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Two Pairs-Two Different Days in Athens or Birds of a Feather

BY ABBY AND BEN, BUT MOSTLY ABBY (According to Abby).

sunny 17 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Today our group split up into two because of varied interests that people had. Hannah and my dad went off to enjoy an educational day full of history, while my mom and I set off to spend a day in the great outdoors. The first place that the two of us headed was the post office, as I had to send a super-secret postcard to a recipient who shall remain nameless at the moment. Mysterious business I know. After making a fool of myself while trying to buy a stamp the postcard was ready and mailed. As we were walking we noticed a small restuaurant, and as it was just noon we decided to take a seat. We each got a two euro gyros and some water, and enjoyed it a lot. It's important to have a large lunch in order to have a large supply of energy for the day.

After this we went to a large garden that housed fountains, trees, shrubbery and a small assortment of animals as well. We walked around for a little, noticing that, like most of the gardens we have seen on our trip, it was not as well cared for as most back in Victoria are. But even so I enjoyed it very much, especially when it came to the animals. We saw various species of birds including cockatiels, peacocks, roosters, geese and ducks. We also saw some goats with large horns, turtles and one lonely rabbit.

Greek Takeout

Greek Takeout

After the garden we decided to look at the shopping area that we had quickly passed by yesterday. We walked in and among the shops, pointing out any strange items that we saw to each other. As we walked we realised that we were a little hungry, even after our large lunch. It took us a good three quarters of an hour, but we finally located the shop we had gone into yesterday for donuts. We ordered the classic platter of six small donuts with a honey-like syrup and cinnamon on top. The two of us finished it in under three minutes. All this time I had a feeling that we were going to see my sister and my dad, and about thirty seconds after saying this to my mom, they walked right in the door. They too ordered a plate, but after trying some of the leftover syrup on our plate they decided to go with the same platter as yesterday, seven donuts with chocolate hazelnut sauce instead. A good choice I think, although I enjoyed both a lot. We talked for a while and my dad got himself a coffee before heading out again. My mom and I walked them to their next destination, and from there we went to the grocery store. We picked up a couple items for breakfast and some ingredients for salad as well.

When we got home my mom made a salad for the two of us, and soon the other half of our posse was home too. Tonight we plan to order in some gyros, because we feel it is best to end our time in Greece with some traditional take-out on a Friday night. Just because we're classy like that.

Ben's Not So Short Addition to this Blog Post

National Archeological Museum: Amazing Greek Bronze

National Archeological Museum: Amazing Greek Bronze

Hannah and I set off for the National Archeological Museum after a leisurely passing most of our morning in our apartment. Although Athens as a whole is large the most popular sites are all within walking distance of each other if you are not put off by a 3 kilometer stroll to your destination. What Athens lacks in signage it makes up in the incredibly detailed free tourist maps they give out so it is fairly easy to navigate on foot. The city streets are no more a jumble than in other cities we have been in so far.

Athens is a combination of characteristics we observed of Paris, Madrid and Syracuse (Sicily). It is like Paris in that businesses congregate in districts or streets with fabric sellers on one street, mechanics on another, hardware and household goods and appliances on yet another. The high noise levels are similar to that of Madrid and the streets have the same explosion of graffiti and grittiness that we found in Catania. Athens is in no stretch of the imagination a pretty city but it compensates for it in part by an abundance of hearty good food and generally good natured people.
Hannah had put the National Archeological Museum on her wish list for Athens. I knew before we left Victoria that Muriel wanted to pass on this museum since she had memories of tedium when we visited it 20 years ago. One of our favourite photographs from our trip back then was of a sleeping museum employee. Both Muriel and I had decided to skip Athens altogether for this trip but put it back on the itinerary so Abby and Hannah could have a chance to judge for themselves.

Antikythera Shipwreck: Half of the Statue perfectly preserved

Antikythera Shipwreck: Half of the Statue perfectly preserved

I was pleasantly surprised to find the archeological museum much improved from when I saw it all those years ago. The entire museum has been spruced up and the displays much better organized and labelled and perhaps judiciously culled. I remember from my first visit the mind numbing number of objects on display with little in terms of explanation. As before the Museum devotes a great deal of its space to the evolution of Greek sculpture over a 600 year period. Both Hannah and I found the bronze statues the most captivating. The funerary monuments were also very intriguing. Another highlight is a temporary exhibit dedicated to the Greek objects recovered from Antikythera shipwreck discovered in 1901 and more fully recovered in 1976 from the bottom of the Mediterranean. In addition to some fantastic bronze statues it is most famous for holding possibly the world’s oldest computer. Archeologists theorize that a badly corroded and decayed instrument consisting of a great assortment of gears that they recovered from the wreck computed the phases of the moon and eclipses many years into the future, as well as predicting the orbit of a number of planets. The complexity of the gear work is beyond what most clockmakers would use in the early 20th century. It appears that the true greatness of ancient Greece is hard to over emphasize.

