Wednesday, March 5, 2008
So Lauren and I finally arrived in Greece, after missing our flight due to snow. My first impression is that it has an awesome metro system. Every station was fully handicapped accessible with both escalators and elevators, quite clean and easy to use. Luckily for us everything was in English as well as Greek. My Greek reading skills aren't really up to par, different alphabet and all you know. However, that was about the last thing that impressed me about Greece for a couple of days. We found Athens to be dirty, ugly, and sketchy. I felt completely safe walking around Rome late at night in the dark but once the sun went down in Athens I really didn't want to be more than a few blocks away from our hotel. The touristy areas seemed fine, but you know, just didn't want to take any chances. Once you get out of Athens the rest of Greece is really beautiful. And everyone who I mentioned this to who had been to Greece said the same thing, that you use Athens to see the famous stuff that's there and then hightail it for the islands or the countryside.
But on the bright side the food in Greece was quite good. Our first day we decided to do some exploring of Athens and ended up wandering for a long time, a lot of it in the dark and not feeling safe, looking for a restaurant because most places seemed to be either little sandwich carry out or too pricey. We finally found this whole street of restaurants, of course right behind our hotel. Brilliant. We chose a little taverna that had great prices and a huge menu. Because it was late by now and we were hungry we ended up ordering a ton of food. Sixty euros worth! About an hour after we got there they even had a live band playing traditional Greek music! We were going to leave after trying to finish our food (didn't succeed) but the owner/waiter wouldn't let us leave and instead brought us over a pitcher of wine, so we ended up staying through another pitcher and two hours worth of music. One of the guitarists was extremely attractive, and we had a little moment where we made eye contact and smiled, but it wasn't meant to be. His whole family came in to watch him play, and Lauren and I were exhausted so we left. And that's how I lost my chance at a Greek musician boyfriend. See a pattern in this trip yet?
The next day we ended up sleeping until noon! We tried to go to the National Archeological Museum but it closed at 3 and we didn't get there until like 2:30, not really enough time. Instead we ended up at the archeological site of Hadrian's Library and wandered around the gigantic flea market in that area for a few hours. The weather was gorgeous so we could sit outside and have coffee in hte sun. That was true in Rome too. Sunshine was a nice change after clouds and rain all the time here in Picardie! After another great Greek dinner we tried to have a night out at a bar, where we were the only people there for a couple of hours, but I got free salsa lessons from the DJ! He was kind of in love with Lauren, it was pretty cute.
The next day was busy and frustrating. We finally made it to the National Archeological Museum, which was really really neat. The treasures from Mycenae were beautiful. Again, got to see lots of stuff I had learned about in art history class so that was fun. In general I prefer Roman sculpture to Greek sculpture. I love how realistic is is, you feel like you're really looking at a person, instead of how overly idealized the Greek sculptures are. They also had a really nice section on votive offerings to Asklepios, the god of medicine. Back in the day before antibiotics or anything resembling modern medical care people who were sick used to make pilgrimages to temples of Asklepios. They would spend the night there sleeping on the floor and the god would appear to them in a dream, telling them how they could heal themselves. I found it very moving. How awful must it have been to rely on dreams, to be so desperate for health that you paid a craftsman to make a miniature model of a foot, or a hand, or whatever body part you were having trouble with? And how miraculous a "cure" must have felt! They would pay again for an entire miniature temple in the god's honor after a cure (obviously this was only for the extremely wealthy). It really made an impression.
After the museum we tried to find the Acropolis. By which I mean we wandered the long way around FOREVER because it wasn't really marked. You'd think it would be pretty easy to find, it's kind of hard to miss a gigantic rock mountain. But no, we wandered, wandered, wandered, asked for directions, were told it was five minutes straight ahead. 20 minutes later we finally got there, trudged all the way up the mountain ..... and I at least was disappointed. They have everything roped off from pretty far away so that you can't get very close to it, and then there are only a few things up there. The Acropolis Museum was closed because they're building a new one. I just found it really anticlimatic to be up there. I was also in a bad mood; Lauren and I had just finished a big long conversation about how much we hated Greece so I guess I wasn't really in the mindset. And really, after seeing everything in Rome, I was bound to be disappointed. I am much more interested in Roman ruins and history than Greek ruins. But the views from the Acropolis were amazing, and I did get to see the Parthenon and the plaster casts of the karyatids that Lord Elgin stole (and that can now be seen in the British Museum).
