Είναι όλα τα ελληνικά μου

Foundations of the
Ancient world, built upon with
No respect for time.

Athens is... old. In certain places, finding oneself among the columns of the ancient agora or at the entrance to the temple of Hephaestos or gazing over the city from the Acropolis can lead to idle wonderings about what life must have been like for the denizens of the area thousands of years ago. It seems like it was fairly ill-planned: a hike up to the Acropolis in the midday sun fairly melts the skin off one's back, and the ancient Athenians certainly didn't have the luxury of the nearly brand-new subway stations that we have today to ferry them between the Tower of the Winds at the Roman agora and the temple of Olympian Zeus. Athens itself, though, does not seem to have given a thought to what once was. Crowding up around all the ruin sites are obnoxiously touristy (albeit delicious) Greek restaurants, and even simply houses in many places. It felt like the city had simply acknowledged that, yes, these places are important, but, no, we cannot stop progress for them. Still, their marbled magic is strong.

So I guess my narrative should start, as usual, at the beginning: waking up at to catch a bus/train combo to the airport in Frankfurt. I met Jeff Stuart (a former intern buddy from Google) there, and we bought chocolate (what else?) for breakfast and waited to board. The plane, run by Olympic Airlines, had a few awesome quirks: with our lunch (I know, right? lunch, served on a plane!), which was Greek food, we were given individually-sized packets of olive oil and vinegar for flavouring; the two languages spoken by the captain and stewardesses were English and Greek; and the logo was an interestingly modified version of the Olympic Rings. It was a nice flight, and we landed in Athens Airport, which, I think, was built for the Olympics, and so was quite nice and new. Travel between Schengen countries is super simple: there's actually a separate terminal for inter-Schengen flights that allows those passengers to bypass customs, etc., entirely. The sad thing about this was that it left me without a passport stamp from Greece. :(

Jeff and I had told Mathieu that we would wait for him, but due to some confusion about flight numbers and delays in various places, we managed to miss each other. We did, though, manage to find Jeff's friend, Ken, in
ATH, and we headed off to eat/explore. We found ourselves, after checking in to our respective hotels (Ken and Jeff's had a rooftop pool with a view of the Acropolis!), in Syntagma Square, home to the Greek Parliament building. There seemed to be some kind of commotion on the steps of the Parliament, which I naturally wanted to check out. Hordes of motorcycle- and scooter-mounted policemen down the street deterred immediate investigation, so we came back about 30 minutes later. Fine, fine, fine... wait, my eyes are burning.

Yup, it was tear gas. We checked the news later, and apparently there had been riots started because a police officer had torn the Qu'ran of a protester in front of the Parliament building. Fascinating. By the way, tear gas burns like crazy. It feels like you've taken spicy pepper extract and smeared it all over your eyes and the insides of your nostrils. And we weren't even in the centre.

Then it was time for dinner, and it was heavenly. I had some amazing authentic Greek gyros, saganaki, and ouzo. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. ^___^

Since the sun had set by this point, it was time to do some exploring. Ken, who had been there a day already, mentioned that "all the sights" were lit up by night, so of course we wanted to see the Acropolis. It's not possible to go up at night, but we did get some great snapshots of the dramatic columns (link, as usual, will be later). We were also trailed incessantly
by one of the stray dogs that seem to be (sadly) very common in Athens. I felt bad for him. :(

A mysterious note on my door at the hostel requested, with my name spelled correctly,
no less!, my presence at another room, so, my curiosity piqued, I went and knocked. Matheiu opened the door! So we set out as a foursome for Saturday's tour of the sights.

Sidenote: being a student is awesome. An all-day metro pass in Athens is 3€, and a ticket to get in "all the sights" just 6€. A ticket to see the National Archaeological Museum of Athens was 6€: a steal. If you're a student traveling in Europe, definitely make sure to get an International Student Identity Card. It's so worth it.

So, the sights! We started out with... the Olympic Stadium. I'd brought a Frisbee on the trip in hopes of being able to play where the greats had, but it was not to be. Unfortunately, no visitors are allowed on the stadium ground. Only close enou
gh for pictures. :( Next up was the Presidential Palace, where interestingly-attired guards stood watch. It was the same story with these guys as I assume it must be for the guards at Buckingham Palace, though. They did their jobs so nicely and had to deal all day with people trying to get them to laugh, smile, or move.

Across the street from the Presidential Palace was the National Botanical Gardens. Greece is approximately the same latitude as Indiana, but since it's on the Mediterranean there were awesome palm trees and orange trees (with oranges!) to be seen. My dad would've gone crazy for the bamboo, too.

Next was the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which I believe I mentioned before. Thi
s site was not so exciting; all that remains of it are a few columns, one of which was knocked over. The guards here were really gripey, too. They actually made us delete some pictures that we took of ourselves doing "inappropriate" things (all we'd done was stand on some marble pedestals and posed as a smiling group, but I guess that we weren't supposed to touch the marble? I'm not sure, and they didn't speak enough English to explain.).

A walk through the centre of the old city (not the oldest city, but the oldest modern part, anyway, which was lined with beautiful old-school balconies and whitewashed, red-roofed houses) led us to the ancient agora and the Roman agora in quick succession. They were interesting sights, but it was the middle of the day and none of us was particularly in the mood to wander around under sweltering heat and look at more ancient stuff.

The next stop, though, was fantastic. The Temple of Hephaestos? Totally rockin'. I would venture to say that I thought it was neater than the Parthenon, mainly due to the fact that since 1983 (according to signs) the Parthenon has been in a constant state of disassembly to fix damage that was done by archaeologists who previously "restored" it. The Temple of Hephaestos, though, was in great condition. I even braved the propriety guards to pull out a flowery bedsheet and wrap myself in it, toga-style, for a photo (that one will definitely go up here as soon as I can get it).

After that, the Theatre of Dionysus was on the path up to the Acropolis. I guess they still use it as a theatre sometimes, too. There's a large festival going on in Athens to celebrate ancient Greek culture (predictably, it starts next weekend), and some performances are going to be held there.

The Acropolis was f'awesome. The panorama of the entire city with the Mediterranean licking its edge was unspeakably impressive, and the Parthenon, despite its scaffolding accessories, seemed to be as proud a symbol as it ever was. The sun was shining, the gods were s
miling, and everything seemed to be okay.

Also atop the Acropolis was the Erectheus, which we had to pause to make immature jokes about.

After a day of walking around outside, we decided to spend our early evening walking around inside at the aforementioned National Archaelogical Museum. This seemed to be the place where all the statues rescued from ruins sites were taken, whether to protect them from too-eager tourists or acid rain (Athens is quite known for its smog). There were some good ones there, from every age of Greek creativity.

Then, more delicious Greek food. The local beer in Athens (and maybe G
reece, I'm not sure), is called Mythos, so I tried some of that with dinner this time. ...It sort of tasted like cheap, crappy, American beer, but oh well. Worth a go.

Nighttime exploration of the city this time was solely for souvenirs. I managed to pick up a statuette of the Birth of Venus (aka Aphrodite) for, um, Venus, and a pair of gladiator sandals (though mine are less, um, loud than that) for me. Woot for tourism dollars!

An early flight out of ATH necessitated very little sleep, but some time was devoted to gazing at the Acropolis from the rooftop pool. I'd never get tired of that view.


Valkyrie Savage said...

One last comment: if you have never been treated to hearing a Brit exclaim, "Bloody hell!" in earnest, I strongly urge you to find one and surprise him. Ken was good for this.

Post a Comment