An Athenian Update

Somehow these European nights become very late, very quick, but that’s just how it’s going to go when we walk around museums and ruins and busy streets all day long, and then hang out with other hostel folk for some of the night (usually waiting for the computer to be totally free), before we attempt to update this and our photo site. But we’re trying to balance things, and it seems to be working well so far.
After our long first real day in Athens, we of course had to sleep in for a while, but that’s the one thing we’re not stressing at all: whatever happens happens during our travels, the winds of fate seem to be steering us in the proper direction quite well thus far. So, on Friday we once again went to the gyro taverna near here (we’ve been there at least 5 times now, the cheap good food, nice owner, and pleasant atmosphere have completely won us over), before continuing our Athenian exploration. With our pass from the Acropolis, which cost 12 euros each, 5 other archeological sites are also included, so we’ve been trying to check them out as well, particularly since we’ve already effectively paid for them. So we checked out one of those ruins right away, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, which was once the largest temple in all of Greece, though of the 100+ columns only about 15 remain, one of which toppled in the 19th century due to a terrible storm. But the site is still impressive, the detail work at the top of the columns is particularly well-rendered, and the urban pollution has not affected it as much as the Parthenon. Next to that temple is Hadrian’s Gate, built much later by the emperor Hadrian, but still an impressive entrance, though Hadrian himself was somewhat self-centered. To wit: the gate, which had been built before Hadrian’s time, reads one on side, roughly, that it is the entrance to the city of Theseus (the mythological hero), and on the other side Hadrian added, this is the entrance to the city not of Theseus, but rather of Hadrian. Sounds like a great guy, huh?
Afterwards, we walked to the nearby Zappeion, a big semi-impressive government-looking building, which was really just on our way to the 1896 Olympic Games stadium, which seats around 50,000+ and was re-used for this past Olympics in Athens as the finish for the marathon. Next we wandered about the vast National Gardens, which were a bit wild looking (particularly compared to the immaculate Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam), but they had a lot of nice fish ponds, including one which featured at least 25 turtles swimming around and sunning themselves (well, alternating between the two activities), plus a very dirty petting zoo that our guide (Let’s Go Greece – very helpful!) had warned us about. We’d decided that we wanted to climb the Lycabetus Hill, which is several hundred meters high, another of the 7 hills in Athens, in order to get a different view of the city, and also there’s an old church at the top which was nice, though small, so we ate a quick meal at Everest, a restaurant chain here serving sandwich/pizza/pastries amongst other things, so it was tasty but a bit generic – though our ravenous hunger wasn’t too offended at all, before heading up Lycabetus. It was a bit difficult to find the path up the hill, since it wasn’t exactly marked, but fortunately a few others were headed the same way, so up we climbed, amongst a quickly changing habitat – giant aloe plants and cacti soon surrounded us on all sides as we made the ascent. The walk was rough on our sore legs, but nothing really too grueling, and we soon made it to the slightly windy top. We knew in advance that the church occasionly had weddings, but it seemed that a Christening or something had just occured, because there was a whole slew of well-dressed Greeks, taking photos, with 2 young girls seemingly at the center of the whole scene. So that was an interesting dichotomy, random international tourists taking pictures of Athens around Greeks taking pictures of themselves!
After relaxing for a little while, we realized that the sunset that we had thought would be worth waiting for was definitely going to be obscured by the clouds and smog (Athens is a dirty, dirty city in many ways), so we headed down before the light waned too much. We got a bit turned around whil trying to head back to our hostel, since Athens’ many streets are definitely not set up on any sort of grid system, but after a few wrong turns and map consultations, we regained our bearings and headed swiftly in the right direction. After resting briefly, our hunger got the better of us, so we hit up our favorite gyro place again, for some food and some Mythos beers. A football match was on, so we watched a bit at our hostel, before settling in at the computer for some late night updating (a familiar theme for us currently).
Today, being Sunday, is definitely a day of relaxation for many Greeks, as the streets seemed a bit busier and the cafes as well, but we spent the majority of our day at the National Archeological Museum, which features many vast collections of ancient statues, vases, earthenware, as well as extensive funereal gold and other decorations, many dating back over 6,000 years ago. Greece is definitely regarded as an ancient cradle of civilization, and today it was very easy to see why. We saw gold masks from the Micanaeans, bronze statues of Greek and Roman gods, marble statues of dignitaries, and many artifacts from the famed Antikythera shipwreck, including the Antikythera Mechanism, an early copper device with gears (probably the earliest ever device of its kind) that was used to gauge the passing of time in regards to the seasons. In some ways a bit much to take in all at once (a different type of culture shock), but we endured through it all, even after our minds had reached maximum stimulation. We then enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a cafe near the museum that we had noticed while walking there, and we had a great lunch for only 6 euros for us both; a quarter of a chicken and some lamb-pattie sandwiches filled us up completely. We then headed to the Keramikos, the ancient cemetary of Athens (part of our Acropolis pass), but it was honestly not very exciting. The museum there featured a couple nice statues, but the site itself was somewhat overrun by grass, and a large section was roped off for some unexplained reason, and there simply wasn’t all that much to really look at. But that’s how it goes sometimes, so the highlight ended up being our watching nature at work when we stumbled upon a pair of frisky turtles. Turtles (as well as stray dogs and cats) seem to be at a lot of the ruins around here, but these two were pretty crazy, one kept nipping and headbutting the other… but it was a good break from all the culture, and we had a good laugh with some older Greek tourists who were there as well.
After that, we returned to Hostel San Remo (which is pretty far north from most of the ruins, though close to the archeological museum), hit up the gyro restaurant again (if you ate there, you’d be going back just as often, we promise you!) for a leisurely dinner, before hanging out at our hostel up until now, mostly chatting with a nice American we’ve met, named Peter, who has been living in Europe for the last 5 years, first studying in Norway and currently working in Holland as a translator. It’s really too bad the hostelling phenomenon hasn’t taken over America like it has the rest of the world, they are so affordable compared to hotels, and provide a unique international experience that is constantly changing. The next time you travel anywhere that has one, we really recommend you stay at a hostel for at least one night – they may be a bit rough around the edges in some ways, but they (at least so far) have all been clean, safe, and filled with lots of genuinely nice people all on differing global adventures of varying lengths. Most people that we meet are on shorter trips than our own, while some are just in hostels temporarily while looking for work, housing, or both, but everyone speaks English regardless of what country they come from, and the staff is always courteous and helpful. Since it’s 3 a.m. it’s prime time to get off the soapbox, but we’ll keep you up to date as best we can, though we’ll be travelling much of Thursday on our way to Cairo, Egypt.

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