Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Athenian Way

The second week of the Easter trip was spent in Greece, a country I had never visited. We spent a week there, with the first and last nights in Athens.
A view from the Acropolis
No doubt, Athens has a glorious past to celebrate, but it is clearly struggling in the present. Based on the number of businesses closed and the graffiti everywhere, the city has fallen on hard times. Our stay there was confined to the tourist district of Plaka and the hill of the Acropolis above it, as these were considered the safest areas.

Roasting Easter lamb
A quiet corner of Plaka
In spite of this grim introduction, I am very glad that I was able to experience Athens. Our first full day there coincided with Orthodox Easter; all the major attractions were closed, but Plaka, catering to tourists, was open for business. This area is quite lovely and on this holiday, there were spits of lamb roasting everywhere, lamb being the traditional Easter dish.  After lunch, I spent the afternoon walking and shopping in ideal weather conditions. Since I had had a light lunch, I treated myself to baklava as well, my favourite Greek dessert.
Temple of Zeus.
Nearby, we peeked at the temple of Zeus through a fence (it was closed too), and then walked through the gardens nearby.
Jen and I pose in front of a conference building

The garden had the feel of the tropics
After a traditional Greek dinner - a major feast, in fact, we headed to Piraeus where we boarded the overnight ferry to Crete.
Ready to board the ferry.
Five days later, returning on the same ferry, we were immediately bused to the Acropolis. Our local guides took us back in time to the glory days of ancient Greece. These ruins were awe-inspiring. I was very excited to see them.
The facade of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Part of the reconstructed theatre.
Our first sight was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a relatively new ruin compared to the structures above it. The facade dates from 161 C.E. The interior has been largely rebuilt, so that even today, the space is often used for events. Having only recently taught my drama students about Greek theatre, I was thrilled to see such a place.
In front of the Parthenon
The Erechtheion
From there, we climbed further up the Acropolis where on the bald top of this hill, we wandered among the ruins everyone comes to see. In my mind's eye, I could imagine the great Athenian society where playwrights such as Sophocles and great thinkers such as Aristotle lived and honoured their gods with great monuments.
A view from the Acropolis over Athens.
From the heights of the Acropolis, we enjoyed spectacular views over the city of Athens, too. We were on a schedule, or I would have been content to linger there much longer.
Entering the Museum of the Acropolis
Impressive ruins lie beneath the Museum of the Acropolis.
These "Caryatids", the originals, have been moved to the museum to prevent their deterioration. There are replicas on  the Erechtheion
Eventually, we had to descend, but even at street level, this famous site dominated our time. The Museum of the Acropolis has been created to house artifacts that are in danger of crumbling in the open air. Also, most impressively, the building has been erected over an ongoing archaeological dig.
Where the modern Olympics began
This wonderful bronze was found under water. 
After lunch, after a brief stop at the 1896 Olympic stadium, we headed to a second museum, the Archaeological Museum of Athens. Again, this was an impressive collection of important artifacts from the cradle of civilization. I enjoyed this museum even more than the first one, but, by this time, we were all a little tired. We were relieved when the bus took us back to our hotel for a rest before dinner - our last night out of the vacation.
Exiting the Museum of Archaeology

Dancing in the street
Our local tour organizer had organized an evening at a taverna in the shadow of the Acropolis. This was an absolutely delightful experience. Not only was the food delicious but we were also entertained by a small Greek combo and dancers. Eventually, we were invited to join in, and I did just that, dancing in the street. What a great way to finish our trip!

The Acropolis at night - as seem from our restaurant.

My blogs of the Easter vacation will continue, however, as there are still five more days to account for.

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