Voula

Before starting this post, I tried to search for some nice quote to put in but there were none that resonated with what I feel when I am near the sea. All I see is this vast expanse of blue/green/turquoise water and the equally sized sky on top. But then I am usually on land when I am watching this spectacle. And once in a blue moon, when I am in the boat, it’s just to go from one piece of land to another – may be for 2 hours, and that’s about it. And whenever I have done that, I haven’t found a big difference between being on a giant lake, in a river or at the sea. And that I think is probably because I have not had the view from the top that would show how small I am in comparison to the water body I am on. The only perspective I have is of me is in relation to everyone else around me. Therefore, I have absolutely no idea what all those quotes are talking about – ocean singing, quietness, beautiful thoughts yadi yadi yada. I mean the water is not even drinkable, for crying out loud, let alone all the sand that you bring back with you! But even then, whenever I’m in a place where there is a chance to go see the sea (funny), I go and do that. May be one day I will understand what exactly is everyone raving about by being at the sea. Alright, alright – it’s not that bad. All I am trying to say is – probably I feel the same beside a river as beside the sea.

So, on the second day of being in Athens, I looked up at a pamphlet/map at the apartment. I found that there was an organized boat trip to three small islands. So I kind of ran to the meeting point in Syntagma Square hoping to find a spot even if I hadn’t pre-booked anything. If not, then at least to get a place for the next day. As per the pamphlet, a red bus was supposed to pick up the passengers to take them to the port. 5 minutes, 10 minutes past the meeting time and no sign of that red bus. Then I asked the friendly looking kiosk owner again (I’d asked him earlier if that was the meeting point). He speculated that probably the company wasn’t running the tour that day because the season was almost over and therefore, might not have had enough bookings. Yes, I know, I should have checked earlier. So – I decided to mail the tour company later and find out more. Long story short – it worked out, but two days later. The full story here. Now, what to do? It was only about 8:30 AM in the morning. I had two options – to hop on the metro and go to Piraeus (the port from where the ferries go to the islands) or take a tram (as mentioned on the map) going through the city and then alongside the coastline, to reach a beach town called Voula. How did I know about this second option? The nice hosts of the apartment that I’d renter, had told me about it while handing me the key. And it seems things have a way of working out in a certain way. One of the hosts had mentioned that after Saturday, the temperatures were predicted to drop. So if I wanted to go to the beach, I should do it by Saturday. And as you can see, despite my not really planning to do that, there I was – at Syntagma Square, on Saturday morning, looking for the tram number 5 to go to the beach!

I found the tram stop after some searching – it was right opposite to where the Parliament building ends and the National Garden begins. However, there was a notice stuck there which I didn’t completely understand until a friendly Athenian walked by. The notice said that people need to take the metro to a stop (Neos Kosmos)  and then take the tram from there because there was some construction going on the line from Syntagma till that other stop. So off I went to the Metro station. As far as I remember, that was my first Metro ride in Athens. Usually, I avoid the underground because then you don’t get to see the sun and the buzz of the city, but then sometimes, you find quite some interesting stuff underground – like in Athens. The Syntagma metro station is a mini museum! It  showcases several of the ancient artifacts unearthed during the digging for the construction of Athens Metro network. Same is true for a few other stations like the Acropolis and the Monastiraki.

Amphoras at the Mini museum at the Metro Station

Once at the Neos Kosmos, I saw a no. 5 standing right in front of me but I didn’t climb in because I had no idea which way it was going. Usually when I have the unlimited travel pass, I am quite careless and climb in onto the transport get down at the next stop after realizing that it’s going in the opposite direction. But that day, I didn’t. I waited (it was a boring wait) and then saw first a man running towards a tram coming from the opposite side and then saw the tram making a turn into a street perpendicular to the one I was standing in. So I also ran. And good that I did because that was the right direction! Boarded the tram and just observed people coming in and going out along the way. One woman, probably in her 50s, carried a folding chair and a kind of beach bag. Definitely a local. And I didn’t even have flip-flops! That’s when I realized that I was not really prepared for the day at the beach. But now I could not turn back. Some other passengers were probably going for work. A family of three was the one that was with me on the tram till the last stop. The mother kept her 3 or 4 year old busy with a notebook and a color pen during the long journey. I could have gotten down at so many places on the way, like the woman with the folding chair who got down at the first sight of the ocean. I guess I wanted to see where did it end. The tram went through Glyfada, a nice suburb which reminded me of a locality in Bangalore, which used to be the place to go when my friends and I wanted to be in a quiet posh part of the city with swanky (ya, expensive too) cafes, wide streets and lovely houses. I thought of getting down there on my way back to the city. After getting down at the last stop, there were two options – again! I could stay there or find a way to go to Sounion where there is a Temple of Poseidon. The family of three which got down there, seemed to be about to do that because we all walked onwards and they stopped at what looked like a bus stop. I think either I didn’t want to wait for the bus and be again on a long journey, while the sun was also quite bright or may be I was not thinking straight because the nearby beach was beckoning me. I don’t know what it was but I just decided to stay back and enjoy the scenery of where I was. In retrospect, I think I could have gone further but now that cannot be changed.

