Berat's Church of the Dormition of St. Mary dates from 1797 but was built on the ruins of a 10th century church. Only one service a year is held there as it was transformed into a museum honoring the country's most celebrated painter, Onufrio, in 1986.
Two stories surround the downed US military jet in the castle courtyard: either the pilot had engine troubles and was forced to land in Albania or the plane was captured.
We spent almost a full day discovering the archeological wonders of nearby Butrint National Park, the most visited cultural destination in Albania. Butrint was settled first by the neighboring Greeks in the 6th century BC and later by the Romans when Julius Caesar declared it as a Roman colony in the 1st century BC.
In the castle courtyard was a massive bust of Apollo that was discovered by an Italian archeologist in 1928 and then taken to Italy before being returned in 1981.
We were intrigued by the small car/passenger ferry that ran on a pulley system and took those interested in viewing the Triangular Fortifications on the other side of Lake Butrint.
A view at dusk of Saranda's harbor on October 5th:
10/7: Walking from our apartment in Perama outside of Corfu, Greece, to get a meal in the neighboring town of Benitses, we noticed these gorgeous trumpet flowers. They bloomed so profusely, no doubt, because of the heavy amounts of precipitation the island received. Corfu was fittingly described as Homer's 'well-watered gardens.'
Before reading information at the Museum, I had always thought the origins of cloisonne had been Chinese. But, in the early 14th century, the Chinese were taught indirectly by the Byzantines through artists who worked in the Armenian and Georgian monasteries, the cloisonne technique or working with inlaid enamel.
What a lovely view we had from the top steps of the Reading Society in Corfu Town:
In Corfu Town's Old Fortress or Citadel where Corfu's entire population once lived, was the Church of St. George that was built by the British in 1840 to look like an ancient Doric temple, It had then been converted into an Orthodox church before becoming an exhibit space.
On our way back to our lodging outside of town, we decided on the spur of the moment to jump off the bus so we could see the tiny white convent of Vlacherna for a few minutes – how perfectly picturesque the famous landmark was. We were lucky the boats were still running from the convent every few minutes over to the minuscule Pontikonisi Island, known more commonly as Mouse Island and said to be Odysseus’ ship turned to stone by Poseidon.
On October 9th, we took an intercity bus to Paleokastriska, about an hour from Corfu Town along some narrow roads with stunning views. Immediately after arriving, we jumped on a boat that was leaving to view three caves. The combination of crystal-blue water, rocky cliffs, bright blue skies, interesting caves and peaceful waters made for a lovely time.
Overlooking the rugged west coast and perched at the very top of the mountain overlooking the town was the 13th century Monastery of Paleokastritsa. It was the reason why many tourists visit the town. Its gilded chapel was outstanding with icons going back centuries.
Whenever I see this photo, I can't help but smile!
Atop a bluff near the monastery was this unusual cross that looked more like a radio antenna. It was the ideal spot to admire the stupendous views as we took in the sounds of waves crashing against the rocks below and the wind whistling through the trees.
On 10/10 before flying to Athens that night, we toured by local bus Corfu's North Coast. We first stopped at the small town of Kassioppi, a resort of sorts since Roman imperial times. Tiberius had a villa here and Nero paid a musical visit with his lyre in 66 AD. It and the other towns on the north coast are tremendously popular with British tourists, so much so, that the area is known as ‘Kensington on Sea.’ After traipsing through town and dodging puddles from the constant rain, we hiked up a slippery path up to the 13th century Byzantine castle.
Lil Red: I immediately thought of you when admiring this sculpture as I thought back to a comment you posted on a blog I had written in Budapest a couple of trips ago!
One of the museum's 'best' pieces in my mind was this magnificent plaster reconstruction of the combination of leaves and a phoenix fan pediment which once crowned the ridge of the Parthenon.
The Acropolis and its surrounding archeological sites in ancient Athens were where the most essential aspects of the European and North American identity like democracy, philosophy, theater, sciences and arts later emerged. This photo was of the Roman Agora, Athens' commercial center from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD.
The Ancient Agora's showpiece was the Stoa or colonnade, of Attalos II where Socrates once lectured and incited the youth of Athens to adopt his progressive ideas on morality and mortality. The two-story building was first designed as a retail complex and was erected in the 2nd century BC.
We loved our visit to Athens' Benaki Museum that covered the entire history of Greece with displays from the Bronze Age up to WWII. The museum had a collection of over 100,000 items. A favorite was this stunning wreath of gold oak leaves from the late 4th/early 3rd centuries BC.
Construction of the Olympeion began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world. During the Roman periods, it was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world. What a sense of awe and wonder as we walked all around it to see it in different lights and shadows as the sun was setting.
On a day trip to Delphi on October 13th, we walked first to the Delphi Archeological Museum as visiting it was essential to understanding the site and sanctuary’s importance to the ancient Greek world. I loved the fabulous statue of The Winged Victory, the God that Nike was named after. It was all original except for its broken feet and wings.
The Temple of Apollo, who was the god of music, harmony and light, occupied the most prominent position in the Delphi sanctuary. The partially restored colonnade dated to the 4th century BC.
Above the temple was the well-preserved Theater which seated 5,000. In 1930, there was a performance there of the ancient drama Prometheus Bound at the Delphi Festival.
