We left bucolic Kardamyli early this morning to travel to Athens. I'm not looking forward to a big bustling city after all those mellow Greek towns but I figure the museums and the Acropolis deserve a visit.
The road north from Kardamyli is as beautiful as the road south, winding around red rock cliffs and patches of forest that reminded me of Sedona. Our path then took us through Kalamata where traffic rules are merely suggestions. And then suddenly we were on the A7, an EU-standards-compliant toll highway so perfect in execution that 130 seemed slow. We made great time on the A7.
Soon we were back in Nafplio where we dropped off the Fiesta, ate yet another gyro (can one overdose on gyros?), then hopped the bus to Athens.
The Athens bus left us at the Eleonas (or ) metro stop and from there it was an easy trip to our apartment.
One of the first things I discovered while travelling in Greece is the challenge of names; in Greece a place can have a number of names. Of course you expect there to be a Greek name and an English name but there can be several additional variants. For example Nafplio, , Nauplia and Navplion all refer to the same place. Google maps might use one name, CityMaps2Go (which uses OpenStreetMap's data) another. It can be confusing.
Speaking of maps, Ulmon's CityMaps2Go app is my most used travel app. Assuming I've my phone, I'm never lost because I've got CityMaps2Go. It doesn't do navigation, it has few bells and whistles, but it works with your phone gps and the maps are really good, they even have a lot of hiking trails. For example, all the trails we hiked in Kardamyli are in there. To get around its lack of navigation I find my destination ahead of time and place a pin on the map at that spot, then i target that pin as I walk.
Of course Google is trying to get in on the action here - the offline maps space - but their offline maps
suck are lacking.
Maybe it's user error, maybe it's just too immature a product, whatever it is, I'm not finding Google's offline maps reliable just yet.
Only one photo to post today, the beautful Parthenon. Covered in scaffolding but I think that's a given. It's from a distance: I took this shot from our patio using my telephoto and converted it to B&W with Fuji's Acros. B&W hides a lot of sins in night time photography.
“Alors, c’est la guerre!” can be translated as "Then it is war!"
Greece's main public event in October is Oxi Day, on the 28th. Oxi, by the way, means 'no' in Greek. This day commemorates the date in 1940 when Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas said no (actually, he said "then it is war") to the Italian demand to march unopposed into Greece. This was Greece’s entry into WWII on the Allied side. Greece’s fierce resistance against Italy and then against the Nazis is a source of Greek pride.
Most towns have parades on October 28th. School kids get to march in front of their parents and everyone else. We saw kids practicing in Kardamyli earlier this week. Military parades also occur in the larger cities. The day is a public holiday and all state and most private offices are closed. In tourist areas shops and restaurants shut for half a day so their owners can go watch their kids march, but most have reopened by the late afternoon.
I've woken to church bells, I've woken to the call to prayer, but waking to booms is new. Since it's Oxi day in Greece I figured the booms and the accompanying sounds of drums must be the kickoff of the celebration. Cool.
We spent the day checking off the big two sights on the Athens list, the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis. We had the pleasant discovery that both were free today - this being a national holiday - though I wouldn't mind paying, I hear the Greeks could use the euros.
The National Archaeological Museum was about a 45 minute walk from our apartment and it was packed with visitors which is the downside to free. Have you tried the Prado when it's free? Don't.
The museum presentations are arranged chronologically and are well documented in English as well as Greek. I'm fortunate that the sole language I speak is the second language in the country I'm visiting. Ditto the Netherlands and Portugal.
The archaeologists have done a fine job of digging up, analyzing, organizing, and explaining what the've found. It's amazing what has been gleaned from the bits of pottery and sculpture and charred bits that have been dug up.
But just like church ruins in Mystras, a little bit of archaeology goes a long way and soon we left, though we came away impressed with the beauty of the culture. And what a long history they have. Impressive.
In the afternoon we climbed up to the Acropolis, a massive rock that dominates all of Athens. I can't add much save to say the Parthenon is huge and beautiful - the use of optical illusions is brillant - and, like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, I wish they'd hurry up and finish it.
Just as we were about to leave - sunset was on its way - a line of fellows in curious costumes walked by, heading for a platform where a large Greek flag was flying in the strong cold breeze. Think Swiss guards but in black and white. They were followed by a small band carrying instruments. The costumed fellows were Evzones, the presidential guard, and they gathered at the flag while the crowd circled around to wait. As the sun set they performed a flag-lowering ceremony, accompanied to music. A nice end to the day and a reminder that we in the west should appreciate the freedoms that others have fought so hard to protect.
