Tom and Linda's 2011 Europe Trip

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Scientific American Cruise End: Athens

Our cruise ended in Athens, but we had an extra night on board, then spent another two nights in town.

Wednesday, 20 October: Piraeus, the port of Athens, Greece

We arrived in Piraeus to news of a pending strike.

The cruise people managed to get everything arranged for the scheduled tours, except the ship-to-terminal shuttle.



We walked the long walk toward the Metro station, not realizing how far it was. Finally hopped on an electric bus and rode in to central Monastiraki Station, headed for the Acropolis.

We had planned to visit the Archaeological Museum first, but were told that the Acropolis would close at noon for the strike, so we went there first to make sure we got a chance to see it.

There was a bike along the way that caught Tom's eye.


It's hard to miss the Acropolis - you can see it from everywhere.


Stopped at a newsstand for a good Athens map. This time we did get a good one, and used the heck out of it!


We walked up some fairly steep and narrow streets as we headed for the Acropolis,

came in on the wrong side of the hill and had to walk about 1/4 of the way around it to the entrance.

There was no line for tickets, but there was a MOB at the gates. I have never been in such a press of people. Apparently news of the strike had travelled.

There were only 2 guys taking tickets, dozens of tours, hundreds of people pressing to get in, children getting lost underfoot. We all tried to protect each other.


Then, once inside, groups were trying to get back together, so were standing around and blocking the path up.


We finally broke through, almost together, and joined the throng climbing up. Tried to break away a little at the top and let them all go on to wherever they were headed.

The entrance is up these steep steps and ramps, winding across the front of the hill.


Reconstruction was still going on - it's taking longer than it did to build the first time around.

All of the buildings were roped off and we could only walk around the outsides and peer in. A bit frustrating.


Of course the views of the city from all sides are spectacular. Gods'-eye view.


The hill to the right is Loukianou, home of the Georgian monastery Agios Giorgios. The chapel there is accessible by funicular and affords a beautiful night view of the city.



A view from just in front of the Parthenon across the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which was not open to the public while we were there. It has been restored and is used for modern entertainment.



The Erechtheion with its famous "Porch of the Maidens", featuring six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns. Each is uniquely sculpted and engineered so that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine.

I stood looking into the Erechtheion, trying to see things from a distance, when two people came by holding a rope. They extended the rope across in front of the building, and walked with it, one on each end, to herd the tourists away. I'm fairly sure they were trying to organize a departure of tourists before the planned noon strike.

I was quite disappointed in the lack of access to the site.

I understand the construction issues, but since I doubt I will ever be back there again, it would have been nice to see more of it.


Behind the Parthenon, walking on the living pink marble of the hill, we started noticing musicians walking by.


Following them, we discovered the preparations for a flag-raising ceremony going on.

Again, the crowds were being controlled using handheld ropes. Eventually they got some museum-rope support poles.

And then the Greek Guard arrived.



A bit of cosmetic touch-up


Rifles at a precise angle


Salute the officials


And play them in


When these folks walked by, looking quite civilian, I suspected this might be some kind of movie setup or something.

It was being filmed. Some of the women wearing trousered uniforms were also wearing stilettos.


Then came the flag, carried by women in costumes that looked quite Victorian. This is not the modern flag of Greece.




Choir of school children?


I got bored waiting for the ceremony and went off to see what I could of the Parthenon, since the crowds had thinned out. Tom stayed behind to take pictures.

We miscommunicated on the meeting, and I spent a long time sitting on these rocks waiting for him. We finally found each other again.


I wanted to see the Theater of Dionysis, but it was all blocked off.

We made our way back down, enjoying the views of the city from the parkland around the hill.


The trip around the Theater of Dionysis did bring us to the Acropolis Museum, which I loved.

This is its modern entrance, with the reflection of the actual acropoils in the top-floor windows. Behind those windows they're assembling original parts of the Parthenon in correct geometrical relation to each other. It's amazing.


The approach to the entrance is over an archaeoligical site in the process of excavation.

This one big opening shows a lot of it, but a network of thick glass plates in the pavement above serve two purposes. They let visitors see the site and provide light for the scientists working below.


Inside we first encountered many glass cases with bits of pottery and metal work. There was too much of it for me to really appreciate in the time we had.


Then there were statues, arranged in something like chronological order so you could see the progression of styles and skill.

On the top floor, with a view out the window of the actual Parthenon, they're assembling the original pieces of the pediments and friezes, and filling in the missing bits with castings made from whatever records they could find of what was there. There are also miniature models of the pediments that are easier to look at as a single piece.

We were not allowed to take pictures of the reconstructed Parthenon or Erechthieon, but I was very impressed.

A floor down they've got 4 of the 6 original Caryatids, a demonstration of the laser-cleaning process, a scale model of the Erechtheion and some work on reconstructing its friezes.

