Randy and the Lost Ark

In a way, my recent trip to Ethiopia actually began in 1981 with the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I have only vague memories of seeing the movie in the theater and all I really knew about it was that the guy who played Han Solo would be playing some other guy named Indiana Jones (or “Indian Joe” as four-year-old Randy would say.) Most of my memories of the plot of the movie actually come from the countless times that I would watch it later in life, either on HBO or VCR. Although this film has absolutely nothing to do with the nation of Ethiopia, it spurred an interest in the Ark of the Covenant, which would plant the seeds of interest in Ancient and Biblical History.

My interest in the Ark, Bible, and ancient cultures would grow and expand as I got older and learned of new places. My first awareness of Ethiopia came a few years after Indiana Jones became a hero of mine. In the mid-80s, we began to see images on the news of people starving. There was a famine in a place called Ethiopia. Images would flood across our screens on the evening news and in Sally Struthers commercials (and create a not so subtle analogy for America: How can she plead with us to send food to all these starving kids, when she is so fat?) Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and a bunch of other celebrities got together and made a song. Somehow these things helped the people in Ethiopia or so we were told. For most of the rest of my life, I would associate the word “Ethiopia” with “hunger”.

Many years later, in college, a Geography professor explained to us that King Solomon in the Bible had a son with the Queen of Sheba (who was from Ethiopia). Because of this, he explained, Judaism and Christianity thrived in Ethiopia throughout its history. He also told us not to take his word for it, that this was in the Bible and we should look it up if we did not believe him. (Of course, I did, but all the Bible says about the Queen of Sheba is that she visited Solomon because of his wisdom. No details about who she was or where she came from or any relations between her and Solomon. But I’ll come back to all this in another post.) Not long after, my African History professor (who coincidently was Ethiopian) had us read a series of articles about the so-called Solomonic Dynasty and the introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia. Despite objections from some of my classmates, he assured us that the stories of the offspring of Solomon and the Queen were pure myth and not to be taken as factual. (I’ll get back to this in a later post as well.)

Around this same time, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in Yemen (this was 1998, well before its recent troubles). We began and ended our trip in Sana’a, the capital city. Our guide, as it happens, was Ethiopian. After taking us to the National museum (which also claimed that ancient Saba [Sheba] was in Yemen and its famous queen was from there, which seems to contradict Ethiopia’s claim. Historians disagree about which is which. In actuality, Saba spanned the Horn of Africa [including modern Ethiopia] and the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula [including modern Yemen]. Since the ancients did not draw national boundaries like we do, the debate is irrelevant. It was all Sheba.) After the museum, our guide took us to an Ethiopian restaurant. As it happens, many Ethiopian refugees had fled to Sana’a during its war with Eritrea in the mid-90s. This visit began my appreciation for Ethiopian food, but more memorable than the food, were the pictures in the entrance of the restaurant. Images of bombed houses and dead civilians (particularly children) lined the walls. The memorial was dedicated to people who had been killed in bombings by Eritrea. It eerily reminded me of a memorial that I had seen just the summer before in Lebanon of children killed by Israeli bombers. I suppose evil is universal. I now find it ironic that I saw these images in Yemen.

At some point after this, I stumbled upon a documentary on the History Channel about the Ark which followed the possible scenarios of what became of it after the Old Testament. The host visited Axum (or Aksum), Ethiopia. Here, the host claimed, was a church that claimed to house the Ark. The chapel was heavily guarded only allowing one selected priest to enter once a year (modeled after the temple high-priest in the Old Testament.) Although it seemed fantastic that the Ark could actually be in a real place, in a real building, in the real world, the fact that it was in Ethiopia with its legendary ties to Solomon and other Biblical characters/events, made a certain amount of sense. I mentally added this place to the long list of places that I would someday visit. As the years passed, I would see other documentaries and read articles that made similar claims about Axum being the home of the Ark and I would update my mental list.

As the years passed and I learned more about the Ark’s possible home, I learned more about the country of Ethiopia, both its ancient and modern history. The oldest human remains were discovered in Ethiopia. (Well, until a discovery in Morocco, just a few months ago…….stupid continuing research.) A city in the mountains called Lalibela was also linked to the Ark, Ethiopia’s ancient history, and was home to some of the most beautiful stone-hewn churches in the world. And there is also the capital city, Addis Ababa, which would bookend my trip. These locations only scratch the surface of Ethiopia’s rich history and tradition, but I will attempt to share what I learned there. If you have read this far, I assume you are interested. I hope you will enjoy the future installments.


Hellenistic Odyssey: Conclusion

It was difficult to think of a way to end one of the best summers of my life. I had seen places that I had dreamed of seeing, places that only seemed to exist in books or movies. And I discovered new places, met people, tried new flavors and combinations of food and drink. What do you do with all of this once you have it? I decided the best way would be to retrace my steps just a bit and end with a week of relaxation in Athens.
I had one more day left on my car rental so I stopped in Corinth again for the night. I stayed in the Acropolis Hotel again. They did not put me in as nice of a room this time, but it was fine, until the AC went out in the middle of the night. I did spend most of the afternoon at the beach. Just as before, Corinth is a nice quiet town. It had not changed since the month before.
I dropped the car in Piraeus, near the port and took the metro back to Athens. I misinterpreted where the new hostel that I would be staying was located (although there is a metro station close by, just not the one I thought) and had a longer walk than I would have liked, but I found it and settled in. This time I was in Zorbas Hostel. I was here for eight nights so I had plenty of time to meet the staff and the people who came and went. Decent place for a decent price. None of the places in which I stayed were 5-star (except maybe the one in Elounda), but I have no major complaints about any of them.
The food was almost always amazing. Who can go wrong with seafood and sausage? Mousaka is like…..eggplant pasta, I guess, pretty tasty. Souvlaki is this chopped meat thing, which can be pork, steak, lamb, or chicken. And kabab is always an option. And cheese pie…… like some of the sunsets that I saw along the journey, words cannot express how I feel about cheese pie. And of course, baklava is always around to sample. Most places will bring you a shot of Ouzo (or Raki in Crete) at the end of your meal. Ouzo is an anise drink, much better than it sounds. Raki……I don’t know what Raki is, but it’s good.
What did I do in this whole leftover week in Athens? Well, I went to the Roman Agora and the Hill of the Muses, which I did not get to the first time around. I attempted to go to the Observatory to watch the meteor showers. The Observatory closed just before sunset. It is up on a high hill and I hung around for a while after dark, but still too much light. I did however, get a great view of the lit-up Acropolis. I spent two days on the beach in Piraeus, always time well spent. And the remaining time? I just bounced around to various cafes. I read. I wrote. I smoked shisha. It was everything that I dreamed it would be. Also, the second shisha place that Katrina and I found in the first round of Athens, was called YaDria. Let’s just say they got to know me and look for me around a certain time most days of this week. There were two other places that I also sampled. They were fine as well.
I can’t say that I am looking forward to leaving and getting back to normal life, but how can I complain? It has been a memorable experience and I am grateful for having gotten the chance to have lived it. I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. Now when I read about ancient Greece or the parts of the Bible that take place here, I will have a more accurate vision in my mind of how these places looked, which hopefully will lead to a more accurate understanding of the events I am reading about. And I hope that the insights that I have gained and will continue to gain will provide me with fresh vision and renewed energy to fuel the remainder of my time on Earth. Of course, I hope this will not be my last trip to an exotic or meaningful location and that whatever future trips I take will also add fuel to the fires of life. May you find the same.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 9: Peloponnese

