Monday, June 25, 2007

June 23 ~ Athens to Mycenae

So on Saturday, it was time for the leg of the trip by car. Our car was dropped off at our hotel at 9 a.m. and our travel agent drove with us for a couple minutes to show us how to get out of the city. It was actually a pretty easy route, thanks to our hotel's location. We dropped him off, and were on our way.

We headed West, where our first stop was Corinth. It may sound familiar, since it was a city in which 2 books of the bible are dedicated to (the apostle Paul spent some time here).

Aside from its biblical fame, the most noticeable feature is the Corinth Canal. The city is located at a narrow neck of land between two gulfs, the Corinth and the Saronic. It reminded me of the situation in Panama, where trade was slowed due to the mariners having to travel around a large land mass, just to reach the other side of the city. So, like in Panama, to remedy the situation, the people began to dig a canal, only they started a few thousand years ago. They gave up after believing that joining the two seas would cause a tidal wave from the difference in sea levels, destroying the town. Different rulers started to dig again throughout history, but nobody had the means to finish it. Finally, in the 1800s, things came together and it was finished, opening the two seas to ship traffic.

So, as we walked across this massive bridge with a spectacular view, we got talking about how fun it would be to jump off of it, as we always do when we walk over something really high. We weren't being serious, as the 240 foot drop would do some damage. At that moment, we noticed a banner off to the side offering bungee jumping from the bridge. We got curious and checked it out. The storefront was a really chill atmosphere: Hammocks, bamboo, and a bunch of employees that spoke very good English (the owner was Swiss, of all nationalities). We talked with him for awhile, got a feel for the company and, after some thought, we (me, Spence, Nate, and his wife) decided that if we ever DID go jumping, this would be the place to do it. So, we signed up, got our ankles prepped for the cord, and walked to a platform just under the highway bridge. We waited for the ship traffic to stop between the two gates at each end of the canal, then began hooking up.

I had the same feeling that I do before jumping a really big cliff in Lake Powell, kindof a weird feeling in the stomach. However, this was no cliff. When the safety railing stops and you look down with nothing between you and that small blue strip of water, things get pretty intense. The jump master then tells you to hold your hands straight out to your sides, then counts down from 5. After 1 he yells go, and then you jump (they tell you to jump just like you would swan dive off of a diving platform). So, after jumping I had about 3 seconds of total uninhibited freefall, followed by a couple seconds of slowing down (from the bungee), which then launches you right back up again. You bounce up and down for awhile then hang for a bit, while they send a cable to hook to your harness, which brings you back up.

Check the video here (the lighting was bad under the bridge, but you get the idea). Give it a bit to load, as it's about 7 megs. Here's a self portrait photo of me just before the jump.

So after jumping we continued west toward our next destination, Mycenae. There, we had reservations at a very nice traditional Greek restaurant. It was 4 courses. The appetizer was this eggplant lasagna which was very good. The lamb was amazing as it was every time I had it in Greece.

After lunch, we went to the ruins of the Mycenae. This civilization was in full swing 3500 years ago, making it one of the oldest sites I'll see on this trip. It's been pretty well preserved for being so old. We visited its acropolis, found a really cool old tunnel they dug to collect drinking water (photo here), then went to its museum. There, we found this really cool gold mask (a replica) called the Mask of Agamemnon. It was discovered at Mycenae and has been on the covers of a couple of my art history text books. I did my best impersonation of it here.

After the museum, we hit a huge dome shaped tomb, the Treasury of Atreus (
it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years)
. The rocks are still holding, and the accoustics were incredibly entertaining (you could stomp your foot, and the thud would sound twice; once when you did it, then twice as loud a millisecond later... it sounded just like a delay guitar pedal). We were the only ones in there and had a freestyle beatbox session for a good half hour. (photo) And who says history has to be boring?

After Mycenae, we started to loop back to the East, driving along the coast back towards Athens. We had our snorkel gear with us and hit another beach (here's a self portrait a few kilometers before the beach).

The drive along the coast was beautiful. It got a bit adventurous, as the signs were, at times, only in Greek. Their alphabet was a bit tricky to figure out as well, but it started to make more sense as the trip went along. Traffic wasn't too out of control on the highways. However, driving in downtown Athens was a different story. It was more like a video game than anything else. Cars cutting you off every couple of seconds, motorcycles using the room between cars as their own private lane, and pedestrians jumping out at any given point of the road. I do like driving, so in the end, it was a lot of fun and I would do it again (as long as insurance comes with the rental car, at least).

So we crashed back at the hotel that night at about 11, woke up and spent yesterday, the 24th, traveling back to Switzerland. Nothing out of the ordinary there, which is a good thing (Milan was a little bit nicer to us this time around, however from my experience the people just don't compare to the Swiss or Greeks). If I have the time and means in the future, I'm definitely game for another Athens adventure. The food, the people, the sights and culture offered entirely positive experiences for all of us on the trip.

Today, the 25th, we're just recuperating. Tomorrow, I think I might try to get a tee-time at the golf course up the valley. We'll see. Stay tuned.

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