Archive | December, 2013

Athens: So Much to Say and See, So Little Time – Part II

Apologies for the lack of posts the last week – I was felled by the cold/flu that seems to be making its way quite well through the population of Toronto. At least, that’s how it seems. And now, back to Greece – yay! 

Athens & Total Touristic Embarrassment

My previous post about Athens was more an overview – what you see if you’re only passing through, what you begin to notice while walking around, and what grabs hold of your curiosity and imagination and makes you want to come back as you begin to absorb the city.

This post is about what I actually did during my short stay in the city so be forewarned that this is going to be a slightly longer post.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, travel always brings with it the unpredictable. And yet, for all the stress, frustration and worry that can accompany it, these will be the experiences that are told and retold a hundred times, the memories that remain with you far longer than the typical museum visit or landmark sighting.

If you haven’t read my earlier post about making my way to Athens (click here for that post), suffice it to say that I got quite lost trying to find my hotel (despite the GPS on my smartphone), experienced some moments of panic and all that this entails in terms of imagined disaster scenarios, reminded myself to breathe, and then, finally, luckily, managed to make my way back towards the city and my destination.

What I left out of the last post – probably because I was still trying to live down the embarrassment of my actions – is that while I was turning this way and that, attempting desperately to get back on to the main road, I ended up driving onto the Dionysiou Areopagitou pedestrian walkway. Yes, you read that right: I ended up driving onto a path that was for people only!! The walkway is the main thoroughfare leading to the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum, so there were plenty of locals AND fellow tourists to stare at the very out of place sight that was me and my rental car.

As I slunk out of the car in hopes of finding someone who could point me in the right direction, a very young guard strode over to me from his booth and promptly informed me that I could not stop the car here. Flustered, I blurted out: “And I don’t want to.” Yes, that surely made things better. I asked for directions to the hotel and while I’m sure he really wanted to help me, his response didn’t quite succeed: “It’s on the other side.” Um… the other side of what? The other side of the Acropolis? The other side of the road where I’d come from?

Realizing that the gaping language barrier was not about to suddenly crumble and seeing as I was parked, er, illegally in front of the Acropolis, I felt like the smarter move was to just take my chances with Athens’ streets, as narrow and meandering as they were. I made it. Eventually.

The New Acropolis Museum

Whatever the criticisms and complaints about the new museum (location, style, the supplanting of existing heritage buildings), it simply took my breath away.

The museum was built to hold all the items found during excavations on the Acropolis site. An original museum existed on the grounds itself, but at 800 square meters, space quickly proved to be a problem. The new museum has 14,000 square meters of exhibition space and they take full advantage of that area to show off the truly amazing findings.

As you walk towards the entrance, a see-through floor gives you a glimpse of the ongoing excavations. It’s a powerful and effective reminder of the site and city’s scale of history. Upon full and proper entry to the museum (i.e. once your ticket has been scanned), you’re directed up a long, slightly inclining walkway. On either side of you, glass-fronted, lighted shelves hold pottery, art, jewellery and other items found on the slopes of the Acropolis.
Standing at the beginning of that walkway, seeing the length of it, spying the number of fragments, shards and items on the shelves, with those few steps, I was awestruck by the scale of what was found on the Acropolis.

The exterior of the museum is modern and looks, well, fine (I’m sure there’s a far more appropriate architectural description for it), but from the inside, it’s the top floor with its high ceilings and use of large windows to make up the walls that literally made me gasp.

DSC_1310

I was at the museum around sunset and the shades of orange and blue, the warm glow cast on the city rooftops and the Acropolis itself left quite an impression. The idea was to always be able to see the site from the museum, I suppose, thereby, creating an abiding link that gave the objects within the walls more life.

DSC_1315

Total tourist side notes: On this floor, there is also a great video that provides you with the history of the Parthenon, including its different transformations, methods and styles of destruction and reconstruction and the current plans for restoring the temple to its former structural and artistic glory. Also, on Fridays the museum and its restaurant are open late; while on certain days of the year, entry is free.

The Acropolis and the Parthenon

DSC_1337

First, some advice about visiting, which you’ll probably have heard before and will hear again if you ask. Go early. You can enter beginning at 8am. I was there by no later than 9am and already there were tons of tour groups at the top of the hill, more so than at any other site or landmark I’d been to during my month in Greece.

Second, some advice about photos. Don’t expect to capture too many pictures of the Parthenon without people. Or construction equipment: while the scaffolding’s finally been removed, the construction equipment is still very clear and present. All l I could do was try and make the most of what was in front of me. The other ruins on the hill though do see far less foot traffic and interest and are good representations of style, material and design on an obviously smaller scale. But it’s nice to step away from the crowds and take in a structure slowly, leisurely, quietly.

