Suitcase and World: First Glances of Athens.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

First Glances of Athens.

Posing with an evzone at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After settling into our apartment and getting some food shopping done, we decided it was still too early to call it a day.  That and I think both of us were excited to at least see some of Athens on our first day in town.

I had brought along the Athens map, with all the major tourist spots as well as our apartment highlighted on it.  Bro had already briefly looked at it before but now it was time for a second look.  Unlike me, who is willing to just head out and explore, Bro needs to know exactly where he's going and the route he's going to take.  So, I've learned to just hand him the map and let him take his time to look at it.  When he was ready to move, we headed out.

Back out on the street we went.  Although we could have simply walked back to Monastiraki Square the same way we took to get from there to the apartment, Bro decided we should go another route.  See a different view of the neighborhood.  I'm always game for exploring.

We are staying in the heart of a local neighborhood and it was interesting to take in the sights and sounds around us.  Lots of people shopping in stores and eating and drinking.....lots of people dining al fresco.  There were so many people out and about, I was wondering who's working?  Perhaps, it was already happy hour for the Greeks.  There were lots of bakeries too.  We definitely have to check those out.   And, as we got close to the tourist heart of town, a Starbucks.

The fellow tourist's words about the overload of graffiti in this city kept ringing in my ears.  It was hard to deny her words.  It's a shame really because all that graffiti makes the place look more run down.  Local Athenians have long become immune to it.  Bro was wondering why they don't paint over it.  I think that long ago, they probably had tried to but once painted over, new graffiti would be sprayed atop.  It's a losing war.  On the flip side, street art can be very creative and even though provoking.  Unfortunately, that was not the case here.

For now, Athens was not looking like a pretty city but I wasn't here for pretty.  I was here for history and if nothing else, Athens is rich in history.

Bro's walking route had us skirting Monastiraki Square.  We were enjoying our walk and getting acquainted with the city.  Lots of souvenir shops and restaurants catering to tourists.

The Parthenon looms large over the city.

Then, out of the blue, we saw ruins.  When I had asked my friend, Corri, who had been to Greece a few years ago, about seeing ruins in Athens, her reply was that we would see ruins need to make any special effort to see them.  I told Bro this.....see, ruins....don't have to go far.  We were looking at the what remains today of the Library of Hadrian.

We walked around the complex, looking for the entrance.

Turned out, you needed to pay an entry fee so we opted not to go inside; we were content to just view the ruins from the perimeter.  Besides, we have a LOT more ruins to see tomorrow and if we decide we want to take a closer look at these, we can easily come back.

Yeah, the obligatory "photo op in front of major landmark" We had to take these even if they don't come out well. :-)

We were so occupied looking at the ruins, we didn't realize had actually made our way back to Monastiraki Square.  It was easy to recognize the train station.

This time, we took our time to walk through the square.  Bro was lured in my the fruit vendors with their carts overflowing with figs and pomegranates....two of his favorite fruits!  I was gazing in to the distance.  High up on a hill, is the Parthenon!

In the far distance, the Parthenon; overlooking Monastiraki Square.

Next, we decided to walk to Syntagma Square.  We could have taken the metro from Monastiraki but it didn't look like a long walk.  The weather was perfect for a stroll and we were not short on steam so off we went.  We headed turned on Ermou street which becomes a pedestrian only thoroughfare just a block or so pat Monastiraki Square.

Church of Panagia Kapnikarea, dominates a small square on Ermou.

Yes, there was cute little church on the way to Syntagma but we had our eyes on the bakery instead.  Very greedy travelers :-)

Ermou street.  Shops, shops, and more shops on both sides.  Plenty of shoppers.

By now, Bro had decided we needed to take a bit of break so we plopped ourselves down on an empty bench and watched the world go by.  We were soon joined by a street performer, puppeteer of sorts.  We took in a free show.

Ermou eventually dead ended on a major road.  We waited with the rest of the crowd to cross as I could see an official looking building in the distance.  I figured we had arrived at Syntagma Square.  Somehow, the square looked a lot more modest than I had expected but it was nice bit of green space.  Plenty of people out enjoying picture perfect late afternoon in early fall.

