Going Greek Part 1 - Ancient Athens
Mama Mia! Greece is so much more than gods, olives and ouzo as Lynley Marwick and Steve O’Neill, long time clients of World Travellers at Best Travel found out.
After completing a four year work contract in Doha, Qatar in the Arabian Gulf, the couple asked Travel Designer Christine Shepherd to arrange a fabulous Greek holiday. Their account of breathtaking vistas and Hellenistic highlights starts in Athens.
“The population of Greece is about 11 million, half of whom live in Athens. We stayed at the Herodion Hotel, superbly located near the old part of Athens, at the base of Acropolis Hill. The streets of Athens were much cleaner than we expected and the traffic in this area was well behaved. The hotel staff were friendly and considerate, directing us to an Aussie bar screening the long anticipated tri-nations game between South Africa and Australia.
Understanding the need to make the most of our time in Athens, Christine organised a Key Tour, four hour sightseeing excursion. The first stop was the stadium of the first modern Olympics. Unfortunately there were plenty of relentless hawkers trying to power sell their wares. Thankfully Christine had warned us of this and we sought refuge in our air-conditioned coach.
On to the Acropolis and Parthenon, our guide pointed out interesting statues, carvings, architecture, and outlining the difficulties of erecting such construction at the top of the highest hill. The Acropolis is a flat topped rock, at the edge of the old city and home to three temples constructed between 450 – 330 BC and dedicated to Athena, the patron Goddess of the city. The most famous of these temples is the Parthenon. We were also shown a flat area where the locals and politicians used to meet for discussion. It was here, on this small area of ground, that modern democracy was born.
At the Plaka, the Greek equivalent of souqs (market), we sat at a café, enjoyed a cold coke and a loud, arm waving, argument between two local women. It escalated to include their husbands and by the time we left two adjacent shopkeepers had joined in. It was the highlight of our morning, a Greek tragedy in the making.
The Plaka was fascinating to explore, with friendly stallholders happy to chat and banter to get us inside their business. At a souvenir shop we asked the owner about a Greek soldiers’ helmet, of the type worn by Gladiators. We thought that it was copper, but he said it was bronze. To demonstrate this he dropped it on the concrete floor. To his horror a couple of pieces broke off it and we left with the impression that the next time the sales rep visited the shop, the helmet was going somewhere very painful!
Close by at the Greek Parliament, nineteenth century style guards still ensure the safety of politicians. These guards are specifically chosen from the Greek military and undergo intense training to perfect the strange, slow motion goose-step march, with a high arm swing. This being an energy sapping exercise, the Guards are changed every hour.
Nearby is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the largest temple in Athens, ideal for a leisurely stroll with the camera. Some of the main Greek Gods - Athena, Zeus, Poseidon (Neptune), Aphrodite, Hades and Apollo are featured here.
We visited Poseidon’s Temple, about 70 kilometres from Athens. As the protector of sailors, his temple is on a headland overlooking the Aegean Sea. Like so many of these structures, it is now a ruin and we unable to get close.