Friday, October 3, 2014

More of Athens. Evzones and a Garden.

Navigating "old school".  Google Maps can't replace the real thing!

I's only been about 4 hours since we left the apartment but we've seen so much already that it feels like we've been gone a whole day!  I'm still pinching myself that I actually got to see the Parthenon.  I had always lumped Greece into the categories that I could visit when I'm much "older" so I never expected to be here at this point in my life.  Not that I'm complaining, I'm having the time of my life here.


Way too much graffiti!  It's a bit of an eyesore.

Athens on the other hand.  I don't mean to be rude or mean but it's an ugly city.  There are no broad tree lined avenues like Paris or London or pretty houses like Amsterdam.  And then there's the graffiti, everywhere....even on the sides of trains!

There is a big green park in town and we got to spend time there today but even that was lacking in character and charm.  More about the National Garden later.  But what there is in Athens is a lot of life here - the place is constantly bustling with activity.  It reminds me of New York City where it seems like nothing stops moving no matter the time of day or day of week.  The streets, stores, restaurants, and cafes are filled not only with tourists but plenty of local Greeks as well.  I am most certainly not bored being here!

From the Agora, we walked through the Monastiraki Flea Market which is a bit of a misnomer because it's basically a giant tourist mart.


True that you can get some *local* goods here but you're more likely to find a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, "I ♥ Athens" than you are a toilet plunger. 

The Monastiraki Flea Market.

Our plan was to head back to the apartment and hopefully, find a place to eat.  If nothing appealed to our taste buds then the worst case scenario was that we would have lunch back in the apartment.   We walked by a restaurant that we passed by several times already.  It was always filled with patrons.  Today was no exception.  We decided to check out the menu.  The young waitress explained the items to us.  Simple Greek food, reasonable prices.  Lunch special.  We decided to eat here.

The waitress led us to the counter area where we picked out what we wanted.  We pointed and the cook told us what each item was. 


I went with the pastitsio which is pretty much the Greek version of lasagna (great comfort food!) and Bro got the lamb stew.  It was a beautiful day for eating outside but there was no table with shade so we sat inside as well.  It was a simple but tasty meal.  Nice break.



After lunch, Bro was keen on heading back to the Central Market which was located just a few blocks away.  We had to get food for dinner so might as well get it over with.  We would drop the stuff back off at the apartment before continuing with the rest of our sightseeing.

The meat section.

I had promised Bro that we would do seafood tonight so once inside the market, we made a beeline for the seafood.


So much to choose from but what to choose?


Some octopus or squid perhaps?

We agreed that we would only buy seafood that we couldn't find at home.  So, right off the bat, that crossed any familiar looking fish off the list.  Shrimp too.  Octopus....well, we kept that on the list but too much work to cook it.  In the end, we settled for a half kilo of baby squid and a half kilo of some shrimpy looking creature.  Neither one of us had any idea what they were but I figured we could Google the name and find out.

The vendor we bought those strange shrimpy looking things for was a super friendly guy.  In fact, most every Greek we've interacted with has been friendly and very interested about where we come from.  We've been referring to our Malaysian roots whenever we respond.  He was keen to strike up a conversation with us and we chatted with him until his next customer arrived.  Apparently, she was one of his regulars.  We bid him goodbye and went on our way.


It was a given that we had to make a quick pit stop at the fresh produce market.  Bro headed back to the same vendor that he had bought from yesterday.  Today, the guy tempted him with a melon. The vendor gave Bro a sample of some melon and it was so sweet and flavorful, he decided to buy one as well.  Of course, there is no guarantee that the uncut melon will taste as delicious as the sample bite but it was worth a gamble.

If Bro lived here, he would be visiting this stand VERY often!



We quickly stopped back at the apartment to drop off our purchases and to use the toilet.  No time wasted.  We were back out the door in less than a few minutes!

On the itinerary for the afternoon was the National Garden.  "National" does give one the impression that this a place that represents the best of the gardens in Greece. Not knowing how much there is to see but knowing how much Bro enjoys gardens, I pretty much set aside an entire afternoon for us to explore the Garden. 

From our apartment, we headed to Syntagma Square; the Garden is located adjacent to the Parliament building.  As we passed by the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, I stopped to take a photo.  There were a few tourists gathered around.


Evzone standing watch.  Young men.  Standing tall and proud.

I had mentioned to Bro, when we were here yesterday, that I had wanted to come back to see the full Changing of the Guard ceremony as I only got to witness part of it.  Just was we were leaving the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Bro reminded me of this.  He then pointed to a policeman standing nearby.  Perhaps he would know when the next ceremony would take place.  It was worth asking the question so I approached the police officer.  As luck would have it, the next ceremony would begin in about 10 minutes!  We had to wait!  There were only a few other tourists around so I decided it would be the perfect opportunity for me to secure spot front and center so I planted myself in position.  We waited and sure enough, a short wait later and we saw the evzones marching towards us.

From the sidewalk, they turned towards us.  As they approached, a guard waved us aside to make way for them.  I shot the video to capture the entire ceremony.  Bro took the photos and for someone who doesn't really care to take photos, he did a great job!

