Crossing the Aegean

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Sanctuary of Apollo, Delphi

Following some vague instructions I found online, I walked to Athens’ bus station “B” and bought a return ticket to Delphi (and a quick spanakopita and yogurt for breakfast. Having just arrived from East Africa, I was amazed that the bus actually left at the scheduled time!). Located on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus a couple of hours drive from the capital, Delphi was the summer location of the famous oracle of Apollo, consulted by kings and oligarchs on all matters from war to harvests. Not realizing the site closed relatively early at 3pm, I was just able to explore the length of the ancient city, ponder life next to the temple of Apollo, and make a quick stop into the disappointingly uninformative museum before everything shut down. However, the afternoon was absolutely beautiful and I spent a few hours strolling along the road and admiring the sweeping views of the valley and sea below.

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View from the slopes of Mt. Parnassus, Delphi

The next evening I gathered my belongings in Athens and took the metro down to its historic port, Piraeus (this time thankfully without any attempted pickpocketing). I boarded the massive Blue Star Ferry to Rhodes with its hotel-esque reception desk and found my cabin. A few minutes later my roommate for the voyage arrived: a friendly, businesslike car parts salesman from Athens. We chatted for a bit (his brother lives in California) and then I went up to the top deck to watch the ship depart as the sun dipped below the horizon. The rest of the 15-hour journey was uneventful. I fell asleep to the rocking of the boat and the scratching of my roommate’s pencil as he worked well into the night.

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The sun getting low over the port of Piraeus

When I woke in the morning we were passing the island of Kos and opposite, the mountainous coastline of Turkey! It was the first time I had laid eyes on the country since completing the Fulbright program five years earlier; a wave of elation and energy swept through me the dark grey sky slowly began to lighten with the new day. I would take the ferry across the strait in a few days, but first I wanted to spend some time exploring the island of Rhodes. Once home of the Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Rhodes is the largest island and capital of the Dodecanese and contains one of the best preserved medieval towns in the Mediterranean. The Knights of St. John, crusaders who had been expelled from the Holy Land, took control of the island for two centuries before it was conquered by the Ottomans and then taken by the Italians, only becoming a part of modern Greece after the Second World War. We docked, I found a friendly hostel to stay at and began taking in the city.

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These two short towers supposedly mark the spot where stood the Colossus of Rhodes

I walked the full perimeter of the medieval city walls, venturing into a few of the dark, twisting tunnels underneath that were unexplicably left open and ungated (one thing that would never happen in the US), wandered the narrow, empty streets of the old town (it was very early in the season) and tasted some of the local dishes which suspiciously reminded me of Turkish food. There are still a number of Ottoman mosques in the city, along with some Italian-designed buildings on the waterfront and the crusader architecture of the palace and old hospital (now housing the archaeology museum). One day I took a bus down to the town of Lindos (“the Santorini of Rhodes”, according to the hostel guy, and indeed the white houses covering the slope beneath the castle reminded me of photos I have seen of that island). I planned to hit the beach after clambering around the castle and enjoying a rooftop lunch (with ouzo), but unfortunately the cold, rainy weather was not conducive to diving in so I settled for soaking my feet for a bit in the chilly Mediterranean.

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Lindos beach, town and castle, Rhodes

My timing with the ferries was off again, so instead of sailing straight to Turkey I caught a boat back to Kos (stopping by the beautiful port of Symi on the way) and bought a ticket for the evening crossing to Bodrum. This left me a few hours to check out the Kos castle and a few parts of the old town; there is a lot of history there as well and I would love to go back and truly get to know the island. Waiting for the ferry to Turkey to depart, I watched as a dark thunderhead edged its way towards the port and wondered if I would be spending yet another extra day in Greece. But we soon set off (straight into the middle of the thunderstorm), feeling both exhilirated and apprehensive as rain soaked half the vessel and lightning struck the turbulent waters around us. Thankfully we made it through, the weather calmed and we sailed smoothly next to Bodrum castle into the port. After a short wait at passport control, I was back in Turkey.

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Entering the storm, Kos Strait

Bonus photo! Rhodes old town:

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Africa to Athens

My flight out of Africa left from the Entebbe airport, just outside of Kampala on the shore of Lake Victoria (and the equator!). Thankfully there is a direct bus with the same company that Meredith and I used to travel from Nairobi to Kampala, and as I sat in the office waiting the inevitable 45 minutes for the bus to arrive, I struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to me. He was from Kenya and traveling all the way to Nairobi, but had gone to gradutate school at Berkeley! We had a fascinating conversation about the different mindsets and economic outlooks of Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, and were later entertained (and only a little frustrated) when his seat back broke and the bus attendant proceeded to fix it with duct tape.

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Western Uganda countryside

On my final day in Kampala I visited the Baha’i House of Worship for Africa, one of the eight major Baha’i temples in the world (the others are located in Chicago, Panama City, New Delhi, Santiago, Samoa, Frankfurt, and Sydney, along with the Universal House of Justice located where the prophet Baha’u’llah was imprisoned and died in Akka). A relatively new faith, Baha’ism sprung up in the 1800’s in Iran. It’s key principles include universal peace and education, the oneness of humanity, and the single foundation of all religions. At the temple I met a young man from Iran who had studied petroluem engineering in the US and would be moving to Houston two weeks later; he was just finishing up a short period of volunteer service at the temple in Kampala. We talked about politics in Iran, Turkey and the US and I learned much about the basic organization and history of Baha’ism in Africa and worldwide. After our discussion I wandered the green grounds of the temple, a true haven of peace in the midst of Kampala’s general chaos.

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Baha’i House of Worship, Kampala

One final meal with Mike and then I was off to the airport for a 4am flight to Cairo and then Athens. I had visited Greece a few times before while living in Turkey (some of the islands are just a stone’s throw away) but this was my first time in the capital. As a warm welcome someone tried to steal my wallet while on the metro to my hotel, but luckily I noticed the hand in my pocket, gave a shout and the guy dropped the wallet and pretended that nothing had happened. From there I went straight to the Acropolis to admire the famous Parthenon and the sweeping views over the city.

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View from the Acropolis, Athens

Unbeknownst to me, the next day (March 25th) just so happened to be the national holiday celebrating the start of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans in 1821. As I wandered down toward Syntagma Square, I found my path blocked by a solid row of onlookers and the avenue being cleared by police on motorcycles. And before I could even think to ask what was happening, tanks started rolling down the street to the cheers of the flag-waving spectators. These were followed by armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft missile launchers and all sorts of other military hardware, while jets and helicopters flew by overhead. As I watched groups of face-painted soldiers marching and singing in tandem, I thought back to the US military’s denial of Trump’s request for a military parade just a few weeks prior. Different cultures, indeed.

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Rolling through the streets of Athens

While in Athens I also partook in the quintessential Greek pastime of drinking coffee for hours at a sidewalk cafe. I always made sure to order ‘Greek coffee’, although even the hostel guy in Rhodes later admitted that it is actually Turkish (or Ottoman, really). My final time in Athens was spent touring the Panathinaiko Stadium (which hosted the first ‘modern’ Olympics in 1896 and is built entirely of marble) and walking the streets of the historic Plaka district. The next ferry to Rhodes didn’t leave for another day, which left me just enough time to make a pilgrimage to the oracle at Delphi…

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Panathinaiko Stadium, Athens