Before going on the Middle Eastern trip I got myself Gustav Schwab's 1840 collection of myths and legends of antiquity, a book about Gods and Heroes. I read the Odyssey first, story of Odysseus, his epic 10 year long journey home; I read it while we travel Greece.
This Fab Odyssey? I should have known. At least Odysseus knew where he wanted to, not so me! June/July is it now, 3 months later, that I write up the Greece report from my notes, now I am reading the Trojan cycle, fascinating "modern" tales, a book I should have read when in school, about Agamemnon and Menelaus, kings, Ajax and Achill, heroes and Zeus, Hera, Pallas-Athena and Apollo, Poseidon and Aphrodite, the Gods that were even more fond of war than men. It is probably never too late to read the Greek Myths.
But back to April 8th 2010. This is the Middle Eastern journey, a round-trip, this is re-entry phase into what they call civilisation. This time though is harsher than usual, well then maybe because usually I just pack and fly home and drown the feelings of control and extradition with a few pints.
Getting back into Europe is easy, ferry from Marmaris tranquil to Rhodes/Rodos, south eastern island of Greece. Greece is particular hard ground; a country in economic dire straits and one wonders how the government of the number one tourist destination cannot manage its finances? We came through Cyprus and then northern Cyprus and Turkey, kind of escaped the sharks and global food righteousness, yet one more time.
Rhodes greets with congestions, bad food, bad beer (Mythos), and horrible music; Italian shite what we used to have on the radio 25 years ago, a particular nice welcome! Greek people have lost it. I ask the waiter 3 times to change it, or better I ask him: "What is wrong in Greece?" He accuses "It’s our government!" "Well the government is not responsible for your music." So much up front, the music would stay bad everywhere on the islands, a lounge bar is only cool when it honours John Lennon who for Greek people apparently only died last week, Barbara Streisand sings her woman in love, you want to shed that tear, really even the Gods don’t know why; they left Hellas two millennia ago. Just here in Rhodes central I need to stay a minute longer, update my page. I must get out quickly or punch the waiter or burn down the damn place. Or cool down! I just hate being back in consumer land.
But on this first Greek Islands I ever have gone to, this feeling of outright being taken for a ride does not want to go away. Feels like going to the Italian restaurant chef in Vienna who knows far better to babble then cook; but the guests keep coming and he has his monstrous laugh every night about what he serves them, how he soothed them with his barefaced arrogance, this apparent god and sole owner of cuisine knowledge.
In re-entry phase Greece feels like that, one looses hope of eating good affordable local food when all there is, is burger and pizza fast fat gyros food joints. Turkish restaurants are missed. A Greek mixed plate (still this first day central Rhodes place with the Italian music) comes and yes it has feta on it, but coleslaw and cooked ham do remind of elsewhere. There is not a single olive on it! The waiter places mayonnaise and ketchup on the table. Mythos beer, discussed elsewhere remains a myth, Retsina wine is too simple a wine for a "lounge" bay bar, red wine is served ice-cold in small 25cl bottles, some foggy juice inside. What am I not getting? Isn’t Greece supposed to be famous for its grand red?
So there we are Christina and I, back to pasta in the van, we stocked up on great and cheap Retsina, such a delight, avail in super markets only. Yes the coming down to this world is always hard; but then there are these moments....
Lindos on Rhodes.
From Rhodes we travel to Lindos and Lindos reconciles. Retsina on the beach and white homes, the acropolis isn’t worth going, all reconstructed, after all we have seen. A walk in the morning out on the rocks, look up in the air to the gulls and the crows, look down on the water, let the glistering light reflections on the blue sea heal the soul. The Retsina in the beach cafe is robbery, the owner is Italian, his wife beats him, I can’t listen to her. Another Retsina on the beach for a 5th of the price is a divinely blessing.
Prassonissi, south of Rhodes sunset dance.
An amazing tongue of land, a mound of sand, one nice evening, a lot of wind at night, a hazy morning, we leave, good weather gone for a while.
ODYSSEUS by Christina
Turquoise streaks stretch lazily along the coast
Paradisaical pools beckon an invitation to sail
In the light that shines between currents and time
Splashing, plunging into the wet Greek blue.
Carpets of sea floor amphorae
Woven tales of engraved
Men lost at sea, lone figures,
Shipwrecked, striding the keel,
On the wine-dark sea
Calling for a hero
His spirit putatively as strong
As wine poured from the jug
And when he spoke the waves rocked
A sea foam epic echoing these heroic words:
“My mates were thrown from the ship,
And like sea crows they bobbed on the waves
Around the black ship, and the god
Took their homecoming from them.”
