vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I've been thinking about long-term touring goals: I managed two big tours in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013, and I hope I can make it a regular part of my schedule. Right now I look most open in April and October, though I'm certainly flexible about which seasons I spend abroad.

I'm currently planning my next Italy trip, tentatively March 25 - May 6. I want to go back to northwest Italy, I've yet to fulfill a long-term goal of seeing Sardinia, and I'm spending a week in Rome with a partner, so I'm figuring out how to tie them all together. As a bonus, I'd like to busk Pisa: I've never liked it as a tourist destination, but I think it may redeem itself through its university nightlife.

Next fall, schedule permitting, I'd also like to go back to South America. The last trip was an amazing experience while being financially difficult, but I think I've figured out ways to make up for it. I'm going to stick with one country, I've found a local source of cd duplication to avoid immigration hassles, and I had an epic week in Valparaiso so Chile it will be!

And I continue to brainstorm future tours. I'd like to combine southeastern Italy with Croatia and Bosnia, hopefully in 2016. I'd like to do another Argentina trip, focusing on the Rio de Plata region and dipping back into Uruguay. And, tentatively in 2017, I'd like I celebrate my fortieth birthday as I spent my thirtieth, on an extended tour, which hopefully will concentrate on Greece and Italy.

I'm hesitant to share future plans because I'm superstitious and even when things go right they're subject to change based on my whims. However, I'm at a stage in personal growth where I'm deliberately trying to break out of my secretiveness and looking to generally overcome my superstitions, so sharing here seemed a logical step. I remain hopeful and flexible, which isn't a bad mantra to embrace.
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

The White Tower (which was once, briefly, white)

Wall defenses of the Kastro

A pigeon hotel

The Vlatadan monastery...

...where the monks keep peacocks!

Apparently Salonica is for the birds (har har har)

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Mar. 14th, 2011 05:42 pm
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

It's no wonder this ruined palace was the basis for the labyrinth legend; they've roped off most of it and I still got lost! The Minotaur part reputedly came from a bull head vase decoration. The palace has been partially reconstructed, and while those recreations are controversial they do a lot to help visualize the place.

Minoan columns are oddly narrow at the base.

The original frescos, much less complete, are in a nearby museum that's my next stop.

This is a raw part of the site, and a good glimpse of what archeology really looks like.

And, for Truly, here are some pretty dresses from a doll shop in Chania:

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

Tomorrow I head to Heraklion, but it's been a pleasure to be here!

(the domed building on the left is the old mosque I've been playing beside)

The Venetian lighthouse, remodeled under the Ottoman occupation.

The lighthouse by night.

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

It's been too cold and wet to do any playing, but Chania ("Han-YAH") has been fun so far. Today I found the pretty Venetian quarter (as opposed to the bombed-out-during-WWII Venetian quarter), and I can finally see why it's called the loveliest city on Crete. Sporadic sunshine today has helped, too.

The weather has been atypical, to say the least. Low 40s is rare in these parts, which means my room is short on luxuries like weatherstripping and central heating. Or any heating, for that matter. Still, with blankets and sweaters it's a lot more pleasant than some nights I can look back on, kept alive by an electric blanket while icicles formed on the ceiling of my van.

I have no idea how busking the uber low season in a small city during an economic crisis will work, but I'm not too stressed. It's cheap to live here (see above), and I'm enjoying the time. I've been reading books and watching movies I downloaded before leaving the States while hiding from the weather, and I'm halfway through learning a new song I wrote in Seattle.

The language is coming along better than I'd expected. It helps that I've been focusing my limited vocabulary in useful directions, but I can do my market shopping and daily interactions without resorting to English. Of course, I've been known to have a merchant give me the price in English after exclusive Greek, but he had no way of knowing that learning to count to a hundred was the first thing I did.

Still, the breadth of my ignorance is humbling, though I've kept up my habit of 10-15 new words every day. It's a fun challenge, and I'm doing my best to rise to it.

And the weekend is forecast sunny and sixties!

