Archive | March, 2016

Greek observations

31 Mar

As our time in Greece winds down–we leave for Croatia next Tuesday–I wanted to pull together a few of my observations/opinions/ruminations from our time here.  These are entirely my opinions, and I’m sure most of them could be disputed for hours, but just take them as observational and not points of contention or complaint.

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–I now know what it feels like to be semi-literate! Even when I figure out the Greek letters, I still don’t know what the words mean. It doesn’t help that some letters that look like Latin letters are pronounced as OTHER letters, e.g., an H is an E, a P is an R,  a v is an n, and an n is an e, too. Also, a B is pronounced like a V, and what seems to be a G is actually pronounced like a GR.  Thankfully, many, many Greeks speak English, and no one expects you to know Greek.  I am ashamed that I have learned only three words in Greek: “kalimera” (good day), “evaristo” (thank you), and συγγνώμη or “syngnómi” (I am sorry). This inability even to read out the words has already been a real obstacle, when trying to do any business on the internet.  Fortunately for the map reader, most signs are in both the Greek and Latin alphabets

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I have already written elsewhere about the famed Greek street cats. At the same time I like seeing them, and in so many varieties, I find it very distressing to see so many of them, begging and fighting and looking scroungy. It breaks my heart. The Greeks seem to be rather fatalistic about them. People do feed them, and some people do have indoor pets that are pampered, but there are just too many of them, and they lead a difficult life. A lot of them do seem to be in better shape than the alley cats back home, but a lot of them look terribly undernourished, with rheumy eyes and wounds. This little one became my favorite, even though he meowed most loudly at a restaurant in Chora, and begged most cheekily (including jumping on to the table). Because they are semi-feral, they will run away if you try to touch them, and I have already been scratched by one of the meanest ones when I tried to drop some food on the floor. Evy assures me that there are organizations and individuals who attempt to capture them and neuter them, but more needs to be done.

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–Every woman in Greece, apparently, gets regular pedicures, and probably manicures, too. When I told Evy that I had never had a pedicure (or a manicure, for that matter…), she looked at me as if I had said I never brush my teeth. They must consider it part of hygiene rather than pampering.

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P1030164–We have finally figured out how Greeks eat (at least kind of). We are still baffled by their late time frames–lunch at 3 or 4, dinner as late as 10:30, and no one going to bed until after midnight–but we now understand that they often eat socially: they order lots of plates of small things, like dolmades and taramasalata, and then share everything. (This is a photo of a more formal meal at Evy’s house, for Cheese Day, the beginning of Greek Lent).

There are also special breads for special days. We were here for the beginning of Orthodox Lent, and happened to be at an Athens bakery when they were making the bread you are supposed to have on that very day, “Clean Monday”. Everywhere we went on that day, people had this bread on offer.

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Fish–both in restaurants and in the markets–has been quite expensive. We don’t know if this is because of the season, or the lack of fish in the sea. Because of this, we have mostly been eating calamari, octopus, and small anchovies or sardines.

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–The Greeks, perhaps more so than any other people, are tremendously burdened by their past, ancient and more recent.  They hold grudges against all of the countries surrounding them, whether Turkey, Macedonia (call it Skopje, please!), Bulgaria, and even Albania. While these grudges may be warranted for past evils perpetrated against the people, such centuries-long pride and bitterness makes it difficult to move ahead. While tradition is important to maintain and nurture, and the Greeks have so much they should take pride in, moving into this difficult era may require some judicious forgetting and/or forgiving.

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As I have written before, the Greeks have been the most hospitable, the friendliest, the most accepting people we have met. The current mess with the EU, the refugee crisis, and their impossible economic situation has caused huge social upheaval that affects more than anyone the common people–the middle class, who are still suffering the most. Better minds than I have been stumped by this stalemate, but our hope is that the honest, freewheeling style of the Greek people will somehow endure.

Despite all the economic woes, even Athens seemed to us to be less prone to pickpocketing and gypsy scams than Spain or Italy. Evy tells us as well that the sight of homeless people on the streets is a very new thing for them. And on the island of Andros, where we have been for two weeks, I felt that it was totally safe and honest.

