Last three days in Greece

After visiting archaic Messini, I drove back to Kalamata to visit some friends then headed for Kiyetes and asked where to find souvlaki.  I only had 3 Euros in my pocket, and hoped that would suffice for dinner till the next day.  I found a souvlaki place called Souvlaki Art run by a very nice Greek man and his wife.  A great souvlaki pita was had for 2.20, and I took a swim in the nearby sea, where I even got a fresh water shower upon exiting.  I got a recommendation for a camping area and headed there.  However, as it was next to a house, I continued and found a small dirt road heading down to a distant taverna.  This seemed a better spot, as no one would be driving next to my site.  I set up a few meters from the sea and left the flap wide open, as the past few days had grown become exceedingly hot and any hint of air was welcome. I awoke at dawn, not having slept much due to the heat and lack of wind.  I packed quickly, having gotten the entire routine down to 5 minutes or so, and headed back to Hotel Ostria located on the main beach in Kalamata, and unloaded the car.  I hand-washed dirty clothes and jumped in the shower, then got some money and raced to the car wash, negotiating the tricky one way streets reminiscent of Paris. I decided to focus on the interior as I only had 15 minutes, and began wildly vacuuming in the pouring rain (a thunderstorm had already dumped significant rain beginning at 8am that day).  It was probably 95 percent humidity, so I was sweating like crazy as I scrubbed the upholstery.  I replaced the mats with originals, as I was worried that they’d charge me the extra 80 Euro for the presence of “biological materials”.  I’d found that walking in Greece is like walking through landmines.  Every plant imparts thorns, stickers, or burrs, and I  had to soak my socks and shoes several times to loosen their impenetrable grip. Once finished cleaning, I raced to the EuropCar drop-off point near the airport but didn’t recognize it, as they had rebuilt since I’d last been there.

The young man behind the desk was the same one who had offered me water and his grandmother’s homemade spanikopida after the stressful encounter with Inter Rent about the case of the stolen car mats.  He looked carefully at the exterior, rubbing at some dirt spots to determine whether they were scratches.  I’d taken good care of the car in part out of paranoia about extra charges.  Then I had to get back to town.  There’s a bus, but because it was Saturday I had been waiting 30 minutes when I got impatient and started hitchiking.  No dice.  Finally the bus came and I made my way to the main terminal in Kalamata.  While there, I purchased a ticket for the express bus to Athens for noon the next day.  That was a blessing in disguise, as I ended up being late to the bus the next day.  I then took a leisurely stroll through the old town, visiting my favorite haunts: the award-winning pita souvlaki shop, Makers Coffee shop, the dance studio, and made my way back to the beach where I was staying through the railroad park which I’d gotten to know well on my previous visit. They’d beautified it and painted over all the graffiti on the train cars in preparation for a flower show, and it now sparkled.

Back at the hotel, I worked on my blog till 6:30pm.  I was planning on walking to the wedding, but the weather was not cooperating.  It was pouring rain, and the taxi I hailed almost just avoided flooding in the intersections.  As it was, we drove through rivers of water more than a foot deep, and I ended up getting quite wet before entering the church, as the cab couldn’t go the final two blocks due to the one-way streets.  As other guests arrived, I listened to the thunder and rain hammering against the corrigated roofed-church, and hoped people would make it in one piece.  The street outside the church had turned into a river.  Happily, the wedding turned out beautifully, and I’m sure everyone was relieved that it went so well.

I found a ride to the wedding reception at the Messinian Bay Resort with a couple I’d met before the wedding (the wife is the bride’s cousin).  On the way to the reception, I sang a few children’s songs like Winnie the Pooh and Itsy Bitsy Spider to their son.  The rain hadn’t stopped and the roads were now flooded.  In a particularly deep section, the car lost power and I jumped out to push.  Cars sped past (they could barely see us as we didn’t have lights on and there were no streetlights) as I splashed through knee deep pools in my flip flops through unlit streets in the darkness.  The driver eventually got out and pushed as well, and after about 10 minutes we made it to a restaurant where we could maneuver the car to a safe place.  I was a sight to behold.  My pants were soaked, my feet completely wet, and the rest of me fairly drenched as well. The couple decided to stay with their car and skip the reception, while I brainstormed how to go the remaining mile.  A man who had witnessed our heroic struggle from the door of the restaurant agreed to give me a ride the rest of the way.

I ended up having a wonderful time.  I talked with a new friend archaeologist whom I’d met when first visiting Kalamata in May.  He’d recommended that I visit the Temple of Apollo Epicurus near Kyparissia, which I had and loved very much.  All the wedding guests were warm and inclusive, and I felt like I belonged.  I enjoyed the dancing which followed the meal, and videotaped the bride’s mother and father doing a very special Greek dance that I’d never seen before.  They looked like professional dancers!  I made friends with a very sweet couple with whom I shared some health information.  They gave me a ride back to the hotel and promised to leave olive oil and other specialty foods, which they did.  I felt lucky to have met such good people.