Coming back to the story. I got down to the rocks close to the water, which was quite close to the street, as compared to the other beaches I have been to, where I’ve had to walk quite some distance in the sand to reach the waters. There were a handful of other people, all most probably pensioners, at the beach with their chairs/umbrellas. The beach itself  was strewn with sun-bleached leaves of some kind (or may be sea weed). It was not with fine sand but wasn’t pebbly either. And then the water – that was just fabulous! I took off my shoes and socks (as you already know I wasn’t really prepared for the beach) and found a rock on which to sit and dip my feet in the water. It was so cool to the touch and gave a lovely contrast to the heat of the sun overhead, which was already strong although it was just a little before 10 AM. The time might explain the presence of only old people; the young ones were probably finishing their chores or working or may be just waking up after a Friday night party (like the one in some apartment in the complex I was staying, with upbeat piano music that sounded great but annoying if you want to go to sleep!)

The Clear Waters of the Aegean Sea

So there, I sat for some time but as you might know from my other posts, I am not one of those who can sit still, unless it is on the couch in front of TV when I completely lose track of time. So after a while, when I felt my head burning, I decided to get up and move further. I wanted to see what else was around. So jumped on a bus and it took me through the beautiful neighborhood. One very interesting thing I saw was colorful awnings on the balconies of all the apartments, which makes sense when it is as sunny as it was there. I wonder why we don’t have them in India where summers are quite brutal!I got down where I wanted to, walked around a bit, took a lot of pictures, found the bus again and thus, explored the area.

The Park at Voula with fishes on the Ground!
Some Pigeons enjoying the Beach

It was getting around noon and I thought of finding a restaurant. I thought of going back towards Glyfada where I’d seen some malls while on my way to Voula. Once there, I went to the malls but didn’t find anything good. Then I found a vegan restaurant called Yi. That was a really great find. It was a spacious place, with calm ambiance and beautiful decor and a nice host. That was so different from the restaurants in the city, alright from the restaurants I’d been to. The host confirmed my thoughts, when I asked if they had a branch in the city, that it would be difficult to find that big a space to create such a relaxing atmosphere within the city. I had a very nice lunch there, complete with a dessert, while the phone was also getting fueled up on the side. 

Relaxing at the restaurant away from the midday Sun

Then from there, I decided to return to the city for which I found the connections via bus and metro, with the help of the wifi at the restaurant. I could have taken the same tram no. 5 back that I came with, but then I would have seen the same sights again. The other way promised some more new things to see. You know that desire to absorb as much as possible of a place that you like?  Then you know what I was feeling like. It’s good to have those public transport passes!

The metro that I found brought me to the Acropolis station where I spent some time exploring the mini museum set up there, with the finds from the diggings there.

Went out, walked around a bit, before climbing onto the Areopagus hill, which was named as Mars hill by the Romans. I didn’t know the name then but just saw a lot of people over there and went. It’s funny that I learnt this from my Portugal trip that if you see the board indicating a “Miradouro” anywhere, don’t think but just go. “Miradouro” means “Viewing Point”. There was no board It was a lovely view of the city as well as the Acropolis from there. The hill had several purposes during the Greek and the Roman times but it is most famous for the speech of Apostle Paul. As it so happened, the Greeks worshipped 12 Olympians but they also had a 13th deity they called “Agnostos Theos” – the Unknown God. Apostle Paul cleverly placed the God mentioned in Christianity as this 13th deity!

