We arrived at the Port of Rafina and jumped in a cab, a ride which got progressively more terrifying as we got further into the city. Our hotel for the night is right in Plaka, a central touristy neighborhood right near the Acropolis. Hotel Hermes was lovely and everything I think a European hotel should be- polite and clean and small enough to fit into the dense city center, with good air conditioning. I took a shower and then walked around the neighborhood a bit before meeting the O’Donnells for dinner at their new favorite restaurant, Avocado, a vegetarian and vegan place not far from the hotel. My omnivore heart was skeptical, but they had loved it so much that I was willing to try it- and it turned out to be quite good. It’s always hard for me to avoid nuts in these situations, and most of the pasta was either egg pasta or had nuts in it, but I had guacamole and chips and falafel with tahini and pita bread and it was perfect. Willa Marie and I split a creamy caramel biscuit something that arrived looking like just a pile of whipped cream drizzled with caramel, but underneath was a caramel cookie that I would have again in a heartbeat. So Avocado was a success.
I slept very well in my king-sized bed, so well that I overslept in the morning and was late to the continental breakfast, where I inadvertently poured hot milk on my cereal. It was not delicious.
David and I met Christos, a guide they had taken a hike with on Tinos, just outside the Acropolis. He is a marble carver and is working on the restoration of the Acropolis. With him was his friend Spiros, who used to be a security guard at the Acropolis. He brought us inside and took us behind the rope line at the old hospital temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and showed us some of the work they are doing, the cataloguing of stones and how they piece things together. It was very cool. There were also some tortoises that live there, which seemed strange, but we saw 3 of them. Asclepius believed that theater and dogs were good for the soul. I can’t say I disagree, although for me it’s more like movies and cats (nothing against theater (except bad college theater) or dogs). Christos also gave us each “plum cherries” from a tree growing in the hospital. They are supposed to have restorative qualities. I am going to plant mine.
We continued up the hill of the Acropolis, with the hoards of people. We saw the ancient theater, the Odeon Of Herrodes, where Sting and Calexico (surely an odd combo?) will be playing in June. Pretty cool venue to see someone. My ankle, still sore from two days before when I fell on it in Pyrgos, was not thrilled about standing and chatting on the slanting, slippery marble below the entrance. Ouch. Thankfully it was really only at that angle that it hurt badly. It rallied later and allowed me to have a 30,000+ step day in Athens. 12.5 miles!
The Acropolis is really something. As with the Louvre, I spent the whole time wishing that I could be there without the masses of people holding up iPads to take photos. This has always been a pet peeve of mine but I haven’t noticed it in awhile. Ugh. iPads. Tacky.
The temple of Athena Nike, behind the Acropolis and above the entrance, is where the statue of the Winged Victory was originally placed. I think it’s interesting that it’s in the Louvre now- I’m sure there is a dispute about it between the two countries. However, now that I’m looking all this up on Wikipedia, I suspect something got lost in translation between us and Christos. I’m not entirely sure this is where the Winged Victory resided. This is a good example of an issue I encountered a lot in Greece: lack of plaques or signs telling the average history, without a headset, anything at all about what’s in front of them. Granted the presence of such signs would make it feel a bit less oldy-timey, but the scads is tourists take care of that pretty well all by themselves.
Temple of Athena Nike
We spent a good deal of time just looking at the ruins and talking to Christos and Spiros. Spiros said that everything you can imagine happens at the Acropolis- people trying to take rocks home, people fainting, people slipping on the marble, terrorist threats- one girl even tried to take home one of the cats that lives there before the guards heard her backpack meowing.
As we walked down the hill Dave got in touch with Jessica and Willa Marie and we agreed to meet at the Acropolis museum. We said our goodbyes to Christos and Spiros, who are great- very into heavy metal and snakes. If you ever go to Tinos and need a guide, Christos is your guy. Let me know and I can get you his info.
The Acropolis museum is lovely, and very well put together, although I again missed signs in English that explained more about each piece. I suppose I should expect signs in English in a museum in Greece, but I have come to expect it. I dislike audio tours and prefer to go at my own pace. The O’Donnells had to leave pretty quickly anyway, so we didn’t have time to linger. We saw the main things- the top floor is the size of the Parthenon exactly and they have tried to replicate where pieces would have been placed on the exterior. There were some very beautiful statues, one in particular of a long serpent that I liked a lot, and many ruins of formerly beautiful statues destroyed in the many wars that the Acropolis has seen. It’s a beautiful place.
From there we walked back to our hotel, where we picked up luggage and said goodbye =( it was really lovely traveling with the O’Donnell-Thebuses. Willa Marie has reached a perfect age for hanging out without needing to be entertained all the time, and David and Jessica have the kind of silly, loving, mature relationship that I can only hope to achieve someday in my life. They all genuinely like each other and I think they were genuinely glad I joined them for 5 days. I know I am.
I took a cab from Hotel Hermes to my hostel, which was really just the top floor of an old hotel, Hotel Lozanni. It was in a bit of a sketchy neighborhood (definite hookers hanging around late at night), but my room was simple and cute and just what I needed:
And the price was right. Very right. The only complaint I really have is that I let the proprietor call a cab for me this morning when I was leaving, and he called a friend, who charged me 15€ more than anyone had said a ride to the airport should cost. My mistake. Rookie move, Cameron.
I hung out for a bit and changed, then left to walk to the Athens First Cemetery, to find the Sleeping Girl carves by Yannoulis Chalepas, whose home we had visited on Tinos. It was a few miles away. Along the way I walked through the National Gardens, which had a sort of aviary that also featured goats, and happened upon the Panathenaic Stadium, the oldest and largest marble stadium in the world and the site of the first Olympics! I had to go in. I climbed all the way to the top:
It was pretty cool, I must say. And hardly anyone was there, which was a welcome change after the Acropolis and it’s museum. The small museum and store at the stadium were closed, but I’m glad I went. You can’t just walk past a huge carved marble stadium and not go in. Or at least I can’t.
After a couple of wrong turns I found the cemetery. The old Greek lady at the gate made sure I knew that it closed at 8:00- I only had 40 minutes. But as luck would have it, the Sleeping Girl is not far into the cemetery, and on the central road. She was not hard to find, and she was as beautiful as expected.
I think my favorite tombstones are the ones that feature exact likenesses of the people buried underneath. There were quite a few in this cemetery, along with some interesting modern art headstones. I wonder what it costs to be buried there? It certainly seems full, but there’s were headstones for people who had died as recently as 2015. I imagine it’s extremely expensive.
At this point I was getting tired of walking, so I caught a cab back to the Plaka neighborhood, where the Acropolis is, and where I knew there were restaurants that catered to tourists. I just didn’t feel like dealing with finding something else. I sat in the square of restaurants and had chicken souvlaki with French fries and steamed vegetables. It was perfect. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
It was a long day, but a great day. Athens is dirty and graffitied but also a vibrant and exciting place- and the history is stunning when you really start to think about it. I’m sure I’m forgetting things- I’m at the airport and sleep deprived and waiting for my flight home- so I may edit this. Planning to write the next day up while I’m on the plane.