Athens (part 2)

Mon 5 – Sun 11 Feb 2018

So last week me and Dave were in Greece on holiday up until Fri. Then back for the weekend before going back to work. Normality resumed particularly in the form of the gym and emails.


Monday: Acropolis Museum

Our regular routine for each day of the holiday was to lay-in till about 9am then have breakfast and head out to a museum or tourist attraction. Spend a few hours there then have lunch followed by a snooze back at the hotel. Evening it was out for dinner. We tried various restaurants though they all had similar Greek menus and several had traditional live music. This was followed by a nightcap at the wonderful coffee and cake shop Nancy’s Sweet Home at Iroon Square in Psiri. We didn’t always have cake but we often did (this holiday was a diet disaster). Dave fell in love with their hot chocolate drink.

We went to the Acropolis on Saturday but spent Monday morning at the nearby new Acropolis Museum. This is a modern structure built specifically to display artefacts recovered on the Acropolis. The original museum is on the Acropolis itself but is both old and tiny. This museum is beautiful and the objects are displayed wonderfully with a sense of light and airiness. Particularly impressive was the pediment from the original temple to Athena that existed on the site before the construction of the Parthenon. I hadn’t realised such a building had stood. And the pediment is in relatively good condition as the Greeks took it down and buried it. What is left is sculpture that looks Mycenaean rather than classical Athens. No photos allowed at the Acropolis Museum.

runners making progressIt is wonderfully constructed and the coffee shop is between floors so that it feels natural to have a break. The top floor has the ‘Elgin Marbles’ (both what was left and models of that which was stolen) presented in situ as it would have been on the Parthenon – this is not how it is in the British Museum.

Tuesday: Byzantine Museum, National Garden, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Hadrian’s Arch

Off to the Byzantine Museum. Not a huge museum and parts of it were shut. But some beautiful objects displayed. There were several coachloads of school children there and we worked our way around them. The cafe / bar area was lovely and so we had drinks on the balcony and looked at more fantastic views.

The other great thing about Tuesday was that it was sunny and warm. The Athenians were still dressed for winter and several times we were the only ones with our jackets off. But we took advantage of the good weather to wander through the National Garden (formerly a royal garden) and also drift around the site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.

In the afternoon I popped up to visit Exarcheia, famous for being the student anarchist area where the rebellion against the Colonels (Greece’s military junta) was centred. Perfectly nice with lots of edgy shops and coffee bars though I certainly didn’t feel afraid or intimidated. Indeed, it actually reminded me a bit of San Francisco with its hippyness, block lay out, and hills.

Wednesday: Benacki Museum

A private collection of objects demonstrating Greek history from prehistory to the twentieth century. The most expensive museum to get into at 9 Euros each. But it is a very impressive collection particularly the recreated interiors. There are also some great national costumes if you are into that sort of thing. And there is another fantastic coffee shop within the museum with more lovely views.

Thursday: The Agora

No rush to get up on our last day which was another sunny and warm one. We pottered around and headed towards the Agora. This included on the way popping into a kooky cafe/bar with various themed areas. One of these was themed around Christmas and Dave forced me to sit in that part with him. He loves Christmas. I like it too but it’s strange to be sitting in a Christmas themed cafe in February.

Athens is so wonderful with all its old ruins that for a few Euros you can wander around. The Agora was the main meeting place where history happened and it was wonderful to think of all the famous people who had been there such as Socrates and St Paul. Also included here is the Temple of Hephaistos, an almost complete Greek temple from the classical period. Overall, a lovely place to spend time on our last full day in Athens.

Friday: return to London

We got up around 9.30 and went down for breakfast. There were other people in the dining room which was a shock as it had been us on our own nearly every day. Checked out and had to pay the government tax of 3 Euros per night stayed. We used Uber to get back to the airport which was brilliantly efficient and only 29 Euros – half the price of the taxi on our arrival. Nice check-in and a good flight back to Heathrow. Then that dull tube journey. We unpacked and Dave went out for fish and chips as the last extravagance of our holiday. Caught up on the soaps then we were entertained by one of Jane McDonald’s programmes about cruises. An early night, I was in bed and asleep by 10pm (midnight in Greece).

Some lasting general memories of Athens:

Overall I loved Athens and would recommend it for a visit. Next for me are the Aegean islands. But here are some of the things that will stick in my mind.

