This is our only full day in Athens – but instead of rushing around we started with breakfast at the hotel – again overlooking (well, underlooking, if thats even a thing) the Parthenon. Really impressive brekky too – heaps on offer, and happily lots of good greek cheese and greek yoghourt.
We enquired about tours from a nearby tour place, we figured this would be the best way to get a look at the sights of the city in a limited amount of time. They were pretty unenthusiastic about the whole thing and it was going to quite expensive – so Perry got onto his regular limo company (that sounds posh!), and they were able to get us a van and driver for four hours at a much more reasonable rate. Fortunately our driver was an enthusiastic man who was clearly proud of his city and his country – so not only did he drive us around, he was kind enough to fill us in on a bit of history along the way.
First stop, the Acropolis and the Parthenon. Just to get this straight – the Acropolis is the rock upon which the Parthenon is built. I wasn’t real clear on the distinction before arriving here, but now it’s all good. Getting there was a bit of a feat – lots of steps, which was lot of fun in the 30 degree heat … so a bit of a challenge when you’re as unfit as I am, but we made it. And wow, what a sight! There’s a lot of restoration work going on, covering one whole end of the Parthenon, but it’s still an impressive sight – and amazing that any of it is still standing considering it was built around 438 BCE. With so much restoration work going on it’s a little hard at times to tell what is original and what is not – for example the Caryatids (the columns sculpted to look like women) on the Acropolis are actually ‘fakes’, with the real ones on display at the safer environment of the Acropolis Museum. Still, what an amazing piece of history to be wandering around, to think that Socrates was probably wandering around the same land that we were.
In an hour I was pretty sure I was burnt to a crisp despite the hat and sunscreen, so we all went off to visit the Acropolis Museum. Early in the first century AD, much of the Acropolis was damaged by the Persians – but such was the reverence the Greeks had for the place that they managed to salvage much of what had been there, and bury it to keep it safe and hidden. Very will hidden, as it happens, as it wasn’t re-discovered ’til the 1800s. Much of what was found is now located in the Acropolis Museum. Pretty amazing to be looking wonderful huge marble sculptures that are thousands of years old, and even something as mundane as a vase is fascinating when you consider someone probably last dined off it over 2000 years ago – kind of mind-boggling in a way.
Time was ticking so it was time to move on, our driver took us to the 1896 Olympic stadium – still holding up quite well since by these standards it’s pretty young. He took us past some beautiful university buildings, and also to the tomb of the unknown solider, where we watched the changing of the guard. The guards here are picked from the elite soldiers as they perform their compulsory 12 months national service – only the best (and tallest, apparently) are chosen. It can’t be an easy job having to stand there rock solid for an hour, with hundreds of tourists posing for photos, and there’s always some idiot who think it’s funny to make faces, or try and get them to laugh, etc – I don’t know how they put up with it. Then again I don’t know why there’s always that one idiot who thinks they’re being big and clever and original by trying to get a reaction out of the guards.
The uniform is fascinating, and our driver explained a bit about it – the skirt contains 400 pleats to denote to 400 years that the Ottomans had a hold over Greece. The pom-poms on the shoes were used to hide small weapons when all else failed. Our driver also helpfully explained they had knives hidden in them with the aim being to “Kick the Ottomans in the nuts, to stop them from reproducing” (his exact words)! The shoes have multiple pins in the soles to amplify the sound of the marching and to make it very clear to all and sundry when the soldiers approach.
The process of changing the guards was undertaken with, quite literally, military precision. The new guards marched up, were inspected (and corrected) by the officer in charge – he straightened their hats, sorted out their tassels, made sure they were presentable for the task ahead. The old guards, with a great degree of ceremonial marching designed to show off those pins on the soles of their feet at a guess, slowly marched off, probably quite grateful to get out of the sun that they’d been standing around in for an hour.
As out tour drew to a close we saw a few more impressive sites – a very modern statue depicting the Marathon (which I didn’t get a photo of, but google is your friend if you would like to see it ), parliament, the main square of Athens where the protests take place.
The afternoon was spent by the hotel pool, plus a bit of nap-time. Very important business when you’re on holiday.
For dinner there was no choice – we had to go back to Smile and spend some more quality time with Connie. She was once again in fine form, and we had another delicious meal.
Tomorrow we start at the very un-holiday-like time of around 5AM, to get up in time to catch to ferry to Santorini. I’m sure there’ll be some good sleeping being done once we’re on the boat!
As for Athens, what to make of it? You can’t get a good feel of a city in a little over 24 hours, but there’s no denying it had a long and storied past, bringing so much to the world thousands of years ago. I can only hope it has a bright future ahead as well. As long there are people around like Connie, it’s pretty much guaranteed.