Gdansk – 1

The trains run from Gdansk airport to the main station, Gdansk Glowny, every 15 –  30 minutes depending on the time of day. Visitors should follow the red arrows from the west end of Terminal T2 via a covered bridge to the platform where the ticket machines are found. The station is called Port Lotniczy and the trains to Gdansk go from the platform closer to the airport buildings and head eastwards. There are a few direct connections to Gdansk Glowny but visitors will more likely need to change trains at Gdańsk Wrzeszcz station. The trains are brand new and all the stops are illustrated on the TV screens inside the spacious, airy carriages. Gdańsk Wrzeszcz is not easy to pronounce and I would suggest pointing at the name rather than attempting to say it, otherwise who knows where you might end up. It is three stops from Gdańsk Wrzeszcz railway station to Gdansk Glowny. The final destination of this train will almost certainly be Gdansk Śródmieście.

Tigers forever: a wildlife hike in north-east Laos

A guided trek on Mount Forever helps protect endangered tigers and reveals an exotic array of other, less elusive, wildlife

An alternative road trip in County Kerry, Ireland

Spinning off south-west Ireland’s famous tourist route, there’s a less-visited crock of Kerry gold amid the islands, peaks and cliffs of the Skellig Ring

Samos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

I had arrived at the town of Pythagorio on the ferry from Patmos. Pythagorio is the Samian destination for ferries from the Dodecanese Islands. The port of Vathy on the northern side of Samos is the terminus for ferries to the other Aegean Islands, whereas Karlovassi towards the western end of Samos is the place to catch ferries to the Cyclades. There’s more to Samos than meets the eye and the coast of Turkey is only about two miles away to the east.

Visiting the area around Pythagorio I was struck at how many of the substantial ruins didn’t have any written explanation as to their origin. There’d be a small acropolis in the middle of a field, a large section of town wall by the roadside, or a Roman baths close to a hotel, with no information as to their age or significance. The irony is that the best known ancient site, the Heraion a UNESCO listed World Heritage Sight, whilst extensive, has only one heavily restored column to give the place a sense of perspective and depth.

Walking around the ancient harbour of Pythagorio, parts of which are 2,600 years old, the visitor soon comes to a statue of Pythagoras, who was born i the area around 574 BCE. He was one of a number of intellectuals – Aesop, Aristarchus, and Epicurus were others – who thrived on Samos during the prosperous reign of the tyrant Polycrates in the 6th Century BCE. With the rise of the Athenian city state and the killing of Polycrates by the Persians, Samos declined and never reached the same heights again, becoming part of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires before joining the Greek state in 1912.

The Archaeological Museum in Pythagorio has two floors and an extensive outdoor section where the walls, dwellings, and temples of Ancient Samos can be viewed from a raised walkway. Indoors my highlights from the collection include 7 terracotta dolls dating from 500 BCE, a vase in the shape of a running hare, grave stele with palmettes on top, a large marble sarcophagus in the shape of a temple, a large status of the Roman Emperor Trajan, and a hoard of 300 gold Byzantine coins found in a bronze jug.

At the western end of Pythagorio, right by the shoreline, is the castle built by a local strongman Lykourgos Logothetis in the 19th Century. Next door are the ruins of a very early Christian church. From the castle, the visitor can walk westwards along the path towards the Doryssa resort and pass many ruins along the way including an acropolis, former town walls, and Roman baths.

Heading back into town, walking up the hill and then taking another road out of Pythagorio in a westerly direction, I came to the Panayia Spillani monastery and the attraction here, other than the cats lying on piles of carpets, is the subterranean shrine to the Virgin Mary, found about 100 yards inside a cave. The miniature church is impressively manicured despite the permanently damp conditions. This cave was also the place where the priestess Phyto – known as the Samian Sibyl – gave out prophecies including one prediction of the birth of Jesus in a stable. Further along the same road, passing an ancient theatre still used for performances, is the entrance to the Efpalinio Orygma.

This ancient aqueduct is 1036 metres long and was built by Eupalinos of Megara on the orders of Polycrates, using slave labour. The tunnel was dug through solid rock by two sets of slaves starting at opposite sides of the hill and working towards each other. The whole venture was a success and the aqueduct provided the town with running water until Byzantine times.

If you’d like to read more, the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands is newly available on Amazon.

Mykonos

This is an excerpt from the book Travels through History : 9 Greek Islands , newly available on Amazon.

It may seem strange to include Mykonos in a book about history, but there’s plenty of things of historical interest to see on this lovely island. In Mykonos town, there’s a Folklore Museum, an Archaeological Museum, and a Maritime Museum. There are the famous windmills and the area known as Little Venice where the houses come right up to the water’s edge. Lena’s House, next to the Maritime Museum, is a completely restored merchant house from over one hundred years ago.

There’s an interesting church called the Paraportiani, which means “Our Lady of the Side Gate” in Greek, as its doorway was found in the side gate of the entrance to the Kastro area. Construction of this church began in 1425, but wasn’t completed until the 17th century. This whitewashed church comprises five separate chapels which have been joined together: four chapels (dedicated to Saints Anargyroi, Anastasia, Eustathios, and Sozon) form the ground floor and the fifth chapel has been built above them.

On the waterfront near the Old Harbour is where you will find the Kazárma building, which provided accommodation for the soldiers of Manto Mavrogenous, a heroine of the Greek Revolution. The first floor served as her personal residence. When the war began, Manto went from Tinos to Mykonos and invited the leaders of the island to join the revolution. She equipped, manned and “privateered” at her own expense, two ships with which she pursued the pirates who attacked Mykonos and other islands of the Cyclades. On 22 October 1822, under her leadership the Mykonians repulsed the Ottoman Turks, who had debarked soldiers onto the island. Manto also equipped 150 men to campaign in the Peloponnese and sent forces and financial support to Samos, when the island was threatened by the Turks. Later, Mavrogenous sent another corps of fifty men to the Peloponnese, who took part in the Siege of Tripolitsa and the fall of the town to the Greek rebels.

Alefkántra or “Little Venice” is an 18th century district, dominated by grand captains’ mansions with colourful balconies and stylish windows overlooking the waves as they crash onto the shore. .

The second traditional settlement of Mykonos is Áno Merá, situated around the historic monastery of Panayia Tourliani (a 16th century church with a brilliant carved wooden iconostasis). To the north, in Fteliá, lies an important Neolithic settlement, and a 14th-13th century BC Mycenaean tomb.