Austin: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Things have been hectic since my husband and I got back from our Mediterranean Cruise. We put our house up for sale in Florida and I moved to Austin, where I started a new job a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, my husband had to stay behind until our house sells. Here I am, alone in Austin. And, our next cruise isn’t until next April. (Sigh) So, what better to do than explore, right?

Today was Tribute Day at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Center’s Mission is to “increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.” Lady Bird was a huge proponent of conservation and the beautification of the nation’s highways. For more about how Lady Bird influenced legislation and conservation efforts, you can visit the Center’s website at http://www.wildflower.org/environmental_first_lady/.

A couple of quotes from Lady Bird displayed at the Center.

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Normally, entrance fees range from free (for members) to $9.00 per adult. However, today, as a way to honor Lady Bird and her conservation efforts, the Center waived all entrance fees. I love exploring new places for free.

On Sunday mornings, the Center opens at 9:00 a.m. If you visit in the summer or early fall, going early morning would be best. Austin can get quite hot in the afternoon.

A nice pathway leads from the Admissions Kiosk to the Wetland Pond and then to the Courtyard.

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The Visitor’s Gallery, Café, Little House and Little House Gardens surround the Courtyard. To the right, between the Café and the Visitor’s Gallery, is the San Antonio Tower. There are nice views of the Center and the surrounding area from the top of the Tower.

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Continuing on past the Tower, a trail leads to the Nectar Garden and Family Garden entrance. In the Nectar Garden, there were a lot of butterflies hovering around and feeding on the Gregg’s Mistflower plants. Out of all the plants in the Center, the Mistflower seemed to be their favorite.

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The Family Garden is a great area for families with small children. There are several water features, a maze, some oversized birds’ nests, and an open, grassy play area.

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There are also some animal sculptures scattered along the trail.

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After passing through the Family Garden, the trail loops around and heads back toward the Central Gardens and Courtyard.

There are a couple of nice, shaded benches to stop and take a break close to the Butterfly Garden.

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I really enjoyed the Central Gardens area (located near the Courtyard). The Central Gardens present a great variety of native plants in different landscape styles, which is useful for homeowners looking to use native plants in their yards. I especially love how they integrate galvanized steel tubs into the garden beds.

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Some additional pictures from the Central Gardens area.

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After walking through the Central Gardens, you can either head back to the Courtyard and explore the buildings (Visitor’s Center, Library, etc.) or continue on to the Hill Country Trails. There are three different Trails to choose from (or, you can walk them all).

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Since it was starting to get hot, I chose to walk just the Arboretum Trail. The Arboretum Trail is well maintained and there are a lot of picnic tables scattered along the path.

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About halfway (?) down the path, there are several picnic tables and different types of swings hanging from the trees. It would make a great spot for a snack or lunch.

My favorites were the old Oak trees along the Trail.

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By the time I finished the Arboretum Trail, it was starting to get hot. So, it was time to head home.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Wildflower Center. But, Austin has a lot of different hike and bike trails that are free for the public. So, I’m not sure that I would pay the $9.00 entrance fee.  But, I will definitely go back if they ever offer a discounted (or free) admission.

 

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Venice: Days 3 and 4

We had one full day left in Venice before flying home. I had booked tours ahead of time for the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and St. Mark’s Basilica. But first, we walked over to the Rialto Bridge for a look around. The Rialto Bridge was constructed in the late 16th century A.D. after several other bridges in the same spot had failed/collapsed. Until the 1850s, it was the only bridge spanning the Grand Canal. The Bridge has two rows of shops with pedestrian walkways through the middle and on both sides.

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View from the north side of the Bridge looking up the Grand Canal.

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View from the south side.

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None of the shops were open yet, so we walked back to the hotel for some breakfast and then on to St. Mark’s Square to get some pictures while it was still somewhat empty.

The Square is lined with cafes and restaurants. The restaurants charge a premium for the food and a cover charge for sitting out on the Square. Throughout the day, bands will play to entertain the crowds. So, the restaurants will charge customers extra for the privilege of listening to the music, too.

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Another view of the Square.