This was the final leg of my road trip. I continued to stop at places that were of historical and mythological significance (and anything else that may have popped up on my radar. I was in no rush. I did not force myself to see “everything.” I mostly focused on the main “site”, if there was one, and usually a trip to the archaeological museum (again, if there was one.) There was no particular rhyme or reason to the order of my travel (I just drew straight lines across the road map. If I liked a place I lingered there. If I was tired, I rushed through and left. I’ve said before, I hope you are not reading this as a travel guide. I’m not trying to tell you where to go, how to go, or what to see.
Argos and Mykines (Mycenae)
Argos is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. There is not much to see in the modern portion, but there is another large central square area with cafes and such. Families gather in the evening. Another place with a real community feel to it. According to mythology, Perseus was born here. Because of its proximity to Sparta, they were consistent rivals for power. Argos stayed neutral during the Persian wars and officially neutral during the war between Sparta and Athens (although, they tended to favor Athens). A somewhat interesting site is called the Greek pyramid. The base is all that remains, although it was probably more of a defense tower, its similarity to Egyptian pyramids is hard to ignore. Also, in Delphi, there are two statues that were gifts to the Oracle from Argos, depicting two Argive heroes in Egyptian-looking dress. According to mythology, the ancient rulers of the city were related to and intermarried with the Egyptian pharaohs so the similarities make some sense. The remains of the city, Tiryns, is also nearby and some interesting structures are still standing.
Ancient Mycenae is also close to this area. When you think of Greek mythology and the origins of Greek civilization, you are thinking of Mycenae. They were the forerunners of who we call ancient Greeks. Agamemnon, who led the united Greek forces against Troy was the ruler of this city. His wife’s tomb is still here. The famous Lion Gate is also still standing. The site is very intact and could give Delphi a run for its money, if you are looking to be transported back in time to when the city prospered.
This is a region, not a city. I passed through here to see nothing particular, but it has the most personal touch of any place I have gone. My last name, “Payne” comes from some old version of English which means “pagan, rustic woodsman, descendant of Payen.” “Payen” is an Anglo-sized version of Pan the Greek god of the wild, shepherds, etc. Worship of Pan started in this region. According to myth, Pan and his father, Hermes were born on Mt. Kyllini which is in this region. So, I set google to a spot near the mountain and set out in that direction. I found a wide-open place with a great view, took some pictures, then stopped at a café for some coffee. Time well spent in my book. There is no Greek in my family, but the ancestors of whatever group of people eventually migrated to some part of England and took the name “Payne” must have come from somewhere around here. Or maybe it’s all just some fantastic coincidence.

This was the most touristy stop on the Peloponnese portion of the trip. It was the most crowded with foreigners that I had seen since Delphi, which is understandable. It is the birthplace of the Olympics, after all. You can go to the original site pretty easily. Remains of the original Olympic stadium are still standing. The spot where they still light the modern Olympic torch is here. Also, the remains of Zeus’ temple is somewhat intact. At one point, there was a huge silver and gold statue of Zeus that was one of the Seven Wonders. That makes two Wonders that I saw on this trip (or where they used to be) and four total for me. Two others were located in Turkey and one was in Iraq (may not make it to that one…..) The archaeological museum houses most of the remaining statues and is quite interesting in piecing the story together. There is another museum dedicated to the sports that were played in the ancient site.
This is Sparta!
I very much wanted to somehow magically transport one of the very few people in this world that I do not like to this place and kick them into a giant pit while I was here. No such luck on the magic front or the pit. I did not see anything resembling I giant well or pit into which Persian messengers could be violently tossed. Ah well, life is not perfect and neither are movies. Considering how important Sparta was in ancient times, there is very little of the ancient stuff emphasized. The archaeological museum consists of only two small rooms. There is not much left of the ancient city. In fairness, they are still working on it. Not complaining, still good to be here. Around the modern city, there is a statue of Leonidas and a couple of other Spartan soldier type statues. There is a central square like most towns, mostly with families that come out at night, like Thiva and Argos. Surprisingly non-touristy. Not far outside of town there is Menelaion. These remains are at the top of a very high hill and was once either the home of or dedicated to Menelaus and Helen. This area provides a great view of the surrounding area and was the perfect final official stop of my road trip. I took in my surroundings, reflected on my journey, and thanked God for allowing me to make it.
Got Shisha?
No. Non. لا. Όχι.
What else can I say? I saw places that I dreamed of seeing. None of them disappointed. It was as close to a perfect trip as I could have asked for.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 8: Central Greece

After the slight detour to the School of Aristotle, I headed south. Over the next week or so, I would see some of the iconic places highlighted in Greek mythology and history, not that Alexander the Great, Aristotle, and Paul are not icons of Greek history, but you get the idea. My mind would be so transported back to these places that ironically, I would not come up for air until I returned to Athens.
Mt. Olympos
Samaria Gorge took all of the hike out of me so I did not attempt to trek up or even drive up. I mainly just wanted to see it. And that I did. Beautiful area. I can understand how it captured the imagination of the inventors of those early myths and was thought of as the home of the gods. I did have a cup of coffee in the valley below and enjoyed the view. I read or something, I forget exactly. I walked around the main strip and bought my mom a postcard, then was back on the road. I also passed Mt. Othyrs, which was home of the Titans, according to the same myths. I stopped for the night near the town of Lamia. I had driven quite a while and wanted a reasonable early start the next day.
I used to show the movie 300 to my history classes when we would study ancient Greece (with certain parts edited out), not for its historical accuracy, but to get their attention and grab their interest. When we think of 300, we usually think of Sparta, but this is where the bulk of the movie takes place. It was on this battle field that the Spartans (along with over 1000 other Greeks) met the Persian army. It is true that Leonidas, the king of the Spartans sent the other armies home when it became apparent that they were trapped, but the remainder of the 300 were joined by at least 700 other Greeks who refused to leave. (Yeah, 300 vs. 1,000,000 sounds better.) There is a monument to Leonidas, who fell early in that final battle, you can cross the highway and climb the hill where the last of the Greek forces made their final stand. There is a hot spring at the other end of the battle field as well. There is a small museum that has a digital presentation of the events that led up to and resulted from the battle. Again, this is one of those places where you just have to appreciate being where history happened. There is nothing all that impressive to see, but I loved every second of it.
Even if you are not that familiar with Greek history or mythology, you have probably heard of the Oracle of Delphi. It is a term that has somehow slipped into our collective consciousness. According to the myth, Zeus wanted to know the center of the Earth so he sent birds flying in two different directions. He threw a stone down in the spot where they met. This was the center, or navel, of Earth. The original stone is long gone, but there is a reconstruction of it. The Delphi complex is centered around it. Because of its presumed importance, a temple was built to Apollo. It just so happens that natural gasses rose to the surface near this temple. A young woman was selected to be the Oracle. The Oracle would inhale these gases and make strange sounds which were interpreted by the priests of the temple. From all around Greece (and even other parts of the ancient world) royalty, nobles, and whoever could afford it, would send gifts to the temple hoping to win Apollo’s favor and get a favorable prophecy. If one were lucky, they could make the journey themselves to Delphi and up the mountain trail to hear the Oracle. There’s no more oracle, but the site is well preserved. It was worth the hike up the road to see it.
Thiva (Thebes)
This relatively small town was the birthplace of Herakles and maybe Dionysus. It was one of the seven major city-states and many of its soldiers were among the other 700 that stayed behind at Thermopylae. Other than the archaeological museum, there is not much here. This is the place to go if you want to experience a little more authenticity. There is a main square. Families would come out to watch football (soccer) or just sit and talk in the cafes that lined the square. There were kids playing football, kids riding bikes, kids just running around. There was truly a community oriented atmosphere to the place that I have not seen in Greece or anywhere, for that matter. I may have been the only foreign tourist in the entire town. I got the impression there were Greek tourists there, but I did not hear one word of English, except when somebody spoke to me and realized that I could not speak Greek back to them. This was the most “off the beaten path” place of the trip up to this point.
This was my major stop the next day. Basically, another big empty field, much greener than Thermopylae though. The battle of Marathon was here. This is where the Athenians beat the Persians in the first Persian war, several years before the Battle of Thermopylae. The story goes, that after the battle, a runner was sent to Athens with the good news. He ran the approximately 26.2 miles, then dropped dead as soon as he reported the victory. And now around the world, people run marathons to commemorate this act. I’m sure I would drop dead well before completing the run. Anyway, there is not much to see. There is a huge mound, which is the mass grave of the Athenians. A trail takes you around the mound. Not much more to it than that. Another place that I’m glad I saw, but nothing visually special.
Got Shisha?
This leg of the trip (and the next) was the result of me for years, reading, learning, or teaching about the important places from Greek History and mythology. I would learn about a place, event, or person and think, I want to see that for myself someday. And sure enough, that day finally came. This is the part that can truly be called a trek or Odyssey. I made mistakes, went the wrong direction, or just plain forgot about something and had to go back, turn around, whatever. This is the portion of the trip that I looked forward to most and it did not disappoint in the least.

