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Αθήνα

Athens!

You might have been wondering the destination of our plane from Cologne? Well, none other than Greece! We flew into Thesseloniki and took the train south to the capital, Athens where we are now spending our third night.

Where to begin? When I started to put together a rough outline of my trip to Europe, I wanted to be sure and see Greece as it is a Eurail country and a general place of interest. We had been trying to make it to the Hellinic Republic from the time we visited Italy, thinking that we might take a ferry (which looks easy enough on the map). This mode of transportation turned out to be time consuming and expensive. Our alternative was to book the cheapest round trip airfare to Greece from anywhere in Europe, which happend to be Cologne.

So we made it to Greece. The problem with our round trip ticket was that it was only for five days. We would have liked to see some of the islands but ended up settling on spending the entire time in Athens. Athens contains half of the Greek population, over 6 million people, for which I was mentally prepared for a big city experience (or so I thought).

I always thought of Athens on the same level as Rome -- ancient, classical cities with marvelous ruins. As I mentioned, Rome was magnificent in my opinion. Athens, to put it nicely, is a really big city -- I was reminded of my trip to Santiago in the Dominican Republic. I am very glad to have visited Greece, but I cannot think of a time, where I wanted to be in the middle of the rather quiet wilderness somewhere in northern Idaho, more than when I was wandering the busy streets of Athens.

Having said that, the Acropolis -- the crown jewel of Athens -- was the city's saving grace for me (and probably for lots of people). The hike up the hill to the awaiting ruins takes you out of the noise, cars, scooters, and generally crowded and dirty streets with buildings all around you. As you reach the summit, you are magically displaced, from the Athens of today, to its golden age over 2,000 years ago.

The entire hilltop is clad in white marble. The enterence, the remains of the Temple Athena Nike, welcomes you into history. As soon as you pass through this gateway, you see it, the enduring symbol of ancient Greece, the Parthenon. Even though it is not what it once was, the site of this monument screems of great achievement and still has a great deal of beauty. The pillars are massive, the overall size of the temple is huge -- and to think that it was built in 447 B.C.!

The remains of other temples and buildings, certianly great at one time, sit like skeletons with bones of marble scattered across the landscape. On top of the hill you can look down upon the remains of the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus and the theater Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Also still standing is the interesting Erechtheum with the porch of maidens holding up one celine. At this vantage, you can also begin to see how big current day Athens is... but standing on the steps of the Parthenon while it withstands the test of time... that will make you feel small.

The Parthenon
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Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater, still used today (with renovations I am sure)
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The Karyatides statues of the Eleuthereus
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Ancient horses carved in marble circa 500 B.C.
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Port of Athens, with all the pollution
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Posted by foltz.45 21:45 Archived in Greece Comments (1)

A deadline in West Germany

Berlin and Cologne

We had to be in Cologne on the morning of May 3rd to catch a plane ride. This meant that we had to get from Prague to Cologne via Berlin in 3 days by train -- but there was no way we were going to pass up a visit to the German capital.

I had a much different view of Berlin that what I actually witnessed. I thought, probably as many think, of the Berlin you see in history texts or on a tv documentary -- the Berlin wall, communism, and the rest.

Berlin, I was happy to see, is a beautiful city. We managed to get to our hostel without too much trouble, which is always very nice. Upon arrival, our host wanted to know why my passport was in a plastic case. "Is this to make it waterproof?" "Uh, well really it just for some added protection, I suppose," I said. No one had ever taken as much interest in the plastic cover of my passport as he did. "Are you guys here for the demonstration?" he asked. "Demonstration?" I asked. "Oh yeah, tomorrow is the German -- how do you say -- work day," he said. The next day was May 1st, what he meant was that it was the German Labor Day. For the last 15 years there has been a huge demonstration, which was occuring the next night, a protest against the system.

Berlin we found out, while beautiful, is still a highly charged political center as you might expect. As we charged in our usual pedestrian fashion on Labor Day, we saw the different faces of the city. I took on a different style of photography for the day, instead of taking pictures of the sites as I usually do, I took on a documentary style. We didn't take part in any protest, but really did enjoy the holiday. There are great sites in the city, which is right up to par with modern standards in my opinion. I cannot make any widespread claims, but I am sure some of this is surface deep. This was certianly true of our hostel, which had all the feelings and furnishings of what I imagine an apartment would have looked like prior to WWII. All part of the adventure!

It would have been great to stay longer in Berlin, our host agreed saying, "Berlin in two days?" shaking his head, but we had to get to Cologne and the airport. With just one night in Cologne, we trekked all over, trust me on that one. It was a very different scene in Western Germany after visiting Berlin. I don't know the exact difference, there was one in the architecture, but mostly in the feeling and the people. It didn't feel as industrial or politically charged. Another beautiful city of Europe, Cologne seemed efficient and of course had its own enormous catherderal, The Dom. After a solid 3 hours of sleep we were off to the airport and on the plane.