Exhausted but happy, I collapsed into bed and awoke at 10:55 am the next morning.  I scrambled to pack and just barely finished at 11:45am.  I had a 12pm bus to catch, and didn’t think I’d make it to the station in time.  I grabbed the care package from the prevous night and rushed out of the hotel.  I hailed a taxi stuck in traffic and ran down the street with my heavy 25 kg pack and jumped in.  I  begged him to drive as fast as safely possible to the bus station.  At first he was relaxed, but then he began driving faster, running a light and taking a short cut through the old town.  Unfortunately we were thwarted by street blockages, and he swore as I said adoksi (okay in Greek).  Finally he spied a cab coming down another lane and followed it through to the desired street.  From there he sped to the front of the bus station and I sprinted the final 10 m to my destination.

I had arrived 2 minutes before the bus left.  And I needed to put my pack in the luggage compartment, then get water.  I couldn’t wait for change, and sped back to the bus to find the attendant yelling at me for not giving him a ticket stub for the luggage.  I did, then climbed on the bus wiped out, only to put my hand on my pocket and feel the hotel key.  I yelped and jumped up as the bus was pulling out of the station.  The driver swore at me and I apologized, jumping off the bus and asking if someone could take the key to the hotel.  No one offered, then the attendant told me to follow him, and we went to the information desk where the attendant said they would alert the hotel. Phew.

I then had a fairly relaxed 3 hour ride.  I looked around at the countryside, since I’d never been on the national road to Athens before.  There was a Russian woman shouting on her cell phone for 40 minutes, which was very annoying.  I still haven’t learned to tune out loud sounds.  Not sure if that’s due to nurture or nature.  Because of recent rain, it was incredibly clear. Beautiful countryside. When we arrived in the Athens bus station I ran to the taxi queue.  I got a ride to Aiginis 11 after some difficulty.  The driver didn’t know where it was and I had to use my offline GPS application Here to find the way.  Luckily I was equipped.

This was my first air bnb stay.  I rang the bell and made my way to the 2nd floor, where Haris, my host, graciously welcomed me.  I think he ruined me for future airbnb stays, as I got spoiled by his kindness.  We talked about his beautiful house, interior decorating, and a bit about life in Greece for over an hour, then I made my way on foot to the national archaeological museum.  I took a wrong turn and added another 35 minutes to the trip, arriving at 5:30pm.  It closes at 8pm, giving me 2 1/2 hours to peruse.  Unforutnatley I was moving at my usual turtle slow manner (reserved for museums only – people complain that I walk too fast) and barely made it through the first few rooms, as I was reading all the signs.  I hoped to make it back the next day but ran out of time at the Acropolis and Parthenon.  I’ll have to go back.  Apparently Greece has split the treasures between the national museum and the Acropolis museum.  And a few items have been repatriated by the US and England.  Many more deserve to be, and a film at the Acropolis museum blatantly spelled out the extent of the very intentional pillaging that the British Lord Elgin carried out when sawing the friezes off the Parthenon.  On the other hand, the ones that were left have been eroded by acid rain and are barely perceptible.

At 8pm I walked to the tram stop and asked a museum employee how to get to Monasteraki, a district near the Plaka and Acropolis.  I wandered around the beautiful streets at dusk, ducking into a few old churches built atop ancient pagan temples and springs.  I learned the next day the extent of destruction of the temples, Parthenon, and Acropolis by the Early Christians.  A real travesty.  I climbed a rock that gave a good view of the lit up Acropolis and wandered the neighborhoods.  Graffitti has defaced every surface of Athens’ buildings, and I was taken aback by the extent of the devastation.  I walked to Hadrian’s arch and the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Temple of Zeus that Hadrian had had built.  The historical district of Athens is full of ruins.  I hoped to explore the Agora the next day as well as return to the temple during the day.  Finally, around 10:30pm, I began the journey back home.  Arriving late, I talked with Haris for a few minutes and collapsed in bed at midnight.

I woke at 8am and spent 1 1/2 hours packing for my 6:30pm flight.  Then I took the 35 bus to the metro and to the Acropolis.  I spent 3 hours in the museum, beginning by a very helpful eavesdrop (he actually invited me to listen) to a guide explaining a bit about the history of its construction.  The museum is newly-built and definitely the most spectacularly modern museum I have been in in Greece.  There was an interesting exhibit and movie on the Scythians (on loan from the St. Petersburg hermitage). A beautiful gold torque and chalice were displayed.  Then I made my way through the exhibit of archaeological finds from the museum site, which in former times had been residences and workshops.  You can see the excavation through a plexiglass floor all around the museum area.  I read about religious and social life in ancient Athens, then looked at the remains of the first temple to Athena, to Dionysus and Pan, and many statues of kore and kouri (young maidens and men) that had adorned temple sites. The crowning glory on the 3rd floor are the friezes, metriopes, and ?? adorning the Parthenon.  Greece asked England to make museum casts of the “Lord Elgin marbles”  housed in the British National Museum, and they complied.  Greek archaeologists have done a beautiful job of concatenating the casts with the original stones.  The restult is a continuous display replicating how they would have looked on the surface of the Parthenon.

