Thursday, June 26, 2008

athens

a little while ago, we were mentioning to some friends (who live in america) that we were planning a trip to greece.

"why are you going to greece?," they asked.

answer: "because we can!"



one of the best things about living in europe is how we're already in europe, so when we want to travel it's quite easy. just hop on a train and get a beer in belgium! drive to switzerland and hike a mountain! fly to italy and eat some pizza! and, most recently, take our first family vacation to GREECE!

once again, the reason we were able to go on this awesome holiday is because adam had a conference in athens. (that's usually always why we get to go to wherever it is that we're going -- because adam has a conference/meeting/workshop there.) so gracie and myself, along with one of my best girls from college (elizabeth), all hopped a plane to greece to hang out for a week. it was especially wonderful that elizabeth got to come with, because we've been friends for ages and i don't think that the two of us have spent any serious time together since before we moved to holland. it was just a wonderful happenstance -- she called me one day and said, "hey, i have been given a very generous gift and i would like to use it to come out and see you. how about sometime late may/early june?" at first i was going to say, "no that won't work because we're going to greece." but then i was all, "oh! why don't you come to greece with us?!" so she did, and it was awesome, and i'm really grateful that we got to spend so much wonderful time together. it had been too long!

okay, but back to athens. it was gracie's first time on an airplane, and it was therefore our first time travelling so far away from home with such an itty bitty. we were both really nervous about the air pressure and her little ears, and i kept having visions of her getting a terrible ear infection from all the circulated air and then our vacation would be ruined because we'd have a sick baby who didn't feel well enough to leave the hotel room and and and... but she did AWESOME! (as usual!) we sat next to a really nice man from manchester, who gave us the best advice ever when it comes to travelling. he said, "you know, i remember my first plane trip with my children. they ran up and down the aisles, and i thought that they were just bothering everyone on the plane, and i was so worried about everyone else. don't worry about them," he said. "they've all had kids too, so they know what it's like! just be concerned about your children, and don't worry about what other people are thinking!" it was EXACTLY what we needed to hear! but really, what is there to worry about when you're travelling with mary grace briggle? she's soooo cool and easygoing. she never fussed at all the entire trip. to get her ears to pop, i nursed her on take off and landing. and when she got bored one of us would take her to the back galley and let her look around. and then 3 hours later, we were in greece and everything was fine! she's such an amazing kid!

our hotel was located in the plaka district of athens, which is very touristy with lots of shops and cafes, and walking distance from most of the major sites in athens. athens is a pretty sprawly city, but fortunately almost everything that you'd want to see is close to each other.



so after we arrived, we basically went straight to the hotel and relaxed. we didn't go out and do much that evening since it was such a stressful day for mary grace, and we didn't want to overexert her. adam and elizabeth went out and got us some takeaway dinner and we sat in our hotel room and watched tv and just chilled out while we planned our next few days in athens.



the next day, our first full day there, elizabeth, gracie, and i went on a bus tour of the city. it was quite easy to do, since the bus stops only 5 minutes from our hotel. we bought tickets on the bus from the very friendly driver, and then he gave us a map, and we took off. it was unlike any of the bus tours i've been on before, where we're usually on a fancy doubledecker bus with a tour guide telling us what we're seeing. in this case, it was a regular city bus with a tape recorder that would say, "on your left is the temple of zeus, which took 650 years to build." and then that would be about it. it was pretty basic, but it was air conditioned and the tickets were only 5 euros. so that's good!



halfway through the tour, the bus stopped at a museum. this was the point in the tour where the driver got to take a break, and everyone was asked to get off the bus for a short while. we were told the tour would start up again in about 20 minutes, so elizabeth, gracie, and i did a little postcard shopping, got a bottle of water, and took some pictures. then we got back on the bus and waited as it was close to the time we were supposed to leave again. but a different driver got on, and she said that we were supposed to get on a different bus because this one wasn't going to be in service anymore. or something. so we got on that bus, and we took off. but we only got a few blocks before the driver said, "i'm sorry, but the street is closed ahead because of a protest. you're going to have to get off here and take the metro back to wherever it is you want to go." ha! so we all got off and walked about a half kilometer to the metro and went back to our hotel, after only seeing half of the tour. no partial refund of our ticket, no alternate route. just "walk that way to the metro." funny! but that's okay -- it was a nice day and it gave us an opportunity to see more of the city by foot.

meanwhile, adam was presenting his paper at the conference, which was all sorts of messed up due to the protest. the conference was being held at the university, and there were supposed to be three different sessions happening all at the same time, with time for discussion after each presentation. but because of the demonstrations, which were taking part at the university, the three sessions were combined into one, so each person had only 10 or 15 minutes to present his or her ideas, and then sit down and the next person was up to talk for another 10 or 15 minutes. that's it. so it got really jumbled and wasn't very much fun because no one got to ask their questions or discuss their reflections. poor guy! he travelled all this way for a philosophical discussion in athens, and he gets shut down due to some student protest! ah, well.

so after he presented his paper, he kinda realized he wasn't going to get much else out of the conference. so he ducked out at lunchtime and met us back at the hotel. we all decided it would be fun to see the parthenon, on top of the acropolis, but we didn't want to rush ourselves since there were so many other wonderful things to see along the way. so we stopped for some lunch of lamb gyros and mythos beer, and saw a very small, very old church (why are almost all the churches in athens so small?), and wandered about the narrow streets looking in the little souvenir shops. mostly we just took our time getting to wherever it was we were going, since this part of athens had so many interesting things to look at.

we saw the roman agora, which used to be used as the main market square about 2,000 years ago. there was also this neat tower which was about 50 years older than the rest of the roman agora, which was built when greece was part of the ottoman empire. it was like a combination clock/calendar/observatory, and must have been pretty solidly built because it was the only complete structure in the roman agora. this is adam standing in front of it.

we also saw hadrian's library. hadrian was an emperor in the 1st century CE (or something like that), and he built a library which was kinda more like a community center i guess. i thought it was just soooo cool that the library ruins were just sitting there, in the middle of the city, minding their own business while everything new and modern was sprouting up around it.