Thinking About America

I woke up this morning and wobbly sipped a cup of coffee as I checked the news and Facebook feeds. I started with Facebook this morning (for some reason). The first thing I noticed was an unusual amount of Martin Luther King quotes. I then stumbled on the mass influx of links to news stories and opinion pieces regarding the protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, and its aftermath. I suppose because I’m doubly removed from my American life at the moment (I live in the United Arab Emirates, but am on vacation in Greece), this was the first I had heard of this event. Plenty will comment and already have, and my voice will stand out no louder or uniquely than anyone else’s (and that’s kind of what this piece is about), but for what it’s worth, here it is.

I am currently reading The Plague by Albert Camus. I became aware of this book several years ago while doing research for my Master’s thesis. I was researching a local civil rights organization in Mississippi known as the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). COFO was the umbrella group that national organizations working in Mississippi in the early-mid 1960s could operate under. One of the key leaders of COFO was a worker in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced snick), Bob Moses. A biographer of Moses’ constantly referred to his affinity for Camus particularly The Plague and The Rebel (a nonfiction work).

I am not quite half way through The Plague but in a nutshell, rats began to die in a small town in French Algeria. People removed the first few dead rats and went on with life as usual, but more began to die. Soon the town was flooded with dead rats. This was something that people talked about. Everyone had an opinion about the dead rats. Soon enough, the rats disappeared and people began to get sick. This also was a problem that people merely talked and opined about, they petitioned the authorities to do something, but then…… well, I haven’t gotten that far yet, but based on what I know of both Camus and Moses, I think that Camus is writing an allegory. (I could easily google this, but I do not want to read any of the analysis of the book until I have finished it. So, somebody let me know if I’m headed out to left-field with this.) I would say that the plague seems represent a bad idea in society. It takes root somewhere first, then it begins to spread. People see it happening. They talk about it as though it is happening far off or in some fantasy world, even when it is growing in their midst. However, at some point the bad idea has grown and expanded into something that cannot be ignored. Our opinions about it become useless. Our conspiracy theories, our name calling, all amount to nothing. We blame and appeal to those in power. They do nothing or have even become infested themselves and still we do nothing. We hope that the bad thing will go away and we continue to say so to anyone who will listen.


I believe this is the most accurate description of American society in this age. Bob Moses was a man of action. He saw a problem and he moved to Mississippi, but not to “lead the way” or offer his solution. He assisted people in organizing themselves, to self-direct and supported their plans. There was a lot of talk, because that is how people are, but the talk developed into actions. At this point in time, Moses and others were helping to give a voice to people who did not have one. The problem now is that everyone has a voice, and a platform from which speak. Or more than one if they are so inclined. In fact, we have substituted the expression of our opinions for action. I stand on the outside looking in and sat to write a blog post, but do nothing. My friends have posted MLK quotes, and links to various articles, and tributes to Heather Heyer, but most of them will do nothing else. Donald Trump spouts fiery rhetoric at North Korea as they have been doing for years, neither have followed it up with anything. Calls have gone out for President Trump to condemn the white supremacist protestors, but the calls have no bite.
And how can we expect any different? We elected a reality TV star as our president (I say we, in the collective sense. I did not, and most others that I know did not vote for him.) And he is merely a reflection of what we have become. Too many voices choke out the significant ones. Too many opinions water down the relevant ones. Living abroad, when I turn on my homepage expecting to see news, I read that Beyonce is having twins, or that Kim and Kanye are splitting up, or what picture posted by someone I’ve never heard of is causing a stir on Instagram. And in the midst of those, I can glean information about Syria, or North Korea, or healthcare reform, or whatever the issues are that I should be concerned about. And I can offer whatever opinion I care too about whichever one I care to, it’s only reality after all.

So, what can I or anyone else actually do? I respect, to no end, the Black Lives Matter folks (and although Bob Moses signed off, I cannot condone every aspect of their platform, which you can read here: https://mic.com/articles/150945/sncc-legacy-project-endorses-the-movement-for-black-lives-policy-platform ,) who do actually get out and protest. Even that seems to have limited effectiveness, but at least they are doing more to express their dissatisfaction than posting a quick quip about Trump’s hair and thinking that they have done something important. (I have no respect whatsoever for the Alt-Right folks protesting in Virginia, but I must admit, they did at least come out from behind their phones and computers to show their faces.) But protests do not last forever. Maybe more Black Lives Matter followers should go into the police academy? Teachers should have their classes discuss these issues. We all have coworkers and family members who hold opinions different (or the opposite) of ours, perhaps we should go out of our way to engage those people in conversation, maybe even not talk, but just shut up and listen.

Perhaps even those things are not enough. The Declaration of Independence says that when a government is no longer listening to its people, it should be done away with, by violence if necessary. But the call for that should only go out when all else has failed. In today’s society, that call will not be heard because too many will be busy posting links to the article sending out the call.

So, post your link about the issue of the day and scroll to the next quiz about what Marvel hero you are or whatever. And I will post this, and my next blog will be about my trip to Sparta.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 7: Ancient Macedonia

