Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sophistry and the New Acropolis Museum

Last year I visited the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and had some criticism of the design preferring the well proportioned Delphi Museum. However, this was mild compared to the attack mounted by Alexandra Stara in "The New Acropolis Museum: banal, sloppy, badly detailed sophistry" (The Architectural Review, June 2009).

There is something in Stara's comment the banality of the museums spaces. When I visited, the museum had not yet been op opened and so perhaps I forgave the large empty spaces. Staracriticises the building's use of low cost materials, whereas I liked the stripped classicism, including suggestions of Greek columns in modern material. The building is basically a rectangular box with a smaller glass box on top, rotated about 15 degrees to match The Parthenon.

The time it took to build the building was due to finding archaeological ruins underneath (but how could you dig a hold in Athens and not find ruins?) and planning issues with surrounding building, these are not the fault of the architect. Also the critic seems to confuse the architect's rhetoric about the building with the building itself. Many architects are inclined to use flowery language to describe all sort of theoretical concepts not evident in their buildings. Provided the building functions, doesn't fall down and the roof doesn't leak, the designers can be forgiven these literary indulgences.

Stara invokes the name of Plato, accusing the architect of sophistry. However, the word has two meanings, one an illogical argument for deception, the other, older meaning, is wisdom.

ps: See also Curating Architecture and the City by Sarah Chaplin and Alexandra Stara.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Melbourne Thessaloniki sister cities

Melbourne Thessaloniki sister cities stele in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, AustraliaTaking a break from the State Library of Victoria , I went around the corner to Lonsdale Street for a coffee and baklava. On the footpath at the corner with Heffernan Lane I found a marble stele (pillar) engraved with a relief of Saint Demetrius on the other with Alexander the Great, and the words "Melbourne - Thessaloniki sister cities. From the Prefecture of Thessaloniki during the Psomiadis Administration". This affiliation happened in 1984. but the monument was only unveiled 11 November 2008.

Demetrius and Alexander are two of Thessalonik's best known residents; another being Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. I went to the church dedicated to Demetriusis a few blocks away, the birthplace of Atatürk (now in the grounds of the Turkish Embassy) when on a visit to Thessalonik. It is a curious echo to see a reminder in Melbourne.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Grilled Sardines with Market Salad and Chilli Jam

If you are near the Purple Pickle Cafe in Canberra and have not yet had lunch today, then I recommend the Grilled Sardines with Market Salad and Chilli Jam. This is the best I have had this side of the Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Zappeion Athens

National Gardens of Athens a few months ago I came accross the Zappeio, built for the modern Olympics in the 1880s and later for meetings of the European Union. Like old parliament hose Canberra (but much grander), this is now used for conferences and exhibitions.

On the day I was there some office workers were playing a very fast ball game outside and the Republic of Yemen was having a cultural display inside. There is a pleasant looking but expensive restaurant on the south east side of the Zappeio.

View Larger Map

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Zorba the Greek

One of the lesser known museums in Heraklion is the Historical Museum of Crete. This has modern history of the island and most notably the library of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek. My only knowledge of this was from clips of the film based on the book, with Anthony Quinn dancing. An excellent multimedia display shows excerpts of films based on Kazantzakis work and relates this to the books and plays. The theme from the film "Zorbas" (Zorba's dance by Mikis Theodorakis), was performed at the wedding I attended at Palaios Panteleimonas.

The museum also has a pleasant cafe courtyard.

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Antikythera mechanism

Antikythera mechanism in the the National Archaeological Museum of AthensThe National Archaeological Museum of Athens was a bit of a disappointment. This holds important artefacts from ancient Greece, but perhaps too many. Any one room of the museum could justify a whole museum in its own right. As a result the impact of individual items is lessened by their quantity. But feeling like I has seen enough old marble I was caught up short by a small corroded piece of metal in a small case. This was the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient mechanical calculator, far more complex than an astrolabe and possibly designed by Archimedes.

Some months ago I attended a talk where the speaker claimed, not completely seriously, how modifications to the design of the Antikythera mechanism were identifiable in the mechanism and these were the world's first known "software upgrade". Seeing the real thing was very exciting.