The Parthenon. One of the other joys of travelling in the off season is that everything is under construction to be pretty for the high season. Greece is particularly interested in rebuilding things.
I find these karyatids (female figures) really pretty and can't wait to see the real ones! At the temple of Athena and Poseidon.
This is a shot from the walk up, looking over part of the sprawl of Athens.
We decided to improve our mood by taking a break for some well-deserved milkshakes at the Haagen Dazs store. Yum-o! We had another huge Greek dinner, featuring some lovely lamp (lamb is often miswritten as lamp on menus, but made for a lot of fun "I love lamp!" jokes). We tried to hang out at one of these super busy and popular cafes after dinner. And by after dinner I mean like 11:30, because they get started late in Athens.
The next day we got up for our island day! Most of the famous Greek islands (Santorini, Crete, Mykonos) are too far from the mainland for a day trip so we went to Aegina, one of the Saronic Gulf islands that was only about an hour away by ferry. The day started out grey but became gorgeous and sunny. There wasn't a whole lot we could do in the little town (sites required cab rides or biking) so we spent the day wandering down one arm of the harbor, looking for food, eating for like two hours, wandering down the other arm of the harbor, playing on rocks, wading in the Aegean, then getting drunk at a cafe. Not our fault! They had this amazing drink called a Water Mellon - so co, grenadine, and orange juice. We had some dinner, got oggled by the townies, and hopped on the ferry back to Athens. All in all a great day!
Looking out into the sea from the rocks we were playing on.
The next day we got up at the crack of dawn for our day tour to Mycenae, allegedly the home of legendary King Agamemnon, who led the expedition to Troy. This was another great day. We took a big bus across the Corinth Canal (which separates the Peloponesus from the rest of Greece) and through the countryside to the site of Mycenae. We got to go inside one of the tholos, or beehive, tombs, which are exactly what they sound like, large rooms built into the
mountains that are shaped like beehives. Then we entered the citadel of the city itself, which I thought was pretty fantastic. The ruins were fun but the view and the weather were really the best part. The air was so fresh, I didn't want to get back on the bus!
To the right is the famous Lion's Gate entrance to the citadel. The walls are so massive that later civilizations called them Cyclopean, believing that only something as huge as a cyclops could possibly have built them. Kind of like the aliens building the pyramid theories.
One of the shots I took from the citadel. Nice view, huh? Probably nicer when everything is in bloom.
After visiting Mycenae we had lunch in the modern town of Mycenae, featuring amazing blood orange juice fresh squeezed from their orchard. This was the best part of lunch. Blood orange juice is really good, and I found some made by Tropicana at Monoprix, so you should try it!
After lunch we took another drive through the countryside to Nafplion, a very cute little town that was the first capitcl of modern Greece, and then continued on to Epidaurus and the shelter of Asklepios. Epidaurus has the most perfect accoustics in the world, and it really is true that you can hear someone speaking normally perfectly amplified at the very top of the amphitheater.
The shelter of Asklepios was one of those temples where people would sleep, waiting for a cure. It was the largest in Greece, but was completely destroyed by an earthquake around 400 AD. Greece is now trying to rebuild it! So we couldn't actually get close to the site. Then we left to return to Athens, driving along the Peloponesian coast, past adorable seaside communities, beautiful views, and even some of the area that was burnt in the fires last summer. I had a great time and am now a huge fan of day trips and planning to take a couple over the next vacation on my next round of travels.
That was our last day in Greece. We left the next morning to fly back to France. And now I'm teaching again and already looking forward to the next vacation! I've never travelled before now and I am completely hooked. I'm planning to do London, Dublin, and Edinburgh over the next vacay, complete with day trips to the countryside. Anyone interested?