first impressions of athens


The short version: I love it here!

The long version:

The journey here went smoothly--Rochester to Dulles, Dulles to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Athens. We left Rochester at 2:45pm Thursday, and arrived in Athens as scheduled at 12:30pm on Friday (5:30am back home). Alex slept for over four hours of the Dulles to Frankfurt leg, and I dozed for about three hours. Just before we arrived in Athens, Alex got a nosebleed, which stopped after a few minutes. I probably should have thought more about that, as you'll hear later, but we didn't worry too much about it at the time.

The arrival in Athens was amazingly easy--it's the quickest baggage pickup/immigration process I've ever been through. We grabbed our bags minutes after getting off the plane, then walked to the immigration line for non-EU residents. It looked daunting, with baggage scanners and several immigration officers. But the process consisted of the man looking at my passport and Alex's, commenting that Alex was a beautiful boy, and waving us--and my mom--through with a big grin. No questions, no visa stamps, no nothing! We hopped in a cab (hoping we'd get an honest driver, which we did), and 45 minutes later we were at the hotel, the Athens Cypria.

I have to say we were a bit disappointed in our accommodations. The first-floor room looks out on a somewhat dingy courtyard, and it feels dark and drab. Apparently none of the nicer (or higher-floor) rooms can accommodate more than two people, which is why we got what we did. Still, it's not what we would have expected for as much as we're paying, and I doubt we'd stay here again.

When we arrived at the hotel, I called Tom Mazararkis of Greece Travel-Phones, and he arrived a few minutes later with my SIM card. Much to my delight it worked immediately upon insertion into the phone, and I was able to make and receive both phone calls and SMS. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get MMS to work, but Tom's been very helpful in answering my pleas for help. At this point it looks like I need to contact the provider (TIM) and get them to enable MMS, but since their customer support is all...well...Greek to me...I'm not sure if I can pull that off. So cameraphone photos may not be feasible on this trip, alas. Nonetheless, I can't recommend Tom highly enough--he's been incredibly quick to respond to email and phone calls, and I paid less for the SIM from him than I would have from a "discount" web site. ($40 for the card with €10 credit already on it; the lowest I found online was $49, and I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have come with the helpful and friendly support I've gotten from Tom.)

acropolis-first.jpgAlthough we were tired at that point, we really didn't want to waste the beautiful sunny afternoon--so we set out to try to catch a glimpse of the Acropolis. Plaka streetFirst we walked up to the Parliament building near our hotel, then we cut through the Plaka in the direction of the Acropolis. The street we walked up was really lovely, with charming tavernas and surprising twists and turns. At the end of the street, we turned a corner and were met with this breathtaking view of the back of the Acropolis.

plakacat.jpgAt this point we probably should have paid attention to our energy levels and headed back towards food and the hotel. But the late afternoon sun was so beautiful, and Alex's delight in the many cats we kept seeing in the Plaka, kept us going--up past the ancient Agora with its view of the city, and all the way up to the edges of the Acropolis, where we saw the temples bathed in the most beautiful yellow and orange light. It was stunning.

acropolis-sunset.jpgAt this point, however, Alex developed another nosebleed, which continued for several minutes and stressed us all out. We decided to look for a place to eat (ideally back in the Plaka), and debated for a while which direction to go. We finally headed out, and my mom stopped to ask directions. She's been studying Greek all month, and was able to ask basic questions. After getting directions, however, her fatigue caused some cultural confusion, and she gave a lovely Japanese bow of thanks to the Greek woman with whom she'd been talking. (She didn't realize she'd done this until I pointed it out...)

