Biddulph & District Genealogy & Historical Society Biddulph Grange

Margaret Fleming Brodie and Joseph Varley Roberts

Travelling to Greece.

Notes written on the T.S.S. “MOHAMED ALI EL-KEBIR” by Margaret Varley

Best method of reaching Marseilles.

Train Ferry this is possible - by arrangement with the KLM - you can go on board the night before day of sailing by paying for your meals - this is preferable.

1. No change from Victoria to Paris - passports and customs on train.

2. Don’t advise couchettes as you are liable to have upper berths in which it is likely to be unbearable stuffy as well as uncomfortably crowded - There is a long walk in Paris to the trains with couchettes - and a long walk from it to the customs at Marseilles your luggage goes by the other train and you have to wait half-an-hour till your luggage arrives - which involves cost of breakfast at Marseilles, as nowhere else to wait for luggage - we were not informed that we then had to take a taxi to the dock - and then 2 porters seized your luggage for the boat.

We were given a 3 berth cabin for us two - had two nice little beds, fitted basin, wardrobe, etc.

Sailing from Marseilles.

Marseilles harbour was full of laid up ships - also two Spanish ships which the wireless operator said would probably slip away some night with war material to Barcelona.

The first thing we noticed was the colours of the water - a deep indigo blue - we were allocated to Capt. Eliot’s table - a gentleman but cynical. Wireless operator pours out his woes to J. V. R.

We passed between Corsica and Sardinia in the early hours of the morning - just saw light house about 5 a.m.

We were soon out of sight of land, very little shipping visible, for more than 24 hours only saw one little sailing ship in the distance and a derelict rowing boat containing nothing but fishing tackle.

Wednesday November the 4th a lovely sunny morning quite warm - sat on deck and saw a school of porpoises leaping right out of the sea which Captain Eliot said used the be considered a sign of bad weather.

We had a great variety of fruit at every meal - green bananas and green tangerines both very sweet - fresh dates and figs besides delicious melons, apples, grapefruits and oranges.

In the evening of Wednesday there was dancing in the drawing room - and Stromboli became visible at 11 p.m. emptying intermittently. Varley woke up between 3 and 4 a.m. and found we were just entering the Straits of Messina - we hastily dressed and went outside - we had a good view of Messina and passed Scylla and Charybdis. (Balfour’s saying ? “avoiding Scylla of _____ and Charybdis of ______ by steering a tortuous course” and on the Italian side saw Reggio in a blaze of electric light - after passing through the straits we found next morning that nearly everyone spent the forenoon at best on their back a we encountered a gale of wind blowing off the land - only five people turned up for breakfast and we were the last of the number: the storm did not abate until the afternoon and left most of the passengers and a portion of the crew hors de combat - and I was the only lady at dinner and only about 7 or 8 men.

November the 5th.

When we got up we found we were passing the Greek coast high barren rocky coast line - Later on a storm approached us form the direction of the land with a wonderful display of forked lightening - we watched its play for some time in the distance and gradually it approached us the driving rain became so heavy that visibility was so poor that the ship had to slacken speed and blow the siren.

As we approached Piraeus about 3 p.m. we had an excellent view of Atticus - the Acropolis was pointed out to us with ______ behind - as soon as we berthed we went ashore with £1 worth of Greek money a Guide seized us and said he would take us to the Acropolis and show us the sights and bring us back to the boat within an hour for one English pound - he took our courage in both hands and entered his car with trembling hearts wondering if we should see the ship again - we have been regaled with gruesome stories of being held to ransom on the return journey from the Acropolis. There had been a heavy rain storm in the morning and the poor part of the city had been flooded - anything more pitiable than these wretched shacks - of wood and corrugated iron, no bigger than chicken houses actually standing in water - (floods after rain) would be difficult to imagine - Armenian refugees - unpopular with the Greeks - they don’t want them in their cities and the government having offered them farms in the country refuse to do anything to improve their condition in Atticus.

