Oct 30 2007
The best part about traveling, by far, is the people that you meet. Fellow travelers, ex-pats, locals — we’ve met some incredible people during our journey. Mudfish, also known as Russ, is one of the best! His mi-casa-es-su-casa (er, to spiti mou spiti sou in Greek!) generosity has been much appreciated, and we’ve had a lot of fun hanging out with Mud and co.
Staying with Mudfish has enabled us to see a different side of Athens. There are parks here! And trees! Wider roads! No heavily armed guards on every corner! No street fights at 3 am!
We were lucky our stay in Athens coincided with a Greek national holiday: Sunday was Ohi Day! Ohi Day commemorates the day when Greek dictator Metaxas refused to let Axis powers enter Greece during World War II (Metaxas allegedly replied with an adamant “Ohi!” [no!] to Mussolini’s ultimatum). The fact that only a short while later Axis powers occupied Greece by force does not dampen patriotic spirits. Ohi Day is marked by parades and ubiquitous displays of Greek flags. We’d hoped to catch the parade in central Athens, but since we didn’t get home from the night before until an hour before the parade began in the morning, that didn’t happen (fun side note: the Greeks do not have a “last call” at 2 am).
Saturday night Mudfish gave us a tour of Athenian nightlife. Most notably, I got to see my first Greek punk rockers. Also, we met Uchi from Paraguay, so Ben was able to practice his Spanish a little. We also tried Greek late-night food – cheese-filled crepes! – which ruled.
Ohi Day for Ben and I meant free entrance into all of the ancient sites (which would have otherwise been 24+ euros!). So we set off Sunday afternoon, pleased with our budgetary prowess. We started with the ruins on lower ground – Hadrian’s library and the Roman agora. I am impressed by how even if most of the structure is gone, the restoration efforts have gone far to convey the sheer size of these gigantic buildings.
We didn’t dawdle long, as we were eager to see the Acropolis. One of my favorite moments on the trip so far happened when we were in Athens for the first time, stopping here for a night en route to Crete. We were walking along a crowded street to grab some dinner when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Acropolis emerged in front of me, with the Parthenon all lit up. It was one of those we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore moments, and sort of made our trip a reality for me. I don’t think many people forget the first time they see the Acropolis. I’m not sure why, but it’s one of those buildings that can be meaningful to someone even if they have no clue about the history or significance of the structure. What makes it more evocative is, while the builders realized they were working on an important project and meticulously made every angle and proportion perfect, they had no idea it would come to symbolize the dawn of Western civilization.
Before visiting Athens, I always assumed Acropolis = Parthenon. What I didn’t realize is that there are several other, equally impressive buildings up there – The Temple of Athena Nike, The Erectheion – all with their own fascinating history. What is far less impressive is the massive amount of scaffolding that surrounds the Parthenon. Thanks to the stupidity of more modern civilizations, the building is on the verge of collapse. How something can last 2,000 years and then someone (ahem, Venice!) be stupid enough to BOMB it, I’ll never know. Nor will I ever understand how you can let the air in a city get so polluted that it DISINTEGRATES MARBLE. Which also makes me slightly concerned for my lungs.
We had timed our visit to coincide with dusk, but were disappointed to find that the clouds had situated themselves as to perfectly block our view of the sun disappearing behind the horizon. My disappointment was alleviated when we saw a regiment of men in traditional Greek military attire, accompanied by a band, ascending the Acropolis to ceremoniously take down the large flag that stands at one end of the hill. I wish I knew more about the evolution of traditional Greek uniform because it involves several decorative pom-poms, which I enjoy.
We finished our tour of ancient sites with a nighttime visit to the Areopagus, which is basically a giant rock that sits on one side of the Acropolis. For a rock, it has a remarkable history. It was the meeting place for what was essentially one of the first senates, the location of the judicial court in classical Athens and where the Apostle Paul delivered his famous “Sermon on an Unknown God,” which began the conversion of Athens. Standing on the rock, with the glowing Parthenon on one side and a sparkling modern city sprawling out in all directions on the other is another one of those wow moments I’ve experienced on this trip. Incredible ideas, like democracy and Christianity, were set in motion on this exact spot. Much greater people than me have stood where I am standing and have done things that affected the course of the world.
We appropriately ended our day by dining at Goody’s, the Greek version of McDonald’s. We’ve avoided the place for the entire trip, but Ben is strangely intrigued by artificial foods (I mean, seriously intrigued. Like we can’t go to the grocery store without him examining giant tubs of loaded-baked-potato-flavor chex mix), and after weeks of dropping not-so-subtle hints, I relented. My vote: yuck. What our guidebook says is true: avoid the Greek hamburger. I have no idea why anyone would choose to visit Goody’s rather than get a delicious gyro for less than two euros at one of the many street vendors.
In other news, Ben is hairless. Well, not really. He cut his hair (we unfortunately could never get the clippers to work, so Ben had to visit a salon) and finally shaved his beard. I’m so used to him looking like a crazy mountain man, that I do not recognize him anymore. Whenever he walks into the room I do a double take and usually say something like, “what is wrong with your FACE??” Either that, or I run away screaming “STRANGER DANGER!” He was amused at first, but I think he’s getting annoyed.