The Panorama from the Mars Hill

 After getting down from there, I went around in the search of Anafiotika neighborhood which was supposedly below the Acropolis. May be I found it may be I didn’t. I tried it once again on my last day of the trip in Athens, you can read about that here. But found myself in the market (Ermou street?) and got pulled into the shop of a friendly shopkeeper to buy some souvenirs when they used some Hindi words to get my attention (“chalo chalo” and “namaste”). The octogenarian granny at the door shook my hands warmly while the grand-kids showed me the wares. I bought a few things and then was on my way. The market was all beautifully lit up by then, as was the Acropolis. Sat around the Monastriaki square for some time, got something to eat at a nice vegan restaurant close-by and called it a day.

P.S. Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of my photos while transferring them to the laptop, so I am a bit sad. I can just hope that I my memory is serving me right and I am recalling the events correctly. Moral of the story – 1. At least outline the events of the day on the same evening, if completing the full post is not possible and 2. Upload the photos to an online service for safekeeping in parallel!

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The Hills, Bombardier Saint, Prison, Theater, An Unusual Museum, and a Well-deserved Ouzo

Continuing from the previous post, when I had just reached the other end of the pedestrian street I was walking on, from where I could either go to the Philopappos Hill (Hills of Muses, Pnyx, Nymphs) or towards the Acropolis. I am actually wondering now how did I end up there – was that street parallel to the street leading to the Philopappos Hill? Must be so because otherwise I cannot explain it. During the walking tour on the first day, we were both that pedestrian street and the Philopappos Hill but I cannot recall where we took the detour that day.

Once there, I was torn between going towards the Acropolis which was gleaming in the Sun and towards the Hill. Why did I want to go back to the hill? I wanted to see this church that I had seen during the walk but hadn’t gone in to see how it looks from inside. The church of “Bombardier” Saint Demetrios. Cool – a bombardier saint – huh!

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Church of Agio Demetrios Loubardiaris

So the story goes that sometime during the Ottoman rule of Athens in the 1600’s, on 25th of October – St. Demetrios day, a Turk officer thought of destroying the church by firing a cannon from his post at the Acropolis. But surprise surprise, before the cannon could be fired, a thunderstorm broke out and the cannon exploded at the Acropolis itself and destroyed the artillery and probably the officer too and the church and the worshippers were saved! Since then, as would be the natural consequence, the church got the nickname of “Loubardiaris” – Bombardier. (Unfortunately parts of Acropolis also got destroyed in that explosion but that’s not the point here). As my luck had been that day – this church was also closed when I reached there – so I couldn’t see it from inside.

But you know, I found another cool place close to this church – the place famous today as the Prison of Socrates. There are other caves around with the same claim but I saw the board with the name at this place. If you don’t know the story of Socrates, here it is. Socrates’ philosophical ideas didn’t sit well with some of the influential people of Athens. So they put him on trial for misleading the youth of Athens and sentenced him to death. This cave is believed to be where he was imprisoned.

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Prison of Socrates

Later when I was strolling in the shopping area and chatted up with one shopkeeper, we concluded that we have come 180 degrees from the times of Socrates. Why? Well, in Socrates’ time, 399 BC, it seems it was not right to execute someone but committing suicide was fine (Socrates had to consume poison – carry out the sentence himself). And today – executing someone is fine but trying to commit suicide is punishable by law! Sounds so ironic. Also interesting is the fact that even after more than 2000 years, you can get killed for having a different philosophy than that of others around you, however logical your philosophy might be!

Then I returned back towards that junction that I mentioned earlier. This time, it was to move on towards the Acropolis. What I was looking for, was the Theater of Dionysus, presumably world’s first theater, built in the 5th century BC, with a capacity to hold 17000 people! I had glimpsed it while I was on the Acropolis a few days ago, and clicking pictures of the sights down from there. But on this day when I was searching for it, I just couldn’t find it. Google maps was making me go in circles. I rather reached the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and may be because I was tired, one part of my brain convinced the other curious part, that the same place must be having two names! I assumed that the place I had photographed from the Acropolis, was some other site! Anyway, so this Odeon was built in 161 AD and had a capacity to seat 5000 people. The Odeon has seen concerts from a lot of celebrities since after the renovation of 1950’s, most notably Yanni due to which people still call it Yanni’s theater! Interesting to note is that in India, in the city I grew up, there used to be a cinema hall with the name of Odeon. I didn’t know back then that the word had Greek origin and one day I would be seeing a real Odeon!

