brenantrim: Yasaka Shrine Japan 2017 (Zeus)
[personal profile] brenantrim
So.  Now I'm fifty.  Given that this is the age at which I may go adventuring with wizards (according to friends who have more understanding of Tolkien than I do by far), I decided to skip the wizards and go straight to the Gods.

The Old Gods, at that.

Serendipity or fate?  Literally the only five minutes I turn on the television today (1/20/13), I see President Obama taking his oath for his second term - as I sit here in the birthplace of democracy, and can see the Parthenon from where I sit on my hotel bed.

Halfway in, I can say it's been an amazing trip.  Got in Thursday night, completely exhausted from the trip.  Wasn't hungry, because even though my seat was broken and couldn't move (and when the Lufthansa bursar tried to be nice and move me, the guy next to me kept ramming his knees into mine), they certainly do feed you!  The hotel concierge was (and continued to be) wonderful.  Wandered out and found a local souvlaki shop, bought postcards, and the concierge nicely sent them out for me so I didn't have to hunt down a post office.  He also sent up a fruit basket and wine for my birthday - the first of many instances of really sweet behavior from the Greeks I met!  The hotel room was lovely, with the Acropolis looking a stone's throw away.  I've loved having the Parthenon as a night light! Plus, Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Zeus are just across the street!  Hadrian's Arch was built in the 1st century BCE.  One one side is engraved The City of Theseus and on the other side, The City of Hadrian - it marked the division between 'old' and 'new' Athens, and was the first time a Roman arch was topped with Greek columns, to signify the blending of the two cultures.  Hadrian really liked Greece!

The agency switched tours on me (the joys of off-season travel - offset by the actual joys, including great weather and no crowds) so I had a free Friday morning.  Spent it at the Benaki Hellenic Museum (there are two Benaki museums, the Hellenic and the Islamic).  What a superb small museum!  Arranged chronologically, with a lovely collection of pottery, scultures, etc - and the 1st and 2nd floors gave me unexpected happiness with a series of costume and craft displays!  What incredible needlework - clothing details, lace, embroidery - and a fine gift shop. (heh)

Friday afternoon was the half-day tour to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Posiedon.  Our guide was Martina and she was adorable.  She told us the story of how the Aegean sea was named - Theseus was all caught up in his new girlfriend Ariadne ("typical Greek boy!") and forgot to change the ship's sails from black to white, so his father King Aegus suicided from grief - hence the sea into which he flung himself now bearing his name.  She told it better!  The drive down was gorgeous, all along the coast.  The water was frothy and wild from the wind. The view from the temple was incredible - the sea, the islands, the mist over the rocks, the sense of sacred history, centuries of sailors' dreams and the hopes and prayers said for their safe return - intense.  Then as we were leaving, a full rainbow beamed at us!  Five minutes after I offered Posiedon a sincere 'thank you.'  I think he heard me.

Back to the souvlaki stand that night (great gyros, terrible fries), then wandered out and found a range of wonderfully fun, funky souvenirs in shops at the edge of the Plaka.  Got all my Yule gifts!  Stopped by a nice little shop and bought a small bronze Athena with an owl shield - the lady minding the shop, her sister, and her father, made all the sculptures.  I sincerely complimented her.  Showed her my Athenian owl tattoo (she loved it).  Mentioned (as I would to several people... anyone who would listen) that it was my 50th birthday.  She gave me a cute little owl figurine!  What a sweetheart.

Saturday started early with me goggling at the Parthenon during breakfast at the rooftop restaurant (180 degree view of Athens).  Then a tour-turned-slog of Athens with a guide named Joy.  A sign on my birthday?  Maybe not - she was kind of bitter.  I would rather look at marble sculptures than listen to her polemic on the evils of the British Museum... nevertheless, the trek up to and around the Acropolis was worth it.  Met a lonely and very sweet 19 year old Australian girl who became my photo buddy - I took pictures of her and she took them of me.  The Erecthion was impressive, the grand entry made me feel like a pagan pilgrim (wait... I am!), and the Parthenon was even MORE impressive close-up.  We walked the perimeter, looking out over the city to the port - it was truly amazing.  Watching the sun rise over Athens from the walkway up the Acropolis... never to be forgotten.  I took a moment to bow and give thanks to Athena.

