Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation
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Day 23: Athens, Greece
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Day 22: Athens, Greece
Day 23: Athens, Greece
Day 24: Cruise Begins
Day 25: Cruise at Sea
Day 26: Varna, Bulagaria
Day 27: Odessa, Ukraine
Day 28: Constanta, Romania

Country

Greece


Hotel


Best Western Pythagorion Hotel


Temperature

Sunny with a high of 29C





Day 23: Wednesday, September 27, 2006     Athens, Greece

The Acropolis: Incredible

We started the day with a huge complementary breakfast buffet in the hotel.  The forecast said it was supposed to be cloudy but it was a very hot, sunny 29 C for most of this day.  Athens is the largest city and capital of Greece, located in the Attica periphery of central Greece. Named after goddess Athena, Athens is one of the oldest cities in the world with a recorded history of at least 3,000 years. Today, the Greek capital is Europe's 8th largest, a bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis with an urban population of 3.2 million people in a land area of 39 km.  Compare that to Calgary which has a population of about 1 million in an area of 720 km.  Athens is often called the cradle of Western civilization for its momentous cultural achievements during the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The city still holds a wealth of ancient buildings, monuments, and artworks from the classical age of Ancient Greece, as well as museums devoted to Greek art, culture, and history. Many of the cultural highlights of Athens were renovated in preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. Still, Athens did not seem anywhere near as "modern" as the other large European cities we visited.

We decided to ride on one of those tour buses that showed some of the key sights in Athens.  We got off the bus halfway through the tour at the Acropolis. The Acropolis hill (acro - edge, polis - city), so called the "Sacred Rock" of Athens, is the most important site of the city and constitutes one of the most recognizable monuments of the world. It is the most significant reference point of ancient Greek culture, as well as the symbol of the city of Athens itself as it represent the apogee of artistic development in the 5th century BC.

We had to walk up hill a fair distance in scorching heat to get to the entrance to the Acropolis.  There were thousands of tourists on the site.  We did not have to pay because admission to Athens' museums is free on the last Wednesday of each month.  It is mind-boggling to stand amongst these beautiful historical buildings even if there is a lot of scaffolding as work is being done to preserve them. The view of Athens from the Acropolis is spectacular.  The largest building on the flat plateau of the Acropolis is the Parthenon.  With the exception of the Great Pyramid in Egypt,

the Parthenon of Athens has probably received more attention from archaeologists, historians, architects, painters and poets than any other structure on earth. Words and photographs however, can offer but slight tribute to this extraordinary creation. It is the supreme expression of the ancient Greek architectural genius. With its incomparable setting, the visual harmony deriving from its sacred geometry, and the enduring wisdom of its resident deity, the goddess Athena, the Parthenon exercises a profound and lasting effect upon the human soul.

Ken with the Parthenon in the background


We spent a couple hour touring the sites on the Acropolis.  We took several photos which you can see in the slide show below.  We would have stayed longer except for the huge crowds and the incredible heat.  We had also run out of water.

Below the Acropolis is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone theatre structure located on the south slope.  Built in 161 AD,  it was originally a steep-sloped amphitheater wide with a three-storey stone front wall and a wooden roof, and was used as a venue for music concerts and had a capacity of 5,000. Since then it has been hosting the theatrical, musical and dance events of the Athens Festival, which runs from June through September each year. It was also host to a live concert with Greek composer, Yanni, in 1993, of which a CD and DVD were created, Yanni Live at the Acropolis, which is the second best-selling music video of all time. This is a panorama of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus splice from three separate photos that I took..

The tour busses only ran every half hour so we decided to walk down the hill to the Temple of Olympian Zeus which is located about 500 m southeast of the Acropolis.  Once again admission was free to this living museum.  There were originally 104 Corinthian columns in the Temple, each 17 meters high; 48 of these stood in triple rows under the pediments and 56 in double rows at the sides. Only 15 columns remain standing today, with lovely Corinthian capitals still in place. A 16th column was blown down during a gale in 1852 and is still lying where it fell. It is not known when the temple of Zeus was destroyed but it probably came down in an earthquake during the mediaeval period. Like other ancient buildings much of it was taken away for building materials.

Ken standing next to the columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  The Acropolis is in the background.