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The Torre dell’ Orologio (Clock Tower). Two bronze statues of men with mallets stand at the top of the Tower and strike the bell at the start of each hour. Just before the top of the Tower is a winged lion, the symbol of St. Mark and the city. The clock dial shows 24 hours, the signs of the zodiac, and the phases of the moon. The Clock Tower was built in the late 15th century A.D.; but the clock mechanisms have been updated through the years.

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Two large granite columns looted from Constantinople (Istanbul) in the 12th century A.D. stand at the entrance to St. Mark’s Square. One column is topped with a winged lion and one with a statue of St. Theodore, the patron saint of Venice before St. Mark’s relics were brought to Venice. (On a morbid side note, the city used to publicly execute criminals between the columns to serve as an example to others.)

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The Campanile (bell tower) stands directly across from the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. The current Campanile was built in 1902 after the last one collapsed. While we didn’t go inside, visitors can take an elevator to the top, where, supposedly, there are great views of the city and surrounding area.

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The Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Square are the two main attractions of St. Mark’s Square. The Palace started out as a fortress in the 9th century; but no traces of that building remain. Over the centuries, the Palace underwent reconstruction and additions to become the building we see today. During its heyday, the Palace was the seat of Venetian government and home to the Doges and their families. Doges were the rulers of Venice, elected for life by the aristocracy. The title and position was not hereditary, although several Doges were from the same family.

Outside of the Palace (facing the waterfront).

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Courtyard of the Palace.

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Bronze wellhead from the 16th century. The two in the courtyard are considered the finest in Venice.

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The Giants’ Staircase is located at the far right hand side of the courtyard. It is named that for the statues of Mars and Neptune located at the top of the stairs. The statues were sculpted in 1567 to represent Venice’s power by land and sea. The ceremony to crown each new Doge was held at the top of the Staircase.

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We signed up for the Secret Itineraries Tour. The Tour goes into areas of the Palace that are not normally open to the public, including the Torture Chamber and the cell where Casanova was held, until his escape in 1755. I would highly recommend the Tour. It’s not that expensive and you get a lot of information regarding how Venice and its territories were governed.

One of the better prison cells (it has a bed).

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After a certain point, they do not allow any pictures. But, after the Tour, we walked around the other parts of the Palace. Among other things, we loved the intricate detail of the doors.

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And, we walked across the Bridge of Sighs. The Bridge connects the Palace with a portion of the prisons. There are different versions regarding the origin of the Bridge’s name; but all of them pertain to prisoners being led across the Bridge. According to the stories, the prisoners would sigh after getting one last glimpse of Venice while being led to prison or because they were being led from prison to the Inquisitor’s/Judge’s office. Either way, it wasn’t under happy circumstances.

The stone window covering on the Bridge.

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View from the bridge out to the lagoon.

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View of the Bridge from the waterfront.

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After we finished the Tour, we walked around and grabbed some lunch before our tour of St. Mark’s was scheduled to start.

Outside of St. Mark’s Basilica.

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The Basilica houses the remains of St. Mark, smuggled out of Alexandria and brought to Venice in 828 A.D. The Basilica was the Ducal Chapel and the State Church for more than a thousand years. In 1807, it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice and the city cathedral. Pictures are not allowed inside. I know it’s against the rules, but I couldn’t help myself. I took a picture of the four bronze horses that were stolen in 1204 from the Hippodrome in Constantinople. The origin of the horses remains a mystery. But, they are beautiful, regardless of who created them. The originals are inside; but there are replicas displayed on the balcony outside of the Basilica.

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After we finished our tour of the Basilica, we wandered around and did some final shopping before heading back to the hotel and out to dinner. We had an early evening since we were leaving the next day.

The next morning, we had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and walked to the Alilaguna (similar to the vaporetto) stop to get to the airport. As a little bit of advice, if you ever fly out of Venice, get there early. When we arrived at the airport, we had to (1) talk to someone before checking our bag; (2) check our bags; (3) go through security; and (4) go through another passport check; all before getting to the gate. I understand the need for security; but it was a bit much.

Venice was one of our favorite stops. It’s hard to explain. But, the city is easy to explore, the people are (mostly) friendly, and there are thousands of years of history to absorb. And, I would love to go back and have some more of that gluten free pizza!