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I spent most of yesterday in a rather foul mood, so I medicated by doing cool stuff. This is the temple of Hephaestus in the ancient agora, the best preserved Doric temple in the Greek world. There's one in Sicily, in Taormina, that's almost as cool, but this place is really impressive. I've wanted to wander around it since I saw it last year, but it was only recently that I found out which site included it (there are five or so on the hill around the Acropolis).

I played a morning set on the shopping street, οδός Ερμού (Odos Ermou: the Street of Hermes, god of commerce of course!), and had a lovely time for awhile. I was beside a church, and it was a bit of a shock when people would stop right in front of me and cross themselves; I felt like I had to be either an awesome saint or utterly depraved to warrant that!

Then an amplified band started up the street, which was irksome. A few minutes later two gypsy kids started playing accordions right beside me, successfully chasing me off. I was in high umbrage, but didn't exactly see a lot of options.

I thought this was why I was grumpy, and I canceled my evening set due to a slight drizzle after visiting the Agora. Then I had a really good set this morning on the Acropolis Promenade, but only after being scolded by a cop on Ermou. I got home after my set and decided to take a short nap; three hours later I came to the conclusion I was definitely sick. I'm kind of encouraged, I didn't like the thought that I was becoming a Debbie Downer from some minor setbacks.

But today's Promenade set had been truly lovely. High schoolers were given the afternoon off to wander in costume for carnival, and they made great audiences. After my nap I decided not to force an evening set from an unwilling body, and visited the Parthenon Museum instead. It was a good call, since my body protested even that, and I really enjoyed the museum full of artifacts (and the view of the Acropolis from the third floor was breathtaking).

Here's hoping I feel better tomorrow, and since I found a market stall with stuffed grape leaves for $3 a pound I'll be sure to have some veggies!

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

It was a grand birthday! And a local dessert, ekmek, that combines cake (soaked in honey), ice cream, whipped cream, and pistachios was a pretty fabulous topper.

I spent the afternoon in Aigina, an island off the coast in Athens. Despite it being chilly and rainy I had a lovely time. I alternated strolling through the town with huddling at cafes over cappuccino and hot chocolate, and made a short pilgrimage to the ruins of a nearby temple of Apollo. I've got high hopes for the year!

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

Last year I was too busy seeing archeological sites to make it to any museums, and this is my chance to fix that. Today I started with the biggest museum in Greece, and one of the best in Europe, the National Archeological Museum.

The collection was stunning. Despite a sign at the entrance noting rooms closed due to funding problems (they can't pay for guards and so had to limit the exhibitions), there was so much there that I hardly noticed.

Six rooms full of bronzes!!! This is a big deal; since bronze was later valuable for weaponry (especially cannons), the only surviving statuary tends to be from shipwreck recoveries. Most European museums have one or two figures, and most American museums don't have any (although Cleveland impressed me with a really nice one).

And, of course, the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient analog computer that scientists are still trying to figure out.

The vase rooms were closed, but there are entire museums in Sicily consisting of little else so I didn't miss them. There were tons of marble statues (pardon my pun), however, which finally gave me a good basis to compare Early Classical, Late Classical, and Roman Imperial styles (most museums focus on one of them). I always thought I preferred Roman to Greek out of national chauvinism, but it turns out there are major differences: Greek portraiture was highly idealized while the Romans expected a portrait to look like its subject. This made the latter a lot more idiosyncratic and less formulaic.

Now it's naptime before I head out to break the ice on busking this evening!

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I just took a walk around my favorite areas from last time.

Note the Acropolis mount in the background.

My favorite part of Athens is all the sunken 11th century Byzantine churches scattered about.

I made some friends in the ruins.

Γεια σας!

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
This is the part where the rubber meets the road.

I've compiled a list of places I'd like to go in Greece, and now I have to check that list against practicalities. My basic criteria are busking suitability (population and pedestrianized streets are key) and awesomeness, but this is the part of the process where I measure those against lodging, transit, and time.

Time is the big one. I'm giving myself four weeks before heading to Italy, and I can either visit everywhere I'd like or I can give as much time as I'd like to a few key places. After a week or so in a city I feel like it's mine, that I know it and have made it a home. And, having skipped destinations on one trip, I have someplace new to try on the next!

