topics: frappé (food of the day), Pericles, Sparta, Athens, History, olives, media; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: March 9-10, 1998

Food of the Day: frappé

One of the first things we noticed on arriving in Greece is that everyone seems to be drinking this delightful beverage. To make a frappé, you add two spoonfuls of Nescafé to the same amount of sugar and about 5 spoonfuls of cold water. Next you blend this mixture in a milkshake blender until it is smooth and frothy, you fill a glass with ice and water, add a dash or two of cream, and voilà! - you have a frappé. While a delight to drink (sweet, frothy, creamy and refreshing all at the same time), consuming a frappé can be like mainlining caffeine, so some care must be taken not to overindulge.

Person of the Day: Pericles

Pericles, who lived around 495-425 BC, was an Athenian statesman so powerful and influential that the time during which he held office is called the Age of Pericles. Son of the army commander Xanthippus (who defeated the Persians at Mycale in 479 BC), Pericles entered the political arena in Athens and encouraged all "citizens" (at the time basically limited to male landowners) of the city to take an active role in the governing of the then city-state. Embracing a foreign policy that was expansionist in design, Pericles became the undisputed leader of Athens.

During his 15 years of rule, Pericles worked to make Athens the most magnificent city of the ancient world. Primarily at the expense of other city-states subject to the government in Athens, Pericles restored many of the temples that had been destroyed during wars with the Persians, and commissioned many new structures, the most famous being the Parthenon on the Acropolis. Under his rule Athens grew to become one of the greatest centers of literature and art in the ancient world.

But, as we have learned, all good things must come to an end. The jealousy of many of the other Greek city-states (especially Athens' greatest rival, Sparta) resulted in an attempt to overthrow Athenian domination. The first of three Peloponnesian Wars began in 431 BC. Rather than fight, Pericles gathered all his people within the walls of Athens and allowed the invading army to destroy the areas around the city. Disease eventually broke out in the overcrowded city and the citizens deposed Pericles, charging him with the misuse of public funds. Shortly after being reinstated, he died.

Place of the Day: Athens

Athens is the first European capital city the BikeAbouters have visited since returning to Europe. That said, it is easy to see the influence of Asia on Athens. The Turkish coffee we were drinking last week is now called Greek coffee, and many of the markets and some of the neighborhoods have the same feel as places that were visited earlier in the trip.

Like many of the capital cities in the world, Athens has a traumatic history. However, unlike many of these cities, Athens's past is not a story of continual growth. Its history can best be summed up as follows: a period of glory followed by decline and near extinction, followed by rebirth as the capital of independent Greece.

Athens has been inhabited since Neolithic times when what is now the Acropolis (blessed with two excellent natural springs) provided an excellent defensive position. By 1400 BC, the Acropolis had become the center of a powerful city that was part of the Mycenean civilization. In fact, unlike many other city-states, it was powerful enough to repel most invasions (especially those of the Dorians), but unable to escape the Dark Age that consumed Greece for 400 years. Finally, starting around the 8th century BC, Athens came out if its rut and became the artistic center of Greece, specializing in ceramics. It was during this period that Athenian democracy began to be developed.

The golden age of Athens is often referred to as the period during the reign of Pericles (see the Person of the Day). It is during this time that most of the great monuments were constructed. It was also at this time that the great Greek dramatists (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides), sculptors (Pheidias and Myron) and historians (Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon) lived and produced some of their best work.

However, constant rivalry, jealousy and animosity between Athens and Sparta finally resulted in three Peloponnesian Wars (the first starting in 431 BC) which lasted for the next 27 years when Sparta was finally able to obtain the upper hand. This spelled the end of the golden age of Athens. While the 4th century did produce some of the greatest Greek thinkers (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle), Athens was never able to regain its former glory and eventually, along with all the other city-states, was conquered by Phillip II of Macedon. Phillip's son, Alexander the Great , favored Athens over many of the other city-states (after all, many of his teachers, Plato and Aristotle for example, had come from Athens) but his early death saw Athens again fall into decline.

Under the Romans, Athens was still considered a major center of education and many Roman emperors (especially Hadrian) commissioned the construction of many buildings. It was not until Justinian closed all of Athens's schools of philosophy in 529 AD that the real decline of Athens began. By 1450 and the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Athens had been successively invaded and occupied by the Franks, Catalans, Florentines and Venetians.

The capture of Athens by the Turks in 1456 started 400 years of Ottoman rule. During this period, the Acropolis became the home of the Turkish governor and the Parthenon became a mosque while the Erechtheion was used as a harem. During the War of Independence (1821-27), fierce fighting broke out in Athens with the city changing hands several times.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Athens experienced steady growth and a thriving economy. This quickly came to an end with the Treaty of Lausanne and the subsequent population exchanges between Turkey and Greece. Over a million Greek refugees from Turkey descended on Athens, a great and traumatic shock at best. The scramble to construct housing for all the new residents resulted in much of the "urban concrete sprawl" that characterizes Athens today.

World War II slowed the growth of Athens as Greece (especially Athens) suffered horribly under the Germans (during the war more Athenians were killed by starvation than by the enemy). Since the end of the war, there has been an industrialization program (largely sponsored by the US) that resulted in another population boom as people from the islands and mainland villages headed for Athens in search of work.

