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Cape Sounio

April 13, 2006 – Thursday – Cape Sounio – Temple of Poseidon

Paul picks me up at 8am for our pre-arranged tour to Cape Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon. We drive along the Saronic Gulf coastal road through Glyfadha (close to Athens), Vouliagmeni (posh resorts), as well as Lagonisi and Anavyssos (beachfront towns).

The Temple of Poseidon site (€4 admission) is the southern most point of land for the isthmus where Athens is located, jutting out into the Aegean Sea. Even with the various stops for photos we made along the way, we arrive at 10am. The morning light is near perfect, so I get a nice dark blue sky to contrast with the temple’s marble columns. Needless to say, this site is dramatic. The temple is located at the top of the headland, which has steep cliffs to the sea hundreds of metres below. Spring flowers are in full bloom, and there is a fresh breeze blowing. I take advantage of the sparse crowds and photograph the temple and headlands from every angle.

Cape Sounio
9 photos
  • Posh resorts on the Saronic Gulf shoreline
    Posh resorts on the Saronic Gulf shoreline
  • Vouliagmeni Lake resort
    Vouliagmeni Lake resort
  • Arsida Island and a nice bay on the Saronic Gulf
    Arsida Island and a nice bay on the Saronic Gulf
  • First glimpse of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio
    First glimpse of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio
  • First glimpse of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio
    First glimpse of the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio
  • Temple of Poseidon
    Temple of Poseidon
  • Temple of Poseidon
    Temple of Poseidon
  • Temple of Poseidon
    Temple of Poseidon
  • Temple of Poseidon
    Temple of Poseidon

I opt to return to Athens along the same coast road we just took because the alternative is to drive back down the middle of Mesoyia. Along the way Paul is called by one of his drivers to tell him there are three protests in full swing in Athens. He said he had parked the bus and was between police tear gas and the protesters Molotov cocktails! We change our plans, and divert to Markopoulo and drive on the expressway by the new airport to see the new Olympic Stadium.

Paul and his Mercedes taxi in front of Olympic Stadium
Paul and his Mercedes taxi in front of Olympic Stadium

Paul drops me off at the Irini metro station, since he won’t be able to drive into central Athens while the protests are on. I get back to Omonia station downtown within 15 minutes, and walk the few blocks back to the apartment. No sign of any protests.

I withdraw €500 from a bank machine, so I can pay Paul €490 for the two airport transfers, the full day tour to Corinth and the Peloponnese sites, and the half day tour to Cape Sounio. I’m very happy with Paul’s services, and although a significant expense, it is much cheaper as compared to the bus tours our group took in Italy.

I have a nap before going out to dinner at 8pm. Ayah again for my last dinner in Athens: Roca salad and rabbit in lemon sauce with roast potatoes and rice. The rabbit is delicious, but has small bones. They serve me a little dessert gratis: a small square pudding with citrus peal, currents and dusted with cinnamon.

Except for the odd beggar, nobody is alone in Athens. Folks are socializing in cafés, on the street, or having energetic conversations on their cellphones while they walk in the city or take the metro. Speaking of which, virtually everyone has a cellphone here. I passed one guy today sitting in the same seat in a café outside my apartment three times – at about 1pm, again at 4pm, and finally at 8pm!

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Athens – day 6

April 12, 2006 – Wednesday – Athens – Roman Forum, Tower of the Winds, Monastiraki, Lykavitos Hill, Benaki Museum

I set my alarm for 7am, and I’m out the door shortly after 8am. I am at the Acropolis entrance when it opens and want to see the Acropolis Museum. The only problem is the ticket I have can only be used once for the Acropolis itself!

The Tower of the Winds
The Tower of the Winds

I am disappointed, but there is more to see using my combination ticket, so I walk down to the Roman Forum. The Tower of the Winds is of particular interest to me, especially after hearing the talk on sundials at the RASC Victoria Centre a few months ago. The Tower of the Winds holds special significance since it is a sundial, a compass, a weather vane, and a water clock. The tower was built in the first century AD by Andronikos of Kyrrhos, a Syrian astronomer.

Funicular train - Lykavitos Hill
Funicular train – Lykavitos Hill

I wander around Monastiraki for a short while, however it is mainly a shopping district and restaurants, so it is of little interest to me. I take the metro Blue Line to Syndagma, the closest station to Lykavitos Hill, which is my next target. The funicular train takes people to the top of the hill for €4.50 (return). There are also stairs to the top of the hill for those so inclined (pun intended). There are wonderful unobstructed views of the whole of Athens from the top. There is also an (expensive) restaurant and a small chapel dedicated to St. George.