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Knossos Palace

Deciding it was time to sort through the papers on my desk from a trip Malaysia, Turkey and Greece in May/June, I thought I would mention highlights. The first is Palace of Knossos (Κνωσός) in Crete. There is not arduous journey involved, as it is a suburban bus trip from the centre of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. As with many Greek arecological site, first impressions are not good, with the bus stopping at a collection of roadside (actually on the road) souvenir stands. This is a very busy tourist attraction so it is best to arrive at opening time.

Just inside the gate there is a tasteful new museum shop and restaurant (which didn't seem to be open). The site is controversial with reconstruction by Sir Arthur Evans, not in keeping with modern archaeological practice. But it gives a good idea what the buildings may have looked like. Near the entrance there are a series of circular holes cut into the rock several metres across, which look to me like a three stage water treatment system. I couldn't find any explanation of the structures, but Crete is a very dry place and so water management was a big thing at the palace. Several sections have been rebuilt in concrete and painted. Much of the contents found are at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in the city. If you are short of time, visit the museum and skip the palace.

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New Acropolis Museum

This week ABC TV is featuring the New Acropolis Museum (Greece - Losing their Marbles , Foreign Correspondent, Reporter: Helen Vatsikopoulos, 07/10/2008). Earlier in the year I visited the museum , when only the foyer was open and the exhibits were stacked in crates. The building reminded me of Parliament House Canberra. There is a risk the scale of the building will overwhelm the exhibits.

The building is conveniently located near a metro station at the base of the Acropolis. It is built on concrete columns over an archaeological site, discovered during construction. Glass panels in the floor outside and in the foyer of the building allow the site to be viewed beneath your feet. This can be a little disconcerting. More seriously, the steel mesh in the floor at the front door is open to the site below, so that dirt and debris will fall down and contaminate the site.

The building foyer has good circulation space, but the lack of facilities such as toilets may be a problem. The grandeur of the entrance is spoilt somewhat by a row of ticket turnstiles, making it look like a metro station. In fact some of Athens metro stations look more like museums than the museum does, with materials discovered during metro construction on display.

While large, the building is not overly lavish. There is good use of modern materials in a stripped classicism style, including suggestions of Greek columns in modern material. The building is basically a rectangular box with a smaller glass box on top, rotated about 15 degrees.

When filled with antiquities, the space should work well. But I would have preferred something less grand, such as the more modest, but well proportioned Delphi Museum. Rather than one big building, the resources could have been spent in improving archaeological exhibits accross Greece and in particular on the Acropolis itself. What is needed is better interpretation of the material, particularly using computer based displays.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Malaysia, Turkey and Greece - Technology and Travel

From mid May to June 2008 I traveled to Malaysia, Turkey and Greece. Highlights were a nighttime train from Greece to Turkey, ferries to the Greek Islands, opera at the Athens Acropolis, attending a Greek wedding and visiting the new Istanbul Museum of The History of Science and Technology in Islam. This was mostly for a holiday, but along the way I attended a corporate governance conference in Malaysia, presented at the World Congress on Information Technology, looked at ICT Education in Malaysia and gave a seminar on how to set up the Tsunami warning system for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Other travelogues:


Asia and Pacific

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

High-tech access for heritage sites

While in Greece I noticed that some cultural sites and museums were not opened at the advertised times. According to a recent media report, this is an embarrassment to the Greek government ("Run-down heritage sites embarrass the Greeks", Helena Smith, The Guardian, June 23, 2008). The solution given in the article was longer opening hours and more staff, but I am not sure that is the correct approach.

The sites tend to open early in the morning and close in the afternoon (8am to 3pm). The media article claimed this was due to public servant working hours. But in the hotter months, it makes sense to be outdoors during the cooler early parts of the day. If the outdoor sites were open in the hottest parts of the afternoon, many tourists, particularly those getting off air conditioned cruise ships, would suffer in the heat.

One tip I do have for tourists to Delphi, and similar places in the hotter months, is to tour the outdoor sites as soon as they open in the morning. You usually have an hour of the monuments to yourself between 8 and 9 am, before the tour buses arrive. Then when it starts to get hot, go indoors to the air conditioned museums.

