31.08.2011 - 08.09.2011 30 °C
When I was a kid I had a book about Greek Mythology. I can still vividly remember the cover with its picture of Poseidon and his trident and the yellowing of the pages. It wasn’t very thick and was one of those books that just appear, no one really knew where it came from. This book transported me to the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Greece and I read and reread this book what must have been a million times. I don’t know what happened to that book, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Then last year I read “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” with my class at school (great book too by the way). This book was all about retrieving Zeus’ thunderbolt and included all the residents of Mt Olympus and Hades, including my personal favourite Dionysus (the God of Wine). Seeing how passionate and enthusiastic the kids became reignited my interest also.
Arriving in the place that spawned these incredible stories felt surreal. Numerous times wandering around Athens I felt the need to remind myself just where I was. This, one of the most famous and historical cities in the world, was now graced with our presence. I don’t know who was luckier.
After our flight landed and we went through the rigmarole of baggage it was time to make our way to our hotel. Being conscientious and organised we had already researched public transport and found ourselves on the bus into Syntagma Square. Rolling our luggage over the uneven pavers through the dark unfamiliar streets made us feel like ‘real’ travellers. We found our hotel easily enough and were welcomed by the night receptionist Fiona. She was from the UK and went out of her way to be friendly and helpful, even squeezing our luggage into the lift while we had to take the stairs. There was something not quite right about Fiona though, we couldn’t put our finger on it; was it the rotting teeth or the sallow face or the frame so slight and thin she would be hidden behind a playing card, on its side. Anyway it didn’t really matter just one of those things that filters into your mind in quiet moments.
We decided reconnaissance was necessary the first day so that we could make sure we didn’t miss anything. The Plaka is the central part of Athens and we were staying right in the thick of it. It is a jumble of cobbled lanes and it wasn’t long until we were stopping to pull the map out to work out where the heck we were. Getting lost was the easy part, determining which way to go next caused a small spike in blood pressure. Being the seasoned travellers we now are, we realised the best solution is coffee. Cruising around the streets of Athens, the heart of the Ancient World, felt amazing. You even ignore the filthy pavers that haven’t been cleaned in centuries (?) and the endless graffiti to appreciate the true significance of such a city. We explored the New Museum of the Acropolis and decided to see who could find the oldest artefact. The winner was 700BC which we thought was fairly impressive.
Our first night we ended up drinking far too much homemade wine and consequently were still sleeping the next morning when we should have been at the Parthenon, you know to beat the crowds. However we made it anyway, in thirty-five degree heat, with a pounding in the temples, trying to find the back path up to the Acropolis.
For twelve euro you can buy a ticket to six historical sights around Athens, which is a bargain. The Greeks are pretty organised with their tourism shindigs and so you just follow the arrows up to the top. There are ‘archaeologists’, or so they say, all along the way making sure no grubby fingers touch any of the marble. Anytime you heard a whistle blow you knew someone was in trouble. Walking through the arch into the open area of the Parthenon is truly a spectacle. There is significant damage to the Parthenon and permanent scaffolding hinders some of the view however it doesn’t take away from the grandeur and presence this monumental structure has. The size of the columns and the true feat of engineering to position them ‘just so’ is enough to have people standing in awe looking up. The sculptures or carvings along the gable parts of the Parthenon are all but gone after centuries of war and unrest during Ottoman Empire times. At one stage they even placed a minaret in the Parthenon in an attempt to turn Greece muslim.
The area that is the Acropolis is lit up so beautifully at night it is like the candelabra in the centre of a grand dining table. All eyes are ultimately drawn to it. Athens is a sprawling city and this is evident from the Acropolis with buildings as far as the eye can see in all directions. Even though we were slow starters that morning, by the time we left the crowds were really starting to pour in so we congratulated each other on another tourist must-do well done.
With two nights down and three to go we visited Parliament where the Changing of the Guard occurs every hour. The traditional Greek Guard uniform is of interesting design and it begs the question – what was being consumed when this outfit was decided upon? The men wear white opaque tights underneath a white pleated almost tutu like skirt. The shoes are the best part though reminding me of elves. They are hard with a sharp point at the toe. This point is covered with a black fluffy pompom. The purpose of the pompom is to hide the sharp point which is there for kicking people if they get in the way (that is true). It’s also for cleaning their shoes but that’s boring. After they do their little shuffle routine you are allowed to have photos taken with them but no touching and as Adam found out no silly thumbs up gestures either. He got in trouble from the big bad army man.
