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Athens, Day 2

September 21, 2006

Off to the Acropolis we go!

We attempted to get up early, as the guide books say that as the day goes on, the hordes of people at the Acropolis get worse, especially with tour groups. Having come this far, I wanted decent pictures without random people’s heads in the way, but this want was overcome by my desire for a good night’s sleep; kinda odd because when we visited St. Lucia, I had no problems getting up at 5:30 in the morning for sunrise. Have I gotten that much older in less than a year!??!?

At any rate, we took our time to eat a decent breakfast (which was more substantial than the breakfast in Turkey, but missing a key item: olives, which I have become addicted to), and walked over to the Acropolis. It was nice and sunny, and walking around the neighborhood, it seemed very relaxed, and not at all like the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. On the way to the Acropolis we passed by the Tower of the Winds in the Roman Agora (more about it later). Going up hill, we could start seeing some of the other archaeological sites in the neighborhood to whet our appetite, I think it was Kerameikos and the Temple of Hephaistos that we could see.

Upon arriving at the entrance to the Acropolis, there were already tons of people milling around, and countless of those dreaded tour groups. Actually the groups are not all that bad; I later followed a Japanese tour group for a little bit and listened to the guide explain some of the history behind the site:)

The tickets were rather on the expensive side, but included bascially all of the importaint archaeological sites so in the end was probably worth it. I had thought a ticket would be valid for repeat admission, and hoped maybe I could come back for a view at sunset, but unfortunately this was not the case.

To the right side as you go up to the Parthenon, and lower down the hill, is a theater which I thought was the Theater of Dionysus but it turned out to be the Theater of Herodes Atticus; this was still in use. It reminded me of the football stadium at Duke University, both had such sublime views.

theater of herodes atticus

One encounters several temples in the Acropolis, the first being the Temple of Athena Nike. Apparently they had tried to restore the temple before but didn’t seem successful and thus had to dismantle the temple and build it from scratch with modern equipment. No wonder, it looked insanely well preserved. The route up to the entrance of the temple was quite packed with people, and it looked like ants going up a hill. There were guards hanging out half way encouraging people to move on and not loiter too much so people could get up.

temple of athena nike

Then was the Propylaia, another bulding undergoing heavy restoration. And finally, the Parthenon!

parthenon

Unfortunately, it seemed as though everything here was in a state of perpetual restoration, so there were unsightly pipes and scaffolding and all that stuff everywhere. That, and the tons of people at the site, made taking a decent picture without a human in the frame (why am I so obsessive about this???) quite difficult. Luckily, people were very nice and either ducked or patiently waited when they noted others attempting to take pictures.

parthenon

The one other major building at the site was the Erechtheion. Legend has it, that when Athens was starting to prosper as a city (although it must not have been called Athens then), the gods Poseidon and Athena were vying to become the god of the city; Poseidon struck his spear to the ground and made a fountain or something, and Athena brought an olive tree; the people picked Athena as the olive tree was a symbol of sustenance. I hope I got the story right. At any rate, the Erechtheion was supposedly the place where Athena brought the olive tree. This was the most decorative of the buildings at the Acropolis, with one side consisting of columns made up of statues.

erechtheion

After finishing up the tour of the Acropolis, we decided to check out the Theater of Dionysus, which was supposedly the first theater to be made of stone (although it originally started off as a wooden structure). Adjacent to the theater was a nice collection of artifacts from the theater, such as reliefs and carvings. While we were there, thundercloud started rolling in and I started to get a little worried that it might rain, not to mention feeling bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to take pictures… It turned out that the thunderclouds added a nice dramatic effect to the few subsequent pictures I took so I was quite happy!

theater of dionysus

We quickly went over to Hadrians’ Arch thinking it was going to rain any minute. Hadrians’ Arch has a nice poetic history, built by the Romans; one one side, an inscription says “This is the city of Athens, ancient city of Theseus” and the other side “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.”

hadrian’s arch with view of acropolis in background

Adjacent to Hadrian’s Arch was the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was apparently one of the largest, most grandiose temples to be built. One of the columns collapsed in the late 1800s and has been kept like that since.

temple of olympian zeus

By this time, it had started raining a little so we headed back to the hotel. On the way, we passed by the national garden, but didn’t go inside. Athens is not exactly a huge city, and before we knew it we ended up at Syntagma Square. After resting in the hotel for a little bit, waiting for the rain to clear, we went back to the Parliament building to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider which is at the foot of the Parliament.

tomb of the unknown solider and greek parliament building

It’s quite a sight; these military guys in (sorry) rather dorky uniforms (they had pompoms on their shoes!) start marching slowly and deliberately with their feet ridiculously high up in the air everytime they took a step. Entertaining though.

changing of the guards, tomb of the unknown solider

We didn’t exactly know what the significance of the Tomb was, and we started chatting with a local guy who explained that the Tomb signified the grave of all the Greek soliders that were killed in a war. Ah, so “unknown” meaning “generic” and not literally “soldier whose identity we do not know.”

We went back again to the hotel, and later in the evening decided to walk towards Omonia station. On the way were some nice buildings including the Athens Academy of Arts, which has statues of Athena, Plato, Socrates, and Plato.

academy of arts

statue of athena at the academy of arts

socrates and plato, academy of arts

It was getting dark by then so we started heading home, but made a little detour towards Monastiraki where in the evening shops open along cobblestone streets. Unfortunately by the time we got there it was raining heavily with thunderstorms, so we didn’t have a chance to see the shops; we spent quite a bit of time at the train station there waiting for the rain to lighten up. Across the station was Museum of Greek Folk Art, which used to be a mosque. I captured this picture using the lightning as the light source. It was basically beginner’s luck; every subsequent picture I tried to take, I missed the lightning by just a hair! My reflexes are not that quick…

lightning illuminating museum of greek folk art

As the rain let up a little, we decided to go ahead and trek back home. I can’t even remember what we ate that night, I think it was souvlaki or something, which unfortunately wasn’t that good. That was the one downside of this trip, that we couldn’t find decent local food! I’m sure if we had more time we could have explored, and we did find one place that was awwwwweseome, but nothing like the kind of small joints we used to frequent in Istanbul.

Tomorrow, we check out the rest of the local ancient sites, then head off to the National Archaeological Museum!

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