 

Venice: Day 2

The cruise was over! We were sad that the vacation was coming to an end; but excited to get a chance to see Venice. We made it off the ship early in the morning and took the Express Alilaguna route from the port to Saint Mark’s Square. Locanda Orseolo, the small, boutique hotel we stayed at, was a short walk north of the Square in a private courtyard. We walked to the hotel and dropped off our luggage before heading out for the day.

We had originally planned on going out to the islands of Murano and Burano; but the hotel owner informed us that the vaporetto operators were on strike that day. So, we decided to just walk around Venice and explore, instead.

Down the alley headed from the hotel to St. Mark’s Square.

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We looked around St. Mark’s Square; but didn’t stay long because we had tours booked for the next day. We walked toward the waterfront and turned left, towards a less touristy part of town.

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We turned left and walked to Campo San Zaccaria and the San Zaccaria church.

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The church was originally founded in the 9th century A.D.; but was rebuilt in 1515. Inside the church is the “Madonna and Child with Saints” painted by Bellini in 1505.

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After leaving the church, we continued walking towards the eastern end of the island. Looking down one of the small canals, we saw this leaning bell tower.

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And this cute little couple walking down the street with the laundry hung out to dry.

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We somehow walked all the way over to the Arsenale, the greatest naval shipyard in its prime. During the 16th century A.D., it had a workforce of 16,000 men and, with its revolutionary assembly line system, could assemble one full galley ship per day.

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One of the fancier gondolas. We planned on taking a gondola ride. But, once we got to Venice, we changed our minds. In a lot of the canals, there were traffic jams of gondolas. And, the ride is expensive for two people (80 Euros for a 40 minute ride). So, we decided to skip it.

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From there, we walked over to the Cannaregio neighborhood.

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At that point, it was time for lunch. I had researched beforehand and found a place that made gluten free pizza. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the place; but it was the best gluten free pizza I have ever had.

The view from our table.

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We finished lunch and headed back to the hotel for a short, afternoon break. We had a great stay at the Locanda Orseolo. The owners and staff were very welcoming and helpful. And, the breakfast they served included fruit, eggs, sausage, and different pastries. The hotel is located on the Orseolo canal and some of the rooms, including the one we stayed in, have canal views. The window/door in the room next to the office has direct access to the canal. So, if a guest is arriving or leaving via a water taxi, they can get dropped off or picked up right at the hotel.

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We stayed in the Arlecchino room. It was very nice. And, they even provided robes and slippers for us.

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Canal view from our room.

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After a short break to cool off and put our feet up, we ventured out again. We walked west through Campo San Moise.

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On to Campo San Stefano.

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And, across the Ponte dell Accademia. View from the bridge, towards the south end of the Grand Canal.

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We visited the Galleria dell’ Accademia, a museum that houses the largest collection of Venetian art in the world.

Inside the first gallery.

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Some of the artwork.

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After walking through the Accademia, we had some extra time before dinner. So, we walked around a little more.

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Unfortunately, it started to rain. And, of course, we didn’t have our umbrella with us. So, we walked to the restaurant and waited for it to open. Luckily, they didn’t mind us getting there early and gave us a table. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel for sleep and to rest up for the next day.

Venice: Day 1

After Athens, we had a sea day to relax. We enjoyed the break and the chance to rest. The next day, we reached Venice, our final destination for the cruise. Most cruise ships currently get to the port, located on the west part of the island, by sailing in (from east to west) via the waterway between La Giudecca, an island to the south of Venice, and Venice. This route provides good views of several major landmarks, including St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. However, the wake and the waves made by the ships are causing damage to the foundations and pilings of the buildings along the waterfront. So, there is a movement to ban large cruise ships from using the current route. While I don’t want to contribute to the decline of Venice, I’m glad we got to sail in using the current route as the views were great.

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St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace

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The south end of the Grand Canal.

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Santa Maria della Salute, a church built in the 17th century in thanks for the deliverance of the city from the Plague in 1630.

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Upon arrival at the port, we had to wait until the ship (and all of the cruisers) got clearance from the local authorities to debark. Once we were cleared, we walked to the tram, appropriately titled the People Mover.

