Sunday, March 25, 2012

Athens, Day 2

On Thursday (the second layover day of our Big Fat Greek Trip), we had planned to get a really early start in order to pack in as much sightseeing as possible; but I was out cold until 9:30, still recovering from the flight over, and my husband didn't have the heart to wake me before that. We got on our way by about 11:00--a bit later than we'd hoped, but still hours earlier than we'd gotten started the day before. Right off the bat, we had to stop and check a very important item off the to-do list: we got me a cappuccino, which I now believe is the nectar of the gods. Ahhhh, heaven! And after that, we headed for the subway and looked forward to spending a day checking out the ancient temples of said gods.

Even riding the subway over there was an enjoyable experience for me. The subway in Athens is very modern and extremely clean, and in places has an almost museum-like quality. There are glass-fronted cases embedded in the walls that house ancient pottery and other treasures from centuries B.C. that were unearthed when the subway was being built.

We got off the subway and purchased tickets, for twelve euro apiece, that allowed us entrance into all the main attractions of Athens: the Acropolis, the new Acropolis museum (where all the statues and carved friezes rescued from the ancient ruins of the Parthenon are exhibited, in order to preserve them from the elements), the Agora, the Roman Agora, the Temple of Zeus, and Hadrian's Library. We spent six hours absorbing all that beauty and history, and it was a day I will never forget. While on the Acropolis, we watched skilled craftsmen at work high up on scaffolding, entrusted with the task of replacing missing chunks from the columns of the Parthenon, patiently chipping away at new marble inserts. We looked over the stone walls down at the city of Athens below, and could see a basketball court not far away, with a group of boys playing hoops. My husband commented on the strangeness of that juxtaposition: modern life going on right there in the shadow of the Acropolis. (While we stood in awe of the marvelous architecture of ancient Greece, we realized that it was probably all old hat--very old hat; even ancient hat, you might say--to native Athenians who saw it every day.) From up there we could also clearly see Lycabettus, the hill crowned by the Church of St. George, where we'd had our sunset beers the night before.

My husband got me into trouble up there, though. He had me climb up onto the porch of a building next to the Parthenon called the Erechtheius, and told me to put my hand on one of the giant columns so that it would look like I was holding it up. We didn't think a thing of it, since the entire porch area was filled with tourists like myself. But as soon as I got up there, I was reprimanded and shooed away by a Greek tour guide. It was a bit mortifying. We still don't know exactly what I did wrong, but surmised that the only ones allowed access to that porch were people who'd paid extra for a guided tour inside that particular building.

I got into trouble one other time, when we visited the Acropolis museum after our descent from the Acropolis. There was an awesome marble sculpture of roaring lion--and I got this harebrained idea that I would pose with my head close to its mouth, to make it look as if it was about to eat me, and have my husband take a picture. I hadn't planned to actually touch the statue; I just wanted to get close enough to get one of those zany pictures that I see in the Facebook photo albums of all the fun people I know. This was totally out of character for me; because, you see, I'm not one of those fun people. Normally I don't even like having my picture taken at all. Well, it serves me right for going outside of my comfort zone once again, because I was reprimanded in Greek by one of the museum's employees. For the second time that day, I felt like an absolute idiot. I'd just like to say, though, that if those Greek museum curators don't want stupid Americans like me to get too close to their ancient works of art, they should put them behind glass, or have little fences set up around them. Those statues are all out in the open, almost as if they are meant to be touched! Oh, well...I took this shot in the Agora. If I do say so myself, I think it is pretty enough to put in an Athens guide book.

We walked, and we walked, and we walked...for six hours altogether. Aside from the sites mentioned above, my husband also took me to see the original Olympic stadium, which is amazingly well-preserved. After a long but extremely interesting and satisfying day, we rode the subway back to the hotel, where we took a short rest and then got freshened up for dinner.

We took the subway back into the city and stopped first in the plaka to buy a few trinkets for our kids, then made our way through the crowded cobbled streets to Psara's for dinner. We'd eaten there the night before, but liked it so much that we decided to go back again. Psara's is an interesting establishment; it is built into a hill and is made up of several buildings with multiple levels. On Wednesday night, we'd dined in a group of six on the highest level, at an outdoor rooftop table, where we could plainly see the nearby lighted Acropolis. On Thursday, my husband and I decided we wanted to have a romantic dinner for two rather than meet up with any of the flight crew. We sat at an outdoor table again, but this time on a lower level of the restaurant, in a narrow cobblestone alleyway. It was just wonderful. We shared a grilled meat platter (lamb, veal, beef, chicken, and sausage!) and a Greek salad. We had ordered a glass of red wine apiece to go with our dinners, but we were brought an extra little carafe, on the house; and because my husband was going to be flying the next morning and wasn't going to touch it--and I hate to waste anything--I ended up consuming the rest. Anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol; so needless to say, I wasn't as steady on my feet as I should have been as we made our way back to the subway!

But what a great dinner! We lingered after our meal, talking while I worked on that carafe of wine. I kept thinking that we should get going, but my husband said that there was no need to hurry. Apparently, when you get a table for dinner at a restaurant in Europe, they consider it yours for the night. I'm so used to the way it is here, where you know they're just dying to get you moving along so they can reuse your table. I have to say, I like the way Europeans think! There's nothing I like more than sitting at the table after a nice meal, just talking and relaxing.

Now all that was left was a long, LONG plane ride home the next day. But even the two flights--more than ten hours each way--were well worth it (despite my well-documented aversion to flying), so that I could spend two glorious days exploring Athens with my husband. Don't be surprised if I end up boring you with added anecdotes from this trip in the weeks to come!

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