The museum is spacious, and all displays full-sized and much easier to enjoy than they ever were in situ.


On the way out we stopped in the museum's cafe, a very modern place with a beautiful view of the recontruction of the Parthenon.


Then it was back out on the streets of Athens.

We had our cabin on the ship for another night, but were looking for a place to stay for the next two, using our good Athens map and Rick Steves Guide.


This guy seems to be selling or collecting and bit of everything. We enjoyed the bustle of the streets, got a little lost, ...


...stopped for a gelato break, ...


...and finally found the Hotel Phaedra. They offered a double with balcony for less than we expected, probably because it was late in the season.

No Parthenon view, but good sound-proof windows and 2 blocks from Hadrian's Arch, right in the middle of things.

We reserved the room for Thursday and Friday nights.

We asked the woman at the desk about the strikes, and she told us there was a Metro strike planned for Thursday & Friday, affecting all trains and buses. The taxis should be running but may be more expensive than usual.

She said to have the driver drop us at the Arch since he probably won't be able to drive to the hotel, or to park there if he did. We can leave our bags here if we arrive before the room is ready.

Hopefully the strike will be over on Saturday when we need to get to the airport.

View from the balcony to a crowded shopping-filled street and an expensive hotel on the cross-street.


We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets.

The people live right in amongst the ruins.

Enjoyed a little impromptu music


Peered through the fence at the Agora, but it was closed for the strike of the day.


Signs in Greek and English announce the location and the planned strike.


Distant view of a temple inside the fence around the Agora






Both American and Japanese cultural influence appear in the street vendor's baloons.



Accordian-based street band.


So it was back to the ship for our last night on board. This is the elevator lobby near our cabin, our access to all the ship.

We met Larry Kraus and his sweetie getting off as we came back. He told Tom he'd found a copy of his Richard Feynman book that Tom had asked about and wanted to make sure Tom was the one he'd promised it to. She wrote our cabin number on her hand, and he said he'd call when they got back. He's off to the airport early in the morning.

Tom wanted the book for our friend Allen, and asked Larry to autograph it for him.

We put a load of laundry in, stopped at the front desk for dryer change and to ask if they could help with transportation in to Athens in the morning. No help.

So we changed for our last dinner on board, which we had with our friends from California. Packed and ready to go, except for a few things we'll need in the morning.


Thursday, 21 October: Ship to Shore, Athens

We took our time leaving the Rotterdam. Slept late, went to breakfast in the Lido, finished packing.

We were just leaving our room when they called our "group," last to leave.
Groups were related to luggage, so didn't really apply to us since we were carrying our own.

HAL provided a shuttle bus for the short hop from the ship to the terminal building. Once there, we had a bit of a hassle getting a taxi, but finally did.

The driver set the meter, asked if I understood there would be an extra charge. Taxis have to pay a 6-euro fee to pick passengers up at the cruise terminal.

It took a bit for him to understand "Hadrian's Arch" but he finally did.

Traffic was pretty bad in places, took half an hour and cost 17 euro. Tom gave him 20.

Along the way we asked about the strike. He said, "Tomorrow, no taxi!" so we were at least forewarned.

He dropped us about a block past the arch out along the Temple of Zeuss (which was closed) and we walked back.

Saw these segue-riders there. Seems like a good way to get around, especially during a transit strike.

Across the very busy main street, and two more blocks, it was a very easy walk, even with our packs on.

Turns out the buses on strike were just the city buses. Tour buses were still running. Not that any of the archaeological sites were open to see.

Our room was already clean and ready, so we were able to settle in.

Sat on the tiny balcony for a bit, watching life go by in the street below.

Immediately across below us was a leather merchant. The shop completely disappeared at night except for the lights and the iconic pink suitcase hanging on the wall above.

On past that was a bit of a ruin, but I think somebody actually does live there.


The flag atop the Acropolis is visible from almost anywhere in the city.


On down the street to our right, the shops spilled out into the streets and cafes invited us in.



We stopped a block or so away for a Greek salad and some sort of sausage soup, both very good.


Artistic bottle display in a tavern


We kind of took the day off - just a little shopping, email catch-up, gelato, and I realized how overwhelmed I'd gotten.

I let go of the planning a little, but did go back online to make sure we had a hotel in Venice. It's expensive, probably the most expensive of the trip, but it IS Venice, and it's a weekend. Maybe we can relax and enjoy a fancier hotel a bit.


Bikes and scooters park on the sidewalk


Next to our hotel was a little pharmacy.


On the other side, an art gallery.


The Phaedra had a tiny elevator that we only used once or twice. Two flights up the stairs wasn't bad.

We slept a bit fitfully in the double bed. The ship had spoiled us with a king. Woke up in the morning and lazed about a bit before heading out to see what we could see.


