Greek “Odd”ysseys — Part 1

With such a fantastic hotel room here in Athens, I slept like a baby. Not before watching some Greek TV, though! You bet I turned on the cartoon channel! 😉 I alternated between all kinds of stations – cartoons, news, weather, and American dramas with Greek subtitles to get an idea of what they watch here in Greece.

Pretty much the same things we do in America.

It was an early rise in the morning to snag some breakfast and get to the Acropolis before thousands of others did. I managed to get my blog post up while I was getting ready (it’s not the posting that’s the problem, it’s the pictures – they won’t usually upload into the blog while I’m in foreign countries), and then I found the H floor of the hotel for breakfast. It was simple but more than enough – your basic eggs (scrambled and hard-boiled), bread, fruit, jams and jellies, meat slices, cheese slices, and cereal options. I took one look at the meat and cheese slices before a loud don’t you DARE crackled through my brain. Too many of those breakfasts in Sarajevo and Lupeni….

Instead, I just grabbed some scrambled eggs, a whole bunch of peaches, and a piece of pound cake. After that, I went back to get a bowl of Muzli and put some hot milk in it. I wanted to have a sturdy breakfast to give me energy for all the walking I’d be doing.

It was an easy ride to the Acropolis via metro, although the entrance is not as obvious as one would hope. I knew that before I went, though, so I was prepared to feel like I was walking the wrong direction. The trails leading to the entrance to the Acropolis were very nice and forested, as is much of the base of the Acropolis hill.

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I can say with certainty, though, that if you are not physically somewhat fit, unsteady on your feet, or have little experience hiking, you will have difficulty with the Acropolis. The trails are just that – trails. Not paths, not cute little walkways. Sure, some of them have cobblestones, but those are even more treacherous than the trails. And I mean that, too; it was raining for almost my entire stay on the Acropolis, and those stones are like ice, maybe just a bit worse. That’s not an exaggeration. I was wearing Merrell hiking shoes with excellent treads and my feet were still all over the place like an ice skater. I pitied all the people wearing flipflops. Although that is definitely a stupid thing to do anyway, rain or not….*facepalm*

So, first I explored the outside of the gated entrance, since I didn’t see any crowds and figured I had time. When I’m by myself sightseeing, I’m a big sucker for “leave no stone unturned”; I will explore every corner and I hate to leave if I know there’s a place I haven’t been, even if I also know there’s nothing new there. So, I entertained myself with the “pointless” outside architecture for about ten minutes before I went inside.

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At the ticket office, I discovered that I was one of two people in the entire Acropolis. Now that’s what I like to hear! It didn’t take much to get into the Acropolis for free with my student ID (university students studying in the EU are free), which was a nice change of pace from the grouchy metro lady who wouldn’t take the same student card for a discount on the tickets. Oh well, if life were perfect it wouldn’t be fun, right?

Since no one had entered after me and I was all alone, I figured I’d explore for a bit more before worrying about getting right to the top of the Acropolis hill. I saw a gigantic rock and thought to myself, Imma climb that. And so I did, and later found out (AKA when I got a bit closer) that it was Aeropageus (Ἄρειος Πάγος, Rock of Ares) or, for those of you more savvy with Roman myth than with Greek, Mars Hill. It was from this place that the Apostle Paul gave his sermon about the unknown god in the New Testament. And I climbed it, slippery rocks and all.

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It gave some really great views of Athens itself, and so I took a few snapshots of Pnyx Hill and Philopappos Hill, as well as some panoramic pictures of the city.

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Then, it was off toward the eastern slope to see what I mistakenly thought at first was the Theater of Dionysus but later discovered (by finding the real Theater of Dionysus) that this one was the Odeum of Herodes Atticus.

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I put off going to the top yet again to further explore the dirt paths and steep rocky slopes of the eastern hillside, where I found the Portico of Eumenes (well, all that’s left) and Asklepieion.

