Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi) Greece (Peloponnese)

How to get from Delphi to Olympia by bus

See this restaurant? It doubles as the Delphi bus station. Really. 

COVID-19 Preface: Greece officially reopens to travelers on Monday, June 15. According to this Associated Press story published today, “Timely and strictly enforced lockdown measures have so far kept the infection rate in Greece low and the death toll below 200.”)

It was a little confusing. The Delphi bus station appeared closed.

An arrow painted on the building facade, however, pointed to a restaurant called “In Delphi Cafe” next door. Nearby, a man wearing a crisp white shirt and black trousers, waved us down from his curious position in the middle of the street. (It’s a slightly confrontational technique to entice wandering tourists to stop for a bite.)

“Dinner menu?” he asked. 

A bus schedule would be more like it, I thought, since my husband and I still needed to plan the next leg of our trip from Delphi to Olympia. We smiled, and asked, “Bus tickets?”

“Go inside the restaurant, please. Someone will help you there,”  he answered.

We ventured inside. The restaurant immediately reminded me of the beautiful double-story trattoria from Love Actually where Jamie proposes to Aurelia. A balcony. Warm gold-colored walls. Heavy timbers. Sparkling glassware.

A woman behind the counter asked us if we needed bus tickets in plain-as-day English. 

“Yes, we are going to Olympia in two days and we need bus tickets,” my husband explained. 

She called to another waiter, who dried his hands and stepped to a computer at the bar. 

So this is the bus station, I thought to myself. Hmmm. Interesting.

An employee wearing jeans, t-shirt, and a white apron wrapped around his hips walked in carrying a stainless steel container covered with plastic wrap. He had come from the direction of the “bus station” next door. They must use the “bus station” for storage, I thought.

This photo was taken from the balcony of our hotel the night we arrived. We spent two nights in Delphi, a quaint and quiet mountain town known for its famous archaeological site. Towns around Delphi, such as Arachova, are winter skiing destinations.

Our waiter/ticket clerk stared at the computer screen, squinting, and asked us when we wanted to arrive in Olympia.

It would take all day, he said. Of course, that was fine.

It was what we expected. For although it only appears to be a jog to the southwest on a map, the bus route would take us to Itea, a small town on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth just a few miles south of Delphi.

Then the route would trace the edge of the gulf for nearly three hours before crossing south into Patras. From Patras, we would take a bus to Pyrgos (NOT the Pyrgos on Santorini, by the way).

From there, a final bus would drive us the remaining thirty kilometers to Olympia, where we would meet our AirBnB host, the fifty-seventh (okay, not really, but it seemed like it) man named Kostas who we met on our trip.

Here’s the route our waiter/ticket clerk gave to us, written on the back of a receipt:

We purchased and received our tickets, thanked the young man, and told him we would be back for dinner.

THREE HOURS LATER…

Roast lamb, moussaka, wine, potatoes, salads… all served on a candle-lit table under the leafy branches of a tree so large it sheltered like an umbrella not only the peninsula that served as the outdoor seating area for the restaurant, but also the two streets that ran on either side.

Delphi’s In Delphi Cafe is charming. We chose to sit under the large oak tree outside on a peninsula bordered on either side by highway 48, which here is actually a street..

Below is a photo of our hotel, Art Hotel Pythia, in Delphi…it was manned by one employee. In the mornings, he had to cover BOTH the front desk and the upstairs dining room simultaneously. Speaking of the upstairs dining room, it offered a very generous and complete complimentary breakfast selection of eggs, meats, fruits, cereals, coffee, pastries.

It was fabulous breakfast, even though it had been overrun by a large traveling group of students who had already dined and left. Tables were littered with used china and glasses, since the one staff employee hadn’t been able to leave the front desk to clean. Still, there were pastries and eggs to be had, and it was nice to see actual dishes being used instead of paper and plastic.

We sympathized with the employee and knew he was doing the work of three to four people.

This hotel with its impossibly small staff caused us to wonder about Delphi’s economic outlook. The town appears to be a sleepy village holding on for dear life during Greece’s financial crisis. Across the street from Art Hotel Pythia was an abandoned multi-story hotel that was probably packed during the Olympic Games in 2004.

Thank goodness for the amazing archaeological site just down the road! Read my post about the site here.

Art Hotel Pythia, our hotel in Greece.

The day we departed Delphi, we left our hotel around 11 a.m. and waited outside the restaurant/bus station for the large, air-conditioned bus that arrived about fifteen minutes late. We loaded our luggage into the lower bins of the bus and boarded.

It was a packed bus. There was a group of about ten kids travelling to the beach at Itea. Like kids everywhere, they were talking and joking, laughing over shared phone screens.

This map shows the route our bus took from Delphi in the upper right corner down to Olympia in the lower left corner. The small white dot in the blue road above the word “Archaeological” is in about the same spot as Pyrgos, our final stop before reaching Olympia.

Our bus made its way down to Itea on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth, which you can see in the distance in the photo below. This was a beautiful drive with two or three tight hairpin curves.

The weather was warm and sunny when we left; as we drove, the temperature rose. Thankfully, our bus was comfortable and air-conditioned.

After passing more and more olive groves on the way, we eventually stopped at the bus station in Itea on a road that fronted the shore of the Gulf of Corinth.

Itea was a quiet little town that, based on the many outdoor cafes and shops, we could tell would be busy with tourists in July and August.

I took this photo of my husband Mitch standing across the street from the bus station at this small dockside park.

We were nervous about missing our bus to further points south, so we crossed back over to the bus station and waited. The bus station was little more than a hallway with a counter at the back, so we couldn’t wait inside where it was warm. Instead, we bought spinach pies at the small restaurant next door and ate them sitting outside on the sidewalk next to our four pieces of luggage.

And then we waited. It was fun.

