Category: 2014 — South East Europe

Istanbul

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The Bosporus, with Asia in the background

We took an all-night train from Athens to Alexandropolis. Every seat was taken in the train, so Susan and I could not lie down and rest, as we had on other trains. With the new austerity programs in Greece, they have cut back on railway schedules. So one should expect full trains on long trips.

We got to Thessaloniki at sunrise. There the train thinned out. Now we could spread out and have a leisure ride through the mountains of eastern Greece. To me, there is simply a great joy in visiting the rural areas of new countries by train. Many of the routes are over a 100 years old and have been cut along ancient routes. This run was full of tunnels and long climbs. Ahead I could see the diesel engine barreling down as we slowed to 20 mph on the climbs. The views were great. Once, cedar forests had stood here. But long ago, an army of goats and sheep had forever removed them. The mountains were now left with grasses nubbed to the ground, and all the corollary erosion that came with it.

At 2 pm, our train backed into the coastal town of . It turned out that we had just missed the bus to Istanbul and would have to wait 12 hours for the next one. We were a bit tired, so we went to  a nearby hotel and negotiated for a room for 12 hours. When the desk man looked at my passport, he said “We see you last night! On ‘Locked Up Abroad.'” He then ran next door and got a few friends. They looked at my passport, then me, and agreed that I was the same guy as the one on TV the night before. They all laughed and shook my hand and offered a toast. This was all a bit odd to me. It had never happened before. But clearly, the service improved.

We grabbed a 2 am bus and made it a point to get in the back seat. There are five contiguous seats there, and if the bus does not fill up, we can lay down.  Off to Istanbul.

The annoying part is when they wake you up at 4 am at the Turkish border. There you must stand outside in the cold night air for over an hour while they completely search you and the bus for arms and explosives. All buses must go through a special scanning machine. Whatever it does, it lights up the sky around it.

We we get aboard and get to Istanbul at about 8 am. One taxi to the old center of the city. Within 5 minutes, we have found an acceptable room near the Blue Mosque for 40 euros. As with the rest of the trip, getting rooms in the off-season has been easy and reasonable.

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We enter the Harem, where, until 1921,  the sultan kept up to 500 concubines.

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The National Archeological Museum of Greece. The greatest archaeological museum I have ever seen.

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In front of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece. I have not seen a better archaeological museum in my life.

Whenever we  can, we visit the national  museums of the countries we are in. Given Greece’s rich history, I expected to find some jewels. But what we got was even better.

We allocated 2-3 hours to cover the museum and then move on. But late in the afternoon, I still found myself unable to leave. The National Archaeological Museum of Greece combined incredible quality and preservation with a vastness of hallways inside. I got lost several times as it just went on and on. Some of the quality of the marble had me shaking my head in amazement. Then I would step into the next room to find even greater works. Do put this museum on your must-see list in life.

 

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A satyr groping a nymph

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Look at how the wind appears to blow the marble tunic

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A tombstone stellae. This is a story of grief. The young man on the left has died prematurely. His servant below him grieves. But the worst of the grief is left for the old father on the right, staring at his departed son. The Greeks knew how to capture tragedy with the best.

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A satyr molests a nymph. He has no problem with his appearance either. But most incredible. This is ONE continuous piece of marble.

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Athens

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I had studied Latin and Greek History is high school. One of my favorite teachers was Alpha Braunsworth. She knew her classes inside out. She brought Greek mythology to life for me. Between the lines, I could read about their gods living, lusting, and passionate. So different from the sterile Christianity presented to me daily in my life. I swore that I would visit the Parthenon, the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Oracle of Delphi. And here it was, 50 (FIFTY!) years later, and I had not visited. Speaking of a bucket list.

The temple of Hesperia in Athens. 2400 years old, and in fine condition.

The temple of Hesperia. 2400 years old, and in fine condition.

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On the Acropolis, on Valentine’s Day, we were met by these dear young Greek women who were giving chocolates out to all couples they met, including Susan and I. How sweet.

