In the morning of May 20th we arrived in Athens. Now that the Athens airport has been moved away from the city, we got a bit of a look at parts of Athens and the nearby countryside on the way to the Park Hotel on Alexandras Street. We passed the Olympic Park, the Botanical Gardens, the Archaeological Museum and a few other sites. For me the best site was the first view of the Piraeus, the port. I thought of the beginning of the Republic when the young Socrates was standing at that international port looking up at the city of Athens and the way it set the stage for his whole discussion on justice. Once we got to the hotel the room wasn’t ready so we walked down Alexandras Street to eat at a restaurant the Homeric guide had recommended. The restaurant itself had a nice outdoor terrace with nice flowers but for a vegetarian the food was mediocre. There was only one choice—a feta cheese pie. We then went back to the hotel, checked into our room, took a nap for a few hours, and then had dinner in the upstairs restaurant (which serves Japanese food, primarily sushi).
The view from the table was amazing.
We could see both Lycabettus Hill (the highest point in Athens) and the Acropolis lit up from two of the large windows nearby.
The next morning we joined Homeric tours for their ½ day tour of the city. The tour was awful. We stopped several places to pick up people going on the tour, waiting at each hotel. Mostly we just sat in traffic. We stopped near Olympic Park, not so much to see the park—there wasn’t much to see there—but so that the tour guide could get coffee and people who wanted to could use a restroom. We drove past Syntagma Square with Parliament and the Evzones (the ceremonial guards) standing at the tomb of their Unknown Soldier and Hadrian’s Arch. Then we headed to the Acropolis. There Kathy walked up the many many marble steps to the top to see
the Parthenon, the Erechtheum,
and the other buildings on the top while I waited in a park close to the bottom and watched the many dogs that live there (dogs seem to be everywhere in Athens) and the tourists going by in waves. When Kathy came back down to the park, we tried to find the tour guide, but all we found were a dozen other people from our group, none of whom could find her. We slowly walked down to the New Acropolis Museum, enjoying views not only of the buildings on the acropolis but also other nearby sites.
The museum opened in 2008 and has many of the treasures owned by Greece that have been discovered on the acropolis. (Part of the reason for building the new museum is, I suspect, to put pressure on other countries to return Greek artifacts to Greece. The museum says “We’re reading to house them and in the meanwhile everyone is noticing that, for example, the Elgin marbles are not where they should be in our museum but are still in the British Museum.”) The flooring of the museum is clear glass so that you can actually look down on the archaeological work that is happening below it. Inside we were able to see sculptures and artifacts from the Temple of Athena, the Erechteum, and other Roman and Christian Athenian archaeological remains.
After leaving the museum we walked down to the Plaka to find a place to have lunch, to shop for souvenirs, and to explore the area a bit. The area is very touristy- lots of shops trying to sell things—but still retains its charm with the small windy streets closed to most traffic, old houses, and great views of lots of the ancient ruins.
At the end of the day, after stopping in Agora square for a drink, we got on the Sunshine Express, a little train that does a tour of the Plaka area. It takes you past Lord Byron’s monument, the Byzantine Church of St. Catherine, the Aeropagus (where the ancient supreme court supposedly met and where St. Paul preached), the ancient agora, the Monastiraki and the old mosque, the Roman market, the acropolis, and many other places. It was the kind of tour I’d expected in the morning so I was very glad to have taken it. It gave me much more of a sense of what the layout and views of buildings during the classical and New Testatment periods would have been like.
On the third day, we got up early to go on a tour of Delphi. The tour bus was supposed to pick us up at around 7 am but it never showed up. At 7:45 we called Homeric tours and they said they’d forgotten. They sent a taxi to get us. When it got us to the bus—at about 9—people were still sitting in the bus waiting for other groups to arrive. There were only a few seats—none of them available so that Kathy and I could sit anywhere near each other—and people were clearly unhappy. They still couldn’t find our reservation, so at that point we decided to get off. We got a taxi back to the hotel. We were both tired and my knee was killing me, so we decided to spend the day resting. Kathy swam a bit in the hotel pool while I read and then we went back down to the Plaka for dinner and to see a few more of the archaeological sites we’d driven by the day before.
We headed to bed reasonably early because we were being picked up to go to the Piraeus at 7:45 the next morning.