Thursday, September 22, 2011

Day 12 – Athens: Strike, shmike – we’re still going

Our shipped docked in Pireaus today – the main port of Athens, the biggest in Greece, and one of the leading ports in the Mediterranean. Our plans for the day were to take one of the ship’s charted buses into Athens and tour on own.  We thought our plans might be ruined though when Captain Tony announced that Athens was in the midst of a transit strike: no taxis, city buses, metro or trains were running that day.  For those who had planned to take city transportation into Athens, they’d be spending the day in Pireaus. Luckily the ship’s chartered buses were still running for those who had pre-booked, but delayed by an hour or more by the strikes.  We were given the chance to hang in and wait for the delayed bus, meaning a shorter amount of time in Athens than planned, or forgo the charter and get a refund.  We opted to take our chances with the charter and the striking city.

Once we got dropped off in the heart of Athens, the strike really wasn’t an issue for us. 
We wandered over to the Acropolis first -- a flat-topped rock that rises 490 ft above sea level and covers a surface area of about three hectares.

Despite the crowded entrance, got in fairly quickly. And that’s where quickly ended.
We inched our way along the path, surrounded by people on all sides.  At one point I think I could have lifted my feet and been carried along by the crush of the crowd.
 


The first monument I stopped to look at was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus -- a semi-circular stone theatre located on the south slope of the Acropolis used for music concerts. It was built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife and consisted of a three-story stone front wall with a wooden roof and held 5,000.
Outside of the Odeon.
Looking into the interior of the Odeon.




We made our way past the Temple of Athena Nike -- goddess of victory in war and wisdom. This was the earliest fully ionic temple on the Acropolis and was constructed from white pentelic marble.















Next, we passed through the Propylaea -- a monumental gateway that is the entrance to the Acropolis. It's under restoration but was originally built between 437 and 432 BC, using white pentelic marble, limestone for accents, and structural iron. 
  


Once through the gateway, the crowd dispersed somewhat and we could see up ahead the monumental Parthenon -- a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena.
The temple’s construction began in 447 BC at the height of the Athenian Empire and completed in 438 BC, with decorations continuing for a few more years. 

During its lifetime the Parthenon has also been used as a treasury, a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, a mosque, and an Ottoman Turk ammunition dump (which caused an explosion that severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures). 
The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently restoring and reconstructing parts of the structure to ensure its stability.





The base of the Parthenon measures 228.0 x 101.4 ft. The inner chamber measured 97.8 x 63.0 ft, with two tiers of internal colonnades to support the roof. 
Doric columns on the outside are over six feet diameter and 34 ft high. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter.
The Parthenon had 46 outer pillars and 23 inner pillars in total. The roof was covered with large overlapping marble tiles.







While the history, details and dimensions of the Parthenon are impressive, seeing this monument in person is simply breathtaking.

Beside the Parthenon is the Old Temple of Athena , which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. While smaller than the Parthenon, it is a beautiful building and the details that have survived are something to see.








Besides the history and culture that was to be found up on Acropolis, the hill also offered amazing views of the city of Athens below.






Street in the Plaka
There were a few more monuments we could have seen at the Acropolis, but by this time the crowds were getting to us, and lunchtime was calling, so we abandoned the hill and headed into the Plaka – an ancient neighbourhood winding around the base of the Acropolis offering notable architecture, restaurants and shopping.
We happened upon an interesting momument (below) -- first built in 334 BC, in 1669 AD it became incorporated into the Monastery of the Frankish order of Capuchin monks and was used as a cell, libary and study room.  



For lunch we found a restaurant with a lovely shaded terrace and ordered a few plates of assorted delicacies to nibble from – cheeses, cured meats, pickled fish, meatballs, hummus and other spreads, eggplant, tomatoes, olives and bread. Delicious!



Roisin & Carolina enjoying lunch.


Wandering through the Plaka was a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a few hours – a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the past few days.  We took pictures of the narrow lanes and quaint buildings, browsed in some stores to admire linens, scarves and jewelry, and made a few purchases.











On our way back to the bus, we stopped for a quick look at the Arch of Hadrian, erected in honor of the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century A.D. The arch was built over an ancient road that led from the Acropolis and the Athenian Agora to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and southeast Athens.



Me, in front of the Arch of Hadrian, at the end of a satisfying day in Athens.


We also got a peek from afar at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built around 1,500 years ago.  Only a few of the original 104 Corinthian columns remain after it was destroyed in the 4th century by invaders.












Despite a shorter amount of time in Athens than planned, we had a great day.  And, Princess Cruises left a very nice letter in our room, apologizing for the delay we'd experienced and crediting us a portion of our excursion charge.  Quite unnecessary, I thought, since the strike and resulting delays weren't the fault of the cruise line. Another example of the great service we've received on this trip.  
Our trip is winding down – tomorrow we're at sea and then Saturday we hit our last port, Venice. We’ve seen and done so much on this trip that Ottawa seems so very long ago and another world away.   




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