With the Acropolis behind us, it was now time to explore some of the other sites within central Athens. They actually have a pretty good system worked out for all of this, you buy one ticket at the Acropolis which is actually a set of tickets that get you in there as well as to the other various sites in the area.

First up was the Roman Agora, a smaller and more organized development than the Ancient Agora we had visited the day before. Looking up at the sky past what remains of the entrance one starts to get a feel of the immensity of this former marketplace.

As opposed to many other locations, touching the columns was allowed here which affords us an opportunity to really appreciate the scale of these structures, even in photographs. Keep in mind that the tops of the columns here are missing, so the actual structure was even larger. Though it is still hard to express in words the feeling of awe that one gets when wandering around these locations. Even when not much is left of the previous glory, it is still possible to imagine the activities which took place. Here we would have seen commerce being transacted as folks visited the shops and offices within the structure.

The octagonal  Tower of the Winds, also known as horologion or timepiece, built in either the first or second century BC, is the most preserved of the ancient structures within the agora. In ancient times it functioned as both a weather vane and a water clock. Additionally it contained a number of sundials.

While Aeolus, the son of Poseidon, was the god of all of the winds in general there were also gods of each of the 8 winds. Each is sculpted on the corresponding face of the tower. These gods are collectively known as the Anemoi which comes from the Greek word for wind, anemos, which in turn is the root of anemometer, the device used to measure wind speed. Below each frieze was one of the sundials.

  • Boreas (N) was strong and violent and was often depicted with the conch shell through which his wind whistled
  • Kaikias (NE) carried a shield full of hail stones
  • Euros (E) carried a vase pouring out the rain he carried from the east
  • Apeliotes (SE) often caused a refreshing rain welcome by the farmers and was often seen carrying fruit
  • Notos (S) was known to bring the storms of late summer
  • Livas (SW) was often seen holding the stern of a ship
  • Zephyros (W) was the gentlest of the winds known to usher in spring
  • Skiron (NW) was a bearded man who carried a cauldron as the sign that winter was coming

The Fethiye Cami (Mosque), built in 1456, commemorating the fall of Constantinople, is also fully intact, not surprising given it’s youth and the fact that it still functions as a storehouse of archeological material. It is technically not part of the Roman Agora standing just outside of it’s once grandiose walkways, we only “stumbled” upon it since it as in the same ticketed area.

I am not sure how they related to the sites we were visiting, but there were some very interesting earthen urns right outside of the mosque.

We spent a little more time wandering around the enclosure and noticed that there was still a remnant of the water that used to flow through the area. Sources state that in addition to the shops and offices at this location there was a public restroom built for 70 people. It probably looked something like the ones described here, only larger. Despite my recalling what our guide would later tell us on Delos about the toilet actually being a social gathering spot where folks would linger awhile, one can only imagine the number of people that must have frequented this agora to require space for 70.

Having taken in everything we could here, we left and meandered the streets in the area a bit as we headed towards our next destination. We were in the neighborhood known as the Plaka a wonderful location with a lot of character in both the streets themselves and the folks frequenting them. Yes, it is the center of the tourist area and you have shops selling just about everytrinket available, including many of the evil eye charms or nazars that I had purchased the day before. The streets are narrow and often stepped making motored navigation extremely interesting. And many of the restaurants take every spot they can on these terraces for setting up tables, when Steph and I say this we knew we had to come back here for dinner on one of our free nights. We didn’t actually know, or really care, which one of the restaurants we dined at, we just figured it would be a unique experience.

Our next destination was the Temple of Olympian Zeus which I had been seeing from a distance for days and thus I was really interested in getting an up front view. It was worth the wait.

Both the grandeur and the detail are stunning. From the elaborate Corinthian capitals to the columns themselves it was both awork of art and a feat of engineering as here again we see the perfection in the spacing of the 24 flutes. Despite most of the remaining structure being in one corner, thankfully two columns remain at the opposite end to give one a sense of the scale of the ancient temple.

Here we also finally see evidence of how these columns were constructed in pieces which where then stacked skyward. If you look closely you can even see the notches in the stone where stabilizers were inserted between layers. While they didn’t extend through layers adding even more support, the fact that they existed at all is a huge testament to the knowledge the creators had, especially when you note that Greece is in one of the most active seismic zones in the world..

On the way out we got yet another glimpse into the scale of this temple as can be seen here where I am sitting on the remnants of one of the columns that didn’t fare so well. And also when you look back across some other partial columns towards the Acropolis.

