#6 Italy/Greece, Oct. 17, 2010

Dear Everybody,

The cog and pinion train across the Vouraikos Gorge was not as dramatic as promised, but pleasant. Kalavryta, the town on the other end, was very high in the mountains and so very cool. The room I rented provided two hours of heat in the evening and lots of warm blankets.

The next morning when I had my cappuccino and croissant for breakfast, the server bobbled the cup and spilled a little into the saucer. Did he transfer the cup to a clean saucer? No, nor did he wipe off the cup, nor did he pour the coffee into a clean cup. He started completely over making a new cappuccino! Italians, as well as Greeks, take this very seriously, too, although in the scores of cappuccini that I’ve had in Italy, I’ve never seen one waiter bobble the cup!

On Wednesday I went to the Olympics! Well, no, not that Olympics but the ones that began officially in 776 BC in Olympia, Greece. The every-four-year games continued without interruption until 394 AD, for 1170 years! Most of the winners’ names of all these events have come down to us today. But there were no games while I was there except a group of French young people having an impromptu foot race in the ancient stadium, kicking off from the ancient marble starting line.

The modern Olympics started in 1896 and have been held every four years except during World Wars I and II. We should have taken a page out of the Greeks’ playbook—they were always warring but hostilities were suspended during the games so all could participate. Even today the Olympic flame is lit at this ancient site and carried around the world to whatever city is hosting.

The two museums, as always, were superlative. The site itself was very interesting and well explained.







The biggy was the huge Temple of Zeus where a 50-foot high statue of Zeus had been displayed and honored. A painting was displayed in the museum showing what it looked like so long ago.






This statue was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, sculpted by Pheidias, whose workshop on the site was still mostly intact. This statue’s face, arms, legs and upper torso were sculpted from ivory; the draped clothing covering the rest of his body was overlaid with gold. Unfortunately after Emperor Theodosius I (Killjoy) banned the games after 374 AD as being too pagan, this statue was carried off to Constantinople where it was destroyed. I have now seen five of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, or their sites, still leaving two to see. The ones I have seen are The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the site of the Alexandria Lighthouse in Egypt, the site of the Mausoleum in Turkey, the ruins of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey, and now the site of the statue of Zeus at Olympia in Greece. The other two that I haven’t seen are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, which, of course, don’t exist, but I could see their sites.

Two buses got me to the good sized town of Kalamata where they raise THOSE olives. It’s a port city and that afternoon the sun finally came out as I walked along the quay to a special restaurant where I had some good lamb.




The following day I walked a long ways along the marina, watching the fishing boats come in with their morning catch. I also had to look up an electronics store as, while charging my iPod battery that morning, it blew a circuit breaker with a big fire flash. Luckily only the charger was ruined, not the iPod and I was easily able to replace that along with new earplugs to replace my ailing ones. So now I can carry on with listening to THE BROTHERS KARAMOZOV.

This morning I took the #1 bus down to the Old City and visited a couple of churches— one 12th/15th century and one modern because it fell down in the 1986 severe earthquake which only 28% of the Kalamata buildings survived.






In the church Sunday morning Mass was in progress and I listened a bit to a wonderful choir while enjoying the Byzantine-style frescoes that covered every nook and cranny of the church.





The Archeological Museum had wonderful exhibitions—many beautiful gold necklaces and signet rings from the 16th-15th centuries BC. Really, Greece civilizations are SO OLD! The other museum was a Folkloric Museum showing farming implements, clothing, spinning and weaving and paintings showing the revolution being declared in 1821 in front of the 12th/15th century Church of the Holy Apostles, mentioned above.

Since my feet were tired, I joined a bunch of mostly men at an outdoor cafe in the main plaza to savor a cappuccino served with a little almond cookie.



Later, after walking back to my hotel, I had dinner (again!) at an outdoor restaurant overlooking the harbor. I repeated my choice from the other day—1/4 l. of nice white local wine, a tomato salad with lots of olive oil to sop up with good Greek bread, and mussels in tomato sauce with feta cheese. Outstanding!

Tomorrow I shall take the bus to Sparta. I understand the bus passes a very high area in the mountains where ancient Spartans left sickly babies to die who wouldn’t make strong and healthy warriors. So it goes.


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