Sunday 16 August 2009

From Dorothy Ann Walsh:

My visit to Greece started in a train in Munich. The roofs of the sleeping carriages belonging to the Greek railways were covered in ice which hung in thick, compact garlands down the sides and coated the windows. It was the last day of February 1988.

Inside, the carriage was dirty and the whole train was overheated by a system which could not be operated manually. Luckily, departure was delayed as I was late due to heavy, snowbound traffic. In our journey south, we did not leave the heavy snows until southern Austria and even then saw snow-powdered fields on our way through Yugoslavia.

There was no food or water available on the train - The Acropolis Express to Athens - and nothing available at most stations where the water taps were also frozen.

A couple, mother and son, joined me in the compartment at Villach, Austria, who were on their way to Israel. The woman asked me if the compartment had been so dirty in Munich. I, the sole occupant, answered yes, only slowly working out the implications of an answer in the negative.

She was a very bossy lady which had its positive side in that she kept the swarms of people who joined the train at every stop in Yugoslavia from entering the compartment, got us extra supplies of thin blankets for the night and requisitioned a cup of coffee for us from the conductor in the morning.

At around 6 a.m. we were standing at some remote place in Yugoslavia where nothing was visible except the station. I was woken by the sound of stones rustling as if we were at a beach where the pebbles were being moved to and fro by the tide. When I looked outside there was no beach in sight, we were obviously inland; the sound was being made by children who ran up and down the railway line crunching the rockfill underfoot as they begged for food from the passengers. They were poorly clad in a motley assortment of clothes and shivered from the early morning cold.

After Skopje wild flowers started to appear, then trees in blossom, and people planted what looked like lettuce plants in the fields. A teddy bear was hoisted over a vineyard, stick in hand to ward off invaders.

We crossed the border into Greece after Georgelija. The air had become warmer, the fields now seemed bigger and the clutches of houses did not seem to be as noticably crumbling as heretofore. We arrived at Thessaloniki at 3.00 p.m. and I put on my pack and went room searching.

I found a room with mice for the night and the next day took the bus to Pella. I was the only visitor on the site. The day was sunny but a cold wind swept down from the mountains in the north west. The museum across the road from the site was officially closed but the keeper let me in. There was not much to see as they were in the process of packing the exhibits for removal to Thessaloniki - why I don’t know. However the floor mosaics from the site were still intact on display on the walls: the Staghunt and the Dionysos mosaic.

The next day I visited the Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki and saw the treasures from Derveni, Vergina and Stavrolis (4th century B.C.) and Sindos (6th and 5th centuries B.C.) besides Roman portraiture sculpture from 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. The Museum also gave me a wonderful introduction to Macedonian tomb architecture of the 4th century B.C., notably from Aghia Paraskevi, Potidaea and the most elaborate example from Lefkadia. Unfortunately the section on Greek sculpture was closed due to staff shortage I was told and I only got to see some 4th century B.C. models from the doorway. I took slides of these for reference. In the basement of the museum there was a wealth of Etruscan ware. Here, amongst others, there was a krater S60, showing a Greek killing a Persian in a composition similar to that of Achilles killing the Queen of the Amazons.

In Thessaloniki itself of course there was the Arch of Galerius (3rd century A.D.), the Roman Agora and Markets to be seen besides a number of other sites including the many Byzantine churches and sites.

The next day I left for Athens leaving the mice in sole control of the room. The train was of a lovely old well-polished type of wood and metal and probably plastic-covered seating which was called an express. As far as I could see during our journey this meant that the train didn’t stop at all the little towns and villages, it stopped between them. The other notable thing about the journey was the wealth of sites and places one was passing without seeing. However passing and seeing Mount Olympus with Dion nestling at its foot was a thrill.

At 4 p.m. that evening we reached the capital. Athens was superb. The weather was pleasant for excursions and the rich abundance of sites and artefacts gave tremendous satisfaction.

Finding my way round was greatly facilitated by meeting Rev. Prof. Gerry Watson of Maynooth at the Gennadion who introduced me to Prof. George Huxley of the American Library and to Mr. Guy Sanders of the British School. Through the recommendation of Prof.Watson, the kind assistance of Prof. Mitchell at Trinity and the helpfulness of the staff at the British School, I became a member and moved into the School, where I made my base for archaeological excursions for visual documentation in Athens and was delighted to make use of the wonderful, unrestricted library facilities in my chosen research of figures of Aphrodite in the round in Greek sculpture of the 4th century B.C. The Director of the School Sir Hector Catling was most kind with helpful advice, and open in his invitation that I should use the facilities in the future.

My trip to Greece was curtailed when I fell on the site at Corinth on the first day of my tour of the Peleponnese, pulling the ligaments in my foot. I did get some more, helpful library work done, but my movement was too restricted for museum or site visits and therefore I returned to Germany for treatment for my foot.

The trip, which was aided by the Stanford Travelling Scholarship, was a worthwhile extension to my study at the Institute of Classical Archaeology in Munich for both library and visual work and I am grateful to Trinity for having given me the opportunity to enjoy the experience of a worthwhile and rewarding visit to Greece.

As a postscript I might add that before I moved into the British School, I stayed at a small, clean, comfortable and very reasonable hotel in Plaka named Hotel Ideal, Odos Eolu & Voreou 2, Athens, Tel. 32 13 195, which I would recommend to any student or visitor.

Dor Walsh, Limerick, Autumn 1988.