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Jim & The Athens Experience – Part One

September 1, 2011

The tour bus arrived essentially right on time although it was a little difficult to tell that it was actually the right bus. But no worries. It was 7:45 in the morning and possibly already 90 degrees F. It was fabulous for this Mainer who’s lost 120 pounds in just two years and has subsequently been freezing to death.

I was proactive for this first real tour of Athens. I had put everything together the night before so I was sure not to forget anything that I wanted to take along with me. Breakfast was a hurried event this morning. But except for the part about not enough coffee, I think I could get used to feta and fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and a myriad of select proteins for the first meal of the day.

Jim & The Athens Experience - Part One
Jim & The Athens Experience - Part One

The first bus was a wee blue thing that whisked me off to Syntagma Square where we were transferred to the mother ship, a much larger bus. We sat in the bus for about thirty minutes waiting for the smaller shuttles to bring yet other eager tourists to the mother ship.

If you are ever aching for the Athenian traffic experience this is the place to visit. When I was in Italy I was amazed at how creatively the Italians drive. In the film Under The Tuscan Sun there is a line that goes something like “A yellow traffic light is just a suggestion.” Now I am thinking that all Europeans must go to the same driving school. It’s important to note that while in the states pedestrians have the right of way, they don’t in places like Italy, Greece, France and the UK. And while I do know that I have nearly been creamed a couple of times primarily because I was looking the wrong way.

Guarding the Palace in Athens
Guarding the Palace in Athens

Syntagma( Πλατεία Συντάγματος) Square is a central hub in Athens. Of particular interest is the Greek Parliament which is just past Amalias Avenue to the east. Here, if you happen to be in the vicinity on the hour you can see the changing of the guard. I did not see it on this day but on another when Yioryis and I were doing a marathon walk through a myriad of neighborhoods in Athens. In fact on that day I not only saw the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Μνημείο του Αγνώστου Στρατιώτη) but also in front of the Presidential Palace which is across the street from one side of the National Gardens; a huge park with a variety of gardens and really an oasis in the central part of Athens.

The Athens Experience - Changing of the Guards
The Athens Experience - Changing of the Guards

The changing of the guards is fascinating to see. It’s unlike any other guard changing ceremony I had ever seen before. I was told that there are very strict rules about becoming a guard, but it’s also an enormous honor. What I recall is that you must be 100% Greek and you must be not less than 6’2″ tall. My friend Alexander (Αλέξανδρος) would not have qualified for such a position partly because he is only 6 feet tall but more because he has an interesting case of ADHD and one of the other integral requirements is the ability to stand at attention in the blazing hot Athenian sun for hours at a time and not move at all. I’m quite certain I couldn’t do that either.

I wonder if I could rent a guard?
I wonder if I could rent a guard?

During travels to other places where there have been similar sorts of guards I have seen tourists all but harass these brave young men as they are attending to this honorable duty. I was impressed that in Greece you can see the guards, and you can have your picture taken with them in a respectful manner. But there is a third guard there who is essentially a guard for the guards. Quite frankly I would find it impossible to stand there for any length of time under those conditions. Oh and did I forget to mention the traditional uniform. I was wearing shorts and a thin tee-shirt and was quite comfortable. But to be dressed to the hilt in what appears to be heavy wool? That takes true dedication.

Formal Guard in full traditional Dress Uniform
Formal Guard in full traditional Dress Uniform
One Hundred Percent Greek
One Hundred Percent Greek

I’ve only briefly mentioned above that the National Gardens (Εθνικός Κήπος) are within walking distance of the Parliament Building bordering one side of Syntagma Square. Also within just a short walk are some of the oldest and most interesting neighborhoods in Athens. I know I was in Plaka (Πλάκα) and Monastiraki (Μοναστηράκι). I’m not so sure I was in either Psiri (Ψυρρή)  or Kolonaki (Κολωνάκι). I was really only in Greece for a rather short eighteen days and while I did see and experience many wonderful things I know I will have to return many times in order to see and experience so much more.

These Streets are Paved in Marble
These Streets are Paved in Marble

And, yes there is more so much more there are some of the more famous sites that are all within a very short distance of Syntagma Square. In subsequent blog posts we will be traveling to places like The Acropolis(Ακρόπολις) , The Theater of Dionysus  which I was able to see from a distance, The ancient Agora of Athens (Αρχαία Αγορά των Αθηνών) where Yioryis heard and translated for me some much younger Athenian men note that when they are as “OLD,” as these two guys (Yioryis and me) they hope to be in as good physical condition. I will also take you to Philopappos Monument  (Μνημείο του Φιλοπάππου) at the top of the hill of the nymphs and finally to Lycabettus Hill where I was essentially and almost overwhelmingly struck with the sheer enormity of the city of Athens Greece.

And yes, I am holding out just a wee bit with a special experience. But you have to come back to see what that might be. Nope, sorry..it’s a secret. Shhhh.

And this is merely The Athens Experience. Just wait until we set sail for the Islands of Greece.

Sailing In The Greek Islands
Sailing In The Greek Islands

Jim & The Athens Experience continues tomorrow. So come travel along with me. We have some amazing places to visit.

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8 thoughts on “Jim & The Athens Experience – Part One

    1. admin

      Well ya know Damon you always said you wanted to go traveling with me. So here we are traveling together. Stay tuned there is lots more to come. And I have some amazing photographs.

      Take Care,

      Jim

  1. Raena Lynn

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you for taking us on this lovely trip to Athens. When you mentioned feta, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers…that set the tone! I’m with you as far as being a guard for the Palace of Athens. I couldn’t do it. I don’t meet the height requirement. It’s hard to believe they will stand for hours in a wool uniform! Your photographs are really great. Nice shirt! I especially love the town scene with the streets paved in marble. Athens looks like a beautiful place to visit. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your next adventure.

    Raena Lynn

    1. admin

      Hi Raena it’s always a pleasure to have you traveling along with me. We will be in Athens for a few days and there’s so much to see and do. Yioryis and Angila told me often that I was their hero because I was up at the crack of dawn exploring and doing long before they would meet me. Stay tuned. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

  2. Amanda Kendle

    I’m a big fan of Greece so I’m very interested in your trip! But above all I love how you describe the Italians (and more) as being able to “drive creatively”. Very well put!

    1. admin

      Hi Amanda ~ As you might know, creative is a fairly significant understatement. Many years ago I traveled to Haiti where my Aunt & Uncle owned a vacation property. I still remember quite well how adventurous the the Haitian drivers were. One of my great pleasures in life is driving and I am licensed to drive all sorts of vehicles. But when my Aunt asked me if I wanted to drive back then, I flatly refused. It was far better just to close my eyes and just know that we would arrive safely at our destination.

      Thanks for dropping by. Be sure to come back again soon as I will be updating this blog every day.
      Jim

  3. admin

    It’s just a short jaunt in an airplane or two. I would suggest if you are planning to go to Greece that you go either in the spring or the early fall. Evidently at this time of year it tends to be between 45 and 60 degrees. For me, that sort of weather is pleasant but for the Athenians it is dreadfully cold. Personally I find 7 degrees cold. LOL

    At the height of the summer season it can be well over 100 degrees and I understand it is also more expensive and very crowded.

    Good Luck.

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