May 22 – Athens & Cape Sounion

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May 22nd 2016
Published: May 22nd 2016
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Olympic Stadium (Athens), built for Modern Olympic Games
Today was one of the major activities of this vacation. We spent the day exploring some of the primary historical places in the Athens area. The weather wasn’t as good as we’ve had the previous several days, but it wasn’t bad either.

We started with an early wake-up call and then went down to the hotel’s dining room for breakfast. We thought the booking had included breakfast but we weren’t certain. Turns out it was pre-paid in our room rate. We had bacon (English style) and eggs (scrambled), with juice, tea, pastries, and cheeses. There were some other choices too but we stuck to things which seemed pretty much like at home. Anyway, we headed to the lobby with full stomachs and we waited for our tour excursion to come pick us up – happened about 8:10.

The bus drove us to the central terminal where all the pickups shuffled to their correct tour bus for the day – fortunately we did not have to change and we just stayed in our seats. The “city tour” was almost full. Except for a very pushy lady who obviously had some physical injuries and insisted on not

Ancient Greek Theater - looking down from Acropolis Hill
sharing a seat, pretty much all the seats were taken. She brought essentially a grocery bag of food which she ate throughout the morning, while complaining that there wasn’t enough help getting her and all her stuff on and off the bus. It wasn’t long before we wished we had changed seats in the very beginning. But we were not going to let her spoil our tour.

The first stop was a photo opportunity at the original Olympic Stadium for the Modern Olympics. We could take pictures from the open end, but could not go inside nor even get real close. It was built in 1895 for the first of the modern games which were held in 1896. The stadium holds 67,000 spectators and is built primarily of marble. David said it reminded him of a college open-ended football stadium but it is longer than usual venues today. The original Olympics started in 776 BC to pay homage to the Greek God Zeus. The games were held every 4 years in Athens until the 4th century AD, but were stopped then because the country had turned Christian and did not think honoring Zeus was appropriate any longer.

People streaming in through the Monumental Entrance on top of Acropolis
When the modern games were begun the intent had been to always hold them in Athens like before, but the reality of financial costs caused them to start rotating the games to other locations. The most recent games held in Athens were in 2004. They still have the official “torch lighting” at Mt Olympus and then the torch is carried by runners to Athens each Olympic year. After it gets here, then they ship it off to the host country and Greece is pretty much out of the picture for another 4 years. FYI…the original Olympics had only male athletes and only males in the audience, because all the athletes performed naked! That wouldn’t work well today with the world-wide TV audiences they have.

We drove through Athens and saw things like a Temple to Zeus which is mostly a set of columns, but our guide made a point to distinguishing these are Corinthian Columns, having been originally created in Corinth. But our goal was to get to the Acropolis before the tour buses from 3 cruise ships which were in town. Acropolis comes from two Greek words meaning “city” and “top”. There are actually hundreds of

Erecthion on top of Acropolis in Athens (note statues toward right side)
Acropolises in Greece (lots of places had their temples on a high place in their town), but this is the famous one – they should have renamed it Athena for Zeus’ daughter, but that’s based on our guide’s hindsight. We offloaded from the bus and headed up the path, which was a daunting challenge for Janet and a couple other folks. Our guide stopped a couple of time to explain something and to let us catch up, but eventually we reached the ticket booth. We entered the grounds and began climbing marble steps or marble slots gradually heading for the summit (reminded us a little of the movie Everest without the snow). There were large crowds and we could only move as fast as the people ahead of us, but even so it became very difficult for Janet. Unfortunately she wore out near the base of the Monumental Entryway and had to sit and wait for David to finish the climb and then return. Janet stayed at what was “base camp-2” instead of reaching the summit. Either her land-legs had not returned or the height above the city got to her, but there just was no energy left. One of

David in front of the Parthenon on top of Acropolis
the areas that Janet did get to see was the Greek Theater which was built below the Acropolis and which we had a good view looking down upon it.

The Acropolis sits on a relatively flat area at the top of a mountain. There had originally been 10 buildings here, but only parts of three remain. These three and those missing buildings were not destroyed by nature but instead by war – the Persians held the high ground and stored gunpowder in these buildings. The Venetians fired their cannons until the hit the gun powder and then the marble building exploded killing the Persians. The Venetians felt this was a great victory despite destroying almost the whole top of the mountain. Today there is the Monumental Entrance, the Parthenon, and the Erecthion (each of which is gradually being restored with marble from the original quarry, but the old has turned beige in color over the centuries and the new is still white). Our guide said the whole complex had been built by hand, chiseling the rock, transporting it 20 kilometers, hauling it up this steep mountain, and assembling the buildings using wooden cranes. It was all accomplished

Janet at base of last climb up to the Monumental Entrance (on her way back down) at the Acropolis
between 447-400 BC. The Entrance took 10-11 years to build, the Parthenon 9 years, and the Erecthion 12 years. The Parthenon had Doric Columns and the Erecthion has Ionic Columns. And all of it was intended to honor the god Zeus. After the guide explained this history we were given some free time to explore and take photos.

Soon after we started exploring on top, it started to sprinkle. This is definitely not the place to be caught in a strong storm because there is no shelter for people anywhere. David made his best effort o get back down through the entryway because he had the backpack with the umbrellas and jackets. Fortunately the rain abated and Janet had found some shelter near a wall, so she was not wet. But that was the end of our climbing the Acropolis. You and Janet will both have to settle for looking at David’s pictures from on top, but she at least got to the foot of the Entrance and had some impressive views looking up, and also looking out over the city.