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It was shortly after this (and after a steep, treacherous descent) that I found the actual Theater of Dionysus. I had swapped them in my mind so that the smaller one (this one) was the Odeum, but I was wrong. Thank you, free guidebook handout. Can you believe that I read those things? You should.

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Anyway, I finally backtracked with the intent of climbing the hill when I saw all the tour groups passing by. I groaned at myself, thinking I’d made a huge mistake in not climbing to the top first thing before the crowds. Thankfully, I was still much earlier than the mass of tour groups, and this one was one of two groups on the Acropolis (the first group being the one that I had sprung in front of when it finally came to the upper ticket booth so that I could just get going and not wait behind fifty people).

I made quick work of the slippery paths and came to the actual Acropolis and the surrounding monuments, which included the Temple of Nike and the Propylaea.

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I took a quick walk around the Parthenon, which disappointingly still has a huge amount of scaffolding on it, to take some pictures of the panoramic city and most notably the Temple of Zeus in the distance.

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It’s one of those ironic things, taking pictures of monuments. You want to be close to them naturally, but you often find the best pictures from a distance. It makes me sad.

Anyway, I backed away from the Parthenon to get some good pictures, trying to obscure the scaffolding as best I could.

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To be honest, without being allowed to go in the Parthenon or anything, there’s really not much to look at for more than thirty seconds or so, so I took a little sidetrack (literally) to the right side of the Parthenon to visit the Erechtheion – the real reason I came to the Acropolis. No, really.

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Not that I wasn’t interested in the Parthenon. That’s far from the truth. But I find the story of the Erechtheion so much more charming and entertaining. Maybe I feel like I “know its secrets” or something, I don’t know, but it’s just more interesting to me. It is a place for the worship of many gods, but mostly it’s focused (as are many things) on Athena and Poseidon. I can’t believe that I almost walked out of the Acropolis without taking a picture of the hole in it. What was I thinking? That was what I came for! Jeeze.

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No, it’s not a piece of rock that fell out of a decrepit monument. According to the myth, Athena and Poseidon were fighting over who got to be the patron god of Athens, so they had a competition. They got all the people together, and each god had to decide on one gift to give all of the people. Athena gave them an olive tree (supposedly the one pictured above next to the temple). Poseidon, on the other hand, gave salt water.

Greece is surrounded by ocean. Not even a good try, Poseidon. You lose, dude.

Angry that Athens chose Athena as its patron (and evidently with a little too much seaweed in his ears to understand why salt water was such a bad idea), Poseidon chucked his trident into the temple. Supposedly, that hole is where it punched through. That’s why I wanted to see it. Charming.

After I’d satisfied myself seeing the temple’s puncture wound, I booked it out of the Acropolis, as now the tourists were streaming in. Where there were probably only about fifty people on the whole of the Acropolis when I started, it turned into this quickly:

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And apparently, according to the guides I overheard, it gets much worse. I can’t imagine.

A high point (no pun intended) of the trip to the Acropolis was that, as the rain stopped, a rainbow framed the whole hill for more than thirty minutes. Can you see it?

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How about now?

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Eh? Find it?

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Okay, I’m done now.

For most of time on the Acropolis, I had a really annoying, loud group of teenagers around me. They always happened to be going to the same places that I was. At the base of the mountain, I dodged around a corner down the road to the Ancient Agora. They went too. Of course.

At first, I didn’t really know what the Ancient Agora was, only that I wanted to see it. As it turns out, it’s a little like a monument park. I really enjoyed it, as I stumbled upon a lot of interesting things by complete accident. Most notable of these discoveries were the Stoa of Attalos and the Temple of Hephaestus. I was planning on visiting each one, but I didn’t realize that they were right there.

The Stoa of Attalos was cool to go inside. Its symmetry was pleasing to the eye. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If I have a say in it, my future house will look like that.

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Although, to be honest, from far away it kinda looks like a Vienna sausage.