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From the tram stop, it was a short walk to Piazzale Roma, the closest vaporetto (waterbus) stop to the port. There are several vaporetto routes, taking people around the island, up and down the Grand Canal, or out to the other islands in the lagoon. Several ticket options are available depending on how often you plan on using the vaporetto for transportation (one ride, 12 hour, 24 hour, etc.) Since we were staying in Venice for a couple of days after the cruise ended, I bought the 72 hour tickets for us to use.

From P. Roma, we boarded Line 1 to head towards St. Mark’s Square via the Grand Canal. (If you look at a map of Venice, the Grand Canal is the main waterway that flows through the middle of Venice.) Line 1 picks up/drops off passengers at most of the vaporetto stops. So, it’s good for taking pictures and for getting oriented to the area. We also listened to the Rick Steves’ Grand Canal audio guide during the ride for a little historical perspective.

Views of the buildings along the Grand Canal from the vaporetto.

The Hotel Principe

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San Geremia, a church that is home to the relics of Saint Lucy.

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San Marcuola, a church built 1728-1736. The façade was never completed.

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One of the many gondoliers in Venice.

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The Casino.

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We got off the vaporetto at the San Toma stop and walked to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The Scuola was set up as a charitable institution for the sick. The building was completed in 1549; and, in 1564, Tintoretto was commissioned to paint the walls and ceilings. They did not allow pictures inside. But, below is a picture I got off the internet of “The Crucifixion,” one of Tintoretto’s most notable works in the Scuola.

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After we finished there, we walked next door to the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (the Frari). The Frari houses masterpieces by Titian, Giovanni Bellini, and Donatello and monuments to several famous Venetians. I thought I took some pictures inside; but I can’t find them now. So, I may not have been allowed to take pictures. (Otherwise, I would probably have some.)

From the Frari, we stopped to get some gelato (yummy!) and then walked to Campo San Barnaba. The San Barnaba church was used in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” So, Jerry wanted to take a picture with it. (Yes, we’re nerds.)

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It had been raining off and on. But, we headed over to St. Mark’s Square so we could find the hotel we were checking into the next day. We figured it was better to find the location while we weren’t carrying our luggage.

Along one of the side canals.

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Since the weather was bad, I put the camera away. We continued on to St. Mark’s, looked around for a little bit, and then went back to the ship for dinner, bed, and packing since we were getting kicked off the ship the next morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Athens

Our ship pulled into Piraeus, the main port for Athens, early on Tuesday, May 27th. Athens is the capital of (and the largest city) in Greece. Accordingly, Athens is congested. Our guide told us there are almost 5 million people living in a space planned for about 3 million. Luckily, most of the historical (tourist) sites are close to one another. So, the traffic and congestion were not huge issues for us.

I had arranged for a private driver and a guided walking tour with PK Travel a couple of months before the cruise. The driver met us at the port and dropped us off at the bottom of the Acropolis, where we met our guide for the morning. The guide purchased our tickets and we walked up the hill to the entrance.

On the way up, we got a nice view of the Temple of Athena Nike. The Temple was built in the 5th century B.C. to celebrate the Athenian victory over the Persians and to help ensure future victories over Athens’ enemies.

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Almost at the top of the hill, we walked past the Monument of Agrippa (the big stone pedestal in the left hand portion of the picture). Over time, the pedestal has held statues of the winner of the 178 B.C. Olympic chariot race, Marc Antony and Cleopatra, and the Roman General Agrippa.

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At the top, we walked up the steps and through the Propylaea, the gigantic entrance gate/building for the Acropolis. I couldn’t really get a good shot because we were being herded up the steps with all of the other tourists.

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As soon as we walked through the Propylaea, the Parthenon came into view. (It’s hard to miss.) The Parthenon was built in the 5th century B.C.; and, as amazing as it is now, must have been breathtaking in its prime. During construction of the Parthenon, the architects used several methods and optical illusions to ensure that it looked symmetrical. The base of the building is higher in the middle than on the edges, each column is tilted slightly inward, and the corner columns are thicker and spaced more closely than the rest. As a result, the base looks straight, the columns look straight, and the corner columns look the same size as the rest. It is an absolutely beautiful building.

As you can see, it is currently being restored.

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View from the other end.