Our bus finally arrived and we boarded, knowing this would be a much longer leg of the trip than the short jaunt down the hill to Itea from Delphi.

Our bus ride meandered part of the way through the lowland hills along the coast of the Gulf of Corinth.

We stopped here and there at several towns to drop people off and allow others to load. In the photo above: a market along the way.

Of course, olive trees were everywhere, tucked into any field available. Note the Greek Orthodox church on the horizon.

We stopped several times to board more passengers.

Driving along the coast often meant driving about twenty feet from the water. Waves splashed onto the road in several places.

We passed through several nondescript towns. Many have boarded up or shuttered stores and offices. Greece’s financial state is quite obvious, especially in the more remote and smaller towns. Last summer, some blamed the Olympic Games for at least part of the economic crisis.

Along the road, we would often see Olympic statues such as this one that traces the route the torch bearers took as they carried the flame toward the games in Athens in 2004.

I took this shot of a sidewalk in Nafpaktos, one of a dozen or more towns we traveled through on our way to Olympia. It’s north of the Gulf as we made our way west to cross over to Patras.

We were nearing Patras, Greece’s third largest city (after Athens and Thessaloniki).

This majestic bridge can be seen from a distance. It’s the doorway into Patras and points south on the Peloponnese peninsula

This photo shows another point on the Olympic torch trail.

We were dropped off in Patras as this bus station. After going inside and inquiring about our next leg of the trip, we discovered we needed to be three blocks away at a different station to meet our bus, which was scheduled to leave in about fifteen minutes.

The only solution to get there quickly was to walk.

We each grabbed our carry-on and pulled our jumbo suitcases and took off for the right train station. We charged through empty sidewalk cafes, deserted in the mid-afternoon. At one, an employee was hosing down the seating area. The coolness from the water kept us moving on.

We finally made it to the Patras train station. As Mitch took care of buying our tickets inside, I waited outside to make sure we got on that bus.

Which we did.

Safe and secure in another air-conditioned motorcoach, we settled in for our next-to-last leg of the trip to Pyrgos.

This leg of the trip held its own frustrations for us.

We’re not absolutely sure, but we think we booked a local bus that stopped numerous times. One city we spent an especially long amount of town in was Amaliada. Either our bus driver was lost or he was just playing a trick on us because we spent about an hour piddling our way back and forth in this town.

More dawdling in Alamiada…. but we did spy another church and some non-touristy scenes of typical Greek living: old men sitting at card tables outside of cafes or clubs, kids playing in playgrounds, young men drinking beer in the brittle, dusty grass of an abandoned city park. (I rarely saw women out visiting and socializing, by the way.)

True, Amaliada wasn’t Skopelos, but part of the reason we took bus transit was to see an unfiltered version of Greece. In fact, check out our neighborhood where we stayed in Heraklion.

Finally on our way out of town to Pyrgos, we spotted these hothouses of strawberries and watermelons.
The bus station in Pyrgos was a bright, airy place.

Victory! We finally made it to Pyrgos… ten minutes late.

Our bus to Olympia had departed ten minutes before we arrived. Instead of trying to book another bus for the remaining thirty-mile ride, we opted to take a taxi instead.

It had been a long day, but the end was in sight. And what a different world it was from mountainous Delphi!

Welcome to Olympia! Yesssss.

We met our AirBnB host, the sixtieth man named Kostas, for some friendly introductions. He met us in the middle of the street of our AirBnb, waving his arms to catch our taxi driver’s attention.

Kostas gave us a short tour to the entrance of the Olympia archaeological site so we could find it easily the next morning.

It’s quite a haul to get from Delphi to Olympia in one day, but it’s…

  • quite possible,
  • inexpensive,
  • and full of scenery that runs the gamut from the beautiful to the mundane.

While we plan to rent a car the next time we’re in the Greek countryside, we are definitely glad we took the public transit options that were available on our first trip.

Even though taking the bus requires you to engage in some risk-taking, confusion, second-guessing, and moments that will test your patience, we would recommend it if you want to experience authentic Greece.


Thanks for reading! I’m amazed that story ideas are still surfacing from our travels last summer. Leave a like, make a comment and become a follower for more travel posts. While travel stories aren’t my only genre on this blog, they do seem to dominate my posts lately. That will be changing soon.

For my totally separate English teaching blog, click here.

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Your Acropolis Ticket is A Ticket to History

Athens’ Acropolis attracts a global audience hungry for history

When you visit The Acropolis during the summer months, expect crowds. In fact, The Acropolis hosts more than 2.5 million visitors from January through October. However, despite those crowds, expect to enjoy quiet moments for gazing at and studying the historic wonders that exist there.

Yes, you will observe the construction work site that is the Acropolis,…

That’s me striding off to the right. Notice the crane and scaffolding around the Parthenon. This is a giant construction zone.

…but you will also observe a global audience entranced by ancient history. Whether they arrive alone, with a spouse or friend, their family, or an entire tour group, nearly everyone here is a history fan. Yes, perhaps the itinerary stop is one they can’t opt out of; however, once on the hallowed site, I would dare to say their reticence evaporates.

Even if you don’t know much about Greek history and ancient architecture, there are many detailed signs at The Acropolis with illustrations and diagrams to inform you about what you’re seeing.

For your €20 ticket, you can walk the grounds considered holy by the ancient Athenians.

My husband and I were enthralled with the Erechtheion and it’s caryatids, the columns in the forms of female figures.

When my husband and I visited The Acropolis in late May, it was crowded, but I supposed it could have been busier. We approached The Acropolis from the Plaka neighborhood to the south, taking some back streets that slowly ascended as we neared the hilltop.

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The Plaka

Small restaurants, tavernas, and boutiques lined the terraced, tree-covered lanes and stone and marble-paved thoroughfares of the Plaka neighborhood.

