Wednesday, June 04, 2008

June 3, Athens and the ferry to Sifnos

Having not slept at all, I hit the pavement at 5:30 a.m. and climbed the hill behind the Plaka, trying to get a look at the Acropolis as the sunlight first hit the Parthenon. I managed to find the entrance but there wasn’t much of a view from there. All of the small residential buildings just before the fence that marks the Acropolis boundary are pretty freaking ancient – renovations are probably strictly controlled. Given the value of the real estate, a disproportionate number seemed to be used as storage sheds. Likely it’s prohibitively expensive to fit them out with plumbing.

I got lost on my way back to the hotel, and had to take a taxi. All the dogs of Athens (large mongrelly houndlike creatures) run free in the streets, and are very gentle. I saw a cat fight and almost filmed it, but decided that was too touristy even for me. Little old ladies mop the stone streets of the Plaka district every morning, which explains why they are so luminously clean.

Breakfast at the Attalos is mediocre – good enough to get us started, but there’s no way we’ll be able to exist on two meals a day if this breakfast is one of them. Mom and Dad both got a decent amount of sleep, and after breakfast we showered and check out, leaving our luggage in their (dodgy) basement until our transfer to the port at 2:30.

We toured the ancient Agora, minus the Acropolis which we’ll ascend with a tour group later this week. Some very lovely views of the Temple of Hephaestus and the Stoa of Attalos. Even the large piles of rock were interesting, although I wish they’d do some more rebuilding as the Rockefellers did with the Stoa. It’s impossible to keep track of who sacked which building when – Dad said there should be a Greek trivia show called “Which Conqueror?” At any rate, human beings have inhabited the area of the Agora since Neolithic times – 3500 BCE. It is by far the most ancient place I have ever visited. Cities that paid tribute to ancient Athens built lots of the temples and shrines that have stood there over the years, the Romans knocked some stuff down and put up other stuff, the Herulians and the Turks committed flagrant destruction at various points, and the Athenians constructed houses, municipal buildings and various other things (an olive oil factory, family graveyards) right along throughout.

After the Agora, we strolled the beautiful pedestrian path around the mountain (built for the Olympics, I think) and had lunch on the far side right before the huge Temple of Olympian Zeus. Pedestrian apparently means “fewer motorbikes than a regular street, but you’s still do well to watch out.” We skirted the temple and the adjoining National Gardens, took a left in front of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, made a brief pit stop to send emails, and were standing outside our hotel with all our baggage at 2:30 p.m. Since our transfer was apparently rescheduled for 3:30, we had to wait a bit, but George showed up around 3:10 once the front desk guy clued him in that we were waiting.

The port area, Piraeus, is kind of seedy and run-down. There was a billboard advertising a sex club called Alcatraz, which George says is not a Greek word but is meant to refer to our famous island prison. The ferry was enormous, able to fit a couple of dozen semi trucks in its hold. We met up with our cousins Callie, Wiz and Marcia, who have been contending with agitated Greeks at every step due to being three people instead of four. Even though grandmother paid for all the accommodations that she can’t now use, taxi drivers and hotel clerks are distressed by her absence. The ferry crew flatly refused to give Marcia the key to her stateroom, in case another passenger came along wanting to pay for the empty berth.

The voyage was long but pretty. We stopped at Kythos and Serifos, arriving at Sifnos around 11:30 p.m. Some rowdy New Zealanders bet each other 10 euros that Dad was/was not a member of the PGA tour who they had seen on TV. The loser of the bet then knocked back a few and stripped down to his boxers as part of an ill-advised attempt to charm an older German lady into bed (Marcia’s spare stateroom bed, no doubt). He eventually redressed after a few hours in the break Aegean wind. Another one of that crowd, with long blond dreadlocks, cast a hopeful glance in my direction, but I was too well chaperoned to approach.

An agent was waiting at the dock to take us to our taxis, and the manager of the Hotel Petali, who was drinking on his veranda with a group of his employees, gave Dad a glass of his own private Scotch and dispatched Andreas to the kitchen to make me “toast” – a ham and cheese panini. I wish all toast everywhere was served in panini format. It was past midnight, a bit too late to descend the hill into Appolonia and find a taverna, but between Andreas’ panini, the owner’s Scotch and a gift basket from the Wickers in our room, we made out all right for dinner. (Dad had eaten the mediocre boat food, but Mom and I were asleep when they served dinner).

Our rooms are clean, white and perfectly quiet – it was like being home in Maine, if our part of Maine had gorgeous ocean vistas. I slept from about 2 a.m. until the church bells started at 7. I have a little sunburn on my shoulders, nothing much, but I’ll need to wear sunblock today. We have to be at Rachel’s wedding at 4:30 p.m., and horror of horrors, my A/C charger for the video camera does not fit into the European plug adapter! I will have to have Debbie try hers and everybody else’s until we find one that works.

The sun has risen and the roosters are crowing, so it’s time for a shower and a (likely excellent) hotel breakfast. There’s no WiFi here, but perhaps there will be an Internet café down in Appolonia where I can post this.


At 6:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great update, Lyd. I was wondering how the "Aunties" were doing. Can't wait to see your pictures.

Dave W.

At 2:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep the updates coming! Is the wedding a family members? Is your family from Greece? You don't have to answer these until you get back, of course!



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