Don't be put off by the gates being closed. At a few sites the staff did not get around to opening until they saw they had some customers. In one case the gates were firmly locked and no staff were about. But after a five minute visit to the adjacent souvenir store, the site was then open (with some of the people who were sitting in the store now on site).

At the excellent Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia at Thrace, there was a sign on the side gate pointing to the front door, and a sign on the front door which said it was closed. Going back to the side door, there appeared to be people in there and having gone in I found the museum open with several staff waiting to assist. One staff member then went around turning on video introductions and interactive displays. On exiting I noticed the sign on the side gate had been changed to say to enter there.

More use could be made of computers and technology at major Greek cultural sites. In particular the Athens Acropolis needs something to stop it crumbling under the feet of thousands of tourists and to give them better access. Even the path marked for disabled users is made of slippery and uneven marble, polished smooth by many feet.

People Movers for the Acropolis

One solution for the Acropolis would be to install small automatic people movers. These would be a high tech version of the tourist trains commonly used to ferry tourists around the streets. In place of the noisy diesel engine they would have electric power. The units could run on a safe low voltage electric track, or be battery powered on rubber tires, or a combination of both.

This would require minimal alteration to the site and cause far less damage than have tourists wandering everywhere. Staff costs would be reduced and the individual cars could be equipped with commentary in different languages. Using computer control each car could be individually controlled, so that tourists would not have to wait for a whole train to be full.

Web Displays for Greek Museums

Another useful feature would be to provide more computer based displays for the museums. This would allow for more languages to be provided. The Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia had an excellent display of the history of the pot in greece, but all of the captions were only in Greek. The information could also be placed on the web for information. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has attempted to provide details of museums on their web site. But this is a very large task. Being able to use the same information in the museum and on the web would make the task much easier. The Wikipedia has also attempted to catalog Greek museums, and it might make sense to combine the two efforts.

Online information for museums could be downloaded into the visitor's mobile phone. Existing web based services could translate the captions into any of dozens of languages and the result could even be turned into an audio commentary automatically. These are all features which major museums already have, but are prohibitively expensive to develop for every display in minor museums. However, free web based services can now be used to provide it if the museum information is on the web.

Cafes at Museums

One surprising lack in most Greek museums and monumental sites site is a cafe. Apart from the
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
which has a cafe with a courtyard which is a work of art in itself and the Delphi Archaeological Museum with an outdoor cafe, most Greek museums do not have cafes. The traditional approach seems to be to have the cafes outside the gate. However, better integration might help keep the sites open longer and cover the costs.

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Australian film director Martin Wilson

On my travels through Greece recently, I met Australian film director Martin Wilson of Soul Films. His company does quite a few TV commercials, as well as longer projects, so I put in a plug for Canberra for video production. This was at the breakfast table at Camping Heraklia (run by the Tziouvaras Brothers) at Neos Panteleimonas, Katerini, Greece, just behind the beach. It was a little intimidating for a computer person, as there were a table of creative types.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Excellent Thessaloniki to Istanbul Train

Perhaps it is a mark of how cheap some of the hotels I stayed in were, but the third most comfortable accommodation in Turkey or Greece on my recent trip was the Thessaloniki to Istanbul sleeper train (Dostluk/Filia Ekspresi). The train is run by Turkish railways (with the national crest etched in each window). It leaves Thessaloniki (Selanik), Greece, about 8pm, taking 12 hours. The route is Thessalonik, Kiklis, Rodopolis, Serres, Drama, Xanthi, Komotini, Alexandroupolis, Pythion, Uzunköprü, Pehlivanköy, Alpullu , Istanbul and is an excellent tourist trip.

The train has air-conditioned one or two person sleeping compartments. There are no sit up compartments and so the only seats are the ones in the sleepers which convert into bunk beds. In theory the train is non-smoking, but a cabin full of smokers was tolerated by the conductor (the compartments have individual air conditioning controls and opening windows and so this was okay).

