Ancient computers and packing hats

30 September 2013

I bought a box to pack Connal’s hats in this morning. Walked for over an hour the other day looking for one without luck, and 40 minutes this morning, and it turned out after various directions in back streets to be around the corner from the hotel. Less than two minutes to get back and it only cost 50 cents! Bargain!

I also found the walk-over excavations in Monastiraki station. I’d been thinking it was in Omonia, but it’s in Monastiraki, basically my backyard, all the time. I really should have twigged earlier, because there’s a big skylight down to it in Monastiraki Square. To see them you go to the Kifissia platform, where I went today because I was heading to Victoria station to visit the National Archaeological Museum. Yes, that’s my ancient stuff visit for today, to see the museum again, which is fantastic, but to also see the Antikythera Mechanism exhibition, finds from an ancient shipwreck discovered off Antikythera, which Connal and I missed by a month last year. DSC06100The mechanism is thought to be a type of computer or calculator – only 2000 odd years old! The workmanship and tools required to make it are extremely advanced. The link above provides loads of information. There are many other finds from the shipwreck, including this larger than life-size arm of a boxer.


I can only imagine the damage that boxing with this type of wrapping would do to both the boxer and boxed.

DSC06065After getting out of the Metro at Victoria, I did my usual trick of turning left instead of right, adding a few blocks to an already considerable walk. (Have I mentioned before that I’m directionally challenged?) Hot, sweaty and a little weary I decided to rest and fortify myself before going into the museum, which, handily on Mondays, is open till 8pm, rather than closing at 3pm as it does the rest of the week. I ordered a cappuccino. The jug of cold water and the croissant are gratis. Another thing I love about Greece – if you order a coffee or tea, it comes to the table with a jug of cold water and a small cake or two.

On my walk down (and up!) 28 October Street earlier, I’d noticed a heavy police presence, complete with riot shields, mostly standing around chatting, and their bus. They were in khaki rather than blue, as was the bus, so perhaps they’re national rather than city police. Whatever they were waiting for must have begun, because the bus just went by, lights blazing and siren wailing. I could sit here all day watching the life of the city, but it’s time I made a move into the museum.


A surprise concert

27 September

On and around the Acropolis all day. I did it the old way, walking up there from the hotel, and climbing the sacred way in the sunshine. There was a small orchestra rehearsing in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the lovely music drifted up to the climbers. I and many others stopped to listen, and applauded at the end of each piece. DSC05855It’s the only performance in the Odeon that I’ve seen, and all the more enjoyable for being unexpected. Eventually the rehearsal ended, and I floated rather than walked the rest of the way to the summit.

I walked all day. My feet were complaining loudly towards the end, so I shut them up with a double ice cream. On returning to the Attalos I went to the roof bar to relax and write, and gaze again at the Acropolis. Eventually I went out to dinner after 8:30 at a taverna called Iridanos on Adrianou, below the Temple of Hephaistion. Delicious Greek salad and another wonderful view for 5 euro!

Leaving Athens for Marathonas

So, where was I before I felt the need to unburden myself after my abortive trip to visit the Temple of Artemis and the museum at Vravronas?

9 September

Slept in again after dinner out with Jennifer and Vince. Checked out of Hotel Attalos after breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and peaches, and a small piece of Halva with my third mug of tea, and went to Monastiraki Station to get the Metro to the airport to collect the car. Jenny and Vince had given me an unused ticket to the Airport. I checked with the ticket office if it was ok to use it – just in case, because I didn’t want to have a problem with the tourist police – and was surprised that the guy in the ticket office had to make a phone call to check. I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t the way to empower your employees and help them feel trusted. Anyway, the ticket was fine and off I went.

I prefer to pick up and return the car to the airport, even though this time I’m not catching a plane. It saves having to drive in Athens. I headed off to Marathon to the Golden Coast resort where I had a timeshare booked for a week. I love the way with three days to organise this trip after making the decision and getting the time off work, everything just fell into place. This week amazingly was offered the day before I left home. The timeshare exchange company RCI called me to say that I was running out of time to use my week and I would lose it if I didn’t use it by November. I told the lovely lady that I was leaving for Greece tomorrow and unless she found me something there, and in the areas I wanted to visit, I would just have to lose it. She came up with a week in Marathon, so I was very happy to take it as I wanted to visit the tumulus of the Athenians who died in the battle of Marathon and the museum there, Vravronas, and the ancient site of Rhamnous. My sister and I had missed all that in 2008, because it was a Monday. (See my previous post “Don’t flip the bird at a Greek driver”).

Anyway, picked up the car, a cute little Suzuki Splash

20130915-120348.jpg and drove to Marathon. I missed the sign to the resort as it was covered in foliage, and took a turn to Marathon beach, passing the tumulus, so at least I’d be able to find that easily when I wanted to, but then wandered quite off the track, following signs that didn’t lead where I thought they would. Eventually I found the beach and parked the car near a few cafes and tavernas.

