Sunday, October 14, 2012

Athens – September 28-October 3, 2012

Athens – September 28-October 3, 2012

Good-bye Athens!  After four wonderful days, yesterday I made my way to the ship to begin a Black Sea cruise.  I loved being in Athens. The hotel where I was staying was located on the main square of the city (Syntagma Square), just across from the Parliament building.  I was very pleased with the hotel, and with the location.  It was perfect for walking and seeing the sights.  The hotel was very elegant and very quiet, with the best bed I have ever had in a hotel.  Each morning, I had breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel, looking out at the Acropolis, and I went there for dinner one time as well.  It is an amazing sight and a wonderful way to start the day each day.  I usually stopped for gelato for lunch or an afternoon snack, and I went to dinner at one of the wonderful sidewalk restaurants.  The Acropolis is incredible morning or night, and it is the center of everything.  Athens is a white city, and looking out from the rooftop of the hotel, one sees white – all the buildings and houses are white, perhaps to reflect the sun, or perhaps because of the type of building materials that were available. 

Athens is a wonderful place.  It is an ancient place, having existed thousands of years BC.  Many structures still exist that are 5,000 years old, and it is interesting to come upon ancient structures when out walking.  Because it is such an old city, it is filled with narrow streets, barely wide enough for a tiny car to pass.  The narrow streets are lined with tiny shops, usually selling only one type of item, such as pots and pans, or dishes, or in the tourist areas, souvenirs.  Many shops sell just jackets, or just lingerie.  Athens is a city of about 4 million people, with suburban towns adding another million or so.  So it is roughly the size of Washington, DC.  In Washington, there are many areas where I have never been, and there are areas in Athens where I could not go.  I remained in the "downtown" area, and I walked around all of it.  I usually walked all day, exploring.  Many of the streets have been turned into pedestrian streets, with only delivery trucks allowed on the streets.  

The center of the city is a very high hill, and on top, the Parthenon.  That hill, and the construction of the temple to the god, Athena, was the reason for the beginning of the city in the first place.  The Parthenon was intact for thousands of years until the mid 1800's when it was destroyed in a war with the Turks.  Part of the structure is still intact, and some of it has been reconstructed over the years.  Being on this very high hill in the center of the city, it is incredibly impressive -- the most impressive sight I have seen anywhere in the world.  I have taken a lot of photos, and I posted a few photos on my Flickr site:

Because the price of gasoline is so high, all cars are tiny, and thousands of people ride motorbikes rather than owing cars.  There are few places for people to park their cars or bikes, so they park them anywhere they will fit.  There are no parking spaces like we have in America on the narrow streets.  Despite the narrow streets and cars and bikes parked everywhere, the city is very orderly.  People wait at traffic lights, and move about in an orderly manner. 

The city is filled with sidewalk restaurants.  The weather is very dry, and it is cool enough in the evenings for people to sit outside, so sidewalk restaurants are everywhere.  I stopped in a sidewalk restaurant each evening for dinner, where I enjoyed the ambiance and the Greek food.  We cannot have sidewalk restaurants in Washington because of the weather, and I don't know any place in America that has sidewalk restaurants like they have in the Mediterranean.  The weather in Athens is very hot in the direct sun, but in the shade it is not hot.  Most of the narrow streets are shaded by the buildings, so they are cool enough for walking. 
My last day in Athens, I came upon my first demonstration.  Demonstrations are common in front of the Parliament building, and there were some very large ones before I arrived.  The demonstration I came upon was small (a few thousand people) and very orderly.  I don't know what they were demonstrating about (the signs were in Greek, of course).  Because of the demonstrations, police are everywhere, usually two on a motorbike.  There are thousands of them everywhere.

Sailing out of the port of Athens last night was beautiful, with white houses stretched for miles along the coast, and up the sides of hills.   

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