And again we heard boom! Boom! Boom!
When dawn spreads out her finger tips of rose the city of Athens looks her best. Problem is, even at her best Athens is largely chock a block grungy cement buildings separated by dirty streets filled with cars parked anywhere they can fit. And then there's the graffiti, the ugly icing on the ugly cake.
But if you can overlook these shortcomings, and maybe you can't, Athens is a perfectly nice place to visit, to eat good food and see some ruins and meet city people who are just as friendly as small town people.
We spent the morning doing the Rick Steves' city walk. I confess I like his guides: he's unashamably opinionated, and we often disagree with his opinions, but his maps are great and his city information useful. I especially like his history-filled city walks. A couple of highlights from this morning's walk follow.
In front of the nondescript Parliament building a pair of Evzones can be seen guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier. Their outfits and their marching is most curious. They even let you pose next to them for a photo though i didn't do that.
Another highlight was sitting in the small dark and completely frescoed Church of Kapnikarea. It's an 11th century Byzantine church, very dark inside like other Greek Orthodox churches we've visited, and the interior is completely covered with paintings of men who seemed to be looking at me. As I sat in the church (typically parishoners stand) I felt as if the men painted on the walls were watching me, perhaps judging me, as if to ask whether I was living up to their expectations. Not a bad experience, a thoughtful one.
After the walk we grabbed lunch from the friendly patisserie around the corner. The same young woman who served us the day before gave us some free cookies to go with our savory pastries.
The Acropolis Museum stands in stark contrast to the Archaeology Museum: it's wonderful! A clean, light-filled modern building, steps from its namesake, that is cleverly cantilevered over some of the ruins that it covers. Some of the museum's highlights are glass floors that reveal the ruins underneath the building; clever use of videos to explain exhibits; and a top-floor display that mimics the shape and dimensions of the Parthenon. It's a pleasure to visit. I think it's time the Brits (and French and Italians and Danes) give back their marbles, if for no other reason than the Greeks have built a museum worthy of them.
This morning we left Athens for Hydra, a small island known for ... well, unfortunately I need to digress, there is something more to say about Athens.
We were mugged this morning, on the metro. Maybe mugged is strong but it was more than a pick pocketing; it involved physical conflict, Paul and I versus several others. Not to worry, we weren't hurt and all we lost was a passport but it shook us up. It sucks. Put a big damper on the day.
With that out of the way, I'll move on to our final Greek stop, Hydra. It's as laid back, as bucolic, as non hustle bustle as can be. The anti Athens.
We took the sinister-looking Flyingcat 4 from Piraeus to the town of Hydra which is on the island of the same name. It's a rocky island with maybe 3000 inhabitants almost all of whom live in the town.
So what's so interesting about Hydra? At first glance it's a typical picturesque Greek port, stone buildings climbing a hillside and wrapping around a port filled with colorful boats of all shapes and sizes, fishing and pleasure and transport. But what is unusual about Hydra is that it has no automobiles, no motorscooters, they don't even have bicycles. (How do you forbid bicycles?) All transportation is by foot, hand cart, boat, or donkey.
Weather permitting we'll spend the next couple days exploring the island on foot then we'll start our journey home. I confess that at the moment home sounds pretty good.
The pool of knowledge is limited; its the pool of ignorance, speculation and misunderstanding that is infinite. Pico Iyer, What do we know?
The photo is of the Acropolis as seen from the nearby Acropolis Museum. The museum, the building I'm in, is built over ruins, you can see them through the glass floors. Novel to me but I suppose you can't scratch the Greek earth without turning up some ruins. And I imagine that planning for and working around historic remains must add to construction costs.
All of these ruins were especially curious to me since I live where pretty much everything is built of materials that barely last a lifetime. Fortunately the Greeks weren't short of beautiful stone, a material that lasts hundreds of lifetimes.
I like the photo despite, or maybe because of, the mom and kid in the corner. They seem to be a little too in the corner but then again, maybe that's a reason to like it. What also caught my eye was the grid of the window frames and the pattern of layers made up of sky, ruins, town, and museum. It's all very geometric.
For more pictures of the museum go to the Acropolis Museum post dated Oct 29, 2016.