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Welcome

Here we go again!

In this trip, I'm ticking off some serious bucketlist items.

A decent 4 days in Athens, then on to the incredible monastery-topped rock pillars of Meteora, then on to the ancient site of Delphi to consult the Oracle. Finally, returning to the paradise of Santorini for a full week of R&R, swimming & sunsets, and to marvel at the archaeological site of Akrotiri.

Will be flying out on 27th May, via Doha, Qatar. See you there!

Posted by judesbucketlist 22:25 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Day 1

The Longest Day

overcast 15 °C

There's something to be said for getting to Athens in only 2 legs - it does get a big chunk of the trip over & done with, with a 17.5 hour flight to Doha, Qatar. And on that note, Qatar Airways' reputation is very well deserved, with good food - and plenty of it - great service with a smile and a reasonable amount of leg room. I was lucky enough to find the window seat next to me wasn't booked after all, so I could get a little less uncomfortable & grab some zzz's. Even on the 7.5 hour layover in Doha, I managed a couple of hours' sleep.

We had to board a bus to get from the plane to the terminal at Doha, so that gave us a taste of the temperature there at midnight - all I can say is, it was absolutely stifling! The flight out of Doha at 7:15am gave us a view of the work that's going on there, reclaiming "land" (read: sand) in creative ways, a la Dubai. But everything's just so... sandy looking, with little or no colours, and even the air is brown, presumably caused by the fine sand never quite settling.

The flight over the Middle East showed just how varied the desert can be. You think sand is just that, but the colours do vary, and the terrain changes. You can see how different it was as we flew.

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Where the Suez Canal empties into the Red Sea is gorgeous!
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The pilot flew to Cairo then hung a right, heading for Athens. The difference between the desert and the Nile delta was like night & day, and then came that first view of the Mediterranean.

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Now that brought a smile to my face!

As we got closer to Greece, the clouds increased, and we touched down in the rain - yes, rain!

As you fly into Athens, you can see why much of the world's olive production comes from here:
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Took the metro from the airport & made it to my hotel before 2pm. I don't think I've been so happy to have a shower in my life!

Although the rain stopped before I left the airport, it's been a pretty grey afternoon, and a bit chilly to boot. Went for a bit of a wander & look what's at the end of my street!
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That's the outside of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, AKA the Herodeon, that lies at the base of the Acropolis.

The Parthenon is, as usual, under repair / renovation, but it's still instantly recognisable at the top of the cliff.
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It was too late in the day to go in and be able to spend a decent amount of time there, so I'll go back tomorrow morning. Hopefully the weather will have improved by then.

Lucky me, I've already been invited for a vino by a (greasy) little Italian/Greek man, who liked the fact I was wearing blue - and his sister lives in Christchurch. Turned him down of course, saying I was meeting friends soon & he went on his way - phew!

Had a quick, tasty dinner of lamb with freshly made pita bread & tzatziki, and won't be far from bed now. Catch you tomorrow!

Posted by judesbucketlist 20:51 Archived in Greece Tagged greece ruins athens parthenon acropolis qatar herodeon Comments (1)

Day 2

Up hill & down dale

semi-overcast 17 °C

(Bit of a long one today - packed quite a bit in)

A little jetlag meant a bit of a late start, but I dragged myself out of bed, starting the day with a very nice omelette & two coffees. Filopappou Hill sits next to Koukaki, the suburb where I'm staying, and offers an almost eye-level view of the Parthenon across the valley. On a typical Athens early summer day, it may have been out of the question for me, but with the weather being a bit cooler & breezy, it was a great opportunity to check it out. There are a few ancient sites up there, and I saw them all, following paved & unpaved paths that wind up the hill.

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The first one I reached was Socrates' prison - well, that's the rumour anyway. During WWII, antiquities from the Acropolis & the National Archaeological Museum were hidden there to keep them safe.

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Heading further up, there are a few opportunities to see the Acropolis through the trees, which always gives me a wee thrill. There's a shrine to the Muses, who the hill was sacred to according to myth.

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And someone had left an offering too
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Right at the top stands the "grave monument" for the guy the hill was named after, Gaius Julius Antiochus Philopappus, a Syrian prince & benefactor of Athens, erected in the 2nd Century AD.
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It was pretty windy up there, but the views across Athens in all directions, and to the Acropolis & its famous building were spectacular, of course. I'll pop a few photos in without commentary, because they speak for themselves!

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Following a different path coming down, it was clear the hill is used by some of the homeless people of Athens. There was a camp with a couple of guys who had their clothes hung in the trees. Sad, but pretty normal these days in Greece especially.

At the base of the hill there are other historic sites. Among them is this one, the Hill of the Pnyx - where the Democratic assembly met in the 5th Century AD.
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Then I went to meet a guide from the organisation This is Athens, which organises volunteers to show off their city. It's a great way to see Athens from the point of view of a local, who can show you a bit behind the scenes. Panos came straight from his work as a librarian, bless him.

The first place he took me was to a rooftop cafe in a hotel in the Syntagma area, with a different aspect of the Acropolis, and you can't really see the scaffolding
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And when you look down over the edge, there's a lovely little church nestled among the buildings below. You wouldn't even know it was there if you were at street level!
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Then we went through the streets to a little-known residential area with few tourists, scrunched up against the Acropolis cliffs. I can't recall what he called the area, but it shows a different side to Athens, with houses similar to those you'll find on the Greek Islands. This is because that's where the craftsmen came from in ancient times, so when they wanted to build an important building, and they brought those craftsmen to Athens, they built their homes in the style they loved. It was mostly really pretty and quiet, with narrow steps winding up the hill, though I felt like we were intruding walking through such narrow corridors between the dwellings.

