Monday, May 2, 2011

Power Tripping Through Athens

When  we flew to Crete yesterday (see below post), we had a five hour layover in Athens. Five hours = plenty of time to see the Acropolis and Parthenon! We rushed off the plane and headed to the metro, when a little sign caught our attention – something about metro and strike. Of course there is a metro strike on our one afternoon in the city. And how convenient for the workers that this strike took place on May Day, a popular holiday. There was a bus running to the city center though, or so we thought. We successfully located the bus ticket window, the pickup location, and the time schedule and were finally settled and heading into downtown Athens. Acropolis, here we come! After about half an hour, we noticed several locals getting a bit agitated and having long discussions with the bus driver. That’s never a good sign. Sure enough, the driver shortly pulled into some random stop on the outskirts of town and told us all to get off and now take the metro. We had no clue what was going on or why this metro stretch was running, but we dutifully exited the bus, found the metro at the same stop, figured out the Athens metro system and once again, we were on our way to the Acropolis. This time, success! I never dreamed I’d ever see this site up close. The stop we used on the metro dropped us into a nice, quiet, pretty neighborhood on the back side of the more popular area. The Acropolis loomed above with all it’s ruins. Walking up to the base, we started noticing all the gates around it were closed. And as we circled the base, finally reaching the main entrance, we found that we were indeed unable to walk up the hill – our guess is the strike was a public worker strike within Athens, but the reason could very well have been the May Day holiday, high winds, construction work, or “we’re broke and don’t have any workers to manage you tourists.” I don’t really know.

We found a nearby rock that swarmed with people and climbed on up ourselves. This provided a fantastic view of both the Parthenon and a panorama of dense Athens – packed together buildings and development as far as our eyes could see, except right in front, where we could see an almost intact, temple structure and some remains of a forum type area.

In order to maximize our sightseeing, we headed for a different metro stop for our return trip in order to walk through the Plaka neighborhood, filling out the base of the Acropolis. This area is a warren of picturesque alleys filled with stores selling cheap crap imported from overseas. There was a huge flea market, which we didn’t have time to enter, trinket stores, “real antiques” stores, and loads upon loads of restaurants, every single one with filled tables. I haven’t seen that many tourists in one place since my last trip to Disney World. I wasn’t prepared for the sheer mass of people. We were able to grab a couple of gyros – our first, official, Grecian gyros – and enjoyed them while fighting off pigeons and watching a stray dog carry around a plastic bottle full of water. Sadly, no pictures of that. With all the street performers and hawkers abounding, I have no idea why someone hasn’t snatched that gigantic dog up and trained him to deliver water to tourists, then take the money in his mouth and deliver it to his owner. We know from our time in Key West that a dog ferrying money is a big crowd pleaser. If I lived in Athens, that would be my gig. Nathan observed that maybe I could even earn enough money to move my show and us back to Key West.
This set of ruins is in the Metro station! And very nicely displayed, too.
 While our time in downtown Athens was extremely short (so short that even if the Acropolis had been open, I don’t know that we’d have had time to walk up it), we still loved our power trip through the neighborhood. It was absolutely worth the two and a half hours of travel time to/from the airport. We were looking at the area with an eye towards whether or not we’d want to return for a long weekend trip, especially since it’s only a two hour flight from Naples. While I’m sure Athens has many lovely things to see and do, I got my fill just by seeing the Parthenon. Beyond that, I’d rather just head to the islands, which we soon did on a quick flight to our real destination: Chania, Crete.
A colorful display at a Plaka neighborhood shop

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