We descended back to the parking area but going carefully because the marble

Facial disfiguring of statue which was removed from the Acropolis
was still a little wet and that made it more slippery. We did have time for a bathroom break and still got to the bus in time for the departure. We drove around some more and we were told about the royal family. After defeating the Persians from the Ottoman Empire, the Venetians decided Greece needed a monarchy to rule, so they selected a 16 year old son of King Ludwig of Bavaria (how’s that for coming out of left field?) and his 19 year old bride to be King Otto and Queen Amelia. Frankly they weren’t very good at it and after some number of years they were replaced with a new royal family from Denmark. Anyway, this is some of the history we were told, but there was so much it’s not possible to have captured it all in this blog. We did encounter a small parade commemorating the anniversary of some Greek/Turk feud more than 100 years ago, which was labeled as genocide – fortunately nothing happened today and our bus moved along with only a short delay.

After the drive we were taken to the Acropolis Museum. There was some walking to get

Underground excavations below the Acropolis Museum - note glass walkways on either side
from the bus to the museum, but Janet was able to manage this and she really enjoyed the visit inside. First you need to understand that Athens has been built and destroyed many times, each rebuilding occurring on top of the previous rubble. This museum is located near the base of the Acropolis and houses only items from the top or near the base of the mountain. Walking in there are large panes of glass that you walk over and looking down through these enormous windows you can see where anthropologists have excavated the ruins below or feet. The museum was built on pillars with steel platforms stretched between. These in turn hold up the whole museum but did not destroy the area beneath so artifacts could be removed. Anyway, we entered and were guided for almost 2 hours with many explanations. Three were very few places where photographs were allowed, and those were without flash.

One exhibit was 5 of the 6 marble statues which appear of the side of the Erecthion. We could see clearly where the elements had weathered away some of the detail on the faces off the statues – on the Erecthion

One view of Temple of Poseidon
are replicas for people to view in place of these originals. At the top level of the museum we were told that it was an exact duplicate to the size of the Parthenon (except for height) so the huge number of marble artifacts that had been held in the British Museum could eventually be brought back and preserves. Unfortunately for the Greeks, the Brits are still holding most everything they had and there is no sign of changing that position. In their place are plaster facsimiles to show the Athenians what it would have looked like. What is truly original marble is easy to distinguish because it too is beige the plaster is white. Why did the originals get moved to London in the first place? Because they were deteriorating out in the elements and the Greeks had no money at that time to put them in a safe place. Anyway, we found the museum really interesting. That was the end of the morning tour.

We had lunch in their snack bar about 1:30 and then made our way through a variety of shopping areas and up the street (yes “up” being literal as nothing is level

Another view of Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion
in Athens) to where our afternoon excursion was to begin. We were 15 minutes early and got a chance to rest. At 2:45 our next tour began with a ride through town and heading south to Cape Sounion. This took us along the coast, which our new guide described as the Greek Riviera. We had lots of views out over the sea at numerous island and beaches along the coast. Apparently there are nearly 3000 Greek islands but only 140 of them are inhabited (the main ones being Sardinia, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes, and Corfu). Today’s trip was along a narrow winding road which ended at the southernmost point in the province of Attica (where Athens is located). Along the way we saw some really good scenery although it was mostly cloudy and threatened to rain. But we got there still being dry.

What’s there? This is where the Temple of Poseidon is located. There originally was a large statue of Poseidon (God the Oceans) looking out over the sea with a trident in his hand. In olden days it was only accessible by boat because there were no roads along this rocky coast. The temple suffered significant

Graffiti - Lord Byron's carving on the Temple of Poseidon
damage over the years because of harsh storms and especially from the salt-laden sea mist. Anyway, they are restoring it and preserving what remains.

Our bus arrived and we made our way to the restaurant below the temple mount. Of course there is a high climb to get up to it and this time Janet just decided to wait at the restaurant. David climbed to the top and heard about the history of the temple. One of the more modern destructive affects had been from people chiseling their names in the marble – before the government put an end to it. The guide was able to clearly show where Lord Byron (the poet) had carved his name in the rock, maybe not starting the practice but being the most famous to do so. We had half an hour at the top and David took pictures from all sides. Then the sun came out so he made another circuit and took more pictures in the brighter light. We all reconvened below and got back on the bus.

The ride to town was uneventful except that the public transit people went on strike for the afternoon and that was going to make it difficult to get to the city center. Fortunately our driver was able to drop us at our hotel on the way back into town, so we got back pretty easily. We have no idea what happened to some of the others. We went to the room to cleanup and then headed back to the hotel restaurant. We really liked last night’s restaurant, but they weren’t going to be open by this time on Sunday evening (around 7:00). So we ate in the hotel and split a large sandwich with fries, and then headed back to our room. We have another pickup for a tour to Delphi tomorrow, so we didn’t want to do anything that would keep us out late tonight. Our readers may be wondering if this story is ever going to end. But it won’t be for a little longer as we still have more vacation tomorrow and then flying on Tuesday.

Before we finish we want to acknowledge that today is our Great Nephew Landon McClure’s Baptism back in St Louis. Janet says, “We hope we get to meet him soon”. Good night for now.


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