20.12.2008 - 22.12.2008 18 °C
Decided to get back to Athens the easy way and just bus it the whole way. Got dumped in a bus station in some random part of town. I did ask for (and get) information on how to get to the nearest Metro stop, so took a local bus. Should have asked for advice on how to recognise a Metro stop! I couldn't work out where I'd started, where I was headed or what any of the signs meant (the thought did cross my mind, sorry, that "its all Greek to me"). I can't really explain why, but I just got off the bus only to then see the Hostelling International symbol on the building opposite. My pathetically relieved response? "Ah, they'll be able to tell me where my hostel is." Damn me if I didn't accidentally get off at the actual hostel I was booked in to.
Initial impressions of Athens were not good; dirty, seedy, crappy scruffy buildings.
I wandered around my area a little, finding the train station (round the corner from the hostel, so I should have just caught the train) only to be laughed at when I asked for a ticket to Thessaloniki (my whole plan of getting to Hamburg by train kind of depended on this, but they were booked solid till after Christmas). I took a walk further afeild, down the main drag past Parliament, into a pedestrianised shopping street with all the flash brands (and very pale people wearing elaborate American Indian costumes perfroming in bands, about four of them - very strange). Billions of people milling about and no sign of food, unless you count McDonalds or Everest, its local equivalent. Lots of cafes, but with people just drinking coffee, smoking and talking very vigourously to each other; no food.
Wandering back through Omonia Square, I decided to try out a place just because it had a couple of nice looking roast chickens in the window. It was pretty much just another fast food joint but with the added bonus of beer and the saddest drug dealer I've ever seen. He came in with a kid, hissing "hasheesh". No takers, as far as I could see. The two cops sitting in the back may have dampened demand. Ten minutes later, he's back, to beg; money from us, food from the shop. He was surprisingly successful on both counts, scarpering with a rather large bag of kebabs and the like.
It was still early, but I didn't really fancy any more of Athens so retired to my hostel.
Things improved remarkably the next day. I wandered up a different street and found a rather nice bakery with a good cafe in back; full of Greeks talking vigourously to each other and smoking, but with free croissants and decent coffee. This was a "Greek History" day for me, so I followed my guidebook fairly faithfully, starting with what is left of Zeus's Sanctuary:
Looks a bit like someone's been playng skittles:
In the same area, there is Hadrian's Arch (posibly built around 131 AD to honour Hadrian as the new Roman Emperor of Greece):
I liked the look of his library better (and the fact that they have this great antique building right in the middle of downtown Athens, next to a Metro station):
Next up was the Acropolis. My guidebook insisted that I follow a wee path, about one person wide, up between some tiny whitewashed houses, built by and for the stonemasons working on the Acropolis. It was a very nice walk, but the houses tended to be hidden away from view so I failed to get any decent photos. My guidebook told me I'd find a road to the Acropolis at the end of the path, but failed to say which way to go. I also ran into a couple of guys wearing leather coats and faces like those of President Putin's bodygiards who were equally bewildered, and Rebekah, a final year Biology student from Germany. For some strange reason, she decided to join forces with me, so we struck out up the hill - a logical way to go to a city in the sky, yes? Apparently not as we hit a dead end; you have to go down to go up, it seems.
On the way we saw lots of bits and pieces of marble and other building materails - at times we were left to wonder if we were looking at a ruin or a building yard, but were left in no doubt with the Odeon of Herodes Atticus:
In fact, we had a bit of an argument over whether the seats might have had restoration work done to them; I couldn't believe they'd look so good (the thing was built in 160 AD, by Atticus to commemorate his wife) but Rebecca insisted that "marble keeps well". Maybe Dionysus just used crap materials when he had his theatre made in 500 BC:
The site was a lot smaller than I imagined - I still don't know if it is where everyone lived back when it was built, but it is only about 3 hectares. The thing that amazed me was all the work involved, in getting verything up on top of a sizable hill to build the fortifications and all the buildings. Its a shame that only the Parthenon really survives:
and it is in bad shape, although under restoration. This provoked another argument: Rebecca is sure it will take centuries to do; I think it will be done in her life time. After all, it didn't actually take centuries to build - I think Pericles pretty much got the job done while he was in charge of Attica. Small data point: the guys who had control before Perciles had their own building project under way - they managed to bring 8000 2 tonne blocks of stone from Pireaus (maybe 50 k away) and get it to the top of the hill! That's teamwork.
We wandered down a different way, only for me to find a long strip oif restaurants down one street, and another strip down another and me being heartily laughed at for not being able to find a restaurant in Athens. So to punish her for laughing at me, I made Rebecca have dinner with me - it was nice to have company.