September 5th, 2004

Touring Athens

The phone alarm rang at 7:00, way too early. I pushed the number one on the phone to snooze, and it called back at 7:10. I hung it up again, and dozed on and off until about 7:45. I got up, and just washed my face and wet and gelled my hair. Thank god for products.

We got down to breakfast at about 8:15. Steve and Mike were there, as were Hector and Mark. We helped ourselves to the buffet, and sat at a table of our own. I had scrambled eggs, bacon, and bread (two rolls) with butter. We also had coffee, some water, and afterwards I made two pieces of toast, which weren’t the greatest as the toaster setting was way too dark. I like my toast light, which when I say, always reminds me of the story my mom tells (over and over and over, unfortunately), “When you were young and staying with Memere (my French grandmother), you would always say, ‘I want some toast, Memere, but don’t cook it.’ She would start to put it in the toaster and you’d say again, “No, don’t cook it!”

“But I have to put it in the toaster to cook it,” she’d say.

“Yes, Memere, I want toast.”

She went to toast it again, “No, Memere, don’t cook it.” I must have been a cute little kid. J But I digress.

Steve F. joined us as we were finishing up, and I left Robert there with him, and returned to the room. My key wouldn’t work, and I had to go to the front desk to have them re-magnetize the strip. They had someone follow me to the room to verify that I was who I said I was.

Robert came up, and we headed down to the lobby to set off on our very full day of touring. Everyone was on time, and we got on the bus, where we met our tour guide, Helen. She turned out to be an amazing, amazing guide, which so enhanced our tour of the city and ancient ruins.

We passed Hadrian’s Arch as we started out, and then visited the Olympic Stadium, where Helen talked about how the ancient games started in Olympia, with the first modern Olympics in 1891 {verify this} being held here in Athens at this very stadium.

She narrated our drive away from the center of Athens for a drive-by view of the 2004 Olympic stadium. We were able to stop to get a few shots of it from across the road, but it was obstructed somewhat by other buildings. From what we could see of it, though, it was very cool.

Helen had an incredible command of the history of Greece, which was obvious in everything she talked about.

We stopped by the Presidential Palace, which was guarded by the most gorgeous military men. We got out and took pictures with them. You could stand beside them, but not behind them. They couldn’t talk or move.

Back on the bus, Helen told us that they were serving their compulsory Greek military service, in which the military chooses the most handsome men to be guards. They have to be tall, and most importantly, have straight legs. Jokes all around about gay legs, of course. They guard in one-hour shifts, with a changing of the guards on each hour.

The highlight of the day was our visit to the Acropolis. Our first stop was overlooking the Hadrian stadium {verify that this is the right name}, and Helen told a great story about the building of the stadium, how this man was a great philanthroper, and spent untold amounts of money repairing and restoring various important venues in Greece.

She then talked about the temples on the Acropolis, including the big showdown between Athina and Poseidon to have the city of Athens named after them. Poseidon tapped the ground and produced water, and the citizens wanted to instantly name the city after him. However, Athina was given her due, and she produced an olive tree, which represented prosperity and giving, and in the end the naming of the city after her, prevailed. She also told us the story about Athina supposedly being born out of the head of Zeus. It was all very interesting and very well told.

Once we reached the main area of the Acropolis, we stopped at each monument, where she gave us its history. She talked about the architectural wonder of the Parthenon, how it looks rectangular, but is really a masterpiece in curvature. The columns, stacked cylinders, started off with one girth, and then for the next two layers of cylinders gets wider, and then eventually starts diminishing in girth, so that if they went on, the columns would approach each other. She also mentioned that if you were to lay your hat down on one corner column of the monument, and walk to the other corner, you would not be able to see it because of the curve of the base. Not to mention that it was windy as hell up there, and you wouldn’t get five feet away from your hat before it was blown down to the Agora.

She also talked about the restoration efforts going on; this is the fourth round of them. She talked about the center of the columns originally containing lead rods, and how during the first restoration, they were replaced with iron rods, not knowing at the time that marble oxidizes iron. Eventually, the iron rusted and started leaking through, and so in the latest restoration efforts, after lots of research by modern scientists, the center rods are being made of titanium.

