Journal 29 - June 27, 2003

Star Treatment » Go Back

Journal 29
After an eight-hour layover in Athens I finally got on a ferry taking me somewhere I actually wanted to go to. Mykonos, one of many gorgeous Greek islands, this being one of a group of islands known as the Cyclades. There are roughly 1400 islands in Greece, of which approximately 169 are inhabited. The Cyclades are among the most beautiful and most visited of the islands, known for great nightlife and whitewash architecture with signature blue accents. I was greeted at the port by my friend Lida, a Greek actress I met while in Rio de Janeiro. Lida picked me up and brought me to her friend's house on the hill overlooking town. The house was a small, white, L-shaped building with blue accents, blinding white plaster, and a fantastic view of the cobalt blue Mediterranean. We dropped our bags and immediately headed for one of several famous vistas to watch the sunset and sip frappes.

Lida was a gracious hostess, and unbeknownst to me is a famous celebrity in Greece. Her status as a star benefited us greatly during what would have otherwise been two expensive days on the island. The car rental guy didn't charge her, the guy at the ticket counter let her into the movie theatre for free, and bartenders gave her free drinks. She also had lots of friends on the island living interesting lives. There I was being hosted by a Greek movie star and I didn't even know it. With two days we saw only a couple of Mykonos' incredible beaches, which is truly a shame for such a beautiful place. It would have been great to stay for a week to explore the fantastic beaches and meander through the whitewash alleys that wind through town. Mykonos offers the classic Greek island experience, lot's of bright sun and blue skies, beautiful beaches, dancing till dawn, and enough whitewash to blind Stevie Wonder. Like the building code in Santa Barbara that mandates Spanish tiles, the Cyclades have a whitewash-with-blue-accent code, so the snowy white buildings dot the islands from north to south and east to west, with only a slight variation in the color of the accents and brightness of the white.

The beaches are gorgeous, with cool, clear, cobalt blue water. Like the Turquoise coast of Turkey, the water around the Greek islands is amazingly clear, with an incredibly beautiful deep blue. It was wonderful to swim in the water, opening my eyes to a salty world beneath the surface, where even without goggles the visibility was astonishing. Two days was not nearly enough time, but Lida had to return to Athens to begin shooting her next project, so off we went. I stayed in Athens a few days to rest, happy to have a home so far from California. Rarely has the simple task of doing my laundry felt so good. But I quickly grew restless and felt the need to get back on the road. I decided to see one more island before leaving Greece, so with Lida's recommendation I took a ferry to Santorini, known as a magical and mystical destination among the Greeks.

As with many of the Greek islands, Santorini was full of revelers ready to dance till dawn and soak up the sun at dermatologically catastrophic rates. I spent three days on the islands visiting the beaches, seeing the sites, and watching some of the best sunsets I've ever seen. Santorini is a large island with several towns on its northern, western, and eastern sides. I stayed in Fira, another blindingly white town that sits on top of cliffs that drop steeply towards the Mediterranean. The sloping town grips the mountain as its lower portions slide towards the sea. Narrow walkways and stairs wind up and down the village, with countless shops and cafes that fill nightly for the magical sunsets. I made it a point to watch every sunset while I was there, some of the best I've ever seen. While sipping a frappe and jotting thoughts in my journal, I'd drip sweat in the heat of the sun as it dropped off the horizon on its way to California.

Santorini was once a large volcanic island, circular in shape and many times larger than it is now, but a devastating eruption destroyed it nearly four thousand years ago. The eruption separated the volcano from the remaining island Santorini. On my last day I visited the still-active volcano, and could feel the hot gasses rising from the soil. The volcanic landscape is lunar in appearance and the island is virtually barren except for a few shrubs. The Santorini eruption, which occurred sometime around 1600 BC, is said to have been one of the largest and most devastating natural disasters of the last 10,000 years, thus reducing the previously large island to fragments of its former self. Still large enough for several towns and beaches, and still exceptionally beautiful thanks to its unique landscape, Santorini is a beautiful place. But after a few days it was time to move to the next destination, with only weeks remaining I still have several places I'd like to see before coming home.

From Santorini I caught the noon ferry to Athens, arriving at the port in Athens at 10:15 pm. From the port I ran to the subway, jumped on the 10:35 train and arrived at the bus station at 10:58, two minutes to spare for the overnight bus to Thessaloniki. After arriving in Thessaloniki at 5:30 am, I took another bus to the train station and arrived in time for the 8:00 am train to Belgrade, where I arrived some 35 hours after leaving Santorini, completely spun, delirious, and dizzy with hunger and lack of sleep.

My time in Belgrade was a fascinating mix of history, politics, and great people. Less than four years removed from the U.S. led Nato bombings, it's interesting to visit a country that knows first hand how trigger happy our politicians can be. Fortunately the people I talked to were able to distinguish people from politics. It is said Belgrade has been destroyed and rebuilt forty times in its history, dating back to its time as a Roman stronghold, up to the Nato bombardment of 1999. With many historical buildings still remaining, and a bustling downtown promenade full of young, chic Serbs, it's a wonderful city. Among the most interesting historical sites is Kalemegdan Park, a sprawling former military compound that is now a gorgeous park, museum, and sporting complex. Like the playgrounds in New York City, many a young basketball star has been born on the courts of Kalemegdan, including Vlade Divac and other current NBA players. The beautiful park overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, like a miniature Istanbul the city rests on beautiful waterways in a fantastic setting.

In Belgrade I was graciously hosted by two friends of my friend Jovana. Milana and Maja showed me around Belgrade, gave me historical and political lessons, and a brief glimpse into life in Belgrade. A fascinatingly vibrant city, Belgrade feels as if it's on the verge of a renaissance. After generations of wars and various forms of oppression, it appears long-term peace is on the horizon, and the city is set to bloom in the near and distant futures. From what I've seen so far of the entire region is a fascinating combination of old and new, both its architecture and history. From the Roman and Ottoman empires, to the recent history of wars and dictators, the beauty and historical elements of this area are worthy of months of exploration.

From Belgrade it was off to gorgeous Montenegro, the southern coastal region of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro is a region of incredible coastline, beautiful mountains, and southern Europe's deepest fjord. Unlike any place I've seen, this area offers a supreme combination of historical architecture and quaint villages set in a gorgeous natural environment. Along the length of the fjord small communities dot the coast, perched on the shore while huge mountains scream skyward behind them. I've been staying in the town of Kotor, named as a UNESCO world heritage site; the old-town is hundreds of years old, and surrounded by ancient walls that climb the surrounding mountains for hundreds of feet. A few days in this surreal, amazingly historic town before I begin making my way north, next to Dubrovnik, and eventually to Paris to pick up Bryce on July 12th. Two incredible weeks of watching the Tour de France, then home at the end of July.

chao,

Justin