Tag Archives: Greece

My Personal Greek A to Ω – Α (Alpha) is for Αθήνα or Athens

My plan was to go first to the Acropolis and the ancient city of Pericles, Socrates and Herodotus and the guidebook advised getting there early to avoid the crowds.  I did as it suggested and got there early (well, reasonably early) and it was swarming, I mean really swarming and there were hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people ahead of me in the line at the entrance gate. Obviously I wasn’t early enough and I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like when it is really busy. There was no turning back though because I’d only a couple of days in Athens before leaving for the neighbouring city of Piraeus and then sailing for the islands.

Although it was only mid morning it was desperately hot already and climbing the exposed bleached steps to the top of the Acropolis it felt like the anvil to the sun’s hammer and I began to break out into a massive sweat and had to stop several times for a drink of water and a short rest before reaching the site of the Parthenon at the top of the table top mountain.

The top of the Acropolis is huge but there isn’t really a lot to see, no statues, no paintings, no exhibits, but a rather barren archaeological site in the thirtieth year of its restoration with tens of thousands of pieces lying strewn in the dust and long since stripped of its treasures, a stark marble ruin surrounded by ancient brick and concrete, so once a full circuit has been completed, although it felt as though I should stay longer the truth is there is not a lot to stay around for.

This doesn’t mean that the visit experience is in any way disappointing or less wonderful just that it seems to me that there are two types of sightseeing, the first is where we go to admire the statues, the paintings and the exhibits and the second where the experience is simply about being there, in a place that has played such a pivotal role in world history and the development of civilisation and for me the Acropolis and the Parthenon is one of the latter.

The Parthenon is an icon of western civilisation and the most architecurally  copied building in the World wherever man wants to demonstrate authority and power through the construction of buildings and monuments.  Of course there might have been more to see if the Parthenon marbles had been in place but we of course know these as the Elgin Marbles and two hundred years ago the English aristocrat hacked the statues off the buildings with blunt instruments and sent them back to the London where the fifty-six sculpted friezes, depicting gods, men and monsters can now been found at Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury (more about that later).

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After leaving the Acropolis I walked back down the slippery slope of the Parthenon and picked my way between olive trees and day trippers competing for shade from the midday sun and after I had left I had a good long walk around the other principal tourist attractions in the city because in addition to the Acropolis there is the Ancient Greek and Roman Agora and the dramatic Temple of Zeus with its spectacular muscular columns thrusting triumphantly into the sky.  They are all in pretty poor shape it has to be said, the Parthenon at the Acropolis was blown up by Venetian invaders when it was being used as a Turkish armoury store, looted by Elgin and then damaged by ham-fisted restoration work in the early twentieth century, most of the Agora is pretty much non-existent and the Temple of Olympian Zeus has only a handful of its original columns still standing.  It was here that I saw what I found to be an amusing notice at the entry kiosk, in large letters it said:

Please respect the Antiquity”

Just a little late for that I thought.  What a pity someone didn’t think to put up these signs two thousand years ago, perhaps it would have stopped people in the middle ages dismantling them to build houses, the Turkish invaders from grinding down the marble to make mortar (yes, really) and made Lord Elgin think twice before he plundered the Acropolis for the treasures he returned to Britain.  But this was long before UNESCO and the World Heritage Sites initiative and so perhaps for most of those two thousand years no one has been especially concerned about the preservation of the past.

APTOPIX Greece Acropolis Museum

Much of the tourist area of the Plaka is simply built over the top of Ancient Greece and around every corner there is an open excavation, which disappears under a modern building or a road.  The Greek Agora has to be the worst example of all because running through the middle of it is a railway line.  I wonder who thought that was a good idea?  As the construction workers kept coming across priceless artefacts surely it must have occurred to someone that they should stop and excavate the place properly before carrying on?  Part of the reason why it took so long to build the Acropolis Museum was that the builders came across an unexpectedly rich archaeological site and it had to be properly examined and explored before the building could be completed.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus must have looked wonderful, it took six hundred years to build due to a stop-start building programme and when completed had one hundred and four Corinthian columns seventeen metres high (that’s about four London double decker buses).  Only fifteen remain standing now and one other lies in pieces across the site, blown down in a gale in 1852.  As early as the year 86 people were not respecting the antiquity and two columns were removed and taken to Rome to be relocated in the emerging Forum.  An earthquake probably did most of the damage and then everyone helped themselves to the stones for their new building projects around the city.

