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Greece New Years Eve in Athens, Greece


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One week enjoying Athens with day trips to Hydra and Delphi over New Years weekend, 2006/2007.

This was originally published on SlowTrav.

Off We Go, The Holidays in Athens, Greece

As we usually do, we left home the day after Christmas and travelled away for a week long reconnection time. In the past we’ve gone to Mexico City, San Antonio and other such places; this time it was Athens.

We flew via through London then on to Athens. Because of a two-hour delay in Chicago, we missed our connection in London. Fortunately, British Airways flies more than once a day to Athens and we were placed on the noon flight and arrived about 7:00 p.m. Athens time, late but the same day at least.

Equally lucky was our decision to have a driver from the rental apartment agency meet us at the airport. What with the alphabet and language difference, the time zone change, jet lag and the difficulty we would have had finding the apartment in the dark, it was money well spent.

I had arranged through AthensStudios.com (website no longer there) for an apartment for the four of us. The apartment was well located, at the base of the Lykavittos Hill; it consisted of a bath, kitchen, bedroom and large living room with extra futons for sleeping facilities. Kitchen utensils and dishware were provided, as were linens; it was strictly utilitarian but clean and sufficient. We got settled into the apartment Wednesday evening and found a nearby grocery store, which we visited to buy snacks and breakfast, supplies before collapsing into bed.


The Acropolis
Day Two, All Over Athens
Thursday, December 28th

On Thursday the 28th, we were up at a good time and got acquainted with Athens’s great modern subway system. We found a station about ten minutes from the apartment and took the metro to a stop near the Acropolis, and then walked a couple of blocks over to it. We entered through the entrance near the Dionysus Theatre and walked around there (it consists of some displays of statuary and an amphitheatre).

Then we ambled up the hill to the top of the Acropolis itself. There’s a set of stairs leading up in the midst of all the reconstruction work, and as you come through the gateway to your right is the Parthenon, an imposing structure still undergoing reconstruction. (I’ll leave it to the readers to conduct their own book or online research into the details of all these buildings and places and focus on how we were able to pack a trip to Greece into one week). We walked around it, and then went over to the Acropolis Museum. We found it has a very interesting and complete collection of statuary and other articles dating back to the earliest temples on the Acropolis.

We then walked around further, looking out over Athens (the smog was visible but not as bad as it no doubt could have been). Over to the other side of the Acropolis from the Parthenon is the Erechtheion, which appears to be yet another temple and on one side is a portico, which is held up by a series of six maidens called the Caryatids (these actually are plaster casts, with most of the original six inside the Museum entrance).

After wandering all over the Acropolis until mid-afternoon, we took the metro to the heart of the city at Syntagma Square and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is in front of the Parliament Building. The Metro is very clean, efficient and each station is filled with artifacts recovered during the construction process. At the Tomb were the two guards who stand watch and on the hour go through a flourishing march toward the wall frieze (a dying soldier) and back to their guard booths. On this day, their uniforms were navy and brilliant white stockings (we briefly returned on Sunday when they were solely white).

That night we also discovered the nearby Internet café, C@FE4U, which had speedy connections both upstairs and downstairs and refreshments. We ended up using this Internet café nightly to catch up on what was going on back home and to check out various ideas for the coming days. Its location was perfect, about three blocks from our apartment.


Two Friendly Fellows in the Market
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Friday, More Sightseeing in Athens
Friday, December 29th

Friday, again with beautiful weather, in the morning we went to the Xenokratous market over on the other side of the hill from our apartment, a stiff walk. We walked quite a distance to find the market, but it was well worth the special effort, since we saw several foreign embassies and other interesting buildings while looking for it. We went through the street looking at the various stalls of fruit, onions, bananas, peppers, and other food items, and then at its end turned around and walked back. As I was taking pictures, some of the stall operators mugged for the camera and I took several shots of them enthusiastically cheering us on (probably to buy something!) Having gone through the two or so blocks of that market, back and forth, we then set off for our scheduled visit to the National Archaeological Museum.

After eating large juicy oranges we bought at the market, we went to the metro station (about 6-8 blocks down the street), took the Metro to Victoria station, had lunch in an outdoor café, and then went to the Museum. This Museum holds quite a number of classic and well-known statuary and jewellery from the Mycenaean Age (800-1,100 BC) through the next 2,000+ years. I was particularly interested in finding “the computer” and it took some searching to find it. One of the museum personnel told me where to look, but the staff in the various rooms didn’t know what I was talking about.

This "computer" is known by the name of the place it was found off the island of Antikythera, the Antikythera "Computer" and an article was recently written in the Washington Post describing how it was found and how scientists have come to view it as more than a simple set of gears. See article under Web Resources for more information. It was probably built between 140 and 100 BC and has more than 30 gears. It was fascinating to see the display cases with the rusted gearwheels in them next to the cases holding the ‘models’ built based upon x-ray and computer models of how they might have looked some 2,000 years ago. For me, this was a highlight of the trip.