Who could ever resist loving this picturesque scene as we walked to Santorini's Red Beach?
On October 16th, Steven and I took a day cruise to some of the five islands that comprise Santorini. Thira, the main island and the one everyone thinks of when hearing about Santorini, was settled in the 8th century BC by Spartans and then by the Turks. In 1207 AD at the end of the fourth crusade, Thira was inhabited by Venetians who built six castles on it. A view of our traditional boat, the King Thiras, the dark vessel below, as we climbed to the top of the super volcano on Nea Kameni:
After visiting a couple of islands and swimming in a hot spring, our next stop was Oia, Santorini’s second largest town located on the northern part of Thira island and the Aegean’s most photographed spot.
To reach the town from the port, we had to make our way among the donkeys also climbing up the steps. Our guide cautioned us to make sure we kept our backs to the wall to allow the donkeys to pass and not push us!
It was a bit of a culture shock going from tiny, peaceful Santorini to the hustle and bustle of Cairo, Egypt, one of the world's largest cities just hours later. We sure didn't complain when we checked into our hotel room just across the road from the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids in Giza, mind you!
As we had arranged day tours to begin the next day of the pyramids in Giza and then for much further afield from Luxor, we took the opportunity to walk around Giza on our own.
It was the first time this trip we encountered such poverty.
But I can never overstate the extreme friendliness of the Egyptian people we encountered. So, so many people spontaneously came up to us welcoming us to their homeland, thanking us for coming AND wishing us a wonderful visit. And no, there was absolutely NO sense that they wanted anything in return either. We have naturally become somewhat jaded or skeptical at times on our world travels wondering who wants what from us as we are obviously perceived by many less affluent people as having so much money. That was never the case for us in Egypt, however.
As I wrote in the blog, I felt like the Pied Piper of Hamelin as kids kept coming up to say a few words to us and then began following us around. None of them asked for any money, unlike so many other countries where we’ve been and have had children follow us. They just appeared thrilled to be with us and have their pictures taken. We were the only foreigners so we were as much a novelty to them, I'm sure, as they and the sights and sounds were for us.
After visiting several underground tombs in the town of Sakkara, we stopped at one of the many carpet schools to learn about carpet weaving in Egypt. I asked what age the children can start ‘learning’ or perhaps, more accurately, working, and was told they start as young as ten so they can help support their families. Seeing first hand these very young workers made me wonder who had made the beautiful Turkish, Indian and Afghani rugs we have. Ignorance had been bliss until we were faced with the reality of how young those workers had probably been too.
The oldest pyramid in Giza and the largest in Egypt is the Great Pyramid of Khufu, known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It took our breath away as we felt the power of long ago civilizations and what they had been capable of accomplishing.
At the Greek Orthodox Monastery & St. George Church, it was extremely touching when one of these Muslim women kissed me on both cheeks after I took their photo in front of the cross. When we hear so often in the news of the hatred expressed between followers of one religion or another, it was hopeful there were a number of Muslims also visiting the churches when we were there.
Walking through Coptic Cairo showed us the peaceful coexistence of the Christian community in a huge and predominantly Muslim city. The enclave was a testimony to the Christian life of a branch of Christianity that predated the famous great schism of 1054 AD between the East (Orthodox) and the West (Rome) by almost a thousand years. The Church of the Virgin Mary was a site believed to have been used by the Holy Family while escaping persecution.
I had certainly appreciated seeing the other areas of Cairo with the fabulous ancient churches and religious sites that were famous the world over but I loved the Tentmakers' District the most after learning of its existence in Kuala Lumpur. Seeing the riotous colored fabrics with intricate quilted designs made into wall hangings, table runners and cushion covers made me feel like a kid in a candy store! I had such fun that we returned the next day to splurge once again.
On October 23rd, we flew from Cairo south to Luxor, described as the world's largest open-air museum. At the Temple of Karnak, we learned that Karnak means sacred house and it took 2,000 years to build the great palace as each king or pharaoh added onto the temple during his reign. The word 'remarkable' seems inadequate to describe seeing the color preserved through the millennia. As so much of the original paint still remained, it was still possible to imagine the spectacular vision this place must have been for the Egyptian people of the time.
The deep carvings indicated they were done during the time of Ramses III.
Another scene from Luxor Temple:
A cartouche, i.e. his name as written in hieroglyphics, of Alexander the Great dating from 330 BC:
Our last activity of the day after crossing over the Nile River from the West Bank to the East Bank was to take a ride at sunset on a felucca, a traditional sailboat that has remained the primary transportation on the Nile. This photo was an easy choice for the highlight reel.
On 10/25, our guide and driver took us to the temples in Abydos, located 200 kms away. Among the brightly colored wall paintings, we saw Amun-Ra, the oldest and the most worshipped ruler of ancient Egypt who was always depicted in blue. Many considered him as the God of Kings and King of Gods.
The Temple at Philae was nearly lost under water when the High Aswan Dam was built in the 1960s. Fortunately, the temple was rescued by a joint operation between the Egyptian government and UNESCO. In an engineering feat to rival the ancients, the whole island was surrounded with a dam and the inside pumped dry. Then every stone block of the temple complex was labeled and removed, later to be assembled, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, on higher ground. The whole project took ten years but it saved one of Egypt’s most beautiful temples from certain destruction.