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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.

Yassas,

Wendy

As those of you who have been following my Brazil posts know, I had only a couple of days between returning to Chicago and heading to Greece. Thankfully from a health perspective I got the upgrade on the flight back to Chicago and actually got a good night’s sleep and since Greece was a pleasure trip I had “bought” a business class ticket with miles.

From a stress perspective things were different. And the unpacking and repacking part was the least of it. Given that Brazilian passport stamps take two spaces and that I took that extra trip to Buenos Aires, I had zero, well actually negative, space in my passport for new stamps. So I was worried that they wouldn’t let me on the plane. Somehow, luck was with me and I happened to call the passport agency just as someone cancelled an appointment and get a slot to get new pages added just before I left.

The stress didn’t end there though, as no one could guarantee that the pages could be added, all I could do was show up for the appointment and hope for the best. So I arrived early, and actually had to leave and come back since I was too early, got in line and got to the first window just before my appointment time. Even then I couldn’t get an answer, only a number to wait in another area to talk to an agent. Finally more than an hour later, might have been closer to 2 hours, I was called to the window and the first reaction was that “it’s not going to happen”. Somehow I remained calm and re-emphasized that my flight was that night, at that point the agent, Brian, looked at my itinerary and became my new best friend as he said he would push it through for me. Then, on further inspection he advised that I actually get a new passport as mine was expiring within the year and so beat up that it might not support new pages. Since he guaranteed that he could push that through too I ran, literally ran, off to get some new photos. Upon returning I was able to go right back to Brian without waiting in another line and start the actual process, from which there was no turning back since one of the first steps is for the agent to punch a hole through it’s photo page. I did thank Brian many times and noted that it must have been fate that I got him as my agent as I have a brother with that name.

Another hour or so later, I had the new document in hand and was headed home to hang for only a short time before heading to the airport. Finally I could relax. And relax I did, first in the Red Carpet Club where I enjoyed a nice glass of wine that I “bought” with the coupons they gave me when I entered and then on the plane in business class (yes, there are perks to traveling all the time for work). Sad, but true, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed by Lufthansa’s business class after having been in one of the upgraded United business cabins a few days earlier. Not only did we have recliners. which I expected, instead of the new flat beds, they were the most uncomfortable recliners I have ever experienced, and I fly a lot and even had been in Lufthansa business class before and didn’t remember such wacky seats. The controls were utterly confusing and when I did move the seat into it’s nearly flat position to sleep it had the effect of being at just the right angle to make me keep sliding down towards the footrest. Yes, I know, most people fly coach for trips like this so have no sympathy, and I am not looking for any. If, however, someday you do get the chance to fly business, I recommend against taking Lufthansa unless they upgrade their cabins.

In the early afternoon we landed in Munich, what a gorgeous airport, not that I really get into those kind of things, but this couple that I had met in the Red Carpet Club where were also on their way to Greece had mentioned this, and they were right. A huge difference from Frankfort which is where I have changed many times before.

There was the standard trek to and through customs, though this time it did feel weird showing them a virgin passport. And it made me reflect on how I was wearing the exact outfit that I was in for the picture since as you know from above, the passport was hot off of the press.

After a quick stop in the club I headed to the gate to board for Athens, and here again I was not impressed with Lufthansa. All of the signs indicated that boarding was imminent yet there was no indication that it was close once you got to the gate. And there was only a figurative attempt to board in any kind of order. Thinking back, it was similar in Chicago, there were supposedly lines for the various cabins which all blended together. In addition there was some pre-boarding, which is find, it just wasn’t clear to those of us waiting when things would actually start moving.

Finally I was in Athens and waiting for my bag, which did arrive, so I did not have a repeat of my trials of my arrival in Brazil. As I was waiting I noticed a sign for Mythos beer and figured that I would have to try that at some point just because of the name, even though I am not a big beer drinker.

Luggage in hand, it was off to my hotel. Sadly, in a way, I didn’t have to go through customs again since I was flying within the E.U. so I don’t have a stamp that proves I was in Greece. I guess I will have to rely on my pictures. Because I was part of a tour, even though I arrived a day early, I had a driver waiting for me. I tell you, that is such a nice thing after hours on a plane and especially in a place where the languages spoken are not the ones you know. It turns out my driver spoke excellent English, but I’ll save the rest of that story for a future post.

Since I wanted to stay up for a few hours and was not yet hungry I began wandering around the area near my hotel. While I had done some research about the islands we were going to visit I had not had much time to look into things in Athens so I didn’t have any real plans for what to try to see, and as Steph was getting there the next day wanted to save most sightseeing for with her.

So I set out and discovered that Hadrian’s Arch was steps away from my hotel, the Airhotel Parthenon, which was not only in a great location, it was clean and comfortable and the service was excellent. I had actually seen the arch on the way in to town so I knew it was close and it was a good welcome to Greece, and later a good parting shot to my quick trot around a part of central Athens. Of course it also felt good just to be walking after spending the better part of a day in transit.

I continued wandering to see if I could get any good shots of the Temple of Olympian Zeus without getting inside the gated area as by this time everything was closing or closed for the night. I succeeded.

Despite the fact that you can probably already appreciate the grandeur of this structure from these far away photos, I’ll let the cat out of the bag a bit and tell you that the ones you will see in an upcoming post should do a much better job of evoking a sense of how magnificent this building was, and for that matter, still is.

On the way in my driver had noted the Olympic stadium from the 1896 revival of the games and I didn’t think it was too far away so I figured I would try to find it. Of course the streets aren’t exactly in a grid, seems to be a theme of places that I visit, and I headed off in the wrong direction. Along the way I was met by a Roman bath that was visible from a small bridge which was built into the sidewalk.

Since I was actually headed towards Parliament instead of the stadium I actually saw my first view of some of the protests that have been all over the news. It really wasn’t a big deal as they were efforts in place for crowd control and since I had no reason to explore things further in thatdirection I simply turned around and ducked into the park that I had been walking past. It turns out, I had stumbled on the National Garden of Athens, a very unexpected find in the middle of a hot and dusty city. Not that I minded the heat, I actually relished it after having come from late fall in Brazil a few days earlier. Athens was actually experiencing hotter than normal weather and I heard that it had gotten close to 40 that day.

Upon exiting the garden, I finally got myself headed in the right direction and found the Panathenaic Stadium. Again, it was too late to go inside, yet standing there under the Olympic flags, which refused to fill given the stillness of the air that night, was quite an amazing feeling. It was actually a challenge of almost Olympic proportions to get to the stadium, as the road I needed to cross had quite heavy traffic and the lights didn’t change to allow pedestrians to cross very often, and when they did the didn’t stay that way for long.

By now, as you can probably tell, it was starting to get dark. This was also a welcome change as it was probably around 9 PM and back in Porto Alegre darkness sets in between 5 and 6 this time of the year. I still was not very hungry but figured it was wise to eat something to try to adjust my clock so I headed back towards the hotel.

Along the way finally got my first glimpse of the Acropolis, not that I had been actively looking for it, for whatever reason, but it was nice to get that first glipse on the first day in town. It’s a bit hard to see, but if you duck your head under the streetlight and twist slightly to the left, it’s there.

Finally dinner was inevitable, though hunger still eluded me, and I opted for a location just around the corner from my hotel. Since it was a fantastic night, I selected a table near the pedestrian plaza and perused the menu. I decided to actually order something solid, the gyros, and of course some wine. Both were good and I must have been hungrier than I thought as I didn’t leave too much of the gyros on the plate when all was said and done.

All in all it was a good first few hours in Greece and time to get some sleep to prepare for the rest of my adventures.

Yassas,

Wendy

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