Lynn had to take a trip to Athens. She asked if I
wanted to go along and we could then take a long weekend. I was
packed before she finished the question.
Lets get the bad stuff out of the way first. You
know the reputation drivers in Boston have? (I love Boston. Go Red
Sox. But we dont talk about the Pats.) Boston is the minor leagues
of crazy driving. Greece has the highest car accident rate in
Europe, drivers in Athens are totally nuts, traffic congestion is
really bad, and, possibly as a result, there are a zillion
motorcycles. When traffic is too bad even for the motorcyclists,
they will go up on the sidewalk to pass a line of cars before
getting back into the street. If a cyclist has the misfortune to be
in the left lane, no problem! They just pull out into the lane of
oncoming traffic if its empty until the oncoming traffic starts
coming again. An empty lane is sort of a vacuum and nature hates a
Drivers dont respect lanes. I was sitting on a
bench on a street where the road came down a hill, bent to the right
a little, and then bent back to the left to straighten out. In the
ten minutes or so I sat there, not one driver of a car or motorcycle
stayed in his lane. Each one tried to follow a straight line which
meant crossing at least one and sometimes two lanes. If some dumb
foreigner were driving here along with the locals, hed be wiped out
in a second. The books all suggest not driving in central Athens.
This is excellent advice.
Many sidewalks are made of some material that
gets very slippery when wet. On our third day it rained a little and
at one point, I caught myself before falling at the same instant
that Lynn actually did fall. She sustained no serious injury but it
Athens doesnt seem to be as well-maintained as
other places weve been. Sidewalks, in addition to being slippery,
are frequently broken and one has to watch his step all the time.
There are lots of small green areas formed by the intersection of
three streets at odd angles. The greenery is great but its
frequently untrimmed and overgrown.
There is apparently one parking rule: A vehicle
has to be able to pass where you have parked. Otherwise, its open
season. Double parked? As long as theres an open lane next to you,
go right ahead. Say youre on a one-way street with three lanes, the
two left ones for traffic, the right one along the curb for parking.
There are no open parking spaces. What do you do? Well, you can
double park, or you can park on the sidewalk on the left side! Bet
you didnt think of that. How about parking along the curb at
intersections? No sweat. On the sidewalk blocking the handicapped
cutout? Sure. I have pictures of all this. The guidebook says,
"Despite appearances to the contrary, parking in front of a
is illegal." Hah!
Finally, the worst of all: Greek men have great
hair. I hate that.
Okay, now the good stuff. How much time do I
The first thing a visitor to Athens does is visit
the Acropolis. Except us. We waited until our fourth and last full
day and what a great decision that was for several reasons both
pecuniary and meteorological. We learned that "Never on Sunday"
applies to the 12 per person fee to enter the Acropolis (or at
least it was free on that Sunday its not advertised) but with the
day we had, it would have been cheap at twice that price. The sky
was blue and the sun shone brightly. The Acropolis is on a high
plateau just a few blocks from the center of Athens. It consists of
the Parthenon at the top along with The Propylaia, the Temple of
Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion (and the Porch of the Caryatids).
Along the sides of the hill are two theaters, one in ruins, the
Theater of Dionysos (Aeschylus and Sophocles had plays produced
here) and one actually used, the Theater of Herodes Atticus (Yanni
played here to a seating capacity of 5,000). Most of the Acropolis
was built in the 4th century BC. This vantage point is
one of the highest in central Athens. From here one can see all of
the city in every direction, a large expanse of the Aegean Sea to
the south, and on this sunny, clear day, Mt. Olympus to the north,
about 150 miles away. Standing on this hill, amid these ancient
artifacts and seeing this incredible view in the brilliant sunshine
is an overwhelming experience. Look at
The Acropolis isnt the only game in town,
though. Nearby is the
Panathenean Stadium, also known as
Kallimármaro Stadium. This place was also built in the 4th
century BC, apparently a great time for the building trade unions in
Athens. The ancient Olympics were held in this very place. (The
first participants were all male and all participated in the nude.
Im trying to picture the long jump, the high jump, and the pole
vault. Maybe I should stop picturing.) It was used as the sight of
the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and was even used in 2004 for
archery and as the end point of both the mens and womens marathon
races originating in Marathon, Greece. The stadium is not in its
original form; its been extensively refurbished twice in its 2,500
year history. It has lights but no superboxes and its still used,
yet Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia only made it to 32 and I bet
when Linc Finc reaches that age, someone will complain about what a
rat hole and a pile of junk that place is, too.
The tallest hill in central Athens is
Lykavittos Hill at about 900 feet high. It kind of comes to a
point on the top and is visible from everywhere. At the tip are a
church and a small tower. I found this hill intriguing and wanted to
get up there. You should understand that I dont subscribe to
spousal abuse and so I did this on a day when Lynn was working.
