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Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Super, Duper, Really Long Post About Greece

In Which Samantha, Amy and I have All Sorts of Adventures, See Lots of Ruins, and Get Lost Several Times

Wednesday:

Our plane was scheduled to leave at 6:50 AM from London City Airport. We were fine with getting up early, but quickly realized a problem: There was no way via public transportation to get to the airport that early. Which left only one solution. We would have to get there the night before and spend the night in the airport.

By 9:30 PM Wednesday, we were all packed and heading out the door (no checked baggage—we decided to backpack). We took a train to Paddington station, the Tube to Baker St. and then transferred to the DLR which took us right to the airport. All this went by without a hitch, and it wasn’t until we arrived at the airport that we discovered our major hitch. It was closed for the night. We walked around hoping to find another entrance, but didn’t see one. Not sure what else to do, we walked back to the front entrance, where we met a friendly milkman who told us to knock on the office window. We did so, and a very nice lady came out, and after checking our passports and flight itineraries, commented “You’re here early, aren’t you?”, and let us come inside to wait ‘till morning. Unfortunately, there was construction going on inside, so we weren’t really able to sleep much.
Sam and Amy at the airport
Thursday:

Most of Thursday was spent flying, and around 4:00 PM we arrived in Athens. The metro was on strike, so we had to take the Proastiakos (Suburban Train) into town. The directions to our hotel said to get off at Larissa station, and after riding the train all the way to the end of line and still not seeing a stop for Larissa, we finally learned that Larissa station was the same as Athens station. So we took the train back to there and got off. We were slightly disoriented at this point, and set off in the wrong direction to our hotel, but a man working at a gas station set us back on course and we eventually made it to our hotel two hours later than intended. We checked in, admired the room, then took turns napping and showering. It was 7:00PM by the time we arrived, and we were too tired to do much of anything.
Around 7:30, we were getting hungry, so Sam and I went down to a small cafĂ© on the corner and got chicken gyros. If you’ve never had a gyro, then there’s an important rule to eating them: don’t think about it. They look really gross, but taste amazing, and are definitely one of the things I’d miss about Greece. You can get them in the states, but they don’t taste the same. Probably because of our health regulations.

Friday:

After having had almost no sleep Wednesday and Thursday, we decided to take Friday easy. Our first stop was the National Archaeology Museum. Our hotel was only about a 5 minute walk from the Museum, which was great. And since all three of us and student ID’s from the EU, we didn’t have to pay for entrance. The museum was wonderful, and I had to restrain myself from taking too many pictures, especially since I’d already taken a lot during my first trip to Greece. It was cool to get to see the museum for a second time, because it gave me a chance to go back and really look at some of the things I liked best. We stayed for about 2 hours, which was enough time to see almost everything in the museum.

After the Museum, we set out for Monastiraki square, and I was surprised at how much I remembered. There was some construction work going on, which made the few operating sidewalks very crowded. We walked through Monastiraki and looked at some the ruins around there, including Hadrian’s Library, and the Painted Stoa, from which Stoicism gets it name. After a light lunch, we decided to visit the National Gardens, which I hadn’t seen on my last visit.

The Gardens were huge! There was lots of cool stuff, like this tree:

But the best part was the small zoo inside. It had ducks, peacocks, goats, rabbits, chickens, and a donkey. After wandering around the gardens for a while, I thought I remembered how to get to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, so we went to go look at it.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is the largest temple in Greece, but should not be confused with the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, which housed a statue of Zeus that was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

On the way to the temple, we walked past some ruins. As we got close to them, I said they looked Roman. When we were a little closer, I said I thought it looked like a Roman bath. Then we saw sign saying it was in fact a Roman bath. Guess I did learning something during my last trip to Greece.

The sun was setting by the time we reached the temple, so after walking around and taking pictures of it, we headed back to out hotel, picking up some bread, cheese and fruit for dinner.

Saturday:

On Saturday we visited my favourite ruins in Athens, the Ancient Agora. I made a pathetic attempt at playing tour guide, but there were enough signs that we could figure out what most things were. It’s always really cool to be walking somewhere and then suddenly think about everything that happened there. This was the Agora where Socrates use to go around questioning his fellow Athenians. There’s the remains of the building where he was tried, and the prison where he was forced to drink hemlock poison. To be standing on top of such history is absolutely incredible.

