driveway then having to back up the steep and narrow “road” that got us into the mess. We backed into a driveway, where 30 seconds earlier an old Greek woman had looked quizzically at us as we proceeded to drive down to her neighbor’s house.

She chuckled. “Aghios Petros?” we asked. She didn’t speak English, but nodded and gestured “over there.”

We didn’t like the looks of the road over there, which was equally narrow but extra rough and rocky, so we decided to skip it for the time being. We’d been doing and seeing plenty already.

Today, carless, Mike and I decided to have another crack at it. Our feet can go loads of places a rental car can’t.

We took a new road through town (after passing it and then backtracking), past the hospital, and up through a residential area. The road was narrow—huh, fancy that—with houses that came smack up against it.

Imagine this: You stick your arm out of a window in a house and get your hand run over by a car. Seriously. There are houses with windows where that’s possible. I find this bizarre. My house is in the middle of 17 acres, and that’s barely enough elbow room for me.

Wildlife!

In a small field in the residential area, we spotted a tiny Athena’s owl, a.k.a. a little owl, perched on a rock, soaking up the sun.

Little Owl on Leros, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Little owl on Leros

Little Owl on Leros, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Is that gorgeous or what? I love owls.

Cool! What a fun way to start the day.

Finding Our Way

Mike referenced his map over and over, trying to make the roads we were on match the little white and yellow lines, but that is crazy hard to do. It’s a simple, basic map, and many roads are not recorded on it. In addition, there are no signs or street names on either the map or the roads. What’s worse, it’s impossible to tell a secondary road from a tertiary road from a private road from a driveway. There’s a lot of guesswork involved, as well as backtracking and changing plans—”well, that didn’t work, so let’s go here instead.”

What kind of road is this? Leros - Jen Funk Weber

You tell me: public road, private road, or driveway? (Correct answer: public road)

Soon we were out of the residential area. We walked over a hill and found ourselves in a tiny pine forest where houses had yards, gardens, orchards, goat pens, and chicken coops. The road turned to gravel and split a few times. We tried to stay on the main road, but see the previous paragraph.

End of pavement, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Looking back at where the pavement ends. We’re leaving suburbia and heading into rural Leros.

Rural Leros

We walked through what felt like an exterior version of a farmer’s living room, greeted by his dogs, not completely sure whether we were still on the road or if this was the farmer’s private road. Mike played a “plead ignorance” card; I played a “Greeks don’t care” card—both fair plays—and we kept right on going. Well, I stopped to pet the puppy.

Goats in pen, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

We’re in rural farm country now

Around a couple of bends and up another hill, we found ourselves at a crossroads, with two chapels a football field-distance apart. I suggested we go to one of the chapels and see if it had a sign that might tell us something about where we were.

Un-signed Chapels

Aghios Elias, Leros - Jen Funk Webe

We are here

No sign. No surprise.

We went in, because why not?

It contained all the usual chapel accouterments: lots of religious pictures, an altar behind curtains, candles to light, a box for coins and bills to help pay for candles and oil and wicks and upkeep.

I studied the first picture, sounding out the Greek words. P-r-o-f . . . E-l-i-as. Mike, looking at a familiar picture of a guy looking at a crow holding a cracker, heard “Elias” and said “Oh, Elijah.” When he said “Elijah,” I recognized the first Greek word as “prophet.” The clues clicked into place.

Prophet Elijah, Aghios Elias, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

I didn’t recognize the story, but I could sound out the title

Prophet Elijah, Aghios Elias, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

P-r-o-f-e-t-e-s E-l-i-a-s

Elijah and crow-with-a-cracker scene, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

The picture-story Mike saw and recognized

I suggested Mike look at the map again and see if this Aghios Elias might be on the map.

Well, what do you know: It was!

Aghios Elias, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Lighting a candle in Aghios Elias

We lit a candle for Barb, who couldn’t be there; for the Greek alphabet, and being able to sound out words; and for now knowing where we were, even if we weren’t sure how we’d gotten there.

Back on Track, Literally and Figuratively

With a bit more map study and deciding which of the four roads we were looking at wasn’t on the map, we concluded that Aghios Petros was just over another hill. The jury was still out on whether we’d found and taken the right road to this point or not.

Aghios Petros, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

On the horizon, in the center . . . that’s it!

Ding-ding-ding! We finally got it right! We found Aghios Petros, and it is now our favorite chapel on the island. This whole rural area is our favorite on the island.

Aghios Petros, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Aghios Petros on Leros

Aghios Petros, detail, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Aghios Petros

Aghios Petros interior, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Behind the curtain is an altar. This is the most brightly painted chapel we’ve seen anywhere.

