Noilly Prattle: 2017

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Europe Summer 2017: Russia 1 – Russia-gate(way)


     Given all the political turmoil between Moscow and Washington over alleged Russian interference in the presidential election campaign of 2016, people have asked why I would want to go to Russia “of all places”. The answer is simple enough—like the proverbial mountain, because it's there—and complex enough: had never been there; curious to separate fact from fiction; discover what the Russian people are like besides caricatures; see the Kremlin and the Winter Palace and last but not least attend some performances and the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theaters.

Moscow – September 5, 2017

Aeroexpress train at Domodedovo Airport
central Moscow
        Arrived at Domodedovo Airport, Moscow's third and newest airport, from Thessaloniki around 13:00. Scrutiny of my U.S. Passport was quite a bit longer than Road Buddy's but I finally got through Immigration. The weather was colder than we had become used to in Greece and it started to rain. Caught the Aeroexpress train to Paveletskiy Railway Station in town and a taxi from there to our hotel the Kuznetskiy Inn not far from the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theater .

taxi ride into downtown Moscow
"Stalin" era architecture
(from taxi window)
        We were a little apprehensive about entering Russia given the current political climate. And going into any big unknown city for the first time is always a steep and stressful learning curve. The taxi ride was bumper to bumper as the rain got heavier even though they have 10 lane roads running through the city. Things began to look bleak when we were shown to a smaller room than the one we had booked and we were confused about setting up the Wi-Fi connection. It took some negotiating to get the Wi-Fi working and arranging a room change to the larger Studio we had booked.

Kuznetskiy Inn
        With a few basics settled we went out to get some cash from a difficult to find ATM (Bankomat in Russia) machine and have dinner at a place called Marrakesh. The food was good but it was raining pretty heavily when we left sans raincoat or umbrella. We were pretty soggy and discouraged after a trying transit day by the time we got back to the hotel.

September 6

the promised Studio we booked
       After a decent night's sleep things improved during the course of the morning. Got the days plan getting oriented worked out. Discussed anew changing our room to the Studio we booked instead of the basic double they gave us. The front desk clerk and the manager hemmed and hawed claiming no Studios were available yet. So, I said: “Very well, you can charge us for the cheaper basic double until you find the Studio we booked.” That did the trick. Suddenly, a Studio magically appeared although it “needed to be cleaned” but would be ready later that day. They agreed to move our bags to the new room while we were out taking care of travel business.

        Moscow is not an easy town to get acquainted with. The city is big and sprawling with 10 lane roads cutting through the city. Very few sign are in English, especially in public transportation such as subways and train stations.

"Are we having . . .  
. . .  fun, yet?"
        First of all, we had breakfast in an elegant brasserie next door to the hotel. Happily the prices were not as extortionately expensive as we had expected and the food was well prepared and presented with super attentive (not to say hovering) waitresses whisking away your plate as soon as it was empty.

tub of butter with a film of real gold leaf
ham and eggs art work

area around Leningradsky Railway Station

chandeliers in the subway
busy ticket office
    The weather was still gray and rainy when we battled the subway system. We had considerable difficulty finding a ticket window and negotiating the complicated maze of the subway, but finally succeeded in getting on the correct train to Leningradsky Railway Station to buy tickets to St. Petersburg via high speed train. The ticket sales office was crowded and it took over an hour to buy tickets. 

many ornate subway platforms

    After finally getting our tickets to St. Petersburg we boarded the subway back to our own neighborhood and discovered some new streets with a larger variety of restaurants and bars and a convenient little market to buy our can't-do-without in-room pre-breakfast wake up coffee and snack. Stopped off in a bar and had a couple of cocktails to cap off a very busy and productive day of orientation.

       Our room was changed as promised to a more spacious and comfortable Studio, so things, having plateaued from the initial very steep learning curve in the initial phase of learning the ins and outs of a new town, were settling down and getting a bit more normal. 

our spacious and comfortable Studio home for the next week 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Europe Summer 2017: Greece 9 – Meteora – the high place

August 29

view of Meteora from our room
     We boarded a train from the northern city of Thessaloniki to Kalambaka in central Greece. The train passed Mount Olympus, but it was impossible to discern which peak is Olympus from the train window. After arriving at Kalambaka Station we walked across the tracks to our hotel—Monasteri Guesthouse. Unfortunately we were a little uneasy with the hotel choice. The room was nice enough, spacious with a wonderful view of the odd mountain formations of Meteora. The hotel owner seemed friendly, but there was a tenseness, an air of distracted anxiety about her. Little remarks that she let drop gave us the impression that the hotel was not doing well and was in financial trouble. Maybe it was on the wrong side of the tracks?

