Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ciao to Greece

What a wonderful, interesting and beautiful country. Here is a parting image from beautiful Mykonos. I hope to return soon and that their financial troubles are soon resolved and that all the wild kitties get all the love and food they need. Love to Greece.

Strikes in Athens

Transportation workers are on strike in Greece and this delayed our flights from Mykonos to Athens and onward by many hours. See the picture of the Athens airport, filled with travellers trying to move on. I sat next to a man on the plane who gave me his take on the situation.
The people are objecting to corruption because the rich people and government workers take bribes and spend it for themselves and invest outside of the country. For example companies don’t have to pay tax on income unless it is over 12,000 Euros/year so they provide services to clients, providing a receipt for a low amount and taking envelopes of cash that they don’t have to claim, yet everyone can see that these business owners and professionals (like medical doctors) own big houses, expensive cars and live a lifestyle of someone making much more income. These strikes are precipitated due to the European Union refusing to loan Greece more money until they clean the corruption but the people think if the EU loans the money it will go to the rich, as usual.

According to Peter, a German business owner (importing beer from Germany to Greece) who has lived in Greece for 5 years, the Greeks are very self focused and always protesting to get more for themselves – e.g., local problems like the current situation are always someone else’s fault. A Lufthansa staff member agreed with this opinion, although we certainly met many Greeks who were quite loving and other-oriented.

Peter also mentioned that a typical small business takes 2 months to start in Greece unless you pay black marketing money to the government (small envelopes of 100 Euro to various officials). About the EU Peter also told a story of how he needed an emergency medical operation and the Greek doctor charged him 7,500 euros that would cost 2,500 in Germany. When he put the claim into his German insurance company they told him “next time we’ll send you a plane and fly you to Germany for the procedure.” Normally when someone sees a doctor they pay a fixed low price, for which the patient receives a receipt, and then a fat envelope with black market cash. Peter did not have to do this because the Greeks know Germans are not as corrupt and are not sure how to cope with them.

He also commented on the European Union and mentioned that alcohol, medicine and coffee are still taxed / exempt from EU tariff-free status, and that no country can be evicted from the EU – they must withdraw on their own. The EU is stuck with Greece. But the EU is a good thing that joins countries and helps compete against Asia and America, however, it is suffering the growing pains of any young collaboration.

As I was taking the airport photo, a Greek woman asked me kindly: "please respect the strike."
Poor Greece is in a financial mess and there are opinions that range from "they need to clean up the corruption" to "they need to declare bankruptcy" and "it is all the government's fault." Sad situation.

Delos - spiritual center of Greece

We took a 40 minute ferry from Mykonos to the island of Delos, which was inhabited by 30,000 people as early as 500 b.c. It is the second largest archeological site in the world (on an island 6 km by 1 km) and is known as the birthplace of Apollo (Greek god of light/sun) and his twin sister, Artemis (Goddess of animals and fertility) - reportedly born in 900 b.c. Delos is seen as the spiritual center of Greece and is a fascinating place to visit. It is desert, just like Nevada, yet the underground water sustained the large popluation. One of the most interesting features is that, although the ruins are only 25% excavated, the houses, workshops, and retail establishments are well preserved, unlike many sites where only the key buildings remain.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Animals of Mykonos Town

There are lots of ferel cats in this town and they are so cuddly and cute, but it is sad that they live on table scraps, as do the cats of Istanbul. Mykonos town is known for its mascot, the Pelican. Pedro first showed up in the 1950's and subsequently was killed in an automobile accident. Now there are 2 pelicans, both named Pedro, and they hang out in the cafes and streets. They allow tourists to touch them (as I am in the picture) and love to model for the camera - I know this because wherever they are a mob of paparazzi tourists surrounds the unmoving, seemingly careless and happy bird :-). Here is Pedro grooming his wing. We were told that one person who works in the Mayor's office is the official pelican caretaker ... everyone loves the birds.

