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.