By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/24/2019
Occurred: 12/11/1999
Topics/Keywords: #Athens #Greece #Travel Page Views: 1012
Paul and Michael's visit to Athens, Greece, 1999

Athens

December 11, 1999 (Evening)

Finally, well after dark, we pulled into a large, covered parking lot: the bus terminal. Now, realize we had no plans as to where to stay: no reservations or anything. I did have my guide book, which recommended a little place called Marble House, and gave an address. We boarded the next available cab and showed the driver the address, which was on something called Tzinni street.

We drove around for what seemed like hours in the pouring rain. Our driver did not speak English, but he seemed unable to find the place. We drove up and down Tzinni Street; I could read the street signs and see the numbers on the buildings. Finally, he pulled up to another hotel, got out (with the meter still running!) and asked the bellman. On the basis of some new information he got, we turned off of Tzinni Street…on to Tzinni Street! Apparently, there are two streets by the same name in Athens, and Marble House was at the end of a cul de sac on the smaller one.

Okay, so now we were at Marble House…but, did they have room for us? Michael waited in the cab while I ran inside. The door was unlocked, but all the lights were out. After a moment, though, I found a sign that indicated which rooms were still available, with the keys just lying there and instructions to go on in and do the paperwork in the morning. I still hesitated; this seemed too good to be true…until I saw the number of the one room still vacant: Number 12, our "special" number. So, of course, I waved to Michael to come in; this was the place.

"Our" room was small, the twin beds were too soft and it had a shared bathroom; but it was dry and we were exhausted.

December 12, 1999

Yes, the next day we moved to another room with a private bathroom. But Marble House was our home away from home in Athens. It was run by an expat American lady from New Jersey, who gave us advice on what to do and see until we finally managed to break away.

By this time, we were starved. It was still raining, a torrential downpour. But, the temperature wasn't bad and we still had the umbrellas we had purchased in Rome. So, off we set.

We walked for blocks, past one motorcycle dealer after another. Every now and then, there would be a break in the monotony of motorcycle dealers; a motorcycle repair shop would be nestled between a couple. But, nary a place to eat, even though were we on a major road.

So, we cut across to a smaller road and, finally found a place. We were pretty thoroughly drenched by now, but the place was warm and the food, as was the case everywhere in Greece, was good. Afterwards, we made it back to our room, showered in the little shared shower (bathroom the size of a closet and no shower curtain; we had to take the toilet paper out so it would get soaked).


Our intention, of course, had been to get in and get out: photograph the hell out of the Acropolis, and get back to mainland Europe. However, two things got in the way:

  1. Everything closed early in the afternoon, and

  2. We fell in love with Athens.

We tried to get to the Acropolis right away, of course. However, as we got to it, the gates were closing. It seems we were on "winter hours", and pretty much every tourist spot closed at 2:30 pm! So, we had to make do and visit the "non-tourist" spots, like the Temple of Zeus.

Like most of the ancient temples, the Temple of Zeus, once the largest of them all, is in sad shape. Many of the columns have fallen and there isn't much else left. Nevertheless, seeing it in person gives one a notion for the size of this place, and the effort that once was made to honor the Father of the Gods.

Temple of Zeus

Although we were not able to walk on the grounds themselves (they were closed, naturally), we did walk along the perimeter park. Along the way we met a couple from the United States, who recommended that we climb Agoura Hill, one of the tallest of these sudden craggy mounts that juts up, unexpectedly, in the otherwise flat town. It was one Michael and I had been eyeing, anyway; and it wasn't that far, so we hopped a cab.

(Did I say, "climb"? I didn't mean, actually, climb! We rode. Well, most of the way.)

The cab dropped us off at the end of the road to summit; we had to walk the rest of the way, and it was steep. The hill seemed to be made of ancient schist, that metamorphic rock that results from great tectonic forces pushing continental plates deep into the earth until they are almost completely melted, then allows the material to rise again. Schist suggests geological activity in the ancient past; and we know Greece is geologically active today. In geologic terms, these hills have never known rest.

But the view of Athens below us was spectacular.

Athens

At the very top of the hill was a Greek Orthodox church, which we visited. However, immediately below it was a very fancy restaurant. (You had to walk through the restaurant's dining terrace to get to the church!)

Restaurant at the Top of Agoura Hill

By this time, of course, Michael and I were pretty thirsty. So we ordered a couple of ice cream floats, and watched the sun slowly sink toward the sea. As we sat, we saw that the sun was about to pass directly behind the Acropolis, which is also on a hill (though a shorter one than the one we were on). Eventually, its rays could be seen reflecting between the columns of the great temple there.

As evening settled, we returned to Marble House and then set out to find a restaurant for dinner. Our hostess recommended a direction in which she promised we'd find closer pickings than we had that morning.

On the corner, we stopped at the sound of Christmas music…muffled, but seemingly in English. It was coming from a little Greek Orthodox church. We stepped in to check it out. A visiting Korean choir was practicing for a concert to be given the next night. "I drea'win' of a whi—te Chwis'mas…" they sang in heavily accented voices that would probably sound dead-on to the intended Greek audience.

Half a block further on we found a mom-and-pop restaurant in which neither Mom nor Pop spoke any English. But they brought us some pasticcio, something I'd never had before, but fell in love with.

Sunset over the Acropolis Sunset Over Acropolis

The Great Marketplace

December 11, 1999

The next morning of our last day in Athens, thinking we had plenty of time, we stopped at an Internet Café.

These places, a wonderful idea, are like book stores with their Café au lait and gourmet snacks; but what people come for is to use computers and for Internet access. This gave me a chance to check my email, and to let people back home know I wasn't dead.

However, when we attempted to enter the Acropolis, again we were stymied. It seems that, on this day of the week, it closed even earlier than on the other days! Not knowing yet if we would choose to spend a third day in Athens, we decided to climb the hill anyway and see what we could see.

Climbing up to the Acropolis was a much milder task than climbing Agoura the evening before! But, while Agoura was mostly bare, the Acropolis abounds with growing things, making the view of Athens from it quite different.

Ancient Marketplace Ancient Marketplace, Facade

And then, since we were in the neighborhood, Michael insisted on visiting the ancient marketplace of the Athenians. (Michael was suffering from shopping withdrawal, I think—even an ancient mall was better than nothing!) However, this, too, was closed!

In walking around the building, however, I did spot anomalies like glass windows with chicken wire. It appears that these ancient buildings have received pretty constant use through the years.

We also noted that, pretty much anywhere in Athens you walk, if you couldn't see the Acropolis still seeming to tower over all, there would be some other temple. It always felt like the gods were watching.

Above, for example, is Thission, the Temple of Hephaestus. Some of the temples were from the Roman occupation; Michael and I did note how inferior the later Roman architecture was, compared to the original Athenian. (But still beautiful.)

Acropolis in the Late Afternoon Light

And so, we completed our second day in Athens…still without having seen the Acropolis from up close! We decided then, that we would stay one more day, even if it meant racing our way across Europe to catch our return flight home.

We took a cab back to Marble House, stowed our touristy things, and set out to find dinner.

We wandered down a street near ours, finally finding a Café that looked promising. As in all Greek places, the cigarette smoke was pretty thick; but they served Mexican Food! How could we turn it down?

(Actually, Michael could have turned it down, as Mexican isn't his favorite cuisine; however, the decor was so inviting, and the girl sat us next to a great fireplace, and it really seemed the place to go. Plus, the food turned out to be delicious.)

After a little more wandering, we returned to the Marble House, with a very firm intention: We would visit the Acropolis the next day, or die trying!