 

Once we reached the Acropolis entrance gates, we blended into the line that was forming and seemed to be made up mostly of tour groups. The tour group line eventually veered from our path, since their ticketing arrangements had already been prepared. We, however, remained in the line and inched our way toward the ticket booth.

I looked around at the international variety of people. A party of four ahead of us in line consisted of a husband and wife, their small child, plus one other man.

The husband asked whether a student discount was available off the 20 Euro ticket price. The ticket clerk indicated that yes, he would receive a discount if he provided a college identification card.

“Mine is from a college in England and my friend goes to school in Chile,” the husband said.

“That’s fine,” the clerk replied in his Greek-inflected English. The two men showed their student cards, received tickets for the entire group and sped along.

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 The sounds of clinking tableware on china and the low rumble of conversation fill the streets of The Plaka on a warm June evening in Athens.

We quickly purchased our two adult tickets and entered the gate.

Those who entered with us included families, empty-nesters, retirees, young solo travelers, teenagers. The mix of languages babbled across the grounds: Greek, German, English, French, Chinese, Italian, and others I couldn’t identify.

In the roaming clusters of people navigating their steps over the marble walkways and ledges, I spotted a young man wearing a Texas Christian University t-shirt, a woman in a billowy sundress covered in a pattern of crimson roses and greenery.

I noticed a child in a black tank with a metallic gold Nike logo. I smiled at the irony: here we were, at the palace where Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war, once held Nike in her hand.

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Over the course of the day, thousands of sight-seers inched up the ancient ramp of The Propylaea, the renowned entry to the very top of The Acropolis and its Parthenon, Erectheion and the Temple Athena Nike.

Once they reached the top, it was gratifying to see that all those travelers were not expecting to see a performance, ride a roller coaster or experience any other type of attraction. Those travelers had journeyed from across the globe to simply experience history.


Thanks for reading! It’s nice to know people appreciate history enough to take the time to see this incredible site. Follow my blog for more travel stories from Greece, including Skopelos and Crete, as well as Italy, including Venice and other locales.

Categories
Art Greece (Athens, Delphi)

The Zeus of Greek museums: Our visit to The National Archaeological Museum of Athens

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Bronze sculpture of Zeus (or Poseidon) in the Severe style, 460 BC.

From golden goblets to frying pans to perfume

On our next to last day in Greece last summer, we capped off our Greek museum tour with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. It was the last museum we would see, having already visited other museums in Athens (The Acropolis Museum), Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Heraklion. You would think that we would have been “museumed out,” but actually each museum is so unique to its location that each one feels quite different from the others.

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So what sets the National Archaeological Museum in Athens apart from the others? In a word, I would say “breadth.” In fact, you will find the widest gamut of Greek artifacts and art. This museum has pieces from all those other areas we had visited across the country, in addition to hundreds (possibly thousands) more.

By the way, here’s a list with links to posts I’ve written about the other museums we visited in Greece:

For example, when we visited the Museum of Mycenae, the golden Mask of Agamemnon that was discovered in a grave circle there, was not held in that museum.

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The original Mask of Agamemnon is in Athens; a replica is in Mycenae. Photo: Wikipedia

The mask on exhibit in Mycenae is a replica,  a guard told me. The original could be found in the National Museum in Athens, he added. Upon hearing this, we made a mental note to seek out the mask when we would eventually tour the National.

Watch this video from Khan Academy for more about this mask.

When one visits a museum in Greece, you truly feel that you are in the hub of antiquity. Each museum is an art historian’s dream;  art history students will also be amazed at seeing in person so many famous works commonly found in textbooks.

This description of the National Museum can be found on the museum’s website:

“The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and one of the most important in the world. Originally destined to receive all the 19th century excavations, mainly from Attica and other parts of the country, it gradually took the form of a central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all parts of the Greek world. The rich collections, enumerating more than 11,000 exhibits, offer the visitor a panorama of ancient Greek culture from the prehistory to the late antiquity.”

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We saw Cycladic non-stick frying pans that date from 2800-2300 BC.

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These Cycladic frying pans really captured my interest since they resemble modern day frying pans.

Here’s a listing of the various collections within the museum:

  • prehistoric antiquities
  • sculpture
  • metalwork
  • vases and minor arts
  • Egyptian antiquities
  • Cypriot antiquities (those from the island of Cyprus).

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Ancient Greek Cauldrons

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Fragments of a fresco from Knossos Palace in Heraklion on the island of Crete. This is an image of a “figure 8 shield” covered in animal hide.

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Part of the museum’s collection of gold artifacts. These are from Mycenae’s Grave Circle A, where many tombs of the wealthy were found. The pieces are found in the shapes of cocoons (a symbol of rebirth), pomegranates (a symbol bounty), and butterflies.

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These golden goblets, known as the Vaphio Cups, are finely detailed and depict bulls.

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Egyptian artifacts proves trade between the early Greeks and Egyptians. The Greeks learn some of their quarrying techniques from the Egyptians. In addition, archaic kouros poses were borrowed from the ancient Egyptians.

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Part of a temporary exhibit, “The Countless Aspects of Beauty.”

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Vials of perfumes to sniff in the “Countless Aspects of Beauty” exhibit.

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These amphoras (pedestal vases) were awarded at Panathenaia, an important festival held in honor of Athena in Athens.

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Close-up of an amphora.

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Members of the Roman Julio Claudian Dynasty (31 BC-68AD). During this period, Greece was a Roman province.

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Renowned bronze of Zeus or Poseidon found on the Cape of Artemision, in northern Euboea near Athens.

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This Zeus, in the Severe style, also known as the Early Classical style, “marks the breakdown of the canonical forms of archaic art and the transition to the greatly expanded vocabulary and expression of the classical moment of the late 5th century,” according to this Wikipedia article. Works in the Severe style show a change in drapery of clothing.

