Category Archives: Greece

Artie Aardvark Sees Santorini

For those of you who don’t know him, Artie Aardvark is my curious little aardvark friend who is the mascot for our radio astronomy group.  He likes to tag along on astronomy adventures and write about them in a far cuter way than I ever could.  Take it away, Artie!


Wow it’s a good life being an astronomy project’s mascot- the astronomers had a conference here in Santorini and they brought be along!  This is the view from the conference center.  I think it might be the prettiest place in the world to have a conference. Continue reading

My Boring and Tragic Life Continues

IMG_1225The view from the hostel-more-like-a-hotel terrace on the lovely island of Ios, Greece where I am spending the weekend.  And from which I am now writing this, but the blue has been replaced by black and twinkling lights from stars above and houses below.

I am here because I just spent a week at an astronomy conference in Santorini- an amazing island I briefly visited before, so a week there was excellent- and while it was an amazing week during which I learned a lot and met many wonderful people it was also a fairly intense.  Let’s just say I have earned a weekend by the pool and a lack of discussion of spectral variation and confusion limits over the sunset cocktail.

The good news is as this was an astronomy conference Artie Aardvark tagged along to explore, so while typing unfortunately takes him longer (what with lacking digits) he will have a dispatch from Santorini soon!  Stay tuned…


Photo: The View on Santorini

Hot here today, almost as hot as the visit to Santorini!  These churches and houses are basically perched on the edge of a giant volcanic caldera that last erupted a few thousand years ago, which is a blink of an eye in geologic terms.  In fact, there is archeological evidence that that the fabled lost city of Atlantis was on Santorini pre-explosion- lots of beautiful artifacts in the museum here- which would have wiped everybody out in a giant tsunami.  They’re still excavating the site several decades after discovering it though, but I’m hoping someday I can return to this island and to see the ancient Greek version of Pompeii!

Summary of Greece

Greece is the sort of lovely place you stumble across and realize you could spend several weeks in and never get to the bottom of what all there is to see.  There are just too many beautiful islands, too many priceless artifacts, and too many good dishes to consume in this corner of the world…


– First of all, I got to see Greece with my family who I have not seen in several months.  This is good.  The fact that we all went on to Africa afterwards was even better.

– I liked every place we (briefly) stopped at in Greece, but my favorites have got to be Delos, Mykonos, and Santorini.  And I sincerely think Athens has a bad reputation as I thought it was a perfectly fine city for a few days to see the major sites.

– Oh, and the food is exemplary here.  Even if you need to hold regular negotiations with the cats in order to have your share.


– I’m just gonna come out with it and say I’m not a cruise person.  I mean sure, if I only had a week of vacation I would probably warm up to the idea but can’t say I do partway into a trip around the world where I’m used to moving at my own pace and my way of things.  So I got a little annoyed at this aspect at times.

– It should also be noted that Greece at this time of year is hot- about 35C during the day is pretty standard, meaning walking around routinely involves elaborate street geometry to move from one shady spot to another.  What it must be like in July and August around here I dread to think.


Before you ask, Peloponnese is that peninsula of Greece that sticks down into the Mediterranean.  Which I was kind of excited to hear about as I’d always wondered where it was.Africa 2 007

This is the lovely town of Monemvasia, which is a lovely old mideval fortified town and where the cruise stopped for a morning (I confess by this point I had no idea what the names of any of these places were so I needed to look it up just now).  They sure picked a lovely spot!  The entire place is surrounded by city walls and has old stone arches that you pray “please Poseidon, no earthquakes now ok?” when you pass under as it looks doubtful they’d survive any shaking.Africa 2 008

The other neat thing about this place is how the roads are so narrow that cars and trucks can’t come in.  What does this mean?  Well if you want to build within the city you need to use horses and mules to bring the stones and cement in.  I’d never seen such a thing happen anywhere in Europe, and it was certainly entertaining to see.Africa 2 009

My other favorite place in the Peloponnese- Agamemnon’s palace!  Ever read The Illiad or The Odyssey? (I’m betting you did one or the other for lit class at some point.) Agamemnon was the king of the Myceneans, ie main guy in charge when the Greeks invaded Troy, and his palace still exists.  In fact, this is the famous lion’s gate where his wife’s lover killed him after he came back from ten years in Troy.  If you think this wasn’t very nice of her don’t bother to sympathize, as he had killed his daughter in order to get a good wind to sail to Troy.  What a nice lot those ancient Greeks were…

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The view from Agamemnon’s palace- they sure picked a lovely spot didn’t they?  There isn’t much left of the palace, just some stone foundations, so the Lion’s Gate is the most impressive spot.  They do have a great museum though.

And with that, my story of Greece is done, as the next day we were back in the Athens airport waiting for a plane.  But not to worry as the story is about to get really interesting- time for the continent switch to Africa!