Friday, 22 October: Athens

We knew transit and taxi strikes were on for today. But the Antiquities workers were expected to be back so we took the chance and walked.

Just two blocks away, behind Hadrian's Arch, was the Temple of Zeuss, sitting in the middle of the city, completely surrounded by very busy roads. The gates were still locked, but we could see quite a bit through the fence.




On up the busy street we came to the Stadium, end point of the original Marathon, rich in Olympic history.


The site was closed, as far as we could tell, but it sits on a very busy avenue, and how can you hide this? An amazing place, normally flying the flags of many nations. Today it was just Greece.

I think the umbrellas to the right are normally a little cafe.


Back across traffic, through the National Garden toward the Acropolis, we headed for the Agora.


We peered through the fence as we walked around the site looking for the entrance.



We were looking for morning coffee, but the streets were pretty strange with the strike on. Finally found it a block or so from our destination.


And the Agora was open! This map was outside the site, so we got an overview while we finished our coffee, which we couldn't take in.

So this is it: the womb of democracy. Home stomping ground of Socrates, Plato, Archimedes, Diogenes. Birth of free thought for everyman. True One-Man-One-Vote democracy (well, only for free male property owners, but ya gotta start somewhere.)


This was one of onlya few tour groups we saw inside. It was mostly empty, and we enjoyed a good wander around .


The museum inside this rebuilt stoa held bits and pieces from the site, including the accoutrements of that first democracy.

The fluted columns were purposefully left smooth at the bottom to make them comforable to lean against. Loitering was encouraged - the social medium of the day was actual face-to-face discourse.

Can't you just see Socrates sitting here, surrounded by his students and adversaries?


Lots of space under roof to continue the conversation when the rain started.


Women in togas, men in armor.




Very natural poses and beautiful draping exhibit the highest levels of realistic sculpture ever achieved.



Lots of intact pottery.


Esoteric vessels of all kinds. There were also intricate metal artifacts, including those used for voting. Maybe the photos of those didn't come out well.

The 5,000 people were divided into 10 "tribes," each including a cross-section of backgrounds. All 500 members of each tribe put a name into a machine that randomly chose a representative, each of whom served a 1-year term. Those representatives wrote the laws, but all the citizens voted on them. Laws that passed were literally carved in stone - marble, in this case. We saw one that outlawed tyranny.


Back outside, we hiked around the site for a while. Up to the left, you see modern houses that overlook the agora, and an observatory dome back in the distance. Closer in, on the right, are the houses of Religion.


In the midst of this infant democracy, Hephaestus and Athena still inhabited the temple on the hill, and the Acropolis overshadowed it all.
No wonder Socrates was put to death for "corrupting the youth."


A very ornate Corinthian column crown in remarkable condition.


A public well head shows the grooves made by decades and maybe centuries of ropes hauling buckets up.



The Hephaesteion of ancient Athens (Temple of Hephaestus), located at the north-west side of the Agora, on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill.



The Hephaesteion is lit up at night and visible from quite a distance.


View back across the Agora to the Acropolis from the Hephaesteion



Crowds of people gather on the cliff near the Acropolis to view the Agora. Headless statues keep guard.


These Tritons are a later façade at the entance to the Odeon of Agrippa, a large concert hall located in the center of the Agora. It was built about 15 BCE, occupying what had previously been open space in the centre of the agora. It was a gift to the people of Athens by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman statesman and general.

The two-story auditorium seated around 1,000 spectators and was equipped with a raised stage and marble-paved orchestra. On three sides it was surrounded by a subterranean cryptoporticus with stoae above.

The building was decorated externally with Corinthian pilasters. The main entrance for spectators was originally on the south side of the building, with access from the terrace of the Middle Stoa. The north facade only had a small portico to give access to the stage. Unfortunately the size of the auditorium caused the roof to collapse, around 150CE.

The Odeon was rebuilt as a smaller lecture hall, seating only 500, and a more elaborate facade was added to the north side. Its massive pillars were carved in the form of 'giants' (snake tails) and 'tritons' (fish tails).

The Odeon was finally destroyed in 267 CE by the Herulians. A sprawling palace was built on the site in the early 5th century CE with the pillars of the northern facade being used to create a monumental entrance.



We left the Agora, filled with history but in search of more tangible nourishment.


In the crowded, decorated streets we found a gyro shop across from a bicycle shop.


Flea market or craft fair or tourist trap? Hard to tell.


Electronics for sale


Hardware store with interesting taps.


I think we were out of the tourist areas. I like seeing how the people live.


The other major site we wanted to visit in Athens was the National Archeological Museum. Again, we decided to walk it. Most of the trip was up Athinas and Eolou, the main streets of old Athens.

