Saturday, October 31, 2009

Exploring Athens

I’m not sure I have ever visited a city that has so many different sides to its personality. For while there is no doubt that parts of Athens are very grotty (I’m sorry, but there is simply no other word for some of the run down, graffiti spattered areas we have been through) - others are awe-inspiringly historic and stunningly beautiful. Sometimes it is as simple as turning a corner to go from one type of area to the next. I’ve gone from “oh dear” moments to “oh how incredible”moments in less than a heartbeat in this city of so many contrasts.

For example our hotel is in a residential district that has some gorgeous apartments on the higher floors, but everything at street level is very run down. As soon as you walk into the hotel though it is like being in a different world. The lobby and restaurants are beautiful and on entering the lift simply holding our room key next to the floor buttons whisks us straight to the executive floor to our beautiful rooms with a lovely view over Lycabettus Hill.

The metro (underground) is superb, and very easy to negotiate. It’s also very inexpensive at only 3 Euro for a day pass or 10 Euro for a seven day pass. The stations are beautifully designed with marble floors and displays of antiquities found whilst they were being built. The only trouble is that people here have yet to discover the two most important rules of underground travel. They don’t move down inside the cars, resulting in everyone being squished near the doors whilst there are spaces further down - and they don’t let people off the train first before they start pushing their way on. The whole system would move so much more smoothly if they just followed those two little rules! As a passenger, it is beyond frustrating.

We’ve explored the flea market of Monastiraki, the amazing history at Akropoli including the ancient Agora with the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalas. We’ve marvelled at the Acropolis (having climbed up there twice) and also the incredible New Acropolis Museum. We have climbed to the top of Lycabettus Hill to the tiny yet exquisite church of St George, where I lit a candle. We’ve stood on a hill where St Paul preached the gospel, converting the first Greeks to Christianity, and got a serious case of the giggles at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It has been quite an adventure, and it isn’t over yet.

It rained today for the first time, but that did not stop our explorations of this fascinating city of contrasts. There is so much about Greece I don’t understand - the pushing in without letting people out (not just in the underground, but also at the entrance/exit to just about anything), the putting of toilet paper in a bin instead of the toilets because the plumbing isn’t up to much (not in major modern hotels where the plumbing is fine thank goodness!!) and some of the foods which I’m really not sure about. However there is also a lot to admire - the way they build around their artifacts and manage to preserve their history whilst still moving forwards, both architecturally and in terms of technology, their hospitality and their incredibly inventive use of spices and herbs in the unique fusion of cooking traditions from so many different cultures that has become twenty-first century Greek cuisine. I’m learning so much this visit, and am grateful to have the opportunity to see so many wonderful pieces of history so lovingly preserved in the amazing city of contrasts that is Athens.