After a coffee to fortify myself, during which the waitress confirmed that she didn’t know where the resort was, I was leaving the cafe when I spotted a couple who were obviously tourists. “Excuse me,” says I, to which the man replied, “Pardon?” in plainly antipodean accents. “You’re Australian!” I said, somewhat excited and relieved. “New Zulland,” says he. “Close enough,” I replied. “You wouldn’t be staying at the Golden Coast, would you?” Well, they were, so I gave them a lift back and they showed me the way.

Later that evening, I took a walk to the beach, where there’s a paved walkway both north and south for a couple of kilometres in each direction, and went north to find a taverna for dinner. The faint smell of cat pee as I came toward it should have been a clue, but I was hungry and I didn’t know how much further the next taverna would be so I sat down. I didn’t want most of the meat dishes, because they tend to be very heavy on the meat, and not lots else, so I decided on the sausages, which looked in the picture on the menu like four or five tiny things the size of baby frankfurts. “Right, I think I can manage those,” I thought, and ordered them and a Greek salad. When the dishes were served, like many Greek meals, they were way too much for one person, and the “sausages” was one humongous one.

As foreboded by the aforementioned smell, four cats turned up and looked expectantly at me. Maybe that’s how the taverna owners feed them, by leaving it to the customers, but I didn’t want to encourage them, so I ignored them prowling around my table. The sausage was unexpectedly tasty, but I only ate about a quarter of it, so perhaps the cats got fed after all.

Syntagma Square and the National Botanical Garden

After not getting to bed till the early hours, I slept late, then went to see the changing of the guard at Syntagma Square. Connal and I saw the change last year at the back gate of the Parliament building, but I found that it’s a pared down and very business like affair compared to the full ceremony before the tomb of the unknown soldier. The monument itself is quite lovely, very simple with a classical style grave stele carved into the marble depicting the dead soldier, still wearing his plumed helmet with his shield beside him.

The costumes worn by the evzones are based on national costume worn by patriots during the war of independence in the 1800’s against the Turks. The white skirts are significant, each made with four hundred pleats, one for every year of the Turkish occupation. The ceremony is very precise, and highly choreographed, with its frequently photographed march. Photos don’t do the march justice. The strength and control needed to perform the slow ceremonial march with such grace must be phenomenal.

After the ceremony, I visited the National Botanical Garden. It was very pleasant wandering the many shady paths that criss-cross the gardens. I had a look at the Zappeion, the great concert hall in the gardens, named for its benefactor, Evangelis Zappas. It’s an extremely grand neo-classical style building. It was closed but I was able to see inside through the gates from the porch. The ceiling of the porch is very ornate, and the whole entrance is very graceful and imposing.

I had a coffee at the restaurant at the Zappeion. I love that everywhere as soon as you sit down you’re brought a big glass of cool water. I also love that from the car park you can suddenly see the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and back the other way the Acropolis. That tends to happen a lot in Athens – you turn a corner, and suddenly you see the Acropolis, Olympian Zeus or some other beautiful wonder of the ancient world. And it always takes my breath away.

Well, just to bring me back to earth, some guy tried to pick me up as I was sitting having a rest before heading back to Syntagma station. He stopped and said hello, then I thought he said, “it’s very beautiful, no?” I thought he meant the garden, but apparently not, because the penny dropped when he went on to discuss the colour of my eyes. Then he asked if I minded, minded what I’m not sure, but I said, “no, I’m leaving in a minute,” and nodded toward the garden. He then left, so I waited a few minutes and headed back toward the garden, and blow me down if he’s not hanging around on the path waiting for me! I turned on my heel and went up the street instead, but saw he was keeping level with me along the garden path!

Happily I saw the entrance to the Metro, and hurried towards it, and bugger me if some other bloke doesn’t chance his arm! Evading the second admirer, I got into the station with no harm done, but it gave me a laugh.

Syntagma station looks beautiful. The clock is a work of art.

There’s also a beautiful archaeological display. Needless to say I pored over all the exhibits, taking lots of photos, when I noticed two of the railway police keeping a very close eye on me. They mustn’t be used to people paying the exhibits quite so much attention. I just kept doin’ my thang, and eventually they must have decided I was just a crazy tourist, because they visibly relaxed and left me to take photos till my battery went dead.

Back at the hotel I went to the roof bar to relax and gaze at the Acropolis – as you do – and ran into the lovely Canadian couple, Jennifer and Vince from Vancouver Island, that I’d met the night before, to whom I’d lent my Lonely Planet. We saw a beautiful sunset, the like of which I’ve not seen on Santorini in my two previous visits! The irony! The three of us went to dinner in the Plaka, close to the gate of the ancient agora, within sight of the Thission, and had a lovely evening chatting and listening to – yes, you guessed it – rebetika.



I wandered lonely (not)

Saturday 7 September

I’d decided, as I’m coming back to Athens for a week at the end of the month, to visit the ancient sites then. The 12€ admission into the Acropolis allows admission to five other sites over a four day period, which makes it really economical. Instead I wandered around some of the streets in the Plaka I’m less familiar with.

