I Aten’t Dead

Over two years since I last posted. Then the other day, I was talking to a friend and I remembered about this little blog. So I will begin again. A fresh name perhaps? More adventures – like doings around Sydney?

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Almost Lost in Wiltshire

When it comes to ticking things off that I want to do, I’m not so brilliant. I really shouldn’t create lists like that, because I only end up ignoring them. Lists are for shopping and Saturdays where you have heaps to do and need an order of importance. So it should be said that one of the things ‘On That List’ includes walking Hadrian’s Wall and seeing a ‘famous’ person just being a regular person in the streets of London. And as of Saturday afternoon, I’ve done one of those! Er, cough. Saw Simon Callow walking along Camden Passage in Angel. It was easy enough to act like a normal person as I was thinking about all the yarn I would be stroking at Loop and didn’t care. Which is the correct attitude – brilliantly coloured wool, silk and alpaca is so much more important than an actor.

Oh, off topic. Brilliant.

So, a few weeks ago, Adelle & I went walking in Wiltshire. It was a list-bucket thing. We walked from Salisbury Cathedral to Stonehenge, roughly about 17kms, although I think we managed more as we got lost a few times and one backtrack took us hilariously off course and past a suspicious looking electricified fence area.

River garden Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in Britain and the best looking Magna Carta. Del was pretty set on seeing that particular document, so off we set along with hordes of other people in the rapidly warming Sunday. And after gazing at the beauty of a parchment that neither of us could read (although the translation alongside was very informative) we wandered out of the Cathedral grounds and tried to find the river.

Iron Age fortification, probably a natural hill, built up and made defenceable. The Romans used it and then it was used up until the 1200's when the town could no longer be supported so far from water and they moved it to Salisbury.

Iron Age fortification, probably a natural hill, built up and made defenceable. The Romans used it and then it was used up until the 1200’s when the town could no longer be supported so far from water and they moved it to Salisbury.

Book consultation.

Book consultation.

Once we found the river, we had to walk up to Old Sarum and into the wilder part of Wiltshire. This is old country, the area has been settled for thousands of years and when you’re sitting on the ramparts of the Iron Age fort of Old Sarum, you can see why. The countryside rolls and blooms, the summer heat creating a glow of ripe fields and green hills. It was beautiful, so much scope for the antics of druids and rites of the solstice and equinox.

Scenery Down the hill we scrambled, as we had missed the path, and not for the first or last time, had to make our own way for a bit. Past a detached farmhouse and up a chalk road and on. It was high summer and it was a very warm day so it was a system of slightly slower walking in shaded areas to help combat the heat. Lots of undalations and wooded areas made the walk really interesting, although we did have to consult the book many many times to try and figure out which path we should be on. If attempting this walk for yourself, it might be best to take the track suggested by the little markers, although there are not very many of these to begin with!

About to get supremely lost

About to get supremely lost

And so we reached the bench and the road and then missed the turn, which meant we had to climb over a few barb wire fences and through nettles and over uneven ground and then in a big circle around a suspicious looking fence. I thought it might be some sort of crazy animall (I might have been thinking dinosaurs) but Del thought drugs, which fit a little better. There were sheep that were quite anxious about our presence too, but not a bother. It was at this point that we both started to really look forward to a pint of cold something at the promised pub that would be our stop for lunch. We had another 2kms to go until then, so we pushed on, eventually finding the country road through a tiny hamlet of houses.

The Pub

Closed for hours on Sunday! Be warned!

And there it was, finally, the pub. A chance to fill up our water bottles (empty) and have a little food before pushing on for another 5 kms towards Stonehenge. But woe! The pub closes between 3.30pm and 6.30pm on Sundays! It was bitter, very bitter and the guidebook said nothing about this eventuality! We had to make do with snacks of nuts & chewy sweets and a small bottle of water that I had frozen to keep things cold in my bag. It was the bottle of water provided at the Jubliee concert I went to last year with Adelle, so thank you, Your Majesty! We didn’t dehydrate as much as we could have in those last few agonising kilometres.

On we trudged from the pub. It was still fascinating countryside, with a few ancient burial sites and a Stuart manor house that saw action in the Civil War.

Really exciting to see this, it meant we were getting close to Stonehenge!

Really exciting to see this, it meant we were getting close to Stonehenge!