There is no dining car on the train and the only food and drink was some sandwiches, soft drinks and canned/bottled drinks sold by the conductor (in what seemed to be an unofficial entrepreneurial activity run from a supermarket shopping trolley).

The two person compartments have two very wide comfortable seats, a wash basin (with mirror and power points), cupboard, bar fridge and luggage rack. The conductor brings sheets and pillows as the train is leaving, with the passengers are left to make their own beds. The fold down top bunk is easy to set up and there is a ladder for climbing up.

The carpet of the compartment looked like it was new and the fittings were a little warn but very clean and everything worked. This contrasted with most of the hotels I stayed in in Greece and Turkey, which were dirty, with broken non-working fittings. While small, the compartments are well designed so that everything fits (unlike hotels with poorly laid out fittings). The decision to fit a bar fridge seems an odd one as it dictates the cupboard it is in must be very deep and so takes up about one third the available floor space in the compartment.

There is a toilet at each end of the compartment and, apparently a shower (I didn't try it). The highlight of the train are the large windows (with an opening section at the top for ventilation. The fist few hours of the trip (and last few) and in daylight, providing excellent views of the Greek and Turkish countryside. Even after sunset it was possible to lie in bed and look out at the light of towns and moonlight on the countryside.

The ride is very comfortable and the carriages must have excellent shock absorbers. The last portion of the trip is on the same line used by the old local Istanbul suburban train which rattles and bumps along, in contrast to the express. Apart from the lack of luxury add-ons, the train is as comfortable as the Indian-Pacific. Being able to lock the door, brush your teeth, set the air conditioning and e down looking at the passing lake in the moonlight was blissful.

The quality of the train is let down by the poor customer relations and management. Turkish State Railways (TCDD/DDY) has a difficult to work web site, which is reported to only work with some browsers. The Thessaloniki station has only one ticket window for international bookings and this seems to be open odd hours and unattended much of the time when it is supposedly open. I looked over the attendant's shoulder as they made my booking and they seemed to be using a very user friendly web based interface, which makes me wonder why that is not available to the customers directly.

The train makes two customs/passport stops at about two AM. The frist stop is for Greek customs and is relatively painless. Your passport is collected and taken away. Some time later the official knocks on the door and hands back the passport after looking you up and down.

The catch is that after the train starts and you have started to get back to sleep, the train stops again at Turkish customs. An official again takes your passport. Citizens of some nations, including Australia, are required to purchase a visa, which requires leaving the train and walking across the tracks to the office and lining up. An acquaintance told of how the fell down from the high train step half asleep, injured themselves and received little help. Fortunately I had already obtained a visa on the way into Turkey and so did not need to alight; there was just a visit from the customs officer to look at our bags in the compartment. If planning to travel on the train it would be worth getting your visa in advance.

Perhaps this customs system is needed for non-express trains, where people can get on and off trains at intermediate stations and an hour's hold-up does not add much to the journey. But it does not seem to make a lot of sense to subject the passengers of the premium express train like this. It should be possible to have some of the formalities done at either end of the journey and for the officials of both countries to broad the train and carry out their checks in transit.

Apart from the stops for customs, there were some other stops of 20 minutes or so waiting from stopping trains to clear the track. Along much of the line on the Greek side, there was track work underway to replace the old steel sleepers with concrete ones and with new tunnels. The new track seems to have the curves banked at an angle for high speed trains, to the point where it was noticeable against the horizon (about the same tilt as I experienced in a Swedish X2000 tilt train). It seems likely that the speed of the train will be able to be increased considerably when this track work is finished. However, the quality of the track dropped considerably in Turkey and there were few signs of upgrades there.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Palaios Panteleimonas Pierias Greece

Palaios Panteleimon (Παλαιός Παντελεήμονας) ,"Old" Panteleimon" is a village in Central Macedonia, Northern Greece, near Mouth Olympus. The village is now a popular tourist spot, with guesthouses such as Nefelh (English Translation).

I attended a wedding at the Greek orthodox church and then dined with the wedding party and what appeared to be most of the village, and the guests left over from a previous wedding, at a tavern in the square next to the village. The party went on until about 2am, with much Ouzo and even a rendition of the theme from Zorba the Greek, to keep the overseas guests happy.