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–A huge percentage of the population, and certainly those servicing the tourist industry and young people, speak very good English. Such a marked contrast to the Spanish, where so few people of any age do.

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The transit system in Athens:  the Metro is excellent, clean, fast, efficient. The busses are another story.  Where we stayed had two bus lines supposedly running every 10 minutes or so.  They were never on schedule, and somehow or other, while we could usually catch one going down to the Metro, we almost always ended up having to take a taxi home, because the bus never came! How that is possible, I do not know!

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Greece DOES have winter weather, and if you are in one of the many places that has heavy winds, it can be pretty miserably cold. Come in April-June, when it should be lovely, and before the summer crowds.

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While the waters of the Aegean are luscious–clear and inviting and I expect wonderful to swim in–most of the Greek beaches are pebbly and/or small. Anyone used to Australian or even Californian beaches will be surprised and a bit underwhelmed by the beaches here–NOT by the water, but by the sands.  I know this might not be the case in some islands–I have only experienced a few–but I remember 50 years ago being surprised by this geographical difference. Still: this is a water person’s PARADISE!

 

 

Andros

27 Mar
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Moon setting over Agia Marina, Aprovato, Andros, Greece. At dawn.

 

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Evy on the ferry to Andros, in Rafina.

With great anticipation, we left Athens with Evy to travel by ferry to her summer house, which she now rents out to visitors, on the Cycladic island of Andros. We knew very little about the place, but were assured by Evy that it was special and unlike the other Greek islands.

 

 

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Evy was right. Andros is special. As one travel writer has said, ”Andros is a serious island.” This is not a place like Mykonos or Rhodes or the other  more popular Greek islands, with flashy luxury hotels, and lots of bling, and touristy beaches for boozy partying. While there are lively little tavernas and beautiful quiet beaches with clear water for snorkeling that attract lots of visitors in the summer, Andros has no big resorts, and only a modicum of small-scale tourism. The second biggest island in the Cyclades after Naxos, Andros has been since the 19th century the home of Greece’s ship captains. Its main town on the east side of the island (called “Chora”, which means “main town”!) has many solidly prosperous houses and other evidence of its rich heyday. The east side, where the ferry comes in at Gavrio, has small towns with old-fashioned guest houses and summer homes. Andros in the summer is more likely to attract Greek families than the foreign party crowd.

Perhaps because of this history–one guidebook  says that the ship captains and their descendants made a deal with the farmers on the other side of the island to keep out the worst of the resort folks–Andros has remained an authentically Greek island, with real residents who continue to live off the land and without enormous development. This means that one can still find untouched beaches occupied only by a taverna where local andros_gb&donkeyresidents congregate, local produce and products sold in the shops, and all manner of livestock roaming the hills. George was thrilled to help out a farmer trying to  capture his runaway donkey on the road; and the next day he saved a goat whose horns were stuck in a fence. Bee hives appear all over the hills, and we were able to special-order a fresh rabbit for dinner at the local restaurant in the town of

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Batsi, spelled in Greek “Mpatsi”.

Batsi.

You can see that we’re excited by this experience: I’m getting ahead of myself in this narrative. Let me go back a bit to talk about Andros’s natural setting a little more.

 

 

Evy’s house is in the village of Aprovato, about 10 km. from the port of Gavrio–so one needs to rent a car to get around (there are several rental agencies right off the ferry

landing–we are now driving a Fiat Panda!). The house is up a hill that looks out over the sea; on a clear night, you can see the lights of Athens far in the distance.  And here is the view from her veranda:

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The hill is the site of Ypsili, an archaeological excavation of a large settlement that was there in the Geometric Age of the Iron Age–that is, the 10th century B.C.!  As Evy says, one can sit at night and imagine the people who lived there so long ago. The photo above of the moon setting at dawn captures some of that cosmic feeling, too. Sometimes a bit spooky, actually.

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Channeled ravine in Batsi (spelled ”Mpatsi” in Greek).

