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Out of the blueBy Mu Qian
Santorini island is known for its breathtaking sunset.

I visited Olympia, where the Olympic Games were first held in 776 BC, exactly three months before the scheduled opening of the Beijing Olympics.

A few original Olympian buildings still stand, but only a few tablets and broken columns are what remain of the Sacred Precinct of Zeus, the Temple of Hera, and the Altar of Oaths.

Best-preserved is the stadium, which is an open field between two hills within the Cronus Mountains. The stadium capacity is said to hold 45,000, with few stone seats reserved for the judges.

The start and finish points on the 120-m sprint track are still discernible. But rather than take a lap around the track like many of the other visitors, I took the advice of a friend who had visited Olympia. He told me: "Give yourself a moment of silence, and try to feel Olympia."

I wondered what it was like for spectators over two millennia ago, who had sat on the hillside to watch the Games, just as I was doing. I tried to imagine the Mediterranean sun that bathed me shining upon those athletes, and on the olive trees whose branches were woven into wreaths worn by ancient champions. I could almost feel the joyful atmosphere of those ancient Olympics, when the city-states of Greece suspended all conflict.

The Olympic Games were originally held to honor Zeus, king of the gods that lived on Mount Olympus. The Games ceased after the purging pagan festivals in AD 393 and imposition of Christianity as a state religion.

I found that traveling in Greece often gave me a feeling of being in China. They bear no resemblance with regards to landscape, but they are similar countries in that both have the ability to bring your conscious back in time - through a rich history.

I experienced this feeling at the Corinth Canal, the Epidaurus Theater in Argolis and the Acropolis in Athens.

The Acropolis, meaning high city, is a flat-topped rock 150 m high. It is at the center of Athens, as is the Forbidden City in Beijing, but its history is much longer - even longer than the Great Wall.

The Acropolis is a citadel upon whose highest point stands the Parthenon, a temple built to honor the goddess Athena, protectress of Athens. It is considered to represent the culmination of the Doric Order, and as such is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece.

The Parthenon was converted into a Christian church in the 6th century AD. After the Ottoman conquest in the early 1460s it was converted once more, into a mosque. The Parthenon was severely damaged by an explosion when an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by a Venetian bombardment on Sept 28, 1687.

The Parthenon framework, however, along with the ruins of other Acropolis buildings, still survives, and is visible from almost anywhere in Athens. Its image also reflects on the glass wall of the New Acropolis Museum, which opens to the public at the end of this year.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a colossal temple ruin in the center of Athens.

The New Acropolis Museum is located some 300 m southeast of the Parthenon. It includes a rectangular glass gallery that displays the remaining sculptures with the precise geometry and harmonious dimensions of the columned Parthenon.

The museum's 4,000 exhibits represent a concentration of all the Acropolis' ancient artifacts.

After three days of visiting historical sites, I headed for Santorini, one of the most beautiful islands in Greece.

I took an early boat from Athens and arrived at the volcanic black-sanded beaches of Santorini that afternoon.

After a delicious supper of Greek salad and halva, I went to the small town of Oia to enjoy its famous sunset. There I met a stream of Chinese tourists, whose numbers in Greece are increasing. Their obvious presence in Santorini could be attributed to the popular TV series Aegean Sea that was shot on the island.

I had two main images of Greece before I came. One was the magnificent Parthenon; the other was of the small blue and white houses which I saw perfectly from the cliffs of Oia.

Blue and white are omnipresent colors in Greece. They are seen in the national flag and costume, but mainly in the sky, sea, and clouds.

After staying the night at another small town called Fira, I went back to Athens the next day. I decided to spend my last night in Greece exploring Athens on my own.

I had heard of the Greek music called rembetika, described as the Greek blues. I decided to go to the Kavouras taverna, well known for its live rembetika performances.

I arrived at 9:30 pm, which seemed an appropriate time for a bar performance, but the door was firmly shut.

Not quite knowing what to do, I roamed around until I came upon a rock club called the An Club. There was a "Music Wave Festival" going on, with performances by five bands. Although it was not my first choice, I thought I'd take a look at another side of Greek life, and paid the 8 euro ($12.4) entrance fee.

It was pretty much like a gig back in Beijing. I enjoyed the show, but I left at midnight after the third band began playing.

On my way back, I saw that taverna had open and heard music being played. The waiter told me the performances were from 11 pm to 3 or 4 am every day.

I paid the 6 euro ($9.3) entrance fee and found it to be even better value because a drink was included. Music played during my entire two-and-a-half-hour stay there. Four of the band members sang in turn. They played guitar, bouzouki (Greek lute) and accordion.

A man in his 50s sitting at the next table offered me a cigarette and told me about rembetika. I now know that it dates back to the 19th century and is indeed about the sadness and misfortunes of ordinary people.

Everyone there knew the songs and sang along, while others began to dance. I felt this was true Greek life.

Although I was glad to be going home, I felt a little sad that my stay in Greece was about to end.

There were only a handful of people in the taverna when I arrived, but it was almost full when I left at 2:30 am. My flight was early that morning, so I would have no time to sleep. But I felt happy to be returning to China humming a rembetika tune.

source: (China Daily)

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