We enjoyed 360-degree views, the warm temperature, and no wind. No wind! We took some time to orient ourselves (especially geographically challenged me) to the different roads and buildings we could see, recalling places we’ve been and noting places we want to go.

Gourna Bay, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Gourna Bay. Or Ghourna Bay. Or Ghournes Bay. Really. Pick one: Greeks don’t care.

Dhrymonas and Ghourna towns, Leros - Jen Funk Weber

The nearest cluster of buildings is the village of Dhrymonas, and the farther cluster is Ghourna.

Roads Less Traveled

On the way back, we discovered that we had, in fact, not been on the right road to the intersection with Aghios Elias. We may have been briefly on a farmer’s private road, after all. Or maybe it’s a public road that just isn’t on the map. Beats me.

The road we did not find with Barb

The road we did not take with Barb

Tractor on gravel road, Leros, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

This is perhaps the best vehicle for this road: a tricycle tractor. Our rental car was not like this.

The original plan had been to return the way we’d come, but with the error and a last-minute decision because the day was so nice, we wound up extending the trip and making a figure 8 loop.

Pine trees on Leros - Jen Funk Weber

Pine trees and pretty green understory

On the way through a pine forest along the coast, we crossed paths with a Greek man walking his dog. After casual greetings in both English and Greek, he asked where we were from. His English was excellent, and he was interested in talking. Turns out, he’s a retired photographer who worked for Kodak and lived in the US and UK for five and six years each. Now, he lives close to the marina in a house previously owned by his grandfather, and I have a mind to popping in on him. I’d like to learn more about him and see some of his photos.

Panorama of Dhrymonas and Ghorna, Leros, Greece - Jen Funk Weber

Click on this for a bigger view, then use our back button to return. Panorama of Gourna Bay and the villages of Dhrymonas and Ghourna.

Jan 022017
 

An Olympic Stadium

After exploring Kerameikos and grabbing some eats at home, we ventured out to the Kallimarmaro Stadium.

Kallimarmaro Stadium, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

Kallimarmaro Stadium, Athens

Kallimarmaro Stadium, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

Kallimarmaro Stadium, Athens

Athenians built this marvelous stadium in 330 BC for the Panathenaic Games. It fell into disuse for a while but was restored for the first modern Olympics in 1896. Restored again in 2004, it hosted the finish for the Olympic marathon as well as archery events.

Kallimarmaro Stadium, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

Sleek marble stadium seats

“Kallimarmaro” means “beautiful marble.”

Those sleek marble seats look beautiful, but my bony bum hurts just looking at them. I wonder how many people come with cushions. I wonder if there’s a cushion vendor at events. Now there’s a capital idea!

National Gardens

Next, we wandered through the National Gardens en route to the parliament building. We stopped to enjoy a pond with loads of ducks and a single black swan.

Black Swan

Black swan

Love the classical architecture of what I can only imagine is shelter for the ducks.

Classical architecture for duck housing

Classical architecture for duck housing

Then we found a busy turtle pond with some entertaining acrobatic turtles.

Turtle at Nation Garden, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

A turtle in the National Garden in Athens

Turtle at Nation Garden, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

“It’s turtles all the way down.”

We discovered some interesting trees that I dubbed “dead-elephant” trees because the giant, sprawling, gray bases make it look as though the trees are growing out of dead elephants.

Dead-Elephant Tree

Dead-Elephant Tree

Elephant skin?

Elephant skin?

Real name of Dead-Elephant Tree

Real name of Dead-Elephant Tree

Familiar Books . . . in Greek

Nearing the parliament building, we passed some tables with books for sale and spotted some familiar kids’ books with Greek covers. That was fun!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, in GreekDiary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, in Greek

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, in Greek, and beside it Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Mike figured out the Harry Potter title by sounding out the Greek for “Harry Potter.” Note that the Greek version of J. K. Rowling uses as TZ for the first initial. There is no J in Greek.

I’m so glad we learned the Greek alphabet and some pronunciation. We’ve had a heap of fun and enjoyed a lot of surprises because of it.

The Fault in Our Stars, in Greek

The Fault in Our Stars, in Greek

Evzones and the Changing of the Guard

And then we arrived at the parliament building for the changing of the Presidential Guards.

Oy.

I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be some solemn event, but I can muster no solemnity. It strikes me as Disney-style entertainment.

Members of the Presidential Guard, the Evzones, are a special unit of the Hellenic Army that guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. These guys are supposed to be symbols of bravery and courage.