The island’s coastline has continually sweeping vistas, and sometimes little roads down to beaches, and a whole set of well-marked hiking trails that lead to ruins or monasteries or the remains of watermills and windmills. Andros is also different than other Cycladic islands in that it has an abundance of water, with little streams and gushing waterfalls visible along the hillsides. The town of Batsi even has a channeled spring running along its steps through its neighborhoods; and springs provide places to fill bottles with water at several spots around the island.

 

Since we have been here in early, early spring–and a cold and rainy one at that–we haven’t been able to sample the waters for swimming, inviting as they have been. While the weather has been dismaying to Evy–”I told you to come later in the year!”–the biggest advantage, aside from no summer crowds, has been seeing the fantastic display of wildflowers. I just can’t get over the fact that snapdragons and iris grow wild here, springing out of the sides of walls and rockfronts. Daisies, chamomile, wild pea, thistle, and a host of other delightfully colored blossoms are bursting out all over the place right now.

 

Andros has two distinct architectural or structural forms. The first is the result of the geology of the island, and the other developed as a local aesthetic preference. Every hill and valley on the island contains amazing stone walls, built out of the shale rocks and schist that are readily available everywhere. The local builders have created amazing walls, usually without mortar, known as aimasies, that fit in so spectacularly with the P1040079landscape that it is difficult sometimes to distinguish the walls from either ruins or natural formations! This style has now been translated into modern wall-building, evidence of which can be seen surrounding the nicest hillside homes and hotels. Truly stunning.

 

 

The second architectural feature specific to Andros is their method of finishing their stucco buildings. At some time in the 19th century, or perhaps even earlier, Andriots began to create a striated ”sardine” surface on their exterior walls, whether for dovecotes (another delightful feature of the island’s landscape are these castle-like structures to keep pigeons and squab) or the finest houses. They have continued to use this method–apparently done originally with a thumb rubbed across the surface–a characteristic for which the island residents are proud.

 

The natural setting, then, is bucolic and alluring and beautiful, but with one major drawback:  WIND.  Andros is so blustery that it is known as the Isle of the Winds, and the neighboring island of Evia is supposedly the home the Aeolus, god of the winds. We have already experienced fierce gusts–the day after Evy left for Athens, the ferry didn’t run because the gales were 8 on the Beaufort scale.  When the sun is shining, these “breezes” can be refreshing, and keeps the summer heat at bay. But if it is at all overcast or rainy, this windiness can be downright treacherous and bone-chilling. We have met a delightful couple who retired here from San Francisco–he is Greek-American, so can speak the language and they have built a home on his father’s inherited land. They are so enthusiastic about the place and are trying to persuade us that we should move here. It is extremely tempting, believe me, but I do think that the winds would get to me after a while.  That is, of course, not the only hesitation, and we are aware of all the problems that could arise–but the possibility is seriously worth considering.

We had planned to be here for only a few days, then head out to other places, either in northern Greece or off to Istanbul. But we have become so relaxed, so enchanted, with this place that we have decided to stay for another week! This is the first time in our travels that we have been 1) in a separate house without neighbors in other apartments, or people to be responsible for; 2) not in an urban setting; and 3) somewhere that invites simply taking it easy. After 7 months in cities and on the road, I think we need a dose of nature and solitude.

That’s not to say that Andros doesn’t have community and culture. In Chora, we found–as only nerdy librarians can–an amazing library, based on the collection of Theophilos Kairis (1784-1853), an Andros native who became a priest, philosopher, and finally hero to the cause of Greek independence in the 1820s (he died in prison after being excommunicated from the Orthodox church for his “heretical” beliefs). He left his remarkable collection of books in all languages to his native town, where they are now part of a public library housed in a beautiful Neoclassical building that was once the home of one of those Greek sea captains who favored this island.

The town also has a first-rate archaeological museum, with excellent displays of artifacts found on the digs on the island, including a magnificent Hermes sculpture (a Hellenistic copy of a 4th-century B.C. original) found at Palaiopoli, as well as a quite edgy contemporary art museum, donated by the Goulandris family, another of the shipping magnates.

