When life gives you lemons, go ride Lemonade!

Athens (Again)

(Again, because we were also here in 2008.)

In Thessaloniki we got lucky and the hotel got our laundry done in one day. So the next day we packed up and left right ahead of the rain showers. We skirted the showers for most of the day and made it to Kalavryta to see our friend Lefteris. Kalavryta is a small mountain village in the north part of the Peloponnese peninsula to the south of mainland Greece. We had only gotten hit by the edge of a couple showers on the way there. After getting into the hotel the rain increased and we hid out.

 

 

 

The divided toll motorway arched west through some mountains and valleys. There were about 40-50 tunnels on the route with lengths of a hundred meters (yards) to almost 5 kilometers (3 miles). Then it crossed the Corinth Sea and ran along the shore until we turned south to Kalavryta. Then the road became 1.5 to 2 lanes winding 750 meters (2,400’) up the mountain where we passed this monastery perched on the ledge above us.

 

The next day Lefteris arrived. He is the gentleman who rescued us when we broke down in Bulgaria in 2008. He is now retired and spends his summers even higher up in the mountains. It was an hour’s ride to get to this village. He is combining our visit with a shopping trip to “the big city”; ie: the village of Kalavryta.

 

 

 

Lefteris suggested we take the cog, narrow-gauge railway down the canyon and back before we left town. The train was popular and very enjoyable. The route followed the bottom of the gorge, crossed the creek multiple times  and passed through several tunnels. At the bottom (where the toll motorway is) we had time for coffee and then rode back up. It makes four round trips a day. The weather was cloudy but dry. Tomorrow heavy rain is predicted by mid-morning.

 

We left quickly in the morning and just barely stayed ahead of the rain on our way to Athens. We parked at the curb and unloaded as the rain arrived. The hotel is a 4-star one in the heart of old Athens. Their webpage said they had paid parking. It turns out they will recommend a nearby lot. The streets are narrow, one-lane, running in random directions and with cars parked alongside. I decide to walk and try to find parking. The parking lots are very small, crowded and in empty building sites. After trying 4-5 I find one that will take the bike. We want to park it for 2 weeks without moving it and I want good security. All the lots so far are open to the street with a poor fence. This lot has a second lot with a high, sheet-metal, fence and razor wire on top for long term. The bike will be out of sight. I am happy with this setup. And yes, Athens has a graffiti problem too. This is the gate to the bike’s parking place.

As I walk back to the hotel, about 500 meters (600 yards), I took this picture of one of the streets. I took it to show the rain. But it gives my readers a very good example of the streets in this old part of town. They are one lane with parking wherever one can do it and still let a car pass by. Many cars have side mirrors that automatically retract when the car shuts off. Other drivers do it manually. Those few inches are important for traffic to get by.

This is the party section of town and the bars and cafes have tables on the sidewalk, if there is one, and in the street. Scooters and small motorcycles ride either direction even if it is one-way. Pedestrians walk wherever, delivery vans and taxis stop in the road to load or unload, scooters cut in and out through the tables, cars, pedestrians and no one seems to mind at all. It is the way they live here. We are doing the same.

Another rain image for you. The main roads were packed with traffic and the lanes were confusing. Rain poured down for several hours but we had arrived just minutes ahead of it, so we didn’t have to contend with the traffic as well as the rain.

 

So now that we are set up in the hotel it is time to wander. First is the Roman Agora. The shopping center of the time. In the back is The Tower of Winds. (Closeup above) It was an astronomical and science tower.

We are here for longer than planned. The bike insurance we had for Turkey was running out and we had to leave the country. We had one week planned for Athens but we are here for 11 days. There is lots to see and we have lots of time to do it. We have been here before (in 2008) and saw the major historical sites then but now we have time to enjoy the ambiance and lifestyle of the city.

This part of town is a section known for it bars, restaurants and cafes. It is also within walking distance of all the major sites. We walked from 3 to 8 kilometers (3-5 miles) per day according to our health monitor phone app's. We will also eat dinner in a different restaurant every day. Breakfast is provided by the hotel with vouchers at a nearby cafe. We find this to be better than the breakfast buffet provided by our hotels up to date.

This one cafe nearby that we did not get into. It is seasonally themed and immensely popular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The locals shop at the meat/fish market or the outdoor street vegetable/fruit markets. We will continue to buy all food ready to eat.

 

Here is a view from our balcony. Notice the pedestrians in the street. This is early and most of the cafes have not put out their tables and chairs yet so the sidewalks are very clear. But notice the motorcycles that have jumped the curb and are parked on the sidewalk. Also notice the metal posts that are to prevent cars from doing the same. This is a one-way street and most of the cars and small trucks follow it but the scooters and motorcycles have no problem with going either direction.

A bit of good timing on our part brought us to the place where their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is and the changing of the guard. This is in Syntagma Square, a large area used as a gathering area for the citizens to relax and protest.

