Athens: The dawn of civilisation - 2008

2nd February 2008 - to Athens

Up early but only a 3 minute walk from my bed to the check-in desk. I stayed at the Yotel, Gatwick South. Fantastic concept and good in practice too. 'Capsule' hotel in the heart of Gatwick South terminal. As it says on the web-site: "The large single bed 2m x1m (large enough for a cosy 2) with full sitting height, a hand layered organic coir, latex and lambs wool mattress for the best sleep ever with percale cotton sheets pillows and duvet. The bathroom includes a shower, revitalising all in one body wash, heated mirror and soft towels. The fold out work desk and stool, doubles for unpacking and there is overhead hand luggage stowage, suit bag hanging and storage areas for small pieces. A complete range of power and connectivity including free internet access and cosy local lighting. A 20” flat screen TV system with huge choice of films, TV, radio and games internet." It's cosy but the bed is big and comfy, the shower refreshing and the price £56 good value. And as I said it's in Gatwick South, really in the terminal, right in front of the Arrivals Gate. If I was flying from Gatwick that early again I'd definitely use it again. Easyjet flight to Athens. Cheap both in price and service, but it does a job. After a round-about and over-priced taxi ride to my hotel I was sorted and ready to go explore. So what did I do. The Acropolis, The Agora, ... No, it's the first Saturday of the 6 Nations I hunted out an Irish Bar and settled down with a pint of Kilkenny. The rugby doesn't bear talking about but I had a fun afternoon. One big problem though there's no smoking ban in Greece yet and everybody here seems to be a chain smoker. So I watched the game through a smoke haze.

The Yotel room. The rooms are L shaped. I had a room with a low bed. the cabin next door would have had its bed directly above mine. On the left behind the there is a full height shower and toilet. The James Joyce. Tucked away in the back streets a civilised haven in the midst of Athens. Real beer and British sports. But very, very smoky.

3rd February 2008 - Athens (The Acropolis)

Up late only just made it to breakfast before it ended at 11am. But Athens is 2 hours ahead so it was only 9am in real money. As well as being 2 hours ahead it's also 14 degrees south and 14 degrees warmer. The weather today 18 degrees and sunny. Just perfect. I wonder is it possible to travel the world throughout the year and have it so that it's 18 degrees and sunny everyday? My idea of heaven. Whether you're sight seeing, playing golf or even working, perfect. I decided to make hay whilst the sun shines and hit tourist site number one, The Acropolis. It's old, it's big, it's on top of the hill looking down on the city and it's all but a pile of rubble. I mean sure it's impressive that they built a whole city up there and it was the birthplace of democracy and all that but it just looks a mess. A few columns and a lot of scaffolding. Even the bits that are standing have been replaced and rebuilt over the 2000 years since they were originally built. It's like Trigger's broom with 17 new heads and 14 new handles. But all that said it's still a great spot high up above the city, you can see for miles and on a bright sunny day like today there's no better place to be. I wouldn't want to be up there at the height of the holiday season in high summer when it's 40 degrees, it was warm enough to make me sweat today!

I reckon they should rebuild some of it again, show how it originally looked. It would be far more impressive and a bigger tourist draw. If rebuilt authentic to the original designs then as is well. In Asia many of the old historical sites are rebuilt and they are all the better for it. They can still leave many ruins around and about but with a rebuilt Acropolis as a centre piece. If left as it is the site will either permanently be covered in scaffolding or crumble into nothing.

After an OK lunch of traditional Greek stuff, grilled sausages for starter and fried cod (bakaliaros) for main with a huge dollop of garlicky potato and olive oil sauce (skorthalia) I headed up to Filopappos Hill for some more great views. Athens is dominated by a number of hills that are basically huge rocks. Filopappos Hill is covered in pine trees and a maze of paths. It contains a number of historic sites but it's the view which is most impressive. During the 1687 Siege of Athens, the Venetians stationed themselves on the hill and shelled the Ottoman occupied Acropolis. One shell hit the Parthenon where the Turks had stored their gun-powder causing the explosion that did most of the damage to The Acropolis and treasures that were stored there. As happens the world over idiot governments fight over stuff and just destroy it so that no one can have it.