There are homes and streets that begin to make the climb up
Lykavittos Hill and after a few blocks going up the streets are no
longer streets but stairways. On one of the streets parallel to the
base, I encountered an outdoor market of the kind which are very
common in Europe. There were old women who finished their shopping
and then pulled their carts filled with produce up the steps. One
assumes that these old folks have the same maladies as old people
everywhere but there they were just going about their business. My
hat is off to them. These folks are not softies. I climbed the
stairs as far as I could because there was supposed to be a
funicular there. (Is that a great word, or what? "A cable railway on
a steep incline, especially such a railway with simultaneously
ascending and descending cars counterbalancing one another." We
found a funicular at Montmartre in Paris near the Sacré-Coeur, too.
Closer to home, there are two in Pittsburgh on Mt. Washington across
from the Golden Triangle, but there its called "the Incline.")
Somehow I couldnt find the funicular. I decided it was no longer
operational because where I thought it was supposed to be was a path
that continued through the woods up the hill.
I started walking. At this point I was about half
way up vertically but the pitch of the hill became much steeper
which I suppose is why there were no more buildings. I kept walking
but soon I had to take a break. I hadnt been paying attention to
what was behind me and when I turned around to sit down, I saw what
looked like the whole world in front of me. The view from here is,
incredibly, even better than the view from the Acropolis because
its about twice as high, and one gets to see the Acropolis from
here. After about an hour, I got to the top. The church and tower
appeared smaller here than when viewed from below. I noticed a very
old woman working in the church. Howd she get there? Then I walked
behind the church and saw a very large restaurant and a theater.
Right away I knew I had done something stupid. People dont have to
walk up this hill to get to a theater and a restaurant. I asked a
young couple if they had walked up. The man looked at me like I was
nuts. It turns out that the funicular works just fine. I had simply
missed it and I still dont know how. Having walked up, I now had to
walk down because its an automatic gate and one cant purchase a
ticket at the top. That would be really dumb. But after reaching the
bottom, Im glad I did it. Just like Im glad that I once walked the
steps of the Washington Monument. Of course that was in 1966 when I
The area to the north and east of the Acropolis
is called Plaka. Plaka is called the heart of Historic Athens. Its
a lot newer than the Acropolis. The streets are narrow and winding
on the side of the hill, and its teeming with people and dogs. This
neighborhood is the oldest continuously lived-in area of the city
with some homes dating back to the Ottoman time, about the 16th
century AD. There are lots of stores and delightful restaurants.
During one afternoon, we stopped to look at our map. One does that
frequently here. A man standing nearby asked if he could help. I
assumed he was selling something but maybe he could answer my
question before the pitch came. He did that and then invited us into
his restaurant. We werent ready for a meal yet so we declined and
he said, "Maybe later" and gave us a card. As we took a step away,
an American woman asked him for directions to another restaurant.
Without any hesitation, he gave it to her. We thought this guy was
okay so we went back later which turned out to be another great
In most restaurants, the waiter brings out the
menu and the patron chooses from the menu. Not here. The waiter
brings out the food, about 20 or so small dishes on a tray. A party
of two gets to choose five dishes, gets a half liter of wine or beer
made on the premises, gets a 1.5 liter bottle of water, and gets
desert, all for 20. It was all superb. Somehow though, I dont
think this would pass Board of Health regulations anywhere in the
U.S. Click on "Photo
Gallery" to get a better feel for the place.
Living in the Netherlands, weve become
accustomed to signs we cant read but we can take a crack at
pronouncing what we see for later reference. In Greece, though,
theres a different alphabet. I was in a college fraternity so Im
pretty much an expert on Greek. At least the alphabet. Upper case.
Most of the letters, anyway. While still in the airport we saw a
sign that said "W>@*@H ." Okay,
Nellie! What is that? Fortunately it said "Exit" right underneath.
Later on I saw "+=?)?G " next
to "EXIT," all upper case. That I could pronounce, something close
to "EXODUS" and in context I could guess what it meant because it
wasnt a book title or something from the Bible. As time went by, I
became close to functional. I saw a bus with a destination sign that
said GK;I!'9!. Unconsciously I
started doing letter substitutions and I saw SYNTAGMA. That meant
something to me; its a big square in the center of Athens where the
parliament building sits. I could read! Now Im
quasi-almost-semi-literate in Greek. We saw a sign for a movie
. At first glance, that looks like Monaco but its actually Munich.
We could tell because there is no movie called Monaco, and the
director was EI3#+; EA379A+C'/,
Steven Spielberg. For those who read Greek as well as I do, you may
notice a couple extra letters. An actual Greek person said those are
"helper" letters to better reflect the English sound in Greek.
Next time we go to Greece, we want to try one of
those islands. I have no idea yet if they are all exorbitantly
expensive or only most of them are. Well soon find out.
See my pictures of Athens.
See a video from Athens