And, of course, there are the Andriots themselves. We were so lucky to be here on March 25, Greek Independence Day (celebrating liberation from the Ottoman Turks), which is also an important religious holiday, The Feast of the Annunciation. Just as it is in Australia on ANZAC Day, being in a small town for its festivities is very poignant and sweet. All the town’s children were dressed in traditional Greek costumes, the procession began at the church where everyone was blessed, and a town band played marches before the singing of the national anthem at the main square’s placing of wreaths on the memorial statue in honor of Andros’s war dead. Delightful.

Thank you, Evy, for introducing us to such a treasure of an island!  We have been enriched. And what can beat an Andriot goat sunning himself to end this missive?

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Napflion

24 Mar

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After our thoroughly stimulating visit to Mycenae, Evy insisted that we go into Napflion for lunch at the culture and craft center where she has friends and participates in exhibitions and workshops. The cultural center, called Fougaro, or Chimney, is the brainchild of a woman who is heir to a bauxite fortune, and is located in an old canning

factory. We were most impressed! The site is enormous, and includes not only a hip and well-designed cafe with good food, but art workshops for kids and craftspeople, and an amazingly good art library, with current subscriptions to all the art magazines and The New Yorker and TLS. And this in a seaside town of about 10,000!

But Napflion is special. Here the First Hellenic Republic was founded, the Constitution was written, and the town was the Greek State’s capital from the end of the revolution in 1821 until 1834. Before that it was ruled by the Venetians from the 13th century until the 18th century. Its location on the sea has made it more cosmopolitan than its size would indicate. And what a lovely location!

Walking around the town, one sees substantial and prosperous buildings dating from the Neoclassical era, and into the mid-19th century–the kind of houses that have disappeared in Athens. Its seaside promenade is classic:  overpriced fish restaurants and small tourist hotels line the harbor, and an old fort stands guard over the entrance to the port.

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It was on this walkway that Evy took the photo of us above. Here we are in Napflion, Greece, on our 42nd wedding anniversary!  (The hill above our heads is the site of a Venetian fortress/palace.) Not a bad place to be, eh?

Because Evy knows the place so well, she took us to one of her friends and colleagues’ napflion_weaverworkshop, an incredible weaver named Maria Gonidou. Her things were so elegant and we were so impressed with her extraordinary loom that I actually convinced George that he needed a scarf from her. So I was able to buy him an anniversary present of a hand-woven Merino wool scarf that I hope he has for many years to come.

 

 

Finally, Evy pointed out Napflion’s other current claim to fame:  it is the home to a host of napflion_worrybeadsmakers of one of Greece’s well-known commodities, worry beads! There must be 10 shops making worry beads of all descriptions and sizes. Who knew that they were made out of so many fine materials?

I can see why Napflion is a favorite resort town for Athenians:  only an hour and a half away from the city, and filled with beautiful buildings, interesting sites and good places to eat!

 

Mycenae

22 Mar

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According to Evy, the winter in Greece has been unbelievably mild (to their great relief–they can save on heating costs). But count on us to arrive as Athens decides to have a late bout of COLD and RAINY weather! I get the feeling I have somehow incurred the wrath of Athena, and she has loosed her weather gods to vex us!

But apparently Athena must have wanted us to see Mycenae, the legendary site of an ancient civilization, revered by the Greeks of the Golden Age (we’re talking 1600-1100 B.C. here, so a full millennium earlier than 5th-century Athens). Our trip to the Peleponnese Peninsula took place on a day of some clouds, but no rain, and  only mild winds. We also had the great good fortune to have as our guide Eleni Paleologu, an old friend of Evy’s who has worked at Mycenae for some 30 years and conducted many of the digs that have eleni&usuncovered the objects in the site’s museum. She probably knows more about Mycenean culture than anyone else around. And she is Evy’s lovely, dedicated friend as well!

We started by picking up Eleni in the village outside the Mycenean ruins, where she had taken pity on two Dutch travelers who couldn’t get to the site–so we took them in the car.  She’s that kind of person.

As we entered the site, Eleni first pointed out the hill behind us. From here, she said, hillfortroythe message of the victory at Troy was communicated by fire from Athens. Just to set the tone of where we are:  deep into the ancient past. All the names of places resonate with mythological and legendary  significance. And then there we were, at the Lion’s Gate! (See us above!) As we learned, this was the entrance to the royal complex of Agamemnon. The method of building, with these enormous conglomerate stones, is specific to Mycenaen culture, by which we mean the civilization that was here in a period from 1600-1100 B.C. Because the stones are so huge, people believed that the walls were made by Cyclops, hence the term Cyclopean. Eleni explained as well that the stone, with its conglomerate texture, was easy to cut flat, so favored by these early builders.