Tech Fact of the Day: olive tree

The olive tree (sometimes called the "money tree" of the Mediterranean) was greatly revered in ancient Greece. The fact that the fruit of the olive tree could be used for so many different purposes - from food, to lighting, to lubrication - caused the ancient Greeks to assume that such a glorious gift must come from the gods. In an attempt to capitalize on this amazing gift, locals cleared much of the native Greek forest to make room for more olive trees. In fact, laws were passed (in the 6th century by a man named Solon, the archon, or leader, of Athens) making the only permissible agricultural export olive oil. (The punishment for anyone caught cutting an olive tree down was death). Most of the new land that was planted with olive trees was hill country and the olive trees did not have the surface root system capable of holding onto the thin topsoil. In the end, much of the loose topsoil was carried away by land erosion. The occasionally harsh, rocky landscape that the BikeAbouters have encountered in Greece is largely a result of this policy.

Group Dispatch, March 9-10
picture of Anthony

Originally the BikeAbouters had planned on spending only one night in Larisa, but, as luck would have it, a nationwide railroad strike helped us (some might say forced us to) decide to spend another day in this wonderful metropolis.

We had already decided to take a train to Athens for a number of reasons (including weather), but the major deciding factor was time. While we would have liked to spin our way down the eastern coast of Greece, the clock is ticking on the Mediterranean Journey. If we are to have any hope at all of making it to Spain by the end of June, we need to cut short some of the time we spend biking. The eastern coast of Greece, while beautiful, apparently does not hold a candle to the Peloponnesian Peninsula and the western coast of Greece. A decision was made to limit the coverage of the first part of our time in Greece and concentrate on the prettier (and hillier) sections that would come after Athens.

Hoping to make the best of our newly acquired afternoon in Larisa, we returned to the Forthnet offices click to view a photograph to which Ethan and Corinne had zipped during the morning and where, at short notice, they were welcomed, were able to up- and download email, and even interviewed and photographed by Dimitri Vlla, a reporter from the local newspaper, Eleftheria, or "Eleftheria," which means "freedom." At the follow-up meeting, plans were now made for an afternoon interview with the local TV news program. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Forthnet Larisa, especially Mr. Panos Aggeletopoulo, the Branch Manager, for their warm reception and willingness to help.

So, to wile away the hours, we sought out the local cyber café, called Pl@net Café click to view a photograph, for a session of dispatch polishing. All four of us plugged in our Compaq laptops and worked while Padraic showed the owner of the café the BikeAbout Web site and attempted to explain what exactly all these strange people were doing in his café. Yanni click to view a photograph, the owner of Pl@net Café click to view a photograph, deemed BikeAbout worthy and graced us with free Internet access and all the frappés (see Food of the Day) we could drink.

(Padraic, Corinne and Anthony were wise to the potential side effects of drinking too many frappés and so limited themselves to a single glass of this elixir. Innocent Ethan, so unfamiliar with many of the dark forces that exist in the world, quaffed half dozen of these frothy drinks and was pretty much worthless for the rest of the afternoon as he bounced from wall to wall with a glassy look in his eye. Occasionally he would spout off in some strange tongue but the rest of us knew that it was only the caffeine talking and not the evil of the earth using his body as a medium.)

Fortunately, by the time the TV news camera crew showed up, Ethan was a little more lucid and for the next hour Ethan and Anthony explained to the local television station what exactly BikeAbout was doing in Greece, and, in particular, in Larisa. Padraic, Anthony and Ethan even hopped on their bikes for a little "action" footage of BikeAbout doing what it does best (apparently riding the wrong way on a one way street). Corinne busied herself by filming the camera crew as they filmed the boys. This was a little unsettling for the camera guy who is used to filming but not necessarily to being filmed. Agreeing to appear "live" on that evening's news program, we bid a brief farewell to the TV crew and headed back into the café to finish some of our work.

Later that evening, after a tasty dinner at a restaurant recommended by Sofia, Anthony, Padraic and Ethan headed out through the rain to the studios of Astra TV where Ethan answered questions posed by the anchorwoman, Litsa. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Ethan's answers to Litsa's thoughtful and probing queries were so moving that Anthony and Padraic fought back tears (though they refuse to admit it now) and they quickly went through their supply of tissues. Again, we would like to thank our local friends, Litsa and Pedis of Astra TV, for helping to make our surprise stay in Larisa so memorable.

The next morning, despite the rain and chill, the BikeAbouters sprung into action as Padraic and Anthony bought pastries for breakfast while Corinne visited the local market for fruit and Ethan purchased train tickets. (Ethan also purchased a copy of Eleftheria. There on the second page was an article about BikeAbout with a big picture of Corinne, Ethan and Panos of Forthnet.)

The train ride to Athens was used by the BikeAbouters to get a little work done (as long as the laptop batteries lasted), shoot some photos of the amazing scenery click to view a photograph, and nap. The latter was difficult at times since the scenery was so beautiful; the train tracks wind their way along the edge of a mountain ridge click to view a photograph occasionally affording stunning views out into the fertile valley below. click to view a photograph

Arriving in Athens, we were again confronted with a new confusing metropolis. Guide book in hand, we braved the rush hour traffic, rain and fading light and found our way to the city information office. Armed with a better map of the city, Ethan and Padraic headed off to a friend's home in southern Athens while Anthony and Corinne checked into a hotel. They did meet again later for dinner and planned out their itinerary for the next few days.

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