I walked through the Zappeion gardens to the recently restored and renovated International Conference Centre building that had wonderfully colourful internal decoration and then to the original Olympic stadium of the modern games built in 1884, and which was used symbolically once again in 2004.  After that it was a stroll around the official government buildings where I saw the Greek soldiers famous for their lanky legged, goose stepping walk.  They are called the Evzones, which is the name of the elite light infantry of the Greek Army and today refers to the members of the Proedriki Froura, who are the official Greek Presidential Guard, a select ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Parliament building and the Greek Presidential Palace.

The basic elements of their uniform are a scarlet garrison cap with a long black tassel, a woollen kilt, a cotton undershirt, white woollen stockings and black-tasselled knee garters and red leather clogs with hob-nailed souls and a black pompon.  The full-dress uniform, which derives from the traditional uniform of south-mainland Greece is only worn on Sundays, on important national holidays and other special occasions. It has a white, bell-sleeved shirt and a white kilt with four hundred pleats, which represents the four hundred years of Turkish Ottoman occupation and an awful lot of work for the poor person who has to do the ironing!

Aegean Odyssey

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Greece 2011, Athens and the Varvakios Agora (Central Market)

Athens and the Varvakios Agora (Central Market)

“The early morning animation is somehow an indication of the tempo at which Greece lives; you rise each morning to a new day, a new world, which has to be created from scratch.  Each day is a brilliant improvisation…”,                 Lawrence Durrell

On the last day we deliberately woke early because we wanted to return to the busy commercial street close to the hotel and visit the central market called the Varvakios Agora which was only a hundred metres or so away and housed inside a huge building with a dangerously crumbling facade that looked as though it might catastrophically collapse into the street into a pile of masonry and debris on the pavement at any moment.

Greece 2011, Antiparos

Kastro Antiparos

The hotel Kastro was excellent, we had stayed there before and had requested the same room but the owner insisted on upgrading us at no extra cost to a superior room and we were not going to argue with that!

In the morning we had an excellent breakfast under a swaying gazebo in the garden where we planned a leisurely day in and around the village and the beaches.

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Greece 2011, Ios to Antiparos

Ios Greece Cyclades

Although we were travelling to Antiparos today the ferry wasn’t due to leave until very late afternoon so we had most of the day ahead of us to spend on Ios.  After our final breakfast with more delicious figs we packed our bags in preparation for later departure and then walked to the harbour.

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Greece 2011, Ios – Snakes, Fishing and a Baptism

Ios Greece Cyclades

I wouldn’t normally watch TV while on holiday but was prepared to make an exception today because England were playing Argentina in the Rugby World Cup and it was being shown at a bar in the village at eleven o’clock so we made arrangements to meet Martin and Lisa there and then went for a walk to the village for an hour or so before it started.

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Greece 2011, Koufonisia to Ios

Koufonisia Drift Wood Art

If we had taken any notice of the Canadian lady’s story about gales and worried about it at all then we needn’t have done because when we woke to our last day in Koufonisia there was no wind at all, the sun was shining and the prospects were good for a perfect day.

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Greece 2011, Koufonisia and The Meaning of Life

Koufonisia Greek Islands

It must have been a rough night, weather wise, because the ferry quay was awash as waves slapped against the harbour side and we had to negotiate deep puddles of sea water to get to the car park to meet the owner of the Villa Maria Vekri for the transport to our apartment and as we drove past the beach we could see that it had had a bit of an overnight battering as well!

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Island Hopping and Greek Ferries

I have been visiting the Greek islands on and off for twenty-five years and island hopping for the last six and I have noticed that things are beginning to alter, and not always for the better either.  There are new roads being constructed on the islands and EU funded improvements to ports, traditional mini-markets are becoming supermarkets and the ferries are beginning to change.  New roads are fine and improved port facilities are good, personally I prefer the dusty old shops with surprises in dark corners but I have to say that I am really disappointed by the ferry changes.

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Joanna Lumley – Greek Odyssey

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Joanna Lumley stole my intellectual property rights!

Furthermore this has to be possibly the worst piece TV travel documentary that I have ever seen.  It isn’t about Greece at all, it’s about Joanna Lumley!  That ubiquitous pose staring out from a hotel balcony or the bow of a ship and the crying – what is the crying all about?  Her travel down the Nile in Eygpt was bad but this program even manages to eclipse that!

These are my journals about the places I have visited:

Alónnisos

Amorgos

Anti-Paros

Athens

Crete

Corfu

Delos

Egiali (Amorgos)

Folegandros

Ios

Kefalonia

Kimolos

Koufonisia

Milos

Mykonos

Naxos

Paros

Piraeus

Rhodes

Santorini

Serifos

Sifnos

Skiathos

Skópelos

Symi

Thassos

Tinos