Friday, 13 May 2011

An Introduction to ATHENS

After what seemed like and endless flight we arrived in Athens early morning and negotiated their relatively new metro service with (accidental) ease. We explored Athens on foot as most of what we wanted to see and do is in the city centre. We were taken immediately by the heavy traffic, many motorbikes and the crazy driving. Road markings were last re- touched at the time of the Olympics and I don't mean the modern ones.  It would seem that rules are to be broken and it was not uncommon for motorbikes and scooters to mount the footpaths to avoid a traffic light. You take your life in your hands merely walking down the street and if the pedestrian signal is green we learnt to not take that as a given that all drivers respect that ....they seldom do. We were on the receiving end of many a gesticulation and much horn blasting.

It is not as crowded as one would imagine. That’s unless you try and get on the metro as 99% of the population head off to a protest march on the day of a general strike. When they all get off at one station you find you are the only ones left on the metro with not a pick pocketer in sight. We have been warned of the pick pocketers around the metro stations and I have never seen Brent clutch his man bag so tightly!

We discovered a yoghurt shop that served thick and creamy (spoon stand up thick) yoghurt with your choice of fresh fruit. Black Cherry was our favourite and we returned to this shop on our travels the next day as well.

Our first Greek meal was at a lovely Taverna in the Plaka district...the pedestrian only oldest neighbourhood in Athens .That's not to say cars and motorbikes don't flaunt the law here.  While we were sitting there a car squeezed past, how without hitting tourists enjoying their meal outside was beyond me. Waiters from both sides of the street scurried to shift tables and chairs to allow the cars to pass. Brent could not resist the French Fries!....also flaunting the law.....when in Greece eat Greek!

I have taken a liking to one of the traditional Greek bread Kouloupi, sold in huge quantities by street vendors. While people watching down by Syntagma (Constitution) Square I watched the hordes of people coming out of the Metro buying Koulpupi. The majority of people bought two of these thin rounds of bread covered in sesame seeds, however the skinny young girls only bought one!

Coffee is not great and is expensive. Strawberries at 1.80 E a kilo are freshly picked and sweet. Fresh feta for around 4 E is a bargain. Our bottled water in NZ has a way to go to come down in price...they sell it here in the supermarkets for .15 E.

We enjoyed the Hop on Hop off double decker bus that took us around the major must sees in Athens , including the Parthenon ( infuriatingly crowded), National Gardens  and the changing of the guards at the House of Parliament , New Acropolis Museum and other numerous archaeological sites.  Cultured commuting also has its place where two large metro stations display finds from the subway excavations and amount to Athens newest small museums.

I particularly liked the inscription on Hadrian Arch. Now for the history lesson. Hadrian was a Roman Emperor but built a number of monuments in Athens including this enormous triumphal arch with its highly ornamental Corinthian columns. Hadrian didn't hesitate to use his arch to let the Athenians know who was boss. The inscription facing the Acropolis  side reads  THIS IS ATHENS, THE ANCIENT CITY OF THESEUS  On the other side it states THIS IS THE CITY OF HADRIAN,NOT OF THESEUS .

 We also ventured on the bus out to the Port of Piraeus; apparently the third largest port in the world and it was not difficult to see why. We explored the area by foot and were hounded by the people touting for business outside the restaurants (most of them empty) down by the waterfront. We found a quaint little cafe in a side street up a steep hill and while we were looking at the menu were encouraged to come inside by a group of local men attesting to the fact the cafe was for the locals. It was run by a family and  the food was amazing , however I had read the bus timetable wrong and half way through had to ask for one dish to be packed up to take away. Had we not done so we would have had another hour to wait for the next bus to take us back to Athens.

We decided we would get off at the National Archaeological Museum having checked with the driver that it would still be open. However even Greeks get confused by their complicated and changeable hours and we arrived to find this shut. We decided that it would not be offensive to anyone if we sat on the steps and ate our takeaway!

I am astounded by the Amazonian size of the elite Ezvones guards, an elite ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They are on 24 hour duty down at Parliament buildings.  You are allowed to take photos standing beside them (when directed by the minder) and when my turn came they towered above me. It is all very serious and you are not allowed to talk to them, however I could not resist asking one as I smiled at the camera if he was ticklish? For all the seriousness of it the way in which they march with their legs and arms borders on hilarious and I got a fit of the giggles.

We are going to attempt to rent a car tomorrow and join the crazy drivers...when you don't know where you are going any road will do.

No comments:

Post a Comment