DSC_1332

For me, stopping off at the museum first gave my subsequent visit to the Acropolis and, in particular, the Parthenon, context and energy: standing before and walking around the famous monument, I could visualize the rooms, the interior columns, the friezes, the sculptural decorations – I could imagine what it once looked like and not just see what remained.

DSC_1344

From the summit, Athens radiates out. As a tourist in a major city, sometimes you can forget that the core section where you sleep or spend your time is actually a tiny fraction of the real place; that daily life – shopping, working, sleeping, eating – occurs in places, spaces and ways that you don’t even get an inkling of as a tourist; that your perspective of the city you visit is, quite possibly, more than a little skewed. Circling the Acropolis gave me a very visual and physical reminder of exactly how little I’d seen and how little I really knew about all that lay outside of the city center, culturally or historically.

DSC_1361

My Time in Greece is Up

And so, my time in Greece (for 2013) came to an end. Personally, I can’t wait to go back. There are so many other places to see – including, of course, the islands – but there’s so much more I want to learn and absorb about Athens and the rest of Greece. For a history buff like me, there are few places that hold as much significance and have as many literal and physical examples of the ancient world from which we evolved into who and what we are today.

What places have stayed with you, always tempting you to return?

Signature
Share on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUponShare via email
4

Athens: So much to Say and See, So Little Time – Part I

As it turns out, I’m not the best at posting regularly, but I’m making a promise – here for anyone and everyone to read – that I will do better. And with that said, on with the post! 

Athens

Determining how much time to spend in Athens engendered quite a bit of debate. Some said 2 to 3 days was enough; others, a minimum of 10 days. So, why the rather considerable difference?

Having now been to the city in question, I think it has a lot to do with what your interests are and how you like to travel.

My first foray into Athens city centre involved a short hop-on, hop-off bus tour around the city. I find that these types of bus tours can be a great way to orient yourself upon first arrival and, in some of the more spread out locations, they can be a cheaper way (versus regular transit) to get around to the different areas and sites that you’re interested in seeing, particularly if you’re short on time.

Make no mistake about it, Athens is a City with a capital ‘C’. What do I mean by that? It’s a hub; it’s packed with people and cars; it’s old which means layers upon layers of different architectural styles, urban development decisions and social/cultural evolution. Thus, where one person will see an amazing, if, at certain times, gritty place ripe for exploration – neighbourhoods, restaurants, cafes, neo-classicial architecture… oh yeah, and all the temples, museums and sculptures – others will see an old, crowded and rather rough-and-tumble-looking destination meant for a quick trip with visits to only the major ‘must-see’ items.

Now this is where I think the limitation of hop-on, hop-off bus tours, or the mainly stay-on-the-large-bus tours presents itself. From the bus, Athens can appear dishevelled: graffiti on every corner; old buildings, some completely boarded up; crowded, narrow and rambling streets; stuff and people everywhere.The major tourist sites are quite clean and open by comparison and I can see how people might become discouraged or less enthusiastic about wandering about on their own, especially if one’s own home city is new-ish and built from much more modern ideas like grid structure streets; broad roadways; concrete, steel and/or glass buildings; and very well maintained gardens and lawns. Nothing wrong with the latter, but neither the former nor the latter is proof positive of what a place is really about.

A little reading and walking around though tells you that Athens is actually a very safe city and, except for the skilled pickpockets, crime is fairly minimal and certainly mostly non-violent. There are definitely areas to avoid at night, but during the day these very same locations can take on a very different (and safe) personality. The people in Athens are amazingly friendly and very eager to let you know that all those international news reports about the troubles, protests and rallies brought on by the economic challenges they’re currently facing don’t properly represent them or the city.

I only managed to get in two days in Athens – not counting the hop-on, hop-off bus day – but I can tell you that I’m very much looking forward to a return trip and to spending much more time there checking out all the cafes, shops, restaurants and neighbourhoods I missed out on during my first foray to Greece. I, however, am also a major history and architecture buff, so I say bring on all the temples and museums too!!

That’s all good and fine, you say, but what did you actually see while you were there? Next post, the ‘new’ Acropolis Museum and the Parthenon. Of course it had to be the Parthenon!

  View from the Parthenon: Athens spread out in the background, the Acropolis Museum (modern, multi-story building) in the middle and the Theatre of Dionysus in the foreground.
DSC_1351
Have you been to Athens? What are your thoughts? Love it, hate it or meh?

 

Signature
Share on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUponShare via email
0