Greece: The Peloponnese Sep 01—10, 2010

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Ari...

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Our cruise around the Peloponnese immersed us in the culture, history, art, and philosophy of ancient Greece, and brought exposure to the scenic beauty and natural history of modern-day Greece. We visited the most famous ancient sites of Athens on our cruise pre-trip: Acropolis, Agora, and Marathon; and, of course, the most revered sites of the Peloponnesian Peninsula including Epidaurus—the largest and best-preserved Greek theater, Mycenae, Nestor's Palace near Pylos, and, finally, Olympia and Delphi, both of which are incredible sites.

Especially memorable moments included reading part of Pericles' funeral oration in the Agora, reading excerpts of several Greek plays in the theater in Epidaurus, and attending all of Paul Woodruff's superb lectures.

As we toured the Acropolis, we imagined what it was like in Athens in the fifth century B.C. when every four years the procession of Athens took place; what the Agora was like when Socrates and Plato walked around it; and what the battle of Marathon had been like 2,500 years ago when an outnumbered Athenian army defeated the mighty Persian army in one of the most important battles of history.

Just as I had envisioned, this trip offered a fine combination of history, culture, and natural history. While touring the Agora, we saw Sardinian Warblers and a Collared Flycatcher during our walking tour; a Short-toed Eagle flew overhead as we stood at the battlefield of Marathon looking at the mound where the Athenian dead were buried; at Epidaurus we had great looks at Eurasian Jays at the ancient Asclepieion; and at Mycenae we saw Eurasian Hoopoe, Rock Nuthatch, Black-eared Wheatear, Blue Rock-Thrush, and a very cooperative Little Owl, the bird of Athena.

The Mediterranean is not known for its seabirds, but the sight of several hundred Levantine Shearwaters and numerous Cory's Shearwaters flying close to the ship on the day we cruised from Epidaurus to Nafplion was remarkable.

The greatest birding highlight was cruising close by Egg Island, off the coast of Kythira, to view a colony of Eleonora's Falcons. We had superb looks at over 20 of the rare falcons as they flew along the cliffs, perched on nest sites, and performed spectacular dives.

One of the most scenic places we visited was Kythira, the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. This unspoiled island is a back-in-time place with small, quaint villages and a gorgeous harbor.

Our trip ended with a morning at the sacred site of Delphi, home to the famous oracle and regarded by the Greeks as the navel of the world. At the Cascadian Spring we stumbled upon a couple of birds bathing that we had not previously seen, including Blackcaps and Icterine Warblers. In the late afternoon we passed through the Corinth Canal and then enjoyed an after-dinner stroll in the lovely port of Aegina.