With only an hour left before I needed to leave for the airport, I scrambled up the slopes to the actual site of the Acropolis, circumabulating the sacred rock counter clockwise before ascending through the Proscenium to top.  I looked at the theater dedicated to Dionysus which housed many plays, both tragedies and comedies, and the beautiful statues still left showing actors and a crouching Dionysus. Then I walked by the cave of Pan, Apollo, and Zeus, and the sacred spring that probably clinched the decision to build the sacred site in this location.  Near the caves there is a staircase carved into the rock where young maidens would walk down from the Acropolis to make secret offerings to Aphrodite’s temple as part of her cult.  These probably had to do with intiation into womanhood.  There are many very old temples below the path where the first sacred sites were created.  Unfortunately, the entire rock and everything on it has been looted and pillaged many times, first first by the Persians, then by Sulla and others, in their desire to punish the Athenians.

Walking through the Propylaea, a monumental gateway that served as the entrance to the Acropolis, was a grander experience for me than the Parthenon, which is cordoned off such that you can’t really get a feeling for its immensity.  There is an older temple to the left of the Parthenon which is very beautiful and has 6 maiden-shaped columns on the outer prosceium.  The cult statue of Athena Parthenos, “Athena the Virgin”, was housed in the Parthenon.  It was a massive chryselephantine (gold and ivory) sculpture housed in the Parthenon and made by Phidias, a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, and his assistants.  Phidias made an even larger bronze statue of Athena Promachos, which stood to the left of the processional path after coming through the Propylaea towards the Parthenon.

The epithet of the cult statue Athena Parthenos was an essential character of the goddess herself. A number of replicas and works inspired by it, both ancient and modern, have been made.  It was the most renowned cult image of Athens, considered one of the greatest achievements of the most acclaimed sculptor of ancient Greece. Phidias began his work around 447 BC. Lachares removed the gold sheets in 296 BC to pay his troops, and the bronze replacements for them were probably gilded thereafter; it was damaged by a fire about 165 BC but repaired.  It continued to stand in the Parthenon in the 5th century AD, when it was removed by the Romans An account mentions it in Constantinople in the 10th century.  Phidias also made the statue of Zeus at Olympia, whch was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In any case, I spent less time than I wished taking in the beautiful remains of the marble collosis of the Parthenon and other buildings before descending back to the metro.  Getting out where I’d disembarked from bus 35, I was dismayed to find that there was no return bus stop across the street.  I was given 3 different sets of directions, all different, and finally alighted on what I thought was the right path.  Alarmed, as it was after the hour I’d set for leaving to the airport, I jumped off the bus with the realization that I was going in the opposite direction.  I hailed a cab, who was too relaxed and complacent for my needs, and we slowly picked our way back to my host.  I ran in, explained my dilemma, and Haris understood and helped me with my bags.  He was glad I was okay.  I took the cab to the airport bus and just made it before it departed.  So worried was I about missing the bus that I ran to the front with my luggage and bought tickets before paying the taxi driver.  I collapsed in a heap and relaxed on the way to the airport, chatting with a mother and son from Belgium with Greek heritage whose mother had just died.  It was nice to be civilized again and not in a rush.

I had to take 2 kg out of my luggage at the airport as I’d paid for 15 kg bag.  Ryan Air doesn’t give you any leeway.  Then I went through (count them) five passport and boarding pass checks (again, thanks to Ryan Air) before being shuttled through long queues to a bus and boarding.  What a fiasco.  I jokingly told someone that Ryan Air likes to torture their passengers.  It wasn’t a cheap flight for me, as just my bag cost 40 Euros.  But we made it to Budapest without equipment malfunctions, and I alighted exhausted but ready to deal with the next hurdle.  I met 2 young women from Mexico studying urban planning and suggested we take the bus into town together.  After a stop at the airport ATM for Hungarian Flourins, I attempted to buy a bus ticket (it didn’t like bills so I used my Visa card).  The bus stopped at the metro which I took to the appointed stop.  I couldn’t get Here application to work, so had to ask some passersby for help finding my destination.  I noticed strange almost hungry looks from several people in the street.  I only found out later that my domicile is in a less than desirable location.  However, it’s cheap, and as I have to stay for 2 weeks, that’s important.  And I’m gettiing to see the steamy underbelly of Budapest, away from the glitsy touristic streets.  I always like prefer being around locals, and this neighborhood are mostly for the down and out as well as gypsies, Turks, and other immigrants.  As Haris said, more to write about.  Just what I need :>

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2 responses to “Last three days in Greece

  1. good to get your latest installment. haven’t gotten to read it all, but you are a suspenseful writer! we are in coimbra for another day of two, then california. xoxo richard >

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  2. Wow – that’s a lot of traveling for three days! I remember feeling disappointed in the Acropolis, and could never figure out why. Still don’t know, but if/when I make it back to Greece, I think you’ve convinced me to skip Athens altogether for those amazing little seaside towns you’ve found.

    Thanks so much for sharing your travels with us!

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