 

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The Severe Style more accurately represents the human body. Also, Severe style works have an “interest in emotion and motion.” As for emotion, figures reveal a more serious character and expression.  As for motion, figures are under strain or in action, but always in motion.

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Here’s an example from the museum of an early Cycladic figure that shows the contrast of earlier artwork to later pieces of the Severe style.

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Close-up of the youth Perseus or Paris. Also of the Severe style, this is a good example of how artists commonly used bronze to produce their sculptures.

Visiting the National Museum in Athens was our final stop of our five-week Greek odyssey. We left Athens at 6 a.m. the next morning, for a short layover in Amsterdam, and then Atlanta, and then finally to our home airport in Springfield, Mo.


Thanks for reading again about our travels in Greece this past summer! Now that we’ve both started new jobs and are in the full swing of new school years, this trip seems like a lifetime ago. However, there are still posts to be written, and I’ll get to those eventually. My next one will likely be about the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, which I was able to see briefly during my week-long stay there in June. 

Now that the year is beginning to wind down, I also hope to write soon about “2019… My Year of Living Changerously” and how I managed to stay buckled up and on the tracks.

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Need a new perspective on Ancient Greece?

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This plaque has Acts 17:22-31 inscribed in Greek. The scripture appears later in this post.

The Areopagus in Athens puts Ancient Greece in its proper perspective

This morning, we walked through Athens to the Areopagus, the location of a judicial

court, where Paul made his “To an Unknown God” sermon to the Athenians with—wait for it— the Acropolis in the background with its temples to Athena, Poseidon, Erechtheus and  other mythological deities of Ancient Greece.

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The Acropolis is right there! Paul was pretty daring in his speech to those gathered. Notice the procession of tourists creeping up the steps of the Propylaea, the entry staircase to the Acropolis and its monuments. And yes, that is graffiti on the rock in the picture. There is graffiti everywhere. Some of it is artful, but much of it is mere vandalism.

How fitting that we saw this on our last day in Greece. Walking on the rocky (and extremely slippery) outcropping where Paul would have stood is a highlight of our trip. This spot puts all the pagan monuments and temples that we’ve seen in their proper perspective. Yes, they are beautiful works made by man, but they are worthless in the eyes of God.

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The rocky outcropping is expansive with incredible views of Athens below. I would tell you to wear good shoes, but even good shoes will slip on the time-worn marble. Everyone was sliding around, grabbing onto each other, scooting down on their rear ends. There are metal stairs, but even those are slick. 

Acts 17:22-31 

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a]As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

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Our last day in Greece! Our plane leaves at 6 a.m. tomorrow!


Thanks for reading and for joining me on our trip to Greece! I have only missed a handful of daily postings during the time we’ve been here. Writing and posting daily was one of my goals, and I feel positive about my progress. Follow my blog for more stories and travel memoirs that I will be writing in the coming weeks. I have so much more to share! 

Are you traveling anywhere over the summer months? Leave a comment with your plans or a link to your blog!

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

The strange situation I saw two days ago in Athens

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Photo: Marilyn Yung

An unsettling episode on our otherwise comfortable journey through Greece

I guess nothing came of the strange situation I saw two days ago in Athens.  Here’s what happened somewhere between the Omonoia and Ministiraki stations.

So, okay. I’m sitting on this gray metal bench waiting for a train to whisk my husband and I to our AirBnB in Paiania. As I stared at the departure sign’s red digital numbers, I noticed two security guards casually saunter up, talking between themselves. One, pale and tall, walked with his hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground as he spoke to his partner who, with his salt and pepper hair, appeared to be nearing retirement age.

I took note: two security guards.  Together.

Now I come from a small town in Kansas and have lived in rural Missouri for thirty years. I know next to nothing about public transit, let alone public transit in downtown Athens. Do security guards often travel in twos? Or just when a situation warrants it?

Whatever, I thought, my eyes moving from the guards back to the digital sign. It indicated our airport-bound train should arrive in about six minutes.

To the right, toward my bench on the platform, a man approached.

Here’s what I noticed:

  1. He was wearing a straw hat, a wide-brimmed style,
  2. and a too-small faded blue suit jacket,
  3. and black sunglasses,
  4. and a canvas hat under the straw one (yes, two hats),
  5. and long, wavy black hair stuffed under the neck flap of the canvas hat,
  6. plus, a drab white-and-blue plaid shirt under the ill-fitting suit jacket.

Here’s what I wish I had noticed: his shoes. They say shoes can say a lot about a person, but I didn’t look at his shoes. I couldn’t get past the straw hat.

Neither could the security guards. Once Straw Hat walked up, they took note. They had been standing silently, but when Straw Hat entered the scene, the taller guard whispered to the other.

The two guards passed by me and walked to the platform edge. They watched the man approach my bench, stop two feet short next to a garbage can, and stand quietly.

I turned away from Straw Hat to my husband sitting to my left. “Do you see this guy?” I whispered.

“If he gets on the train, we’re staying behind for the next one,” he mumbled quietly.

I watched the security guards. The taller one occasionally glanced over at Straw Hat. He made eye contact with the strange dresser. It reassured me to see that the guard wanted Straw Hat to know that he was being watched.

Good, I thought. They’re on to him. And Straw Hat knows it.

I shifted back on the bench and returned my gaze to the digital sign.

Five minutes.

More passengers wandered to the platform. One camera-toting man, a tourist obviously, noticed Straw Hat. His eyes snagged on the hat, and then dropped to scan the rest of the ensemble. He turned away.

Three girls wearing summer tans and sundresses walked up, chatting away, oblivious to Straw Hat. A mother pushing a stroller rolled onto the scene, her eyes never raising from her precious cargo. Two more men walked up. Both glanced at the hat, one’s eyes resting for an uncomfortable three seconds on the costume.

