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Athens – day 5

April 11, 2006 – Tuesday – Athens – Olympieion, Zapion & National Archaeological Museum

I sleep in this morning, but by 10am I’m on the move, taking the metro from Omonia to Akropoli Station again, but this time I am heading for the Olympieion, the site of Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I initially walk in the wrong direction and end up in the Koukaki district at Syngrou-Fix metro station, but soon find my way back.

Hadrian's Arch
Hadrian’s Arch

Hadrian’s Arch is located outside the fence around the Temple of Olympian Zeus, right on very busy Syngrou Ave. It is very impressive in size, but has limited decoration. Admission to the Temple of Olympian Zeus is part of the €12 combination ticket I purchased for the Acropolis. It is a huge temple, but there are only 15 marble columns left standing out of the original 104. The rest of this site is mostly rubble, however the remains of the Roman Bath is interesting – worth a look.

I then crossed the street to see the Zapion and the National Garden. The Zapion and surrounding fountain, gardens and restaurant is impressive, however the National Garden is mundane. I try to visit the recommended Benaki Museum, however it is closed on Tuesdays. I obviously didn’t read my guidebook carefully enough!

Presidential Guards at the Hellenic Parliament
Presidential Guards

The Hellenic Parliament is across the street from Syntagma Square, and is an easy 10 minute walk from the Benaki Museum. The Presidential Guards wear ceremonial dress, including big puffies on their shoes! The real guards to the Parliamentary precinct (which is closed to the public) are armed police. Since the Benaki Museum is closed, I take the metro from Syntagma to Omonia Stations, and revisit the National Archaeological Museum.

Gold death-mask, known as the 'mask of Agamemnon'
Gold death-mask, known as the ‘mask of Agamemnon’

When I first visited this Museum on Saturday, it closed before I could see the showpiece gold artifacts recovered from Mycenae. This time I spend a full two hours viewing this important gallery. I saw the famous funerary Mask of Agamemnon, as well as many other superb artifacts (many made of gold). The side gallery showcasing Cycladic art was a surprise, since these are pre-Mycenaen. I believe this civilization was one of the first to form after man moved out of caves!

I must confess I’m not a fan of history, however visiting all these ancient sites in Greece and seeing so many fascinating artifacts brings ancient civilizations alive. I can understand why thousands of Greek schoolchildren visit these sites and museums every day.

Athens Metro ticket machine
Athens Metro ticket machine

I have used the Athens metro to get to some of the local sites. It is inexpensive, safe, and easy to use, so I would recommend visitors to the city make use of this form of transportation wherever you can. You must purchase a ticket, then validate it as you walk to the train platforms. If you get caught dodging the fare, you risk an on-the-spot fine of forty times the fare, so remember to buy and validate those tickets.

I catch up on my journal and rest for awhile before going out to dinner around 7:45pm. Ayah again for dinner: Roca salad and stuffed pork with roast potatoes. I planned to have Gemista tonight, but they didn’t have it. The pork was very tasty though. It’s 8:30pm and the restaurant is empty. Greeks certainly eat late!

Tomorrow I plan to get to the Acropolis as close to opening time (8am) as possible, and see the Acropolis Museum. Then I’ll walk to the Roman Forum and see the Tower of the Winds. So no sleeping in tomorrow morning…I’ll set my alarm for 7am.

I’m going to have to confirm my Alitalia flights from Athens to Milan and Milan to Toronto and Victoria either tomorrow or Thursday. Hopefully I can confirm online.