Thursday, December 3, 2009

Athens At Last

I’m still processing all the experiences from our Mediterranean vacation. But I can tell you this – a five hour taste of Athens was not enough, and we will return. It would be great to spend a few days in Athens, like we did in Rome, with an extended side trip to one or more of the islands. Athens was our first stop in Greece, and I could hardly contain my excitement. Half of my heritage is Greek, and yet it took me 54 years to visit the land that originated the culture that is so much a part of who I am.

Traveling from the port at Piraeus into Athens by bus, we had an excellent local tour representative who introduced us to the city during the twenty minute ride. We were dropped off at the plaza across from the Presidential Palace, completed in 1897 as a residence for the Crown Prince and heir to the throne, and used since the abolishment of the monarchy in 1974 as the Presidential Mansion. It is here we saw the Evzones, the elite ceremonial military unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and were fortunate to happen upon the changing of the guard. I have an antique Evzone doll, and have always been fascinated with their traditional dress and their history. It was amazing to finally see them in person.

From the Presidential Palace, we set out to walk to the Acropolis. Or I should say, UP to the Acropolis. A winding pathway leads past ancient ruins all the way up the hillside (about 490 feet in elevation). Although it’s amazing that so much remains of the buildings of the Acropolis, what has been lost through centuries of European wars and repeated sackings of Athens is sickening. There is a massive restoration project underway, and the scope of the work is in evidence at the site. We joined large crowds of tourists, even this far into the fall. This sort of site requires contemplation of history, which to me is nearly impossible when surrounded by masses of people. We spent almost 2 hours at the site, marveling at the architecture and art, and at the impressive view of the vibrant, modern city below.

We couldn’t let our first day in Greece slip by without including a dining experience, so we found a restaurant for lunch. “God’s Restaurant” (who but the Greeks would have the gall?) was just the ticket! After being taken into the kitchen to see what had been prepared for the day’s menu, our appetite was stoked, and our eyes were bigger than our tummies. We enjoyed taramosalata, feta, Greek bread, saganaki with mussels (to DIE for), and roasted pork in lemon sauce. And just a little wine…

Appetites sated, we strolled through the Plaka, the picturesque historical neighborhood of Athens. I wish we had been able to spend more time exploring this oldest section of Athens – but we had to hurry back to the bus to return to the ship. It was a wonderful introduction to Athens that definitely left us wanting more!

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