We finally found our way back to the Plaka, at which point the nosebleed started again, and my mom and I got into a guilt war as to who was more responsible for not making sure he'd stayed hydrated. We ended up at an overpriced touristy taverna in the small park on Kydathenaon street, where we got him to drink a lot of water and eat a little grilled chicken. We then made it back to the hotel, where we all collapsed, exhausted, and were asleep by 8:30pm. I managed to take a melatonin tablet before falling asleep, which may be why I'm doing pretty well today. (On the other hand, Alex and my mom are doing fine, too, with no supplements, so maybe we just timed it all right.)

hadrianslibrary.jpgThis morning we had breakfast at the hotel's buffet (which was quite nice), and then set out towards the Acropolis again. We took a different route, which brought us past Hadrian's Library, the Roman Agora (Alex was a bit confused by this--"Roman? I thought we were in Grece!"), and the Tower of the Winds, before bringing us back to the ancient Agora and then the Acropolis.

milkshake.jpgThis time we bought tickets and went onto the Acropolis grounds. At this point, the scattered showers that had been passing by since we'd left turned into full-scale rain, and Alex started to get (understandably) out of sorts, so we skipped the museum and headed back into the Plaka for lunch. We stopped at a small cafe that had drinks but no food to speak of, so I had my first frappe (verdict: yum!), and Alex had a strawberry milkshake that perked him up a bit. Since we knew he really needed to eat, and didn't want to argue with him, we picked him up a genuine McDonald's happy meal (hey, Lane had one in seemed only fair).

After a brief rest, we headed out to Plaka Internet World on Pandrossou, recommended by Matt Barrett. I was able to hook up my laptop and upload a number of photos from the first 24 hours of our trip to Flickr while Alex played Neopets, then my mom and Alex headed out for some window shopping and subway exploration while I spent a couple of hours finishing up my grading. (Yes! I'm done! Woohoo!)

For dinner, we went to a spot recommended by both the Fodor's travel guide and Matt Barrett's web site--Bairaktaris. The food and atmosphere were great, and we left full and happy. Now we're going to crash, and hope that tomorrow brings more sunshine and just as much fun!

(Click on the thumbnail images for larger versions, or go to my Flickr photos for the full-size originals.)


Let me know if you see R.E.M. and watch out for the game day traffic. Oh wait, wrong Athens.

bacitracin for the nose if it bleeds again: the dry air from the plan was the culprit. just a little ointment into the nose with a cuetip: pack if severe and ice on the face for 30 min...

also, make sure you pack toilet paper: greece is notorious for poor bathroom availability.

you got great weather! lucky.

the saint looks like agia barbara; there is something very sad about those saints by the road side; they are erected as a memorial when someone has died in a car accident near the spot, or if someone had a small miracle and got through a crash, it serves as a homage. You will see them through out greece and the saint is the name of the person in the accident or near miss; the saint is to protect future persons. Greece is a very religous place; remember skirts for women that are ankle high in religous places like monestaries (even for progessive professors greek or non greek).

H panagia na sas prostatepsi (may the virgin mary protect you) ptew ptew ptew (sign of the cross over all your heads to ward off the evil eye)

PS: i almost became a priest, grew the long beard and tried on one of them robes and hats, but went to med school instead...not kidding...even had the application for theologiki scholi (theological school).

and that shot of the acropolis is the north side, the spot saint paul stood and preached, there is also another spot in the agora where he stood...

Byzantine festival: saint days

could learn a lot about antiquity and modern greece by learning about byzantine music: here we have the festival hymns for todays celebration. it is in both english and greek. One can learn about how the greek language transistioned from antiquity to the modern speak by studing new testament greek. Don Knuth is into this over at Stanford with bible translations using babblefish ect.

you will see many architectural fragments logded into byzantine churches that are actual marble pieces for pagan temples: there is a church right in the plaka region that it is easy to see the columns right into the byzantine foundation. The same applies to the hymns: many hymns come from ancient greek music, but have been grafted into a byzantine tradition.

This applies to what we are seeing in our own culture where blogging, and glogging, is trasitioning us from written culture into electronic culture: hope you see this metaphor.

Here are the saint days for the month of november

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This page contains a single entry published on November 20, 2004 8:55 AM.

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