Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

June 12, 2005

My Best Shot

June Ray Smith, Shrewsbury, Pa.

The beaches of Normandy

Last summer I was taken with the tranquillity of this sunny beach and its lone, bright yellow umbrella standing in such stark contrast to the scene played out at that very site on June 6, 1944 - Omaha Beach, Normandy, France.

A Memorable Place

The enduring allure of ancient Greece

Steven Speaks

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I have never been much for traveling, which probably explains why it took me a full year to decide to leave Baltimore and move to Belgium to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy, with a specialization in ancient Greek philosophy and medicine.

Living in the center of Europe, I promised myself that I would overcome my travel aversion and visit those countries that possessed a strong intellectual interest for me. At the top of my list was Greece.

The deep meaning that this trip held for me was betrayed by my recurring Freudian slips in the weeks before I left: I repeatedly found myself telling friends that I would be visiting "ancient" Greece.

Before going, I consulted my Greek philosophical and medical texts, my map of fifth-century Greece, and my Rough Guide book and current maps.

I arranged a sort of philosophical and medical pilgrimage. This meant seeing as much as possible related to Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Socrates and Plato, and especially the ancient healing temples of the god Asclepius. Known as Asklepieia, they were the hospitals of antiquity.

My girlfriend and I began in Athens, seeing the agora, the ancient marketplace where Socrates taught, and the Academy of Plato, the first university in the world. From there we visited beautiful Delphi, the holiest place for the ancients.

Then it was over to Epidaurus, where I was captivated by the magnificent theater and the ruins of the temple to Asclepius. The next afternoon we raced down to the port and just managed to jump on a ferry bound for the island of Samos, the birthplace of Pythagoras, a mathematical, musical, medical and philosophical genius who lived six centuries before Christ.

After several days there we boarded a ferry for Kos, the island home of the founder of Western medicine, Hippocrates. It was here that my greatest adventure would lie.

We took a morning bus ride to the Asklepieion there. Having the site virtually to ourselves, we wandered down the narrow path to the temple. On our right was the sea. On our left was the Asklepieion, built on a gentle hillside and surrounded by a beautiful grove.

It was remarkably well-preserved for being more than 2,000 years old. It consisted of three ascending terraces, culminating with what remained of the main temple and the patients' rooms. I explored the site with great excitement.

I imagined myself walking in the footsteps of the great Hippocrates, and I recalled reading how these ancient "hospitals" were located in such lovely areas that their weary visitors began feeling better as soon as they arrived.

Taking it all in, I realized that one could still feel the health-giving powers present there. After reading about such places for so long, I was awe-struck to finally see this one, and it vividly brought to life for me the objects of half a lifetime's study. I shall never forget it.

Steven Speaks lives in Annapolis.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU

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My Best Shot - Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

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Readers Recommend - Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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READERS RECOMMEND

Zion National Park, Utah

Michael Cast, Edgewood

When Mormon pioneers first beheld this sublime landscape in Utah's red-rock country, the scenic splendor before them evoked a biblical Zion in the wilderness. So they bestowed biblical names on its natural features. The road that leads into this spectacular park takes drivers past huge sandstone and limestone formations. For years I had longed to see Zion, and now I carry images of the park in my mind and hope to return someday. There are many more trails to explore.

Baja, Mexico

Morton Goldberg, Baltimore

Every winter, Pacific gray whales migrate from Alaska to San Ignacio Lagoon in the Baja peninsula of Mexico to give birth. Amazingly, the animals enjoy a good head scratch, as in this photo of my son and a wild baby whale. This behavior is even more noteworthy when one considers that humans were slaughtering these gentle, inquisitive animals only two generations ago.

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