Mount Olympus is there somewhere
       Meteora is a rock formation in central Greece hosting one of the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries . . . The six remaining monasteries are built on immense natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area . . . near the town of Kalambaka at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly. [Wikipedia]

Kalambaka and the the Plain of Thessaly 


 Monastery of Great Meteoron
(three monks in residence)
       We booked a tour for our first visit to three of the monasteries that are perched on the rocky mesa-like tops that included climbing hundreds of steps. The tour was a good choice for getting oriented with the site. After a
garden inside Great Meteoron
thunderstorm the night before, it was still cloudy and cool most of the morning. That made it more comfortable and less tiring for the ups and downs of the steps to the monasteries of Great Meteoron, Varlaam and Saint Nickolas. St. Nick's was the most tiring due to the long up-slope
 approach before the steps and it was getting hotter as the sun emerged and beat down.

Monastery of Varlaam   (seven monks in residence)

in the old days supplies and people were
hoisted up with a winch and ropes or ladders
Eastern Orthodox nuns visiting Varlaam

rest and photo-op stop 

Monastery of St. Nicholas
(one monk in residence)
an Eastern Orthodox monk

good spot for a photo-op - Monastery of the Holy Trinity and Kalambaka

our go-to restaurant in Kalambaka with the
famous Syrtaki dance scene from the film
Zorba the Greek
       Once acquainted with the route around Meteora we decided to strike out on our own the following day by taking a local bus to visit one of the remaining monasteries—the nunnery of St. Stephanos. It turned out to be a minor disaster. I swallowed some vitamins that didn't go down properly and I had violent coughing spasms to try and clear some of the acrid powder that got into my lungs. This went on for an hour or two even as we boarded and rode the bus to St. Stephanos. By the time we arrived I was an exhausted wreck and didn't enjoy the outing—too distracted and coughing even to take many pictures. Took the bus back to town and walked back to our go to restaurant Syrtaki, which is the name of the dance in the film Zorba the Greek. The coughing spasms had subsided by then and I was well enough to eat. Back at the hotel I took some anti-inflammation drugs and a long sleep.

Monastery of St. Stephanos
(28 nuns in residence)

Monastery of the Holy Trinity
(four monks in residence)
Monastery of Rousanou - not visited
(13 nuns in residence)
       I felt fine the next morning and ready to try Meteora again. The plan was to go by bus again to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (famous as the location for a scene in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only and trek back DOWN to town on a foot trail. We did just that with no problems of mobility or endurance or coughing fits. We met a few hardy (and younger) trekkers walking UP the slope. We had an early dinner at Syrtaki after getting back to town and I hit the hotel pool for a few laps and some lying in the sun.

view from Holy Trinity
Great Meteoron, Varlaam and Rousanou 
on the trail

going down . . .
Monasteri Guesthouse pool

       Next stop Russia: Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Europe Summer 2017: Greece 8 – Heraklion Archeological Museum

August 25

Heraklion Archaeological Museum
     The day before going to see the Knossos Palace site we visited the Heraklion Archeological Museum to see the bulk of the artifacts found by Arthur Evans' team at the dig site and to get something of an orientation to the dig itself before taking a look at it. We only did part of the vast museum and I took too many photos until my battery ran out. This was a good idea (not the part about running my battery down though) as it prepared us for what we could expect to see at the site and gave us a little foundation of knowledge to guide us around the site without benefit (or schedule) of a tour guide.

EARLIEST C. 6500 - 3000 BC.

Marble figurine of male nude
c. 6500-5900 BC
Clay figurine of sitting female
c. 5300-3000 BC.
        The actual site of the palace at Knossos has been inhabited since around 7000 BC. Among the oldest artifacts we saw was the partial figurine of a remarkably realistic male dated around 6500 BC. As I did with the Archeological Museum in Santorini I will simply list my favorite pieces with a brief description where possible and dates. 

Clay cups
c. 4500-3000 BC.

Male and female figurines at worship
c. 1900-1700 BC.
18th -17th CENTURIES

Kamares ware fruit bowL
c 1750 BC.

Clay house model
c. 1700 BC
Female figurine with swollen leg
c. 1700- 1500 BC.

Double axes - gold silver bronze
c. 1700-1450 BC.
Burial pithoi
c. 1700-1450 BC.

Miniature art
Neopalatial period c. 1700-1400 BC

Female figurines with elaborate hairstyles
c. 1650-1500 BC

Bull leaping fresco
c. 1600-1400 BC.

Bull leaping ivory figurine
c. 1600-1500 BC.
Snake Goddess
c. 1650-1550 BC.

Knossos Game - Zatrikion
c. 1600 BC.
15th CENTURY - abandonment of Knossos Palace

Libation vessels of
hollow rings
c. 1500-1450 BC.
Linear B script
c. 1450 BC.

Jewelry . . .
c. 1400-1300 BC. 
. . . Gold, amethyst, silver, ivory,
sard, glass, faience
c. 1400-1300 BC.

My personal favorite

     Small luxury rhyton of rock crystal, a piece of technical and artistic perfection. The ovoid body is made from a single core of hard stone. The neck, produced from another core, is attached to the body by a ring of crystal beads and gilded ivory discs. The raised handle consists of spherical crystal beads threaded into bronze wire. 

c. 1500-1450 BC.