She told the great tale of how a great number of statues from the Parthenon have ended up in the British Museum, the controversy of which I’ve only recently learned. A British ambassador, Lord Elgin {Check out the spelling of this}, wanted some collectibles for a nice “villa” he was going to build his wife. He paid people to chip away the statues from the Parthenon after it had been bombed. He ended up getting caught, did time, and when he got out, his wife had left him for another man. “So went the villa for the Mrs.” He became so financially strapped for cash that he ended up selling a lot of his artifacts to the highest bidder, which turned out to be the British Museum.

She also told us about the many statues that were originally scattered all about the Acropolis, and how we know because there was a guy traveling around at that time who was cataloging everything he saw, including what the item was and its “coordinates” on the hill.

We moved over to the Temple to Athina, and got our history lesson on it. The six ladies holding up the “porch,” are replacements, with four of the originals inside the museum on the Acropolis. One of the other two originals is in the British museum (but we’re not bitter), and the other one is not yet in good enough condition to display. Copies replaced the originals because they were originally created from limestone, and over the centuries the faces have begun to deteriorate - hence the copies currently here, with the originals inside the museum.

We had a half hour of free time to take pictures, and tour the museum. We met outside the entrance to the Acropolis at the assigned meeting time, and everyone was pretty much on time. While we were waiting for the last couple of people, Adam’s friend, Keith, walked by, and we nabbed him. He was the last of our party of 11, and arrived today, a day late, due to a last minute work obligation. We stopped by the cloak check, and we retrieved Hector’s, Andrew’s and my bags.

We walked down to the Agora, where we stopped for another short history lesson at the Efe… {blacksmith temple; look this up} Temple. Helen talked about the Agora being the center of activity, and where you could often find Socrates and Plato walking about. She told the story about finding “vessels” in one corner of the Agora, and about the ambiguity of them being either for the poison they offered prisoners if they wanted to kill themselves (a la Socrates) {verify this}, or if the vessels were for the medicine they would have been giving out if the area was the hospital instead of the prison, which is the alternate theory.

In the middle of the Agora we saw the altar to Zeus, minus Zeus (the status is gone), and the wall where each of the 10 tribes (cities, regions) had a “seat,” at which you could come up and see announcements pertinent to your area - things like if you were being called to serve your region for the next election period, or in the military.

Leaving the Agora, we walked to the Plaka for lunch and some free time. We managed to happen upon the little store from which we bought our refrigerator magnets, and looked around on the ground for the lost earring, with no luck. We asked the clerks in there about it, no luck with them either. Bummer.

Steve joined us for lunch, which we had at a taverna. Robert ordered some tazhitzi (sp?), which we all ate a little of, and I had a Greek salad. Is that redundant, a Greek salad in Greece? Is it just a “salad” here - the Greek part being “obvious”? It was so delicious. The feta cheese on it was the freshest feta cheese I’ve ever eaten. I also had a pizza, of which I ate half. It wasn’t the normal cheese on it, but it was very good. I had the other half wrapped to take with us.

Robert had the “hamburgers,” which I thought was a typo, but turned out to be three little burgers, sort of oval shaped, with no bun. It came with French fries, and rice. Steve had a veal eggplant dish.

We met back with the group at 2:45, and headed to the next stop on our full day tour - the National Archeological Museum. I was afraid this was going to be boring, but of course, with Helen as our guide, it was quite fascinating.

She started off by setting the stage in time for us. So, what we saw at the Acropolis today was about 800BC. Now, we’re starting at the time of 1600 BC to 1100 BC, at a time when Greece had various rulers of which we have little information. The first gallery contained artifacts of what were originally thought to be artifacts of Agamemnon, but were later determined to be before his time. I think she said Agamemnon was around the 800BC time, too.

