Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mediterranean Adventures - Part 6 (Athens, Greece)

The day after hiking our asses off in Napels, we woke up at sea…at 11:30am! Yeah we slept in till practically noon. Dana got up to use the restroom, and I glanced at my watch and exclaimed “11:30…what the fuck”. In an effort to save money, we booked an inside cabin with no windows. This had worked perfectly for us before because of Dana’s motion sickness and my desire to nap during the day. I guess we were more exhausted than I thought.

I took the day off at sea to get some exercise time in. The majority of the cruise consisted of people over 55, so I was surprised to see some blonde Russian ballerina type 22 year old girl in the gym. Even though she was in the gym, I don’t consider what she was doing “working out”. She was laying on her back with her legs spread. She would pull her legs wide open and then pulse, then repeat. I watched several old men do the most exercise in their life just because their treadmill had an advantageous viewing point of the ballerina.

That night was the Captain’s Party complete with a big production show. The show was a sampling of all the planned entertainment for the rest of the cruise. One was a fake cirque du soleil production with aerial trapeze artists. Due to my past trapeze hobby, I was a backseat driver pointing out each of the moves and critiquing the girls. Surprisingly, at one time, I was able to do all of their moves (well not the splits ones).

Dinner was beyond gourmet. I decided to try out the exotic foods figuring there was a back up buffet up deck if they were not appetizing. I tried frog legs and escargot. Frog legs were breaded and fried and resembled tiny chicken drumsticks (and tasted like them too).

The next day, we docked in Piraeus Greece. The forecast was a temperature hovering around 95 degrees all day with sunny skies. Knowing we would be hiking a lot, I wore a jogging dry-fit top with the biggest hat I could find. Hey I know I’m one of the palest white people out there, and that I go from alabaster, to rosy, to lobster red within an hour. With almost two more weeks of vacation, I didn’t want to get burned into misery early on. Yeah I know that I looked like an obnoxious tourist.

Being on the coast, we needed to get to the subway in order to venture inland to Athens. The dock greeters told us it was only a 10 minute walk to the metro station. 10 minutes my ass! Things may have been cheerier if there was a sidewalk along the highway we were traveling. The metro station lady was in a sour mood as well. Granted I didn’t blame her because I would be cranky if I had to deal with dumb tourists asking how to get to Athens (all lines go to Athens…and there are 15 stops while in the city). “How do I get to the Parthenon…what do you mean Akropoli station…that doesn’t sound like Parthenon, isn’t there a Parthenon stop…PAR-THE-NON!...Jesus you would think there is a stop for the Parthenon I mean it is the biggest thing in Athens”

Our first stop was the Acropolis (aka the Parthenon and so much more). We climbed up the massive hill (with NO SHADE) and walked around the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike (where do you think Nike got the name from, the Erechtheion, and the theaters of Dionysos and Odeon, etc. Granted most of the structures were in some stage of renovation/restoration, so it was more scaffolding than stone. Since the Acropolis is the highest point of the city, we had incredible views.
There was a woman in charge of watching the structures and making sure tourists didn’t dare try to touch or lean on them. We watched her scold a little boy for putting his hand on the side to steady himself from falling down the slippery marble stairs. Being near 100 degrees and super sunny, Dana and I sweated like beasts of labor. This meant we would need to reapply sunscreen every half hour (even with the giant hat). While standing about 10 feet from the Temple of Athena Nike, Dana started to spray on some sunscreen (best invention ever). Well the temple Nazi woman screamed at Dana something in Greek before yelling out “LADY NO!” which we took to mean “you are too close, step away and drop the sunscreen”.

We traveled down to the open Agora which was home to an ancient marketplace. The ruins were about a foot high except for the impressive Temple of Hephaestus which was remarkably pretty free of construction and intact (and on yet another uphill…go figure).

Apparently the heat affected our minds because we got all turned around. We walked through the winding street of Plaka and stopped in the local tourist shops (oil paintings and ouzo liquor). My favorite piece is the cup with the ancient frieze pattern that now holds q-tips and cotton balls in my bathroom. We walked past a half dozen ruins which I surely misidentified because I was turned around so much.

Finally we stumbled across a huge opening with giant remains of some temple. We asked the ticket taker “this is a stupid question, but is this the Temple of Zeus?” Seriously, we thought we were on the OTHER side of the acropolis, so the temple was a real shock. We were relieved to get our bearings and celebrated with the now infamous “jump” pictures. Some Korean ladies must have thought it looked fun, because they did the jump picture after us.

Next on the tour was the Parliament Building. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn (again) and ended up wandering through the National Garden (which is not small, more like several acres). Right smack in the middle of the National Garden is an impressive building. Being that all the signs were in Greek, we asked a small old man exiting the building if it was the Parliament Building. He replied with a curt “no” and stomped away without offering any other information.

We finally turned ourselves right and made it to the parliament building just in time to watch the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard’s outfit consists of a khaki skirt, tights, knee tassels, and a giant pompom on the toe of their shoe…I know what you are thinking, Gay or European? The ceremony involved lots of high kicks, stomps, and holding your leg up in the air for several minutes (talk about a workout).

The Presidential Palace is around the corner and down the street from the Parliament Building (and thankfully downhill). Understandingly, security is tight, and the palace is mostly concealed by high fences, trees and shrubs. The guards on the other hand were total pushovers. One guard supervisor (he was in charge of wiping the sweat from the motionless erect guard’s foreheads) crossed the street and chatted with us for a good 20 minutes (umm, shouldn’t you guarding something). He let us pose with the stoic guard on duty so long as we didn’t touch the tassel.

Further down the street is the Panathinion Stadium which was constructed in 1896 for the first modern Olympics. All day I looked forward to running a single lap in the stadium just like the Olympic Marathon runners. Sadly the stadium was closed. I did consider jumping the locked gate and running anyway, but I didn’t want to spend the night in a Greek Jail.

A tour bus pulled up and we took the opportunity to get directions. We knew of a metro stop up by the Parliament Building (which was about ¾ of a mile away…uphill) but we were hoping there would be a closer one. The tour guide didn’t even know there was a subway system, so we were left with no choice but to start our trek back. Too bad we found out later, there was a subway stop RIGHT AT THE STADIUM! Wha waaa.

We arrived back to the ship famished. I wanted to try some traditional Greek food while out on the town, but the oppressive heat and lack of available time (we had to be back by 3pm) prevented it. Imagine our shock when we caught the ship during shift change and there was NO FOOD! None! A cruise ship without any food…unthinkable! Thankfully, and hour later, they started setting up the dinner buffet. We watched them and stared them down from behind the ropes. One may have lost a finger in our rush to get nourishment.


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