topics: tiropitakia (food), museum for the blind, village life, Internet, antiquities, National Archaeological Museum, Homer, Ptolemy, minotaur, Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations, Corinth; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: March 15, 1998

Food of the Day: Tiropitakia (tiropitakia, in Greek)

"Tiropitakia" is another of the cheese dishes that we have enjoyed in Greece. A deep fried pastry with mild cheese inside, this dish is notable for being light instead of heavy and oily. The only problem is that they are small and only come a few at a time - not fast enough for the voracious appetites of the boys.

Person of the Day: Emmanuel Tselikas click to view a photograph

At the encouragement of George Tselikas, who has been helping BikeAbout develop its program in Greece, yesterday, Anthony, Ethan and Padraic accepted an invitation to meet George's father, Emmanuel. Uncle Manos (as he immediately insisted they call him) met the boys at the suburban Patissia metro station and took them to his nearby apartment for coffee and some snacks. There they engaged in an enjoyable but too short conversation on a dizzying variety of topics.

Like his son, Uncle Manos kindly offered his services in whatever way BikeAbout needed - translation, advice, or instruction. The boys took him up on these, picking his brain about the BikeAbout itinerary in Greece, as well as the current political and economic state of the country. They also hoped to be able to give him a letter introducing BikeAbout to Greek schools for him to translate. In addition, Uncle Manos had planned to set up a visit to the Lighthouse Museum for the Blind (on whose board he sits), but BikeAbout's planned departure from Athens on Monday precluded this possibility. Instead he explained briefly (and later by means of a virtual tour on the Internet of the Faros [Lighthouse in Greek] Web site), how the museum works. It is one of the few museums that actually encourages people to touch the exhibits. The idea is to allow the blind to use their tactile senses to appreciate and enjoy famous works of art, including exact small-scale replicas of classical Greek sculpture and architecture.

Afterwards, the topic of conversation turned to our journey. A doctor, Uncle Manos had traveled widely while working for the World Health Organization, and he was interested to see how his experiences compared with our own. In particular, they learned from him about "village" life in Greece the way it used to be. As a young doctor, Uncle Manos worked as a part of a mobile clinic that would drive through the country and make visits to distant communities normally too far from a hospital to get medical attention. While he respects these communities for what they were and the slow, manageable life styles they made possible, he is fervent in his feelings that progress has been for the best, especially in terms of how medicine is more readily available and helpful to everyone.

They also discussed another topic of interest to all of them - the Internet. While on that subject, Uncle Manos showed the boys his ongoing project, a bulletin that he publishes periodically. He writes some of the articles himself and pulls in the rest of the material from various sources, including the Internet. Then he formats, prints, and copies the bulletin for over fifty friends! With the help of his son George, Manos hopes that he will soon be able to publish his work on the Internet so it might reach a wider audience. You can find the Bulletin at The boys were very impressed with the bulletin - not to mention Uncle Manos' Internet-savvy - and only wish they knew Greek so that they could read more of it themselves.

Unfortunately, already late for a dinner engagement, the boys had to dash off, but they promised to keep in touch by email. And, Uncle Manos, if you are reading this, we want to thank you again for your hospitality and help.

Place of the Day: National Archaeological Museum

Despite the number of artifacts from ancient Greece that have ended up outside of Greece (click here for more on this), the National Archaeological Museum boasts the finest collection of Greek antiquities in the world. And Anthony and Padraic had all of four hours to see it all! Well, as much of it as they could.

Hoping to tackle the museum's exhibits in roughly chronological order, the boys began with the earliest important artifacts from the Bronze Age Cycladic civilization (meaning a time when the people used bronze tools and weapons), which prospered between roughly 3000 and 1100 BC. Centered in the Cyclades islands (hence the name), this early civilization left some impressive evidence of its advances, including the delicately painted pottery and carefully carved figurines exhibited in the museum. click to view a photograph

From here the boys moved on to the amazing Hall of Mycenaean Antiquities, consisting mostly of treasures found in grave sites at Mycenae (in the eastern part of the Peloponnesian peninsula) and uncovered by (among others) the famous amateur archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. The Mycenaean or Achaean civilization came after the Cycladic culture but still predated that of the ancient Greeks. It reached its peak between the 14th and 12th centuries BC and was famous for the quality of its pottery and jewelry, much of which was on impressive display here. The Hall is awash in gold, including the golden death mask of a Mycenaean king. When Schliemann discovered the mask, since he was obsessed with Troy, he mistakenly claimed it portrayed Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces in Homer's "Iliad." Later scholarship shows it to have belonged to a much earlier king. But even this spectacular mask could be overlooked amongst the dozens of beautiful exhibits in the Hall, which included a full golden costume for the bodies of royal babies who had died.