I was warned before I left Rhodes, that the northern part of Greece is different from the islands. This statement would prove to be true. I suppose there are several reasons for this. One is simple distance. Islands tend to be more isolated so of course each has its own style. Also, the northern part of Greece is in the region of Macedonia which roughly corresponds to Ancient Macedonia (Phillip II and his son Alexander the Great) which is not the same as the modern nation of Macedonia. Apparently, there is some contention between modern Greece and modern Macedonia over that name. Modern Macedonia formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Greece did not appreciate and has even taken modern Macedonia to court over their chosen name. This is ironic because ancient Greeks did not consider ancient Macedonians to be true Greeks, whereas, Macedonians such as Alexander the Great sought to be the ultimate Greek and even “enlighten” the rest of the world with Greek ways. Thessaloniki is the leading city in this area and the second largest city in Greece. Another city with biblical connections, it is more like Athens than most cities in the islands, yet unique in its own right.
I took the overnight ferry from Rhodes to Piraeus. From Piraeus, I took the metro to the central train station in Athens. After a brief wait in the station, I caught the train to Thessaloniki. Contrary to my pre-summer expectation, this was my only train trip. Most of my travel had been bus, car, ferry, or good ol’ fashioned walking. It was about three hours to Thessaloniki, then I had a mostly uphill walk to the hostel in which I would be staying. The bags made it difficult and other than taking one day off in Patmos, I had been on the go since Samaria Gorge. My legs were still quite sore, but I made it. I laid down for a couple of hours, then went looking for food. Like most cities that I had visited, Thessaloniki had a central area with restaurant, bars, cafes, etc. I found a place to eat, then after a short walk, called it a night.
This city is very much still in touch with its history. Most of the sites are in the middle of town. This is not a new town with the same name built near an ancient site, this is a city that has expanded from its original place. At one point in its history, it was considered a “co-capital” with Constantinople of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. And the city is very much aware of it. There is a pride here that I felt in few other places along my journey. I walked the entire city and saw all the major sites in one day. It wasn’t really that bad, but another long day after a series of exhausting ones. It became difficult to enjoy some of the later sites as much as the earlier ones. There are several Byzantine churches and monasteries. One, Vlatadon Monastery, claims to house the spot where Paul preached while he was here. I stopped after this visit, at the Byzantine Café, because how could I not stop at a place called Byzantine café? Then I continued along the Old City wall, most of the way down to the port. I stopped for shisha, of course, and made another stop at the Rotunda. This is easily my favorite spot in Thessaloniki. As it sounds, it a rounded building built for worship, by the Romans. There are many mosaics and four huge windows which insure light from the sun enters and shines in the middle of the floor at any given time of day, lighting the middle up with this golden color like light from heaven. At one point, it did serve as a church, now seems set aside for tourists. Thessaloniki’s most iconic site is the White Tower, down near the port. There are winding stairs that take you to the top. Each floor is dedicated to a different aspect of the city’s history and/or culture, a uniquely themed and organized museum. There is also a statue of Alexander the Great nearby, just to remind you how important a city it is. It was named after his sister, after all. There are other sites that I didn’t get to, but took in from the outside. The Agia Sophie is a church that once served as a mosque. There is a Roman Agora. I caught these on my way back to the hostel. I found the Hertz office, which although the sign said it was open, had already closed. That night I reserved a car online for the first day of my extended road trip through the rest of the country.
Another biblical and historical city, the ruins of ancient Philippi are near the modern city Kavala. Although founded earlier, Alexander the Great renamed it for his father (Phillip). In the archaeological museum, there is also an inscription of a declaration by Alexander setting the official boundaries of the city. According to the biblical account, Paul, Silas, and the rest of his company (possibly including Luke) stopped by a river just outside of the city where they met and baptized a woman named Lydia. Lydia can be considered the first European Christian. I stayed in the village named for her, right next to the chapel along the river. There is a chapel where weddings and special events are held and a baptistry along the river where one can be baptized if they are so inclined. There was no one else there when I visited. I enjoyed a nice, peaceful time of reflection. Philippi is a pretty typical ancient Greek/Roman city. There is a fairly intact theatre. There is a place called the “prison of Paul” where he and Silas were imprisoned while they were there. There is debate as to whether this is the right spot or even was a jail. There are also the interesting remains of an octagonal chapel. All that remains is the foundation which suggests the shape, but with a little imagination, you can picture how it must have looked.
I made my first mistake of my road trip. I realized that I missed Pella, birthplace of Alexander the Great. Pella was lies just outside of Thessaloniki. I should have gone there, before heading to Philippi, but I had to go west anyway, and decided to make another stop along the way. The ruins are not that spectacular. There is nothing that says, “Alexander the Great was born here” or anything like that. There are some impressive mosaics. There’s the remains of the temple of Rhea, the mother of all the gods, which I had not seen anywhere else so I did not feel like I wasted my time and I was glad to walk where Alexander must have run around as a kid. I had lunch in Alexander the Great Square and was on the road again. Because of almost missing Pella, I felt like I had to make up time. This was probably the longest day I had of the road trip.
Berea (Veroia)
I mostly stopped here because of its brief mention as one of Paul’s stops in Acts. This meant that I hit all his major stops on the Macedonia/Greek portion of his second trip (Philippi, Thessaloniki, Berea, Athens). I would feel incomplete without having made it. There is not much to the archaeological museum, but I did learn of a site nearby known as the School of Aristotle and added it to the list. I made a stop at the place that is marked as Paul’s Bema where he supposedly preached, then was off to my hotel, just outside the city. Not much to see here, but a nice, quiet little town.
School of Aristotle
I got up reasonably early the next day and headed to the site known as the School of Aristotle. This is a free place to enter (if you can find it, do not count on google maps, but I happened to see the sign while I was doing just that.) It is also a fairly recent discovery and has not been “spiced up” like other archaeological sites. There are only a couple of signs and much of the area has been overtaken, by growth of the surrounding woods. (Being from Mississippi, it reminded me of some of the random stops along the Natchez Trace.) There was one area, in which several flat stone slabs were arranged around a central stone. I imagined this as an outdoor classroom and sat on the central stone, because surely Aristotle sat there while he taught Alexander and his classmates. Although there is not much to this place, archaeologists are almost certain that this was the location of Aristotle’s school. And we know that Alexander the Great was his student for approximately two years before he had to go serve as king after his father, Phillip, was assassinated. So, despite the lack of flair, for me, this was one of my favorite places. Again, the main purpose of the trip is to see where History happened.
Got Shisha?
A google search brought up several places in Thessaloniki that had shisha. I only stopped at one. Again, didn’t get the name, but numerous google reviews claimed it was the best in Thessaloniki. Did not compare so can’t confirm the validity of that claim. It wasn’t bad….although, I must admit, I did not care for the atmosphere here. It definitely thought highly of itself. It screamed, “hey, shisha is cool and we have it”, like most hookah bars you will find in the U.S. Anyway, it would be my last taste for about 10 days until I returned to Athens.
Again, the purpose of this trip has been, primarily, to see History. As I was brainstorming what this trip would be, I thought I would need to go to modern Macedonia, I definitely wanted to see where Alexander and Phillip were from, not to mention the biblical sites. It turned out to be unnecessary. I could see this Macedonia without even having to leave Greece. Sure, it means I don’t get to add Macedonia to the list of countries that I’ve visited (yet), but I suppose there are more important things in life than making impressive lists. Well, unless you are Alexander the Great and intend to rule the known world. Guess I’m not that ambitious.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 4: Crete