  • Greek men are generally very sexy particularly if you like dark and hairy; some great haircuts and some wonderful beards
  • Crazy drivers – do not do a car hire!
  • There are motorbikes and scooters everywhere (but few bicylces). Worth noting many people don’t bother with helmets, use their phone whilst on their bikes, and carry stuff on their bikes. I saw one person using them to transport gas canisters.
  • Water is provided whenever you go to a cafe, bar or restaurant – I presume it works on the basis of hot weather for big parts of the year
  • Feral cats are everywhere. They actually fulfil an important role in the city’s ecosystem keeping the vermin under control with the rubbish around.
  • So many derelict buildings, not just recent ones either. Apparently the problem is sorting out who actually owns them before any action can be taken but then there’s not enough money to do anything.
  • Crap pavements – not just bad but they look like somebody has been at them with a grenade or a sledgehammer
  • No streetlights in many side streets. Indeed at night with the graffiti, deserted and boarded up buildings sometimes it felt like armageddon had happened
  • In London everyone uses contactless and apps to pay but in Athens everyone uses cash. That is simply because they still don’t trust the banks after their economic problems.
  • Specialist little shops rather than chains. It is totally normal for shops simply to sell only different varieties of one thing such as cushions, soap, boot laces, bottles, and baskets.
  • Orange and lemon trees are everywhere

Stop stealing art and antiques from other countries

Two particular things that struck me on holiday may be controversial. First, I am simply left with anger at the way Lord Elgin stole Athens’ treasures. The Elgin Marbles were clearly looted from the Parthenon. Some attempt to say they were bought or their removal saved them. All crap, he went along and stole them including damaging some in the process; many of the sculptures were actually cut up to make them easier to transport. I’m similarly upset when you see all these Chinese antiques worth a fortune on Antiques Roadshow. The majority were looted by the British in their attacks on China in the nineteenth century and should not be here.

I know many would say ‘but then we might have to give loads of other stuff back’. If it can be given back safely then we should offer it back. There is no doubt in my mind that the sculptures should be returned to Athens particularly with their fantastic new museum. Clearly not every nation may want all their antiquities back especially if it hasn’t got capacity to display them. However there would then be more space in British museums to show all the stuff that is hidden in stores and especially explain British history more.

Cultural vandalism in the name of religion

The other thing that angered me in Athens was the cultural vandalism of Christians. When Christianity became the dominant religion, the Christians had a policy of (literally) defacing classical art. It was common place to topple statues and monuments ensuring they were smashed to pieces. Another common thing was to chip off the faces in particular and carve crosses onto them. It is so sad to see so many beautiful sculptures with faces chipped off or heads missing.

Bamiyan Buddhas AfghanistanDestruction in the name of religion is common. Note in Britain the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the puritan destruction of religious images and shrines. Or the Taliban destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. But we should not under-estimate what works of classical art some stupid people destroyed forever in Greece.

Health and Efficiency

Weight and gym

walking feetThere was lots of walking on holiday but my main worry is a diet disaster arising from the big portions and cakes with ice cream at Nancy’s Sweet Home. Indeed I am scared to weigh myself.

Athens kebab in all its gloryI did start back on my normal exercise routine at the weekend with gym on Sat and Sun. Both good sessions with a decent 40 min walk each way there and back. I should have done my jog-run on Sun but it was too cold. I think I’m going to lay-off my weekly jog-run for a few weeks until the weather improves.

My horrible dream / nightmare on holiday

One thing I must record is the seriously weird dream I had whilst on holiday, one of the worst and most vivid I have had for a long time. Perhaps it was even a nightmare. It was an epic and seemed to go on for ages. It made me wake up in a cold sweat. Basically I dreamt that I had dementia and couldn’t remember things. It was very disturbing, and left me feeling weak and powerless.

Personal Development

One of my big achievements for last week was getting on top of my emails both work and personal. I particularly used my phone in Athens to check and delete personal stuff. And I kept an eye on work emails. Then at the weekend I went to town on both and I am very pleased to say that I made big progress. It feels so good to get on top of something and feel in control of it rather than it being in control of me.

Duolingo went to pieces whilst I was away. I did manage to pick up a few words in Greek but it’s not another language I plan to try to learn. No coding practice either. Oh well, I suppose there was just so much to uniquely see in Athens.

Books and Reading

‘Rust and bone’

The actor from Rust & BoneWritten by Chris Davidson and published in 2006. I loved the film featuring the stunning Matthias Schoenaerts and saw this book in the library. Turns out I had already read it. Not a problem as it is a great book. It is actually a collection of short stories with some connections rather than a single novel. There are some common themes: injury, sex, poverty, fighting, addiction, families. Sounds quite dark and that is very true. But I would highly recommend this book and the film which are linked without being copies of each other.

The Week Ahead

Everything gets back to normal:

  • 3 full days at work with lots of internal meeting
  • Catch-ups with Dan Sutch from CAST and Kathy Marcham from Nominet Trust
  • 3 gym visits and watching my food intake
  • Down on Sunday to Brighton to see Bob & Brian
  • Regularly doing Duolingo and getting some coding practice done
  • Keeping on top of emails
  • Shrove Tuesday = pancakes
  • Reading at least one new book and listening to some audiobooks

And Finally…

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