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Photo: Marilyn Yung

Four minutes.

The taller guard glanced again at the costumed man and made a call on his cell phone. The other tugged on his belt, straightening his gray shirt that read “Private Security” in all capitals.

Three minutes.

The crowd had grown. The sounds had changed: wheeled luggage rumbled by, shoes and flip flops shuffled through.

Several old men gathered. Two were in a heated conversation. One repeatedly pressed and raised his index finger up and down into his palm, counting off some reasons he was fired up about. At one point, his eyes caught the Straw Hat. He stopped for a split-second, wrinkled his brow in curiosity, and turned away to continue his reasoning.

Two minutes.

I turned to my husband. “Still watching him?”

“Just hang back when the train gets here,” he said, looking straight ahead, keeping the man in his peripheral vision.

In the corner of my eye, I watched, too. Straw Hat gingerly tugged at the cuffs of his sleeves to lower them. They already hung too low, I thought, nearly an inch beyond the hem of his jacket. He then inspected his fingertips. Pale hands, I noticed. Dirty nails. The few tendrils of black hair that I could see were so black they shone blue under the overhead LED lighting. He spent time tucking his hair under the neck flap.

One minute.

From down the tunnel, we heard a dull, deep roar of an oncoming train. Its front sign showed that it was bound for another central Athens station… not the airport. It slowed to a stop at the platform and the doors slid open.

A rush of passengers disembarked, displacing the chatting girls, the camera-toting tourist, the old men, the doting mother. As the train emptied, those waiting flowed toward it, including Straw Hat.

Suddenly, another man appeared wearing a sophisticated, double-breasted gray suit and carrying a clear plastic bag.  Two packages were inside wrapped in white paper. He approached Straw Hat, paused, and turned to face the train.

Straw Hat leaned forward and muttered words into the space between them. Then he turned toward the second train car and boarded. Gray Suit boarded the first car. So did the security guards. The taller one kept his eye on Straw Hat in the next car. Had they seen the comment exchanged with Gray Suit? Were they aware that they needed to watch him, too?

More passengers boarded. A few last-minute riders scurried to the platform, scooting inside the train at the final second before the doors slid shut. A bell sounded and the train sped away.

We wondered.

What was about to happen? Anything? Why would anyone dress so conspicuously? Was Straw Hat planning to peel off the layers of his costume as his crime progressed? Was he the distraction to entice watchful eyes off Gray Suit, the truly dangerous one?

We still wonder. What exactly did we witness? We heard nothing about the incident, but then again we probably wouldn’t. Beyond the most basic phrases, we don’t speak Greek, so asking someone or watching the TV for news is futile.

Our Athens transit experience is one of those curious travel stories. A peculiar memory. A shared inexplicable moment that we trust resulted in nothing more than an eyebrow-raising incident to retell over the years. This one story is thankfully the only unsettling episode on our otherwise comfortable journey through Greece.

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Photo: Marilyn Yung


Thanks for reading! This happened two days ago in downtown Athens. It was very unnerving at the time. The two men could have merely been out pick-pocketing. About ten minutes prior to this story, a station employee had warned my husband to wear his backpack on his chest. “The pickpockets are out today,” he had said. Maybe that’s all it was.

Leave a comment if you’ve had a similar puzzling encounter. Feel free to follow my blog for more travel stories.

 

 

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Scenes from a sunny house in Athens

AirBnB delivers again

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Kostas, me, Mitch, and Tania

This is our first major trip where by the time we return home, we will have utilized  AirBnB seven times! Today’s post is about our stay near the Athens International Airport with Tania and her son, Kostas (yes, another Kostas!).

Tania’s house is called “Sunny House” and it’s ten minutes from the airport, which was perfect for our needs since we were flying out of Athens the next day for five days in Crete.

Despite some communication problems between Tania and me during the day about exactly when and how we would arrive at her house, we finally met up around 4 p.m.

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The tile patio 

It had been a hectic day! We had taken a three-hour bus ride from Olympia (along the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth), a subway transfer, and a ride on the suburbs-bound metro train. Tania could tell we were exhausted. After showing us the house, she said, “You look tired,” and she left us to rest.

However, before leaving, Tania’s son Kostas offered to handle ordering dinner for us later. We could look through the menus on the table in the apartment to make our choice, he said. After resting, we took him up on his offer and asked him to order two pork gyros from a local restaurant. In about fifteen minutes, a man on a scooter drove to our door with hot gyros in hand. Awesome!

Mitch and I ate our gyros on the sun-dappled patio table in front of our flat. It was a very warm day (some would call it hot), but with the breeze, it felt cool in the shade.

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I wish I had taken pictures right when we arrived. It was a great little place!

As we ate, Kostas was installing some tile around a concrete seating area on his mother’s patio. He came over and asked us if it would be all right if he cut some tile, as it would make quite a loud noise. Of course, that would be fine, we said. We didn’t want to get in the way of his project, obviously.

As Kostas worked, Tania swept leaves from her patio that joined ours. In front of her home, four trees provide lemons, oranges, apricots, and olives. She told us to help ourselves to all the apricots we wanted as there were simply too many to pick. We picked about six and carried them back to our place. Lucky for us that we’ve visited Greece during apricot season. (I never buy them at home because they’re rarely allowed to ripen on the tree.)

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Apricots fresh off the tree

After eating and resting some more, we both wandered outside to see Kostas’ tile project up close. As we spoke with him, Tania came out from her home.

“Sit, sit,” she said. Taking her cue, the three of us joined her around her wooden picnic table.

As the breeze stirred, we got to know each other a bit.