Manor House A long, slow afternoon with lots of this DSCN1392

DSCN1394And finally, the Barrows that appeared on the rise of a hill meant that our walk was almost done. Seeing the stones of Stonehenge appear in the distance was one of the most relieving and magical things I have experienced this year. It could have been the lack of water and the aching of my feet, but how relieved and elated we felt. It meant there was only another 1 & 1/2 kilometres to go! Hooray!

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But saying that and walking that is an entirely different thing. Because we were smarty pants, we decided to cut across the field instead of going around like the signpost instructed. And when we got to the corner, we found out why – barbed wire fences are hard to climb, especially when your legs are only just able to handle the ‘one foot in front of the other’ drill. But we made it with teamwork and loads of determination. We also made it across the very busy road without getting killed or beeped, which was great.

Walking closer or are we further away...

Walking closer or are we further away…

Where am I now? Further, closer...

See the teeny little people!

Stonehenge is not one of the most visited sites in Britain for nothing. It is absolutely miraculous, a feat of human engineering several thousand years old, old when Julius Caesar saw them. The optical illusion that the stones are is so apparent when walking towards them as we did, growing bigger and smaller from different angles, sometimes almost hidden by the undulations and others towering over the little tourists crowded around.

As close as I got this time

As close as I got this time

I didn’t go onto the actual site this time, I was absolutely exhausted and could barely manage to limp around the gift shop before collapsing on a bench to drink water. Adelle went in and I admire her determination – because the last bus from Stonehenge back to Salisbury was leaving at 7, she had a very fast tour! She did promise to send me some of the beautiful photos she took, with the slowly setting July sun, the stones looked fantastic.

We got the bus back into Salisbury and found a pub with a river beer garden and gin. Then onto a Strada for a massive steak and potato dinner. Life was good.

Sweet gin relief

Sweet gin relief

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This Scepter’d Isle

Yes, it has been a very long time between posts and I’m a little bit sorry. There is so much to catch up on. But I’m not going to try. Because of lazy. Well, maybe, but now they are memories & stories and I can use whatever licence I want to and if I have some time to write, it is usually at work when I should be working or at home where I like to kill zombies with plants. Truth. 

So soon I go back to Australia for, what could be termed ‘good’ but who knows. I didn’t really expect to be so long over here when I was planning the move in May 2010. To be honest, I thought maybe only a year, maybe 2. And now I am Myself. As I was 3 years ago but with three and a quarter years of England tucked in. I’m not ready to go back home, far from it as I’m not tired of life! And as Samuel Johnson says, ‘When one is tired of London, one is tired of life’ and I spent an hour yesterday mudlarking on the banks of the Thames and couldn’t quite believe my luck.

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33! How Awesome

I’m 33 on Saturday and hooray!l Another 11 years until I get a double number and 11 years since the last one. It’s been 3 years since I came to London to orchestrate a change in my life. So much has been seen, experienced, believed, disbelieved, thrown away, achieved, forgotten, remembered, befriended, loved. 

Thank you. 

 

Kt xx

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Hydra

About an hour and a half on the ferry from Port Pireseus took me to Hydra. It’s a beautiful little island, with probably not as much holiday traffic as some of the more well known islands, but it is perfect as a break from city travelling.

There are no cars, motorbikes or even bikes here – it’s all big shiny cobbles and stairs everywhere. Donkeys are the only other traffic besides people, who stroll down the streets, taking life easy. I’m sad to leave after only 2 nights! I don’t feel like going back to London with the cold and the massive amount of people.

Yesterday I had a bit of a lie in, then a walk around the village. The guesthouse where I’m staying is back from the harbour just a little and my room has a street facing window.

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The best thing about yesterday was the swimming I did, off a little platform into such clear water! It was a bit cold at first, and it took me ages to get in, but I did it in the end, with encouragement from two middle-aged Hydra ladies.

I did a bit of sunning myself on the rocks and now I’m paying for it with sunburn. I did use sunscreen, but not enough for my English conditioned skin!

I also had a good dinner at this little restaurant that was suggested to me by a friendly shopkeeper. She was correct, I had a Greek salad and then calamari with a glass of white wine and then ouzo to finish. I’m not sure about ouzo, interesting taste and it sure packs a punch!

Today I catch the ferry at midday and hopefully will be able to spend a little time in Athens I havn’t seen the cemetery that was included on my Ancient Athens ticket, so I might try that. Depends on how much time I have.