Benaki Museum
Benaki Museum

I take the funicular train back down the hill, then walk back to the Benaki Museum (€6 admission – no photography).

I notice police paddy wagons parked in the side streets, and there is a protest happening across the street at the side of the Parliament. I quickly duck inside and the woman who sold me the admission said they were all crying a half hour ago, since the riot police had used tear gas.

Gold wreath of sprigs of myrtle, Hellenistic Period - Benaki Museum postcard
Gold wreath of sprigs of myrtle, Hellenistic Period

This museum’s artifacts are mainly the result of bequests from private collections by wealthy Greeks. The quality of the artifacts is noticeably better, having less restoration, and the museum also offers a very diverse collection, which they cycle through displays.

The Benaki Museum consists of several sites. This one contains the Museum of Greek Culture, where ancient finds are on the main floor, and modern (to about 1900) Greek artifacts, textiles, and art are on the upper floors. I didn’t find liturgical vestments, gospels, historical letters and notes and other paper and parchment in any other museums. This is fascinating material. There is also a huge collection of jewellery, Greek costumes and folk artifacts (for those who are interested).

After returning to my apartment, finding Internet access is the next thing on the list. I go to an Internet cafe 4 blocks down Solomou which charges €1.50/hr. Warning: all the Internet cafes in Athens are smoky!

Interior of Xapas restaurant - Athens
Interior of Xapas restaurant

I go to Xapas, Methonis 58 for dinner this evening. I have pork simmered in a nice sauce with rice, and a Greek salad sans cucumbers. Cost was €15. The tomatoes the restaurants use here in Athens are so lovely and sweet – no doubt fully vine-ripened, unlike the horrible tomatoes we have available in Canada.

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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.

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Acropolis & Ancient Agora

April 10, 2006 – Monday – Athens, Greece

I take the Metro from Omonia Square to the Acropolis (€12 admission). Unfortunately I don’t arrive until 9:45am (it opens at 8am), so I get to join the crush of the crowds of bus tours and Greek school children who are swarming over the Parthenon, the Propylaia, and the Temple of Athena Nike. The crowds weren’t quite as bad around the Erechtheion (Old Temple) and Odeion of Herdes Atticus (Herodion) theatre.

View of the Ancient Agora from the Pantheon
View of the Ancient Agora from the Pantheon

Once I take a few photos and leave the summit of the Acropolis, the crowds thin and it is downright tranquil as I walk down the Panathenic Way to the Ancient Agora and the Temple of Hephaistos. I also visit the beautiful Holy Apostles 11th century Byzantine church, which has some wonderful fresco fragments inside. I’ll return to the Acropolis again – either at the 8am opening time, or late in the afternoon when the crowds are less. I still want to see the Dionysos theatre and the Acropolis Museum.

Xapas Taverna

I try a new restaurant tonight – Xapas, 58 Methonis, dining alone from 7:30-8:30pm. All their entrees seemed to be vegetarian, so I had Spinach Pie and Greek Salad, which were both excellent. Cost was €12.50. Last night I noticed that their customers arrived earlier, because when I walked by on my way home, they were jam-packed with a bunch of 20-somethings by 7:30pm, with some playing musical instruments.

Acropolis
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  • The Acropolis from Strefi Hill
    The Acropolis from Strefi Hill
  • Odeion of Herdes Atticus (Herodion)
    Odeion of Herdes Atticus (Herodion)
  • The Propylaia
    The Propylaia
  • The Propylaia
    The Propylaia
  • The Erechtheion
    The Erechtheion
  • The Erechtheion
    The Erechtheion
  • The Erechtheion
    The Erechtheion
  • View of the Ancient Agora from the Pantheon
    View of the Ancient Agora from the Pantheon
  • Church of the Holy Apostles
    Church of the Holy Apostles
  • Fresco in the dome of the Church of the Holy Apostles
    Fresco in the dome of the Church of the Holy Apostles
  • Stoa of Attalos
    Stoa of Attalos
  • Temple of Hepaistos
    Temple of Hepaistos
  • Reconstruction of the Acropolis as viewed from the Hephaisteion
    Reconstruction of the Acropolis as viewed from the Hephaisteion