When I planned this trip, most of what I knew about Crete came from ancient Greek mythology. I knew Theseus and the Minotaur and little else. I always heard it referred to as Crete and nothing else. However, like nearly every place that I visited on this trip, there were numerous things to be discovered.
Not long after it dawned on me that there was more than one place on this rather huge island, we began to prioritize just where we, in fact, did want to go. Heraklion is one of, if not the largest city on the island and the main port so we entered there. We arrived early evening and after a short walk, found the bus to our hotel. It was a rather long ride. Heraklion reminds me a lot of Panama City Beach, Florida. It’s a busy, touristy beach town, yet retains a small feel to it. We got off the bus one stop too soon and had to walk. Katrina asked if we should eat before or after we dropped our stuff at the hotel. Although we were both quite hungry, I said that we should drop our things first…..”unless we find a shisha place.” No sooner were the words out of my mouth, then my eyes fell on a shisha bar right across the street. Despite this coincidence, to Katrina’s (and my own) chagrin, I still suggested that we drop our things and come back. Which we did, rather quickly. After shisha and food, we walked the main strip of town and returned to the hotel.
The next day, we set out for Knossos. This is the city where the story of Theseus takes place. We bought a special bus ticket that took us straight to the site and would give us a ride back for 5 euros. The site itself is interesting. It mixes old structures with reconstructions. I guess most archaeological sites do that, even the Athens Acropolis, but the signs here make that very clear. There is nothing here that stands out like the Parthenon, (a few paintings maybe), but like all these places, for me the best thing about it is simply being there. Based on fact or completely made up, this is the city in which one of the most popular (and a personal favorite) myths takes place. After touring the site, we visited the shops right outside. Realizing I needed a refresher and a reference, I bought a small book on Greek mythology. There was nothing in this book that can’t be googled, but I found it helpful as a refresher and for organizing the remainder of my trip when Katrina left.
We took the bus into the main part of the city and walked around there for a while. The Venetian Fort near the port was a pleasant walk. We found a nice seafood restaurant, which is where we were first introduced to Raki. Raki is local liquor. Places in Crete bring it out at the end of your meal for free. It is clear and we thought it was water, until we smelled it. I think we got 2 ½ shots out of the small bottle that the waiter brought to us. Pretty good stuff. We walked back towards the hotel through the main square area. Finding another shisha place, we of course had to stop. We were exhausted when we returned. It was a long, hot day.
The next day we took a bus to Chania. This city was recommended to us by a waiter in Athens. Heraklion is in the middle of the island. Chania is the largest city on the western side of the island. We stayed in a studio apartment just outside the city proper. We rented a car for what would be the first time this trip. The landlord’s son was quite helpful in both getting us a vehicle and giving us tips about where to go and how to get around. He named two beaches. Seitan Limania was fairly close, but you could only drive so far, then you had to hike down to it. We decided that this one was close enough to check out that afternoon. I got into the car and this is where I realized that the car was a manual. I can drive a manual without problem, but neither the car guy or the landlord warned us of this. Good thing that I mostly drove manual cars at home. It had been a while and this one obviously had an older transmission. There are many hills in this area so I was immediately thrown back into the worst manual transmission experience. We reached the parking area to hike down to the Seitan Limania (an extremely steep incline) and made our trek down to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Again, another beach that words do not really do justice for. The sun was beginning to go down and we wanted to go into town to eat and too much of a good thing is bad, so we cut our stay short, climbed the trail, and with a little prayer, go the car back up the hill. Parking in Chania is, let’s just say, a complicated situation, but after additional prayer we found another parking space a short walk from the strip of restaurants along the harbor. We split a seafood platter which included a brief debate about the proper way to eat sardines and octopus tentacles.
The next day we were off to Falasarna Beach. We spent most of the day here, even stopping at a restaurant on the way out and taking in another sunset. Again, I don’t know if I have ever seen a bad sunset, but something about these islands makes them even better. We went back into town to find a shisha place along the water. Mission accomplished.

Back to Heraklion
The next morning, we found the bus station and were back on our way to Heraklion, this time a different studio apartment and closer to the central part of town. At some point, I found a reference to the Church of St. Titus. I remembered that Titus, who has a book of the Bible named for him and was a disciple of Paul, was the bishop of Crete. The church was not the original church, but they claim his skull is housed there. You cannot see the skull, but you can go in and look at the box. This was Katrina’s last night in Greece so we ate, we drank, we sample Ouzo, which is the other local Greek liquor. All in all, a good end to the trip. That night we sat on the rooftop, which the apartment opened to and felt an earthquake tremor, my first ever (sort of, apparently, I slept through one when I went to Los Angeles in college). A great way to cap off two weeks of adventure.

The next day, I picked up another car that I had reserved. A few days before, I received a message from a friend of mine, that he and his wife were also visiting Crete. So, I dropped Katrina at the airport and was off to Elounda, which is more on the Eastern portion of the island. This was a well-timed visit. It gave me the opportunity to visit that side of the island, which I had been trying to decide where to go, and it served to cushion the transition from traveling with another person to traveling completely alone. It was a pleasant drive to Elounda. My friends, Rex and Alexa, were staying at, how do I say this, I very luxurious hotel, a huge step up from the hostel/cheap hotel/studio, life. After catching up on the old days, we got lunch in the hotel restaurant, then took the boat taxi out to Spinalonga Island, an abandoned island not far from the beach. There were ruins from the Venetian period here and at one point the entire island served as a leper colony. We returned to the hotel for a bit, went into town for a bite, then called it a night. We caught the breakfast buffet the next morning, which was a special affair. There was a variety of food and people. You could have Champaign if you were so inclined (yeah, that kind of place.) After the breakfast show, we talked about the old days a little more, then I was off again, back across the island and back to Chania. I arrived that evening and settled into my hotel. A big step down from the resort, but cozy.

Samaria Gorge
The next morning, I caught the bus to Samaria Gorge. Samaria Gorge is a national park/land reserve. I mostly knew it from mythology. Somewhere around that area is where Zeus’ mother hid him from his father Chronos so that he would not be eaten. (Google it if you’re scratching you head.) It was fairly early (for me at least). It was hazy and even misty that morning. I didn’t mind, because the temperature was cool, but I did expect to get rained on. The hike is 13K, which is not so bad, but for the first portion I spent a good deal of time watching my feet to make sure I did not step wrong and twist and ankle or go sliding down the mountain. The trail is pretty obvious to follow and gets easier as you get farther along. There is a variety of landforms to see as you descend and a few old settlements. There are some Neolithic remains and places where rebels hid while Crete/Greece fought the Ottomans. You, more or less, follow the stream through the gorge and on to the sea. On reaching the sea, I was beyond exhausted and the fog and coolness from the morning was long gone. I had to wait for the ferry so I chugged some water and found a nice cool bar. The ferry took us back to where we could catch the bus back to Chania. That night I researched ferries to Rhodes. There was one leaving around noon the next day. I decided to take a risk and not book a ticket. Getting there that early would mean two early mornings in a row, driving back to Heraklion, returning the car, then getting to the port in time. I set my alarm, but went to bed not sure what I would do when I heard it go off. I did manage to get up and get on the road. The port was a short walk from the car place. I made it to the ticket office, bought my ticket and only had a short wait for the overnight ferry. My plan was to go to Patmos from there, the ferry for which left later the following afternoon. I did not realize that Samaria Gorge would be the first in a string of early mornings/no sleep followed by long days of walking, but I didn’t come to Greece to sleep or sit in a hotel room did I?
Got Shisha?
Yes, almost as readily accessible as Athens and not bad. I forget the names of the places (I have to do better.) The first was mine and Katrina’s first night in Heraklion. It was more of a bar that happened to have food and shisha. The flavor was OK. Several places here (as in the U.S.) offer shisha as more of a novelty thing to do. The staff (mostly young women) do not really know how to act when connoisseurs such as Katrina and myself show up. The atmosphere was also merely OK. They were trying too hard to be hip in my opinion. Another bar, in the square also offered shisha. Again, not bad, maybe even better than the first, but not the best I’ve had, even in Greece. The third place was in Chania. Another bar, I like the atmosphere here much better, but was exhausted that day. Again, flavor was decent, but not the best. I could say this for nearly every place I’ve gone on this trek. The resort in Elounda also had shisha, but, according to Rex (who now that I think about it, was my original shisha buddy when we both lived in Al Ain), it cost 60 euro. Considering I could pay 4-6 euro in other places and even less when I return to UAE, I was able to pass it up.
Except for the occasional confusion over directions while driving (and perhaps the earthquake) I loved nearly every minute of this portion of the trip. I believe I could say that about the whole journey, but in many ways Crete was a microcosm of all of Greece. There are historical/biblical places, beautiful beaches, plenty of restaurants/cafes/nightlife things to do with places like Samaria Gorge thrown into the mix. Its history is both unique and representative of the wider nation. I do not know if that can be said of many other places in the world.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 6: Rhodes

