Thursday, 12 May 2011

Visiting Delphi

While back in Greece for Easter, we were meant to go to the pretty Cycladic island of Andros to get our first rays of summer. But the weather was really bad that week - it was pouring with rain and cold and so we opted for the mountain instead. Colin had never been to Delphi and so that was it!
We stayed in a hotel closer to Kellaria, the Parnassos ski resort, and as soon as we got there the hotel owner said to us: "Are you here for the skiing?"! Turned out the ski resort was open, with fresh snow and about to host some races that weekend! Talk about summer approaching! Pity we did not have our ski gear with us, but just being there reminded me how much I love mountains!

Visiting Delphi, the archaeological site and museum, was a revelation to me. I think I hadn't been since primary school and it was not at all as I remembered. The new museum is great - small, compact and informative. We toured all of the site, it took us nearly three hours, maybe even more. All the temples, the stadium, the gymnasium, the theatre - you name it. Maybe it was the spring, the wild flowers, the threatening cloud touching the slope, maybe the special aura of Delphi as a place of oracles and future telling - it was a unique experience.
Driving down to the village from our hotel, I remembered running on those curvy and uphill roads last time we were here with my friend Angel to do a review of local hotels for U.S. travel guide Fodor's. Running in a place makes it really come alive to the mind of a runner - I could even remember how exhausted I was after doing a set of uphill strides! And  having been here with my friend, who is now living on the other side of the Atlantic, -seeing the hotels we visited and the tavernas we ate in - made me feel so much closer to her.

I took some pictures from those few days, including some at the Osios Loukas monastery nearby (we had also edited that sub-chapter for Fodor's, but I had never been!). So here they are.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The travelling bug - Belgium

So we are now home in Oxford after spending 11 days on the road, in England, France, Belgium, Greece and back. I love the holidays!
We wanted to take our dog back home to Athens, so driving to Brussels (including crossing the Channel and spending a couple of nights in Belgium) was the most economical way to go about it. I always love this travelling option - 3rd time we've done it so far - there is something about small Flemish towns that I find particularly enticing.
This time we discovered Ypres, where we stopped to have a look at the First World War monuments like the Menin Gate and cemetaries - truly haunting. Perhaps more than I was prepared to absorb in such a short visit. In Ypres the Germans used poison gas for the first time, and the cost of lives was tremendous - it is estimated that in the surrounding fields close to one million soldiers from all sides lost their lives. The numbers are mindbogling and should always remain deeply engraved in collective memory.

Our next stop
Courtrai is a modern town close by, which seems to offer its inhabitants an incomparable quality of life. There was a fair that had spread all over the town when we arrived so we spent our evening going around and acting like children, tasting mussels and Belgian beer.
I was lucky to be able to run along the river Leie for about an hour and a half the morning after, and I couldn't help making the comparison with similar-sized (ie smallish) Greek towns, which seems overburdened by cement and half-finished newly-builts of dubious taste. Running on the cycle path, where dozens of cyclists and a few runners were bravely venturing out despite the premature heatwave, I had a sense of peace and a desire to move further along and discover what else is there. But there was a flight to catch so I had to turn around and join Colin and Lisa at the hotel, even though I managed to get lost on the way and run half an hour more than I originally planned! 

Flying out
Although Ypres was virtually rebuilt after the First World War with funds from Germany's war reparations (this is one of the periods of world history that I am now eager to explore more), and Courtrai's medieval architecture remains intact, they both looked rather new and remarkably well preserved to me. From the magnificent Cloth Hall in Ypres to the Broel Towers in Courtrai, this was one more short trip where I enjoyed immensely discovering sights in Belgium!
Needless to say, we will be back!