topics: Epidaurus, amphitheater architecture, South Eastern Mediterranean Sea Project UNESCO, Corinth Canal, Nero, school visits, environment, Asclepius; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: March 16-17, 1998

Person of the Day: Michael Popakalodoukos click to view a photograph

Michael Popakalodoukos is a teacher at the Upper High School of Loutraki. Mr. Popakalodoukos also works with the student group participating in SEMEP-UNESCO (South Eastern Mediterranean Sea Project) in Loutraki.

Dedicated to working to protect the environment, SEMEP-UNESCO is an organization of students from 23 countries in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea region. The goal of the group is to raise public awareness of the danger of pollution in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They look at both industrial sources and the lesser-known problems that arise from the summer presence of thousands and thousands of tourists in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean. The students take water samples, analyze them, and then post the results on the Internet. The idea is try and learn of environmental problems before they happen and document how they grow, change and spread. By sharing this information with students and groups throughout the Mediterranean, the group hopes to document changes in the Mediterranean while raising awareness of the problem and danger. (For more info about SEMEP-UNESCO see more in the Rider Notes.)

Place of the Day: Epidaurus

Epidaurus (which is approximately 30 kilometers/19 miles east of Nafplio) is the location of one of Greece's most famous ancient sites: the amphitheater of Epidaurus. The amphitheater is both our Place of the Day and another UNESCO-recognized World Heritage site visit the World Heritage Site page.

Built of limestone in the 4th century BC, the amphitheater seats 14,000 people and is still in use today (during the Festival of Epidaurus held every July and August). click to view a photograph One of the best preserved classical Greek structures in the world, the amphitheater is particularly well known for its incredible acoustics and spectacular views. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Standing on the top row of seats, Anthony was able to hear Padraic perfectly as he spoke in a normal tone of voice from the center of the stage. (Anthony would like to take this opportunity to remonstrate Padraic for his "colorful" language, especially in a place of such historical and archaeological importance). click to view a photograph The acoustics of the amphitheater were demonstrated again and again by various tourists (dropping coins or ripping paper), including a Japanese woman who sang a brief piece from an opera, and a couple from Italy who read from Shakespeare's "Othello."

Scrounging for something cultural to perform, Padraic and Ethan re-enacted their favorite scene from "The Simpson's." Choosing from the episode in which Apu makes a Super Squishy solely of syrup, they assumed the roles of Bart and Millhouse, consumed the drink, and then decided to "Go crazy Springfield style." (Styled on the Broadway musical "New York, New York" this is the infamous episode in which Bart joins the Junior Campers.) Anthony and Corinne watched from their seats, laughing, crying, and singing along. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Ethan and Padraic hoped that their fellow tourists would appreciate the performance. It is, after all, a story based on the classic themes of youthful euphoria, and follows the lives of two young heroes from their rise in strength all the way through their hubris to their inevitable fall and damnation. Since they were still wearing their bike tights, Padraic and Ethan's performances also had a distinctly Shakespearean quality to them. Nevertheless, we fear that this episode just reinforced the stereotype many foreigners have about Americans on vacation. Fortunately our heroes were able to extricate themselves from the situation and save their national pride by claiming to be television-obsessed citizens of England.

Group Dispatch, March 16-17
picture of Anthony

This dispatch starts with yet another train ride. Since the BikeAbouters had school visits in Corinth lined up for the early afternoon, they decided that an early train from Athens to Corinth - their base of operations for the first day of this dispatch - was the only viable solution for covering the distance between them and their destination. But an 8:30 a.m. train meant that the BikeAbouters had to wake up at an inhuman hour, gather their bags and bikes, and then fight the morning traffic through the center of Athens to the train station. Corinne and Anthony were on time, but Padraic and Ethan, preferring a high-drama sort of existence, arrived only moments before the train was scheduled to pull out of the station. In a blur of activity, the group purchased tickets for themselves and their bikes, unloaded their bikes, and then loaded everything on the train. Of course, after this rush the train sat in the station for 10 minutes beyond its departure time...

Arriving in Corinth, the group quickly located the cheapest hotel (that did not have rooms to rent on a per hour basis) and dropped off their belongings. Padraic and Anthony had an appointment at 12:30 p.m. in the school of the neighboring town of Loutraki, which they could see across the bay click to view a photograph, so they quickly headed back out of town, laptops in tow. Ethan and Corinne, who had a slightly later meeting in Corinth, joined them for the first part of the ride that took them out to the Corinth Canal. click to view a photograph

Similar to the Suez Canal (though on a vastly smaller scale), the Corinth Canal cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth, thus linking the Ionian and Aegean Seas. The canal was first proposed by the 6th-century BC founder of Corinth, Periander. Unfortunately, the scale of the project proved to be too much and Periander was forced to settle for a paved road over which sailors would drag small boats from one sea to the other (using a system of rollers). While many others shared his dream (including Alexander the Great and Caligula), it was not until 67 AD that the first blow was struck (with a golden pickaxe) by Emperor Nero (who then left the work to 6,000 Jewish prisoners). Construction was not finished though until the 19th century when a French engineering company finished what Nero had started. Over 6 km (4 miles) long and with nearly vertical sides that rise 90 meters (300 feet) from the surface of the water, the canal is an impressive sight. click to view a photograph Its presence helped to increase the importance of Piraeus (the port of Athens) as a Mediterranean port.

