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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Awestruck on the Acropolis

We woke up on Thursday morning and had breakfast at our hostel. I read that Greeks don't typically eat breakfast, but they had out for us bread, jam, honey, tea, coffee, and fruit (horrible oranges but pretty good itty bitty pears). And when we left we headed just around the corner to the Acropolis.
I'll tell you that I have wanted to see the Parthenon for many years and this is the pinnacle of the Acropolis. In 7th grade everyone was required to do a huge research project for the schools history fair. My project was on the Parthenon and as a visual aid I built a model of the temple out of cardboard.
We paid the entry fee at the gate, which includes many different ancient sites around the city. We headed up the hill and saw a theater and an odeon (I learned that this is not a "theater" because it was used for musical performances not theatrical performances), then we came to the gate to the Acropolis, and then.... dun-dunda-dawe came through the remains of the gate and there stood the Parthenon in all her glory. I instantly new this is my favorite historical site I have seen in all my travels. It was just remarkable seeing this monstrosity towering above the expanse of the city the way it does perched on the high hill. Oh I get chills thinking about it. We just sat and looked at it for a long time.
Eventually we finished looking at the last few sites on the Acropolis. One interesting thing I read in a travel book at that the flag on a lookout point up there was ordered by the Nazi's to be taken down in April of 1941 when the invaded Athens and for the Nazi flag to be flown in it's place. The man in charge of guarding the Greek flag followed the orders but with the Greek flag he took down he wrapped his body and jumped to his death because he couldn't stand the fact he had to put up another flag. Yet within a couple of weeks two teenage boys went up and took down the Nazi flag and hung the Greek flag back up. To this day those boys names are recognized in hero status among the Greek people. And then we walked around the Erecthion which is where Athena and Poseidon had their battle to see who would be the name sake of the city.
Back down the hill and out the fence of the Acropolis grounds we climbed Mars Hill, which I think is better classified as a mound. But it does have a cool significance because this is where the Apostle Paul gave a sermon to the people of Athens when he came to visit.
After all this exploring we were hungry. But at the bottom and all around the Acropolis things seemed to be priced pretty touristy. We found a grocery and made our own Greek picnic out of pita bread, kalamata olives, tomatoes (Ryan had never eaten a tomato like an apple until now), Ryan had some cheese, and we shared a can of Greek beer. And we could have had a better view as we sat starring directly up at the Parthenon on the Acropolis. It was perfect.
After lunch we went into the... well I forget the name of the area but the significance is that back in the day it would have been the city center where everything happened from judicial matters, to grocery shopping, cloth shopping, socializing, eating, anything you do in your modern day downtown. There was a very well intact temple and the Agora (they referred to it as the mall) which has been rebuilt but shows what it would have been like. There is also a church dedicated to St. Paul because of his time in Athens. And lots of other ruins of stuff I can't remember. It was cool to see until we got kicked out at 15:00 because they were closing. This is earlier than all the travel information we had and unfortunately it meant all the other sites on our ticket also closed. However we walked to them all anyway and realized whether we were inside or outside of the gates we could still see everything inside because they were small areas. We saw Haydrian's Library, the Roman Forum, Haydrian's Gate, and The Temple of Zeus. It is all really neat how everything that is so old is incorporated into the city. However here it is all sectioned off by gates whereas in Rome everything seemed to be pretty out in the open and at least didn't feel gated off even if you couldn't get in when it was closed (like the Colosseum).
After we walked by all the sites from our ticket we made another stop somewhere we just had to see. Being the track athletes we are we went to the Olympic Stadium in Athens. It is the only stadium completely out of marble in the world. During the 2004 Olympics in Athens the marathon finished here. It was cool hearing the history with the audio guide as we walked around the stadium. And then we took silly picture on the podium and also at the starting line as if we were starting a race. :) But I have NEVER seen such a narrow track. The audio guide said that the straights are 185 meters and for those of you who know tracks you can only imagine how tight those corners are.
Oh, something about Greece many of you might not know, you can't flush toilet paper because they have bad pipes and it will clog everything up. So every toilet has signs and a garbage right there. Not my favorite part of the country. So at this point of the day I need to use the facilities but felt like going in a cleaner environment than the toilets looked to be at the stadium, so Ryan and I wandered to a 4 star hotel and found a lobby bathroom. It was very nice and clean, which for some reason made me think I didn't have to follow the toilet paper protocol. Oops! No, there was no back up I just realized ofter I didn't utilize the garbage that there was the same sign there as everywhere else. Oh well if I'm the only one who forgets I think the pipes will survive. While at the hotel we thought it might be fun to check out their restaurant on the top floor with a roof terrace. Dinner would have been pretty pricey, but two double Greek coffees were in our price range and a perfect way to wind down (can you wind down with caffeine?). We had a fabulous view of the Acropolis as the sun went down and the sky glowed pink and orange.
After our coffees we decided it was worth it to us to visit the "New Acropolis Museum." the building in and of itself is worth taking a good look at. It is very new. I think it has only been open for less than 2 years. There are three floors and the top floor sits askew so that it mimics the Parthenon up on the Acropolis perfectly. That floor is a "replica" of the Parthenon in terms of size. You walk around the perimeter of the floor and they have metal columns in the actual place the Parthenon has it's columns. The whole building has walls made of windows so up on the 3rd floor it is awesome to see the Parthenon perfectly parallel to you. And on this floor they have the little bit of what remains in Greece's possession of the Parthenon ruins of statues, and the frieze and such. They have it all hanging as it would on the temple itself and have filled most of the gaps with replicas in such a way that you can tell the originals from the copies. Most of the artifacts from the Parthenon I saw at the British Museum in London when I was there a few summers ago for Juniors Abroad. Lord Elgin asked some guy (although the guy claims that not to be true) if he could sell or give or something all these things to the Brits. Well Greece wants them back and of course the Brits don't want to give them back. For years they argued that Greece didn't have a proper place to keep and display them. Well now Greece has a state of the art building and Britains new fear is if they give in to Greece the rest of the world they hold artifacts from will also want theirs back. I can attest though that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is not clean, is not safe, and that no way should Britain give them back anything because it will be much better off in the safety and care of the UK. Have been to the British Museum I can say it was super cool to see so many things under one roof from all over the world. But at the same time I see why Greece would want this back and it would definitely add to this beautiful museum they now have. I guess time will only tell but I sort of doubt the Brits will give up their hold anytime soon. The rest of the museum was also cool. The whole building has been built over ancient ruins, so outside and inside there are glass floors in places that allow you to see what lies beneath and they are still digging to find more.
After we finished walking around the museum we wandered out to the terrace cafe just to have a peak. It turned out they had a very inexpensive menu so we decided to have dinner there. We shared Spanikopita (spinach pie) and pumpkin soup (Europe loves pumpkin soup in the fall and winter apparently, which is a-okay with me) and we each had another double Greek coffee. I have loved Greek coffee ever since the first time i had it at the Greek fest in Bellingham. Yet when we went back to the hostel after dinner I stayed awake for awhile trying to plan our next day, but then when I wanted to go to sleep no doubt I had some trouble with all that thick coffee flowing through my veins. Somehow Ryan still had no trouble falling right to sleep and whenever he falls asleep first I always have an even harder time because he starts snoring and I feel like I have to stay awake to shake him so he doesn't wake up everyone else in the place. But somehow I eventually managed because before I knew it the alarm was going off and it was time to get up.

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