The Berlin TV tower
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Kaiser Whilhelm Church, it had been bombed pretty hard
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A different wall in Berlin
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No Nazi here
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Some more documentary
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Feeling political yet, ready for a demonstration?
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Cologne & The Dom
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Posted by foltz.45 00:27 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Prague

In central Bohemia

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Yes, I am still alive, there is a picture to prove it. There is no reason why I shouldn't be I suppose, but it seems like I haven't been at a computer -- and hence had any communication -- for a while. The trek from the Eternal city to the heart of Bohemia has come and gone. I had heard many times how beautiful and amazing Prague is and in my opinion, the claims are true.

The city itself is very large, however, the central area is pedestrian friendly which is very appealing. Another observation is the fact that there are lots of places to get a good view and panorama in different parts of the city, you don't feel trapped in the tall buildings as you might in other large cities. In addition, Prague is relatively cheap, compared to eastern european countries, as the Czech Republic is not in the European Union, yet. The underlying meaning of this is that we were able to eat out and get a feel for Bohemian food. I can't tell you what it was that I ate, other than it was really tasty and included a variety of potato pancakes that were amazing. Another result of the rather cheap prices in Prague is that it is a weekend retreat for other Europeans, the symptom of this being we found accomidation during the week easy to find -- on the weekend we had to move to another hostel. This turned out to be a great move, the hostel we stayed in just opened and we were the first to stay in the room which was very clean.

There are lots of great sites in Prague, places to hike, and like I mentioned good view points. The dominating features of the City are the Castle, containing St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Vltava River with the Charles Bridge. Both of these features can be seen throughout the central part of town.

An interesting part of the long Prague history lies within the Jewish ghetto, especially interesting after visiting Israel. The Jews have had a difficult time around the world, and were forced into a ghetto in Prague as well. Relics of the Jewish population still remain -- the most appaling is the cemetary where, within the tiny quarter, graves were laid upon graves. Old headstones rise as soil erodes to meet newer ones (see below).

Well, check Prague off the list. It has secured a position within the top 5 places of this adventure.

Charles bridge, the polorizing filter in full effect
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Tyn Church in the Old Town square
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Prague Castle
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St. Vitus Cathedral
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Statues in the Castle, interesting I thought
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Jewish graves, piled upon each other
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The Classic view of Prague
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Posted by foltz.45 23:42 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (1)

Venice and Vienna

The trip from Rome to Prague

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That's me at our pension in Venice, eating my last piece of pizza from my favorite pizzaria in Rome. So what did we find in Venice? Only this...

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We had a lay-over of one night in Venice and one night in Vienna on our way from Rome to Prague, but we made the most of it. As usualy, we charged probably 16+ miles in two days -- all after sitting on trains for over 12 hours. That is what you must do if you want to see places in short order, charge it.

Venice, famous for their masks and glass among other things, is a place that you can't just go by without checking out. It isn't everyday that you travel near a city built on the water where the traffic lights direct boats on canals instead of cars on streets. The main square in Venice is the thing to take in after all the side streets and canals. We arrived at dusk, greeted by lights and music. Little stages with a band consisting of a singer, grand piano, bass, violin and accordian played romantic music from plays like the Westside Story and the Sound of Music in front of nice restaraunts and crowds of people.

Gondola on the Main Canal in Venice
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St. Mark's Square in Venice
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Masks in Venice
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Then we made our way by train to Vienna, Austria. We got a good tour of the city by taking the old-fashion tram to our hostel. Tired, but wanting see at least get a picture or two in Vienna, we hopped the metro to see the symbol of the city, St. Stephen's Cathederal. The thing is just looks old, the sides are stained black like it has been through war (it has), and it is huge. The inside is impressive due to the size and the large stained glass in the windows. In the darkness and moonlight though the clouds, the cathederal seemed like a place where Dracula would reside.

Stephandom as it is said in German
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Posted by foltz.45 17:14 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

The Vatican & the largest Church in the World

another marvel of Rome

Take it or leave it but "until you have seen the Sistine Chapel, you can have no adequate conception of what man is capable of accomplishing," at least that is what Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said in Italian Journey.

The Catholics sure know how to do things right when it comes to building a church and the art of interior design. The Vatican was a place to behold, all 110 acres of it. The sheer amount of different things going on in the Vatican, things to see and try and understand, is far too much to comprehend over years -- let alone a day. I guess I am stuck without words to describe the Vatican museum and St. Peter's Basilica (maybe von Goeth did it for me). I will just show some pictures, the thing is, my pictures don't do the place justice (you aren't allowed to photograph inside the Sistine Chapel, sorry for that). Michelangelo and his nemisis Rafael are a pair of geniuses.

St. Peter's Basilica
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...and the inside, it is the biggest church in the world.
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Michelangelo's Pieta, a masterpiece
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A cool painting on the way to the Sistine Chapel
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The "map room" right before you enter the Sistine Chapel
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The Rock himself, St. Peter
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Posted by foltz.45 22:56 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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