I walked to Monastiraki Square, about three minutes from the hotel, and went left along a busy street. I was really surprised at the number of up-market fashion shops there, and so many people shopping, along with the usual scooters motoring through.

Suddenly I saw in the middle of all this chaos, a tiny stone walled church, its courtyard shaded by bougainvillea.

I went down the steps and went inside to look at the religious scenes painted on the walls, and the icons. In the most unassuming little churches throughout Greece are the most wonderful paintings. There was an elderly nun pottering about. In the few minutes that I was there I saw several young women and even teenage girls come in, genuflect and kiss icons.

I don’t know why, because if you know me, you’ll know that I’m not at all religious, but I left a small donation and lit a candle. I guess it was just that kind of place and a feeling of peace. I don’t know.

I heard a sound of music and found a guy playing a really unusual instrument, like a piano with the top taken off, and he was playing it by hitting the strings with a pair of sticks. A friend has told me (see comments below) that it’s called a santouri. I don’t know if it was composed music, or he was just improvising, but it was a beautiful sound. I listened for quite a while, then gave him some coins and also bought a cd from him. It will be interesting to find out when I get home if it really has something on it 🙂

A little way along the street there was a stall selling hot corn, the vendor smoking furiously the whole time. His customers didn’t seem to mind.

I wandered, turning a few corners, and saw at the end of the street the domed church, Panaghia Kapnikarea, right in the middle of the shops on Ermou.


As I wandered back along Pandrossou I spotted a small poster advertising “Socrates now” at the University of Athens Museum, which Connal and I had seen last year. It’s translated from Plato’s “Apology”, which is a record of Socrates’ own defence in his treason trial. It was finishing that night, so I decided to go again, this time determined to eschew the complimentary glass of wine that made me so sleepy the last time!

Caught a couple of rebetika songs during dinner at Dioscuri before making my way up the hill and having a look through the museum before the play. A great night!


Electronic communications

Friday 6 September continued

As soon as I arrived in my room, I’d turned on my iPad, and the free wifi in Attalos kicked in immediately, because the password hadn’t changed from last year. Excellent!

However I still needed access to a phone so before I went to dinner on the Friday night, I went out to get a Greek SIM card. I don’t know what it’s like for other Europeans or people from the Americas, but for Australians, mobile and data roaming charges are ruinous, so a Greek card works out a lot cheaper, even if you recharge it a few times.

Even though it was 7pm on a Friday night, the shops were still open, so taking my passport with me because you need it to buy a SIM card, I sallied forth to the left out of the hotel up Athinas to the first set of traffic lights. I turned right up Evripidou and continued till I came to a Cosmote shop called Germanos. If you have to ask your way there, it’s pronounced Yermanos.

They were out of sims but directed me to the Wind shop next door, where a really helpful young lady sorted me out with various “packets”, 100 minutes to any phone in Australia and New Zealand, 200 minutes to any phone in Greece, and 500 mb of data, for less than 20€. The “number” itself is free. She downloaded an app for me that sends your SMS over the Internet. Just turn on your 3G and send your SMS as usual, and the app does the rest automatically. Turn off your 3G afterwards so that you don’t use all your downloads up.

You can buy a recharge voucher at one of the myriad kiosks along the streets for any of the various packets without having to recharge the lot.



Friday 6 September

Emirates is a really nice airline. Too bad I only flew economy. The upstairs part of the airbus looked really nice from the bottom of the stairs!

There’s also wifi available on all planes. Problem was, I didn’t read the fine print and forked out US$7.50 for 15 mb which disappeared twenty-five seconds after I opened Google Maps.

Luckily the pilot didn’t need my assistance and we arrived at Athens airport right on time at 2:05pm. Straight through Customs without a bag check and up to the Metro to Monastiraki Station and checked in about 3:30pm. My room at Attalos is a cute little asymmetrical single.

The bathroom uses every tiny bit of space and requires a bit of manoeuvring around the door, but it’s newly fitted out, very pleasant and has a 20 cm2 shower head. Luxury!

I had an epiphany the first time I used it as to why Greek hotels mostly use shower curtains instead of fitted shower doors. I think it’s because of how clever they are at using space, and as many of the baths and showers are non-standard sizes, if they used doors they’d mostly have to be custom built. That’s my theory anyway.

Unpacked and got myself sorted. My things all basically fit into my carry-on bag, so I packed it inside my suitcase. I picked up that neat trick from a lady on a trip to Bali and Hong Kong in 1979. I’ve never used it, because I’ve always taken too much stuff with me, but this time I went minimal, so I have more room to bring home whatever I buy here.


Went out for dinner and live rebetika at Dioscuri near the ancient agora. Napoleon Saripanidis, whom we heard last year, wasn’t playing, but one of the guys he’d played with was, with another bouzouki player, and a girl with a great voice. Rebetika really stirs me; the rhythms, the harmonies and the passion – I just love it.