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Located across from the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, also built in the 5th century B.C. According to myth, the city held a competition between Poseidon and Athena with Athens as the prize. The winner was to be picked based on which deity presented the city with the best gift. Poseidon and Athena met at the top of the Acropolis to present their gifts to the city. Poseidon went first. He struck the ground with his trident and water burst from the rock. However, it was salty, as Poseidon was the god of the sea. When it was Athena’s turn, presented the city with an olive tree. This was much more useful for the people as they could use the olives for food, olive oil for their lamps and cooking, and the wood for building. Athena was picked as the winner and became protector of the city. The Erechtheion is said to have been built on the site where the contest was held. (You can see an olive tree in the picture below.)

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Integrated into the Erechtheion is the Porch of the Caryatids. The Porch has six statues of maidens acting as columns. The columns at the Acropolis are actually copies. Four of the originals are on display at the Acropolis Museum. One statue was shipped to London. And, the last is in France.

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From the far end of the Acropolis, there is a great place to get a view of Athens and the sites around the Acropolis.

View of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

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The city and Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens.

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Other sites visible from the Acropolis are the Theater of Dionysus, the Odeon (Theater) of Herodes Atticus, and the Hephaisteion.

The Theater is said to be the birthplace of Greek tragedy and hosted plays by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.

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The Odeon was built in the 2nd century A.D. by Herodes Atticus, in memory of his wife. Originally, it was covered with a wood roof; and, the wall behind the stage contained statues of the nine Muses. It seats ~5,000 people and is still used for performances today.

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The Hephaisteion is one of the most well preserved temples in Athens. It is in the Ancient Agora. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit the Agora when we were there. But, maybe next time.

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After leaving the Acropolis, we walked back down the hill and headed for the Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis Museum is about a 5 minute walk from the Acropolis, down the Dionysiou Areopagitou, a nice, pedestrian only road lined with trees and benches.

The original Acropolis Museum was located on top of the Acropolis, close to the Parthenon; but, the need for a new location and a bigger building quickly became apparent. Construction of the new Museum was completed in 2007 and it was opened to the public in 2009. The Museum houses artifacts from the Acropolis and Greece. Additionally, it was built as a way to get some of the original artifacts back from the British Museum in London. For years, the British Museum has refused to return artifacts to Greece with the argument that Greece didn’t have a suitable place to put them. And, even after the new Acropolis Museum was built, the British Museum has not returned the items.

This is a model of what the pediment of the Parthenon looked like originally.

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The following are pictures of the frieze that once went all the way around the top of the Parthenon. Out of the original 525 feet, the Acropolis Museum only has 32 feet. The yellowish sections are the originals. The white sections are copies (because the originals are located elsewhere..mainly, the British Museum).

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Four of the original Caryatids (mentioned earlier) are located in the Acropolis Museum. They are in the process of being cleaned by laser. The Museum has an interesting video of how the cleaning is performed.

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After that point, no more pictures were allowed in the Museum. But, there is a lot more to see. I would recommend that, if you go to the Acropolis, you should follow up your visit with the Acropolis Museum.

From the Museum, we stopped to get a quick snack and then walked to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Located next to the Temple is Hadrian’s Arch (or, Hadrian’s Gate).

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The Temple of the Olympian Zeus was the largest temple in ancient Greece. The Temple, in all of its glory, was ~315 feet long and ~130 feet wide. However, only 15 of the original 104 columns remain.

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At that point, our walking tour was over. But, we had some extra time before we were supposed to meet our driver for the return trip back to the ship. So, we decided to walk around and do a little shopping. And, we had some gelato. Yummy!

As I mentioned previously, with my Mykonos post, out of all of the stops on the cruise we enjoyed our stops in Greece the most. The weather is great. The people are friendly and welcoming. The history and mythology are fascinating. And, the ancient sites are amazing. We look forward to going back again (soon).

 

 

 

 

Kusadasi to Ephesus

After Istanbul, we were dead tired. Luckily, the next day we got to sleep in. The ship didn’t pull into Kusadasi until 1:00 pm. Kusadasi is a resort town on the west (Aegean) coast of Turkey. They even have a water park. (We didn’t go; but we saw the advertisements.)

Picture of the town from the ship.

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Kusadasi is also the closest port to Ephesus, one of the world’s best ancient sites. Ephesus was a port town, originally established in 1000 B.C. It peaked in importance in the 1st – 3rd centuries A.D. after it was conquered by the Roman Empire. It was the home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, this one column is all that remains of the Temple.