The Museum itself, although we only had an hour to rush through it, would warrant a more leisurely visit. Not only is there a stupendous collection of Myceanan gold vessels and masks, but also a collection of vases and sculpture to rival any in other museums I’ve visited. I was particularly taken with the huge bronze sculptures, mostly of Poseidon, which dominated the rooms they were in.

After wandering through the museum, when it closed at 3:00 p.m. (which surprised us, but the hour we spent there was well worth it in any event), we ran over to catch the number 400 Bus. This bus is a city-run sightseeing bus, which rambles through the central city of Athens along a route that introduces you in English and Greek to various neighborhood sights, which should be seen. This bus trip gave us a good introduction to a variety of places we wanted to see further and allowed us to get a feel for the city’s layout. We saw Embassy Row, including the United States Embassy, which three weeks later was hit by a rocket, apparently fired by a Greek terrorist group.

We walked to the Panathenic Stadium, which was the site of the 1896 Olympics, the first modern Olympics, which was reconstructed to serve as the finish for the 2004 Olympic marathon and to house the archery competition. It is a beautiful facility, but the gates were locked, so we had to look at it from the outside, and Mark could not run around the track (a great disappointment to an inveterate runner). While we walked to and around the stadium, we went through the National Gardens (only briefly and certainly not enough to make any horticulturist happy) and saw a number of government buildings, including the Presidential Palace.

Later, after we looked for and found a place for dinner (which I didn’t particularly enjoy since there was too much noise and smoke and too slow service for my taste), we returned to the apartment. I then went down to the local pharmacy right around the corner from our apartment, and spoke to the older woman, who either owned it or worked there, and the young man about the comparative costs of analgesics in Greece and the US and as I was getting ready to leave, after buying what we needed, she offered me a small jar of honey, explaining that it was very special and healthy. I was extremely touched by this gesture and am looking forward to testing its health properties!


The Ancient Computer [!!]

Resource: Computer Provides More Questions Than Answers, Scientists Mystified by 2,100-Year-Old Device, By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, December 11, 2006
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Saturday in Delphi
Saturday, December 30th

On Saturday we woke and rushed to the bus station, by cab since it’s located in a difficult-to-reach part of town. We caught the 7:30am bus to Delphi, a ride of about two and a half hours broken by a short ten-minute stop at a mid-point hotel/restaurant. We arrived mid-morning and went to a local café to have a coffee and breakfast snack. From there we walked about a mile to the museum, a modern building impressively situated on the mountainside and holding a wonderful collection of antiquities well arranged throughout.

After wandering about the museum (I especially enjoyed seeing the Charioteer and taking pictures from each angle), we set out up the mountainside to see the antiquities. They included broken columns, a large amphitheatre on the hillside, a temple and then, on up the steep slope a large track and stadium at its crest. The stadium is ancient but remarkably well preserved. Mark was able to run around the oval there, but to us it looked more like a fast walk, if that (he ambles fast!)

We returned to Athens by the afternoon bus, again with a halfway stop, and returned to the apartment after checking into the Internet café. Later, we looked around for a restaurant and, looking for some guidance, I went into a little printing shop where a woman was working and talking on her cell phone. She directed us to a restaurant down the street and, as we were leaving, very kindly gave me a little hand-bound notebook. That was especially touching, the second time someone had spontaneously given me a small gift.


Setting Sun in Delphi
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New Year's Eve and the End of our Trip
Sunday, December 31st - New Year’s Eve

Mark left early Sunday morning and found a running path around the top of the Olympic Stadium. The central part of the City, otherwise, was quite hilly and several of the streets carried heavy traffic, making running difficult.

While others went to church on Sunday morning, I went by metro to Monestriki, the site of the regular Sunday morning flea market. Actually, I was so taken with the buildings and marble columns in the area that I first went there instead of wandering through the market. I found out that the expanse of marble was Hadrian’s Library, mainly consisting of marble floors, column bases and a few walls and plenty of grassy lawn. It is situated a bit below ground, as some of the surrounding streets running along it skirt walls of marble held up with posts and supports. Also in the area is the Roman Agora, although I barely had time to note it. I had to get onto the market if I was to wander through it while they were in church.

I found that Sunday’s entrance fee is waived, so each of these sites was free to visit before I returned to the flea market and walked around the streets, taking pictures and watching the bargaining and haggling that went on. It’s really an amazing sight, all those people with their wares (old furniture, old brass and china, old books and other household items), dealing with all the shoppers combing through them (picture below).

