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Thanks to the advice of a man I met on the bus in rural Thailand a couple of months ago, I checked out Meteora, Greece. Meteora is cluster of monasteries perched atop some extremely steep sandstone pillars. The monasteries meet just about all the aesthetic criteria I mentioned earlier with regard to what makes a beautiful city, with serious overachievement on the natural beauty criterion. It's the sort of thing that would spring out of the mind of Tolkien or a writer of romantic fairy tales.

Monks, seeking a quiet place to meditate free of worldly distractions, built stone buildings in places that no invaders or nosy townspeople could reach. 

Celibacy was enforced by gravity. 

P1060918 by mattkim99.

P1060963 by mattkim99.

One of the few rocks without a monastery on top:

P1060833 by mattkim99.

Much more behind the cut... )
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P1060743 by mattkim99.

Taxi touts waiting to pounce on an arriving passenger ferry.  Note the much cheaper public bus waiting in back.

Taken by me in Rafini, Greece
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Naxos, another one of the Greek islands, is far less touristy than Santorini.  However, it has some lovely mountains, well-preserved traditional towns, and caves to explore.  It also has the feeling of being an authentic Greek island.  Lonely Planet points out Naxos is probably the only economically self-sufficient island in the Cyclades. 

Here's what it looks like:

Coming in:

P1060491 by mattkim99.

National Geographic, ancient Roman style:

P1060688 by mattkim99.

Old village:

P1060559 by mattkim99P1060551 by mattkim99

Some lush town/landscapes:

P1060652 by mattkim99  P1060607 by mattkim99

P1060594 by mattkim99  P1060534 by mattkim99
And a whole lot more... )

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My college humanities courses tended to avoid the canon of dead white people at all costs, instead focusing on alternative voices, indigenous cultures, oppressed peoples and the like. Some of it was very interesting, some of it wasn't. However, after a visit to the stunning Athens Archaeological museum, which showed me firsthand the achievement's of Athens' Golden Age, I want to learn more about the intellectual culture that spawned the world's first democracy, a rich theatrical tradition, and numerous other achievements. To those of you who sought out the traditional classics, I ask what you would recommend, keeping in mind that I'm on the road so online material is preferred. I assume it's all well out of copyright, even the translations.
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I spent a couple of hours last night working out travel logistics for the next few days, and found a way to squeeze in a visit to the island of Delos, which is famed for its extensive Greek ruins. However, upon arrival I found that the schedules from the guidebook were wrong, I wasn't going to be able to visit Delos, and I would instead be spending the rest of the day taking a slow boat to Athens. (I could have stayed in Mykonos for the next few hours, but its main port felt like a giant empty city-sized tourist trap that was baited, set, and waiting to spring on the summer crowds.

The thing is, while I was pissed for a few minutes, I realized I was still having an interesting day. I was learning all about the logistics and culture of the Greek ferry system. It's all fascinating. By my 5th ferry trip I'll probably be bored of it, but for now, it's really interesting. Different people get different things out of travel (eg relaxation, bragging rights, seeing relatives, etc). Since I didn't necessarily have an explicit goal going into this aside from having fun and decompressing from long-term work stress, I'm interested to see, halfway through, what's working for me.

Here's what I feel I'm getting, in order of importance from most to least:
What it's doing to/for me... )
mattbell: (Default)
Live blogging... not so live posting:

The pre-recorded announcement one the ferry boat is speaking “In the event of an emergency [[ LOUD SMACK ]] you will hear the following sound: [[ beeping ]] and you are requested to make your way to the six evacuation points at... [[ more smacks ]]”   It's unclear if it's an actual emergency thanks to the exciting misuse of verb tense. People are looking around, confused. There are a couple more smacking sounds but the prerecorded message is continuing its cheery hypothetical instructions.

Maybe that thump is what roughly shifting gears on a 20,000hp motor feels like, or perhaps an especially large wave hitting the bow of the ship at 40kph. The timing of the first one was perfect though, down to a fraction of a second.

There was also this woman I ran into four times in different parts of various cities in Egypt. After the fourth time we decided it might actually be fun to hang out together for a day, and it was.
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... also known as "how to use large-scale dedicated hardware to solve a differential equation for a particular set of initial conditions that yields results that have hypnotic effects on the human brain"

P1060258 by you.

Watching the various waves interfere with one another from such a height and distance was incredibly beautiful.  I could have watched it for quite a long time without getting bored.