So, we first saw gold coverings that were put over the bodies when they were buried. They were real thin sheets of gold, over the face, the chest (like a breastplate), and arms and legs. The first set of remains was of a family, which included two children. She talked about how this indicated that they died in some catastrophic event, most likely a fire. Most of the housing of that time was made of wood, so fires were not uncommon. There is no evidence of sacrificing during those times, or anything like that, which might otherwise explain the children being found with them.

She talked about how Homer lived in some time AD, I believe, {look this up}, but weaved many things from this time (800 BC to 150BC) into his writings like the Iliad and the Odyssey. She showed us the example of a goblet from this period that is very similar to one described in one of Homer’s works - there were little animals, purposes, I believe, where the handles met the top of the goblet.

At about the third gallery, she gave us a little historical information on the development of sculpture - noting how the statues starting in this gallery were always men, nude, big smile on their faces, exaggerated eyes, arms stiff down by their sides, very unnatural looking, and always one foot in front of the other. She told us to watch as we progressed from gallery to gallery how the sculptors began to learn more and more about their art and more and more about the human body, so the figures became more and more realistic as time passed.

Eventually the arms relaxed, then they stuck out just a bit from their bodies, but with a little brace piece attaching them to the hip so they wouldn’t “break” or “fall off.” The torsos became better defined; the sculptors figured out that when someone stands with one foot forward, their one shoulder actually slumps, and all that was worked in to the sculpting. It was quite interesting to watch the progression, something I know I never would have noticed if we hadn’t had a guide.

Toward the end of the museum, she talked about the elaborate grave markers, and how most of them had two people on them, one figure sitting down, the other one usually standing next to the person sitting, and often offering something to them or vice versa. The person sitting down is always the dead person. In one of them, the dead person’s servant is holding a baby, which seems to be trying to get out of her arms and reach her mother. This usually indicated that the mother died in childbirth, and that the baby is trying to reach its mother, but can’t, of course. Very interesting.

From the museum, we headed out to Levettus {this is so not the right name, look it up}, which was the “Mountain of the Muses. We walked up many, many, many, did I say many, flights of stairs, and eventually reached a cable car type thing, called a funicular {look this up}, which took us to the top of the mountain. There we had a table set aside for our party, and we were served a brandy-based drink that was just okay, though Hector loved it. We had a toast, and then were served two little canapés - one smoked salmon, and the other, I believe, some kind of caviar. They were on little, round, crustless breads about the size of a half dollar, possibly carved with a small version of Pampered Chef’s Cut & Seal gadget. J

After our drinks, we took about a half hour to take photos, and look at the small church there, St. George’s. I believe this is also the place where Helen had told us (pointing to it from the Acropolis) that Hadrian was buried. He had said that he wanted to always have a view of the Acropolis, even in death, so they buried him here with a headstone on which he is on a horse, and has his head turned back looking at the Acropolis. This is the same guy that paid all the money to build (and rebuild destroyed) stadiums and temples, and his burial is significant here because all other graves are outside the limits of the Acropolis, as the cemeteries were not built within the Acropolis. However now that I’m capturing this story, I’m wondering if the was the same hill as we didn’t see such a grave marker here. So many ruins, so little time.

We returned to the hotel after this long, but very interesting day, took a shower, and promptly napped until about 10:30. Shortly after we woke up, the phone rang. It was Steve inviting us to join everyone for dinner, which we declined. We told them we’d meet them at the club between 12:30 and 1:00.

We had dinner in bed - the rest of the Cheetos from the other night, and the three leftover pieces of my pizza from lunch. It was quite good, even cold, and such a nutritious dinner.

We left for the club at about 12:30 or so, and the place was pretty dead when we got there. We had run into Hector on the way out, and he walked with us. Eventually everyone but Mark, I believe, arrived.

It got harder and harder to talk in there, as the music got louder and louder as the night passed. Flirting and shenanigans in the dark room ensued. The music abruptly stopped at 4AM, and the lights came on shortly after that. Nobody screamed, at least, and we all left the club.

We stopped at a little place right by the bar that was still open, and Robert ordered a crepe, which was delicious. We got to bed some time between 4:30 and 5:00.