Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 7 - Touring Athens

How could we come to this city and not succumb to some degree to the consumer spirit? The kids are interested in some of the kitschy memorabilia, and we've had to be mean and stingy parents as we constantly tell them that they can't have rubber balls with the Greek flag on them or snow globes with the Parthenon in them. It doesn't snow here... actually, that's not true. I learned on this trip that it actually does snow in Athens, and for that matter, much of Greece, but don't tell that to the kids.

The hotel we are at includes breakfast with the room, which I know I've mentioned is a quality that I love in a hotel. You just can't beat it. In Turkey I developed a routine where I make it obvious that I'm from the States by pigging out at the breakfast buffet, while all of the Europeans simply have a croissant and cup of coffee. I don't know how they do it, but with a big breakfast, I can make it until supper, and have been surviving well on two meals a day. It's the way to go, plus you save money. Anyway, I love breakfast buffets, I can't help myself.

After breakfast, we went up to the roof again to see our goal for the day, the Acropolis. The plan was to hike up hill, see the Parthenon, and take a picture of it with our Grateful Dumpling sign to show why we worked so hard all Summer. The culmination of our hard work, so to speak. We packed our stuff and went on our way. To get to the Acropolis, we had to walk through the heavy tourist section, and I couldn't help, once again, but wonder how these guys make a living. They all sell the same stuff. Why go to one over the other? How do they compete, and how do they survive? They are all desperate to sell you their t-shirts and trinkets, and their shops are all in a row, literally dozens of them. I will say this, they are all very friendly, and when you let them down easy, they are very nice about it. If anything, it makes me feel guilty for not buying anything... hey, now it all makes sense.

We hiked up to the Acropolis, and it's pretty impressive, especially in light of the fact that they built the thing without a single machine. Those slabs of marble weigh tons, and some poor worker, or slave, pushed it up some ramp to get it here. Simply amazing. We had plenty of chances to get a good pic, and the place up there was packed with people. There were actually a lot of school groups, probably Greek school kids learning about their heritage and how it literally created Western civilization. Not a bad way to make your mark on the world. They should be proud.

We also got busted by the Parthenon hall monitor. There was this lady walking around doing who knows what, and when she saw us taking a picture with the sign unfurled, she flipped out. She started blowing this whistle and screaming at us, "NO SIGNS!" How embarrassing! We apologized and got out of their fast, but not before we got our pic. It was all so James Bond of us.

We headed down the hill to see other important ruins, most of which I was not familiar with, but of course R knew all about because of her interest in art history. Really cool artifacts, and still in such good shape. There are ruins all around the city, and they've done a fairly good job building the city around them. In that way, it's not unlike Rome, where all these fabulous old buildings are amongst the rest of the modern, functioning city. Somehow, however, Rome does a nicer job of mixing things in together. Maybe it's because the historic buildings in Rome are from the Renaissance era, and are thus not as old. Either way, it's neat to be walking amongst these ruins.

As I mentioned, there are tons of American tourists out here, and we actually met a bunch of young guys who graduated from UVM. They were visiting the city, maybe doing the after-college Euro tour thing. I knew a lot of people who did that after college. After seeing the sites, we decided to brave the crowds and eat amongst the masses. We chose a restaurant amongst the many and ordered a bunch of seafood, which I love, but the kids took with a grain of salt. Something about the tentacles of squid and octopus that didn't go over too well. The octopus was killer, though, so tender and delicious. I like it cooked plain, with maybe a little olive oil and vinegar, not too heavy on the sauce. We also got whole anchovies and sardines, complete with the heads. This, too, didn't make everyone at the table too happy. However, we were able to stash several of the fish in our napkin to feed the cat family across the square, which the kids really enjoyed. There are feral cats everywhere in this town, not to mention Istanbul, as well. It's amazing how many you see.

After supper, we went back to the hotel to gaze at the Acropolis and eat ice cream and chocolate. It was our last night in Athens, and we are off to the Islands in the morning. Until then, thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...


Nice job capturing the sign, Monipenny will reward you with extra starch in your collar. Maybe next time the thing to do is have the message on your hats, traveling under the radar.

Not sure I knew I was participating in such a great travel endeavor while savoring a dumpling or two last summer.

I'm into a strong breakfast as foundation to a good day, but aren't there culinary ideas to test out at lunch, bring back, expand the culinary pie, begetting yet more travel?

Lucky you didn't have Syd with you as she is a huge fan of squid. I'll not forget it, about 4 years ago in Maine she insisted on ordering it, never having seen it before so far as I know, and munched it all down. For some reason she had a pet name foot it, "fumes", the etymology of which defeats me, yet so cute!

The vendors sound like our clustered urban gas station phenomenon, many sellers, same price, same product. I read somewhere that this sets in people's minds the idea that that us the place to go for fuel, bringing in greater quantities of customers. But do not look at me as an expert in consumer science.

I've heard the thieves there are very clever at separating tourists from wallet, purse and camera. Any war stories?

Thanks for publishing.


Anonymous said...

One more question Phred, is open WiFi fairly widely available?

phredude said...

Hi Rick,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inquiries. The seafood out here is amazing, but the best we've had, in my opinion, was in Spain. Syd would love the food in both, I'm sure. I'm sure if you spent enough time and learned your way around Athens, you'd have amazing experiences, it's just like New York, when you're limited in time, you do what the Romans (or rather, New York tourists) do.

The consumer aspect is a bit much, but you can see how it draws people in. You want mementos from your trip, especially if you're a kid.

As for lunch, we do a sort of lunch/dinner meal. They eat supper out here fairly late, usually around 8:00-9:00 PM, which is way too late for us. Plus, they chow down and toss back bottles of vino and smoke incessantly, living the good life, as they saying goes. Since we eat a big breakfast, it gives us time to explore and then get hungry for a big meal around 5:00, which is more our regular meal time. Then we can head out for more exploring after supper, then to bed.

The Euro way to dine seems to be a small breakfast, really small, then a big lunch with wine and copious amounts of coffee, followed by a late supper, then drinking into the night. I couldn't handle it, personally, I'm too old and dull.

As for crime, the locals warn us about pickpockets, but again, it reminds me of when we lived in New York. There are people who live in the areas outside of the city, Long Island or Queens, who will tell you that if you go into the city, you will die an ugly death, but in reality, it's all overblown. We've had people tell us that in certain places pickpockets will get your wallet, but I have yet to really experience what I see as a dangerous climate. Make no mistake, I'm wary, but being a paranoid former New Yorker, I try to be discrete. In the touristy urban areas, there are immigrants trying to make a buck, but the locals have their own thoughts about this situation, as well, and that might contribute to the climate of fear.

Finally, I am impressed how available WiFi is out here. In the big city, the higher end hotels nickle and dime you and charge for it. I've seen this everywhere, including every big city we've gone to, including the US. The smaller places that are more family run let you use the WiFi for free. We've had internet access on all of the islands we've visited so far, including Milos and Sifnos. In fact, the islands are more comfortable than I thought. If you've traveled in the Caribbean, food and water are a challenge, while the Greek Isles have plenty of great food and beverage. They've had longer to develop it, I guess, but it's been really nice. There is more of a local and ethnic cuisine to enjoy, while the Caribbean Islands don't have that as much, unless you go to the bigger islands like Puerto Rico.

There is even WiFi on the ferry boats.

Hope you guys are well and take care.