Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 31 May 2007

The Winged Goddess of Victory

Katakolon, Greece – May 14, 2007

We take the bus to Olympia, a world heritage site. The structures all tumbled down in a 6th century earthquake. One building was completed by Alexander the Great. It was circular and contained five family statues of made of ivory and gold. One statue was of his mother, who was also his first wife.

The temple of Zeus contained a 40 foot tall statue of the seated god. Resting in his hand was a three foot statue of Nike, winged goddess of victory. They’ve found enough column pieces to put up a couple of columns that give an idea of the huge scale.

The Olympic athletes here competed in the nude. Women were not allowed to watch. Women who snuck in were made to jump to their death from a high rock. One early "soccer mom" dressed as a trainer. She revealed herself by jumping up and down and whistling when her son won. She was from an important family and got to skip the rock thing. After that the trainers and other spectators all had to watch in the nude.

If you won an Olympic game the city bigwigs made you dinner every day for life and cut your taxes. Immortality was also an incentive. The airport on the island of Rhodes is named after one of the 921 Olympic winners whose names are still currently known...

I got to snorkel the port Katakolon an hour or two ago...The Aegean Sea…clear and cold...the sunbathers are curious about what I saw. I tell them sea grass, ancient shipwrecks filled with pots of wine containers, a great white shark, a sunken Maserati and several mythical sirens.

The word gymnasium is from the Greek gymnos, which means “naked”. Here are a few pictures of the Olympia ruins.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

This is your Captain, speaking from the Bridge

Santorini, Greece – May 15, 2007

I begin to wonder where else he would be speaking from…”This is your Captain, speaking from the main bar on the Lido deck. As soon as I finish my tenth margarita, we set sail for Turkey.” The photo below is a gold ibex. It is the only gold artifact recovered from the destroyed civilization.

A cruise ship carrying 1,200 went down here a month or so ago. It rests on the bottom around here somewhere in 300 feet of water. Apparently the Greek crew was watching a soccer game as they pulled into port. Here’s a great video of the big ship going down.

Santorini is an island and a white city perched on the rim of the world’s largest caldera. It erupted about 1750 BC and killed off a fairly advanced civilization. There is a theory that the resulting tidal wave exterminated the Minoan civilization on Crete 75 miles south. Another theory says this island is really Atlantis.

We’re anchored inside the 9 mile by 14 mile caldera. To get to the city you take a donkey up a twisted path, an elevation gain of a thousand feet or so. You can also walk, but mind the donkey dung. The donkey ride up is 4 euros. 90% of the tourists use the gondola ride. A few walk.

The streets of Santorini are lined with gold. The shops are open 8 AM to 12…then 4 PM to 8…longer if the cruise ships are in port.

Here are some donkey pictures.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Das Boot

The Adriatic Sea – May 11, 2007

After the day long drive back from Sicily, we sleep near the Rome airport, and then take a long taxi ride at 140 kilometers per hour from the hotel near the Rome airport to Civitaveccio. The check in process is fairly painless and we have lunch on the “Lido deck” while our rooms are being prepared.

In the afternoon we watch a new Robin Williams movie called “Man of the Year” in one of the ship theatres. We have sailed around the toe and heel of Italy and are sailing north now toward Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The boat has a well stocked lending library. I’m disappointed that the wireless costs $.75 per minute, but at least it’s not .75 euros. They deduct $10 a day per passenger to cover all tips. Wine is extra. The prices run $30 a bottle and up. The less expensive wines run out quickly. I buy a “drink card” for $50 that covers ten drinks. I have to work hard the last day to use it up. The margaritas aren’t bad, but I know a bar in Las Cruces that tends to spoil it for others.

Our dinner companions are Ray and Marianne from Bedford, England. Ray has a tremendous sense of humor and Marianne has an easy laugh. They seem well paired. We’re lucky. Dinner tonight was formal.

The distance from Civitaveccio, near Rome, to Dubrovnik, Croatia, is about 700 nautical miles. We steam for 36 hours and arrive the morning of the 12th after passing the volcanoes of Vesuvius, Stromboli and Etna. We pass though the straights near Messina to enter the Ionian Sea again and round the boot heel of Italy to head north in the Adriatic Sea to Dubrovnik.

This is our first cruise. The food is good. Here are a few boat shots.

May 10 – Civitaveccio, Italy

May 11 – At Sea

May 12 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

May 13 – Corfu, Greece

May 14 – Katakolon, Greece

May 15 – Santorini, Greece

May 16 – Kusadasi, Turkey

May 17 – Piraeus, Greece

May 18 – At Sea

May 19 – Messina, Sicily

May 20 - Civitaveccio, Italy

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Ancient Nymphateums

The Isle of Capri – May 1, 2007

The camera doesn’t lie. The dates on the Capri pictures are May 1st , our second day out. We catch the ferry from Sorrento.

The first time we came here, years ago, we walked uphill and found a sign pointing and found a sign pointing to the Blue Grotto. After a nice walk past some residences we came to an overlook of the Grotto. There are some legends here about some scandalous behavior by the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius: debauched orgies, flinging people from cliffs, nymphateums and other politically incorrect forms of behavior.