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Odeon of Herodes Atticus

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Inside the Odeon as the Sun is receding

After sitting there for a bit and imagining the concerts that would have enthralled the audience in the old days and the new, and getting a bit sad that I had to leave this lovely city the next day, I gave out a sigh and decided to move on and make the most of the last day of my trip there. I went in search of Anafiotika – a neighborhood on the foot of the Acropolis, that has houses like those on a Greek island, in the middle of the city! It was setup by the people who had come to Athens from Anafi, an island, hence the name Anafiotika, “little Anafi”. I had tried to find that on another day too but didn’t find the whitewashed houses that I’d seen in the photos. This time, I looked at the maps and decided to follow the path to Anafiotika cafe, assuming that would definitely lead me to the right place. I was taken through the same staircases as the previous time (google maps) and so once again, no sign of those whitewashed houses. I believe I was close by but may be like in the Harry Potter world, the houses had a charm on them that made them invisible to me! It was still nice to see the cafes on the staircases doing brisk business, with patrons enjoying the outdoors while it is still comfortable to stay out (although I guess in Athens, there would never be a time when people won’t be sitting outside!).

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Cafe in probably Anafiotika neighborhood

And while I was making my way down from there, I found a red train make its way on the street! It had lots of kids inside, probably a school picnic. Some kids waved at me, so I waved back. Some naughty ones in the last car made faces at me, so I….no, I didn’t make faces back at them.

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A train coming out on the street!

Then as I made my way down, I looked at the maps again and found that I was close to one place I had heard about the previous day during the boat tour from co-travelers. So I made my way to that but in between something else caught my eye. It was a museum but not just any museum. It was the Museum of School Life and Education! Ever heard of something like that? I hadn’t. I went into the door briefly, found a courtyard, took a few pictures and came out. But then the curiosity got the better of me and I decided to go inside and find out more. It was around 4:45 PM and it was to be open until 6:00. So I bought the ticket and proceeded to learn more about the school life and education in Greece from the 17th century onward. I think I’ll write another post to detail that out, to do justice to it, just like I have to write a complete post about the Acropolis, about the Laiki Agora (farmer’s market), about another museum, about so many things!

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A model classroom in the museum

Once done from there, I was quite nostalgic – about my own school days when there used to be chalk and duster in the classrooms and even though I liked school, the sound of the  bell signaling the end of the class was always welcome!

Then I moved on to the place which I was on my way for 40 minutes earlier – a pub called Brettos. It is the oldest or one of the oldest distilleries in Athens. It’s there since 1909! Today the distillery has moved away from here but still, they make their own liqueurs. The colorful bottles on the walls gave it a different charm. It was just nice to be there and to slowly enjoy an ouzo.

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Brettos

After that I spent a lot of time in shopping nearby (only small things that I could take with me in the hand luggage although I wanted to buy soooooooooo many things!) and then decided to call it a day. What did I have for dinner? Ah yes, it was vegetable rice noodles with Satay sauce from a wok place on the way. Last time I was there, it was packed as if things were being given for free! This evening it was much better. I ordered, received my takeaway within minutes and I was on my way. For one last time in the trip, I boarded the bus which I had taken back to the apartment a couple of times in the previous days. And then once back, I enjoyed my dinner with my feet up and watching some television (English channels!). The packing could wait..

“One thing I know is that I know nothing.” – Socrates

 

The Priest, Souvlaki, Ancient Cemetery, and Roman Mosaics on the way

In the post about my last day of strolling in Athens, I stopped at the Cathedral and explained about the old Cathedral. The breakfast had long been burned out. But you know the urge to take pictures of everything that looks interesting, is more overpowering than the hunger. Well, I wasn’t starving. If I’m super hungry, then my mind cannot think of anything else except food and cannot see anything else except a place to eat! My priorities are clear – food, internet, and then everything else :).