The guards are famous for their pompoms on their shoes and the ceremonial high-kicking steps as they change position.

There is a lot of street music. This is a large group, many were only one or two playing for the people walking by. Outside out hotel was a guy who played the saxophone. He was very good and we did donate to him because we could sit on our patio and listen to him in the evening.

 

The Museum of Ancient Greek Technology is a fascinating place. There were excellent working models of various tools used for astronomy as well as everyday life. I was so interested I didn’t take as many pictures as I wished I had. The early musical instruments have their own section. Kathy has a early lute made from leather stretched over a turtle shell with strings stretched to a wooden bar held in place by goat horns.

For each section of the museum we had our own guide to explain what it is we are looking at. Later, as we were leaving there were more visitors and they had to bunch up in groups,

As in most societies it is war that drives innovation. Our present day GPS was invented for the military to use, not Google.

Left is a crossbow machine gun. Four arrows are stacked above the launcher. Right is the evolution of personal armor for soldiers.

Many of the hotels have rooftop bars. Most buildings in this area are 4-8 stories tall. Our hotel does not have a bar but it does have seating and a view. The Acropolis and the Parthenon are in full view on a full moon night. (The Acropolis is the hill, which many cities have, and the Parthenon is the big building on top.)

The sun sets over a Roman temple viewed from a rooftop bar on another night.

 

The weather had turned nice and we toured many of the sites over the next week. This is the front door to the top of the Acropolis. Next to it was the Temple to Athena, hence the name of the city. We joined the crowds and walked the relatively flat top. When we were here in 2008 there were many tour groups and it was raining. The groups would dominate a large section of the top with their umbrellas waving and poking others without care. This time was much better.

 

The most popular building is, of course, the Parthenon. It was whole until the mid-1700’s when it exploded after a bomb landed in the stored munitions during one of the wars in this area. There are paintings and drawings of the building as it was and the Greek government is trying to piece it back together again. A crane is visible above the building.

There were many buildings built on top over the many centuries that people have lived here. This one of the more famous because of the lady statues holding up the roof. (These are carved stone copies. The originals are in the museum.)

People have lived here for several thousand years. The height of Greek culture was during the 6-7th centuries BCE (Before Current Era). Then the Roman took over, followed by the Ottomans (Turks), Muslims, and even Christian Crusaders had their time here.

A model of the site in its height of power is in the museum. The Parthenon is center top, the entrance at the left. The roof holding ladies is on the small building on the far side. To the lower right is a large, 6000 seat stadium and to the left is a smaller, covered stadium used by the governing council.

No matter where one digs in Athens one will uncover ruins. This 3-story museum was built over this excavation to protect it and to allow the museum to be built. Much of the ground floor is glass so visitors can watch the work being done.

Near the temple in the sunset picture is another Roman Agora (shopping mall) that has been built as a full size replica.

 

 

 

 

 

This was probably more like a farmers market than a modern department store. In fact that is still the predominant style in Athens. Small shops carrying a single category of merchandise. Hardware, shirts, jewelry, hats, purses, leather fittings, shoes, groceries and soda and beer, etc. Many of these shops are less than 10 meters (33’) wide. We have seen larger stores in the suburbs but here in town there is no room for a big store. Most of the buildings were built a hundred or more years ago and wouldn’t survive a major remodel. And you don’t want to dig a hole, you’ll find ruins.

There is a lively night life in this area. This is Monastiraki Square. The hub of central Athens. The center building is the subway station. (And yes they found ruins digging it.)

Notice the scooter with the blue box cutting through the people. He is a Wolt food delivery carrier. There are hundreds of these guys on small motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. They go everywhere and stop to pick up or deliver anywhere.

 

I was a long-time home brewer. I don’t like the flavorless lagers produced by the giant breweries (think Budweiser and cohorts) so I am always on the lookout for a good ale or pilsner. When we traveled Europe in 2006-2008 we only found two craft breweries. One in Bolzano, Italy and the other in a fjord in Norway. This trip, they are everywhere. Greece does not allow a brewery to serve its beer in a pub like our home area does but that does not mean they are not available.

Our favorite spot is a tiny bar called Tapfield. It is about 4 meters (13’) wide and 12 meters (40’) long and has 23 taps. It also has delicious tapas, the Spanish “small plates” food that we liked so much when we were in Spain. This is the only place we went to back more than once except for breakfast, which was provided by our hotel. For dinners we had some very authentic Mexican tacos, English fish & chips, monster American style hamburgers, Italian pizza, in two different places, and, of course, several styles of traditional Greek food.

As a final note, here is a one minute video of the normal traffic in Psyrra Square, Athens, Greece. This is where our hotel is  located.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is our next to the last day in Athens. We will fly to the resort island of Santorini tomorrow. Then we fly back for one night, pack the bike and head for Germany on the scenic route. Follow us to Santorini here.