Technically, I had no intention of spending much, if any, time here, but as it happens on a trip like this you find new places and explore a bit (which is sort of what this whole trip is about?) From Crete, I had to take a ferry here to get to Patmos which meant also coming back here, unless I found a new place to go. My original plan also included Cyprus and this was the most likely place to find a ferry to get there, that however, would prove…..let’s just say complicated. As it turns out, my layover of sorts while waiting for the Patmos ferry would prove to be a blessing in disguise which turned Rhodes into an island that I wanted to come back and explore.
A Preview
I arrived from Crete early in the morning, like 3:30 A.M. I had not booked a place to stay because I was catching the evening ferry to Patmos. Because so many of the islands are full of people making short trips, there are many places that offer to store luggage while you explore. I figured I could catch a nap in the reception area (assuming there was one) then find one of these places when sites started to open. Remarkably, I was pretty close to being right. There was a coffee shop near the docks. I and several others set up camp there. Although there were chairs and tables, I propped along the wall near a charger plug and got a decent nap while I waited for daylight. When I awoke with everything charged, I ordered a double espresso, ate some cookies that I had in my bag, plugged the nearest beach into google and set out to explore. I quickly found a travel office that offered luggage storage (for only 2 euro). My trek took me through the Old City and I got some pretty cool pictures. Even before I got to the beach, I began to realize that I had underestimated the island of Rhodes and needed to come back for a longer stay. The beach was not terribly crowded. It was 5 euro for a chair. I did the usual, read and dozed off between dips in the water. It was a great way to pass the time. Most everyone on the beach was fully clothed, there were however, a handful of women who had chosen to remove their tops. I’m not saying that this was a deciding factor, but for the second time that day, I thought that Rhodes deserved a longer visit. I was just thinking that I should eat before heading back to the port when I had a thought, shisha. I entered this into google and sure enough, there was a place, J&J Shisha and Cocktail Bar. I made the trek there and had the best shisha that I had in Greece to that point. I also had a pepperoni pizza that was the best pizza I had since the last time I was in the U.S. (well, except for Pizza Express in Dubai). At some point while I was here, I decided that I would definitely be coming back for a stay in Rhodes. I walked back to the port, picked up my bag along the way, and stopped again at the coffee shop. Soon enough, it was time to board and off to Patmos.
The Return
I returned to Rhodes, after my stay in Patmos, a few days later. It was late afternoon. There was a taxi stand, not far from where the boat dropped us (a different part of the port.) The driver had no trouble finding my hotel, Vivian Studios. It was more of a guesthouse, I guess. It was farther out than I expected, but other than that, a great place. The manager (and her family, I think) who ran the place were extremely helpful and very friendly. There was an area outside where people hung out, very hostel-like. I had very long days, each night I was there, so never made it outside to find out exactly. The first night, I made my way to the beach. Google Maps got “confused” several times and did not function much better than HERE…. ummmm…. here. I decided on the rather long walk to the beach, that I would rent a car, this proved to be a good decision and I found a place that let me take one that night.
St. Paul’s Bay
The next day, I set out, not too early of course, for this small cove. This is yet another biblical site. Paul stopped here on his third missionary journey. I always wonder about these places when I go. Did Paul really come here or did somebody centuries later just decide to build a church there and then say, “hey you know that one piece of a verse in the Bible that mentions Rhodes? It was totally this place.” Right spot or not, the Bible definitely says they put in at Rhodes for a night. It makes sense that this place would have been the spot. Paul was keeping a low profile at that point. He would have wanted to avoid the main harbor (In Rodos, the main city on the island). It was out of the way, but a good access point. It’s a logical place for them to have stopped. I waded out in the water and floated a bit. I had this sudden feeling of, “Paul could have waded here” I walked a couple of paths beside the small chapel. If Paul came on land, he would have walked in those spots. I don’t know, it “felt” right. Of course, my feeling proves absolutely nothing. I spent the first half of the day here, then I made my way back to Rodos, stopping at a couple of other random beaches along the way. In one of the towns, I even managed to find shisha. So yeah, we will call this another great day.
Old City
I could only get two nights at Vivian Studios so I booked a room at Rhodes Backpackers Hostel which was near the main part of Rodos. I dropped my bags off, then drove to the Old City. The Old City is similar to Athens in the sense that sometimes you can just walk up on some piece of ancient wall or street in the middle of the modern city. The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World was here. (That makes three of the Seven Wonders- or at least where they used to be- that I have seen. The Great Pyramid in Giza is the only one of the Seven still standing. If you want to know the rest….. google it.) I also visited the acropolis which is not far from the Old City. It has a pretty impressive chariot racing arena still standing. After a little site seeing, I dropped the car off and found a different beach. On the way to this beach, I walked right into a shisha place. On this island, it keeps getting better and better. I spent a few hours on the beach to reflect on what a great visit it had been, then back to the hostel for a change of clothes. I walked back to J&J’s (the first shisha place)- shisha was even better, pizza not as good. The next morning, I slept in a bit, then was back off to the port for an overnight ferry back to Piraeus.
Got Shisha?
Rhodes is only 5 miles or so from the coast of Turkey, which I guess explains why the shisha is so great here. This was by far the best place for it. J&J’s was the closest for most of my stay and the first and last that I visited. I do not remember the names of the other two places. The place on the way back from St. Paul’s Bay was in a town near one of the beaches that I explored. The third was near the beach a way out from Rodos. I really wish I could remember the name of it. It was the best and had a good atmosphere. I literally walked right into it. Maybe it was heaven sent.
Rhodes does not have the reputation like Santorini or Mykonos or some of the other islands, but it should. There seem to be more Greek tourists than foreign, although there were a few. It is not nearly as crowded or as hard to navigate while driving as some of the cities in Crete. Although, navigating was at times a problem. Google Maps is almost as unreliable as HERE…..ummmm….. here. Like Patmos, part of what makes it great is that it is overlooked. There is plenty to do, but you won’t fight the crowds like other places. But like I’ve said, I’m not writing this to be a travel guide. I only know that I loved it and am glad to have discovered it for myself.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 3: Santorini