Mykonos Town

OMG, this island exceeds all my expectations! The town is interesting, beautiful and charming. The harbor is full of boats and there are windmills and winding streets full of shops with very creative merchandise - such as handmade jewelry made by local artist displayed in very unusual ways. One woman told us she visits India once a year to buy fabric then has a seamstress make dresses patterned after expensive beachwear in Dubai and other countries. The town is very sleepy during the 1-7 pm siesta time but gets really lively at night. It is a party town. Pictured here are the windmills, harbor, windy streets, and a church in Mykonos town.

First stop --- the beach!

Here we are, lazing on the beach in Ornos Bay on Mykonos, Greece. The beach is set up with lounge chairs and beds (pictured) that we rent for 12 Euros a day (including a big bottle of water). The view is sublime, the weather warm, dry and windy, the water inviting and warm and the people beautiful. All around are conversations in many different languages. There are occasional topless sunbathers. This is me having a foot massage on the beach. What wonderful decadent behavior on my part! I rationalize that my feet deserve this treatment after all the walking and travelling of the past 6 weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hello Mykonos!

Greek Islands, here we come! This is a view from our hotel, where we will stay for 5 days. Heaven on earth...

BTW, I asked why Greek buildings are mostly all white - both on the islands and in Athens, and I heard that the government offered money to subsidize the use of color but no one wanted to do it. Is is national pride or the relative ease of whitewashing versus painting? Either way it is simply beautiful...and interesting that the flag is blue and white, just like the landscape.

goodbye Athens

We're off to Mykonos! Time to slow down the pace and work hard at holding down the lounge chairs by the pool overlooking a beach. Here is a sunset on the tip of a peninsula south of Athens...a magical spot where Posiden's temple is located. I was escorted there by Nicolas - a wonderful Greek gong master.

Protests in Athens

We got lucky and happened upon a peaceful protest in front of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. This was one in a long series, many not so peaceful (with arrests and injury), all about trying to unseat the current government. The country is in financial trouble and has already been bailed out by the European Union but is in danger of losing its ability for another loan unless the government changes its policies. Greece's financial rating has dropped from B to CCC (Standard and Poor) and there have been strikes among hospital and transportation workers. According to one local source, the people feel that the government has used the EU bail out and other funds improperly and they want change because there is high unemployment and many problems in the country. It is not getting better and there is likely no more money forthcoming from the EU. In these pictures you see a fish, with the head of Prime Minister George Papandreou, eating an artist. This protest is all about how the policies/actions of the government are killing the arts. A shame because Greece was the birthplace of art.
The man we spoke to thinks that Greece is in danger of developing into an Egypt-type scenario, with escalating trouble. Sad.

Name that Pillar

Ionian, Doric, Corinthian...we saw the pillar rock stars but couldn't remember which was which. See if you remember...also are some pillars made in the image of women. Fantastic foundations of the world's architecture.

Athens National Archaeological Museum

What an amazing structure! It contains incredibly old and wonderful items found in the Acropolis area. Two other remarkable things are first, that one floor is built like the Parthenon, with 17 steel pillars on each side of space and behind them are pieces of carved marble that was in the same position above the pillars of the Parthenon. Some are replicas because the real pieces are in the British Museum. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside but here are some online. The other amazing thing is that the museum is built on old ruins and visitors enter the grounds by walking on transparent plastic sheets that reveal ruins below. Here you see pictures of both the clear walkway and an archeologist I found who is working on the ruins below the floor.

Athens...our roots

Being here is like walking into a history book. We went straight to the Acropolis - a huge site with many important ruins. WOW. Here is the Parthenon, up on the top of the rock wall and again up close. the cranes are there because they are fixing an earlier renovation. Amazing that these structures stand after earthquakes, wars, and the fighting Greek gods! Seeing this brought thoughts of the trial of Socrates, which happened here (defended by Aristotle), and all the legends of Greek mythology such as the struggle between the goddess Athena and Posiden. The other structure pictured here is the famous Greek theater of Dionysis. It is renovated and currently used for events. Beyond it is Athens..."Athina" as called by the Greeks and named after the Goddess Athena. I really loved that I saw Jews, Muslims, and Christians all here admiring the ruins of a society that believed in polytheism.