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Conglomerate stone from which the Cyclopean stones are made.

We were so lucky to have with us someone who knew the significance of the clumps of rocks and walls we were looking at, since otherwise we would not have been made so cognizant of the actual people who lived here so many millenia ago. Eleni is also aware of all the many interpretations that Classical scholars have made about Mycenae over the

years, and has her own interpretations gleaned from years of practical  experience on the digs. This was particularly helpful as we came to the gravesites where Heinrich Schliemann actually dug up the famous Golden Mask, amazing all scholars of the time by finding such a site (in 1876). He, of course, declared the mask to be Agamemnon’s,

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Schliemann’s discovery, which he called the Mask of Agamemnon. It is from an earlier date than Agamemnon, ca. 1500 B.C.

 

which it certainly was not, but the discoveries caused tremendous excitement, and led to more advanced methods of archeological work. I was surprised that Eleni was as forgiving of Schliemann’s charlatanry as she was. She also gave us several explanations for what the double stone walls surrounding the graves might mean. Her interpretation is that these were added at a much later date, as a kind of deliberate memorialization of the heroic figures buried here.

Because we were with Eleni, we were also able to enter the space that is believed to be Agamemnon’s quarters and throne room. While not so impressive now, their location, looking out across the plain to the sea, must have been glorious at the time. From here, one can also look out to the source of the palace’s water, which was piped into the complex through an advanced system of gravity-induced canals.

Walking down to the hill to the site’s museum, Eleni told us about other digs across the plain that she was still working on–so discoveries continue to be made. The Museum is a delight, filled with objects found on site, from oxhide shields to frescoes to articulated votive offerings. It is nearly impossible to comprehend the age of these objects, and I kept thinking about Alois Riegl’s ruminations on the origin of ornamentation and how such simple decoration can be traced across cultures.

Although nearly faint with hunger–we were sustained by freshly-squeezed orange juice from the kiosk in the site’s parking lot–we were now to experience the most powerful part of the day:  The Tomb of Atreus.

Predictably, the tomb’s connection to Atreus is spurious, a name erroneously applied by Schliemann, since the archeological evidence indicates that the ruler buried here was from a much later date than Atreus would have been. No matter, the tomb is unbelievably impressive, with a stone lintel above that weighs 120 tons. Our visit was somewhat disrupted by hordes of chattering teenagers, on a field trip and out of control. Still, the space feels sacred and awe-inspiring. Some have felt that it was frightening in its size and space, but I was just overwhelmed by its architectural power.  And again, those stones!

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We continued our trip to the lovely seaside town of Napflion, home of the First Hellenic Republic, site of the writing of the Greek Constitution after the Revolution of 1821. Alas, I am now in the land of very bad internet connectivity issues, so cannot reliably upload any photos to include. So I will have to wait until we are on firmer cyberspace surroundings to recount our time since Mycenae.

 

Sounion

14 Mar

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A few days ago, despite the fact that I have a voice-stopping cold, Evy and we planned to go to Cape Sounion, the southernmost tip of the Greek mainland about an hour and a half by car from Athens. The site is famous for its Temple of Poseidon, 440 B.C., situated on the edge of a cliff looking out to the sea. Every tourist comes to this site, preferably at sunset, as I did 40 years ago. We picked up Evy’s friend Renna along the way south out of town, and drove along the sea–the Aegean Sea–around windy roads and past little beaches and coves, with views out to the islands closest to the shore.

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And then it was there!  Silhouetted against the sky on its promontory. Because it is still quite cool and windy (note to self: come to Greece next time in April or May!), there were far fewer people here than when I came here some 40 years ago.  As we drove up to

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In the distance, the island of Makronissi

the entrance, Evy and Renna pointed out to us the island of Makronissos, saying that it was the island where the Communists were exiled by the dictatorship after World War II. Ostracism seems a particularly Greek way of dealing with its so-called dissidents. Here’s the sad story of that time:

http://www.greektravel.com/greekislands/makronisos/

Aside from the lack of tour bus crowds, the other nice thing about coming at this time of year was the profusion of wildflowers.