Arriving in Loutraki, Padraic and Anthony were quickly located by one of three roving search and rescue bike teams from the school. Apparently, Mr. Popakalodoukos (our Person of the Day) was a little concerned that we would not be able to find the school and so had taken the liberty of sending out a search party backed up by another search party backed up by yet another search party. This actually proved to be a wise move as Padraic and Anthony had been distracted in town by a bakery that had a display of freshly made donuts in the window.

For the next several hours, Padraic and Anthony talked with students from the school about BikeAbout, the Internet and environmental concerns. Most of the participating students were members of SEMEP-UNESCO (UNESCO's Southeastern Mediterranean Sea Project - a group concerned with the environment) so the discussion mostly revolved around some of the environmental problems that Loutraki faces. click to view a photograph

Anthony and Padraic were surprised to learn that there is a history of unexplained forest fires (with arson suspected) in the area. The students explained that often these fires are set by people who wish to develop protected forested land to accommodate even more of the tourists that flock to the area during the summer months. Once the land is "cleared" of the protected forest, it is used for the construction of new hotels and summer cottages. The damage to the environment is substantial. Large tracts of beautifully forested land are lost and there is a problem of increased water runoff into the sea as the root system that holds the topsoil in place is destroyed. (For more info about SEMEP-UNESCO, see the Person of the Day.) The students also mentioned that, while the sea may look clean, much of the sewage generated by the influx of tourists is pumped far offshore where its effects are more difficult to notice and track. [While the school does not yet have an Internet connection (students instead travel to nearby Corinth and a cyber café to post their information) they will be online soon.]

Padraic and Anthony bid their new friends farewell and biked back to Corinth, stopping first to check out the waterfall in Loutraki (constructed in an effort to draw even more tourists than the sea and casino already draw).

Meanwhile, back in Corinth, after spending some more time at the Canal, Ethan and Corinne went straight to the First Gymnasium of Corinth. Ethan had met with Mrs. Deni Papadopoulou the previous day and arranged to visit her school even though she would not be able to be there. So a meeting with Mr. Fotiadis Apostolis was arranged. At just before 1 p.m., Corinne and Ethan enjoyed an energetic discussion with a group of about 50 students. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Many of the students are participants in Mrs. Papadopoulou's Socrates-Comenius Program which focuses on cultural heritage as a means of cross-cultural understanding. We learned more about what that means and what the students did for this project. They study the ancient culture of Corinth (through the museum and ruins of Ancient Corinth and Acrocorinth) and use it as a way of talking about present culture and life. The students will also travel to Paris where they will share their work with partner schools from other countries. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph We even hung out after school with some of the students. click to view a photograph Anyone interested in learning more about the Socrates-Comenius Program, the project about Corinth, or just generally interested in communicating with students at the First Gymnasium of Corinth should write to

With everyone back in Corinth, they spent a chilly afternoon wrapped in blankets in their hotel rooms working on their laptops until hunger forced them out into the cold for dinner.

The next morning, the crew eagerly (well sort of, it was still pretty frigid) consulted their map click to view a photograph and hopped onto their bikes and headed for Nafplio, stopping along the way at Epidaurus. When it got warm enough to be able to look around comfortably, we all enjoyed some marvelous, rolling, coastal Peloponessian scenery.

One of the more important ancient sites in Greece (and yet another in a string of World Heritage Sites that BikeAbout has visited), Epidaurus was the sanctuary of Asclepius, the son of the god Apollo and Coronis (a beautiful maiden of Thesally). Considered to be the god of medicine, Asclepius was instructed in the ways of medicine by the centaur Chiron. Asclepius became so good at his profession he was said that he was able to raise the dead. Zeus, intolerable of any disturbance of the natural order, struck Asclepius dead with a thunder bolt. Statues often depict Asclepius with a snake, which, with its ability to shed and renew its skin, symbolized healing.

As a healing center, the sanctuary of Epidaurus became famous throughout the known world attracting such notables as Ovid and Livy. Treatments at the sanctuary included lectures about the importance of a healthy diet, herbal remedies, surgery, and an odd practice in which snakes (whose tongues were thought to have a curative property) were forced to lick patients. Anthony and Padraic cast around for a snake that they could use in an attempt to heal Ethan (who is looking sicker and sicker these days), but either it was the wrong season for snakes or, guessing the horror we had in store for them, they had decided to head for the hills.

After checking out the amphitheater of Epidaurus see the Place of the Day, widely considered to the be purest masterpiece of Greek architecture, the BikeAbouters spun their way to Nafplio where they quickly checked into a pension and attempted to keep warm during yet another chilly, windy night. (For information about Nafplio, see tomorrow's dispatch.)

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