Eating in Athens

The first thing we did in Athens is eat. We the Greek salad the same here as in the US? Answer: yes and no - same ingredients but the tomatoes and feta cheese are out of this world delicious! the little birds agreed -- scampering to get the bread left on trays by the waiters, and pictured here right on our own table. So cute. We also had some great white broad beans (yipeeee - protein for the vegetarian), and fried feta cheese. I also had an amazing Cretan salad, made with a large barley cake topped with feta, tomatoes and olive oil (pictured here with Malia and me - picture taken by Nicholas). yum.

Goodbye Istanbul! With love...

What an amazing city. I'll definitely be back and also visit the interior of Turkey. On the last day we went to the "new" section of the city - still in Europe but the Asian side easily viewed across the water (see image looking at Asia). We also took a little walk on the main drag in the new part of town, starting in Taksim -- well, starting with a tram ride then the funicular (drawn on rails by a cable up a steep hill). See the crowds that walk this shopping street, filled with tons of US store brands from Burger King to the Gap. In the old town we saw this guy selling pidgeon feed -- made us break out in song..."feed the birds, tuppence a bag..."

Off to Athens!

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

Ok, shopaholics...4000 stalls of everything from Turkish sweets to carpets. It is overwhelming. The Kapali Carsi is one of the world's oldest and largest covered bazaars, attracting nearly half a million people a day. Opening in 1471, it is a place for Westerners to learn bargaining skills. I bought a carpet from the man pictured here. We had tea, showed me many carpets, and finally when I liked one he said: "800 Euros" - for a 3' by 5' silk turkish carpet. gulp... with daughter Malia's help we got that down to 200 Euros and probably could have negotiated less. The bazaar was lively, interesting, and exhausting. And i came away with some really unique treasures.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New contest...enter to win!

Just arrived in Athens, a bit travel weary as usual. For giggles on the plane I made a list of all the travelling I've done since arriving in Europe on May 14. Want to win a Turkish "evil eye" charm for protection? Guess how many of the following I'll have accomplished by the time I leave to return to Reno on June 29 (46 days):
1) how many train rides (from point A to B, not including transfers)
2) how many flights (again, not including plane changes en route)
3) how many different beds have I slept in, including at daughter Malia's house?

Bonus question: how much money have I spent on all this in Hungarian Forint, Turkish Lira, Polish Zloty and European Union Euros? Please tell me because I have NO clue what the answer is :-).

Fantastic Mosques and other Religious buildings

These are pictures of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque (interior pics). Sophia was built in 360 A.D. "From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935," according to Wikipedia.

The famous Blue Mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed in the early 16oo's. It is beautiful. The towers you see in both pictures are the minarets where the call to prayer broadcasts from speakers near the top.

Finally, here I am in the "little Sophia" mosque (with required head scarf and legs/shoulders covered). You can see the lovely carpeted area where Muslims pray.

People of Istanbul

These are ice cream vendors in traditional Turkish costume. This is a picture of Malia and me, looking into a glass enclosed exibit in the palace "harem" rooms.

It is intersting to see the muslim women decked out in their black clothing in the hot and humid weather. The modern version has young women in jeans and t-shirts with a hip head scarf and sandels. We also heard the Islamic call to prayer, which happens 5 times a day. People sing/play recordings from the minarets (towers) all over the city. See this Youtube video as an example of what we heard at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. But we didn't see people stop work and get on the ground facing Mecca to pray, as happens all over Egypt. A hotel manager told us the Muslims are more liberal in Istanbul. In general, the Turks in Istanbul were rather rude, pushing their way past in a crowd and not uttering any polite "sorry" or "excuse me" words. They do not make eye contact and are not friendly to strangers as in other countries - except for the tourism workers, who are extremely nice and helpful. I actually gave two waiters a brief Reiki energy hit/Oneness Blessing and they enjoyed it.