So, in the Cathedral complex, I found a statue, facing the Cathedral, that looked like that of a Greek Orthodox priest. I’d seen that once before while on this street looking for a restaurant, but didn’t pay attention. Why? Because at that time, I was starving! This time I stopped to find more. Turns out he was Damaskinos – the Archbishop of Athens and All of Greece from 1941 to 1949. He was one of the few people who raised their voices against the Nazi oppression of Jews in Greece during WWII. For that, he was threatened to be prosecuted by the firing squad, to which he famously replied, “According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged, not shot. Please respect our traditions”! What a cool priest! He secretly instructed the churches under him to issue Baptismal certificates, and the Chief of Police – Evert, to issue false identity papers, to the Jews so that they could be saved from being deported to the concentration camps by the Nazis. In fact I read somewhere, that over 600 Greek Orthodox priests were arrested and deported for helping Jews! After the war, the Jewish population of Athens got his statue erected as a token of their gratitude, and that’s this one.  We are so used to seeing worthless statues of kings on horses. This one to me is so much more meaningful.

Archbishop Damaskinos

The Cathedral

There was one more statue nearby, behind the statue of Damaskinos. That was of the last Emperor of the Byzantine Empire – Constantine XI.

Emperor Constantine of Byzantine Empire

I was quite close to the restaurant that I was going to for lunch, so I wanted to proceed without any further distractions. But then there was a shopping street beckoning me. I must admit I went in that direction briefly but just looked and moved on. A personal triumph!

Finally reached the restaurant. Felt so good to rest the feet. I ordered a traditional Greek Souvlaki, albeit Vegan and Gluten-free, along with a coffee as I was having a bit of headache since last night. The headache was probably due to being in the sun and sea for the whole of previous day. But as they say, “no pain no gain!” My meal tasted quite good. I’d never had a Souvlaki before. Let’s see when and where do I get it next!

Souvlaki with Coffee

I fueled up my phone also along with myself, for it was only noon time and I needed it to last me much longer. I often feel that today’s smartphones are quite the same as dictators at least in one aspect – they both are so Power Hungry! But I love my phone. It has changed the whole travel experience for me! It’s made it so much more comfortable and flexible.

Anyway, thus recharged, my phone and I moved on. On some whim, I decided to check out the Metro at Monastiraki even though the place, that I wanted to go to, was easily walkable. The 5-day transport ticket was still valid, so I thought of just taking in the experience of the Monastiraki Metro station. And the lesson learnt is – as a first timer, go empty handed there because otherwise you may lose something in the scuffle of the crowds coming in and getting out of the metro there!  The regulars (and those with experience of the Mumbai local trains), of course, can manage it very well, but for lesser mortals, it can be quite overwhelming!

I got down at Thissio – 1 stop away from Monastiraki. It was the same place from where the walking tour, that I took on my first day, started. I wanted to go there to be able to see the church there – Agios Georgios – from inside, which I had foolishly not done while waiting for the walking tour, despite having time then. And this time – it seemed like the church was closed. So I strolled around a bit. Was attracted to a pair of street musicians – a girl playing the violin and a guy playing a guitar and singing. Listened to them for a while. As it was destined to be, when I was at the restaurant, I had asked the cashier to give me some coins in exchange for bigger bills – simply because each day when I’d wanted to give some money to the street musicians that I liked, I didn’t have any coins! This time, I was able to show my appreciation.

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The Heavily Graffitied Metro Train on the tracks adjacent to the Ancient Agora

Then I looked at the maps again – to see what other thing was close by which I hadn’t seen on my first visit. It was Kerameikos – one of the archaeological sites that I wanted to see. Did the word ring any bells? If yes, then it’s because this is the root word of Ceramics! It was the area where the potters lived in the ancient times.  There is also an ancient cemetery here. In ancient Athens, it was customary to hold public funerals in honor of soldiers who lost their lives in the war. At this site, one such funeral was held which had a speech given by Pericles, as per the  History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucidides. There are a lot of Grave Stele (gravestone) with elaborate sculptures that were found here and are now part of the museums. I saw a few in the National Archaeological museum. They are so beautiful and emotion evoking, telling some kind of a story. Look at this one with a young woman named Phylonoe, who died leaving behind an infant. The servant woman is holding the baby, who is reaching out towards the young woman – his mother, but the mother looks detached and unable to hold him because she is not in the same realm anymore!

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Child and Mother

Since it was the last day that I had in Athens and daylight was precious, I wanted to see some more of the other sites. So I didn’t linger there longer and moved on.