So it looks like I'll be spending time in Athens, Volos, Larisa, and Thessaloniki before figuring out a way to Patra and catching a ferry to Italy. I'm looking at a day trip to Aegina for my birthday, and I'm going to see what I can do about a jaunt to Meteora en route to Thessaloniki (it's out of the way, but wow). I'll be saving Crete, various other islands, and Ioannina for the future, among others.

Once I make it to Italy my choices get clearer. This is a southern tour, focusing on the southeast, and I'll be returning to Lecce, Taranto, and Naples while hopefully hitting Brindisi and Foggia for the first time. I might also make a dash up to Abruzzo for another look at my grandfather's neighborhood. At the end of the trip I'll be training to Paris for a few days, and I might make a stop in Aosta along the way in order to catch a city I haven't had a chance to explore yet.

This is all subject to change at any point, of course; if I can't find lodging or busking falls flat in one city, for example, I'll hightail it to another. So many choices! (and none of them exactly suck)
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I checked out if my hotel in Heraklion at 11am, leaving my bags for the day. I busked for the afternoon, took a break and a short nap lying in the sun on the harbor breakwall, and then performed an evening set. I caught an 11pm ferry to the Greek mainland, where I managed to snag space on a couch where I could sleep comfortably (I'd been too cheap to book a cabin berth). I don't remember the trip at all; I slept from our departure straight through to the 5am announcement of arrival.

I got on a subway in Pireus, the port city of Athens, transferred to a bus for ten minutes to bypass track repairs, then reboarded the subway to a metro station my map said was near the intercity bus depot. Unfortunately the roads that looked clear on the map were less so in person, but I found a pedestrian footbridge to cross the highway between my station and the bus terminal.

I got on a bus to Patras, which should have taken two and a half hours if not for the hour spent stopped on the highway. Again, though, I hardly noticed because I slept through the entire journey. I put my bags into a locker at the ferry terminal and went out to busk, but didn't see a pitch I liked well enough to give it a whirl.

Instead I hiked up the hill to the medieval castle (built over a Roman fortress, itself built on the ancient Greek acropolis) and wandered around before heading back to the city. I picked up my bags, charged my phone (depleted from being my main source of entertainment since it holds a dozen books from Amazon's Kindle store), and napped on a bench before boarding my ferry to Italy.

Considering that this trip was to last 19 hours I'd splurged on a cabin berth. Happily, because of a lightly attended journey, I got the entire cabin all to myself! I tried to stay awake until 10, but gave up at 9:30 and slept until almost 9 the next morning. A hot shower completed the spell, and I felt human again.

Arriving in Ancona I had the extreme good luck to walk right onto a train bound for my destination, the resort city of Pesaro. In the off-season, and unable to find lodging elsewhere, I've gotten an extremely good deal on a hotel room here. I still hope to busk Ancona some day, but Peaaro will still give me my first taste of performing in the Region (ie state) of Le Marche!

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Apr. 4th, 2010 11:03 pm
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
When I first started planning a Greek leg of my spring European tour I hoped that I would make enough money to be worthwhile but not so much that I wasn't motivated to improve. To sum up, I wanted to be motivated to come back speaking Greek, and I nailed it. I've had an excellent tour and I love the country and its people, and I've more than covered my expenses, but I think that a working knowledge of the language would pay dividends. I'm already looking at an expanded Greek section of my tour next year.

I've only busked two cities, Athens and Heraklion (on Crete), but they've been lovely. The weather has been amazing, the people generous, and the atmosphere fantastic. And Easter was a good time to come! At midnight, when Easter began, there were church bells ringing and fireworks bursting throughout the city. I've spent three Easters in Italy and I've never seen anything like it.

On Good Friday I had the gentlest shifting of my career when two cops were clearing the street for religious processions. As I was wrapping up my set they came up, tipped me, and very apologetically told me that from 8 to 11 there could be nothing going on in the main drag, but that other areas and days were perfectly fine. To see the processions was really intense; alter boys carrying crucifixes, priests swinging incense, old ladies singing hymns, boy scouts marching along, and portable alters carried on the shoulders of four men. I saw three of them, one complete with marching band, and even captured a little guilty video; it seems a little shameful to be holding up a camera when everyone else is crossing themselves and muttering prayers.