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In ~263 A.D., invading Goths destroyed Ephesus and the Temple. During the Byzantine era, Emperor Constantine I rebuilt a lot of the city and Ephesus retained importance as a commercial, harbor town. But, over the centuries Ephesus declined dramatically. An earthquake in the 7th century destroyed part of the city. Silt from the Cayster River slowly clogged up the harbor despite repeated dredging. (As a side note, Ephesus is now ~5 km from the coast.) Additionally, an epidemic of malaria decimated the population. By the 15th century, the town was completely abandoned. Earthquakes and landslides covered what remained of the city. Archeologists re-discovered the town and started excavations in the late 1800s. Despite the fact that only ~15% of the city has been unearthed, it is said to be one of the largest excavated sites in the world.

We joined a group of 6 other people from Cruise Critic for a tour through Ephesus and the surrounding area. We used Ephesus Shuttle, which provided a private guide, driver, and 12 person minivan for a very reasonable price. The first stop on the tour was Ephesus. We started at the upper entrance, which I would highly recommend to anyone thinking of visiting. By beginning the tour at the upper entrance, you start at the top of the hill and walk down (through the city) to the lower entrance. I would also suggest that you put on plenty of sunscreen, wear a hat, and take water because there is not a lot of shade inside the city and it gets hot.

The open area in the picture below served as an agora, an open air marketplace where the people would shop, meet friends, and talk politics. Note the pipes stacked in the lower left hand corner. Ephesus had one of the most sophisticated water systems in the ancient world. Water from the surrounding hills would drain into a system of four aqueducts. The aqueducts funneled the water into a reservoir, where gravity and an extensive plumbing system would transport the water into the city’s bathhouses, fountains, and homes (well, to the homes of the wealthy, anyway). The pipes in the picture are some of the original clay pipes used by the city.

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Next to the agora is the Odeon, a theater that was used for plays, concerts, and meetings of the city council. Some of the lower bottom seats still have the original marble. (Note: When the site was found, the theater was buried in dirt up to the top steps.)

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Down the road (the Sacred Way) from the agora, are the remains of the Prytaneion, one of the most important buildings in Ephesus. The Prytaneion was the site of the city’s sacred, eternal flame. The priests kept the flame going to ensure the prosperity of the city. Additionally, the Prytaneion was a civic building, serving as the city hall and the place where official guests were received by the religious and political leaders of the city.

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Across the road from the Prytaneion is this great view of the valley and surrounding hills.

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Continuing down the road, we got additional “previews” of what was ahead.

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As we continued downhill, we passed by Domitian Square to the left. The remains seen in the picture below are those of the Temple of Domitian.

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The arch and the area below it was a public water fountain, one of many that were scattered around the city. Since the lower classes couldn’t afford to have plumbing, they used the public fountains as their main source of water.

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I’m not sure what this was…maybe part of the Temple?

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Parts to an arch or doorway?

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To the right, is a carving of the Greek goddess Nike giving the wreath of victory to the Romans. See the swoosh?

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Heading back down the road, we passed through the Hercules Gate. It was the boundary between the pedestrian only upper city and the commercial, lower city.

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This structure was Trajan’s Fountain, another public fountain. It was built in the 2nd century A.D. and once had a statue of the Emperor Trajan with his foot on an orb and an inscription to the effect of “Trajan ruled the world.” Essentially, this shows how the ancient Greeks and Romans believed (knew) that the world was round.

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The stores catering to the upper class residents had (once covered) sidewalks decorated with mosaics.

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As I mentioned previously, Ephesus had a sophisticated plumbing system. There were several bathhouses in the city. Most people could not afford to have plumbing and toilets in their houses. So, Ephesus built public toilets, usually in conjunction with the bathhouses.  However, there was a charge to use them. This (once covered) latrine room has marble seating for 40. There was even a platform for musicians to play to cover up any, umm, noises your neighbor might be making. Additionally, there was running water under the toilets to flush the waste away and a second stream with clean water for washing. Each toilet would have a stick with a sponge attached. After a person finished, he would get the sponge wet and use it to clean off. According to our guide, this is how the phrase “the wrong end of the stick” got its start. Let us all give thanks for the invention of toilet paper.

