On Sunday 28 June we farewelled our fledgling visit to Turkey and flew Aegean Airlines to Athens, the ancient heartland of Greece, city of 4 million (one third of Greece’s population..a population made up of 97% of Greek Orthodox) as Turkey is almost totally Islamic following the tragic follow up to WW2 (Read Bernieres: Birds Without Wings). Amazingly (thank you Hello World’s Moranda!) our Plaka Hotel is situated in the lee of the Acropolis and from our bedroom window we were humbled to be staring straight at the Parthenon perched on its still mighty hill and looking out over all 4 million of its Athens’ inhabitants. The site is lit up all night and is a majestic presentation.
We spent the afternoon wandering in the Plaka flea markets this time with no haggling ( a relief) but having to negotiate with evermore creative refugee African salesmen of selfie sticks (unhelpful)/umbrellas (helpful in the unseasonably showery weather)/handbags (uncertain origin)/whistling toys ( a la Bernieres again)/wierd balloons and silk scarves. It was wonderful to have a chill out day and our hotel also boasted a rooftop evening bar with even better views of the acropolis. All through the day we were serenaded with bells on the hour/half hour and some angelus bells from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral a block away. The building was unfortunately totally wrapped in foil and scaffolding inside and out so it was hard to get a feel for it.
Of course everyone in business was preoccupied with the uncertainty of the upcoming referendum regarding the European Union bail out debt and opinions were predictably divided with those that were coping much more positive than the graffiti artists and students at the Technical University. Police were vigilant outside the Prime Minister’s House, the Parliament and on the street. Demonstrations built towards each evening but the issues are very unclear. We were interviewed by Athens radio today (29 june) by journalists wanting to know whether our tourism decisions had been negatively affected which (so far) they haven’t. It was very sad to see so many closed shops in the suburbs on the way to Athens from the airport and today (29 June) all banks were closed and there were long ATM queues frequently with limited or no withdrawals permitted. On the street there was little impact and if anything the tragedy in Tunisia overshadowed everyone’s sense of what really matters.
Monday 29 June: Today we ventured on to the on/of double decker sight seeing bus for a 60 minute tour of the whole city and it is certainly a mixture. Many C19th neo-classical buildings of beautiful style including the university, library, government offices and embassy houses; many fine boulevards and normal chic shops; a small number of ancient ruins/Hadrian’s Arch/Temple of Zeus columns etc; a massive amount of graffiti especially in the student and arty areas. Civilised driving and little tension. We spent most of the day at the amazing new Acropolis Museum …a C21st presentation of the highest order delved deeply into Pericles’ dream of democracy which flourished and then struggled under Alexander and was finally destroyed by the Romans (bless their souls!)
From their we climbed the Acropolis hill under thankfully dark and occasionally wet skies and were awed by the sheer size and wonder of this area not far from the agora where Paul argued with the Athenians about the possiblility of the resurrection. It was curious to think through these things whilst the nation itself was again in danger of internal collapse from new superpowers.