We then walked a short distance to the Panathinaikon Stadium.  Known also as the 'Kallimarmaron', which means 'beautiful marble', it has a long history that dates back to the classical era. Historic records indicate that a stadium existed on the site as early as 329 BC.  During the Middle Ages, it was destroyed and its marble was used for other construction purposes. In 1896 it was reconstructed for the first Modern Olympic Games.  In its 48 rows of seats it accommodated 45, 000 spectators. It is considered to be a great achievement in terms of its construction as, even today, the supply, processing and placing of

Ken standing in front of the Panathinkaikon Stadium

its huge marble stones would have been a great challenge. In addition, the particular construction technique, especially the curved rows of seats that allow spectators to have a better view, is still admired.  The 2004 Olympic marathon races finished at Kallimarmaron.


We had planned on jumping back on the tour bus to take us home but, as we did not found out until much later, there was a huge teachers' demonstration near where we were were and the busses were rerouted.  After waiting about an hour for the bus, we decided to walk and headed back north.  While we were waiting, we were amazed by Greek pedestrians.  The street that ran past the Stadium was four or five lanes in each direction, there was lots of traffic and they do not stop for pedestrians.  The locals simply run as far as they can, stopping on the dotted lines as cars whiz by on either side of them.  As soon as there is a break, they scoot as far as they can and stop on another dotted line.  This continues until they cross the street.  It was an incredible site.

Our trip took us through the beautiful National Garden (formerly the Royal Garden), a peaceful, green refuge of 15.5 hectares in the center of the Greek capital. It is located directly behind the Greek Parliament building (The Old Palace) and continues to the south to the area where the Zappeion is located, across from the Panathenaiko Stadium.

By the time we crossed the Gardens, we were exhausted by the heat and all the walking, so took the Underground to the station at Omonia which was a block from our hotel.  We had a snack at an outdoor kiosk at Omonia Square and went back for a nap. 

The hotel had Internet access so we read our emails and sent out messages to people back home.  Ken tried to transfer money from his bank account to pay the rather large Visa bill which was soon due.  When he tried to enter his online banking, it asked him who his favourite teacher was.  This was a security question Ken had set up years ago and had never had to use before.  He wasn't sure whether the answer was all lowercase letters, some uppercase or what.  After three failed attempts, the computer shut him down and informed him that he no longer had online banking privileges and that he should call CIBC.  Ken went outside to a newspaper kiosk and purchased a 6 phone card.  After being transferred to several people at CIBC, they told him they couldn't help him and that he would have to talk directly to his bank.  Just as they were about to give him the manager's phone number, the phone card ran out.  Back outside to purchase another card, call CIBC and get the manager's number in Calgary. Ken then called Rhonda, his bank manager who he had never met.  He went through the long story of what had happened and that he needed to pay his VISA bill so that he wouldn't be charged a pile of interest.  Then the phone card went dead.  Back outside to purchase another one and another call to the branch in Calgary, which was busy.  Ken tried several times but it was always busy.  It turns out that the CIBC head office had called Rhonda on important business and she couldn't get off the phone. 

Our friends Al and Donna Russell had a larger room with a balcony which overlooked the street, so they had invited our group to their room for an ouzo.  By this time, Ken needed a drink so we went up and had a couple.  We couldn't help but notice that downtown Athens looks pretty drab and dingy.  Ken then went back downstairs and finally got through to Rhonda.  Although she wasn't supposed to do it, she transferred the money from my bank account to Visa and restored my online banking access.  She figured my story was so strange that no one could have just made it up.  I think I will take Rhonda some flowers when I get back.  We still had a little time on our calling card, so we phoned my 4-year old goddaughter Avery back in Calgary.

Al MacDonald, Ken, Carol Lunn and Arlene MacDonald enjoying an ouzo on the balcony


Our other friends Dave and Carol Lunn were not staying in the Pythagorion with the rest of us but booked a very upscale room at the Marriott through the cruise line (They are the only ones in the group still working: Dave is an environmental consultant and Carol teaches adult ed part time).  They invited us back to the roof-top restaurant of there hotel where we had an excellent meal.  The Parthenon was all lit up but it was difficult to get a good photo without a tripod.  We caught a cab back to our hotel and got a good night's sleep.

The Parthenon at night

Note: I have included the photo below which is the front page of our cruise brochure so that you can see a better view of the Acropolis.  The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is at the bottom left.

Click here for a slide show of Day 23 photos.

Day 24

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