Marching towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Two new guards and I couldn't figure out what the third one was there for.

The two *old* guards marching out of their positions.

I love their marching stance.....very unique.



Getting ready to swap positions.

*Old* guard on left, *new* guard on right.

*Old* guards marching off duty.

*New* guards marching into duty.  One of the few photos I took.

Here's the video that I shot of the entire changing of the guard ceremony.



After the ceremony ended, we continued our walk to the Garden.  Lucky for us, we were on the street that the entry was on.  There was no fee to enter and unfortunately, no printed map.  Before going further, we took a few minutes to look at the map on the posted sign board.

You see these tall palms just as you enter the Garden.

It wasn't long before we just started wandering about.  Garden wise, it looked a bit neglected.  Flower beds could have used some tending to.  But, considering its location - in the heart of a congested concrete jungle, it was nice urban oasis.

Pretty vine covered arbor.

We went to take a look at the fruit orchard and the rose garden but it was nothing of interest.  The fruit orchard was mainly orange trees and as for the roses, there was just small bed's worth and nothing was blooming. This garden is turning out to be much less than I had expected.  We walked on.

One of the ponds was filled with turtles.  Not my favorite animal.

Inside the Garden, there was also a small zoo with an assortment of animals that I would describe as farm animals - ducks, geese, turkeys, sheep, goats and even a few rabbits.


Goat?

There was a small aviary as well.  Mainly filled with parakeets and cockatoos. 


As we neared the aviary to take a closer look, we noticed green birds fluttering about, outside the aviary.  It took a bit of spotting but we soon eyed a few of them. 

Peekaboo, I see you!

Their distinctive dark marking circling their neck identified them as rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), also known as the ring-necked parakeets.   The birds are indigenous to Africa and Asia but apparently, Greeks have been keeping them as pets for centuries!


We sat on the bench to do a bit of bird watching.  Watching the birds flit about back and forth, it seemed like the parakeets had figured way in and out of the aviary.  Good for them.  They can escape and fly around outside and then head back in to feed and sleep.


After visiting the garden, we decided to call it a day.  We had done a lot of walking and we were tired.  It was a long walk back.  We took our time.

We passed by the Presidential Palace on our way.  Evzone standing guard outside one of the entrances.

We took a short break in a plaza near the garden.  Across the street. we could see the seats of a large Panathenaic Stadium, a multi-purpose stadium used for both sporting and non-sporting events. In a city that is centuries old, it's not surprising to know that there is been a stadium on this site since as early as 329 BC!  We probably should have crossed the street and checked out the stadium but we had lost too much steam to muster up either the energy or the interest.

Pretty spot to sit for a short rest. The Panathenaic Stadium is that brownish area on the right.  I don't who the statue is of.

On our walk, we encountered the largest bougainvillea either of us had ever seen.It was four stories tall and one branch was snaking its away across an electric line crossing the street!  We stood for a few minutes to admire it.  It's amazing the things that captivate us!

We passed this intersection more times than I can remember.  The people on the left are all gazing (and probably drooling) and the pastries displayed on the other side of the large picture window.

On the way back down Aiolou Street. we made a stop at an ATM to replenish our cash.  Amazing how quickly we blow through our stash of Euros!  Mostly on food and entry fees.  So far, neither of us has bought any souvenirs.  Well, truth be known, if anyone buys any souvenirs, it would be me.  Bro is smart to not buy anything that simply ends up gathering dust on a shelf.  I just can't help myself.


Back in the apartment, it was all about taking care of laundry and cooking dinner.  I prepped the baby squid which we grilled.  I also posted a photo of the shrimpy things to my Facebook timeline and asked my friends if any knew what they were.  Lo and behold, one replied back that they are mantis prawns.  I had never heard of such a thing so I Googled and indeed they were.


Of course, I had a lot of replies back from people who had no clue what they were.  Funniest responses came from my friends Dave and Jeff.  LOL!


I also asked for suggestions on how to cook these odd looking creatures and was told to grill them.  Not sure how we could do that so we opted to pan fry.


Our dinner table! Verdict on the mantis prawns.  It's one ugly looking creature.  The shell is very thing but it's quite spiny so it wasn't easy peeling the shell to get to the meat.  The texture of the meat was really mushy but the taste was sweet.  They looked fresh when we bought them so maybe we cooked them wrong but the texture did not make my tastebuds happy.  Personally, I think if I ever eat these again, it will be in a restaurant where someone who knows how to cook them well is behind the stove.

On the other hand, the baby squid were absolutely deelish!  Tender and sweet.  We have to get more for dinner tomorrow night!

Our dinner table.

The rest of the night was a quiet one. On my pre-trip planning, I had gotten excited at the possibility of seeing a movie at the outdooor cinema at Thission.  There was indeed a movie being shown tonight, French with English subtitles.  If we weren't so tired, I would have suggested going.  But tonight, we're happy just staying in.  Tomorrow, is our last full day in Athens and we still have quite a bit of sightseeing to do.  So, I am signing off early so I can get to be early.

Goodnight from Athens!