This time we take the bus and funicular uphill to the main tourist area and then the chairlift to the top of a mountain. The sweeping views are a little obscured by clouds and mist so photo ops from the top weren't there. The island is full of daytrippers like us this time of year. The guidebooks suggest that spending a night or two to enjoy the more laid back evenings might be a good idea.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Useless Math

Sorrento, Italy – May 2, 2007

It’s 3 AM. I’ve been standing on the balcony, in the rain, looking at the lights of Naples over the Bay. I listen to the waves crash. We are in a small hotel on the coast about two miles down a steep winding road. You have to drag your suitcases the last 100 yards because there is no road to the hotel. I got up at 1:30 AM. I’ve been unable to sleep, thinking about the number of times you must clink glasses in a toast as you add more people. With two people, you make one clink; with three there are three clinks and with four people six clinks are needed.

You can see the malignant black tower of Vesuvius in the background over the city of 3,000,000. The last eruption was in 1944.

Eventually it works out:
N(N-1)/2 = Clinks, where N is the number of people.
So if you have 1,000 people drinking you must clink 499,500 times.

It doesn’t stop there. I work out how many candles you need for Chanukah ceremonies and how many times “goodnight” must be said as you add people to a bedroom. I start to work out the number 6 billion people in the same bedroom and get up at 1:30 AM in disgust. My mind hasn’t misbehaved this way in a long time. Goodnight Johnboy. Goodnight Sarah.

So now I’m standing in the bathroom with the laptop on a windowsill, plugged into an AC converter, trying not to disturb Mrs. Phred. I don’t worry much about disturbed sleep patterns while traveling. Eventually the body always regains equilibrium. I do worry a little when I begin to make up random math problems and worry at them like a meth-crazed rat in a maze.

The weather has been pleasant, mixed rain and sun. We eat well, of course. Several antipastos, a liter or two of vino bianco, a pasta dish, a meat or fish dish, dessert, coffee, grappa, a lemon alcohol drink...the quality and variety is amazing.

Two days ago we went into the City of Sorrento and took a ferry to the Isle of Capri. We took the chair lift to the top of the island for a view of the surrounding cliffs and azure seas. Yesterday we drove along the rugged Amalfi coast and walked in the hillside city of Positano. Small farmers cultivate lemons and grapes everywhere in terraced small plots. The roads and alleys are insanely twisted and narrow. I think about knocking down the ancient buildings and walls and putting in some four-lanes…but it would be wrong

Today we will drive south to sleep in Tropea and stop along the way to see the ruins of ancient Paestrum, then move on to Sicily.

I wonder how many people in history have looked out over the Bay of Naples at 3 AM in May in the rain?

Here are a few pictures of Sorrento.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Castles Made of Sand

Rome, Italy – May 22, 2007
Piazza Vittorio Emanuel II

Mrs. Phred located a concert featuring a Jimi Hendrix theme last night. The musicians were FMJO, a group of about 20 Italian performers that you might classify as talented big-band jazz. They were heavy on horns, with two drummers and a guitar.

The auditorium was about a two-mile walk north of the tourist area which ends at the big piazza with the twin churches. Crossing the streets in Rome is intimidating at times. When we found the auditorium and got our tickets, we still had time for a sandwich (paninni?) and a glass of white wine.

The huge auditorium complex had three or four different concerts going on simultaneously. The Hendricks crowd was dressed less formally in stylish Italian casual. There was an amazing amount of kissing going on in the audience before the performance. Men kissing women, men kissing men… Kiss-kiss, Hello, how are you? I’m so glad to see you again. "Excuse Me! While I Kiss the Sky."...

We missed most of the explanation of the work in Italian, but evidently a local composer, who performed with the group, has written hours of orchestral music loosely based on the work of deceased American rock star, Jimi Hendrix. There were two guest performers. One was an electric guitar player who did a credible job of reproducing the discordant and distorted sounds of Hendrix. The other was a stylishly dressed male vocalist, who sounded very much like Hendrix at times.

When the music started and they played “Hey, Joe!”, I felt an electric shiver down my back. Most of the musicians got a chance to be featured sometime during the two-hour performance. They were all very talented. One trumpet player was amazing. Most of the performers and audience could not have been born when Hendrix died, yet they obviously recognized his favorites. You could close your eyes and see the sharp musical sounds as strange bright creatures with short lives..."Are you Experienced?"

For an encore the band came back and did “Castles Made of Sand”. We grabbed a taxi for a Mr. Toad's wild ride back to the hotel and some midnight gelato. The lemon sorbet was served in a real hollowed out frozen lemon. Mrs. Phred wonders why we don’t have stuff like this back home. I guess it wouldn’t be home, if we did, would it?.

On the other hand, back home Jimmy would set himself on fire and come screaming on stage sliding down a trapeze wire from the back of the auditorium...the band did not perform Jimi's freaky discordant version of "The Star Spangled Banner"...but they did do "Purple Haze"...