The nearby New village, was the scene of the film O Megalexandros by Theo Angelopoulos.

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Tria Hotel Istanbul

The Sultan Hostel was full, so the manager put us up around the corner at the Tria Hotel for our return visit to Istanbul. As the Lonely Planet guide says, this is a new, well appointed hotel, with objets d'art. The staff are very good, the new lift works, it is very clean and most importantly smoking is banned.

But the hotel is not without problems. The room was around the back, on the top floor, just under the rooftop cafe of the Sultan Hostel opposite. On the night Turkey was playing soccer, it was very noisy. Also the on-suite toilet was blocked and the elelctronic switch kept turning the lights off every few seconds (wiggle the switch and it worked for half an hour and then turn the lights off).

You might as well have a room for about half the price at the Sultan, with lower quality fittings, but which work (mostly) and share in the fun on the street front and roof top cafes.

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Hotel Lozanni Athens

I promised the very helpful manager at Hotel Lozanni, Athens that I would recommend his establishment to Hosteling International. It would be a very good hotel, if a few changes were made:
  1. Ban smoking: The staff smoke in the lobby and the guests smoke at the free cyber cafe on the first floor. This makes the public areas unbearable for people sensitive to smoke. This comment of course, applies to most hotels in Greece.
  2. Install some power points: Strangely, while the rooms have air conditioning and TVs, they don't have power points (apart from one up high for the TV). As a result the guests have to recharge their mobile phones in the hallway at the only power point.
The Hotel is also in a "colorful" part of Athens, but as long as you don;t go out alone at night, it is okay.

ps: Thanks to the hotel staff for taking me across the road to the hardware store, so they could cut the jammed lock off my suitcase.

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Hotel Rex Thessaloníki

The Hotel Rex, Thessaloníki, Greece might be a good place to stay after the current renovations are finished. But as of a week ago it was like staying in a building site. A new lift is being installed, but in the interim you have to walk up four flights of stairs to your room. New soundproof double glazed windows are being installed, but while that is happening you have to step over builders tools, and listen to hammer drills.

Rooms have air conditioning, but I found the filter in mine was blocked with several millimeters of dust and carpet fluff. There seemed to be more pile in the filter than on the grimy unclean carpet on the floor. I would guess the management have decided not to clean the carpets until the building work is finished, even if the cleaner could be made to carry their equipment up the stairs.

The hotel did have some good points: most notably, very helpful staff. It is very close to the railway station (perhaps a bit too close). It had a very good free cyber cafe, apart from the air conditioner set to 29 degrees and the flat batteries in the cordless keyboard and mouse. Who in their right mind installs a cordless keyboard and mouse in a cyber cafe?

The hotel will be even better placed when Thessaloníki finishes the Thessaloníki Metro, running past the door. But that could be decades away.

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Ancient forum of Thessaloníki

The Roman Forum is an archaeological site in the center of the modern Greek city of ral Thessaloniki. The site is free to visit, with useful signs in English and staff to ask questions of (and almost deserted when I visited). There is a Stoa (covered walkway) which was the site of ancient trade (the modern covered marketplace is a few streets down the hill and operated mugh the same way as this one did 2,000 years ago).

The roman forum itself is at one end of the Stoa and has been restored for performances. The remains of the original floor have been preserved in glass under the modern stage. Unfortunately several of the glass panels have shattered, hopefully a fate not shared by the New Acropolis Museum of Athens, which has an extensive glass floor.

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The Delphi site and museum is worth a visit in Greece. The modern town of Delphi is a few hundred metres up the road from the ancient site. After the noise, heat, dust and crowds of Athens, the town was quiet, cool and clean.

The Delphi Archaeological Museum was refurbished in 1999 and looks much less cluttered than many in Greece, with a few important pieces given the space they deserve. The museum is a little too prominent, intruding on the ancient ruins behind.

The most evocative part of the site for me was the gymnasium with the floor of the stoa (covered walkways) and track still recognisable.