We continued our walk towards the building, which is the Greek Parliament.  As we neared the top of the steps, I saw the soldiers marching by.

From their uniforms, I knew they were the evzones. I got excited because I suspected they were part of the hourly changing of the guard ceremony.  I could see fellow tourists snapping photos as the evzones continued to march past us.  I excitedly told Bro we have to follow them.  But, we were separated from them by a major street.  Bro saw an opening in the traffic and darted across.  I was not so lucky.  I ran for the nearest crosswalk and  impatiently waited for the light to change.  Damn, it felt like an eternity had passed before the light turned green. I ran across like a mad woman!

Bro was somewhere in the crowd that had gathered around the evzones.  I figured I would find him later.  In the meantime, shorty here had to find a spot to watch the ceremony from.  I had no idea what was going on but it was so interesting watching these soldiers.

Their skirted uniforms and pompom topped shoes are not exactly what you would expect a soldier to be wearing.  A red beret with a long black tassel caps their head and white stockings, with a tassel brushing the back of the knees, cover their legs.  The underside of their shoes are pegged with metal studs so as they make a very unusual sound as the soldiers pick up their feet and scrape the ground as they march.  Would it be wrong to describe the evzones as cute?  They were.

And they most certainly have a very unusual march.  Hard to describe.  I was only able to capture a snippet so watch for yourself.

Not sure who the evzone is that they marched passed as the *new* guards were standing nearby.

One of the *new* guards getting ready to take up his position.

The ceremony ended when the new guards took up their positions.  I went looking for Bro and since the crowd was pretty small, it wasn't hard spotting him.

Without hesitation, tourists walked up and stood next to each guard to have their photos taken.  So cheesy.

We stood around and watched one tourist after another get their photos taken standing alongside the evzone.  The evzone was a really tall guy otherwise, I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had taken a selfie with him.

The poor evzone.  Although he was standing under the small overhang of the guard station, you could see pearls of sweat on his forehead.  It was a warm afternoon and I can imagine how hot it must have been for him having to wear that full uniform. 

I dared Bro to go up and do the touristy thing as well.  I thought the would resist but lo and behold, he did!  He had to wait his turn but when he took his spot next to the evzone and smiled, I gladly took his photo!  We had a good chuckle afterwards.  Such a good tourist! :-)  Of course, he offered to do the same for me, but I graciously declined. My outfit would have clashed with elegant uniform of the evzone.  Yes, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! :-)

By now, we were beginning to lose steam.  We decided to call it a day.  We s-l-o-w-l-y made our way back, down Ermou and then on to Aiolou, another pedestrian only street that would take us back to our apartment.  Before arriving back, we went in search of a mini market.  We still had some food items we wanted to pick up.  Dimitris had some suggestions for us and while we looked for one of the stores on his list, we happened upon a small convenience store.  There, we bought some eggs, butter and a loaf of bread.

Back in the apartment, Bro started a load of laundry - lucky I had brought along a small plastic container of laundry detergent as there was none in the apartment.  If nothing else, I travel well prepared.  After loading up the washer, Bro then worked on making dinner.  He's so domesticated :-)  I offered to help and the only I was put in charge of was making the garlic bread.  I make awesome garlic bread, if I might say so myself.

Seasoning up the Greek salad.

Bro seasoned the pork chops and we cooked them on the George Foreman style grill that was in the kitchen.

Our own simple version of a Greek dinner.  Grilled pork chops served with a classic Greek salad.  The garlic bread was our own special touch.  The salad was super refreshing.  The garlic bread was super yummy.  The pork chops were flavorful but the meat a bit dry - their chops are super lean.

You have to admit, it looks good!

After dinner, we just relaxed in the apartment.  There was a TV in the living room but we were happy to just be surfing the web.  I was getting ready for tomorrow.  It wasn't even 9pm when I looked over and saw Bro sound asleep.  It had been a long day.  I too must get some rest.  Tomorrow will be a full day of sightseeing and I need to be fully charged so I'm signing off and hitting the sack.

Goodnight from Athens!