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The Historical Traveller

Mind you, I live in Dublin now, so visiting this is a holiday in itself.

A millennium and a half of history just down the road. But if you can go further, why wouldn’t you?

There’s a certain set of rituals to be undertaken before a long holiday. Eating the last of the perishable food in the house. Considering what clothes to take with you (there may be shorts, and the baring of milky-white leg flesh). Making sure that no one gets left in the lurch at work (inevitably, though, the clock draws the eyes more and more strongly as the end of the last day approaches). Reminding yourself not to forget your passport (which has absolutely no effect on whether or not you do eventually forget it).

I’m in the middle of all of this right now—in two days I leave Dublin for Greece (via Copenhagen for reasons of cheap flights and the prospects of a pleasant layover). On this trip, I’m staying true to one of my main reasons for travelling. There are many things that can drive one to visit distant places—time in the sun, adventure in an exotic locale, a new cultural experience, encounters with natural wonders—and over the years I’ve resorted to them all, either solo or in company. The draw that most informs my list of “must visit” places though? History.

Experiencing history is something like floating on an ocean. There are depths below you, all around, and every so often you can catch glimpses of what lies below. Back at home, familiar sights included a schoolhouse more than a century old, a ruined church more than a thousand years-a-crumbling and a stone circle dating back to the Neolithic period. Being surrounded by all of this as a child made me feel like I could reach out and touch the people who shared my homeland, no matter how separated in time we might be. The same feeling hits me on my holidays too, whether in the Colosseum in Rome, Tycho Brahe’s observatory in Copenhagen or a temple in Kyoto.

Greece has been on my top-ten list of places to visit for a long time. In fact, in the current political climate (which rules Egypt and Iran out) and in the absence of a long sabbatical from work (ruling out much of the southern hemisphere), it’s probably the most desired unvisited destination I have. Ten days won’t be near enough to see everything that I want to see (I’m focusing on the mainland rather than the islands) but they’ll be a packed ten days.

Why Greece? Look back to a childhood dominated by myths and legends for the main clue. To travel around Greece is to step back through time: from Ottoman rule to Byzantine domination, beyond that to the time of Imperial Rome and Macedonian kings, then to classical Athens and archaic Mycenae and Knossos. To return to the ocean metaphor, travelling through Greece is like floating above a wonderful mix of coral reefs and abysses. There’s always going to be something to see, layered everywhere you look. It’s a beautiful country too, full of wild mountains and deep valleys.

My basic plan is to start in the north, near Thessaloniki, and make my way south through the mainland, visiting Delphi, Athens and Mystra before hopping on a ferry to Crete, from where I’ll fly home again. Unlike my last long journey through Russia and beyond, there’s no need to exhaustively plan everything out, so I’m happy to wing it to an extent. That’s another benefit of travelling solo, I suppose: you can indulge your own whims without worrying about the impact they might have on your travelling partner. Of course, the drawback is not being able to share your enthusiasm and experiences, but that just provides a reason to repeat the journey again in the future.

All of which is to say that there should be, before too long, another travelogue appearing under the long-neglected “Travel” tab above. Between now and then, there will be reports from Greece whenever I get the chance to add them (not having planned out my accommodation to the last detail, I have no idea when and where I’m going to have Internet access—again, on the bright side, it’ll be nice to get away from LCD screens for a while).

In the last couple of days, I’ve realised all the things I’m going to be missing while I’m gone: a comics convention, Dublin’s Culture Night, the Ryder Cup and two weeks of rugby, West Brom and Doctor Who. For all that though, it’s been too long since I travelled. The excitement is just starting to kick in now, and it’s a nice, unfamiliar feeling. When I finally head to the airport, it’ll be in my preferred fashion, with a bag on my shoulder, a passport in my pocket and history in my future. I hope, in whatever I come to write about it, I manage to share some of that excitement with you.

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