Atticus from the sea is a city of brown and white houses - with some large new wondrous buildings a barracks and a hospital - rising abruptly out of the centre of the city is the brown hill of the Acropolis - with the white pillars of the Parthenon.

As soon as we stepped ashore at Piraeus we were surrounded by a swarthy crowd of men who wanted to sell us, sponges, sweets, hideously dressed dolls supposed to represent their native costume - shaking ourselves free of these we got into a car and driving round Phaleron Bay we got on to the fine motor road about 5 miles long that led to Athens.

Modern Athens.

Modern Athens is a very fine European city with broad straight streets, food shops, tram cars and motor buses, hundreds of cafes with tables over-flowing to the pavement, beautiful public gardens full of palaces too (?) the street lined with pepper trees with their brilliant red pods.

We were surprised at the size of Athens a German architect was employed to plan the wide street, the squares and boulevards in 1834 - it is a city of over 400,000 people - some very fined houses in Gardens a painful contrast to those miserable shacks - there had been a storm a few hours before we landed and many of the streets we piled with stones and red mud washed down by the torrential rain (and it can rain there).

Some of the streets are very steep and in parts only a series of steps - the centre of the city is Constitution Square - one side of which is a huge ugly old Palace - built by a King who I think they said married a German princess - it is a great flat hideous building now used as Parliament House here too is the Grave of the Unknown Warrior guarded by soldiers in their National costumes, stiff white kilts, embroidered jackets, woollen tights and red upturned shoes with pom-poms on the toes, leaning on their rifles. They look most picturesque.

In the course of our drive we passed many interesting places but Hadrian’s Circle stands out in my memory. When the Emperor Hadrian conquered Athens he intended to rebuild the city in Roman style, but when he saw the beauty of the Greek Circle he decided to leave that standing and build another Roman city below it - the Circle led from one city to another - we drove up a steep rough rocky incline on the top of which stood the Parthenon on the summit of the Acropolis - exquisite almost ethereal in its beauty - tall pillars of deep creamy golden colours it was here that 25 centuries ago stood the great wooden figure of Athena - though made of wood (because it was the traditional material for statues [Note the wooden figures in Fishmongers Hall] not the smallest particle of wood is visible - face and hands were plates of ivory, eyes of precious stones and tresses of gold hair fell from a gold helmet - the gold plates on this statue weighed 40 talents. Sailors looked for the light on the gold point of the spear which Athena held high above her head, her sandal were on a level with a man’s eyes and her helmet plume reached the roof.

In the Erechtheion now in ruins are to be found the famous Caryatides (vide St. Pancras Church). While J. V. R. climbed up here I stood and looked round the dark hills of Macedonia stretching far into the distance - the narrow mountain road leading Eastwards to the famous plains of Marathon but what thrilled me most was a huge rock separated from the Acropolis by a narrow path and one ancient staircase of some 15 or 16 steps leading to the top which had been roughly levelled - this is the Aeropaus the ancient meeting place of the famous assembly before whom Paul delivered his famous speech to the Athenians - “our” St. Paul as our guide told us. We saw in the distance the market place where St. Paul “disputed.”

Curiosity of Athenians.

Curiosity “strange thing” and mutual restlessness is characteristic of Athenians.

“Unknown God” 600 years before a plague visited Athens, they sacrificed to every God they knew - at last got a herd of black and white sheep, took to the Aeopaques (?) let them stray, wherever one found and altar built to “unknown god” and sheep sacrificed - plague ceased.

In Athens St. Paul alone, despised and rejected, seemed a failure, apparently only 2 a man Dionyuis member of Cereopagues and a woman named Domaries - legend says sent by Clement to preach in France and became as Deuys patron saint of France.

Had to hurry back, past many dark side roads, old vine growing over trellis work = cafe of posher sort. So hot in summer Athenian dines at 9 p.m., up all night, sleeps in the afternoon, all shops shut.

Passed Lord Byron’s monument, hero of Greece also old ______ rebuilt by _______ millionaire. House where Marina was born.

Local and Family History for the Biddulph area

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