  • We visited about politics (Greece has elections in about a week; the United States’ 2020 election is already in the news).
  • We also talked about opportunities for young people in Greece, which seems to be a complex subject. For example, Kostas, a mechanical engineer completing a master’s degree in Romania, told us that engineers earn less pay than hair stylists. We relayed that teacher salaries in the U.S. also can reflect that disparity.

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  • We met their dog, Bruno. Kostas told us Bruno was a stray that they had adopted. Apparently, Bruno likes to chase cars. The road beyond the house,  a gravel one that feels like a country road, did occasionally have a car speeding by.
  • As we visited, a neighbor hollered in Greek over the courtyard wall. Tania spoke back and apparently invited the woman in. She greeted us with a smile, looked at Kostas’ tile project, indicated that it was coming along well, and went on her way.
  • Kostas gave us tips for visiting Crete, recommending that we check out Chania while we’re there.

Gradually, the clear night sky darkened. The sound of a flight taking off or landing could be heard in the distance and Tania rose from the table. About five minutes later, she returned with forks and plates of watermelon wedges.

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Olives are on the way!

We continued to talk and it occurred to me what a generous mother and son we had met. Both were eager to share about their lives and learn about ours. We told them about our daughter, who was returning to the U.S. from an internship in Italy, and our son, a college student studying photography and video production.

They were curious about Mitch’s familiarity with farming, raising livestock, and chickens. They were especially intrigued when they learned that Mitch even raises specific chickens for their feathers, which he uses to tie flies for fishing.

We also relayed to her details about some of our other AirBnB stays from the previous few days. One of those stays was actually a room in a small hotel. While it was a pleasant stay, it wasn’t quite the traditional AirBnB experience. People who choose AirBnb don’t want a hotel, Tania said. They want the experience of meeting local people.

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The next morning right before we left

Eventually, the conversation waned and a few yawns were heard. We all decided to call it a night, but before doing that, we went over our morning plans: Tania would taxi us to the airport at 7:30 in the morning so we could make our 9:15 flight to Heraklion, Crete.

With that confirmed, I asked if I could take a picture for my blog and, of course, they agreed. Kostas offered to take the picture. His long arms are good for that, he told us.

We thanked Tania again for the watermelon and wished Kostas well with his studies.  And with that, we turned in for the night.

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Photo: Pixabay


Thanks for reading! Click like if you enjoyed this post. What’s your experience with AirBnb? Follow this blog for more travel stories from Greece.

 

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Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Just Takin’ A “Delfie” Selfie

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A selfie in front of the Tholos at Delphi (say it Delfie)

“Delphi” rhymes with selfie

I didn’t know until yesterday that to pronounce Delphi like the Greeks, one pronounces it with the stress on the first syllable and with a long “e” sound on the second. Whoops. Silly me. If you pronounce it to rhyme with selfie, you’ve got it right.

So… I think it made perfect sense to attempt a Delfie selfie today when we visited the archaeological wonder. I don’t take many selfies (and by that I mean as few as possible), but this post includes two or three to take care of the issue for awhile.

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Another selfie in front of the Treasury of the Athenians

When we added Delphi to our list of must-see attractions, I had no idea we would be scouring over a steep mountainside full of pine and cypress trees. In fact, this is snow skiing country. The next town over, Arachova, offers skiing during the winter months. I guess I just didn’t realize how “Alpine” the Delphi would feel.

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Treasury of the Athenians

In a sentence or two, “Delphi could be described as a religious complex centered around the Oracle of Delphi that was located in the Temple Apollo,” according to a book we bought, Delphi and Its Museum, by Panos Valavanis. Delphi flourished during the Archaic and Classical period of Ancient Greece, roughly from the 6th – 4th centuries BC.

On the UNESCO World Heritage site placard near the entrance to the grounds, it reads:

“The archaeological site of Delphi is Panhellenic sanctuary with an international fame. Its remnants represent some of the foremost events of art and architecture. The sanctuary, which combines in a unique manner the natural and historical environment, is related to numerous, key events of Greek history that have an impact on the progress of civilization.”

It continues: “Inscription on this List confirms the outstanding universal value of a cultural or natural property which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity.”

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Okay, not exactly a selfie, but a nice lady from Australia took this for us. We’re standing in front of the Temple to Apollo and the Serpentine Column.

Here are some major sites within the Delphi archaeological site:

  • The Treasury of the Athenians
  • Temple to Apollo
  • Theater
  • Stadium
  • Tholos at Delphi
  • The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia

However, besides all these major sites, there are numerous other objects, foundations, walls, and monuments to distract and fascinate you. And don’t forget the magnificent natural beauty of the place.

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Theater on the left. Temple to Apollo is on the right. Clear down the hill you can see more ruins. This was taken on our way to the stadium all the way at the top of the site.

We took so many pictures at Delphi today that there’s NO WAY I could post them all. Here are a fraction of the photos we took at both the archaeological site and at the museum.

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Temple to Apollo is on the right. Other buildings (there are so many we couldn’t keep track of them all) are on the left.

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Carved inscriptions are on practically every surface.  Most of these were written by slaves who were guaranteed their freedom by Apollo, according to a book we bought in the museum.

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A closer view of the carved inscriptions.

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The long view of the wall. Most stones had inscriptions on them.

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Capitals that would have topped columns. They’re just here, there and everywhere.

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The Tholos, a round temple. This is the structure I’m standing in front of in the selfie at the top of this story.

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I took this to show the detail of the underside of the Tholos.

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The stadium clear up at the top of the site. Panhellenic Pythian Games were held here.

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We snacked on this stone bench over by the stadium. I think it could actually be a bench from the stadium itself. There are stone pieces everywhere. They had to fall there from something.

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Column drums that were stacked to form tall columns. That’s my purse next to one to show scale. In the background by the person in the pink shirt, is a base that these columns may have been stacked on.