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Then (after taking about 150 pictures of everything else just lying around), I made my way over to the Temple of Hephaestus, where that annoying bunch of kids were (thankfully) just leaving. Still, I encountered them on the path up, which is not big enough for two people. I had to stand off the path (by a high dropoff) to wait for them to pass.

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Once I got to the top, though, I rather enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because I had been searching for the temple for so long that I enjoyed it, but I thought that it was a nice, scenic monument that didn’t have all the hype about it but was just as beautiful as the Parthenon.

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The garden area around it was refreshing, and I found myself chased by swarms of bees three times. I’m not exaggerating – they were all breeding, as were the ants, and I stepped on their nests by accident. I heard this strange buzzing, and I was thinking, What on earth could be making that noise? I didn’t realize until a whole bunch of bees zipped around my head that I had better move. Fast.

The temple was very near the exit of the Ancient Agora, so I headed out and back toward Monastiraki, where I had been yesterday, to get some lunch. All of that (Acropolis, Agora, everything) took me only three hours – that’s what happens when you’re not constrained by a tour guide. Not that tour guides are a bad thing (I wouldn’t mind being one, remember?). Anyway, I’ve been conflicted about the whole gyro situation since I got here. Part of me says, You can’t get more Greek than a gyro. Eat one. The other part of me says, Remember all of those Greek people who said that they would never eat a gyro in Athens? It’s not about the country, it’s about the restaurant. Can I really get one as good as a Greek one back in Budapest? Well, yeah, I think I can. I have a couple places in mind, actually. But Athens is so touristy, knowing that all the Americans want to eat “real Greek gyros” that the quality is incredibly poor (actually, in the past, many gyro shops got in trouble for using meat of such poor quality and made out of so many unidentifiable parts that their operations became illegal). So, this is what it comes down to – if I have the money left, I will get a gyro. Otherwise, I’ll go without. This trip to Athens is very strategic – to rid me of my Euros since I won’t have any need of them without losing money on commission changing them back over to forints (the exchange is usually quite bad).

So, all that to say that, if you’re wondering why I didn’t get a gyro for lunch, well, that’s why. Hmm. That was a lot of commas. Sometimes I can’t stop the English nerd from oozing out. Sorry.

Anyway, I opted instead for a Greek grilled pita with chicken, chips, lettuce, Greek mayonnaise, and a light dousing of ketchup and mustard. It was quite good, actually, although the chicken was a tad tough. Very messy to eat.

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I munched on it as I walked to Kerameikos to tour the museum and the site now that it was open. I had to sit on a bench for a while, as the pita had much more endurance than I did. You try climbing a mountain and then walking down a long cobblestone road holding an oozing pita with 17MPH winds and motorbikes zooming illegally around you. You’d sit down too.

I stood up, though, when a gruff-looking man seemed to take notice of me. I walked toward the entrance to Kerameikos (which I could see), and he followed. I finished eating the pita just outside the doorway, where I could be easily seen by the people inside, just in case. A solo female traveler can never be too careful!

It didn’t take long to tour the cemetery, Kerameikos, mostly because it all just looks like a jumble of rubble. Not that it’s not a worthwhile monument, it’s just not necessarily as picturesque as, say, the Parthenon.

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Then, I went inside the Kerameikos Museum, which was made up of about four rooms containing more tombstones and some Greek pottery. It was interesting, but a fast walkthrough did the trick.

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On another note, I am very intrigued about the number of cacti that I am seeing in Greece. I didn’t think it was that type of climate.

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I still had a lot of free time to burn, so I decided to go back to the Olympieion and take a closer look. On my way back the last time I had headed through Plaka, so I avoided that busy marketplace in favor of a straight shot toward Hadrian’s Arch. The temple was definitely a lot nicer up close.