Given that we now had about an hour until we needed to meet back at the hotel to head off on our cruising adventure we didn’t feel we had the time to visit the Panathinaiko Stadium and instead wandered across the street into the National Gardens of Athens where I had spent some time my first evening.

This time we went further in and discovered quite a bit of art work throughout as well as a small fountain, a fairly dried up man-made lake, and a small zoo. There was actually quite a lot for such a small corner of land in the middle of central Athens. And we also just got to do some people watching as we strolled through.

We also heard the voices of another set of protestors likely marching at or near the nearby parliamentary building.

A very full morning complete we headed back to an organized yet slightly frenzied departure from the hotel to our cruise ship as we had to somehow get 18 people, complete with luggage, into 6 cabs in a matter of  minutes.

Shortly after arriving at the our Variety Cruises ship for our Jewels of the Cyclades cruise we were ushered into the salon of the M/S Galileo, a 51 meter motor sailor with 26 cabins, to wait for our cabin assignments. We knew we were going to be treated well as soon as we sat down as we were immediately given glasses of juice and made to feel quite welcome by the sharply, yet casually, dressed crew.

This was not the same type of cruise as I had been on in November on board one of the mega ships operated by Royal Caribbean, nor would I have wanted it to be. The Greek islands are best explored by being able to anchor here and there and duck into some of the less commercial harbors. Not that we would be able to do as much of that as if we were sailing on a 40-50 foot private charter, but we would make much faster time between ports allowing us to see more islands in our short one week at sea.

Finally, after two days of living out of the top of a suitcase it was possible to unpack, as we were not changing rooms every night any more. We then headed back up to the salon for a safety briefing followed by the all important welcoming cocktail party including drinks and wonderful lamb, cheese, and olive appetizers. It was a great start to what would turn out to be both a fun packed yet relaxing week of sun, sea, and islands.

As we headed out onto the Aegean Sea we got a glimpse of the two of the newest Olypmpic stadiums built for the 2004 Summer Games, the bowl shaped Athens Olympic Stadium used for, among other things, the opening and closing ceremoniesand the New Karaiskaki Stadium, with it’s signature red iron work, home of football during the games.

Upon boarding we were informed that our itinerary was being changed, as was noted as a possibility when we signed up, due to weather. This is the one downside of being on a smaller ship, you can’t sail in all of the conditions that the big boys (or should I say girls since ships are generally referred to in the feminine) can play in. So instead of heading for a quick stop at Poros we left a bit later with a destination of Santorini mid day the next day. Once underway, we explored the ship a bit more, making our way up to the sun deck fairly early on where you see our fearless leader, Ihla, hanging out.

Along the way, just before dinner we stopped for a short swim under the Temple of Poseidon on Sounion which lies at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula of mainland Greece. The change was a bit confusing as there is also a sanctuary of Posiedon on Poros that I had on my “like to explore list”.

While it was cloudy and thus a bit chilly I figured that it was necessary to test the waters, especially in the shadows of Poseidon, it is not good to get him on your bad side when sailing. It turned out to not be bad at all and I actually stayed in for around 15 minutes and thus got to know some of the new folks a bit more. You will probably laugh at me for the next revelation, it wasn’t until I was in for some time that I remembered we were in salt water and thus I didn’t really have to work all that hard to stay afloat.

We also skipped our swim stop at Kimolos and our walk of the upper city at Foelgandros but would make up for it with additional stops added later in the trip.

We were then treated to a reasonable sunset, we weren’t sure we were going to have much of one due to the cloud cover, and things cleared just enough to get us enough color in the sky to make us really feel like we were sailing, or at least motoring.

The first dinner on board was a pretty elegant affair with a choice of menu options for our entree as well as a nice starter and salad. It was a sit down affair and the food was excellent. The only complaint was that we had been led to believe that local wine was included with dinner and this turned out not to be the case since we had had access to an old brochure. It didn’t matter that much anyway since they were not really up-selling it too badly, charging only 3 Euros a glass. Given that we were a captive audience they really could have charged quite a bit more.

Oh, there was one other thing, since the seas were a bit rough, a few folks were not feeling the best upon sitting down to dinner. I can relate to this having had a similar thing happen on our Mexican cruise, which surprised me then given my sailing background. Though at least there I was able to make it through dinner and just needed some Perrier and fresh air to calm my stomach. For the folks here, the real trick was to stop eating and just sleep the night away hoping for calmer seas and/or the seasick meds to kick in by morning. For me this was back to more of the motion I am used to with this boat being much closer in size to what I am normally on, much bigger but closer, than the 15 deck luxury liner in Mexico.