Thursday, April 25, 2013

Attitude In Athens - Greece

Athens, or in modern Greek, AΘHNA, was our second stop in our Greek cruise whirlwind. Athens is located on a peninsula in southern Greece. There is so much to see and do in Athens. We knew that the eight hours our cruise gave us would not be enough time, so we had to carefully pick and choose our destinations. Because we are super cheap, we opted to not take our cruise ship excursions, but try to manage getting to all these locations by ourselves. That required a lot of walking and metro riding. For this trip we teamed up with another American family with four kids that we knew from Heidelberg. The Point Family. Have you ever dragged eight tired kids around down town Athens in 85°F/30°C heat? If you haven't, you should. It's really fun.

We started by walking the one mile hike to the metro station. As we walked along the small sidewalks in Athens from the port, we got points and stares from the cars waiting at red lights. 'Oh boy,' I thought. It's going to be one of those places. A place where we get stared at, and asked if they are all ours. In this case they weren't all mine, but with four adults and eight children, I'm sure we looked like a school field trip or something. The metro station was easy to find and the tickets were super cheap. €,70. That's like practically giving them away. And then I saw why.

Here is our train. If you are thinking it looks a little rough, don't worry. We thought the same thing. We rode it to the historical neighborhood of Pláka. 

The hill is called the Acropolis. The temple on the hill is called the Parthenon. Just to help clear that up.

Pláka is clustered around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis. Since we didn't feel like climbing these cliffs, we hiked around to the other side. 

Wild, red poppies were blooming all over the slopes to the Acropolis. It was gorgeous.

This here is the Areopagus or the "Rock of Ares." The Romans called it Mars' Hill. In classical times the rock functioned as a court of appeal for criminal cases. Sure is different from the wood paneled court rooms I am familiar with. The Apostle Paul, from the New Testament, delivered his famous speech about the Lord of Heaven who made the world does not live in temples made by hands. Pretty good speech. Read the whole speech here starting at verse 16.

It was amazing to walk in the footsteps of an apostle. I walked off on one side of the hill and took a look around at the beautiful vistas that the rock provided.

The Temple of Hephaetus. Everywhere you looked, there was another ancient building reaching out, competing for your attention.

Athens, old and new.

Matt felt so inspired by standing on the Areopagus he delivered his own sermon. Probably sounded something like this: "Let us all find a shady spot, and drink water and rejoice in the shade for it is hot. Let us all eat cookies, for cookies should not dwell in packages made by man, but in our stomachs." It was close to lunchtime, after all.

We hiked up the stairs to the Parthenon and were rewarded with sweeping views of Athens with the blue Aegean Sea in the background. 

The Acropolis dates back to 447 BC when it was built as a temple to the goddess Athena. Other religions have also worshiped here. In 400 AD it was converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. And in 1460 AD, it was turned into a mosque. Poor Athena. Seems people forgot about her.

The Parthenon is undergoing restoration right now. Apart from being around 2,500 years old, it was blown up once. In 1687, the Venetians were attacking Athens, who was under control by the Ottoman Turks. Those brilliant Ottoman Turks stored their gunpowder in the Parthenon. The Venetians launched a mortar, which wouldn't have done that much damage, if the gunpowder wasn't in there. The Turks said they didn't think the Venetians would attack a building of such great importance as the Parthenon. Apparently, the Venetians called the Turks on it by saying, "Oh yeah? Not only are we going to get all your gunpowder, but we are going to blow up the very important building you put it in." Goes to show you, not only should you 'keep your powder dry,' you should keep it away from things you don't want destroyed. Kind of seems like a no-brainer to me, but hey, I've made some mistakes too. Just not this big.

They are not trying to restore it completely, but just to restore the structural integrity of the building. They are using the original marble pieces whenever they can find them, and then filling in destroyed pieces with new marble, quarried from the same place.

The new, white marble will eventually yellow and age to match the existing marble.

This is north of the Parthenon and is called the Erechtheion. It is another temple and is dedicated to the Greek hero Erichthonius. It would seem he was born fully formed from the earth after an attempted rape of Athena that you can read about here. Yuck.

More Erechtheion. No more attempted rape stories though.

Further destruction of the site occurred when the Earl of Elgin looted statues and sculptures to take to England in the early 1800's. Because some of them were still attached to the building, the building and the sculptures were sawed and cut to make it easier to retrieve and transport the items. The stolen items are still located in the British Museum. A few have also turned up in the Louvre, and in Copenhagen. The Greek government has been asking for them back for 30 years, but it seems the British Museum is calling out the old rule of "finders keepers, losers weepers." Oh England. Didn't you ever learn you don't take things that don't belong to you?

Just like in Olympia, the site was patrolled by whistle blowing guards who watched you like a hawk. We knew not to touch a single thing. But we still got the whistle. Our gaggle of eight kids sat down in the shade of the Parthenon, off to the side. Apparently a big no-no. You are not allowed to sit around the Parthenon. Stand, yes. Sit, no. Not even hunch down on your feet. You must stay perfectly vertical to enjoy the shade of the Parthenon. 

This guard seemed to have it out for us because after this she followed us around with her whistle in her mouth, ready to tweet us into compliance. It was time to go.

We stopped in a little street side cafe and got some lunch of souvlaki, gyros, and tzatziki. Souvlaki is skewered meat and vegetables and tzatziki is a yogurt and herb dip. It was pretty good. It was at this cafe where the Greek guy behind us didn't like how slow we were ordering. He impatiently tapped his foot and gave us audible, loud sighs. When we were out eating in the street, he walked up to his friend and said loud enough for me to hear, "Some stupid Americans." To which I replied, "Hey, you suck." But only in my mind because I detest confrontation. 

Next we walked to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, or the Olympieion.

These few columns are all that is left of the temple. Construction began in the 6th century BC, but the temple wasn't completed until the reign of a Roman emperor in the 2nd century AD. Because of the large time lapse, different styles of architecture and adornment are quite evident on the columns.

After its completion, the temple was quarried to provide marble and other materials to build other sites around Athens. Out of the original 104 columns, only 15 are left standing and one on the ground that was blown over in a storm in the 1800's.  

From this temple you can look up and get a nice view of the Acropolis. But you can't hear their whistles of disapproval from here.

On to Pláka!

Pláka was fun and quirky old town to walk through. I warn you though. If you stop and look at anything in the tourist traps stores, they grab you and pull you in and say, "You like! You buy!" 

It was in this town that one store owner said to us, "All Greeks hate Americans. Except me. I love Americans!" After being told how stupid we were and all the whistle blowing I was beginning to believe that. But then we were told by another shop keeper, "Greeks love Americans! You are so happy! And you smile! And you spend money!" All I need to do to get Greeks to love me is to smile and spend money? Heck, I can do that.

Here is a set of six beautiful, Greek ceramic bowls I bought. While smiling, I might add. These ceramic pieces are for sale all over Greece. The blue color reminds me of the ocean in Greece.

After all the sightseeing and walking and eating and walking and shopping and walking, it was time to go back to the ship. On the metro ride back to the port there was some old, drunk, Greek guy singing and clapping to some song in his head. He sang for five stops on the line. All the Greek people on the train looked from me back to him back to me and all I kept thinking is he better not be saying I am a stupid American. So I just smiled.




  1. Great photos! Super funny post, I enjoyed the part about the whistle blower. Also, I really enjoyed Matt's speech!

  2. Fantastic photos! If your cruise makes it as far as Istanbul, you'll have to let me know!

    1. This cruise didn't. HOWEVER, we have since fallen in love with cruising travel and are already looking at cruises that do go to Istanbul!


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