Greek Evzones in Athens

Evzones: the embodiment of Greek bravery and courage

Remember the flag raisers at the Acropolis? That’s another duty of this special military unit.

Okay, I will admit to generally being unimpressed with ritual and symbolism. In fact, I suppose my inclination when it comes to rituals is to muck them up, whether that means simply foregoing them, refusing to do them, questioning why anyone does them, mocking them, or something else. I tend to think the importance assigned to rituals and symbols is overblown and even silly.

But I was curious nonetheless, and I wanted to see it—especially after seeing the traditional uniform in the guidebook, which gave me the giggles.

I was not disappointed: It looked just as funny in person! I think there are three official uniforms, maybe more. We saw the winter every-day one. The fancy ones are used for special events and on Sundays at 11, I understand. You know, because Sundays . . . and eleven. What better reasons could we possibly need for making that occasion special?

Evzones Presidential Guard change

The Evzones uniform, in all its glory

All three uniforms involve white leggings and skirts. I choose to leave the word “kilt” to the Scots, who do them right. I will not ridicule kilts; I love them. These Greek things, however, are so full from so many pleats that “skirt” is more accurate. I read that each has 400 pleats to represent 400 years of Ottoman rule and oppression.

Since the excuse for those pleats is symbolism, wouldn’t it make more sense to leave those 400 pleats and years behind with a more flattering Scottish-style kilt to represent overcoming that time and unfortunate style? Or maybe people here genuinely like them, the way I like kilts. Fair enough, if that’s the case.

The fancy shoes are red, which could be cool, but “cool” is kicked to the curb when you put pompoms on the toes—the meaning or point of which has not been addressed anywhere I’ve seen. Mike thinks they were used in battle to throw the enemy into fits of laughter so they could be more easily overwhelmed. It probably worked.

Pleated skirts and shoes with pompoms—is anyone else thinking “cheerleader”?

How many Greek kids do you suppose dream of growing up to be an Evzone?

Greek Evzones at the chaging of the guard

See the clickers on the bottom of the shoes?

The soles of the shoes are embedded with clicking hobnails or something. Clicking shoes aren’t by themselves ridiculous; it’s how you use that clicking, and the Greeks don’t use them well.

The rest of the uniform is fine. Or maybe I couldn’t take my eyes off the skirt, leggings, and shoes.

Oh. Wait. That way-long silk tassel coming off the beanie and draping down the side of the guy’s face looks like a long, black ponytail.

For sixty minutes at a time (three times in a 48-hour period), the guards stand stock still with no expression and no eye movement whatsoever.

I don’t doubt this is hard to do, and I don’t for a minute think I could do it. The guidebooks insist these are elite, highly trained military pros, but . . . really? I’m curious why this falls into the realm of military and not, say, religious monks. Isn’t this more like meditation than guarding, fighting, or defending? What is the point of this, really?

And I wonder if women serve as these guards. We didn’t see any. Physical traits factor into who is selected for these unique positions. For instance, height. These guards are all over 6.13 feet tall.

As happens with other amusingly clad parliamentary guards in England and Canada, during their hour of motionless duty, visitors squish in beside the Evzones for pictures. I imagine they endure silliness, teasing, and maybe even abuse. And then they change places with another guard.

The choreography of the change underwhelmed me. It was very slow, silly walking. John Cleese would be brilliant. My 18-second video will give you the gist. The guards are supposed to be in sync, but in this case they aren’t. Frankly, I blame the slow pace: There’s no rhythm to count out.

I would be at least a little impressed by perfect synchronization—however silly the action. They should work on that.

Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—my camera battery gave out after 18 seconds. Or did the camera just get bored and quit? You can find a full-length video on YouTube, if you really want to.

One move my video doesn’t capture: the foot brushing the ground in a backward sweep, like a horse does when counting. And speaking of horses, while the toe half of the shoe is studded with hobnails, the heel is fitted with a horseshoe.

Sole of Evzones shoe

A nice look at the sole of the Evzones shoe

Some suggest the slow movement is necessary after the guards have stood stock still for an hour. That may be true, but I’m going to need to see the science on that before I’ll be convinced.

A story reported on several websites says that during a demonstration in 2001, someone blew up a guard shack with a molotov cocktail. The flaming shack didn’t elicit so much as a blink from the guard. He stood there until a camo-clad military guy gave him an order to move.

Wait. Why are these guys called “guards” again? Does anyone else think it would be more impressive had the guard caught the miscreant?

I’m confused.

This kind of entertainment builds up an appetite, though. Time to go home for dinner.

Evzones leaving

The End