Every trip to Greece should start with Athens, the hub of Greek culture old and new. It’s been our gateway to the islands, so first we’ll take a jet-lagged wander through its busy streets.
NOTE: Since our trip last fall to Greece to research more settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT, Thor and I knew we had to return to this magical region. My first post in this new blog series posted here on Saturday, 10/20/2018. It gives an overview of our rambles from Athens to seven islands in the Dodecanese and Cyclades groups, ending our ferry-hopping pilgrimage on the anciently sacred island of Delos.
The photo above feels emblematic of the Athens core, with its layers of historic sites of different eras, overseen by the Parthenon, and a row of the ubiquitous scooters outside the fence of the Roman Agora. Thor and I arrived this time to stay for a couple nights at a lovely small hotel in a remodeled Neoclassical building in the Plaka district, the Palladian Home. We could walk to the Acropolis and other attractions without needing to take the underground, so in our jet-lagged daze, we’ll take you on a first day tour.
First, an overview from the Acropolis (more history and photos next week) for an orientation of this major city nestled against the sea with islands nearby. Intrepid sailors from prehistoric times, the Greeks with their 8498 miles of coastline are inseparably tied to the sea, whether the Aegean, the Mediterranean, or the Ionian.
Modern buildings are crammed in a tight maze with older Neoclassical houses, much like the tightly-packed villages we’ll see later in the islands. Greeks are used to close quarters — a Greek friend I met on my first trip told me that they like lots of noise so they won’t feel lonely. From on high, you’ll see rooftop gardens and patios.
We had a close view of the Acropolis from the tiny balcony of our hotel room. Unfortunately, there was an unusual weather pattern swirling in, with cold wind stirring dust, which kept us off the balcony. Some public sites like the National Garden were closed due to the dangerous winds. In the next few days, Cyclone Zorba would sweep over Athens and the Aegean, wreaking havoc in the ports. (By then, we had escaped the storm’s worst path, south to the Dodecanese islands.)
Lovely old buildings in the Plaka district are covered by bougainvillea and some modern graffiti. Often Greek graffiti will contain political messages like the famous “Ohi!” that signaled refusal to cooperate with Fascist invaders in World War II. Greeks, who invented democracy, love to gather and argue politics.
Another juxtaposition of old and new, an old Orthodox chapel next to a modern building with Neoclassical styling:
The narrow cobbled lanes of the Plaka district present obstacle courses of pedestrians, scooters, and sidewalk cafes.
More Neoclassical buildings with their wrought-iron balconies:
More creative graffiti on a tempting wall:
And, of course, everywhere we find wandering cats, begging for food at the cafes and tavernas. People leave bowls of kibble and water for them, and most of the cats are sweet and friendly.
A modern statue near the civic and political center of Syntagma Square depicts a stylized Hellas (Greece) aiding a manifestation of independence.
And at the Syntagma Square underground station, a recent project unearthed a section of ancient aqueduct. As usual, the ancient discoveries are fenced off and protected, as modern life flows around them.
As we strolled to our dinner destination at Eris Restaurant (delicious lamb stew!), we admired the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates across the lane. He was a wealthy patron of musical performances in the nearby Theater of Dionysos at the foot of the Acropolis. A performance he had sponsored in 335 B.C. had won the first prize tripod, which originally had been on top of the structure, an early example of Corinthian styling. Again, the ancient site was fenced but embraced by the later roads and buildings flowing around it at a higher level.
Everywhere in Greece, you walk on layers of history. This tiny old chapel huddles against the Acropolis hillside.
And nearby we admired an imposing modern Orthodox church. Everywhere you go in Greece, there are chapels and churches, as almost everyone honors the Orthodox faith. In the islands and rural mainland areas, apparently anyone can elect to build a chapel on vacant land to honor a saint or memorialize a loved one.
Another example of the new accommodating the old: The taverna across the lane from our hotel had the stub of an ancient marble column poking out between the tables. When I asked the waiter about it, he just shrugged and said, “We’re close to the Acropolis.” I guess when you’re tripping over millenia-old relics on a daily basis, it’s not worth mentioning.
To assist thirsty wanderers, the many underground springs provide water in public fountains with lovely marble structures:
And, finally, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the juxtaposition of old and new, a Classical statue reproduction watches the street life pass below her Neoclassic balcony:
Join me next Saturday for a tour of the Acropolis, Theater of Dionysos, and Temple of Olympian Zeus! “Chairete!” Rejoice!
You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from another research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter atwww.sarastamey.com