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Across the street from the bathhouse are the Terrace Houses. There is an extra charge to get into this part of Ephesus; but the extra fee is worth it. The Terrace House portion is enclosed to protect the ongoing restoration and excavation process and consists of 7 homes of the upper class, built during the 1st – 2nd centuries A.D.  Once you enter into the enclosure, you follow a path through the different houses. It is interesting because you can see the work being done to restore the structures.

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A puzzle of marble pieces.

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The houses had three stories, with the living areas on the bottom floor, the bedrooms on the upper floors, and a courtyard in the center.

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There are frescoes and intricate mosaics throughout the houses.

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Upon exiting the Terrace Houses, is this wonderful view of the commercial agora, the main market and shopping area of Ephesus. This agora was much larger and housed more shops than the agora located near the upper entrance.

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From there, we continued down the road to the Library of Celsus. The Library held 12,000 scrolls and is said to have been the third largest library of the ancient world, behind the libraries in Alexandria and Pergamon. It was built ~120 A.D. by Gaius Julius Aquila in honor of his father, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, who is actually buried in a sarcophagus underneath the Library. The façade was built facing east so that the windows would catch the morning sun. The four statues in the nooks of the façade represent Wisdom, Knowledge, Intelligence, and Virtue. The Library was destroyed by fire in the 3rd century A.D.; but the façade was saved. Unfortunately, earthquakes eventually toppled the façade. It was restored in the 1970s to its current state.

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At the Library, the road turns to the right and heads past the commercial agora to the Great Theater. Originally built by the Greeks in the 3rd century B.C., it was expanded and improved upon by the Romans. The Theater holds ~25,000 people and the acoustics are so good that performers on stage do not need microphones to be heard by the audience, even in the nosebleed seats.

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From the Theater, we continued on to the lower entrance (the exit in our case). There is a nice little gift shop located at the lower entrance and local merchants have stalls set up outside by the parking lot.

From Ephesus, the guide took us to Sirince, a little village with shopping and cafés located in the hills surrounding Ephesus (~15-20 minute drive from Ephesus).

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The men stayed at this café while the women went off exploring (shopping).

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Jerry even got to try some Turkish coffee, made with an ibrik (cezve).

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We stayed in Sirince about an hour. After leaving Sirince, we stopped by a carpet showroom to see how the carpets are made. I had originally asked that we not make this stop (as we didn’t want to feel pressured to buy anything). But, several of the people in our group were interested in seeing the demonstration. So, we gave in and went. And, I have to admit that it was pretty neat to see how the silk is gathered.

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We were running out of time after the demonstration. So, we had the driver take us back to the port.

We had a great day. The guide was good, Ephesus was fascinating, and the countryside was beautiful. We enjoyed this stop much more than Istanbul. I would highly recommend that anyone taking a Mediterranean cruise make this one of their stops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Istanbul

We pulled into Istanbul about 8:00 am on Sunday, May 25th. We docked at the Salipazari Terminal, which is located next to the Istanbul Modern Arts Museum and the Nusretiye Mosque, and across the Golden Horn from the main tourist attractions. We did not have a chance to visit the Museum or the Mosque; but here is a picture of the Mosque I took from the deck of the ship.

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Once we were allowed to debark, we stopped by an ATM to get some Turkish lira and then walked to the Tophane tram stop. We hopped on the tram and headed to Sultanahmet, the historic (tourist) section of Istanbul.

Our first stop for the day was the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofia), the “church of holy wisdom.”

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The Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century A.D. on the site of two previous churches (one burned down and one was destroyed during the Nika revolts) by order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

This frieze with sheep is from the original church, which was dedicated in 415.

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The Hagia Sophia is an architectural wonder. It had the biggest dome in the world until Brunelleschi built the Duomo dome in Florence in the 15th century (pictures of that dome in my previous Florence post).

As the Hagia Sofia was the Empire Church of the Byzantine Empire, it was the place where all of the emperors were crowned. This is the Omphalion, a decorative grouping of circular marble slabs in the nave floor, where the coronations were held.

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Over time, elaborate mosaics were added to the Church.

