Oct.14.2010, Athens

demonstrators arrive at Syntagma

Listening to Athens waking up in the morning.  Sunrise about 0700.  Cozy in bed, slept in!  Today was the first day I noticed how late the sunrise is now.

0800 overcast but dry so far, about 24 C.  Breakfast; coffee, toast, cherry jam, cereal, cheese, salami, more coffee – all in all pretty good.  Then some after breakfast planning in Richard and Kathy’s room.  Acropolis workers are still on strike today.  So we walked up the street towards Town Hall to catch the hop on / hop off (hoho) bus.  On the way up we went past a fantastic fish and meat market but we didn’t stop in because we wanted to check the bus schedule first.  Got to Town Hall bus stop and bought tickets from a young lady who explained how her bus company was better than the other one.  15E/ticket.  Just in time, the bus showed up just then and we got on, up to the open top floor of the double decker bus.

1100 some cloud, some blue sky, some wind, 24C.  When we arrived at Syntagma square we all managed to move up to the seats at the very front of the bus with a great forward view through the plexiglass windshield.  While waiting at Syntagma for 15 min., 2 groups of demonstrators arrived at the square walking in from streets behind us.  Banner waving, drum banging, slogan shouting, exciting.  Away we went.  At the Acropolis a couple sat down behind us.  They had tried to go up to the Parthenon but could only get halfway up the hill to the entrance.  They saw riot police with shields and batons, media cameras and said that they had smelled traces of tear gas.  (JM’s note, I later found the news reports for that day, the riot police had used tear gas at the Acropolis but it wasn’t clear if they used it on the striking part time workers or on the media scrum).  From there the bus was supposed to return along Amalia Ave. to the parliament building at Syntagma.  However, because of the protests, the bus started taking a detour.

What a detour!  This bus went down roads that were never supposed to see a bus.  And the corners!  The bus turned corners when we thought they were impossible, and we had the best seats to judge that as we were at the top front.  Nonetheless, several times when we thought the bus couldn’t possibly turn a corner or go down a road because there wasn’t enough room, that’s exactly what it did.

1230 some cloud, blue sky too, now calm, 24 C.  The bus kept driving an altered route until we got near the National Archeological Museum.  Not sure what all those people would have thought that were waiting at stops 6 and 9 – this bus never showed up for them.  Then we were good through the remainder of the route until we got to the last leg returning to Syntagma, on Stadiou St.   We got stopped once for about 30 minutes at the bottom of Stadiou at a police plastic tape barricade, but many motorcycles and scooters were using the sidewalks to get past the police.  Then we stopped again for 15 min. about halfway to Syntagma.  As the bus driver said, “Syntagma 5 minutes if you walk, what can I say – this is my Greece!”  Finally arrived there at about 1400.  So, a round trip that was supposed to take 1.5 hrs. actually took 3.0 hrs and we saw lots of Athens and streets that are not on the regular tour.

We stayed on the bus and went to stop 3 next to the new Acropolis museum.  But, they let you out on the side of the building opposite the main entrance!  Walked up Makriyanni trying to find the museum entrance – mostly wanted to find out how late it was open to determine if we had enough time to get a bite to eat.  The museum is open until 2000 so we picked a restaurant.  Kathy and I had the combo plate special including red wine for 12E.  Debbie had a Greek style spaghetti.  Richard had an off the menu order of spiced meatballs in a pita bread.  The late lunch at 1500 renewed us all – on to the museum.

The first striking part is before the museum entrance there are open excavations of the ancient city, surrounded by railings and also about 12 to 18 ft. beneath you as you walk over plexiglass viewing panes.  Inside the museum, up the ramp to floor 1 was a bunch of pottery and small artifacts – pretty ho hum although the pottery had been fairly well reconstructed.  The second floor was full of statuary which was pretty impressive including many labelled “Kore” which turns out to mean a woman or a daughter.  The 3rd floor is mostly a cafeteria and a restaurant, washrooms which we all used.  By now it was pounding down rain outside seen on the patio outside the restaurant.  The 4th floor knocks your socks off.  It includes 5 of the 6 original carytids from the Acropolis plus all of the friezes, meta friezes and end pieces of the Acropolis that weren’t carted away by Lord Elgin, which are now held in the British Museum.  We got much closer to these pieces than we could have to the copies that are now installed at the Parthenon.

1800 rain has stopped, warm, slight breeze.  Left the new Acropolis museum and returned to Makriyanni street where we sat down for 2.50E ice cream cones.  Then over to the hoho bus stop #3 and waited 10 min. for our bus.  1900  Hopped on the bus and shortly moved back upstairs where once again we ended up with the front seats, both sides – great view and well protected from the cooler evening breeze.  This time the bus was allowed to continue along Amalia Ave. to the parliament buildings.  In front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier we saw a line of riot police with their shields and batons, and they were getting their helmets on.  The bus was not permitted to continue its regular route around the National Gardens, so anyone waiting at stops 7 and 8 were now out of luck.  We continued with the regular route from stop 9 onward, appreciating the lights at night and noticing that some areas looked much dirtier at this time of day.  One of the girls has heard that the protesters planned to return to the parliament buildings at 2000 tonight so we stayed on the bus and returned to Syntagma square.

2030  dry, calm, some clouds overhead, 1/2 moon, 18 C.  We walked up to the top of Syntagma to see the parliament buildings but no protesters this evening, maybe the rain discouraged them.  The riot police have also dispersed.  So we started walking back to our hotel, mostly down Ermou street which is pedestrianized in this section with no traffic.  When we saw a church ahead we turned north into a side street and unexpectedly got into some dark side streets.  It turns out that there is another church on Ermou and the one we had seen was not the one at Monastiraki, so we turned off too early.  We carried on in the general direction of Athenas St. and when we found it, we were almost opposite the Attalos Hotel, just by luck.

2100 Made some plans for tomorrow, weather and strike dependant, and then Deb and I went to the internet room but all 3 computers were fully occupied.  Deb went back to the room for a shower while I went to the rooftop for a Mythos.  Richard joined me there.  A few sprinkles – we went inside the rooftop patio just in time as it became a torrential downpour.  Rain stopped, beer finished, Richard headed to his room and I checked the internet.  Message back from Lindsay – no problems.  I went back to the room and journalled until 2340.  Good night!

Impressions: city is run down in some (many?) parts, this city is dirtier than Istanbul.  The hoho bus doesn’t necessarily take the prettiest routes to go from A to B – they just want to get to the next tourist stop along the route.  KE noticed smells, noisy, alternate plans, crowds, police, batons, motorcycle madness, Acropolis rocks, traffic cop inconsistency in control, broken barrier tape, earphones that fall out, plexiglass floors, ruins below.  DM making history, stadium seat top of the bus, impressive, downpour.  KE ice cream, demonstration, good weather timing (missed the torrential rain), whipped by a tree branch on top of the bus, good driver.  RE taps 1 in. above the sink, toilets that don’t take toilet paper, sausage pita, missed all bad weather, more nudity in store mannequins than in the museums, bus tour beats walking.  JM best tour ever, “This is my Greece”.

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