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Lofty

Two museums, lots of walking, a ride in a funicular – today was great! But I may have damaged my feet a bit more than I’d like…

Starting off early again, I hit up the National Archaeology Museum, only a few blocks from my hotel in Excharia Square. With an impressive facade, it holds some treasures that take their place as some important steps in human development & culture. There are Neolithic artefacts, hundreds of pottery pieces from the Cyclades, a room full of the treasures of the Mycenaens, archaic, classical & Roman sculptures and bronzes and some beautiful stuff from Thera, a town like Pompeii (only the residents knew the signs and left before the disaster!)

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I really loved the archaic Athena, her body curving under the dress, so beautifully carved by the sculptor. The artistic advance is something that I’m not really knowledgable enough to talk about, except that is is truly beautiful and when you eventually come to the Classical rooms, you can see how they worked & improved on an artistic style to make the beautiful sculptures of the Classical age.

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And here’s Zeus, or Poseidon. I think the jury is out forever on who it actually is, he could be wielding a lightning bolt or a trident, but look at the bronze! Poised, the muscles gliding under the skin, a feel of energy & movement. This is what made this period classic and copied, sculptures like this. The Romans copied this style, as did the Renaissance 2 centuries later. But so saying that, the modern art of Henry Moore and others takes quite a bit from Cycladic styles, the elongated bodies and large block heads.

After several repeat visits to certain areas, I left the museum and went on into the city, catching the metro to Syntagma. I finally found the Benaki museum and decided on a lunch break, to rest my sore feet. The Benaki museum is a collection of artefacts from early prehistoric Greece to modern day war of Independence Greece. It’s a wonderful collection, vases enough to satisfy, Byzantine paintings of the Christian faith (makes an interesting and not all that strange leap from pagan imagery to Christian) and rooms full of textiles and costumes. I really liked the rooms that were of 18th century mansions, with the dark wooden interiors richly decorated and ornate. I didn’t make it to the top floor, where later history was covered, it was getting close to three and I ran out of gusto.

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I sat in Kolonaki Square in the shade for a while and decided to go up Lycabettus Hill. Except instead of the smart, foot saving option, I climbed up instead. But it was so worth the pain, the view is just incredible. Once you are high enough, you can see the Aegean Sea in the distance (it is true – Athens is quite foggy) and then the buildings of the Acropolis and thousands of white buildings for many miles around.

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Breezy too, right at the summit! There’s a little chapel on the very top, the Chapel of St George. It was interesting and a little bit strange inside, and I kept thinking that that very place probably once had worship to Athena, not Christ and St George. We are human and that’s what we do, if a place has a special ‘feeling’ we like to put some thing there to conserve the feeling. Like a temple or a church. Or a weirdly phallic building which has no religious significance whatsoever but I’m sure it has some kind or meaning…

Ahem.

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So a double Greek coffee was had at the top of Lycabettus Hill before I ride the funicular down the hill back to Kolonaki. And as I passed through Syntagma Square, there was a protest march starting, with armoured riot police! So I decided to come back to the hotel, rest my feet and stay out of trouble for the night. There has been lots of noise, more of the bustling Saturday night feel, but occasionally a guy with a megaphone rides past in a car shouting stuff. I have no idea what he’s talking about though. But now when I look up at the hill out of the window, I know what’s up there and it’s a good feeling. Tomorrow I get a ferry to Hydra (Ydra – pronounced ee-dra) and I’m looking forward to sitting by the water and eating some good food. And maybe a swim.

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Dreaming

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This morning I woke up pretty early and lay in bed gazing up at the Lycabettus Hill. I learnt today that Lycabettus Hill was created as Athena was attempting to make the Acropolis even higher. She got distracted and dropped the rock, forming the tallest hill in Athens. I’m going to try and go up it tomorrow.
After breakfast, I caught the metro from Omonoia to Thisseio, and emerged from the state to that view (above). My breath quickened I can tell you! It has been a realisation of so many years to see the Acropolis that I still can’t believe it! I’m sitting in my hotel room, nursing sore, tired feet and a rather pink sunburn and feeling a little overwhelmed with all I’ve seen today.

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Once I’d located the entrance to the Ancient Agora, I wandered around in a bit of a daze. I found the Temple of Hephaistos (above), it truly is beautiful and much more intact than the buildings perched high above it. More wanderings, including the Agora museum and the Panthenaic Way and I was on the winding path to the Acropolis.
Once you’re at the gates, it almost feels like entering an amusement park, they scan your eticket (which you have to collect from a ticket office) and then you go through turnstiles…

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And then you’re here!