From the Mycenaean room, Anthony and Padraic made their way through the halls housing the Archaic, Classical, and late Classical Greek sculpture. Fortunately even the boys - no great experts on art or sculpture - could follow the evolution of Greek sculpture. From the stiff poses of the archaic sculptures such as this bigger-than-life (and Anthony) kouras (standing nude boy) click to view a photograph, Greek sculpture during the classical period moved on to more dynamic and expressive (if still nude) portrayals of its subject - in this photo, Poseidon, the God of the Sea. click to view a photograph Most of the best examples of the classical form depict mythological characters in dramatic poses. Check out this figurine of Zeus about to hurl his mighty thunderbolt. click to view a photograph

Unfortunately some of the most famous examples of classical sculpture have been lost forever, and we had to be satisfied with later copies, such as this small-scale replica of the nine-meter (30-ft) statue of Athena that once graced the Acropolis. click to view a photograph

The late Classical and Hellenistic sculpture becomes even more realistic. For example, the relief of a boy handling a jumpy horse is amazingly life-like. click to view a photograph While the work continued to address mythological scenes, it was more likely to portray the comic or grotesque. Here, Aphrodite, the hotly pursued goddess of love, uses her sandal to fend off Pan's amorous advances. click to view a photograph

Classical and Hellenistic sculpture had an enormous effect on later art. Indeed, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Greeks should almost be embarrassed by Roman sycophancy, including this eerily realistic sculpture of Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus, with the characteristic attention it pays to the draping of his toga. click to view a photograph

Though already overwhelmed by what they had already seen, Anthony and Padraic manfully pushed on, soon coming upon one exhibit that reminded them once again (and for the umpteenth time on the trip) of the interconnectedness of the Mediterranean civilizations. A few steps from amazing treasures of Greek civilization, the boys stumbled upon a small but impressive exhibit of Egyptian artifacts. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Referring to Corinne's Place of the Day for her dispatch of November 29-30, Anthony explained to a confused tourist who happened by that the Hellenistic Kingdom of Ptolemy controlled Egypt following the death of Alexander the Great. But even before this time, the two civilizations betrayed signs of influence upon one another. The stylized archaic Greek kouras mentioned above click to view a photograph is obviously similar to Egyptian statues (see, for example, the following picture click to view a photograph). Unfortunately the passer-by spoke no English (or pretended like he didn't).

From the Egyptian room, the guys headed upstairs to admire the Minoan frescoes of the Thira exhibit. Discovered on the island of Santorini in the late 1960s, these frescoes offer insight into yet another influential precursor to ancient Greek civilization: the Minoans. The Minoan civilization that developed in Crete is commonly considered the first great civilization to emerge in the northern Mediterranean. Archaeologists have discovered great cities and elaborate palaces at Knossos and Phaestos, as well as impressive works of pottery and art. There is even a written language, known today as Linear A (which is related to the later Linear B and Greek languages). Named (by modern archaeologists) after the mythical King Minos - famous for sacrificing victims to the half-bull, half-human Minotaur until the Athenian hero Theseus killed the beast - the Minoan civilization reached its height in the 17th century BC before being eclipsed by the more war-like Mycenaean civilization. The frescoes vividly depict scenes from the everyday life such as boys boxing, men fishing, and ships sailing from one port to another.

Finally, their strength nearly gone, the boys rushed through the extensive displays of Greek pottery. Although they agreed that the exquisite vases click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, with their fascinating portrayals of mythological and real events, were one of the highlights of the museum, they also realized they had neither the time nor energy to do justice to the exhibit. Vowing to return another day, even if that day was years hence (stay tuned for 2001, a BikeAbout Odyssey reprise?), they trudged out into the daylight to catch a bus to their next appointment.

Tech Fact of the Day: traffic

Used to the car-choked, pollution-filled transportation nightmares that are Cairo and Beirut, to the BikeAbouters the Athenian traffic problems seemed slight. However, with the Olympic games coming up in 2004, Athenians are determined to improve the situation. In addition to massive road building projects intended to divert traffic away from the center of the city, Athens is building a new metro (subway) line to add to the one line now in existence.

Unfortunately, originally slated for completion in 1998, the construction has frequently been delayed and probably won't be finished before 2000. Ironically the main problem arises from the remarkable wealth of culture and history in the city. Almost every time builders begin digging a tunnel, they unearth archaeological sites which then have to be excavated (and sometimes moved) by archaeologists - a very time consuming process.