From there we went to the New Acropolis Museum - steps, more steps, and more kvetching from the guide.  Finally she released us and I split off from the group.  I enjoyed a lovely lunch of cabbage salad and pasticcio (baked pasta and beef and potatoes) at the museum restaurant, then went back to enjoy the exhibits the guide rushed us through.  There were some gorgeous marbles recovered during digs or from the sea.  The shop was a lot of fun, too.  But the best part of the museum was literally underfoot - the architect designed it so that the archaeologists could work on the site below the museum (Greek houses from 500 BCE and Roman baths from 500 CE, literally a thousand years of history right next to each other) and the museum goers could watch them work!  The front entryway had large cutouts so you could see directly down at the dig site.  Inside the museum, the floor had glass sections that both allowed the museum visitors to gawk and let light in so the archaeologists could see.  Brilliant!  On the way back down the hill to the hotel, I indulged in a walnut, pinenut, honey yoghurt smoothie for my birthday treat... and the boy who served it WAS a treat!

After a short rest (collapse!) that afternoon to recover from the Athens/Acropolis/first Olympic stadium/museum trek, I wandered around, found a restaurant called Smile! (seriously) and had a tasty Greek salad, a too-fatty baked lamb dish, and yummy donuts that reminded me of beignets.  Then back to transfer pictures to my laptop to clear out the camera and prepare for the next day.  Best birthday I've had in years!

Saturday was Delphi, and it was a full day.  Once again up before sunrise, to breakfast at the rooftop garden restaurant, with the amazing views going from the Parthenon to the government building to Hadrian's Arch and the Temple of Zeus.  Then the group gathered.  I was the first pick-up so got the front bench - a great view.  The drive was interesting - was saw sheep and goats (one ON the road), and horses (that literally gleamed - what's in their oats?), Thebes (identified by the guide as the birthplace of both Herakles and Oedipus), Lake Yliki, Mount Parnassus - the roads were often narrow and twisty, so I'm glad I took the travel sickness pills.  Have to come back one day and explore that village...

Delphi was nearly indescribable.  The sense of sanctity and history was sunk into the stones.  It was a place of worship for 14,000 years, first for Gaia then Apollo (until the Christians shut down all the pagan sites - intolerant bigots).  On the way up the mountain we saw the ruins of the gymnasium and the hippodrome used in the Pythia games, and the temple of Athena.  Then we walked past the ancient marketplace (five stone storefront entryways), past Sybil's mount which was used before the Pythia in the Temple (sidenote: Sybil was a person's name, while Pythia was a title given to Apollo's seers), various treasuries including one dedicated to the winners at Marathon that still had remnants of friezes around the top showing the labors of Herakles, and the Temple itself.  I took a moment to give thanks to Apollo, and again in the direction of her temple, to Athena.  Also finally saw some of the famous cats of Athens!  In Delphi.  So far in Athens, I'd seen mainly dogs (including a ferocious bark-fight between two groups on the Acropolis).  I spent most of the trip with Sylvie, a Frenchwoman with a little English who was absolutely charming.  Lunch conversation was a hoot!  What a nice group.

We finished up with a trip around the Delphi museum.  I actually liked it better than the Acropolis museum.  Highlights were a bronze helmet plume with a gilded key pattern, a stunning statue of Hadrian's young lover who died on a boat voyage, probably murdered, an amazing charioteer in bronze - just a really lovely small museum.  The guide, Yannis, didn't schedule gift shop time but we took it anyway!  I picked up a lovely etched Hermes and some beautiful postcards.  He also talked through the museum and blocked the displays - must be a frustrated professor.  I got my shots and browsed to my heart's content, a room or two ahead of his lecture.

