Arrived in Greece. Flight OK, on time, empty seat next to me. Having trouble syncing analogue watch dial, auto didn't work. Athens pretty from air due to roads hugging contours, no grid. Can't see much from Metro; overground but dark. Touch of home: train keeps saying Mind the Gap. Platforms straight though, maybe due to different design of Suburban trains.
To get to Metro from Athens arrivals: exit, take lift up one storey, follow corridor. All signs just say Trains: means both suburban and Metro, labelled clearly but only on platform itself. Need to buy AND VALIDATE ticket before going to platform though.
Got to the hotel with only minor hiccups. Line 2 has end stations that both begin Agios ("Saint", Agios Antonios is the North, Agios Dimitiros the South), got on the wrong one but switched back straightaway.
Went for a walk around. Surprisingly warm. Been to the Med in winter before and it's usually pretty chilly after dark (Florence, Rome, Madrid, Barca, Istanbul anyway, but Athens is warm.)
Hotel OK, usual stuff, good location. They charge for wifi though: 200 min is 10 Euros and the interface is annoying.
It's closed at night but circumnavigated the Acropolis. It literally is a High City: looks like it would make an impregnable fortress.
Tuesday 10th November
Very productive morning. Zoomed up the Acropolis as soon as it opened, beating the crowds to the summit, I hoped.
Absolutely awesome, I was practically burbling as I passed each famous site, starting with the Theatre of Dionysus, Roman Odeon Theatre, various temples, and finally the Parthenon itself.
Disturbing incident on the way down though. Heard a yell, a faint thud and an "Oh My God" (no screams). Wasn't sure if it was just horsing around, but a bit later uniformed guys dashed past with tense, worried expressions. Found out later it was a suicide.
Wednesday 11th November
Met up with Taz of Metachat and Metafilter, plus Mr Taz and Sky the dog. Great people! I was only expecting we'd grab a quick coffee, but they insisted on treating me to lunch, outside at a great Greek restaurant. Then they took me on a fantastic walk up the Hill of the Pynx with a superb view over Athens.
I can't say thanks enough! Really charming and funny guys. Here's Sky the Dog:
Also that day I saw the Changing of the Guard at the Greek Parliament. The Guards seem to take it very seriously, despite the pom-pom shoes.
Also went round the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Which is just opposite the Athens Gate Hotel where I was staying.
Thursday 12th November
Was originally supposed to rain, so planned to do a museum or two. Was actually fine, but did a marathon museum zoom anyway.
Archaeological Museum was first. Saw the Death Mask of Agamemnon, which is probably not actually Agamemnon, if he ever existed.
Also saw the Antikythera mechanism, and lots of pots.
Next went to the National Gallery.Highlights, a couple of El Grecos. Mostly not very distinguished, could easily be skipped if you're in a hurry. Some pretty cute 19th century stuff though, especially the servant girl stealing kisses through a Window.
There's a bunch of museums in a row. Military museum is fun, lots of guns and swords, including replicas of Homeric weapons. Has a bunch of aircraft in the courtyard.
Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek art concentrates on the stylized prehistoric figures, some of which they think they've traced back to individual artists. Apparently they may have been painted originally, so may have looked quite different. No one seems to know what they were for, so they defaulted to Fertility Goddess.
Benaki museum has a diverse collection of artifacts covering the evolution of Greek culture. Pretty good, but not outstanding after all the others.
Friday 13th November
Went to the modern Olympic venue of 2004, to see what we're likely to get lumbered with after 2012. Have to say, J.G. Ballard would certainly have loved it. It's barely used, and the vast concrete and white steel complex is just showing the first signs of rust and graffiti. It's like wandering around a spacewrecked starship: very impressive psychogeographically.
Still not convinced it's worth spending a billion quid on our own version though. For one thing white concrete doesn't degrade prettily in our climate, getting covered in black mouldy streaks almost instantaneously.
But if you're a Ballardian you should definitely go see it. Put the pics in their own Athens Modern Olympic Stadium Flickr set.
After that climbed the hill of wolves. Great view from the top, though hazier today. There's a nice monastery there, and more importantly a restaurant and a toilet. Wandered back down through a street fruit and veg market, still seems cool to see oranges surrounded by leaves.
Later tried going to the Keramikos ancient cemetery, but turns out to close at 3 in the winter, not 5 as the guidebook said. Still got a pretty good look from the outside though.
Evening tried eating at the restaurant on the site of the Painted Stoa, where stoic philosophy was first taught, and got its name from. (A stoa is a shady, columned porch/arcade, used for shopping and public business in ancient Greece.) Certainly provides at least a minor test of stoicism. "Roof Garden" is enclosed in plastic, possibly an attempt to circumvent anti-smoking law. Service indifferent, food OK. I wrote more about that on the stoic forum.
Saturday 14th November
Booked the Three Island One Day Cruise. Cruise on Flickr. Quite convenient: they pick you up from the hotel and cart you everywhere, though there are stern warnings that if you're late they will leave you as port authorities demand they keep to schedule. Reminded of Epictetus:
As on a voyage when the vessel has reached a port, if you go out to get water it is an amusement by the way to pick up a shellfish or some bulb, but your thoughts ought to be directed to the ship, and you ought to be constantly watching if the captain should call, and then you must throw away all those things, that you may not be bound and pitched into the ship like sheep. So in life also, if there be given to you instead of a little bulb and a shell a wife and child, there will be nothing to prevent (you from taking them). But if the captain should call, run to the ship and leave all those things without regard to them. But if you are old, do not even go far from the ship, lest when you are called you make default.However, large 3-decker catamaran is pretty impersonal, lunch was pretty awful, and there's no commentary, and little information. You're probably better off with normal ferries.
Think I was put off by Douglas Adams theory that the book of Revelation was written in a haze of desperation waiting for a Greek ferry. There seem to be a lot of horror stories about but they're probably for tricky journeys in the outskirts: a hop from Piraeus to Aegina probably isn't that hard.
The first island is Hydra, famous for its cats, though it also has plenty of cannon, and the odd butterfly.
Next island is Poros.
Then on Aegina you get to see the Temple of Aphaia if you book the Optional Archaeological Tour. However, I don't know much about that. Worried about getting Called Back, I just followed the Archaeological Tour lady onto a bus, which turned out to be the Japanese/Russian language bus, which was somewhat confusing. By the time I got onto the English/Espanol bus we were past it.
However, I did get to see the sunset: apparently Aegina is famous for the quality of its light which attracts artists, according to the English/Espanol commentary.
Had a nice holiday. Well worth going. If you want even more, here's a link to all 157 pictures I uploaded.
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