One of the best things about the Agora, besides there not being too many people, is that almost all the building foundations are visible. I love being able to step back and rebuild the ruins in my mind, trying to picture the shining marble and vibrant colours, to imagine what it would have looked like, how it would have been to walk among the ancient streets. There is something magical about these skeletons, these bones belonging to another time.

After spending the whole morning (and part of the afternoon) in the Agora, we went shopping for a bit and had lunch. Then, for some strange reason, we decided to climb Lykavittos Hill.
We nearly got lost trying to find it (you’d think it be hard to lose a small mountain) because none of our maps actually showed the whole of Athens, just the main centres. We eventually reached it, and were planning to take the funicular up to the top, which our guide book suggested. We never found the funicular, however, and ended up climbing to the top. But the view was definitely worth it. We could see the Parthenon, the Olympic stadium, and lots more. By the time we had climbed back down, it was getting dark, so we headed home for the night.

Sunday:

Sunday started with a rather strange adventure: An ATM machine ate Amy’s debit card. It turned out she had typed in the wrong pin number, so the machine “retained her card for security purposes”. I didn’t know ATM’s could do that. Amy called her parents and bank, but since it was Sunday, there wasn’t really anything to be done. Since Sam and I both had enough money to help Amy out until she got her card back, and since her card really couldn’t be in a safer place, we went to the Acropolis.

When we got to the entrance gate, there was a sign announcing that the workers were on strike until 12:30 PM, and that “they were sorry for any inconvenience”. So we decided to climb Areophagus Hill. This is thought by some to be Mars Hill, where Paul gave his sermon of the unknown god. We stayed up there for until 12:30 and then went to the Acropolis, which looked exactly the same as did last summer, but was still cool.

The day was warm enough to have worn t-shirt, and all three of us, like good British tourists, got sun-burned before lunch.

We decided to go all out for lunch, and ate until we were stuffed at Plato’s Taverna (yes, it was my idea to eat there—why do you ask?). After lunch, we did some more shopping until we were tired and ready to go to bed.

Monday:

On Monday, we took the bus out to Delphi—NOT! We began the day with all intentions of going to Delphi, but in actually ended up taking a bus tour around Athens and ending up back at out hotel. Which was kind of fun in its own way. After a brief siesta, we decided to have a picnic lunch in the National Gardens, so we did. We also brought our left over bread from dinner on Friday to feed to the animals at the zoo, which was fun. After that, we went to the world’s coolest playground and, since there wasn’t anyone there, had fun playing on the swings and such. On the way to the playground, we saw a Greek guard in traditional dress, which includes shoes with pom-poms on them.
After that, we did some more shopping and turned in early, since we had to fly out the next day (we had gyros again for dinner).

Tuesday:

Tuesday was pretty much un-eventful, as it was just spent travelling, but we did have a small adventure in getting to the airport.

After finding our way to the train station without getting lost, we were feeling very proud of ourselves when we found out that all public transportation was on strike—trains, buses, and the metro. So we had to take a taxi to the airport. During the ride, Samantha and Amy got introduced to driving in Greece, which has one rule: the bigger vehicle always wins. Other than that, anything goes.

We got back to Oxford late so I stayed the night at Sam and Amy’s house.

Reflections (briefly):

This trip marked two firsts for me. For one, it was the first time I’ve ever returned to a country I’ve visited before, which was really cool. I have no plans for this to be my last trip to Greece, though. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m afraid I’ve been thoroughly Hellenized, and can’t wait to go back again (like, say, the summer after my senior year, mom and dad?).

This was also the first time I’ve spent a substantial amount of time away from Oxford in the three months I’ve been here, and I’ve realized that it’s really become a kind of third home to me (the first two being Orlando and Mercer). I actually missed it a bit and was glad to return “home”. I was even willing to forgive it for being cold and rainy…until I discovered the bike path had flooded again, and I had to wade through it without my wellies.

Check out Amy's blog for more of our adventures
For those of you wondering what was up with the strikes, click here.
Looks like we left at the right time.

1 comment:

Zachary said...

So I'd like an analysis of the political/economic structure of modern Greece that resulted in almost the whole country being on strike while you were there. I figure it shouldn't add a significant amount of writing to this post because there's already a short novel there, right? Sounds like you had a blast, babe. Wish I could've been there. You have to play tour guide in Greece for me sometime, and I'll play tour guide to umm...the Rocky Mountains, yeah, and the Great Plains, w00t w00t. =P