4th February 2008 - Athens

Another late and lazy morning, then out and about for a wander. First I headed down to the Acropolis Museum, the trouble is the old one closed last year and the new one which looks very impressive doesn't open few quite a few months yet. So on to plan B. Anyway the weather is great again today so I don't mind wandering around.I went to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I saw it yesterday from the top of The Acropolis some columns remaining from a huge ancient building. It was built between 515BC and AD151 (delayed due to political turmoil). Now only 16 of the original 104 columns are still standing so again it's lost a lot of its grandeur. Around the outside of the area are a lot excavated foundations all labelled with their original purposes, houses, bathes, law court, ... Again without the signs it would just be another pile of rocks and rubble. The 16 remaining columns are pretty cool though especially silhouetted by the bright blue sky. The picture shows the remaining columns with The Acropolis in the background. A picture spoilt by the huge crane in front of The Acropolis, I guess a bit of work in Photoshop required there.

I went for lunch to the restaurant O Platanos tucked away in the back streets behind the tourist area. I only found it due to some reviews. It was well worth searching out. I had some tzatziki (a tasty yogurt and cucumber dip) and lamb fricassee (a lamb shank in an 'egg-lemon' sauce with Romaine lettuce, dill, celery) with the obligatory rustic bread and washed down with some Retsina brewed by the owner. Very tasty and the Retsina very good. It had quite a distinctive taste, to me it was quite cidery. It's described as resinated wine and the flavour comes from the practice of sealing the bottles using pine resin. It's meant to be an acquired taste, I seemed to acquire it quite quickly ;-)

Nicely light-headed from the wine I didn't do much in the afternoon. I wandered around The Plaka and old area full of tat and crap shops with the old decent clothes or jewellery shop mixed in. Who buys this rubbish? Suffice to say they didn't make anything out of me even after the Retsina. I took a look at The Agora, Athens' ancient marketplace the heart of the city since 6th century BC. It's where Socrates addressed the public, where democracy was born and St Paul preached. But now apart from the Temple of Hephaestus it's little more than a pile of rubble. The picture of The Agora was taken from the Acropolis yesterday. The Temple of Hephaestus is on the left hand side.

5th February 2008 - Athens

I thought I ought to do a museum to see some of the treasures and artefacts, so off to the National Archaeological Museum described in my guidebook as 'More than just the best museum in Greece, this is one of the most important and exciting museums in the world.' So quite a bit to live up to. You can probably guess what I thought of it. There is a lot of stuff there, a lot of old stuff some of it dating back to the 16th century BC. But when it comes down to it, it's just jewellery and pots and carved marble and stone (usually with the arms, genitals, noses and sometimes whole head missing) . Again most of it has been restored so many times that it's not completely authentic anyway. Recently in the big earthquake in 1999 a lot of pots and frescoes were shattered so they were rebuilt again. The best bits have been preserved after being buried by volcanic eruptions.

All in all a decent museum if you get overawed by the age of stuff and it does show that the Greeks and other peoples who lived in the area had pretty advanced civilisations and some great artists. This morning when I left home I made a fatal mistake I forgot to bring my guidebook which contains my map. So when I set off from the museum heading for the Parliament building I had to guess the way using what I could remember from looking at it over breakfast. Needless to say I didn't get it quite right and ended up walking a lot further than I needed to, but the weather's good and I got to see some more of the town so it's all good. It wasn't really the Parliament itself that I wanted to see, but the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or more specifically the soldiers in historic dress auditioning for a part in the Ministry for Silly Walks who guard it. In fact the Tomb itself was covered over by scaffolding and a tarpaulin like the rest of Athens but the soldiers were there and their dress and march particularly silly. Photo and videos below.

Soldiers at The Tomb 1

Soldiers at The Tomb 2