As the more astute amongst you might have noticed, I was supposed to be in Africa by now. But frankly things got a bit delayed- my parents emailed me awhile back to inform me of a Greek cruise they were planning that my sister was coming along for as well, so would I kindly buy a ticket to Athens in early June? I did what any sensible person would do and conclude Africa can wait. Plus I haven’t seen my family in four months, and hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them until I got teary-eyed in the Athens airport-
For those who have never had the pleasure of meeting them, this is my mom, dad, and sister Linda. Linda just joined this trip in celebration of defending her Biology M.S. a few days prior, but unfortunately my brother Patrick has already joined the ranks of the real world and couldn’t take off from his job. He is being sorely missed, but at least this way someone can keep us informed about the Penguins in the Stanley Cup!
So Athens. I realize everyone and their mother tells you to not bother with Athens, as it’s a huge dirty city and all that, but do yourself a favor and don’t listen to them. I happen to like it. I mean yes I wouldn’t spend more than two or three nights in one stretch here, but the smaller streets are charming, the bazaar is bustling, and they have ruins here big enough to get lost in. What’s not to like?
This particular set of ruins, by the way, are the last remaining columns for the Temple of Zeus Olympus, where most of the missing ones were taken away by the Ottoman Turks. Greeks still don’t really like Turks for this, but they’re not particularly unique in this aspect in this part of the world.
The picture you’ve all been waiting for if I was coming to Athens- the Parthenon! (Fun fact: I overheard an American tourist wondering aloud if the “Parthenon” and “Pantheon” were one and the same while here.) They’ve been doing restorations here for 20 years and have another 20 to go, unfortunately, mainly because there are several layers of bureaucracy one needs to weed through in order to get anything done. I will also advise you to come here in the afternoon rather than the morning if you’re on your own as that’s when all the tour groups come in!
One interesting thing I learned here though is what makes the Parthenon famous is its architectural perfection- the whole building is an optical illusion designed to give the image of straight lines, but in fact there are none in the entire building. If you take out a ruler it turns out the floor is highest in the middle so the rainwater can drain out, the columns are in fact slightly thicker in the middle than on the ends, and the columns themselves even lean slightly inward… It should also be noted that all the original carvings are not here but rather in the British Museum, which no Greek in the known universe is entirely happy about. Luckily I am on a trip around the world so I saw the originals two days before going to the Parthenon, so I have the entire picture.
Catching a seat at the Theatre of Dionysus at the bottom of the Acropolis complex, where “Acropolis” is not actually a building but rather the term used for the hill itself. The heat this time of year in Greece is searing but that didn’t stop me from spending a few minutes contemplating how it would be in ancient times to catch a show written by Sophocles or Euripides in these very rows. Greece is one of those places where you would give a lot of money to hear the stones talk.
Finally, a word about this cat. Cats are everywhere in Greece, no doubt assuming from the fawning of the tourists that we visit their country to pay homage to them, so they reciprocate this affection by trying to steal your food. This specific cat came to our dinner table the first night in Athens but would step behind the fence when a sharp “no!” was issued his way, and compromised by leaning against the fence with his front paws. In an “oh, what a coincidence that I’m hanging out here while you guys and your food are right there!” way that made everyone laugh. (And then he got some leftovers, so I guess it worked.)
So the Grecian Odyssey begins. We’ll see how this goes!