This past Thursday I embarked on an eight day trip to Greece with my dear friend Thao. It started with a long travel day which is never my preference but when the price is right, that’s what you have to do. Starting at 5:30am in Sevilla I went on to Barcelona, Rome and finally Athens. There was a moment of panic in Barcelona when I looked on the departure board for my connecting Alitalia flight and it was nowhere to be found. I had to haul it over to Terminal 2 which involved a five minute bus ride and several kilometers, so be advised if you’re flying into or out of El Prat! In Rome Fiomucino I was relieved to escape the cacophony of my flight full of Spanish teenagers on an excursion. While waiting for the third flight I listened to a young couple speak several languages to fellow passengers and eyed a serious looking man with a Yosemite Sam mustache.
Arriving in Athens I took the metro into the center, the car fit to bursting by the time we arrived at Syntagma Square. I made my way to Hotel Kimon where I met Thao and we immediately got down to business: where to eat? A local recommended one of his favorites: Oineas, down a tiny street, brightly decorated and bold. Nestled under a heat lamp we dined on a Cretan salad that was out of this world – creamy feta, fresh tomatoes and crunchy whole wheat croutons. Although disappointed with scrawny lamb ribs, we finished with a bang: phenomenal meille fieulle with white chocolate and fresh strawberries. We splurge on a bottle of ouzo and both decide it is far more bearable when watered down. The waiter gets a chuckle when we stop into the gelato shop next door for an additional dessert. Don’t judge!
Friday morning finds us rising to church bells in the distance. Under a cloudy sky we head toward caffiene and sustenance. At a nearby bakery called Bretons (?) we turn circles between display cases full of treats, finally settling on one savory & one sweet: spinach pie and apple pie. I have my first cappuccino freddo and almost die of heart palpatations brought on by the strength of the espresso. It is here I decide that the Greeks must be preparing their foods with habit forming drugs.
With a pep in our step we careen through touristy streets aiming for the Acropolis. We settle onto the stone in the Dionysos theater and let the sun warm our bones here in a structure that dates back to fifth century bc. The Odeion theatre is stunning in size, built by Tiberius Claudius Herodes Atticus in second century ad. In the summertime they still hold concerts here, and I hope to return one day for a performance.
Crossing into the Propylaia our thoughts of gods and goddesses are peppered with .. tourists. They clamber over the marble and stone like ants on an anthill and I wonder when respect for old things evaporated.
The crowds thin out at the Parthenon and the view is simply awesome. Stormy clouds provide a dramatic backdrop and motivate us up the steps under the threat of rain. A huge crane hangs over the Parthenon, operated by a man who looks like a toy in comparison, holding a giant remote control. Inside the Temple of Athena, a woman sits plugged into her ipod, paintbrush in hand, executing painstaking restoration work. Her punk haircut and Arian features stand out in stark contrast to the ancient surroundings and I watch her work for awhile, fascinated.
We break for lunch after a walk behind the site, and the neighborhood reminds us of the whitewashed Albaicin in Granada, Spain. Our taverna lunch is delicious, starring grilled vegetables and various dips.
The Acropolis museum is two years old at this point, and looks curious from the top of the Acropolis – what is that modern building of glass and metal? Explained – the museum was built to mimic the shape, size and layout of Parthenon so that when you view the excavated pieces, their original place is noted. This is not apparent until you watch the video on the third floor, or read the pamphlet from the desk. The museum is working on restoring the ladies from Athena’s temple and there is a live action video of their progress. The six Karyatides were removed in the 1970s and are being repaired and cleaned. Their smaller sisters are the korai, 75 of them were brought down from the Parthenon and now reside in the museum.
Athena is everywhere and so are her owls, symbols of wisdom. Greek mythology lessons are coming back to me with the descriptions of the pieces. I also finished Rick Riordan’s series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” in March and his descriptions of the deities make me smile when I see their sculptures. Where is Poseidon’s Hawaiian shirt?
We have dinner at Thannaius dinner – our first attempt at soulvaki. I think I’m partial to it’s cousin the kebab, but damn the tzatzigi (sp) is to die for. Baklava to go from some other place close to the hotel and we compare the texture to that of the Americanized version before drifting off to sleep.
Saturday, on to Epidauros and Nafplion.