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The views from there across wider Athens are gorgeous
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Panos then took me to see the cathedral, which is modern, and has a pretty, more ancient church right next to it, built from bits and pieces of houses and temples that had been demolished. Even the ancients practised recycling!

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Outside the cathedral:
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And inside
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I loved this dog, who's clearly channelling the lions of Santo Markos!
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Finally (yes, finally!), after seeing so much in two hours, Panos took me to see Hadrian's Library. It must have been enormous, and was the largest structure built by the Roman emperor
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Athens has so very much to see, there's no way I'll see even a small fraction in the days I'm here, but I've given it a good go today! Exhausted now, and planning tomorrow to hit the Parthenon earlyish, and the Acropolis Museum. So maybe a slightly shorter blog then.

Posted by judesbucketlist 12:57 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Day 3

Of ancient ruins & a museum

sunny 26 °C

So much for my "earlyish" start at the Acropolis! I'll have to start setting my alarm - my room is below street level & has only small high windows, so I don't get woken by the light (yes, I know, excuses!).

Anyhoo, when I did finally get to the Acropolis entry gate, there were so many in the queue that I decided to go to the Acropolis Museum nearby first. At least it was air conditioned! The day was a lot warmer without much of a breeze, so it was a relief to get inside. As you walk towards the doors, you realise you're walking on glass, and below lies the archaeological digs the museum was built upon.

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There are no photos allowed in most of the exhibition areas, even though there are some ignoramuses who give it a go anyway, and act all innocent when one of the staff politely tells them off. This is where most of the finds from around the Acropolis and in the Parthenon are displayed. From friezes and statues, they're beautifully displayed - some partially or fully restored so they aren't just sitting there in a pile of fragments. It must be fantastic for the archaeologists to work with these amazing pieces. I'll pop a few pics here of the things we are allowed to photograph.

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This is part of the display of the friezes from the Parthenon

These lovely ladies are the Caryatids, which were from the porch of the Erechthion, the other main building on the Acropolis
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After spending an hour or so in the museum, I headed back to queue for tickets to the Acropolis. It was still hot, and I learned that I should have a full bottle of water before heading up that many steps when it's that warm! All I can say is that I had a LOT of rest stops on the way up.

First stop was at the Theatre of Dionysus, and I had to sit on one of those ancient seats of course
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Part way up, the view across Athens are as fabulous as you'd expect
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View of the Hill of the Pnyx, where I was yesterday
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You may recall that on my first day I mentioned the Herodeon - here it is from above
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And finally, the main event - the Parthenon entry and the temple itself
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The Theatre of Dionysus from above
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And a final view across to Lykavittos Hill, the tallest in Athens (hoping to get over there tomorrow, and take the funicular up to the top)
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When I came back down, I was well and truly ready for a cold drink & something to eat. It's amazing how good something relatively simple can taste when you're hanging out for it - toasted baguette filled with feta, tomato & spinach, with a few olives on the side - yum!

I ended the afternoon with a bus tour around the city - as much to have a break than anything else, but also to see if there was anywhere else I might particularly want to visit tomorrow. And we'll see what happens...

Posted by judesbucketlist 22:19 Archived in Greece Tagged greece ruins athens parthenon europe acropolis herodeon acropolis_museum lykavittos_hill Comments (0)

Day 4

Getting high

sunny 28 °C

Lykavittos Hill has appeared in so many of my photos of Athens, both on this trip, and the previous one 6 years ago. Whether it's been a photo taken from the Acropolis, of the Acropolis or from Filopappos Hill, there it is, rising some 277m above the city, topped by the white Chapel of St George and the ever-present blue & white Greek flag.

The other night I found out from my guide, Panos, that there is a funicular that goes to the top. That sounded like a much better idea than walking up (which you can do). Panos even sent me full directions by email. So, Metro to Evangelismos station, and pretty much uphill from there. At the end of the road, the steps begin... and up I went... and up, and up... well, you get the picture! it's a really nice neighbourhood, as you can see here. The trees are tangerines, which are all over Athens. No fruit on the lower branches, so people obviously pick them.

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It was a very hot climb, and I confess I did need (quite) a few stops on the way up! The funicular goes up inside the hill, so it was nice & cool - at least until we stepped out at the top. The 360 degree views across Athens, to the hills surrounding the city and down to the sea are nothing short of spectacular. At ground level, Athens may not be the most attractive city, but from above - wow!!

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The chapel is tiny, and very pretty - both inside and outside

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I spent a bit of time chatting in the sun with an English man who was travelling with his son. Was a bit peckish and, because there's a restaurant up there, I had lunch before coming back down. There are worse views to look at while you eat!

An uneventful trip back down to the Metro, and inside, as in a number of Metro stations, they show some of the ancient artefacts from when they built the station

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I had to go to Syntagma station for the connection to get me back to the hotel, so I decided to watch the changing of the guard again (saw it 6years ago, but well worth another look, just for the spectacle of it all). Parliament is above Syntagma (Constitution) Square, so the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which these guys are guarding, was right nearby. Only had to wait 10 minutes for the hour, which is when the change happens - every hour, on the hour. These fellas were resting in the shade while I waited:

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There are a lot of street dogs - and cats - all over Athens

And here you have it (that's really all I can say, as there are no words to describe it):

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Tomorrow I'll be heading up to Kalambaka, the main town of the Meteora area, by train first thing - it's about a 5 hour journey. Should be an interesting trip.

Posted by judesbucketlist 18:07 Archived in Greece Tagged view greece athens parthenon europe acropolis syntagma changing_of_the_guard lykavittos_hill Comments (0)

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