Some more:



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I have such fond memories of my two days there. Some to share:

Houses in Fira:


A dog on a very windy day:


The hippie / dancer / poi spinner girl I met, and the view we saw at sunset:


Some dilapidated areas in Oia... even they were beautiful:


Fira sky:


And lots more... )

Complete Santorini set on Flickr

I've taken gobs and gobs of pictures on this trip.  If the worth of the trip is measured in pictures, I'm spending about $1.80 per picture.  It's probably around $10-$20 per good picture.  If I do measure the worth of my trip entirely in pictures, I'll be missing out, but pictures are a very useful way of triggering less tangible memories.
mattbell: (Default)
One day I took this:

Then I saw a familiar-looking postcard for sale, so I bought it and went back.  Sadly I was leaving that day, so I couldn't match the lighting too.  The funny part was trying to hold it still and in exactly the right place in intermittent 40mph winds.

P1060479 by mattkim99.
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Apparently the Muzak of choice for supermarkets in Greece (especially the French chain Carrefour) is ambient dub music from the late 1990s and early 2000s. It's surprising but it works well, even if the place doesn't smell like marijuana.
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Why are some cities so much prettier than others?

The towns of Santorini are a glorious sight... I've spent hours over the last few days just wandering their cobblestone corridors and alleyways. I started thinking about why Santorini is so beautiful while other cities (oh, say, Knoxville TN) are quite unsightly. I came up with the following reasons:

1 This is sort of a meta-reason, but if a city is primarily known for its beauty, and much of the city's economy is based on tourism, then maintaining that beauty becomes a high priority of the people who live there. Thus...

1a The city government will apply aesthetic criteria to building permits for new construction and will pass ordinances limiting the aesthetic choices of private buildings, For example, Santa Fe has a government-approved list of some number acceptable colors for downtown buildings. Some guy with a Pantone set presumably runs around and checks compliance. While this seems draconian, the net effect is an entire hillside of buildings in colors and shapes that are complementary to one another. There's a huge benefit to universal compliance. I don't know what Santorini does in this regard, but I do know that building permits are very hard to get.   I know this sort of legislation is also mis-applied by homeowners' associations to create well-maintained but dull and sterile neighborhoods.

1b The people who choose to move to the town will be drawn to it for the aesthetics (since there are large drawbacks in terms of individual freedom and convenience), so they will likely want their own buildings to look good, both on their own and in relation to nearby buildings. There will be social pressure on people who do not prioritize aesthetics.

2. Cities that are in beautiful natural surroundings wiill of course seem more beautiful. Santorini has it all – a windswept sea, dramatic cliffs, verdant fields, and a geological layer cake of sliced volcanic rock.

3. Cities that work with, rather than against, their natural surroundings are going to be in aesthetic harmony with them. Slicing off the top of a hill and plopping a gaudy plantation-style mansion on it is going to look awful, but creating a mansion that flows around the shape of the hill can look gorgeous. Santorini's towns are like extensions of the rock face, rolling with every curve and hugging the edge of the cliffs. In addition, the blue, white, and brown used on the buildings matches the sky, clouds, rocks, and sea.

4. Areas built with similar styles (generally at similar times) look better together. San Francisco has neighborhoods full of gorgeous Victorians because the city was rebuilt quickly after the 1906 earthquake. Ditto for New York's art deco skyscraper growth spurt in the 1910s-1930s.  There was no calamity, but a lot of well-funded rapid growth.

5. Cities that have been around longer tend to look better because beautiful buildings are more likely to survive than ugly ones. There are of course exceptions to this (eg the old Penn Station in New York) but in general people will want to preserve beautiful buildings. I think the same effect happens when people think back to the “good old days” of movies and wonder why movies today are so shitty. It's because everyone forgets about the really bad ones from bygone days.

6. While there are some very pretty cities on flat ground, hills make any city look better. They provide a more interesting layered mix of foreground and background and let pedestrians take in the scale and grandeur of the city from the ground. Santorini is all hills.

7. Human-scale cities look prettier than car-scale cities because the presence of practical car infrastructure usually clashes with the appearance of the buildings. Santorini's towns are all human-scale... the cars and even the motorbikes park on the edge of downtown.

8. Cities done is a unique or bygone style will inevitably invoke romantic feelings in the people that visit them. Santorini invokes feelings of fallng in love, the traditional sailing lifestyle, and a dose of James Bond mixed in for good measure.


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February 2011

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