In a sense Delphi has not changed its role in several thousand years, having started and remaining a tourist attraction, due to the location and fame. The sacred way is lined with the remains of treasuries where the pilgrim's offerings were stockpiled. About the only difference is that the offerings are now taken in the form of Euros and credit card payments.

Recommended: Sibylla Hotel, Delphi.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Web of Australia LiteratureAustralia literature trapped in the web

Cover of Gilgamesh: A Novel By Joan LondonOn my travels through Greece recently, I met Australian Joan London. As I had just came from Turkey, she mentioned she had written a book touching on Armenia. It was not until then, I realized this was the Australian author of Gilgamesh (2001), which the UK The Guardian gave a very favorable review of.

In the first posting of his new, and very insightful, Canberra Times Blog, Colin Steele discusses the positive and negative effects of the web on authors. One aspect Colin did not mention is the effect on how books are sold. Australian authors suffer from being in a small sub-category of literature. This can make their books hard to find online.

In my work as an ICT consultant I advise companies about how to make their products and services visible on the web. Perhaps I should be offering this service to authors as well. In looking for Joan's books, I noticed a few problems:
  1. Author's name: "Joan London" is not sufficiently unique. While a search will find her books, it will also find references to people named "Joan" in the city of London.
  2. Book names: There are a lot of books with Gilgamesh in the title. As an example looking for "London Gilgamesh" finds a restaurant in London, as well as the book. Looking for her latest, The Good Parents, in Amazon, will big up a lot of self help books for parents if you use just "good parents" for the search.
  3. Publishing location: A book published in Australia is not listed, or not listed as quickly, in online catalogs, as ones from the US and UK.
None of this would be a problem for a trained librarian, like Colin, or for someone who knew exactly what they were looking for. But for the average person doing a web search for a book, or author, they heard mentioned, it can be the difference between finding, or not finding the book and therefore resulting in a sale or no sale.

Enlightened publishers can also make the web search process easier. As an example, Grove Press, have permitted the full text of Gilgamesh to be searched, via This allows customers to find the book in a search and for me to be able to find there are 36 pages with references to Armenia and see exactly what they were. This facility is most useful for non-fiction, but can also allow a potential reader to find a book they may be interested in.

See also: Australian Authors, Joan London.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Palace of the Grand Master at Rhodes

The former palace of the grand master in the old town of Rhodes is now a tourist attraction. This looks like the fairy tale view of a castle with battlements outside and huge stone fireplaces inside. The effect is not entirely authentic, having been remodeled by the Italian government early in the 20th Century as a holiday home for government leaders. There are some glitzy art deco touches which grate a little along with some of the Fascist style of decoration. But then that is a criticism which can be made of some of the buildings of the period in Washington and Canberra. ;-)

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Byzantine Monuments Thessaloniki

There seems to have been an international standard established for tickets to museums, such as the Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki. Each issues a ticket about the size of a bank note. The ticket has a larger portion with a photo of the museum or of an artifact from it. There are then perforated sections at either end, which are torn off and retained by the attendant at the door. Museum complexes may have multiple tear off sections (one had five) for different exhibits.

The tickets have some of the anti forgery features found on a bank note. All the tickets have micro printing in multiple colors as a backing to the ticket to make them difficult to photocopy or reproduce on a laser printer. The more expensive and popular museums have holographic strips and watermarks.

The tickets could make good souvenirs of a trip, when all placed in a frame together. However, one omission is that many do not say exactly where they are. After some weeks of traveling, you can forget which museum is where. For example, where are the Byzantine Monuments? The ticket has an image of gold and enamel bracelets from the White Tower, Thessaloniki, but where is the museum they are in?

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Idyl at Lidl

When traveling all the new and exotic locations can be a bit tiring and you wish for something familiar and mundane. I found this in the Lidl discount supermarket in Thebes. Lidl is a competitor to Aldi, providing pallets of low cost house brands. The Lidl stores look very similar to the Aldi stores in Australia and so familiar. Of course the irony is that Aldi is a German based company.