Tomorrow evening I'll begin a long voyage; taking an overnight ferry to Athens, a bus or train to Patras, another overnight ferry to Ancona, Italy, and then another train to Pesaro where I'll be spending two days kicking off my Italian tour. Making the hotel reservations for the next week was incredibly refreshing; even though I met with some setbacks in booking rooms it was wonderful to be speaking a language I actually know.

In the morning I'll leave my bags with the hotel as I busk a last afternoon set, and I may be tempted to perform another in Patras, but for the most part my time in Greece is coming to a close and I'm off again!
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)

I continued my touristing today, visiting several Ancient Greek sites in Athens, proper. First up, of course, was the Acropolis and it's crown, the Parthenon.

I got there early, yawning, and successfully beat the crowds that were only starting to trickle in as I was leaving. The ruins were impressive, but I've seen enough Greek temples to make some comparisons.

For one thing, I've never been close to Athena, so I was missing the connection I've had with some other sites. For another, the Parthenon is a pretty typical temple, but not as well preserved as others I've seen. Several temples in Agrigento and Paestum were more whole, though lacking the beautifully dramatic site of the Acropolis.

I was extremely impressed, however, with a neighboring temple, the Erechtheion, that was all but ignored by other visiters. It was like absolutely nothing I've ever seen, with three facades on three different levels out of its four sides. One of those was the porch of caryatids, with feminine statues acting as columns. The building's uniqueness, preservation, and history (it was built on the spot where Poseidon and Athena worked ancient miracles) combined to make it a highlight.

Also at the Acropolis I saw the restored Odeon of Herodes Atticus. I've seen a number of Greek and Roman theatres, but this one has been restored to an extent that was new to me. It blew me away to not need my imagination to consider what it looked like in its prime, and put into new context a lot if places I've seen in the past.

From there I went to the temple of Olympian Zeus, which was magnificent in its scale. The largest temple of Athens, only one corner now remains to show how massive it was. Certainly awe-inspiring.

Tonight I plan to do some busking, and tomorrow evening I'll catch a ferry to Crete. The adventure continues!

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Mar. 29th, 2010 08:09 pm
vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
I feel very connected to the god Apollo, being a musician, so it was particularly intense to visit his worldwide center of worship in Delphi. There isn't much left of the temple complex, but what remains is beautifully situated among green mountains and valleys within a pine forest.

The day was stunning, and I stripped down to my undershirt several times to stay comfortable. Walking along hiking trails that lead through and around various ancient ruins is a lovely way to spend the day. I also take satisfaction that instead of paying ninety euros for a tour bus here I used public transit for thirty; there was a lot more to figure out as far as discovering bus stations, times, and prices, but that was part of the fun!

The absolute highlight of the day came from visiting the site museum. All such museums look pretty much the same; if you've seen a certain amount of classical detritus it all looks the same unless you're hunting something in particular. I had some extra time before my bus back to Athens, though, so I figured three euros wasn't too steep to entertainingly kill some time. It was therefore a complete surprise to find, in addition to the usual stuff, original inscriptions with the oldest known musical notation, carved in 128 BC. I took lots of pictures, and now it only remains to consult the Oracle at Google to see if anyone knows how to play it.

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vinceconaway: (Holland Head Shot)
Allow me to heartily recommend Air Canada, Lufthansa, and Aegean Airlines; they all did an amazing job.  I made all my connections, everyone was extremely helpful, and I am safely and happily arrived in Athens!

My first impression is a combination of Rome and Belgrade; Rome because this is an extremely ancient city and there are ruins everywhere to be stumbled across, and Belgrade because I don't speak the language which is written in a script I can sound out only with concentration.  I love it!

I feel challenged and invigorated by the adventure, and I'm only reluctantly sticking to my rule of not busking right after a transatlantic flight.  There are some good looking pitches and enough buskers to make me feel it's legal without so many that it will be hard to find a good pitch.  Knock on wood!

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