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And even though there was loads of people and uneven ground, I loved it. Especially the Erechtheion with its porch of the maidens (Caryatids). I’ve always been fascinated by them, and I love the fact that the originals are now in the museum (5 in the Acropolis Museum, 1 in the British!) they put copies up and they are just stunning.

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I even made it to the Temple of Olympian Zeus which was the impressive, even though most of it is missing!

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And then to the New Acropolis Museum for hours of pottery, marbles and musing. I had a Greek coffee (wonderfully thick) and a pastry with vanilla custard in the restaurant which is very atmospheric, with the view & such.

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Limping home, I was ‘complimented’ a few times on my colour – yep, sunburnt! Guess who completely forgot sunscreen due to the excessive cold nature of London? So now, I’m contemplating going out to see the Acropolis at night and grabbing some souvlaki. But maybe I’ll just pop downstairs for a bit of pizza and rest the feet for tomorrow, in which I plan to do more museums and climb that hill!

I will do more thorough posts when I’m home and have access to my camera photos. The iPhone ones are not the best anymore but I just have to post something!

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The Moon is Bright

Due to an unforeseen and unfortunate circumstance, I’m travelling alone this Easter. My vivacious housemate had a bad reaction to some medication and had to pull out, so here I am, alone in a edgy, noisy & interesting suburb of Athens.

It took me ages to find the hotel, I gave up trying to use a map and used my precious Internet data to try and figure out where I was. I had been walking in entirely the wrong direction, so I’m glad I did it.

And when I checked in and opened the curtains in my room, I was almost squealing – up on the hill is what looks to be ancient ruins… I thought it was the Acropolis for a few minutes until I actually located it on map.

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It’s Lycabetus Hill, where the Lycabetus Theatre was. You can go to the top and have magnificent views of Athens and the most famous hill of all, the Acropolis. The hotel has a roof top terrace, very well set out for sipping wine or coffee and looking at the hill.

After a bit of rest & contemplation, I went out for dinner. Tis is something that feels like a big deal – I’m not used to dining on my own. A cup of coffee here and there in a cafe, sure, but not a whole meal. Nothing to be scared of though, except I forgot a book or anything to occupy myself and the taverna was a bit empty so even people watching wasn’t that much fun.

I had roast lamb with fried potatoes (which looked just like fries) and a bottle of Mythos, the Hellenic beer I’d seen advertised at the airport. It was not bad lager, but tomorrow I’m trying ouzo!

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When I asked for the bill, I was also given a dessert, on the house, although I have no idea what it was. It was sliced with cinnamon & was sweetened with honey withs slightly grainy texture. And it all cost less than €12. I did leave a tip though.

So tomorrow it’s the Acropolis and maybe the National Archaeology Museum and more food. Will settle down now, and the legs are achy and the head is tired.

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History

Part of the Roman wall Barcelona, like lots of elder cities in Europe, has layers upon layers of living history. From first settlement scraps, paved Roman streets, medieval oddities, Renaissance flair to modern erm, flair?,  it’s own unique look has been tempered by over 2000 years of city building.

Mum, near a side entrance to La Catedral

Mum, near a side entrance to La Catedral

The architecture is mainly medieval and wander down little streets that have stonework put there centuries before hand. La Catedral, a masterpiece of Catalan Gothic, has a 19th century facade but the rest remains medieval. More on that later…

Barcino, a Roman town There were people living in Barcelona before the Romans, but little remains of that particular culture. Rome had a rather bad habit of chewing up and absorbing local culture, until the bits that were left were now ‘Roman’. The best way to really see  Roman Barcino and the subsequent layering is under the stones of the Catedral and nearby palace, which is now part of the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona. The museum is a definitely worth it and it’s free on the first Sunday of the month. It shows the evolution of Barcino from Roman to medieval to Renaissance. You start underground, walking around a Roman street, with fish shops, laundries and wine stores. I really liked the way that it was evident how much layering had gone on, bits of one building using the others as foundation – the Bishop’s palace in particular. Stones with Latin on them used as corner stones and to complete arches.

How to store the vino!

How to store the vino!

Tablet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceiling. Not enchanted thoughThe building that the museum is in is itself quite beautiful, once part of the Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace), a stronghold of power in medieval Barcelona.

 

LoomingThe faded grandeur of the rooms that are being used is lovely, Mum & I wandered into an exhibition on the textile history of Catalonia, on display in a magnificent hall with stained glass windows and gothic architecture.

Me...

