Finally I traveled to those sites I have been reading about! Although I didn’t get to do a full tour of Greece, given the small amount of cash I had, I think I did pretty well. Not as much of a culture shock a Beijing, but an eyeopening experience nonetheless.
Probably the best experience of the whole trip was stumbling upon ancient sites, without any intention of doing do. Above you see the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a site that housed a colossal chryselephantine statue of Zeus himself. This adds to the several buildings who’s architecture astounded me. In it’s heyday it was said to be the largest temple in the whole of Greece (although that is no surprise since it took 638 years to fully complete). On this walk we continued to find more, unearthed, ancient Athens. The construction of the metro clearly did wonders for archeology, I loved how they chose to leave it there for all the public to see, the Athenians know how to attract tourists that is for sure.
You can not possibly fly out to Athens and not visit its iconic Acropolis. That we did, passing the theater of Dionysus, Herod Atticus, and the temple of Asklepious on our way up. I had a little bit of a moment when standing in the place Aristophanes, Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles plays all would have performed. This mount of limestone was Athens at one point (literally, the city state began on top of that hill), and even after they dispersed it remained the center of which their lives revolved around. The architecture of the Parthenon is phenomenal; the Acropolis museum projected a short movie explaining it’s history, specifically boasting what a masterpiece it is. As far as construction goes, every collum’s alignment and design was perfect. Builders trying to restore it today (who have the benefit of power tools and other machinery remember) can not digest just how on earth they managed 2500 years ago. Just a few moments walk down hill and we reached the Agora, the hub of Athens. All that ancient Greek philosophy you read about was born here. Markets, prisons, gymnasiums, temples, baths, and law courts fueled the lives that people built in and around this area. On our walk through we came across the temple of Hephaestus, the patron God of craftsmanship (I loved how typical that is). The Agora museum held the very objects that made up democracy in Athens; voting discs, ballot boxes, pottery, coinage, inscriptions and even shields from the Peloponnesian wars. The lecturer, writer and documentary maker Michael C. Scott so happened to be making a documentary whilst I walked around, which for me that was as good as seeing any Hollywood film star. It was this man’s documentary “Delphi: The Bellybutton of the Ancient World” that inspired me to save up my pennies and visit the ancient site (something I would do the next day). “Hotty Scotty” (he is apparently referred to, I can totally see why) was actually quite embarrassing to watch, I never realised how staged documentaries are.
On our way out we got ourselves a bit lost, passing the Roman Agora and eventually stumbling into the famed Monastiraki Square. Me being ignorant, I expected a flea market to be a little dirtier, I was pleasantly surprised. The atmosphere was brilliant, but I would have liked some more haggling! I am not sure what came over me, I managed so well in China, but I could never tell if it was acceptable or not. We continued up Ermou street, a dream come true if you’re looking to do a spot of shopping, eye opening if you can look beyond that. Greece has a terrible trafficking problem, so does England but there it was open for all to see. On our train from Athens Airport to Syntagma station there was an uneasy atmosphere when all of a sudden you felt Greek music creeping up on you. New to all of this, we were very alarmed when a young girl stood there, looking at us with a vacant stare, shaking her take away polystyrene cup under out chins. I wouldn’t call it annoying, she wasn’t at all persistent, but it was odd. Walking down Ermou we also burn victims, missing multiple limbs, sat in the same spot for hours just waiting for someone to put money into their shoe box. You really don’t appreciate how lucky you are until you see that horror right in front of you. On a less depressing note, the Graffiti plastered all over the place was another pleasant experience. The only graffiti I see here in England is some words that are incomprehensible, where as this was making a clear political statement. We also make a huge effort to try and rid our streets of this ‘fools art’, yet there seemed to be no mission paint over it at all. It showed the people were trying to speak out, seeking change; possibly worrying, but exciting nevertheless.
Greek cuisine can only be described as Ambrosia! Every street corner you turned, fresh delicious food was there ready, and at a very decent price. Here in England I find it is extremely difficult to sit down for a quick bite without having to settle for something greasy and unhealthy. Of course they had their fast food joints, but wedged between far better quality restaurants and Cafes. The only point I felt compelled to eat ‘badly’ was at a truck stop on the way to Delphi, and that was only due to the fact I couldn’t understand the menu and a chocolate croissant was recognisable. I can’t understand why we feel the need to buy in so much processed, sugary and fatty foods when other nations manage fine without it. I remember watching a documentary on different nations diets, the Mediterranean came out as the best one for you. I am not at all surprised, I did not once feel sluggish, and it was all so yummy! I also enjoyed how they eat seasonally too, it’s just the logical way of doing it.