And in this Odyssiodic episode,
Of drowning seas and ominous crows,
Foretells the junction between will and fate
So tenuous is the line that spares a
Life or ceases the spirits gait.
It is only those who risk their
Lives on Trojan shores and
Face the Cyclops inner eye
Who know of loves loyal tides
Of beloveds burns and blinds
Whose ardent words immortalize.
We take to Monolithos castle. The woods are for the bugs, millions of caterpillars cocoon their tight webs around the pine cones, that’s not good they say, zillions of bees produce a sound of hum and buzz, the caterpillars are the problem, the bees don’t mind, or do they? We buy honey, is excellent. We get back to Rhodes city, for some Barbara S., musical star of the 70s. Bars are really empty, still expensive, is still long before season, we have a fat gyros in a pizza and burger place, then hurry from the upcoming rain. It pours. At 5 a.m. we take the ferry, manage to stay in the van, sleep in for a great many more hours, pass Karpathos and reach Sitia on Crete.
In a nutshell the very East and the very West are beautiful, still untouched, but the government is selling land. So, hurry to see it as long as it’s there, non-commercialised, untouched. So we are dazzled by the roughness, the stunning gorges and wind moulded cliffs of the country and then disappointed once we near Heraklion/Iraklion, or really we have known anyway.
Obviously we go through too quickly but I am on a mission, I want to see my boys soon in Vienna.
Still my sixth sense leads me while we search what we search in Herakleon; we don’t know what, the spirits know and my brain entrusts the spirits. We enter Crete’s capital late; I drive the van around so long, park it and re-park; frustration leads to McDonalds in light of the other pizza and burger joints. Again and again I start the engine, re-locate, drink Retsina, re-park, again something inside tells me to move the car – till finally a deep feeling lends its comfort.
We awake at 5 a.m. by rattling outside, this street has its market day and market people start their day early. Now I know what I was searching for. The encounter with real Greek food and people! We relocate to sleep a bit more and later walk the market, which destiny has brought us to or the Greek Gods, to reconcile... We buy vegetables and salad, are being given squid for free and lemons to go with. Market people are a friendly lot, this is a local show. Still the feta and other cheese we buy taste rather dull. Why is Bulgarian feta so much better? Why Turkish olives so much better?
Not far from Herakleon is Knossos, Minoan capital of Crete, old, 2600 till 1500 B.C., the oldest Greek civilisation, King Minos and Minotaur, half bull half man, killed finally by the Athenian hero Theseus. Very interesting in theory, just Knossos (wiki) was raped by Arthur Evans. There is this problem with very old antic excavations; usually you don’t see much. What we see here however is concrete from the 30s, ridiculously reconstructed, hate it! After all we have seen... The tour busses puke out their load. We spend 30 minutes on the site, too long.
Via the south, Matalla, where we fry the squid and cook pasta, we get to Kissamos, all the way in the West. The haze lets us drive on, I am on a mission too. Kissamos is relaxed, is so far off; is not the season yet.
While we already look forward to the ship that takes us to the Spartan Peninsula, we spend a day on the rocky land finger pointing north, a rough peninsula, we look out on a spectacular Peloponnese sea, in the most western part of Crete; again the cliffs fall steep to the turquoise waters, black long haired goats graze on the slopes, some come close, eat from Christina’s hand, the heart connects.
This Middle Eastern round trip, lasted almost 9 months, so we contemplate as we look out towards the West, think of its beginning. The sun is still a bit high and it fills with joy and warmth, time to look back and forward. No need to be unhappy.
Peloponnese and Olympia.
A ship comes in the morning, takes us to Ghithio. We go through Sparta buy Kalamata olives, Feta, Retsina, then follow the 130km of bends over the rocky mountains to Kalamata where the famous olives come from, spring rules in the mountains, all is colourful, we drive and drive, are on a mission, make it to the rough west coast, in the morning we have a nice encounter with Dutch traveller John Aarbodem, he gives us some directions and tips, the evening we get to Olympia. Olympia is Olympia (wiki).
Olympic Games were held for 1170 years, 776 B.C. In 394 A.D., from Greek to Roman times the site had undergone many changes. This April trees are blossoming all around, it is a nice walk around, the museum later even more interesting.
Athens is Athens, we meet an old friend, Peter. The Acropolis is everybody’s dream, a once in a lifetime must see, I had to wait more then 40 years. Athens I like a lot; would like be here longer, away from the tourist track. The Acropolis Museum (wiki), which really just opened very recently, is very comprehensively organised, many sculptures, pieces of the monument, the Parthenon Marbles, still on show elsewhere in the world (like in the British Museum) have their place reserved; amazing a strategy to bring them home.
