Our second stop in Greece was in Athens. The port for Athens is actually Piraeus as Athens is not right on the ocean. Given the distance between Corfu and Athens (440 miles, roughly), our cruise ship didn’t arrive in Piraeus until noon. This was a nice change as we got to sleep in. We actually had a little time to relax on the ship. When we woke up, I took Toren up to the night club on the 11th floor of the ship, which bustled at night, but was deserted during the day. It had great views and was actually quite child friendly. He and I played up there for a while, then Debi took him to the Fisher Price Royal Babies activity room, which was a program set up for kids under 3. Basically it was a room decked out with toys for toddlers. Toren and Debi played in there for about 45 minutes with one of the staff members who was very good with Toren. No other kids showed up and this was the only time Toren went, but he seemed to enjoy it.
After Toren and Debi played we went to brunch in the nice restaurant with the rest of the family. After brunch we set out on our excursions. Our group split up again. Gary and Rosemary took a sightseeing bus tour around Athens as they smartly concluded they would have a hard time walking up the steps to the Acropolis in the searing heat (93 F). The rest of us went to the Acropolis and then went on a sightseeing tour on our bus.
An “acropolis” is just a hill. “The Acropolis” is the specific hill in Athens famous for the structures on top of it (and the historical structures that no longer stand), in particular The Parthenon. The hike up The Acropolis really isn’t that bad, even in hot weather (and with a 25 pound child strapped to your back). The marble steps make it a rather straightforward hike:
Along the way you get to see some pretty cool stuff. The first famous site is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus or the Theater at the Acropolis. My first encounter with it was when Yanni played live at the Acropolis, but many other musicians and artists have performed here. Here’s a photo of Debi in front of the theater:
And here’s a panoramic shot of the theater that captures most of it:
From the theater you walk up to the entrance to the top of the Acropolis, which is guarded by gates or Propylaea. From this point you can see several other famous sites. You can see the Areopagus, which is a large rock outcrop with an amazing history:
Just north of the Areopagus is the Temple of Hephaestus which is the best preserved of the Greek temples from the golden age of Greece:
Right next to the Propylaea, and undergoing heavy restoration when we visited, was the Temple of Athena Nike (nike means victory in Greek and is typically symbolized with wings, thus the Nike swoosh symbol). As you work your way through the Propylaea, you eventually enter the top of the Acropolis and get your first view of The Parthenon, which is probably the most famous temple in the world:
Our guide talked to us for a good 20 minutes from this angle (which is the western end of The Acropolis), then set us free to explore. She noted in her discussion of The Parthenon that it was actually in very good condition up until the mid 17th Century and would likely have remained so were it not for the Venetians who attacked Athens in 1687. Athens was under the control of the Ottoman Turks, who were using the temple as a place to store gunpowder. The leader of the Venetian army ordered his soldiers to fire on The Parthenon. One of the cannon balls struck The Parthenon and set off the gunpowder, collapsing the roof and a number of pillars. It’s a beautiful building as it is; I can only imagine what it would have looked like had it not been destroyed and then looted (much of the decoration – called “The Marbles” – is in the British Museum).
The only other prominent temple on the Acropolis today is the Erechtheum. here is Debi in front of the south side of the Erechtheum:
And here are the three of us in front of the east side:
We also took pictures in front of The Parthenon:
And on the other end:
I was actually quite surprised by how uneven the top of The Acropolis is. It seemed like it was just the original marble, which has been smoothed by centuries of people walking on it. But given the history of The Acropolis I would be very surprised if that is the case. And just as an FYI, the top would be very, very slick if you visit in the rain, particularly in the wrong kinds of shoes. So, be careful.
Also, the Greek government is in the process of restoring some of the structures. The Propylaea, The Temple of Athena Nike, and The Parthenon are all under reconstruction (though apparently at a very, very slow pace). Any lighter colored pieces of marble you see in the pictures are places where the structures have been reconstructed. All of the marble comes from a quarry to the west of Athens, not far away. It’s the same marble, it just turns yellowish with age and exposure to the elements.
After touring around the Acropolis, our bus took us on a tour of Athens. We saw a number of buildings that were very cool. In particular, we got to see the new old Olympic Stadium, the Panathinaiko Stadium. This stadium was the site of the first new Olympic games in 1896 after they were revived from millenia of Christian oppression (more on this in a follow-up post). The stadium was originally built in the Greek style, without any seats or benches, but when the Romans conquered Greece, they added benches. The stadium was modeled after the original Olympic stadium in Olympia (more on this to come), but was refurbished before the 1896 Olympics. Here are some fun pics:
And a panorama of the stadium:
Our bus driver and tour guide also timed our tour perfectly so we could stop at the Parliament building and observe the very odd changing of the guards:
If you look closely, they have little puffy balls of yarn on the toes of their shoes. It’s kind of hard to take these guys seriously when they are doing funny walks in funny outfits. 😉
We also saw the National Library of Greece, the Academy of Athens, and the National University of Athens, all of which are remarkable neo-classical buildings.
We had the option of being let off the bus in Athens to walk around for a bit as the cruise ship didn’t leave until 7:00 pm, but there was no free shuttle back to Piraeus and after the difficulties we had the day before in Corfu getting back, we opted just to take the tour bus back to the ship. We got back around 5:30, in time to get ready for dinner. We had dinner in the main dining room, which was very good, as always. After dinner, Toren did a little clowning around in our room. We were trying to undress him and only got his pants off about half way when he started running around:
He kept falling over, but he thought it was funny, so we let him play around for a while. Once he was ready for bed, I went up to the hot tub with Steve and left Debi with Toren. Debi was supposed to come up to the hot tube once he was asleep (Rosemary was going to sneak into our room and watch him). But Debi never showed up. I didn’t return to the room until about 10:30 and apparently Toren was awake until about 10:20, so Debi didn’t get to go to the hot tub. That was the night for us.