Started the day off with a walk across the street and around the block to see Hadrian's Arch up close, plus visit the Temple of Olympic Zeus.  Amazing columns and some interesting ruins - and finally some more Athenian cats.  I also saw cats in the Plaka, and after my heart breaking over one scrawny, cold kit I was happy to see many merchants putting out food.  One insouciant fluffy tuxedo cat hopped up on the marble at Zeus' temple to sunbathe.  Don't know which is cuter, the Athenian cats or the Athenian cab drivers!  Had my second cheek-smooching encounter - handsome gentleman named Themis who waxed philosophic on the Mechanism and sold me a beautiful ring.  Ah, nice people.

By day's end I was so tired.  I spent four hours wandering the Plaka, the streets at the base of the Acropolis that have been markets since ancient times.  It's about 3/4 touristy stuff, but even that is pottery and needlecrafts, some amazing work.  I went a little nuts - olive tree wood products and hand-embroidered stuff and the white/yellow gold key ring from Themis, and even some luggage as I've exceeded my bags!  Then lunch at a restaurant on a little square - Cretan 'dakos', or tomato/feta on crunchy bread, and a pot of mousaka, perfect for a windy January day.

The afternoon was spent meandering through the National Archaeological Museum.  The exhibits were entrancing, particularly the bronze Zeus and the Mycenean gold exhibit.  The pottery, jewelry and sculpture were particularly impressive.  I spent almost five hours just on the main floor before my feet cried for mercy.  The souvenir shop was sadly (perhaps fortunately) limited and the cafeteria offerings looked disgusting, so it was back to the hotel, with some cheesy seed buns from a bakery, to watch the US celebration for President Obama's swearing-in.  I liked his speech.  He mentioned abolition, Seneca Falls, Stonewall and MLK - what a spectrum.

My last full day in Greece again started early - sadly with no hot water - although they responded quickly when I called and were working on it when I left for my tour.  After an initial bus mix-up, it was on the road to Mycenae!  Whilst waiting for the bus, Sylvie from Delphi saw me from another tour bus, hopped off, ran over, and gave me more cheek-kisses and good wishes.  Sweet lady!

After a stop at the Corinthian canal (at which I bought treats for the gals at work), we were off to the theatre at Epidaurus.  The acoustics were incredible, and a little white cat cuddled up to me - tried to climb in my coat pocket - while a little brindle was my foot warmer (maybe I was hers?).  The surroundings were gorgeous.  It felt like we were at the bottom of a bowl, surrounded by mountains - a peaceful feeling that was echoed at the next stop, Mycenae.  Along the way we glimpsed Eleusis, home of the Eleusian Mysteries, Thebes, Corinth, and a number of small villages with impressive histories before coming to the Mycenean acropolis.  A short tramp up the hill to gawk at the beehive tombs (including Klytemnestra's and her lover's, according to archaeologists), take photos, then trundle over to see the tomb of Agamemnon (and his family) - both impressive and spooky.  My photo buddy was a woman from Minnesota who was coming down from vacationing in Romania and Bulgaria, plus there was a honeymooning couple from Japan who were adorable.  Finally, we had a (late!) lunch then swirled through a local workshop where I bought some amazing reproductions that were made on-site.  I later dropped them on the floor of the bus so hope they aren't pottery shards now... A couple more hours of staring dreamily at the bay of Corinth on the drive back to the mainland, and it was back to Athens to gaze at the Parthenon for one last night.

The flight home was both longer and smoother than the flight out - while the incoming stopover in Frankfurt was memorable because of the freshly falling snow, the outgoing stop in Munich was a breakneck race to not miss my plane.  I met a lovely Greek lady named Victoria and we chatted for the entire 2 1/2 hours from Athens to Munich, then she gave me cheek-kisses and wished me well (I say it again, every Greek I met was a sweetheart).  I greeted the Indian lad who slept beside me all the way to LA from Munich, and that was the end of my adventure.  This trip was truly worth the wait and the expense.  Greece in January was pure magic!
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