07.02.2013 - 07.02.2013 13 °C
(Our photos got a bit mixed up the last few days -- sorry about that -- hope it wasn't too confusing.)
Walk, walk, walk. That’s what we did today, getting a real feel for Athens, its ruins and its local colour. Athens has a metro; however, the centre is quite accessible by foot so we elected for that instead. Since the mini mart near our place yesterday proved so expensive, we had a quick breakfast of the few items we did purchase (yoghurt and fruit) and headed out to see the sights.
On the way to the Acropolis, we happened upon the first of many vendors selling a I’ll-grab-one-on-the-way-to-work staple: the koulouri, a bread ring that is a bit slimmer than a bagel and covered in sesame seeds. Plain but tasty. The carts would also usually contain donuts covered in white sugar. (We tried both of course.) Apparently, breakfast isn’t a big meal in Greece, and many Greeks just have coffee with one koulouri.
As we walked closer to the Acropolis, it became windier and windier, and, by the time we reached the top, we had resigned ourselves to a very blustery day, along with Pooh. There were just a few other visitors to the site, some standard guides (official and unofficial) and the obligatory few dogs. Much of the ruins are under restoration, with scaffolding abounding. It’s difficult to get a good vantage point from which to take a classic shot of the Parthenon. While it’s still grand to see, we were a bit perplexed as to why the attention is always drawn to that temple and not the one below it on the hill (the Temple of Hephaestus), which is in much better repair. I guess it’s all about location, location, location. The Acropolis commands an outstanding view of Athens so allowed us to identify its true colour. Hannah likes to identify cities by colours: while Paris is ‘grey’ and Rome is ‘red,’ Athens is a ‘white’ city. It must seem even more so when the sun is brilliantly shining. The Parthenon was built in the fifth century B.C. as a temple to Athena and the rock on which it stands was for many centuries the most important religious centre of Athens. The sheer size of the former temple is imposing, making it worth the visit. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the classic white look of the structure but it actually used to be a riot of colour, in red, white, blue and gold. It’s hard to picture now but it may have sold more postcards if the pollution and natural elements over the years hadn’t lightened it so much.
From the top of the hill, we could see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was restored with marble in the 1950s and is often used for concerts. I recall looking down upon it from our hotel room when we were here twenty years ago and hearing the symphony. It’s a beautiful venue and it’s heartening to see Greece use their ancient sights as spectacular backdrops for today’s operas, symphonies and theatre. We gave the ancient agora (marketplace) a quick visit and marvelled at the largely intact Temple of Hephaestus that I mentioned before.
The winds were chasing us off the hill and our stomachs were encouraging us to start our midday hunting and gathering routine. As we navigated through the Athens Flea Market and Athens Central Market, we got some ideas for lunch. We had originally wanted to eat in one of the ‘working class restaurants,’ as the ones in the market had been described. However, after seeing some local gentlemen partaking in traditional patsas soup, we admit we chickened out. The main ingredient is tripe or intestines and ‘patsas’ means ‘lower foot’ as the Greek version of the dish can have calves feet included. Instead, we ate at a deli, having cheese pies, pizza, and sausage rolls. We felt it was safer to support tradition in the dessert department and went into a specialty shop whose main offering was ‘loukoumades,’ Greek donuts with syrup. Mind you, we still deviated from tradition in two ways: we chose the chocolate hazelnut cream topping instead of the syrup and we shared the plate of seven donuts (most customers were having a single plate each!).
The last venue beckoning us was the Greek Parliament. We ensured we arrived before the top of the hour as that is when they have the changing of the guard. It lasts only 7 or 8 minutes but is quite the show, with high goose-stepping and balancing antics from both the incoming and outgoing guards. This is further enhanced by their skirt-like outfits and pompom-decorated clogs. The pigeons also seem to participate in the choreography - check it out.
We retired to our apartment for several hours to rest after the five or six hours of walking. The rains then started to come in force and we were treated to a thunder and lightning show. There's no way we were going out on that balcony, with the lawn chairs whipping about in the wind. Eventually, we had to venture out for food. Our host had recommended a local, inexpensive taverna not far away so we stepped out to find it. The downpour increased and the rivers of water in the streets threatened to drench our shoes. As it was, in the few minutes it took us to get to the place, our pants were soaked. The taverna was dry and warm, and the plates of stuffed eggplant, tomatoes and peppers along with the girls' pasta brought our smiles back. The real treat for me and Ben was the dessert offered on the house, a bowl of thick, creamy Greek yoghurt served with stewed grapes in syrup. It was outstanding and has me craving more just as we are about to leave this interesting country.
At the risk of making this entry too long, I should say something about the Greek language. It's quite interesting as it uses a different alphabet than ours, as most of you would know. Since Math uses many of the Greek letters, due to my background, I already knew most of the letters and their pronounciation; with a bit of a refresher and Hannah learning as well, we have been able to decipher most road and street signs and some elementary items on a menu. As Hannah says, she can now 'read' many things but doesn't have a clue what it all means! It's really come in handy as the street signs in small towns are only in Greek while the tourist maps usually note them in English.