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