Athens

Trip Start Sep 13, 2010
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10
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Trip End Sep 30, 2010


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Where I stayed

Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Friday, September 24, 2010

Today we decided to tackle the Acropolis first. This way we could get the climbing out of the way when we were most energetic.  Our hotel is located at the bottom of the hill and it is only about a 10 minute walk to the ticket booth.  After asking all over Greece for a discount for Mom's tickets and getting no sympathy, I decided not to even bother asking this time.  When the lady realized Mom was deaf she returned half of the money and said she was free.  Go figure!

"Acropolis" means “upper city”.  It is surrounded by a wall and is the place where everyone sought refuge in times of invasion.  Most of the sacred buildings in the city are placed there because it is the safest and most secure place in the area.  The front gate is very impressive even though it is missing its roof and many of its columns.  Looking to the right we could see a small temple to Athena Nike which used to house a statue of Athena which commemorated the Athenians victory over the Persians.  It was dismantled by the Turks in 1686 to use as a platform for a large cannon.  Since then it was rebuilt, taken apart and then rebuilt again.  I could see some workers sanding the columns as it is in its final stages of restoration.

Upon entering the gate the first thing that struck me was how it felt like I was walking through a construction site.  There are at least 4 cranes up there, one inside the Parthenon itself.  There are piles of marble pieces, all numbered, waiting to be reassembled I guess.  You can see the Parthenon up the hill a bit and to the right.  It was originally built to house a giant statue of Athena.  Greeks were big into their temples for the gods back then.  It took 9 years to build and it was completed in 438 BC.  From a temple, it became a church, a mosque, a storage facility for Turkish gunpowder, and eventually in 1687 when Venetians bombarded it from below a cannon ball hit the gunpowder and blew it up toppling the marble roof.  After that it was looted by several people including Lord Byron who took about of the statues and other marble works back to Britain where they are now housed in the British Museum.

The Parthenon is a real work of art.  While it looks perfectly symmetrical with straight lines, there are no straight lines on the building.  All of the columns are curved.  The corner columns are wider than the others.  Even the floor is curved.  The Greeks understood the mechanics of site and that to make a line look straight, it had to be curved.  It was the most perfect building for its time and it continues to fascinate researchers who continue to learn more secrets about its construction as the renovations continue… although they still don’t know how the ancient Greeks did it.

On the far end of the Acropolis site, you can see a Greek flag flying from a platform from which you can see all of Athens stretch out before you into the distance.  We could see the Olympic stadium in the distance and the Plaka district down below.  We tried to pick out different landmarks based on our literature.  It is said that when the Germans occupied Athens in WWII, the person who guarded the Greek flag which flew here was ordered by the Nazis to remove it.  He calmly took it down, wrapped himself in it and jumped to his death.  There is also a plaque next to this platform commemorating two eighteen year-old heroes who tore down the Nazi flag flying from the Acropolis on May 30, 1941. 

The final building of note on the site is the Erecthion which is considered the most sacred site where Poseidon and Athena had their contest over who would be the Patron of the city.  Poseidon thrust his trident into a rock and a spring burst forth.  Athena touched the ground with her spear and an olive tree grew.  Athena won and the city is named for her.  They still keep an olive tree growing there.  This building is best known for the Caryatids (columns of maidens) which surround a porch.  Four of the original Caryatids are housed in the Acropolis Museum and the fifth is in the British Museum (although Athens wants their marble statues back).

We then walked back down to the hotel to have a bit to eat.   I was hungry after all that tramping around.  Then we were off to the New Acropolis Museum which happens to be next door to our hotel.  There was a rush to finish this beautiful building before the Olympics in 2004 but it was not to be.  Upon excavating the site for the Museum, they found archaeological remains and then did a bit of redesigning to incorporate glass flooring so that you can see down into the “basement” where we could watch people digging, cleaning, and doing whatever they do to identify and preserve what they find down there.  The museum was excellent.  I was saddened to see the sorry state of all the statues and pottery that was found and transferred from the Acropolis.  They have an empty spot waiting for the missing Caryatid if the British Museum should ever agree to send it back.  My favourite part of the museum was an excellent video that was captioned in English which explained the history of the Parthanon, its construction and genius in design and the restoration efforts underway.  They say it will take another 30 years to complete. 

I was hungry again after this Museum and we found an excellent little caf across the street that had the most mouth-watering looking sandwiches to grill, mini pizzas, and quiches.  It took me a long time to decide and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

Then we were off to check out the Plaka.  This is the old part of the city where most of the streets are pedestrian and it is lined with shops.  If you enjoy shopping it is a feast of visual candy.  For me however, it was an overload of stuff.  There are vendors of all sorts from jewellers, to carpet weavers, sandal makers, painters, t-shirt shops, and lots of trinket shops with mini statues and Grecian urns.  Most of it was cheap and factory produced although there were some gems in there for sure.  We enjoyed a gelato as we strolled through the streets and made our way to the Roman Forum.  It actually reminded me a lot of Rome because it was an excavated block in the middle of the busy city with columns ruins to investigate.  One block away we were at Monastiraki square near the flea market.  Here we bought some fruit for tomorrow’s lunch and asked where we could find a bakery.  We were directed down a very quiet side street where we stumbled upon Melissinos Art.  We knew this was a special place when we looked in the window.  Inside, a very famous sandal maker crafts his sandals the way he was taught by his grandfather and then his father.  His store (opened 90 years ago) was the first in Athens to make these Greek sandals and the rich and famous come here to get theirs made.  There are dozens of sandal stores now in the Plaka.  Jackie Onassis, Sophia Loren, John Lennon, Barbara Streisand, Gary Cooper, Anthony Quinn, and Rudolf Nureyev have all been outfitted here.  I went in and had a chat with Pantelis Melissinos who is the current generation sandal maker (he is also an artist, playwright, poet and composer) and he asked if we had heard of him in Canada and came to seek him out.  I guess if you don’t know about his store, you would not normally go down this quiet road.  When you enter, you receive a large newsletter containing all kinds of news articles about this shop and its owner as well as some historical information.  Mom almost chose a pair.  I definitely would have purchased some if I could wear them.  However, my feet need special orthotics and I don’t think I would last more than 10 minutes in them.  If you do buy a pair (they are only 25-27 Euros up to size 9) he custom fits them for you.  There are 27 designs and he has a picture of the designs chosen by some of his famous clients if you would like to buy the same ones.  Very neat place.

We also passed by an interesting store with wood crafts from Olive Trees, some really amazing art stores with some very unique items that would suite an art collector with eclectic tastes, and a famous jewellery store called Byzantium which handcrafts their jewellery on site. 

We then made our way back to the hotel.  Our legs felt like they were going to fall off!  Mom took a nap, I wrote the blog, we ordered dinner into the room, and now we must pack and be ready to leave early as our drive arrives at 6:10am to bring us to the Pier.  I contacted my excellent Greek travel agent (Litsa at Fantasy Travel) today to make sure the pickup arrangements were confirmed.  Everything is arranged of course… and she said “Glad you are having a good time…. It will be even better on the islands!”

Imagine that.
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