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Published: November 7th 2010
I don't think he's dead...
Right, now I've got time to write a blog I shall fill you all in on what has been going on in sunny Greece this last week. It really was fantastic and was helped by absolutely perfect weather. It was sunny, 20 degrees and virtually no wind at all. It was warm but not humid, just great for climbing hills and clambering over old ruins. It was great for the dogs too. Every dog in Athens just lies flat on the pavement sleeping in the sun. There were even a couple napping on the Acropolis. If you threw a stick they'd blow a raspberry at you and go back to sleep. They know they've got it good!
While I'm on the subject of animals, sparrows in Greece are in competition with the pigeons to nick food off your plate. They swarm around the pavement cafes, land an inch from your plate and make a dive for your stuffed peppers. Bold as brass! I started to feel a bit sorry for the pigeons actually because not only do they have to compete with the faster sparrows, they also have to compete with the cats. I came across a couple of moggies
The view from the Acropolis
Note the Temple of Olympian Zeus ruins, Hadrian's Arch and the beautiful mountains.
who'd nicked some bread off the pigeons and were busy chowing down while the pigeons stumbled around them lamenting their lost meal while trying to stay out of swipe range. And as for tortoises, well, they just hang about the ruins. I couldn't tell if they were wild or not but they certainly turn up in strange places.
Anyway, on to Athens. Got to my 5 star hotel on Monday evening and decided to have room service. In an expensive country like Greece, in the capital city, in a 5 star hotel, it is not a good idea to order a cheese and ham toastie! How much!?! But hey, I was on holiday. Anyway, went out the next day and visited the Temple of Olympian Zeus. There are basically just a few towering pillars standing now but it gives you an awesome sense of the scale of the place. It was started in the 7th century BC and completed in the 2nd century AD, so I don't think we should grumble too much about the length of time it took them to build the Channel Tunnel. 😊 Nearby is Hadrian's Arch, the Roman Emperor being quite a popular character
in these 'ere parts due to his rebuilding lots of Athens in the 2nd century. In fact everywhere in Athens there are ruins, archaeological digs and the like. There is just tons of the stuff and some of it dates back to Neolithic times! Now that's old.
Onwards I strolled, leaping over prone pooches and traversing the beautiful narrow, picturesque, higgeldy-piggeldy streets onto the footslopes of the Acropolis. This was really good, a long 2 hour or so climb up a winding stair taking in all sorts of monuments and ruins on the way. Most interesting was the Theatre of Dionysus, which you could clamber all over. In use since the 6th century BC you could sit on the ancient stone amphitheatre and imagine you were there watching an ancient play. I got so carried away I even started heckling and throwing popcorn, at which point the security hoiked me out by my ear!
There are lots of ruins of stoas, colonaded shopping arcades a bit like ancient Lakeside. You can just imagine traders from all over the Med and Asia selling all sorts of fun stuff here. There was even a branch of ancient McDonald's.
crowning glory of the Acropolis is of course the Parthenon and the Propylaia (gate) that leads to it. Photos just don't give a sense of the sheer scale of the place and the fact that you are standing high up, with the majestic mountains on one side and the glittering sea on the other, a great urban sprawl of whitewashed red-roofed houses spread below you interspersed with ancient colonaded temples is just breathtaking. Sadly you can't actually go inside the Parthenon, although they're doing lots of restoration work and you can clamber over all sorts of ancient ruins, which is great. In a lot of monuments they're taking what remains and filling in the gaps with concrete or plaster so that you can see how they would have been, which is a really good idea.
I then popped onto Areopagus, a gigantic rock hill that used to house tombs. It was incredibly slippery and I nearly broke my neck at least 18 times. Actually there is no real worry about health and safety here, or at least it isn't over the top. There are all sorts of dangerous drops and precipices on the Acropolis but there are no barriers
or even warning signs. They rely on human beings being intelligent. That's me in trouble then.
After a fine day on the Parthenon I made the mistake of watching Clash of the Titans remake on the hotel telly. Oh brother! Where do I start? It bore no relation to Greek myth whatsoever. Since when was Hades the devil, Zeus Jesus Christ and ancient Greece medieval? Almost ruined my day!
The next day it was off to the Acropolis Museum, which is a brand new building that opened this year. They've taken the friezes from the Parthenon and placed them round the walls of the new building as they would have been round the walls of the Parthenon. Where there are missing pieces (mostly in the British Museum!) they have filled in the gaps with plaster casts. They are really good and its a shame the British haven't given them back so they can complete the collection. There were also loads of gigantic statues and such-like, including lots of lions savaging bulls, which was quite a theme in Ancient Greece apparently. You couldn't walk down the street without seeing a lion leap over a prone pooch and savage a
60-seater public loo
Why do we not still have these?
In the afternoon I took in the remnants of the Roman Agora (market), which was really just ruins, but it did have the interesting feature of a 60 seater public toilet at the end of the marketplace. It was fun to imagine 60 Romans taking a dump in unison in the 1st century AD. I also visited the remnants of Hadrian's Library, but there really was very little left of it.
And so on to my last day in Athens and I was off to the Ancient Agora, 2500 years old and containing the ruins of the buildings where the Council of 500 (parliament) debated and made policies about Athenian trade, public spending and so on. Actually they used to chisel public accounts onto large stones and set them up in the agora so everyone could see who was spending what on what. Maybe we should do that now? The ancient Athenians had free healthcare for the poor and jury systems that paid jurors a day's wage from public funds for their time. Ancient Athens has so many parallels with what we do now its ludicrous and I can't even begin to list them all. You should
Close up of the public toilet
Note the holes in the bench and the drainage system. Interesting, eh?
all get a book instead. 😊
At the end of the ancient agora is a reconstruction of the ancient stoa made by American students in the 1950s. It's really cool and gives you a sense of what it would have been like 2500 years ago. I was all wide-eyed and guppy fishy!
I'll tell you something horrifying about Athens: there is only one Irish pub in the whole city. I know, terrifying, isn't it? It does the most extraordinary lunch however of steamed mussels covered in bacon and drizzled in white wine, garlic and cream sauce. Heaven!
Suitably sated I took in the necropolis at Keremeikos where numerous ancient tombs still stand. Their tombstones are quite cool, lots of bulls and of course lions savaging bulls.
Anyway, that was pretty much it. Flew back that night. Athens is great and if you're into ancient history or just impressive monuments and good weather, I recommend it. The food's corking too!
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