Athens is also awash of immigrants, some clandestine. They as in many other cities of the Med. engage in selling fake Gucci bags. We meet a group of Senegalese while having a way to expensive drink. I’d rather be with them on the street, I have to come back to Athens, well then maybe soon, I think.
Time flies and Monday we carry on.
Up at 7, the mission is to get to Vienna and see my boys. Delphi is Delphi (wiki), the site of the Delphic oracle, most important of the oracles, the least prone to bribes, Delphi also according to ancient believes the navel of the Earth. Pythian Games (athletic Olympian like games) were held every four years to commemorate Apollo’s victory over the serpent Python, Delphi also hosted musical competitions, it set Delphi apart from the other pan Hellenic games’ sites such as Olympia. Delphi is Delphi, go!
Albania, Montenegro, Croatia.
Time flies on way back and we drive and drive, 5 days to go. Before Preveza still in Greece we have a near accident, one half turn at slow speed on a slippery long downward sloping bend in the mountains, the drizzle has just started. My angels ensure the car to come to standstill in the gutter before crashing on the rocks. I even feel them carrying us. Christina closes her eyes and sends a prayer. No flat tires, not one scratch. I manage to reverse the car out of the ditch before oncoming cars can hit us. Let's take it as a warning shot to take it easy on these last days home.
The south of Albania is all rough mountains, this could be the most beautiful part of the Balkans, but is a bit neglected. A strange feel send the bunkers and shooting hides, dotted just about everywhere directed towards the sea but also along every valley. From Enver Hoxha’s time and paranoia? Or earlier, WW2? How threatened was Albania (wiki) really during the cold war, by whom?
The north is too many car scrap yards, rubbish piles uncontrolled. Tirana (wiki) like Athens is another city I would want to revisit. My grandfather was Albanian, so something of me wanted to visit, wants to stay longer just not this time.
The beauty trophy for unspoilt nature seems goes to provincial Montenegro which we enter soon after and is surprisingly well kept. In Podgorica, its capital some stranger pays our excellent draft beer in the bar, the same brew from a bottle on Jaz beach soon later cannot compare. The same night we enter Croatia and Dubrovnik, "I did not know anything so beautiful existed," says Christina. Tourists have abandoned the city at the late hour. Next morning is different, the hordes are loose, we escape to a bar on the cliffs with "the best view," have an early Ozujsko beer, the American couple next ask the waiter for the name of the place, "Dubrovnik" the guy replies. And what is the name of the – water? He continues, "Adriatic sea". No joke!
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar and Sarajevo and home.
Dubrovnik is nice; summer however must be either very expensive or horrible or both. We are on a mission, drive along the Dalmatian coast in and out and into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar (wiki), all the years after the war still shows a great many houses completely demolished, Mostar bridge had been rebuilt, there is a nice terrace, at dusk a Sarajevsco beer, the muezzin calls. In a cafe some militaries put down a wreath, to commemorate who/what-ever, on the pin board a flier invites for a miss contest, we won’t see women wearing veils, beers outside a mosque aren’t a problem, a tolerant Islam?
Mostar has a strange feel to it. The atrocities committed here have not been lived over. The spirits of the dead are around, they cry out. In changing alliances Serbs and Croats fought Muslims, Bosnians. The city was 18 months under siege. All not so long time ago. The Yugoslav break-up wars cost 150,000 lives. Bosnians suffered the most.
Sarajevo (wiki), the mountains still look wintery, the trees in town don’t carry leaves yet. Miss Sarajevo (U2 and Pavarotti) does not leave me this morning.
The whole drive from Mostar and onwards from Sarajevo through the mountains isn’t for the light hearted; the past lies heavy on one’s mind, so incomprehensible are the massacres, rapes (50,000!), so senseless demolitions. Genocidal hatred between 2 or 3 or more ethnicities, two or three religions; what an ending yjis is to the Middle Eastern trip! I am not looking for explanations any more.
Banja Luka we wouldn’t stop but run out of gaz. Diesel leaks from some small hose.
Back through Croatia and even in the very north towards the Hungarian border a great many houses show war shooting and grenade marks, still after 15 years.
Through Hungary, our last day on the road, this is Saturday the 24th of April, it is morning, it is spring, fields and trees are in full blossom as we go over the smallest country roads as if this trip has just started, a trip of almost 9 months, Vienna to Aswan and back. Early afternoon we reach Vienna, is where I am from. 5 minutes after we enter my parent’s house my boys come up the stairs, they back from Morocco; what a timing.