Tuesday I took an £80, 184 km, 3 hour trip out to Delphi – the home of the Pythian Oracle, the naval of the ancient world (for the Greeks anyway). People used to travel that far by foot, mule or horse, just to hear a priest attempt to interpret the blathering of a priestess, high of natural gases and laurel tree leaves. If you scroll down you shall see just how tremendous a trek that would have been, emphasising just how important religion was to those ancient fellows. The Greeks and Romans had no word for it, religion was every individuals life, it was what kept society moving. I love the idea of this. In reality of course it wasn’t as magical as we like to imagine. Those priests (who apparently were able to make sense of the, otherwise incomprehensible, Pythia) knew the whole of the Mediterranean business and held a lot of power to say what they wished to each pilgrim. Money and precious artifacts flooded the place at it’s hight. If anyone is planning to go to Greece you must splash out and come here! It is situated in mount Parnassus, a stunning view, and there are the cutest little cats around which are totally friendly and happy for you to stroke them. There is also the Delphi museum to wonder around if you’re keen to see the literal statues that made the place come alive. A lot of it, unfortunately, has been hijacked and taken elsewhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean the collection they have is at all the dull. The charioteer is intense.
Moving on from the cats, Athens treatment of stray dogs is such a brilliant idea. Instead of throwing them into a pound they have started a prevention scheme, taking each stray in, neutering it, giving them a collar and letting them back out onto the streets. It really added character to the place, as if they were the city’s pets. They would happily sleep on the pavement, oblivious (or just comfortable with) the pedestrians that rushed by. That, and watching them stop at traffic lights, was so adorable!
We certainly were not ever short of things to do, there were several museums to go and visit alongside all the sites, not one day did I spend lounging. As much as I enjoyed the Acropolis, National Archeological, and Agora museums, the tiny theatre museum (found hidden behind the National library) was one I enjoyed most. It is not very well advertised, and quite difficult to find, but I really appreciate that we did! Inside you found mock dressing tables of famous Greek movie and theatre stars, their costumes, belongings and photos of them in performance. All the different costumes were stunning, Oedipus Rex especially, and so were the stage designs. Trojan women, Lysistrata, the Birds, the Agamemnon, I was inspired. In a few weeks I have to sit a Drama & theatre exam, whereby I must focus as a director on Lysistrata and discuss how I would interpret and perform it. My Drama teacher found a summer school you can go to, 3 weeks in Epidaurus putting together a performance whilst learning the contextual history behind it. Students from across the world take part, it sounds like a perfect way to spend 3 weeks! I must investigate, maybe that can be what I save up for next year, how exciting!
Greece was my first trip away, without family or College to act as a safety net. I thought I would be scary, I admit when we first landed the nerves kicked in, but for the most part I was absolutely fine. More than just fine. My trip lasted 5 days, so I suppose it may not be long enough to make a valid judgement, although it did seem odd that I didn’t feel at all homesick. I had no yearning, whatsoever, to come home. I didn’t really miss anyone, and I feel guilty about that. I have been living on this rock called to Isle of Wight for far too long, I am itching to get out there and see what this planet has to offer past the English Channel. How anyone can say they have lived here their whole life’s, and never stepped off it once, I’ll never understand. This island is beautiful, I believe you can find beauty in any place, but that wears off once you have seen it all several times over.
My next taster will be this coming July, as I head out to Austria for 10 days, driving down to Italy whilst I am there. How many other 17 to 18 year olds can say this is what they’re spending their money on? Jet setting, becoming cultured, worldly even. I suppose I could work less, go out more often, but that doesn’t have the same appeal as standing, looking down on views like the one pictured below (Mt. Parnassus). John Stuart Mill’s pleasure hierarchy springs to mind when I think of this. I can’t help but sympathise with him and his work. I do believe in higher and lower pleasures in life, but I suppose where our thought differs is that I don’t think that can or should be forced on anyone. I also do not see there being anything wrong with indulging in one’s lower pleasures every once in a while. But why waste all your time on such things? It doesn’t last long, not as long as a memories like these. Money is wasted to often by the people that surround me, if you have it, so something with it. You’ll understand where I’m coming from if you ever can be bothered too. China and Athens are only two so far that I can strongly recommend to you, why don’t you recommend places to me?
P.S The Periscope Hotel (****) is a fantastic charming hotel, situated in the boutique Kolonaki area of Athens. It is safe, quirky, and only a 20 minute walk from any of the main sites. You can detour through the national gardens if you wish, it’s like you’re in the tropics, very peaceful throughout the day. Rooms work out at about £50 each if you twin up with a friend or partner. As a student I felt a bit out of place, we’re stereotyped into staying in hostels or B&B’s are we not? It is totally worth the expense if you are able to stretch yourself a little bit. All the staff speak great English, we even got given free meals from the waiters! Ever so welcoming and helpful our entire trip, wouldn’t have been the same otherwise!