I retraced my steps towards the statue of Theseus where I had started my walking tour on the first day. Then moved on to the pedestrian street that leads all the way up to the Acropolis. On the side, there still were sellers with beautiful schnick-schnacks. Some sellers were chatting with their prospective customers, some others were playing chess to pass the time while waiting, some were making more pieces of their craft, a musician creating some atmosphere with his guitar, a stall selling roasted corn on the cob and Greek tea, and among all that, a few of the innumerable cats of Athens relaxing, or doing whatever they do all day, in the dwindling sun.

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The Schnick-Schnaks

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Locals Playing Chess

On the way, I bought some decorations which were just out of their moulds, I need to work on them to make them more personalized before I gift them to friends. A restaurant hawker on the way, asked me if I would like to have something and when I politely declined, he gave his card and asked to try on the way back. Then said “namaste” understanding I was from India. I realized that I hadn’t learnt the Greek greeting even till the last day – which is another thing I don’t do. I do learn the greetings of any new country that I visit and remember it at least for as long as I am there, but the Greeks made me so comfortable with their use of English that I didn’t feel that I was in a country which has a beautiful language of its own! Next time.

Thus strolling, on the way, I found some stone structures which were the site of Kalliroe Fountains, around which were remnants of beautiful Roman mosaics! Thus walking, I reached the junction from where you can either go to the Acropolis or to the Hills of the Muses, Pnyx and Nymphs.

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The remnants of a Roman Mosaic

I should end here because I’ve been writing this post since almost six days now and just not able to come to an end. It doesn’t help when you somehow seem to have lost the photos from the phone, get into despair, but then find them miraculously auto-uploaded into the flickr app (which is sadly going to take away the free storage of unlimited photos soon), then download them from there but with machine generated labels that you cannot make sense of anymore. Back there, I wrote “miraculously” because only that day’s photos were uploaded which I seem to have lost from the phone!

So, some more of that day’s explorations to come in the next post. Meanwhile, I’ll try to make sense of the photos that seem all in a disarray.

 

 

 

10 Similarities between India and Greece

As I observed in my last post, that there places where you immediately feel at home and some where you can live for a long time and yet not feel any connection. So while I sit down and wait for the flight back from Athens, let me list out some reasons why I felt like home in Athens.

1. The Sun is shining most of the time – I love the Sun. Of course I don’t have to be out when it’s too hot, but when it comes out everyday, the mood is better!

2. Ancient lands – Both of these countries have had ancient civilizations that were quite advanced. It’s a pity that things deteriorated over the centuries but you can see that the ancient wisdom has survived!

3. Crazy Rich Mythology – Oh yes! Once you start exploring, you can go deeper and deeper and yet not know all the stories!

4. 2 epics each. India – Ramayana and Mahabharata, Greece – Odyssey and Iliad, which almost everyone, at least in the country knows of.

5. Culture of Fresh Delicious Food 😋

6. Temples – Oh yes, temple after temple abound in both places. Alright, in Greece they are mostly ruined but yet, even in the ruins you can still see the magnificence.

7. Friendly, helpful people (generally) – You will find all kinds of people everywhere but generally, I feel people are warm hearted in both the countries.

8. Full of colors – Warm countries tend to have more colors than the cold ones. That shows also in the general surroundings. Even the marble statues from ancient Greece which you see as off white today, originally had colors on them!

9. Great arts and crafts – You can go wild if you want to buy the beautiful things the craftsmen have to offer in both the places.

10. Music – There is always music in the air.

The list can go on but I will stop at that for now. Time to go back.

“Mechri tin epomeni” – That’s how it sounds “Until next” in Greek.

The Soldiers, Garden, Stadium and the Cathedral

I didn’t write about my experiences in Athens in the chronological order but the good thing about electronic media is that things can be rearranged later when one has more time and energy (and a bigger device than the phone!). As of now, I am just feeling a sense of already missing Greece (I leave tomorrow).

It’s amazing how you just connect with some places (and not with another). Athens has been such a place which made me feel at home. May be because it is an ancient city, just like the cities of India. Of may be because it is not filled with impeccably dressed people with stern dispositions. There is music and color and – the Sun! It’s not intimidating like for example, Berlin. (I like Berlin but it intimidates. My theory is that the rulers there wanted it to be like that.)

Let’s make a list of what all did I do on the last day of my vacation in Athens.