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Thebes Railway Station

Since the place was conquered by Alexander the Great in 335 BC it has been downhill for the Greek city of Thebes (Thiva). Sitting at the railway station waiting for the 4:10pm train from Athens to Thessaloniki, it is about 35 degrees census in the shade. Thankfully the waiting room has a breeze blowing through and the stone walls protect from the infrared radiation from the paving outside.

The surrounding region seems to grow wheat and cotton. There are also small engineering shops apparent. One worrying sign is the number of car sales yards and car advertisements on TV. Given that these intersperse news programs predicting oil at $US200 a barrel, this cannot be good for the way the country's economy is arranged. There have already been strikes by truck drivers and fishermen over oil prices in Europe. The Greek government seems none too stable and a few transport blockades might be enough to bring it down.

The obvious solution is for the government to increase funding for public transport and rail, away from dependence on cars and trucks. But seeing Thebes with its lonely, mostly deserted railway station, it would seem considerable investment would be needed.

In the meanwhile, just about every road in Greece seems to be dug up for improvements. The improved roads receive a pounding from the traffic and then need more work. India is introducing some bus transit lanes in its cities and this might be one solution. However, excluding private cars from roads will not be popular in Greece. The idea that you should be able to drive where you want, even though in practice you usually can't get there because of all the traffic, seems strong.

Having seen the roads of Greece and Turkey, the type of small people movers promoted by Bishop Engineering of Sydney, make a lot more sense. In Sydney, the idea of small van size electric rail cars zipping around seems odd. But in a densely packed city they make sense.

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Rodos Sound and Light Show

In the Municipal Gardens of Rodos, just outside the wall of the old city or Rhodes is a sound and light show about the history of the island. Unfortunately it wasn't operating when I was visiting, with the city council worried about the cost. These shows seem to be common in tourist areas and are an inexpensive form of entertainment and education for the tourists. The audio commentary is provided in several languages, with different times for different languages. The lighting effects are computer controlled and synchronized with the commentary and music.

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Ferries to the Greek Islands

The lowest cost and most scenic form of transport between Greek islands, to the mainlands and to Turkey and Italy is by ferry. You need to have the time, as some of the trips can take more than 12 hours. The standard ticket is "deck" class, meaning no reserved seating and no cabin. During the non-busy time I traveled there was plenty of the coach style seating. These seats recline slightly, but are still uncomfortable to sleep in. Seasoned travelers arrive with their own bedding and sleep on the floor. For less hardy tourists there are some reserved seats more like reclining aircraft seats and there are cabins (but these cost more than an airfare).

One tip is to choose a location away from a door, as these will be opening and closing all night. Don't try to sleep near a TV, as these are on all night showing movies.

One problem is that many areas of the ships permit smoking, or allow it in an area no sealed from the non-smoking areas. However, this is made up for by the fresh air and views of passing islands from the deck.

Some of the ferries are the size of cruse liners, with escalators, bars and restaurants. The food is good, with local wines and some good local Greek cooking (much better than airline food). The ship I was on had a swimming pool (empty) and offered Internet access (broken).

One form of entertainment is watching the trucks maneuver to load onto the ship, while cars, motorcycles, pedestrians and dogs weave their way in between. At times there seem to be half a dozen people shouting different directions to the drivers. But no trucks drove off the pier and all was loaded in quick time.

As well as the slower single hull ferries, there are fast catamarans and smaller, older hydrofoils. The catamarans are comfortable (many made in Western Australia and Tasmania), but do not offer as much outdoor viewing as the larger ships. The hydrofoils are like small aircraft with short wings to fly over the water. These offer poor viewing and a poorer ride.

One problem is access to the ferry terminal. At small towns this is just a concrete wharf you can walk up to, but in the cities, the terminal may be at the extreme end of an industry port area, with dimly lit potholed dusty roads. As the ferry may leave at 3am, it can be daunting to walk to the terminal (better to take a taxi).

Unlike an aircraft, you can board the ferry up until the moment it leaves. However, you can board ahead of time and it is more comfortable to wait on board, then on the dock, dodging trucks.