The following is the “Sunu Mosaic,” which dates to the 10th century. It is located in the inner narthex above one of the doors. It shows the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus with Emperor Konstantinos I (Constantine) on the left and Emperor Justinian on the right.

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This mosaic, the “Deisis Composition,” was thought to have been added in the 13th century. From left to right, it shows the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist.

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When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Corresponding renovations were made to the structure (minarets, mihrabs, and a minbar were added) and the mosaics were plastered over. It remained a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum and opened to the public.

The altar and apse.

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From the second floor.

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In the nave, looking back at the entrance.

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Second floor gallery.

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A close up of some of the tiles by the altar.

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I loved the design of the lamps.

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This huge lamp hangs in the center of the nave.

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We left the Hagia Sophia and walked across the square to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii).

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It is called the Blue Mosque because of the (mainly) blue tiles that decorate the interior. Visitors are allowed to go in to see the interior; provided it is not during one of the prayer times. Visitors are not allowed to wear shoes inside the Mosque; but, they provide you with a plastic bag to put your shoes in while you are walking around. Additionally, women must cover their hair and people of both sexes must have their knees/legs covered. They also had scarves for everyone to use, as needed.

The inside of the Mosque is beautiful. It was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I and built in the early 1600s.

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After leaving the Mosque, we walked to the Hippodrome (it’s right next to the Mosque). The once majestic stadium, the site of chariot races and other events, is now a public garden/square with a few ancient pieces remaining in the middle. Four bronze horses used to be situated on the top of a column where the tourist information booth now sits. The horses were stolen during the 4th Crusade and taken to St. Mark’s in Venice. (Once I get to my Venice blog, you’ll be able to see a picture of them.)

This is the top 1/3 of an obelisk, originally built ~1500 B.C., taken from ancient Egypt in approximately the 4th century A.D. by Constantine and placed in the city. It sits on top of a Byzantine base made from local marble.

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From the Hippodrome, we walked to Topkapi Palace. The Palace was built in the 1460s-1470s, by order of Sultan Mehmet II after his conquest of the city. Topkapi Palace served as the center of government for the Ottoman Empire and as the home for the sultans (and their harems) for almost 400 years until the mid 1800s when Sultan Abdul Mecit I moved to the Dolmabahce Palace. Topkapi Palace was turned into a museum after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

We traded in our tickets (I had bought tickets online previously) and headed inside.

You walk through the Gate of Salutations to get inside the palace grounds.

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Since the harem quarters close earlier than the rest of the Palace, we toured that section first. The harem was the living place for the sultan, the Queen Mother, the sultan’s women, children, brothers and sisters, servants, and the eunuchs (the protectors of the harem).

The harem in Topkapi Palace is covered with brightly covered tiles.

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I’m not sure who the guy is in the picture below; but it looks like he was posing for me.

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I think we need a couch like this. Our dog, Aggie, would love it. And, it would be perfect for napping.

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After we left the harem, it started to rain off and on. And, in certain areas, pictures are not allowed. So, I didn’t get a lot of pictures from the rest of the Palace grounds.

The Grand Bazaar is not open on Sundays. So, once we finished our tour of the Palace we took the tram to the Spice Market. This was probably our least favorite stop of the cruise. Each stall/shop had men standing out front selling the wares. And, they were somewhat aggressive about trying to sell you something. Also, the market itself was packed full of people (tourists and locals).

We left the Spice Market and walked back to the tram stop (or so I thought). I bought two tokens with the last couple of lira I had left. Unfortunately, the tokens were for the ferry and not the tram. Oops. So, we walked across the Galata Bridge and back to the ship (which I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re located at the closer dock).

View from the cruise port side of the bridge back towards the Spice Market. Note all the people fishing off of the bridge.

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The historic part of Istanbul was beautiful. We didn’t really explore off of the beaten path. But, Istanbul, in general, wasn’t one of my favorite stops of the cruise. It was extremely crowded (the tram, the traffic, the market, etc.). In the historic areas, we were constantly approached to buy things (carpets, tourist books, clothing, scarves, etc.) while walking around. And, in the market, the salesmen were pushy. I understand that some people may love the crowds and buzz of a big city. And, I’m not saying that anyone reading this shouldn’t visit Istanbul. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

NEXT: Ephesus