Then, I had to break off and leave and meet Kate and Mark at the metro stop because we had not been able to get in to actually see, close up, the Temple of Olympian Zeus a couple of days before when we had stopped by (it was closed and locked by the time we arrived). We went there, passed through Hadrian’s Gate, and were able to get in free (it being a Sunday) and looked around. It is so massive, both the temple itself and the land area it occupies, that it’s quite a sight up close. Awe-inspiring.

From there we walked over to the Plaka area, a rehabilitated area of the city, where there is an abundance of tourist shops and restaurants. We were hailed and ended up sitting outside in the sun at a place, which had an excellent lamb roast, perhaps one of the best we had on the trip (very moist).

We took the metro back to our apartment and then walked on a trail up Lykavittos Hill to its top, hoping to find the café open and grab a snack. Both the fancy restaurant at the summit and the more modest café were closed (the former for a private New Year’s eve party, apparently). So, after taking some pictures from the top, we returned to the main road level above the city where there were two cannons stationed, facing the city, manned by a group of camouflaged soldiers sitting and looking over the city and quite relaxed.

While Mark and Kate talked and looked over the city, I took pictures of the city, the Parthenon situated on the Acropolis, and the bay beyond it. Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of smog or smoke or something in the air that made getting clear shots difficult.


Temple of Olympian Zeus
New Year's Eve and Day ... Hydra ... and Then We Leave

Later in the night we became sure what the cannons and soldiers were all about. None of us could stay up late enough to celebrate the New Year, but promptly at midnight we were awoken by the roar of cannon fire from up the hill. Not only did it sound like the 1812 Overture in our apartment, but the bells from churches in the neighborhood rang as well. Actually, when I think back to where we’ve been over the past many New Years Eves (Los Angeles, Mexico City, Akumel, Sanibel Island, etc.) this was really the very best and most celebratory event I’ve enjoyed on New Years.

Monday, January 1st - New Year’s Day
This was the day we set aside to take a boat to visit the island of Hydra, south of the city of Athens. We rose very early and took the metro line down to Piraeus Port and caught the hydrofoil boat of Hellenic Seaways, the Flying Dolphin, for the two-plus hour trip out to Hydra. The boat stopped part way at the island close by, Poros, and then went onto the larger island, Hydra. We disembarked and set out to walk around the island. A huge cruise ship came into port a little later and the many tourists on that vessel also set out to enjoy the cafes on the waterfront and the shopping in the shops in the harbor area. We ate a breakfast at an outside cafe there and noticed that a boat had come to the waterfront and a man dressed as a Santa came off with his ‘helpers’ and bags of goodies. He was immediately mobbed by a vast group of little kids. Santa and his helpers walked through town, around the waterfront and stopped near a little crèche and handed out the various toys and games that were in those bags to the children, then returned to the boat and cast off.

While Mark and Kate and Ryan went hiking in the harbor area, I left and walked around the town and over to an even smaller town where things were very quiet. It’s a little village on a small harbor with older buildings and not many people (at least this time of year). After taking some photos of the buildings and boats in the area, I returned to Hydra and found my family still wandering around. We ate an afternoon meal sitting in the sun on the waterfront and enjoyed watching the islanders who were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon, playing dominoes, having snacks and drinks and visiting with each other.

Later in the afternoon (I still was wandering around taking pictures while the others sat, talked and read), we returned to Athens on another hydrofoil, the Flying Cat. We wandered around a bit more then returned to Plaka for the evening. I finally took the time to buy some souvenirs in a store in the area and enjoyed my third spontaneous gift when the owner rounded down the cost of my purchase. Following another excellent meal we went back to the metro and on to our "home." The night sky was clear and dark and the city fairly quiet after the cannon fire and festivities of the prior evening.

Tuesday, January 2nd
We got up at about 4:30am so we could start before 6:00am to look for a cab to the airport for our 9:00am flight. As it happened, despite trying to catch a few cabs to get to the airport, each of the drivers was disinclined to take us there, apparently out of concern about not having any assurance of a return fare that early in the day, so we ended up going to the Metro, taking it out to the end of the line and then changing to the airport metro, which arrived a little too close for comfort, about 90 minutes before the scheduled departure of our plane. We got checked in and through security with about one half hour to spare, but we had no problems getting to our plane, getting on and flying home.

We had only an hour between flights in London, but British Airways had a car meet us as we disembarked, which bypassed the usual lines and took us to the terminal for our American Airlines flight. We were whisked through the “VIP” Security and got to the plane as it was boarding. The nice thing about “VIP” Security is the lack of any line; otherwise, it’s the same as any other airport security area.

All of the planes met their schedules on the way home and except that my canvas bag was ripped open in transit, the rest of the trip home was uneventful.


Boat in quiet water, Hydra

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