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I took the chance to sit on a nice bench next to the temple columns in the refreshing breeze and figure out what I wanted to do next. However, my itinerary for the day was over sooner than expected, so I decided that the next best thing to do would be to search for the specific restaurants I had chosen for the remainder of the items on my must-eat Greek food list. I short metro ride to Syntagma Square left me a little disoriented, but it only took me a few minutes to find which street I needed to head down to find my first restaurant. In fact, it was pretty much in the square – Chatzis. They are known to have the best kourabiedes in Athens (perhaps in all of Greece?), so I was definitely excited to get a Greek cookie from them! Unfortunately, kourabiedes are Christmas cookies, and my fears that no one would sell them in October proved true. What can you do? Oh well.

Next up was Ariston, a bakery only about ten minutes away on foot.

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As soon as I walked in, I knew I had a winner just by the smell, but the atmosphere definitely erased any doubts I may have had. Ariston is the place in Athens to get tyropita, which I knew beforehand, but the suffocating stream of locals (each with their personal favorite order from Ariston) streaming in and out of the shop told me that the food was quality. I asked the woman, who spoke no English, for a tyropita, and she handed it to me wrapped in a handy bag with an open top so that you could eat it right away. I paid and left quickly, the freshly baked bread scorching my hand through the napkin and paper wrapper.

When I bit into it, I was actually a little disappointed, as it wasn’t the flavor I was expecting. Taking another bite, however, I ascended into wonderful bliss. I am in Greece, after all. This must be ambrosia.

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I swear I want to eat these things every day for the rest of my life. That is cheese you see inside that bread; pungent and very strong, that cheese complimented the buttery, freshly baked bread perfectly. The bread itself was interesting, flaky and fresh but not soft. Not difficult to chew, but not soft – Greek phyllo bread. It’s difficult to explain. But the cheese inside was fantastic. It wasn’t stringy, it was small-curd feta cheese. I really want another one.

I gnawed delightedly on that as I turned back onto Ermou Street toward my final specific food destination, Krinos. It was about a half an hour’s walk by foot, and it brought me back to Monastiraki before I’d realized that I’d missed the turn a block back onto Aiolou.

When I turned onto the street, I was at building number 19. I was looking for 87. My feet hurt.

It was worth it, though, to see Krinos come into view on the left side of the street.

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It was a little bit of a strange restaurant, with the food counter in the back so that you walk through the dining area to get your takeout food. At first, it appears almost like a kitchen you’re not supposed to enter. Anyway, I told the man (whose English was not very good, which was encouraging) that I wanted loukoumades, and he gave me six of them with the option to stay and eat or take them out for a bit cheaper. Not only because I want to save money but because I also wanted to save my feet, I opted to take them back to my hotel for dinner. He added honey and cinnamon to them for free, and I practically leaped out of the shop with a smile, eager to try one of them while they were still hot and fresh.

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These are not doughnuts. Don’t even let that thought cross your mind. They are somewhat transparent, very crispy, and have a luscious center of dough that is almost creamy. These pastries are so delicious that they used to be served to the winner of the Olympic games in ancient Greece. However, they are very filling, which means that six was more than enough for me (another reason I opted to take them home). The guy sure didn’t mind putting on a lot of honey, though! After I ate all of them (which took a few hours), I used the handle of my fork to measure the honey that was left. There was about a half an inch. That is not an exaggeration.

After I got back to the hotel, I spent quite a bit of time figuring out what to do on my final day in Athens. The issue is that what I’d originally planned has conflicting prices – one is too high, while the other is okay. So pretty much I won’t know whether or not I’ll be doing that until I get there. So, I have Plan A for Thursday and Plan B. Either is okay with me, but I may not have time to do both. Then again, I may. It’s hard to tell, so we’ll just play it by ear.

I also spent a huge amount of time on this blog – around four hours. Yes, that’s how much work I put in every day for you people. 😉  You ought to be thankful that I’m a writer anyway.

So stay tuned for the next post, which probably won’t actually appear tomorrow, as I’ll be back on a plane without internet access. But don’t worry, it will come soon. Until then, see ya!

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