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I thought this column was interesting because of its sharp edges. If you look closely, you’ll see carved inscriptions on the stones.

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A trough for carrying waters from the natural fountains on the mountain.

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It’s interesting. Right alongside some fire extinguishers and a storage chest, you’ll find ancient Greek columns. No big deal.

 

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And then we went to the museum.

 

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The Argos Twins, Cleobis and  Biton… Careful what you wish for. These were the boys whose mother asked the gods to bless them for carrying her to the temple of Hera. As a result, they were given the greatest gift… death at their finest moment.

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The Sphinx, a gift from the island of Naxos, given to Apollo Delphi to gain the gods’ favor.

 

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Aghias, son of Aknonis. An athlete (that’s why he’s nude) and shows how the ancient Greeks used contrapposto, which is an assymetrical arrangement of the body. Contrapposto allows a more natural stance.

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The bronze Charioteer is the grand finale of the museum.

We spent about four-plus hours total touring the archaeological sites and the museum. We started in about 9 a.m. and finished up around 1:30 p.m. The weather was very warm, but very nice in the shade.

We had about an hour before the tour buses arrived, so the sites really weren’t that crowded. And because many if not most people don’t go down to the Tholos of Delphi and the Sanctuary of Athena (which are located down the hill and separate from the main complex), we felt like we had a very thorough visit.

Tomorrow… on to Olympia!


Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you’ve been to Delphi or if you have any selfie-taking skills to share! Follow my blog for more stories from our 2019 Greece trip.

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi) parenting

A boy, a bird, and a bus station in Athens

Parenting looks the same wherever you live

Parenting seems to be the same around the world. Whether you live in the United States or Greece, all parents have their hands full with a four-year-old boy.

Today, I’m watching a mother, father and their son who looks to be about four at the Liosion Bus Station in central Athens.

A pigeon is swooping its way through the bus station lobby, which includes a cafe, a mini grocery, a trinket shop, and a bookstore. The pigeon flutters from one side of the lobby to the other.

The patient father follows his son casually around the lobby. The boy jumps high whenever the pigeon swoops low. He can’t reach it, much less catch it. In his green t-shirt with a tiger emblem and bright yellow shorts, ankle socks and grey tennis shoes, he reminds me of my own son many years ago.

He squeals whenever he swipes at the bird, but eventually gives up when the pigeon escapes out the lobby door into the crisp, early afternoon sun.

All the while, Mom has been arranging bags and luggage around a small table in the cafe specifically purposed to provide pastries, sandwiches, candy, and drinks to waiting bus riders.

Eventually Dad and the boy return from their pigeon escapade. Now the boy wants to investigate things over here.

Mom, wearing her jeans and a white t-shirt emblazoned with BEAUTY in all capital letters, leads him to a freezer case of ice cream novelties. He isn’t interested, but she pulls a treat from the case anyway.

They both step over to the cafe counter to pay. As she pays, the boy lifts a bag of almonds from a nearby display, runs back to the freezer case, and drops the nuts inside. Mom misses it all.

They both return to Dad. He’s wearing a faded blue polo-style shirt with a Union Jack flag on the sleeve and the words GREAT BRITAIN embroidered along the lower edge.

Mom is carrying the ice cream bar, now unwrapped. It’s a strawberry pink bar in the shape of a foot. The toes are dipped in chocolate. She bites off the big toe and sits down.

She spouts off a string of fluent Greek to her husband who nods and smiles.

As she cools off, her son decides to tidy up the place. He picks a plastic straw wrapper off the next table over and wanders over to a nearby trash can and drops it in. At least this time, the object being dropped belongs there.

A tanned old man is sitting by the trash can. He scowls at the boy and glances at his wife as she sips from a can of Coca-Cola Light.

An announcement is made from the station intercom. Time to pack up.

Mom pats her black canvas crossover bag, and then straps on a blue backpack in the shape of an owl. Next, she hoists a purple floral backpack onto her other shoulder.

Next, she lifts the handle on a lime green and royal blue wheeled suitcase, grabs a white plastic grocery bag from the tabletop, and—nearly invisible behind all the luggage—hauls herself out to the platform area.

Dad grabs the boy. Based on the boys’ earlier antics, I’d say they have divided the workload evenly.

My eyes return to Mom gliding across the lobby. Two giant black eyes on the owl backpack glare menacingly as they jostle out of sight.


Thanks for reading! I’m sitting in Athens at a bus station watching what’s happening around me as we wait on our 3 o’clock bus to Delphi.

Click like, leave a comment, and follow my blog for more travel stories.

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Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Don’t Touch the Marble!

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The Parthenon on the Acropolis. Notice the newer, whiter pieces of marble used to reconstruct the buildings. Photo: M. Yung

What to know before you visit the Acropolis in Athens

“Don’t touch the marble!” a thirty-something woman called out into the distance from her perch in front of the Parthenon. With one hand on her hip, and another shading her eyes beneath her billed beach cap, she waited and watched. About thirty feet below, a woman with short, curly hair had just rested her canvas tote bag on a large, rectangular-shaped stone and was digging through the bag, searching.

“Don’t touch the marble!” the guard called out again. Oblivious, the woman dug deeper into the bag, craning her neck to see into the folds and pockets that held gum, ticket stubs, or sunscreen.

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Looking up at The Acropolis from the Temple of Zeus Olympios, which was even larger than the Parthenon. Photo: M. Yung

“Ma’am! Please don’t touch the marble!” the guard called out for the third time. The woman shifted the bag against the marble stone, and continued looking.