Soaring columns On our final morning, we found the four remaining columns of the Temple of Augustus. tucked away in one of the narrow streets in the Barri Gotic area near the Catedral, it’s worth visiting for the scale & size of what the temple must have been like. A nice way to round off a visit that covered so many different aspects of Barcelona.

These statues were found near the cemetery, commemorating the deceased, perhaps in the hope that their faces would be remembered forever...

These heads were found near the cemetery, commemorating the deceased, perhaps in the hope that their faces would be remembered forever. I love the fact that after nearly 2000 years, they are still gazing into the future.

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Sagrada Familia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first day in Barcelona was so warm, so full of sunshine it was magical. The weather was like a lovely winter day in Sydney and totally unlike anything you get in England during winter – in fact it would top almost any spring or early summer day!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStarting, after a confusing moment when we tried to get breakfast in a bar and got strong but fantastic coffee but no food, by walking down La Ramblas, admiring the architecture and facades of the buildings and revelling in the sunshine. We decided to go and see the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished and truly wonderful masterpiece that Gaudi devoted much of his time to before his death in 1926. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was started in 1882 and is still not completed, with work ongoing on the exterior – almost every postcard and picture you will see has the cranes digitally removed, as you can see by the picture on the right, they are everywhere! It’s facade is quite unusual, from a distance it kind of looks like a sand castle, like someone has dribbled very wet sand over finely constructed spires. Once you get closer you can see the detailed sculptures and decoration – Gaudi didn’t like straight lines as he said that they didn’t occur in nature, so he made everything bend, sway or curve. Each main portal inside has a specific theme, the Nativity and the Crucifixion or Passion. Gaudi was very faithful to his religion and his work is littered with references to Christianity. When asked about the amount of time it was taking to finish Sagrada Familia, he said the client ‘wasn’t in a rush’, and when you reflect on the amount of time taken to finish those medieval cathedrals, I think he has a point.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter walking almost right around the cathedral, we finally found the ticket office and the entrance. We elected to get the Tower Lift ticket too – you get a specific time for your lift up into the ether and the attendant was very strict on the exact time. Since we had about 1/2 hour to wait for our lift, we walked around the interior and marvelled. It’s like walking in a forest – the soaring columns are swayed and almost seem to bend in the wind. The stained glass (unfinished in parts) lets the sunlight pour in with a dappled effect. There were a lot of people but it felt peaceful, with lots of space. Maybe Gaudi was going for the feeling of spirituality that you can get by being in a natural space, like a forest. Who hears the trees?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASagrada Familia interior columns

There are so many features of the Sagrada Familia, like the four different stones used to make the columns, the messages of the stained glass, the soaring ceiling and the seating for a 1000 strong choir. The many different chapels around the nave that are singled out for silent reflection and prayer, which are mostly honoured by the heaving mass of people come to see the building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrane!

Once we’d waited in line for the lift, it takes about 6 people in a ride to the top of a spire and the city of Barcelona is before you. Look out for the crane, it’s very hard to spot (ha ha!). If you’re okay with heights and being in an elevator with glass windows, this is well worth the extra money. The stairs down... There is an option to go back down the stairs, which made me suspicious that you could probably climb the stairs up – although it’s a very long way, so it’s possible that would only be for the very fit or the very broke. From these heights, you can also see some of the detail that is surely lost on the people on the ground, like the bunches of fruit that decorate the spires and the fine mosaic work. Which does make it likely that Gaudi had the foresight that such viewings would be taking place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce down on the lowly ground again, we had another trek through the forest floor before heading outside into the sun. The small school that Gaudi had built for the cathedral workers and their families is still there, with a waved roof and a drinking fountain on the side. Fancy bubbler? We went into the small museum/shrine to Gaudi in the crypt, hundreds of scale models of different aspects of the building and a few personal artefacts of Gaudi. His body lay in state in a chapel in the crypt when he was killed crossing the road in 1926. I don’t think he is buried here, and you can’t access the chapel.

Betrayal The place where you enter and exit the Cathedral is the Passion Gate, the sculptures here are not Gaudi, they belong to a colleague and were completed after his death. There is a man that resembles Gaudi in the crowd surrounding Jesus in one of the sculptures I can’t find the photo of that one though, think Mum has it.

I would say, if you had one day in Barcelona, this should be The thing that you see that day. Be a part of history and visit while it is still being completed! In days such as these, how many can say that they’ve been to a cathedral that is still being built? Unless, of course, you time travel. Then you might go to the planet Barcelona and not the city!

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