When I was here 40 years ago, you could walk into the Temple–and see where Byron reputedly carved his name–but it is now fenced in. But no matter, the structure and the location is just overwhelmingly wonderful. Evidence of other structures around the main temple indicate that the site was a major complex for offerings and sacrifices, and would have housed sculptures and altars as well.

Built as a shrine to Poseidon in 444-440 B.C., the site is, according to legend, on the cliff where King Aegeas watched for his son Theseus’ ship to return after fighting the Minotaur on Crete. If he survived, Theseus was to hoist a white sail instead of a black one; although victorious, Theseus forgot his promise to his father. Seeing the black sail, Aegeas believed his son to have perished, and so threw himself off the cliff into the sea (which is why it is called the Aegean Sea). For millenia, this tale has been told to children, I’m sure, to remind them to pay attention to their parents–”just remember to call, that’s all I ask”!

Renowned for the beauty of its sunsets, we came late enough in the day to experience that moment. While the setting sun wasn’t that spectacular, the view was still stunning. Since this was a site dedicated to invoking the god of the sea to protect travellers on the water, George brought an offering to Poseidon, giving me a chance to catch him in a romantic pose with the isle of Patroclos in the background.

And we stayed late enough to capture some magnificent atmospherics as the sun set, and the clouds played against the darkening sky. Finally, as night set in, the Temple was illuminated, and the smiling moon appeared above it. The whole scene reminded me of Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead.

Magical!

By the time we got back to Athens, my cold had entered that ”go to bed!” phase, and I spent the next two days doing nothing but sleeping and coughing.  But I wouldn’t have missed Sounion for the world. Thank you, Evy, for your magnificent gift to your American friends!

Around the Acropolis

10 Mar

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Yesterday did not start out auspiciously. We have both hit the wall, as they say: really exhausted from travelling, disoriented by being in a country where we have to learn a new alphabet, missing a new grandchild, and both of us sick besides. We nonetheless persisted, and after checking online (twice!) to make sure the Acropolis Museum was open late, we set out to go there at about 3:30 in the afternoon (Greeks do everything

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Acropolis Museum at closing time.

hours later than everyone else!).  By the time we got to the Museum–we were told it was closing! Apparently winter hours have not been correctly posted on the English-language sites.

By then it was 5 o’clock, it was threatening to rain, and the Metro workers were going on strike the next day. But we regrouped, and decided to walk around the Acropolis to the Temple of Hephaestos and back to the Metro and home.

 

What an opportune decision! Along this arcadian walk around the Acropolis, there were few people, no crowds, no tourists–just us, a few Athenians out walking their dogs or strolling in the park, some quiet music wafting from somewhere, and otherwise stillness. We were able to walk up to the base of the Acropolis, and touch the Stoa of Eumenes, built in the 1st century B.C.

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George at the Stoa of Eumenes

We could also look into the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD, destroyed in 267 athens_acropolis_theatreofherodesAD, and rebuilt in the 1950s. This is where the Athens Festival happens; Maria Callas sang here in 1957 in a famous performance at its re-opening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And all along this route were ruins and evidence of ancient life. These ancient pots stacked up against the Stoa looked like they were still in use.athens_acropolis_pots&poppies

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked around the side of the Areopagus Rock, toward Thisseo Park, and were delighted to find that it is a wildly natural preserve right up against the Acropolis. Up on the other side of the Acropolis was Filopappou Hill, where, my map told us, Socrates’ Prison Cell is located. Throughout are ruins, some Roman, some Greek, some Byzantine. We saw a mosaic floor from a Roman house, right in the middle of a meadow and walked on by magpies; a Sanctuary of Pan, the cult of the semi-deity of fertility and sexuality; and several other bits of ancient debris. Even the trash cans here were charming: one was made into the shape of a Byzantine church!

 

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A trash can near the Acropolis.