With this final and futile reprimand, the guard hopped down from the boulder and walked briskly down to the offender. When she arrived, the woman looked up, surprised. The guard pointed at the stone, then turned and motioned to the tattered gray ropes that set the limits on the Acropolis. The woman covered her mouth with her hands, slung her bag over her shoulder, and stepped back onto the walkway. Crisis averted, the guard climbed back to her boulder, placed her hands on her hips, and continued scanning the global audience taking in the Acropolis.

Planning to visit the Acropolis yourself someday?

Avoid being “that tourist,” (and get the most out of your €20 ticket, by the way) with these tips for touring the Parthenon, the Propylaea (with the Temple Athena Nike off to the side), and the Erectheion… the most prominent structures on top of the Acropolis, Greece’s most famous landmark.

  1. If it shines, step aside. Other than a paved walkway, the walking surface on the Acropolis is rugged. Stones jut up from the ground to create uneven areas, including some larger ledges and steps. Thousands of people walk here daily and it’s been this way for millennia. In fact, all the buildings you see on the Acropolis were built or rebuilt during the 500-300 B.C. As a result, the rocks are very shiny and SLICK. Walk on the connecting mortar or other stones. We witnessed one husband helping his wife, who had apparently just slipped, return to the Propylea (the first building you’ll walk through and the entrance to the hilltop) for an early walk back down.

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    See what I mean about rough terrain?  That’s the Erechtheion on the left. Photo: M. Yung
  2. Wear good shoes. These should be banned on the Acropolis: flip-flops, any shoe without a tread, a wedge greater than two inches, and heels of any height. Believe it or not, I did see women in heels. In the age of Instagram, some people will wear anything for the perfect post. No, you don’t have to wear orthopedic shoes, but definitely wear something sturdy with a tread.

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    Here are some of the stacks of remnant pieces from the Parthenon area. The closest section contains fragments of Ionic capitals.  Stacks of Doric and Corinthian capitals were nearby. Photo: M. Yung
  3. Be aware of the construction. This is a construction zone and you’ll see a variety of work happening. You may be lucky enough to see a stone carver working on a new marble replacement column. We watched as men strolled across plots of ground covered with mounds of old stones sorted by size, shape, or style.

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    Can you imagine being the sculptor assigned or hired to carve new columns for the Parthenon??? Photo: M. Yung

    Also, you’ll see roped-off pits that contain stone walls and equipment near the Erectheion, the temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon with its five “caryatids,” stunning female sculptures that served as support columns. Other areas on the grounds are filled with huge marble chunks, an iron cannon, and other remnants of past activity.

4. Get there early. Lines begin forming at 8 a.m. in early June, so be there early to avoid crowds. We didn’t arrive at the ticket booths until about 8:45. As a result, we crept up the steps of the Propylaea with a steady stream of tourists.  I can only imagine how much busier it became as the day continued.

5. Bring sunscreen. Obviously, you’ll be in direct sunlight for an hour or more. Put on sunscreen before you leave your hotel room, and take it with you to reapply when you’re on top.

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This photo shows the Erechtheion and a construction office on the right. Various piles of stones, column pieces are strewn about on the grounds. This area was not accessible to the public. Photo: M. Yung

6. Finish your food before entering. Food is not allowed inside the gates. When we entered and showed our ticket to the man at the gate, he requested I finish the cookie I was eating with my dose of Ibuprofen. He was polite about it, but did ask that I finish it before going much further.

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This is a picture of the side of the Erechtheion that shows the caryatid statues on the right. These are exact copies of the originals, which are in the Acropolis Museum except for one that’s at the British Museum. It was removed by Lord Elgin, British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in 1801. Photo: M. Yung

7. Leave your water at home or bring an empty bottle. If you don’t want to lug the extra weight of water in your backpack or purse, you don’t need to. Depending on the crowd, the walk up will only take twenty to thirty minutes, after which you can venture over to a water fountain adjacent to the Parthenon. There you’ll find three bubblers and one bottle filler. The water is clean and cold. In fact, there are water fountains here and there across the grounds, not only  next to the Parthenon, but also below near the Theater of Dionysus.

And finally,…

8. Don’t touch the marble. Avoid the reprimand. If a stone is especially light in color, has an unnatural shape (as if it’s been cut or chiseled), or otherwise appears to have been shaped by human hands, don’t touch it. It’s probably marble. Just think, all those missing stones from the structures have fallen nearby and the walking paths weave among them. If you think a stone could be marble, it probably is.

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Looking down onto the Theatre of Dionysos from atop the walled limestone crag known as The Acropolis. | Photo: M. Yung


We toured the Acropolis on Friday, May 31, and spent about three hours on the site. The top (the site of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike) occupied about two hours, while other structures on the slopes of the Acropolis (such as the Theatre of Dionysos and The Odeion of Herodes Atticus) balanced out the morning. Following our tour, we lunched at The Cave at The Acropolis, a restaurant in the Plaka neighborhood district around the base of the Acropolis. I’ll be posting more about our trip. Follow my blog for updates!

Categories
Greece (Athens, Delphi)

Athens at night from a balcony on Sostratou

The sights and sounds from the city of antiquity

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Athens at night from our balcony last Thursday evening.

 

The hum of an occasional car darting through the maze of streets below

The mournful hiss of a street cat

The cubist composition of layered apartments

A woman’s silhouette within a window

The clanging of bells, frenetic with energy

The clink of forks and knives on ceramic plates

The glitter of solar-powered water heaters

The fizz of a scooter shooting around a corner

The bored bay of a dog in the dwelling below

The squeals of children running and playing

The Parthenon, silent and glowing, supervising the

Sights and sounds of Athens at night

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Another photo from our balcony. On the horizon, the Parthenon glows from the Acropolis.


Thanks for reading! Last Thursday evening, I recorded what I saw and heard from our balcony in Athens. I hope you feel as if you were there with the details I gathered. Follow my blog for more from our excursion to Greece and Skopelos Island, specifically.