The morning started slow. I didn’t get out until 10:30 AM! In my mind, there is always a sense of guilt when I don’t get out as early as possible, while on vacation because it feels like I am wasting the precious time! It’s ironic that there is no feeling of such a guilt when I am binge watching series after series while sitting on my couch back home! Anyway, so today I started late not because I wasn’t ready but because I couldn’t decide what all to do today. I searched the internet for ideas. Finally, gave up and just decided to go first to the National Garden.

On the way, I crossed the Parliament on Syntagma Square. And the oddest thing happened. I could see one entrance of the garden on the other side of the street but couldn’t find a way to cross the roads. So I went to my right at the traffic signal. Once I crossed the road, instead of turning left to go through the entrance I had seen, I decided to go straight ahead. Then instinctively I looked at my watch and saw that it was 10:50AM and I was at the edge of the parliamemt. This meant that there would be a change of guards in 10 minutes. So I decided to wait, although I had seen this ceremony already once on Sunday. But today the guards were in dark blue tunics instead of white ones (white is for Sunday). Now you’ll think what’s the odd thing about it? Wait for it. Here it is. It was the exact Same Set of Guards on duty whom I had seen on Sunday! The odds must be pretty high for this to happen. I was so excited about the coincidence that I behaved like the inconsiderate tourists, which I usually try not to be, and went right in front of the guard and took a close-up! See for yourself.

On Tuesday

On Sunday – from far

You can zoom in the second picture and see for yourself.

There was a second coincidence too. It was that like the first time, I was actually on my way to some other place when I just decided to stop and look at the ceremony. Things have a way of happening!

Wondering about this coincidence, I moved on to the National Garden which is right next to the Parliament. It’s a beautiful garden with a lot of trees which give the people a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere right in the middle of the city! I saw locals relaxing there on benches – mostly old people, as well as tourists with their cameras trying to capture everything. I saw younger people exercising, jogging or simply crossing on their way to university or work. There was a pond with ducks and another one with ducks. Kids and adults – all seemed equally fascinated by this. Some people were feeding the ducks while some were just taking pictures. Almost everyone was amazed at seeing so many turtles huddled in such a small place. One turtle fell on its back and the “thud”sound startled me and a couple beside me. We then curiously watched until the turtle turned itself back on its belly and climbed back on the stone from where it had fallen.

The Sunbathing Turtles

Then I moved on from there but couldn’t decide where to go next. Went in one direction and found a pair of parrots who were collecting twigs to make a nest! I had been seeing and hearing parrots but wasn’t able to click any pictures until then (I had decided to go out light today – without the big camera, water bottle, anything to munch and so on. After a few days in one place, you understand what’s easy to find and what’s not. In Athens it’s easy to find water for free and food even if you have just a little money. Big Camera – that just gives me shoulder pain.) Of course, it’s not high quality image but I have something to keep the memory.

So back to my stroll.

I first thought of going towards the Acropolis for one last time, but then just checked the map. Good that I did that because I found that I was close to the Panathenaic Stadium – the stadium where the first Modern Olympic games were held in 1896! So naturally I went there.

Panathenaic Stadium

Some facts – It has a capacity of 60,000 people. It was originally a racecourse, then converted to a stadium in 330 BC for the Panathenaic games held every four years in honor of Athena, the patron Goddess of Athens. It was then reconstructed in marble by the Roman senator Herodus Atticus in 144 AD. Today it is used for concerts and other large scale events. Also, the Olympic flame is handed to the host nation from here.

By then, both me and my phone needed refueling. So I headed to the vegan place that I had found a few days ago, which is conveniently located in the central part of the town. But on the way, I found the Cathedral (again) and decided to take a round around it. Good that I did so else I would have missed the smaller but important church which was actually the older Cathedral! It’s the Church of the Agios Eleftherios. It was built in the 12th/13th century. Fun fact – it was built by reusing a lot of pieces from other structures. So the carvings/sculptures are a hodgepodge (hotchpotch, if you like that more). Crusader’s cross, Latin Cross, Greek Cross, Ancient Greek symbols – you’ll find everything here.

The Old Cathedral

I want to write more but now it’s late and I need some sleep. So the remaining stories would come in the next post.

“Everything has an end, except sausage which has two ends”. – A German saying

The Day’s Yield

Today was a forced relaxation (self-imposed) mode. No, I am not complaining about it. It’s stating a fact – I just cannot relax. If I have gone to a new place, I have to explore. Simply sitting anywhere, makes me feel guilty. So being on a boat for almost the whole day wouldn’t have been easy, had the boat not provided the basic necessities of life – food, water and the most important one – Wi-Fi!

