Athens

dry hills
The view from Athens airport

Flying into Athens for the first time felt a bit weird because the landscape was so much like that of Townsville: the bright sky, the nearly-bare hills and the parched vegetation we could see from the plane created a near-deja-vu experience: “We flew all this way and nothing has changed?” (The airport itself didn’t do much to alleviate that, either, since it was much more like ours than Dubai’s or Singapore’s.)

The coast near Piraeus
The coast near Piraeus

A tourist-bus ride around the city and down to the port of Piraeus showed us that the city is indeed different but that its setting is rather similar. The hills beyond Piraeus could almost be the hills beyond Ross Dam, were it not for the encroaching suburbs.

Looking down from the Acropolis
Looking down from the Acropolis with the Roman theatre in the foreground

Athens even has its own Castle Hill, rising from the centre of the old city and providing wonderful views; it’s not as big as our Castle Hill but is a little better known. The locals call it “The Acropolis”.

The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki
The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki

One of the things we only really learn by visiting a place is how big it is: walking around a building or a city gives us a far better sense of it than looking at photos.

The Acropolis Hill is big enough to dominate the skyline anywhere in the central city but small enough that an energetic tourist can walk right around its base, stopping to look at all sorts of ruins and museums, in a day – and we did just that, simply by rambling at will until it became clear from our map that it was easier to keep going than to back-track.

Part of our walk, up to a lookout on the top of Areopagus Hill, turned out to be a route popular with locals. We continued down and around the Southern side of the Acropolis Hill, past the Roman theatre to the new Acropolis Museum a short distance away from the hill, back towards the hill to see the (classical Greek) Theatre of Dionysus (see Wikipedia), and finally around the Eastern end of the hill and back into Monastiraki for dinner. This map shows the territory and this page in my “Gallery Crawl” section presents more about the Acropolis itself.

Athens
Locals and tourists enjoying the view from the crest of Areopagus Hill
amphitheatre
Theatre of Dionysus, fourth century BC

Greece: Lefkada

village
The village of Karya, nestled in the hills of Lefkada

Lefkada is a large island just off the west coast of Greece. I hadn’t heard of it until friends moved there a couple of years ago, although I had known and loved its nearest neighbour, Corfu, ever since I read Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals as a child. Our friends settled in Karya, a village in the mountains above the island’s main town and we visited them there in late June before going on to Italy (previous posts).

The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed a couple of long walks, one down the hill to visit their donkey and the other up the hill just because it was a nice thing to do. There were some spectacular views:

Meganisi
Looking south-east over the coastal village of Nydri to Meganisi and the mainland.
olive trees
Olives on the terraced hillside above Karya

Our host pointed out that what we were seeing was essentially a ‘man-made landscape’ after so long a period of human occupation. Olive trees dominate the vegetation, a pine forest on the mountain side was planted within living memory, watercourses have been channelled and diverted over the whole history of habitation, and every cultivated plant which the climate suits has gradually spread over the whole island while every useful or decorative local plant has been cultivated and bred for its fruit or flowers. The distinctions between ‘native’ and ‘exotic’, and between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’, which are so clear in Australian landscapes, are almost invisible in Lefkada.

That’s largely true in the rest of Europe and large parts of Asia, too, of course, but particularly true in the eastern Mediterranean because of its very long period of continuous occupation – the archaeological museum in Lefkada, for instance, displays local finds which date back to the Paleolithic period.

The lovely early summer weather meant that I came back from our walks with a good collection of insect photos, some of which are now in an album on Flickr; clicking on the sample below will take you straight to it.

insect
A colourful katydid on Lefkada