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The Temple of Zeus, in south Athens. Still standing, balanced, after being finished by Hadrian, 1900 years ago.

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2014 Albania

Albania was lost to the world from 1950 through 1985 because of the complete meglomaniac paranoia of Enver Hoxha. He started out as a patriotic nationalist, but ended up as an unreformed Stalinist who held absolute power. So convinced was he that ‘reactionary’ Communist forces were going to overthrow him that he had built over 700,000 anti-tank pill boxes. All over the country to this day do these pill boxes stare at you, just waiting for you to make one subversive move.

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One of the 700,000+ anti-tank boxes built under the Hoxha regime

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another pill box, peering at me from the bus

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Yet another one, watching me from a farmer’ field. They are simply all over the place.

Actually, all of them have been decommissioned, with the death of Hoxha in 1985. But his legacy remains.

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The Pyramid built to last a ‘1000 years’ in Tirana, Albania, in commemoration of the great leader Hoxha. It was designed by Hoxha’s untrained daughter. City officials closed it down 15 years ago, and it is now caving in. The stairs in front have collapsed. This is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias, all over again.

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People’s art, on the outside of the National Museum. But the art inside was definitely worth seeing.

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Venice and Croatia in the winter

Fifty Years of Backpacking, and still going at it. Why travel South East Europe in the winter? The Pluses: 1. short lines, or none at all 2. Cheap air flights 3. Rooms readily available at great discounts 4. Museum entrance tickets available in all cases The Minus(es) 1. Cold rain, at times. Some of it persistent and unpleasant. Susan had three weeks of ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ vacation. So we would use it. And where to? Susan said that anyplace would be fine, since she basically had not traveled in her life. I had been to Italy a few times. But I had never gotten up to Venice. It was on my bucket list of places to visit. So we booked round-trip tickets flying from Indianapolis to Venice, and returning from Istanbul to Indianapolis. At $930 @ ticket, we got tickets at half their summer rate. So we were off to the races.   Venice was the only city we made reservations for. We readily found rooms wherever else we went, without difficulty. I began traveling internationally with backpacks in 1964. I have not felt a major reason to change. And so, here I am, on my fiftieth year of backpacking. We are traveling light. We carry all our luggage above. We have settled on three changes of clothes, and we hand-wash our clothes every night in our room. This will work for us. two-backpacks So I have my day pack here, which snaps to my ultralight backpack. This gives me both balance and accessibility. So Susan and I set in on Venice on February first, 2014, hoping that winter would be gone when we returned three weeks later. On that one point, we were really going to be disappointed. venice-sue-and-gondola San Marcos Plaza and the four museums around that plaza are must-sees. This city is going under water, slowly. Already, many of the first stories of the buildings are abandoned as their foundations settle into the the sand and the sea rises. But Venice will grace us with its beauty for a century or two more before it finally succumbs to its watery ruins. On to Croatia via train and bus. With the breakup of the old Yugoslavia, there are now lots of smaller Balkan countries. We head out for Split, Croatia. (or , We split for Split?)
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The Wild Years

Dwight Worker The Wild Years A series of autobiographical stories about Dwight Worker’s life, running from the law…before Lecumberri. THE WILD YEARS is available in paperback and ebook.

Escape from Lecumberri

Dwight Worker Escape from Lecumberri Only two people ever escaped from the infamous Lecumberri Prison in Mexico City: Pancho Villa and Dwight Worker. This is the true story of Dwight Worker’s amazing escape. ESCAPE FROM LECUMBERRI is available in paperback or Kindle.

About the Author

Dwight Worker is an American professor, activist, adventurer, and fugitive. He escaped from the Mexican penitentiary Palacio de Lecumberri in 1975 along with the book and movie Escape about the story

Throughout his life he participated in civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. In 1991, Dwight volunteered to serve in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Worker is a former professor at Indiana University, where he created the Information Security program for the Kelley School of Business before retiring in 2008 to farm, write, and travel.….READ MORE