On Sundays they have a parade of guards to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and it is popular. We headed down with only about ten minutes to spare and were lucky to squeeze into a spot on the traffic island in the middle of the road. Tourists are everywhere and all desperate to have a front row seat. As the guards come around the corner, that part of the road is closed off and traffic is halted. After the parade was off the road the funniest thing happened. Tourists bolted across the road to then stand in front of the tomb area of the parade. Police were blowing whistles, powerless to stop the tidal wave of people rushing forward to watch the next stage of the parade. The desperation demonstrated by one particular Japanese lady was inspiring. With her little legs pumping and her camera at the ready it was embarrassing to be a tourist. Refusing to be a moron we didn’t run across the road but walked and obviously were at the back unable to see anything. Luckily we had watched the changing the day before and so weren’t really missing out.
On this particular day, and maybe every Sunday, a dog trotted alongside the front row of guards. He looked like he thought he was part of the whole thing and stayed exactly in line looking around as he ‘marched’ by. The dog stayed with the guards the whole time and even when they marched away he marched off along with them. It really was a funny thing to watch.
Once again dogs roam freely around the streets. There was also some evidence of the recent riots with a newspaper kiosk being a charred burnt out shell and a large presence of police, some with their riot gear at the ready. Fortunately, or unfortunately we never witnessed anything.
Athens really is a tourist mecca and the prices reflect this. Food was quite expensive in the restaurants compared to other places we had been and so we found a souvlaki stall with cheap gyros and ate there three days in a row. We would do our ‘dinner dance’ during the day sussing out menus for the best places to eat. Ambience and surroundings, as well as chair comfort, count for a lot.
Leaving Athens required an early rise to catch the 5.30am metro to the ferry port. After wandering around in the dark for a while we finally found our ticket booth and hopped aboard the Super Jet to Milos (Mee-los). A stunning island with a permanent population of 5000 was our first of four. Our villa was right in the heart of Adamas, the port town, and it wasn’t long before we had a set of wheels and were on the road again. A lovely little scooter we named ‘hunk of junk’.
An interesting thing about Milos that I’m sure will surprise you is that the famous sculpture ‘Venus de Milo’, created in the fourth century ,was found tucked away in a Milos olive grove in 1820. It now lives in the Louvre. We spent our days cruising beaches. Being the result of volcanic activity, most of the islands are quite rocky and barren. However goats roam freely and there are hundreds. Not surprisingly there are also fields and fields of grapes for their delicious homemade wine. The grapes are not on vines and supports like we are used to seeing but small messy looking shrubbery close to the ground.
Driving ‘hunk of junk’ up steep inclines was somewhat embarrassing when looking behind to see a line of cars eagerly waiting for an opportunity to pass. The beaches in Greece have great names that require a local to assist with your pronunciation as nine times out of ten we were saying it incorrectly. Our favourite beach was Paleohori on the southern coast of the island. From the road it appeared to be nothing more than a deserted dirt car park but like a watermelon the best bit is under the surface. Walking down a pathway through an arch we found ourselves on a big wooden deck housing tables and chairs with some seventies disco tunes (we’re talking Barry White) cranking out of large speakers. Intrigued we moved toward the edge to look down upon a majestic strip of sand and the cool crystal waters of the Aegean. Jackpot! We claimed our beach chair and umbrella for the bargain price of five euro and laid back to enjoy the rest of the day. This was about 11am. There are no waves here and the water laps gently at the shore, just enough to lull you into a relaxed state, so relaxed that an afternoon nanna nap is essential. Adam is ensuring though that he is doing his ocean swims any chance he gets now as we are in fear of becoming Chunky and Chunkier. Although there is some argument over which name belongs to whom.
Although we found paradise on day one we believed it necessary to give the other beaches a fighting chance and so the next day cruised on ‘hunk of junk’ to the beaches around the island. The northern coastline is home to the small township of Pollonia. This is the second largest village on the island and possesses a small port and a picturesque line of waterfront cafes and restaurants. Wandering along the café strip there were fresh octopus tentacles hanging outside most of the restaurants, like clothes on a washing line, fresh from the morning catch. Drying out for dinner perhaps? Plaka is the capital of the island and where we whiled away a couple of hours strolling the lanes and enjoying some Greek morning tea of coffee and an almond biscuit that was like an explosion of heaven in your mouth. Greek food is fast climbing the ladder of favourites, will it reach number one? Only time will tell.
After deciding on Paradise aka Paleohori we spent our last day listening to a mix of Greek pop and The Bee Gees back at our favourite beach. Three nights was all we had on Milos and it could have easily been three weeks, it was a great island to start our odyssey on and has us relaxed for destination number two…..Santorini. Can’t wait!