After Hannah and I had spent three hours at the museum we were ready for a change of pace. I fondly recalled the warm donuts and Greek coffee I had enjoyed yesterday. I suggested to Hannah that we should try and relocate this shop on our way to visit the National Gardens. It was not necessarily a short walk to this place but some things are just worth the extra effort. Hannah and I wondered on the way to the shop if Muriel and Abby might think of returning to this shop as well (we had not discussed it that morning and we said yesterday that we probably wouldn’t ever be able to find it again). We couldn’t believe it when we walked in the door and the first people we see are Muriel and Abby sitting at a table with a very, very clean and empty donut plate. There is no doubt Muriel and I are meant for each other and that the kids have inherited our DNA. It was a true case of "birds of a feather flock together."

Athens Vista

Athens Vista

After hearing the report on Muriel and Abby’s visit to the National Gardens, Hannah and I decided skip the gardens and climb Lykavittos Hill instead. This hill is just behind our apartment and is one of the major green spaces in Athens the highest point in the midst of the city. Our timing could not have been better. The haze over Athens had cleared substantially. We could see Athens sprawling out in all directions and see the Mediterranean in the distance. Athens is almost uniformly made up block type apartment buildings around 6 stories high with facades of white or very pale stucco. There is little greenery between buildings or along streets that are visible in the aerial view from Lykavittos Hill thus producing a generally off-white landscape as far as the eye can see. Hannah and I savoured the view for a while and then headed back to our apartment quite content with our day’s exploration.

Posted by KZFamily 10:51 Archived in Greece Tagged greece athens Comments (1)

Our Walkabout in Athens

By Muriel

all seasons in one day 13 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

(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.

Athens breakfast vendor

Athens breakfast vendor

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.

Parthenon

Parthenon

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.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Loukoumades (Greek donuts)

Loukoumades (Greek donuts)

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.

Posted by KZFamily 13:58 Archived in Greece Tagged greece athens Comments (1)

Travelling to Athens

BY ABBY

sunny 16 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Today was a travel day, but we didn't have to drive long. Because it was only a two hour drive to Athens we decided to take some stops along the way. One of them was the site we were going to see a couple of days back but were too tired from our flight. It's called Corinth, and it is a historical site of Greek ruins. Before we went to see the ruins we stopped in at the small museum they had. There were old statues and lots of everyday tools that had been found and preserved. These included helmets, rings, pottery and children's toys. We noticed that most of the statues' heads were gone, and the ones that still had heads rarely had much of a nose. My dad said that this was because of when they were invaded, because it was the easiest way to destroy a piece of art of that kind. At the site we saw stones that outlined where shops used to be, as well as the houses of important figures. Most of the time we were there my mom was frantically trying to find the ruins of the bathroom, because she said that the last time she visited they were her favourite part. In the end we found everything we wanted to see and were on the road to our next stop

.Corinth - Temple of Apollo with dog

Corinth - Temple of Apollo with dog

The next place we stopped was the Corinth Canal, which I really enjoyed. The canal itself is very deep and thin, even though the water is only eight metres deep. Hannah and I each took a turn throwing a coin over the edge and watched it hit the water on the way down. We walked around the area for a while and bought a fridge magnet before we stopped at a small place for lunch. We all ordered a pita gyros (surprise, surprise!) and we all thought that it rivaled the ones we had tried before. But soon we were on our way to the Athens airport to drop off our car and take the metro to the hotel that we would be staying at for a couple of days.

Corinth Canal

Corinth Canal

When we got to the airport the returning of our car was simple, but soon we found out that almost all the public transit was on strike. We would have to wait two hours before we could catch a bus that would take us into town, and then we would still have to take a metro trip. We decided to spend the thirty-five Euros on a taxi, and enjoyed a much more comfortable and relaxing trip. I slept most of the way and I was pleased to find us right in front of the door to the Lion Hotel when I woke up. We paid and thanked him and then went to the reception of the hotel. The lady there was very friendly and spoke fluent English. It looked as though we were the only ones at the apartment, and were given a room on floor six, which had a private wrap around balcony for a view of the city. I personally really like the place (especially because my parents said that they would take the hide-a-bed while Hannah and I got the bedroom) but my parents continue to find things to complain about.

Apartment in Athens

Apartment in Athens

That evening my parents and I went out to the small grocery store around the corner and picked up some food for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning. It was a successful trip, but we noticed that the prices for items were very high. When we got back to our room we had a pasta dinner with veggies and later my parents and Hannah went for a walk. To finish our evening we watched a third of the "euromaxx clipmania" videos before going to bed.

Posted by KZFamily 11:36 Archived in Greece Tagged greece athens Comments (7)

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