 

From here one also gets a fantastic view over to Mt. Lycabettus rising above the Stoa in the Agora. And all this for free!

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Mt. Lycabettus, with the Stoa of Attalos Museum in front

 

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We then walked over to the magnificent Temple of Hephaestus,  god of fire and metal-work, built in the 5th century B.C. and still standing largely as it appeared then.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, we walked back to Monastriki Station, where some of the best of the antiquities found on site are displayed. We love that each station exhibits the artifacts found in situ. athens_monastrikistn_antiquitiesAnd what finds they are! Can you imagine what it must be like to try and build anything in Athens? Every time you dig anywhere, you will find the most amazing treasures!

 

 

 

 

In the end, then, our seemingly abortive expedition turned into a tranquil walk through what our friend Evy describes as a “place of Zen” in Athens. Really a quite dramatic and magical space. And always, always, the cats of Athens!

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Athens at the beginning

7 Mar

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Athens is not a pretty city, and it should have been the Paris of the East. I was here almost 50 years ago, and of course, hardly anything is recognizable from that time, but even so the city seems to have suffered more than it should at the hands of bad development, unplanned shoddy building, and now, serious neglect, given their financial woes. Our dear friend Evy, who is a lifelong resident of Athens, has pointed out all the places where beautiful old Neoclassical buildings and places were torn down in the 1970s to make way for ugly office blocks or cheap apartment buildings.

But the people! As I have said elsewhere, the Greeks must be some of the friendliest, most gracious people on earth, and what is happening to them now is simply unfair. I know the politics are so complicated, but this is my gut feeling: just unfair. They have not turned their backs on the hordes of refugees flooding into the country trying to get across to Northern Europe–and now those countries have closed their borders, and Greece is having to deal with the refugees stuck on the edges, and still landing on the islands.  Come on , European Union, help the Greek people!

Enough. Above is a shot from the neighborhood where we are staying, in Papagou. The suburb was built for the families of the Greek army, and is up against Mt. Hymettus, thus offering a relatively inner suburb with open fields nearby. Very pleasant. We are staying in the apartment of Evy’s friends, both of whom speak German–so we have an entire apartment house in which to live! It even has an avocado tree in the back yard.

Almost as soon as I arrived, my gastric issues erupted big time, so I have been pretty slow on the uptake. But we have been able to visit Evy’s lovely house, and meet her pets, her husband and her daughter.  Evy is deeply into patchwork and quilting; here she is holding the first quilt she made. She has been such a guide already!

After lunch at Evy’s, she drove us around the inner city, where we saw the few remaining old buildings, such as the National Library and the Parliament House, P1020232ironically built by an Austrian, Theophil Hansen, in imitation of Vienna’s Parliament,
which was, of course, modelled on ancient Greek edifices! Along the way, we saw policemen everywhere, some of them in P1020237full riot gear, going where we do not know. We did see some demonstrators protesting about the treatment of the refugees, and assumed that’s where the police were headed.

Today, after a very slow start, we did manage to make it to one museum. But first we took the Metro, which is very sleek, clean, and easy to use (if you can figure out Greek letters, it’s helpful, although most signs have both spellings). And each Metro station has a display of some of the artifacts uncovered while building the site. We’re talking REAL artifacts: the ones P1020239we saw at the Evangelismos station dated from the 1st century B.C., and included a pottery kiln and a part of a Roman aqueduct! We are still in awe of the fact that these are all ancient objects, that we are standing on ground where Pericles and Plato may have stood. We can’t wait to check out the other Metro stops!

 

 

Talk about old: we then went to the Museum of Cycladic Art, which houses one of the most complete collections of works from this ancient period. I love these elongated P1020264primitive female figures that date from 2700 B.C. The Museum is a real gem, four floors devoted to very early Greek (and Cypriote) culture. And the restaurant there is stunningly good: on light rations as I am, I had a pumpkin soup, and George had a fantastically elegant ceviche. The museum also has a very upscale shop, but unfortunately the jewelry does not include reproductions of the magnificent pieces in the collection!

Finally, we came home by Metro and bus, during which time we stopped at one of the many pleasant little green spaces around the city. George, et in Arcadia ego?

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