I have often heard how beautiful Santorini is. The things that I heard, just like the pictures that I took and the words that I write here do not do it justice. The beaches are beautiful, even if rocky. The sunsets are beautiful, the cliffs, the water, you get the idea, even the atmosphere itself, everything is beautiful.
Piraeus is technically a different city than Athens, but it is the port (I think there is another, but I forget the name) of Athens. Katrina was still in charge of transportation so she booked the tickets and asked for the directions to the gate once we got off the metro. We sat at a coffee shop while we waited. We were among the first on the ship. We had the cheapest seats, where you just get to the lounge and try to mark your territory. We were lucky and managed to claim a section of the long couch thing that stretched around the lounge. This was an overnight ferry so we were traveling and saving money on a room at the same time. I wouldn’t say that I slept well, but I slept well enough, surprisingly better than I expected. Katrina also called to see if the hotel could pick us up, which they did. The hotel was in Thira (or Fira). The town is near the port, but the hotel was away from the main section. This wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, but we did hear some of the other guests complain about its location. We were a bit too early to check in so we passed time by the pool. I took another nap (and probably snored). The pool was salt water which took me by surprise when I got in. Like the Dead Sea, I could not help but float. I was a little too impressed and could not shut up about how easily I was floating. We also walked down to a nearby, small, quiet beach which had a restaurant/café that provided chairs and umbrellas. There was a fishing dock near there too. It was windy and the water was especially rough. I decided a couple of years ago that I could watch waves crash into rocks for hours. I don’t know how long we were there, but shortly after we got back to the pool our room was ready. Katrina thought the receptionist was rude, but she was nice to me and looked like Wonder Woman so I didn’t mind being put in charge of communicating with the front desk.
A shuttle ran every hour into the main part of town. We caught a late afternoon one and explored the main part of the city. We stopped at one café and took in some of the beautiful scenery, then walked some more. We made a reservation at one place so to catch the sunset and returned about an hour later. As we walked, Katrina and I agreed that there was a “Dubai”-like vibe amongst most of the people (tourists not locals, of course, the locals’ income depends on tourists so the attitude is catered to. A self-destructive cycle.) The people that we saw lounging about in both cafes (and later the bar) that we visited had the air about them of wanting to move from one party to the next. Like the way people in hostels drone on about all the places they have been and plan to go, these people drone on about how awesome the last party was and where they intend to party next. Dubai is likewise filled with these people. I briefly felt out of place and kept expecting one of the Kardashians or (had she not just given birth) Beyoncé and Jay-Z to stroll up at any moment. They never did.
Now, the one thing that I have heard you absolutely must do in Santorini is watch the sunset. I’ve seen many sunsets (way more of those than sunrises) and almost all of them are beautiful. Granted, some more beautiful than others, but all were beautiful. So, having our spot at the café, I had a slight worry just a few minutes before the sunset began: What if it was overrated? What if the legendary sunsets of Santorini were just the result of the party people telling each other, “You simply must see the sunset over Santorini.” And I fell for it. To make matters worse, sitting behind us, was an annoying couple and their son who were absolute experts in everything. And I do mean everything such as: sunsets, photography, how proper espresso is made, how good beer is made, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Trump, political affairs in Egypt, elbow space on airplanes, their best vacation, where they were going next, and on and on and on. I was close to giving into the temptation to turn around and smack all three of them, when the sun reached the horizon. I was completely wrong it was not overrated at all. I will not even attempt to explain it. A better writer than me, maybe could, but I do not have the words to describe the shades of orange and red and purple and the way they reflected off the water as the sun sank into the sea. Just believe me when I say that it was amazing. So, if you ever have the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend that you see it for yourself.
We googled shisha as is our habit. There was only one place that we found. It was an American themed bar, that thought way too highly of itself. More on that in the proper section. We ended the night with a drink at the café near the hotel and did a little stargazing.
Red Beach
The next day we rented a quad bike and set out to explore the island. We went into town for gas, then set out to find the place that I had been told to find, Red Beach. Google first took us back to the port, for some reason, but then we were on our way to the right spot. Another beautiful area. This place is known as Red Beach because of the red cliffs that surround it and the red rocks that make up portions of the beach itself. It was a bit of a hike down a cliff to the beach. One path veered off to a smaller place with less people so we planted ourselves there. Then made our way into the water. I was a bit paranoid, there were a few sea urchins around the rocks. There were also these red plants that looked like sea urchins, but turns out they were not. We swam out to some big rocks that were a bit out in the water. At some point, I noticed that the pockets of my trunks had turned inside out, then it dawned on me that I could not remember taking the key to the quad bike out of my pocket. Horrified, we swam to the larger more crowded beach (with less urchins and urchin-like imposters) and walked as quickly as our bare feet could carry us on the hot, rocky path back to where we left our stuff. I searched in vain hoping that I had forgotten that I put the key in the bag. We made a quick search of the shallow water nearby, but slowly admitted to ourselves that the key was gone. I kept my eyes open on the walk back, just in case it was on the ground and hoped against hope that it was still in the ignition, but no such luck. Katrina called the company, because it involved transportation. Turns out whoever had the bike before me also lost the key so they sent a guy out to change the ignition switches and give us another key. I forget how much, but I tipped the guy generously (it was hot) and learned the next day that it cost me 50 extra euro. I did not have a leg to stand on so I complied without argument.
We walked back down to the main part of the beach and hung out there for a bit, then we were off to explore more of the island. We found another small beach with a family owned café. We stopped there for fried mussels with cheese. This may be the first time I have ever eaten mussels, I really don’t remember, and they were delicious, but they would haunt me later. I’ll spare you most of the details when I get to that part. We swam again and relaxed on the rocky beach for a bit, then set off to find a spot to watch another sunset. I was looking for some pull-off spot to stop, we stumbled on a small winery with some tables and chairs set out with a great view. We watched the sun sink into the sea for a second time. This one was even better than the night before. I am not exaggerating when I say that this sunset is possibly the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
Exhausted from our day in the sun, we returned to the hotel. Our room had a very nice patio area with a cool view of a church at the top of a nearby hill. Even though it was late, I cranked up the ipod and we had a few drinks while listening to music. My dad would also do this from time to time when I was growing up and I experienced a quick flash of homesickness (next summer, hopefully). I was extremely relaxed, staring at the stars, and thinking that this may be one of the best days of my life (despite the lost key), when suddenly my stomach informed me that the day, no matter how wonderful, was not going to end well. I blame the mussels, but I also was probably a bit dehydrated. I also may not have eaten enough to keep up with the drinks that we had. Or maybe it was all of it together. Anyway, I said I will spare you the details of what came next and I will.
One More Day
We were supposed to check out that morning, but we hadn’t even booked ferry tickets anywhere and I was not feeling my best so we slept in and I ran down to ask Wonder Woman if we could extend. I settled up with the quad bike guy and got some coffee. We hung out by the pool for a while, then went to the nearby beach and ate at the restaurant. Most days we had been on the go. This was our first really relaxing day of doing nothing. It was a much-needed change of pace.
The next day, we packed up and lounged around the pool until it was time for the shuttle to take us to the port. We said goodbye to Wonder Woman and the rest of the staff and were on our way to the port and on anther ferry to Crete.
Got Shisha?
Like I said earlier, there was one bar with shisha that we could find. It was an “American” bar that took itself way too seriously and thought it was much cooler than it actually was, like most of the people that we encountered. The pipes were all converted Grey Goose bottles (which I guess was supposed to make them even cooler). We foolishly ordered the “big one” and the waitress brought out a giant Grey Goose, shisha set-up. Now, the worst shisha I have ever had was in Jerusalem, but this was easily the second worst that I have ever experienced. I really wish I could remember the name so that I could tell you not to go there. Not only was the shisha terrible, but it was small and very crowded. Way too cramped and just an overall bad atmosphere.
I don’t really know what else to say. It was fantastic. If I can ever afford to retire or just stop working, I would love to move here. Rent out a room in Wonder Woman’s hotel or that area and ride my quad bike around the island watching sunsets to my heart’s content.