(the only reason i know about any of this stuff is because the fabulous elizabeth actually thought ahead and learned some greek from a tape at her local library, and brought along a travel guide which was extremely useful and practical and helpful. yay, elizabeth and her trusty travel guide!)

we realized that we were already about halfway to the parthenon, so we decided to go the rest of the way to see it as long as we were in the neighborhood. but, since we were on "greek time," we really did just enjoy our walk and decided not to be in a hurry. we stopped at a cafe halfway up the hill to cool off with some fresh-squeezed lemon juice (not lemonade, but lemon juice! powerful stuff! yow!) we kept running into a bride and groom, getting their pictures taken with the parthenon in the background, and we stopped at a little church (again, the little churches!) to light a candle and say prayers.



well, by the time we got to the top of the hill and saw the entrance to the parthenon, it was already 5:30 or 6:00 pm. and they were literally closing the gate the very minute we got there! we just enjoyed our walkabout so much that we totally lost track of time and didn't realize how late in the day it was! oops! so we headed back to our hotel, adam and elizabeth got some more takeout while i gave gracie a much-needed bath and got her ready for bed, and we spent the rest of the evening just vegging out and watching american tv with greek subtitles.



okay, so now it's day two of athens, and we decide that if we want to see the parthenon, we better get our butts up there first thing in the morning so we can be sure to see it! since we already knew the way there, it didn't take very long before we were purchasing our tickets and making the final ascent up the acropolis to the magnificent structures on top. first we saw the dionysus theater, which is still used today for concerts and other shows.




then we saw the parthenon, which is the temple built to the virgin athena (parthenos) after she defeated poseidon. because of her victory, the athenians named their city after her, and built her this magnificent temple on top of the acropolis.





but, just so that poseidon (and the other gods) wouldn't be jealous, the athenians also built the rest of the gods another, separate temple also on top of the acropolis.





they were doing some restoration work on a lot of the structures there, so there was a lot of scaffolding around and people chiseling and dusting and reconstructing things. but it didn't even matter to us, because these temples were so magnificent anyway that it was easy to look past all of that. and how cool would that be to be the person that gets to go to work every day on the parthenon? to touch those stones and study the way the building was put together! oh! that would be such a cool job!



later that day, adam and i left gracie in the hotel room with elizabeth, who was sweet enough to volunteer to babysit. the two of us walked arm in arm through the quiet streets of athens, and finally ended up at a sidewalk cafe right next to the roman agora. the acropolis was all lit up, and we chose a table with a good view of it all, and we had our first glass of ouzo (an interesting and complex mix of flavors including mint, fennel, lime blossom, anise, and the slightest hint of hazelnut). it was such a treat to walk in the cool night air with my hunnybunny, and to gaze up at the beautiful acropolis set against the dark greek starry sky! how romantic!



finally we come to our last day in athens, and we have quite a list of things to see and do! first stop was the ancient agora, which kinda served as downtown athens back in the day. socrates hung out there, as did saint paul, so it was an especially historically and spiritually significant site for adam, elizabeth, and myself. gracie and i took some time to rest in the cool breeze of the marble columns of the museum there (now i totally understand why the ancient athenians built so many public spaces with these marble columns, because it creates shade, which helps to cool the breeze as it passes by), and adam and elizabeth wandered about and got up close to see the temple to hephaestus (the god of technology, blacksmithing, etc.). after they came back about a half hour later, gracie and i joined them on their explorations and we saw another little church (another little church!) and took many pictures amongst the ruins.



after the ancient agora, we made our way via metro and foot to the national gardens, a beautiful and surprisingly quiet greenspace in the midst of this huge bustling metropolis of athens. as we came out the other side, we found our way to the temple of zeus and hadrian's gate. (the temple of zeus is seen in the first picture on this blog, with the four of us standing in front of the big columns.) it was a really magnificent structure, and only part of it was still standing --i wonder what it must have looked like when it was finally completed! it was INCREDIBLY hot that day, so gracie and i found a plastic lawn chair hiding behind a tree and sat in the shade. we took off all of her clothes and i gave her something to eat, since i was pretty sure she was dehydrated from all the heat and acitivity. it felt really moving to be nursing my infant daughter at this temple, sitting on the very grounds and doing the very same thing that athenian women have done since antiquity.

we hung out at the zeus temple for a good long while, resting in the shade, and then backtracked a little ways to get to the presidential palace. it was on a surprisingly quiet street, and it was in the shade, so we stayed there for a little while while we waited for the changing of the guards.

the changing of the guards happens (we think) once an hour. and for good reason, because i think standing in the hot greek sunshine for much longer than an hour would be really unhealthy and dangerous! the soldiers have to do these really slow-motion yoga-meets-ballet moves, which look really difficult given the awkwardness of their shoes and the heat of the day. but they did it, in time with the other soldier, and it actually did look really graceful. this picture was taken not in front of the presidential palace, but in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier.

the end of the day had finally come once again, and as usual we found ourselves back in our hotel room. i nursed gracie and got her ready for bed, and adam and elizabeth got some more takeaway for dinner. we packed up and got to bed early, since we were catching a very early ferry to the island of mykonos, in the aegean sea. though we were sad to leave the cultural and historic sights of athens, we were all really excited to hang out on the beach for a few days and COOL OFF! we needed it!

No comments: