National Geographic : 1939 Jun
LOOKING DOWN ON EUROPE AGAIN Crisscrossing Air Tracks Reveal Nature's Scenic Master pieces and Man's Swift-changing Boundaries and Structures BY J. PARKER VAN ZANDT IT WAS a little after daybreak when we taxied out of the tiny harbor of Rhodes in an Ala Littoria seaplane, bound for Athens. The head wind which had held us back the afternoon before had died com pletely away and the sea at that early hour was glassy smooth, making take-off difficult. With motors roaring, the twin floats in which we were seated raced along in a smother of spray, bouncing several times before finally breaking the surface suction. We had left our steamer at Suez. As we plowed slowly up the Red Sea en route from the Orient, the urge to savor once more the bracing freedom of the air had swept over us irresistibly (map, page 794). Some 14 years before, I had made a com prehensive survey of European airlines. At that time, however, no air route existed across the Mediterranean.* Today one can choose between half a dozen services connecting the Near East with Europe. We selected Ala Littoria in order to visit both Rhodes and Athens. GREEN ISLES OF THE AEGEAN Flying at a low altitude, we watched the green isles of the Italian Dodecanese slip by beneath our wings, their rocky shore lines a riot of pastel colors under the trans parent water. Directly on our course the slender island of Amorgos lay dreaming shoulder-deep in the Aegean Sea. On its southern shore a thousand-foot cliff dropped sheer to the water's edge and a white-walled monastery, like an eagle's eyrie, clung to its face with a tiny footpath zigzagging down. We zoomed just over it, skimmed gaily across a glen where a blue-capped village clustered around the ruins of an old fort, and so out to sea again. As we neared the Grecian mainland, the weather grew unfavorable. The en * See "Looking Down on Europe," by J. Parker Van Zandt, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, March, 1925. chanting profiles of the Cyclades faded out in rain. Hugging the waves, we scudded past Piraeus to land twenty miles farther on in the more sheltered bay of Megalo Pefko. It poured as we drove back to Athens through dripping olive groves and we won dered if we should not have stayed with the plane, flying directly on to Brindisi. But when the sun came out that afternoon and we stood on the Acropolis under the shadow of the Parthenon, we knew we had made no mistake. MODERN ATHENS AN AERIAL CROSSROAD Modern Athens is a veritable crossroad of international airlines. From Durban, South Africa, and the Netherlands Indies; from Tehran, Hanoi, or Helsinki, almost half a score of services maintain direct schedules to the Grecian capital. Here Imperial Airways starts its African and Far Eastern networks, crossing the Mediterranean where the island of Crete affords an emergency refueling base. Air France stops on its six-day run from Paris to Indo-China; and K.L.M. (Royal Dutch Air Lines), en route from Amsterdam to the Antipodes. Deutsche Lufthansa calls on the way to Kabul; and L.O.T., the Polish line be tween Warsaw and Palestine. There is even a local Greek service to Salonika. Had we not been booked with Ala Lit toria for Italy, we should have liked to sample them all! Eleven passengers joined us at Tatoi ter minal, the combined military and civil air port on the plains north of Athens. While we fretted in the customs room, waiting for officials to clear our baggage, a big tri motored Savoia-Marchetti, which was to carry us to Rome, rolled up to the loading tarmac. A half-hour later we were at 13,000 feet above a billowy white sea. Occasional rifts in the cloud floor gave us fleeting glimpses of the Gulf of Corinth, a gigantic cleft between massive mountain ranges.