A few blocks on we decided to stop for a rest. Found a cafe where we could get a cool drink and a snack. Turns out we stopped just in time.

That transportation strike? The march came down the street just as we sat down. Democracy in action, here in the birthplace of democracy.

It started with a few policemen walking, followed by motorcycles, scooters, and a lot of walkers.

The march began with the motorcycles and scooters.


Hundreds of them.


Then came the thousands of marchers on foot, with banners. This was a joyful, friendly, solidarity march. We saw no hint of violence.


Just people who felt they had been done wrong by their government and their banking system.


Anybody read Greek? I can figure out a little, but not enough for this.


Bringing up the rear were the taxis. And clearly the garbage workers were still on strike as well.


The rest of the day we frequently saw police and security guards in flak jackets outside banks and things, but there was no sign of the violence that came in the next few weeks. Just piles of garbage and some nervous people.

After the march we continued along the street in the opposite direction, north to the National Archeological Museum. And a great museum it is! We both wished out feet could hold out to see more of it.


Art history from the 8th Century BCE to around 1600 ACE.




Bronze statuary from around 200 ACE with the eyes still in, some of them found on the Antikythera shipwreck where John Steele's "Mechanism" was found. Stunning detail.






Amazing gold and silver artifacts, bronze weapons with gold bits looked like they'd come from Middle Earth.






And amazing artifacts from Akrtiri, the archeological site on Santorini that has large parts of the island closed to tourists. Frescoes with color still intact, ivory bowls thin enough to see through, fine pottery, maybe even glass.


There was an exhibit of coin art, and many galleries of beautifully preserved pottery that we just coudn't handle.


Ancient tree in the museum courtyard


Finally, physically tired and otherwise overwhelmed, we stopped in the museum cafe for a drink, then headed back.


We accidentally took a shortcut through a meat market. Maybe this was originally a narrow street that eventually got enclosed to keep the hot sun out. But it was cool inside, and a relief from the hot streets.


The place was huge, several blocks long, lined with fresh meat of all kinds and people in white coats. Windows and tables full of chickens and chops and steaks in front of cleaver-wielding white-aproned men.

There were a couple of cafes in there too, and you can bet their chops were fresh! No bad smells, same comfy temperature as the other shady streets we'd walked through, but it was a street FULL of meat for sale.










Leaving the cool, we trudged on through traffic-filled hot streets, trying to keep to the shade, and enjoyed the theater of the streets as we went.



Our taxi driver from the port had pointed out the piles of trash on the streets. The city workers were blocking the landfills


Look - it's a yarn shop!




We got back to our room around 6:30, rested a bit while the sun set, then went back out for dinner. Strikes were off for the weekend, so we anticipated an easy trip to the airport in the morning. They start up again next week, working up to October 19-20 when everybody strikes!

Left our little room about 8:30 AM and walked to the Syntagma Square metro station. Not too bad, even wearing our packs. 17 miles to the airport, in 45 mintues for 7€ each.

Familiar sight on the way to the airport


Got to the airport at 10AM for a 1PM flight. Time for coffee and pastry. Our flight was delayed by 45 minutes, and when we checked in they immediately started resceduling out connecting flight in Rome. We thought we should be able to make it, then found out the 45 minutes was just the Alitalia delay. There was also an air traffic controllers' slowdown to deal with.

Our next problem was the 8kg baggage weight limit for carry-ons. Ours were too heavy. I was packed to handle this - just took my day pack out of my main pack. But Tom had to dig stuff out of his there at the gate and repack. At least they checked them for free, but they wouldn't run them through the little conveyor because of the dangling straps. We had to carry them to a special handling place, which was unmanned when we got there.



Tom was very upset and vowed never to use Alitalia again.

I just tried to listen for gate change announcements, which were hard to hear and generally not in English.




Finally took off more than 90 minutes late, arrived in Rome just a few minutes before our original connection departed. Rushed to the gate of our new flight and found it empty. Realized there had been a time zone change and we had an hour. So we had pizza.


Another gate change, another delay, and what had been a 4:15 flight boarded at 5:10. The ticket-taker stopped us and said, "Oh, I think your seat is wrong," scratched out our 28 A&B and wrote in 6 C&J. Upgrade to business class. I suspect there was a squeaky wheel factor. It was certainly a pleasant surprise.

More travelling and other adventures in the next chapter, Venezia.


1 Getting There
6 Olympia
11 Ephesus
16 The Cinque Terre
2 Sorrento
7 Santorini (Thira)
12 Athens
17 Pisa & Sienna
3 Pompeii & Herculanium
8 Istanbul
13 Venezia
18 Tuscany
4 The Amalfi Coast
9 Varna & Odessa
14 Padua & Verona
19 Montepulciano
5 Sci-Am Cruise
10 Yalta
15 Firenze
20 Rome & Home

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