Some of the ferry companies are Minoan and Star. You book a ticket at a travel agent, much as with an airline or bus ticket.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Little Train Tours of Aghios Niollaos Crete

The town of Aghios Niollaos on Crete has excellent "Little Train Tours", to see the sights. Cretan olive processing and Byzantine Church of Panagia Kera. In Australia I frown on these little imitation trains, with a diesel tractor disguised as a steam locomotive, pulling rubber tired trailers full of tourists. But being a tourist, I found it a very enjoyable way to get around.

It is impressive how the train, with three trailers, can wind its way around narrow streets. The train is about as long as an articulated bus, but can negotiate streets a bus could not. The train is limited to 25km/h, but this causes limited disruption in slow narrow streets. Perhaps an articulated bus the size of the train would be a viable form of public transport in crowded inner city streets.

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Walking Shoes for Ascending the Sacred Way at Delphi

On my trip to Greece my old shoes started to fall apart. Uncertain of the quality of the bewildering array of shoes on offer in an unfamiliar city, I ended up with a pair of Scholl Professionals from the local apothecary (chemist). These are black leather walking shoes have worked very well.

The Professionals are designed by Scholl for health professionals who who need to stand up all day. Usually they are sold in white for nurses, but they are also available in black, which I purchased. They resemble a sports shoe, with a flat sole (no heel), a long tongue (long lace up area) and large arch support inside. The shoes weigh much less than ordinary dress shoes and very much less than walking boots.

When I tried them on it was more like putting on a pair of sox, than shoes. They felt comfortable immediately, unlike shoes which need time to soften and shape to the foot. I was worried that this lightweight construction might result in the shoes falling apart quickly or not being protective or supportive (I have flat feet and need orthopedic supports). But the flat sole and long lace up area results in a firm fit which supports my feet. The soles have proved to have enough grip for climbing slippery marble at the Athens Acropolis. The leather has proved strong enough to withstand sharp rocks on the island of Crete.

Unlike a sports shoe, the Professionals have no logos, stripes or other adornment on them. They were respectable enough to wear out to the Opera in Athens, for a performance of Turandot and I will be wearing them with a suit to a wedding in northern Greece.

The Professionals have only a thin sole and I am not sure how long this will last. But in the few weeks I have had them they have withstood the equivalent of several months of normal use in visiting numerous sights of Greece, with little sign of wear. Also as they have a simple flat sole, it should be possible to have them resoled, which can't be done with some elaborately shaped sports shoe soles.

The shoes are not perfect. I would prefer some heel, to make them less subject to slipping. These are not suitable for trekking in rugged conditions, or for use in very wet conditions. The leather is covered with more stitching than a normal shoe. This presumably provides the comfortable fit, but is something which might wear and make them less durable. But overall I would recommend the Scholl Professional to those needing to do a lot of standing or walking, as a sightseeing tourist does.

ps: I couldn't find the Scholl's Professionals on Scholl seem to sell different shoes in different counties. The closest similar show I could find was a New Balance Men's MW576 Walking Shoe.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

OLPC in an Athens CyberCafe

Sitting in the Piel Internet Cafe in Greece someone came up and asked if I was using an OLPC. This illustrates the high level of interest in the project.

I was actually using a Twinhead, which is white and much larger than the OLPC. The OLPC project seems to be changing direction, adopting Microsoft Windows in place of Linux. In contrast the ASUS EEE PC seems to be going from strength to strength, perhaps due to not being burdened by considerations of charity and being simply for-profit.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fault in Greek Rail Web Site

An attempt to use the English language version of Greek Railways web site resulted in the error message "There is not enough space on the disk". It worked on the second attempt. The system also has a problem in that the names of the stations are in Greek, even in the English version of the site.

Server Error in '/ose' Application.
Parser Error
Description: An error occurred during the parsing of a resource required to service this request. Please review the following specific parse error details and modify your source file appropriately.

Parser Error Message: There is not enough space on the disk.

Source Error:

Line 1:
Line 2:
Line 3:

Source File: /ose/Dynamic/1,39,-1,-1.aspx Line: 1

Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:2.0.50727.42; ASP.NET Version:2.0.50727.42

From: Hellenic Railways Organisation, 2008

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