Group Dispatch, Macrh 15
picture of Padraic

While Ethan dashed off by bus to Corinth to set up school meetings for the next day and Corinne slept in after a late night, Anthony and Padraic rose with the dawn to make an early visit to Athens' renowned National Archaeological Museum. See Place of the Day for more about this visit.

After the museum the boys made their way to Haris' to reunite with Corinne and to join their friends Haris, Michalis, George and Nadia click to view a photograph for a tour of Moni Kaissarianis, an 11th century monastery on the slopes of the lovely Mount Hymettos.

Although Hymettos is just five km from the center of Athens (and offers a nice view of the city), it is remarkably bucolic. Walking among the pine trees and wild flowers, one could easily forget how close the concrete urban jungle is. After visiting the monastery and wandering the slopes, we stopped at a spring, which is the source of the River Ilissos. Its waters were reputed to be sacred to Aphrodite and to cure infertility. Perhaps this explains the signs that warn (in three languages) that the water is not drinkable.

By this time, the wind had begun to blow harder and the temperature dropped, driving the group into a nearby taverna for a late lunch. Over plates of food, the BikeAbouters discussed a wide range of topics with their Greek friends, who each knew at least three languages and had traveled widely throughout the world. George discussed his experiences in Japan, Nadia talked about her time as a student in Vienna, Michalis and Haris described Crete, and Padraic lectured at great length on Americana (everyone was just relieved he didn't begin explaining his dissertation).

Back at Haris' apartment, the conversation continued over coffee, breaking up only when the Greeks had to depart to attend an AEGEE meeting, and the BikeAbouters left to meet Katerina for dinner.

Meanwhile, Ethan, who had hopped on an early bus to a city near Corinth, spent the day in the company of some excited and interesting teachers and set up two school visits for the following day. Starting in nearby Loutraki, a resort and casino town (famous for its mineral water) located across the Bay of Corinth from the city of Corinth, Ethan met with Mr. Theodore Orinos, national coordinator of the SEMEP-UNESCO (UNESCO-led Southeastern Mediterranean Sea Project) program in Greece. SEMEP-UNESCO is an environmental education program involving secondary schools in 23 countries along the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It examines economic, cultural, ethical, and other data to study the importance of these seas in the lives of the people native to the area. Launched in 1994, its pilot phase (1995-96) focused only on the measurement of environmental indicators. The themes of the first two official years of implementation (1996-97 and this year) have been "The Sea and Us" and "Water and Life" respectively. The goal of the project is to establish a network of schools that communicate using email (if possible) or fax or regular post.

Ethan joined Mr. Orinos for the short drive to the city of Corinth where they joined a group of four teachers from local secondary schools. At the café where they gathered, Ethan presented BikeAbout and made arrangements for two school visits the following day - one in Loutraki and the other in Corinth - when the whole team would return.

After the meeting, Ethan was welcomed into the home of Mrs. Deni (Dionysia) Papadopoulou click to view a photograph, where he explained BikeAbout to her husband and son, and then joined them for lunch. The excellent meal conversation covered culture and language and the importance of travel and cross-cultural communication. Deni has studied and traveled extensively in the States and was very enthusiastic about how valuable human contact across cultures is and how positively it can change people's lives.

While Deni was very excited about BikeAbout, and paved the way for a visit to her school, the First Gymnasium of Corinth, unfortunately she was not going to be at school the next day. As the lead teacher for her school in a six-country cross-cultural exchange project that is part of the Socrates-Comenius Program, Deni was flying to Paris with her school's headmistress to present their school's project to teachers from the other schools and pave the way for another visit in May with all of the participating students. Focusing on cultural heritage as a means of cross-cultural understanding, she and some of her students had studied the ancient culture of Corinth (through the museum and ruins of Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth) and used it as a way of talking about present culture and life. Anyone interested in learning more about the Socrates-Comenius Program and the project about Corinth is encouraged to contact Deni at

After lunch, and armed with two gift bags of delicious raisins and sultanas (green raisins), both of which are specialties of Corinth, Ethan grabbed the next bus back to Athens and made his way to Katerina's to await news from the others.

Everyone's long day ended with Katerina once again finding a charming taverna in which the team could eat affordably and well. And, despite the late hour, she also helped Ethan and Padraic prepare for their early morning departure the next day. Sadly, it was time to leave Athens. We knew we would miss this city and all of the new friends we have made.

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