Monday, February 23, 2015

Grecian Beauty

For President's Day weekend, my friend Natalie and I traveled to Athens, where I had a mini-A-100 reunion with my friend Manish.  I have to say one of my favorite things about Frankfurt is the number of cheap options for last minute travel.  Using the Google flights website, I can search for flights on a specific weekend with the destination variable and see dozens of options.  There are almost always several flights under $300 available.  Just looking for this weekend, I could fly anywhere from Lisbon to Kyiv from Tunis to Oslo.  I am really going to miss the last-minute travel options.

Anyway, back in Athens last weekend.  We landed late on Friday and headed to see the Acropolis Saturday morning.  I've always struggled with viewing ancient ruins - the ruins on their own don't inspire me the way more modern buildings can.  Too much has been lost to time.  Maybe I simply don't have the imagination to see the lost beauty through the visible bones.  And on its own, the Acropolis and the Parthenon fall into this same camp.  The building is huge and imposing, but for me its missing whatever made it magical for generations.
Still a fixer-upper if you ask me.

Yet the building still impresses for one magnificent reason - location, location, location.  The hill of the Acropolis rises majestically above Athens and provides amazing views from and of the city below.  I see why the ancient Greeks built and worshiped there.  One could definitely feel closer to the gods atop the wind-whipped hill.

After a delicious lunch and walking around downtown a little, we headed south along the Aegean coast to a spit of land called Sounio.  The peninsula offers amazing views of the seas, the islands and a sunset to die for.
Natalie doing her best impression of a Grecian statue

Sunset over Sounio

Sun setting into the Aegean
Saturday night we went out for a late dinner (more delicious food) and then a drink on a rooftop bar with an amazing view of the Acropolis lit up at night.  That was impressive.  Sunday morning we slept in and went for a short run.  Then we set out for a day trip towards the ancient ruins of Delphi.  We didn't actually stop at the ruins (which was fine with me - see my feelings about ruins above), but we stopped at two nearby towns.  The first was a summertime seaside resort town where we had  seafood lunch and walked along the mostly deserted promenade.  Then we went back up into the very nearby mountains to a ski town, which was packed on a sunny but cold winter's day.  The views from this town were amazing.  We stopped for some hot chocolate and pastries in this cafe built into the side of the mountain.

The seaside town

The ruins of Delphi

Another beautify sunset in the mountains

I did not climb these steps
On Monday morning, Natalie and I headed back downtown to visit the Acropolis Museum.  This fantastic museum stores many of the statues and other relics found on the Acropolis site and does a fantastic job of recreating the scale and beauty of the Acropolis.  For others, I would recommend visiting the museum BEFORE going to the Acropolis as it helps give you a better idea of what you are looking at.  They do a great job or reconstructing from fragments to give you a picture of what the whole would have looked like. I have new found respect for archaeologists - they must be really good at puzzles.
The drawings definitely help envision the whole piece.

How archaeologists determined the position of this statue is fascinating

View of the Parthenon from some other ruins below

The original modern Olympic stadium.  Note the podiums.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Morocco in pictures

Last weekend, I traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco with four friends for a long weekend. Great trip and a fantastic weekend.  A few photos.

Food stalls at Jemma El Fnaa

Herb shop we visited - lots of spices and homeopathic products

Mini-tajines used for sauces and condiments

Tajine chicken - the ubiquitous dish of Morocco

First ever camel ride

Waterfall in Ourike Valley

This truck apparently forgot to set its parking break and went into the river the day before we were there.

Full moon in Marrakesh

This spa may want to change its name


Tanning factory

This graffiti was all over Marrakesh

There were cats everywhere

The Bidi Palace had dozens of rooms with beautiful mosaic tiles

Bidi palace

Bidi Palace - they used to be shorter.

The Bahia Palace once was the most beautiful palace in Africa.  Now, mostly in ruins.

Natalie practicing yoga poses in ancient ruins.  It's kind of her thing.

My best attempt

Rent-a-car in the main square

Jemma El Fna at sunset

Jemma el fna at sunset

Camel selfie

Lunch along the river valley

I hiked up to this same waterfall 9 years ago
9 years (and 50 lbs) ago

The whole valley is full of these restaurants along the riverbed.  This was one of the nicer ones.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ski and Sauna Weekend

Last weekend, we took advantage of the three day weekend to go skiing in the appropriately named town of Winterberg, Germany.  The four of us - me, Natalie, Eric, and Amy - left early Saturday morning and drove two hours north.  As soon as we got there, we rented equipment, signed up for lessons and hit the slopes.  We spent most of the day on the bunny slope in our class.  We practiced lots of various movements while skiing, trying to help us isolate motions so we put it all together.  About half of the runs, we had to do without the ski poles, so that we used our body weight to help us turn etc.

After we finished the lessons, the two girls and I met back up with Eric and took on a more difficult slope.  Although technically rated as the same level as the bunny slope, this hill was much steeper.  On the first big incline, I lost control and flew down the hill praying I didn't wipe out.  I was going way to fast for comfort and only managed to slow down and stop when the slope flattened out a bit.  The two girls caught up and I tried to make my way down the second steep incline.  This time I really focused on going side to side and it worked for like two minutes.  The slopes were so icy (it was late in the day) that I couldn't get any traction and I started speeding down hill on each turn.  I fell twice and when I couldn't get back up in the right position the third time, I picked up my skis and skidded down the rest of the hill in my boots.  We went back to the bunny slope for one more run, but even this slope now seemed too icy for me, so I made my way back to the hotel while the others continued skiing.

Funny story - Natalie lost track of time and was still on the slopes when they shut down the ski lifts.  She ended up having to hike up two hills to get back to the lodge.

We learned after we arrived that the slopes in Winterberg are the closest ski slopes to The Netherlands - about a 3 hour drive.  So, the hotel we stayed at catered to Dutch people.  All of the signs were in Dutch and German - no English.  The staff were all Dutch.  Even our ski instructor was Dutch.  To honor this, we ate dinner next door at the Dutch Pancake House - which was delicious.

On Sunday, when Eric and Amy went back out skiing, Natalie and I took a spa day.  I started off with a hot stone massage and then made my way to the spa.  German spas are generally coed nude spas - they actually forbid us from wearing swim suits.  We had robes and towels, so you could cover yourself whenever necessary, but it was still a bit odd.  As we were there during the day (when most people were skiing), I had every sauna to myself.  But, whenever you showered off the sweat (they highly encouraged heat, followed by cold, followed by rest), the shower itself was open to anyone walking down that hallway.  The whirlpool baths were like the final scene in Maverick with multiple baths in one room.  Despite all the potential for awkwardness, no one was strutting around hanging out like a scene from Caligula.  Most importantly, it was extremely relaxing.  I felt so good at the end of the day.

Sunday night we had dinner in town and then stayed up late to watch that crazy Green Bay - Seattle game on my iPad.  Three different times I said I'd turn it off if Green Bay scored again on this drive, but they never managed to put the game away and somehow Seattle came back to win.  Monday morning after a late breakfast, Natalie and I rented a couple of sleds and went sledding down the mountain.  We had a blast, pretending we were kids again.

Sorry no pictures.