The morning started alright although I woke up tired and with puffy eyes, probably because of the exertion of exploring so many places along with a huge museum the previous day. On Friday, after getting discouraged about taking a trip on my own to the islands, I first went to the location where an organized tour was supposed to start from, as per a pamphlet I’d seen. But there was no sign of it. So I asked the kiosk owner nearby. He said that it depended on the bookings the tour company might gets. Considering the tourist season is almost over, it was possible that the tour wasn’t running that day. So I looked up the pamphlet and sent them an email to ask about it. They mailed back and told me that the next tour was on Monday (today). After a few more email exchanges, I booked the tour. Flashback over. So the taxi was supposed to pick me up at 8:20 AM today morning. I managed to get ready and even had some breakfast before the taxi arrived with another couple who were also joining the tour. Then we headed to the port. That was around a 45 mins ride, most of the time spent in the narrow lanes of Athens and later at Pireaus. But it was a good journey overall. Everyone else who was on the tour had already reached. So we started immediately after the three of us boarded the boat.

It was a lovely weather with the sun and some clouds – neither too hot nor too cold. Just nice enough to sit outside and enjoy the scenery and the sea breeze. In the beginning, I took a lot of photos. But after a while, I slowed down. There was nothing else I could do while on the boat – so finally I just had to resign to that and be in the moment. No past, no future – just the present. No rush to go anywhere, no chores to do, nothing to search for, no crowds, no noises – just the vast expanse of deep blue water below and the lovely blue- white sky above. Looking back on the day, I think that being in the moment (even if brief) was the best thing that happened today. I have taken boat rides before but it has always been about reaching somewhere, exploring it, being worried about returning and thus, not being relaxed at all. This one being all organized well, was really what I needed.

The boat anchored three times. First time was on an island called Agistri, which is a fishing village. Once we were on the island, a few of us rented bicycles and went around with a member of the crew. On the way, this lovely church below was found and explored (photographically). Our destination though, was a beautiful hidden beach area nestled amongst trees where you could get into the water (it was quite cold though). It was so lovely and peaceful on the island. The quiet was due to the tourist season being over. The shops were closed and the few open restaurants were doing mild business. The only sounds were those of occasional small scooters that came along.

Lovely Church on the Island

The small hidden beach

The second anchoring was at another island called Moni. It is uninhabited by humans, although we could see some man-made structures. Once the boat anchored, we had a relaxed lunch onboard. Everyone stayed on the boat the whole time. In warmer weather, probably you could dive into the water from the boat but today was a bit cold for that. (We’d tested the waters already at the previous beach.)

Once done with the lunch, we started again , for the third and the last island of the trip – Aegina. Once we got down, we had some lovely ice-creams. Then we moved on to buy some pistachios and other delicacies made out of pistachios, from a shop. Aegina cultivates Pistachios and it even has a Pistachio fest sometime in September. I wonder what it would look like then! Today was a quiet day here too. We went to the beach a few meters away and a few went into the waters. I decided to take a stroll. Went inside a lovely church, some lanes of the town and then back to the boat. It was a special Monday today when the attractions were closed (I didn’t know that until we reached there. Had I known that at the time of booking, most probably I would have asked the tour agency for another day for the trip). So again as destined for today, there was no rush to go anywhere and do anything except to relax.

The small boats at the marina

Inside a beautiful little Chapel on Aegina

A small well in a courtyard

Once everyone was back, we started on our return to Athens.

The Boat

All in all, it was a very good day, spent in the company of lovely co-passengers and a very good crew.

Best thing for now – my feet are not hurting like they do every evening after I come back from my explorations on this trip! Second best thing for now – I am able to write and complete the post without feeling exerted and exhausted.

“This was nice. We must do it again sometime!” – Anonymous

Water water everywhere and some Hills on the edge

It’s something that only sailors would know – how not to be afraid of the expanse of water on which you are moving with your teeny tiny existence!

It’s fascinating that human beings can overcome things much bigger than themselves and yet, one small bacteria can kill them!

Philosophy aside, I am just happy to be living in this time when with the help of some medicines, I can overcome motion sickness and be on this boat to go explore the seas.

Let’s see what today’s exploration brings. Until then..Seawards ho!