Sunday, November 13, 2011

baklava and ancient temples

Part Two: Athens, Greece

Once our flight landed and we successfully navigated the metro all that was left to do was find exactly where our hotel was located. We must have looked like lost tourists because before we could get the map out a man on a motorcycle had ridden up onto the sidewalk and asked if he could take us to where we were going. Looking back, this was probably not the best idea, but we were kind of disoriented and accepted his help quickly.  Soon enough he led us right to the hotel, but then expected us to tip him for his service. Had we known that he would need a tip, we probably would not have accepted his help in the first place.  As it turns out, our hotel was located in the "bad" section of town, right in the area with all the prostitutes and drug dealers. But don't worry, we stayed safe the whole time.

cakes from the specialty store
After unpacking it was time to find a little place to eat lunch. Going off a suggestion in my Let's Go: Europe 2011 book, we found a place called Club Crepe Xarchia, which offered delicious crepes and huge salads. Always the adventurer, I decided to go out on a limb and order a special sounding crepe, which included: cheese, potato sticks, chicken salad, corn, and ham. I know the combination sounds disgusting, but it was actually rather tasty. Also, on the way back to our hotel, we stopped at what was to become our favorite specialty store to purchase some wonderful cakes for dessert.

While we waited for other members of our traveling group to arrive in Athens, I decided to take a nice late afternoon nap to rejuvenate myself for the evenings festivities. As it turns out, the evenings festivities just included wandering around until we found a nice place to eat dinner. We ended up eating at a little Greek restaurant where we enjoyed some good gyros and even tried Ouzo, a traditional Greek alcoholic drink, which tasted like liquified black licorice. To end the evening, we stopped in at our specialty store again to taste some baklava, which we would have many of in the coming days.

restaurant where we ate dinner the first night 

Bright and early the next morning we headed out to see the ruins of Ancient Greece! Our first stop was the Museum of Kerameikos, an archaeological site where the bodies of thousands of Athenians were buried for over 1,500 years. It was the most important and official cemetery of ancient Athens from as far back as the Prehistoric period, and featured private burial plots for Athenian citizens as well as public burials of men fallen in battle. 
the Street of Tombs

bull from tomb of Dionysios of Kollytos

Our next stop was Ancient Agora, which served as the city's marketplace, administrative center, and the focus of daily life from the 6th century BCE through the 6th century CE. The site hosts many attractions, including the Skias (civic offices holding the official weights and measures), the Odeion of Agrippa (a performance structure that once seated nearly 1,000 people), the Church of Holy Apostles, and the Temple of Hephaestus (temple dedicated to Greek god of metal working).

Church of Holy Apostles 

Jackie and I in front of the
Temple of Hephaestus

the Temple of Hephaestus 

After visiting Ancient Agora, we headed to the most famous site, the Acropolis. The Acropolis began as a political center, with the king living atop the hill. However, in 8th century BCE, a temple was built to honor Athena (the patron goddess of Athens) and ever since the Acropolis has been a site of constant construction, demolition, and changing religious orders. Featured attractions include the following:

the Propylaea: the gateway to the Acropolis which was never fully completed because of a series of wars interrupting construction

the Theater of Dionysus: originally constructed in honor of Dionysus, the Greek god of making merry through the aid of dance and wine; the ancient theater boasts steep-steps and a huge stage, which now serves as a fully functional performance space.

Theater of Dionysus 

the Erechtheum: temple divided into two parts - the East portion dedicated to Athena and the West portion to Poseidon (Athena's losing foe in the bid for Athens); The Erechtheum features six Caryatid statues (women standing in a horseshoe shape supporting the roof) and is named after a hero Poseidon supposedly conquered in his losing bid for Athens.

six Caryatid statues of Erechtheum

the Erechtheum

the Parthenon: perhaps the most famous structure in the Acropolis and seen as a symbol of Western culture; The temple features metopes (relief slabs depicting scenes from Greek mythology like the war between the gods and the giants), friezes, and two pediments. The East pediment tells the story of Athena's birth when she sprung from the head of Zeus and the West pediment shows the contest between Athena and Poseidon for Athens, when her olives won out over his salt water.

construction on the Parthenon
the Parthenon

Standing on the top of the hill at the Acropolis also presented us with a breathtaking view of the Athens below. Here is just a little sampling of what I saw down below:

view from the Acropolis
view from the Acropolis

After lunch with a nice view of the Acropolis, we headed towards the National Gardens and Parliament to watch the changing of the guards. On the way, we saw a ton of police officers and discovered that there was going to be a demonstration at the same exact time we were planning on watching the changing of the guards. We spoke to the police officers and they said not to worry, that the demonstration would not be violent, and it wasn't. It was still really cool to see all those people with red flags singing and shouting, though. We staying at Parliament only long enough to see the guards change and we left before the demonstrators started to march.

Temple of Olympian Zeus (near National Gardens)

Parliament building

I also had the best baklava I've ever had in my life after we visited the Acropolis. It was from a little pastry shop called Beneth, located on the same street as the market that we would visit the next morning.  They also had a delicious chocolate cake dessert called a Ferrero, and was like a large, cake version of a Ferrero Roche chocolate.

baklava and Ferrero dessert

On my final morning in Athens, we went to the Athens Flea Market, where I did some serious Christmas shopping for friends and family at home. The market had many homemade stoneware, coin purses, jewelry, and even clothes for sale (I tried on a beautiful toga, but I think 40 euros was a little too expensive for me). My friend Chelsea and I parted ways from the rest of our traveling group to get to the airport in time for our flight back to CPH to get ready to leave again in a day or so for our optional study tours

Stay tuned for my final travel break post on the coolest place on Earth: Greenland!

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