Hellenistic Odyssey Part 5: Patmos

After the Acropolis, this is actually the place that I was looking forward to the most. Yes, entirely because the Cave of the Apocalypse is here. Having been to Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt, (even Syria and Lebanon twenty years ago) you would think that I had my feel of holy places. Nope. Just like I haven’t had my feel of Greek and Roman ruins, I still get a thrill when I run across a place connected to the Bible. The Apostle John was exiled to this island and this is where he wrote the book of Revelation, the final book in the Bible. The Cave is really the only official site that I saw while I was here, but enjoyed every second I was here. Patmos was a much-needed change of pace.
The ferry from Rhodes arrived after midnight. I had trouble before I arrived locating exactly how far my hotel was from the port. I read on one website, that the island was quite small and walkable so I hoped for the best. My plan was to grab a taxi and get to the room as quickly as possible. My body was still hurting from Samaria Gorge and reeling from the lack of sleep on the trip from Crete to Rhodes. I envisioned the usual port rush of people wanting me to rent a scooter, sit at their café, or take their taxi. Of course, this was the one island that was different. There were cafés across the street. I saw no rental places. Worst of all there was no taxi in sight. I plugged in the location of Athina Hotel into google and found a nearly 40-minute walk to the city of Grikos. Not seeing any other alternative, I sucked it up and started my trek. This was a holy island so perhaps God was testing me. My heavy backpack and the hilly landscape should have made the trip hard on my already tired body, but most of the hike was almost enjoyable. I could not help but look up. It has been a long time since I have seen a sky full of stars. This alone made the walk worth it. I’m not just saying that, whenever I started to feel myself getting frustrated, I would simply look up. At one point, I think I actually thanked God for this trial and hummed a tune. Anyway, I reached the hotel, tired, but still alive. I checked in with no problem and crashed in bed as soon as possible. Then I felt my second earthquake tremor of the trip. You may have seen on the news the earthquake that hit the island of Kos. This tremor was connected to that one. I worried for a second that I would be facing the Apocalypse while I was here.
Getting Around
I did not get up and moving until around 10 the next morning. Of course, I just missed the public bus by about 15 minutes. The next one would not come until 12:45. I did not want to wait that long so the hotel called me a taxi (turns out they do exist). It was maybe a 5-minute ride back to Skala, which is where the port is. And sure enough, if I had taken a right instead of a left when I walked out of the port I would have walked maybe 30 seconds right into the taxi stand. (Long story, but there is a running joke among certain friends of mine that when something goes wrong for no apparent reason, it is a “Randall”. My transportation misadventures would qualify.) I wanted to rent a scooter, but my first priority was coffee. I crossed the street and sat at the first café I saw, ordering a double espresso (which has been my standard drink on this trip). The café was right next to the ferry ticket office so I bought my ticket back to Rhodes. I grabbed a couple of cheese pies at a nearby bakery, then began to check in the rental places that dotted the area. As it happens, most vehicles were already booked or they required a motorcycle license to rent even a small scooter. (Leave it to a holy island to play by the rules.) I gave up trying to get something that day. Most places said they could get me a car the next day so I gave into the fact that this would be another day of walking. I knew where to get a taxi. I could have asked about the bus, but John walked, so walking would be part of my Patmos experience as well. Fortunately, I had cheese pies to enjoy along the way. (A word about cheese pies: I have been enjoying them since Athens. They are delicious. For those who do not know, they are baked (or maybe fried, not sure which) cheese. Great for breakfast or on the move. Traditional Patmos cheese pies are slightly different. They taste like cheesy cornbread. So, in a word- PERFECTION).
Cave of the Apocalypse
This was the reason that I came to the island so naturally it was my first (and technically only stop). The walk was mostly uphill (of course), but a beautiful trip. When I reached the entrance to the cave, it was 10 minutes before close according to the sign. I asked the ticket guy if that was right. He said they were open for another hour. So, I gratefully bought a ticket and went in. There is not much to the cave and it has been walled in to make a chapel and doesn’t even look like a cave anymore. Still, I was overwhelmed to be there. The Apostle John is one of my favorite personalities in the Bible and here I was in the place where John actually stood and wrote one of the books of the Bible. The thing about “holy” sites is that so many people come through that it is impossible to have a reflective moment. There was a priest there asking louder visitors to be quiet, but then he also gave a lecture to one of the groups. He also interrupted another man (who was clearly praying) to ask him to move into one of the seats. The guy had sat on a portion of the cave wall so I guess that was fair. I stayed there longer than most visitors. I reread Revelation while I was in there. I don’t think I have ever paid as much attention to the words as that moment. Occasionally, there was a break between groups and some silence. The priest noticed me reading. I thinking he wanted to ask or say something, but he did not speak English (or at least he only seemed to speak Greek).
Unfortunately, the cave does not look much like a cave anymore. Not only is it walled in, but it is lavishly decorated with icons and so forth. There are seven lamps hanging, which I thought was a nice touch (it’s in the book). You can also see the spot where John actually wrote the book. (So, there were two Johns- The Apostle John who dictated the words of the book to John the Elder who actually wrote them for the older man.) There is also pictures of John, and Jesus and Mary. Many people came in kissed the pictures or other decorations in the room. Now most people probably would say that I am religious. I would say spiritual, but I am careful to use that term because that brings up its own stereotypes. I do believe in being “born again”, the Holy Spirit, that the Bible should be read (and understood), and I pray and meditate fairly regularly, but I can’t stand churchy type culture. And whatever I am, I don’t go around kissing statues and so on. I also don’t mean to sound like I am belittling that sort of thing. I suppose that’s the great thing about a place like this, the variety of reactions it brings out of people. On the way out, I needed a bathroom. As I hurriedly walked towards it, I realized that John probably just pee’d in the cave. I did not think that would go over very well so I continued to the proper restroom.
Chora and the Monastery
For centuries, Chora was the main town of Patmos. The Cave and the Monastery of St. John were on opposite sides of the town. The monastery was built nearly a thousand years after John lived on the island, but from what I read was actually the more attractive spot for visitors. The town of Chora also had a lively square to visit. Of course, the monastery was closed by the time I made the long trek to the top of the mountain to see it. There was a couple who showed up just after me. The “active” town square was surprisingly difficult to find and when we found it, everything was closed until 7:00 that evening. Similarly to the previous night, I was tempted to get frustrated, but the walk had been pleasant and I was pretty thrilled to have seen the Cave. So, I set out back down the mountain. There are walking trails around the island. I saw I sign showing them. I was tempted to try the walking path back to Grikos, but figured it would be too easy to get lost. Plus, I wanted to spend more time just hanging out in Skala. So, I took the foot path back down near the port.
Hohlaka Beach
I saw a sign for this place on the way to the Cave. It is just on the edge of Skala. I saw the sign again on the way back and decided to check it out. It is basically just a bunch of rocks, but there are some benches and trees lining the shore. I sat there for probably over an hour watching the waves crash into the shore and reflecting on my trip and life, etc. I prayed. I meditated. I read. I watched the waves some more. Part of me wondered if maybe John came here to do the same thing while he walked the island. There is a verse in Revelation that says the new Earth will not have a sea. As I watched the waves crashing in, I wondered why. John was exiled to Patmos. It was the sea that separated him from his loved ones. So, if we are all supposed to live in harmony in the new Earth, then yeah, I guess no sea makes sense.
Day 2
I intended to check out one or more of the beaches today. I intended to catch the 9:45 bus, get to one of the rental offices and get a car or scooter (if they would let me). Needless to say, that did not happen. Since Samaria Gorge, I had walked great distances each day. I needed to rest. I slept in, caught the 12:45 bus back to Skala and bounced around to different cafes. I spent the day reading and staring at scenery. I did return to Hohlaka Beach, but that was a far from the main part of town as I ventured. I bought a few groceries and caught a taxi back to my hotel fairly early. I ate dinner and enjoyed some peace and quiet on the balcony of my hotel room, which I had not been able to spend much time on. It did not feel like a wasted day at all.
Got Shisha?
Patmos is a small island. Other than the religious places, there is not much of a draw here. It is beautiful and maybe that is reason enough. If you want to party, go to Santorini or Mykonos. Even if you are not religious or into historical places, and just want a nice, quiet spot away from the crowd, you will find it here. It’s a little harder to get to than some of the more popular islands, but I suppose that is reason enough to come.