30.05.2010 - 02.06.2010 30 °C
I admit I was a little nervous about Greece, not knowing any of the language or even their alphabet. It took me several days before the signage didn't unsettle me out - I kept trying to make out something familiar but it was of course hopeless. However, everyone we met had an excellent grasp of English so we had no problems getting around in Athens or the islands (map navigation excepted - more about that on Mykonos).
Diane and I met up at our hotel in Athens late on May 30th, then had two full days to explore the highlights. It was the perfect amount of time, particularly as our hotel was right below the major highlight, the Acropolis. We had amazing views from the bar on the roof, and had great service as well - an unspoken 'buy 1 get 1 free' on the wine. (The free drinks thing became a nice recurring theme while in Greece.)
The Parthenon and surrounding buildings are under restoration and reconstruction of the original bits, including the frieze that encircled the top edge of the temple. On the various ruins of the Acropolis you can see lighter colour blocks that have been installed to bring it back to a more complete state.
Some original pieces are now on display in the New Acropolis Museum down below the Acropolis (how long before it's no longer 'new'?) along with plaster replicas of the contentious collection known as the Elgin Marbles (Lord Elgin carted off loads of them in the 1800s then sold them to the British Museum). Interestingly, the Greeks have carefully neutral descriptions in their museum about the pieces that were taken to England in the early 1800s, whereas the British Museum's plaques argue a bit defensively that they wouldn't exist in their current state if not for their removal and protection abroad. (Having just had another look at them, I would have to agree they are in good shape compared to some of those that stayed behind.) At any rate, all existing originals and replicas are now displayed in correct order in the topmost gallery of the Acropolis museum and oriented the same direction as they were when still attached to the Parthenon.
One of the smaller temples of the Acropolis is even more beautiful - the Erechtheion from around 400 BC.
Our hotel was also right across the street from the Temple of Olympian Zeus - now just a handful of colossal columns. The visual effect was startling with buses, trams and endless traffic buzzing along so close by the ruins. It was once a massive temple of over 100 columns.
The area below the Acropolis to the north is dotted with other ruins including a beautiful little Byzantine church, Hadrian's library and the ancient Roman Agora - with the Plaka and Monastiraki neighbourhoods winding around them for lots of shopping, drinking and dining diversions. And, unusually, lots of large, sleeping dogs everywhere. Not wild, not mangy, just dead tired apparently.
Our last night we ventured out to a little harbour area full of restaurants and bars called Mikrolimano, near the port of Piraeus where we would catch our ferry to Mykonos the next morning. It was off the tourist track and/or a quiet night so we were hassled a bit by the owners to come try their menus as we surveyed our options. But we found a great little place right on the water - fish were jumping literally right beside our table - and had some tasty seafood in a funky restaurant - I would share the name but it was all Greek to me.