I stopped complaining about the pace of the cruise when we got to Crete. Possibly because we spent two nights here for a change and because I have eagerly wanted to come here for years.  Why?  Because of the palace at Knossos-

Knossos is the largest set of ruins of the ancient Minoan civilization, which flourished about 4,000 years ago.  I took an ancient civilizations course once during my copious free time as a physics major, and I concluded at the time that if I could choose which ancient civilization to be a part of it would be Minoan, the first ancient civilization of Europe.  There are a few reasons for this- women actually had a bit of power, their art is a beautiful transitional mix of Egyptian and Greek, and they were the first people in the world to figure out indoor plumbing.  Seriously, this is the queen’s sitting room and to the left there is a flush toilet, which had water coming from a mountainside 10km away!  The moral of the story here, of course, is that of all the modern technology you can figure out indoor plumbing gets priority.  Let that be a lesson to you.

And before you ask, no, this picture is not actually what the palace looked like when they discovered it.  This is because it was originally discovered a hundred years ago when archeologists didn’t just leave everything as they found it as a rule, so Sir Arthur Evans reconstructed various parts of the palace to show what it would look like.  I realize this is the biggest faux pas ever nowadays and they would never do it, but I must say it’s quite helpful to visualize a palace when you actually have a few rooms to work from and not just the foundations!

Another detail of the palace Linda and I enjoyed were the giant vases- there’s one behind her for scale.  These things are huge- so huge that they were never moved, and the entire kiln was built around them to be fired.  Which leads to the obvious question of why you would ever do such a thing, but it turns out these giant jars were where the daily wheat rations were stored for the workers in the palace.  Can’t make off with a jar of grain if it’s friggin’ huge, can you?

The most interesting thing about the Minoans though, or at least to me, is you hardly hear about them compared to the Egyptians or the Greeks for a very simple reason- we can’t read their language.  They wrote in a form of writing called Linear A that has never been deciphered, though this doesn’t mean it never will.  After all we had no idea how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics until the Rosetta Stone was discovered, and there is an ancient form of Greek called Linear B that was a mystery until just a few decades ago when a British schoolteacher worked it out.  Until then, all we know about the Minoans language-wise is from ancient Greek myths- for example, this palace is where the minotaur legend came from (not a surprise, with 1,500 rooms to stumble through) so it is said the word “labyrinth” is Minoan.  Huh.

So what else is there to do in Crete once you’re done with the Minoans?  Answer: the beach.  Crete is a popular holiday spot for Brits and Germans to come sun themselves, which means the beach has ladies bathing topless but they’re all women guys would rather wish to see covered up because they’re fat and beet red.  Even after three months here this is one aspect of European culture I can’t say I’ve figured out.

And my family will always remember Crete because, well, this is where we discovered raki.  I think I mentioned this before.  As it turns out there is a Greek custom that a restaurant will either give you a little dessert or shot of liquor at the end of a meal, and the place we went on our first night gave us a tasty shot of clear liquid we all rather liked.  Upon inquiry our waiter told us the stuff was “holy water,” and proceeded to bring us a filled Power Ade bottle with the understanding that we should help ourselves.

So we did.  Turns out my mom knows some interesting Hungarian drinking songs.  And needless to say, we bought a bottle of raki at the airport in Athens so we could enjoy it again later.


The cruise lifestyle and me hit a low point on Santorini.  This is because this island is so beautiful, so magical, that a mere day on it just isn’t enough.  I almost feel like I can say I saw it but have never actually been there because of the frantic pace we saw the thing at.

When your boat arrives at Santorini, it’s hard not to feel amazement at the gigantic cliffs on the harbor side, with houses precariously perched on top…

The view from the top is quite a sight too!

Ok, here you can see where the cliffs come from.  Basically Santorini is what remains of a giant volcano that exploded a few thousand years ago, and the cliffs is where the island collapsed into the sea.  The island in this middle is what new lava the volcano has pushed up since (no danger now we’re told, though smoke was last seen in the 1950s), and Santorini and two other smaller islands are what remain of the giant caldera’s outside.  Very neat to see geology on a huge scale like this!

Very neat to see what people do when given an old volcanic cliff with a view too- it’s hard to believe one earthquake wouldn’t send some of the houses on the cliff tumbling into the sea.  But let’s think about something else instead while standing here, shall we?

Like the possibility that Atlantis was on Santorini!  As it turns out, Santorini was home to one of the most spectacular prehistoric civilizations on what is the outer (ie non-cliff) northern rim of the island, a place called Akrotiri. They had things like beautiful art and running water thousands of years before anyone else did, but this all ended around 1600 B.C. when the volcano erupted and destroyed the town a la Pompeii.  They curiously never found bodies- the theory is the mountain gave enough advance warning so the people had enough time to get onto boats, but not enough time that the resulting tsunami didn’t destroy them all as they never show up later in the record.  What a fascinating story.

They’re still excavating the site ~40 years after discovering it, so I suppose I’ll have to wait and see it for myself instead of just the museum pieces.  Maybe then I’ll spend enough time to say I’ve seen Santorini?