Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sirens of the Lambs

The plan was to rendezvous in Athens, Greece, with our son, Michael, who was then living in Belgrade, Serbia, and travel together to Santorini for a family vacation.  As the saying goes, the best laid plans…  My version is one (worried mother’s) story and my husband who stayed behind to wait for Michael in Athens while Brian, Abi, and I went ahead to Santorini has another version, and Michael himself has yet another tale.  They are all true.

This is Michael’s story, written by him as my guest writer this week.

Sirens of the Lambs 

It started sweetly enough like a siren song, when I’d been told by this blog’s author that I would fly to Athens in order to meet up with the family. It sounded good.

In a roundabout way, it ended more or less as planned.

I just hadn’t planned on the way round.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, 2013, I made my way with incredibly limited funds on a bus to Belgrade, Serbia’s Nikola Tesla Airport, where I was told my scheduled flight wouldn’t depart until the following day. While Nikola Tesla defined technology for his era, the airport that bears his name is far from “current”, so I had to take the agonizingly slow bus back into town and log onto the internet to inform the author that I would not be arriving in Athens that day.

On Sunday, I went back to the airport, my funds now three airport trips lower.

As a general rule, I usually avoid male police officers, but due to the cosmic alignment, I had no choice at airport customs that day.  He was young, fresh, and not bored by years of airport tedium.  Additionally, not another soul had queued up behind me.

Bad.

He questioned me in Serbian; I replied in a confused fashion in English, feigning ignorance in spite of my Serbian fluency. My charade didn’t work because the date stamps in my passport didn’t add up to a legal duration (since the standard visa-stamp covers only a 90-day stay and I was overdue to leave Serbia).

I was told I might go to Greece, just not today.

Instead, I would take a merry ride through the Serbian legal system.

Taken from customs to the police station in the airport, I was sent along to the Ministry of Justice, where I was placed in jail to await my judgment.

There, I remembered just days before I had thought that by this time I’d be enjoying succulent lamb and Mythos beer in Greece with my family but I was being summoned before a Ministry of Justice judge instead. At least it sounded important.

The judge was relieved that a court interpreter wasn’t necessary, so she told the clerk most of what I said, which the clerk dutifully wrote, even if those words never actually passed my lips. When it came time to pay, the judge told me a number, I went lower, she found a nice in between, plus the court tax, and I was off again, making my way around Belgrade to a. find a currency exchange, b. pay my fines at a post office, c. return to the Ministry with proof of payment, and finally, d. to get a document from the police responsible for vagabond foreigners. Needless to say, the sun hung low when I finally cracked open my laptop to inform the author that I wouldn’t be in Greece that day either.

At least the police had been nice enough to drive me from the airport to jail, so with my fines deducted from the scant cash remaining on my person, I was just able to pay for one more bus ride the next morning. As the bus inched down the highway, my fury began rising like bile in a spinning bed after a hard night of Ouzo.

But, it was going to get worse before it got better. The barely competent-to-dress-themselves folks at the check-in counter had no clue when the flight for Athens would depart.

Three days straight, numerous problems, and here I was, living my own personal Groundhog Day at Nikola Tesla Airport.

My eyes burned holes into the clock as I stared at it, hoping my gaze could slow time. They finally let us go just a hair late, which, upon my arrival in Athens gave me 10 minutes to sprint through the entire airport, swimming upstream past luggage-laden grannies to find my father and our flight to Santorini, where we would finally rendezvous with the rest of the family, and, where I should have been several bizarre days earlier.

The author, Michael, in Oia, Santorini, April, 2013

The author, Michael, in Oia, Santorini, April, 2013

 

Categories: Greece, Serbia, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Greek Food. Opa!

When I think of Greek food, the first thing that comes to mind is olives.  According to Greek mythology, the goddess, Athena, gave the olive tree to the Greeks.  In a competition with Athena for the position of patron god of the city, Poseidon, God of the Sea, threw his trident creating a river where it struck the earth, but the water was too salty to be useable.  Athena gave the people the olive tree which provided the people with olives, olive oil, and wood.  The people chose Athena as their patron and named their city Athens.

Olive trees

Olive trees in Athens

Today, Greece is one of the leading producers of olives.  A young Greek told me that since their entry into the European Union, many Greek olives are shipped to Italy where they are labeled as Italian products for export.  I don’t know whether or not that’s a “new Greek myth” but it was an interesting story.

If you’re a cheese lover, you can’t help but associate feta cheese with Greece.  Apparently, there is controversy within the European Union over this product, too.  The Greeks prevailed on the issue and obtained a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) from the EU which essentially requires that cheese produced in the EU outside of Greece cannot be called feta.  If you’re interested, you can read more about “The Feta Cheese Dispute” here (Peluso, 2005).  The restriction does not apply outside the EU, however, so if you’re buying feta cheese in the US, look for a product made in Greece.  If it’s produced in the US, it’s likely made from cow’s milk rather than sheep’s milk and not nearly as tasty.

With olives and feta we’re well on our way to a Greek salad and lots of other Greek dishes, too.  What I especially love about a Greek salad in Greece is that there’s no lettuce, just tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, feta, olive oil, oregano, and sometimes green peppers.  Yum!

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

On the other hand, I was never a fan of lamb. When I was a child and we had it at Easter, I think it was the mint jelly that I especially disliked.  As an adult, I prepared lamb one year for Easter and even the dog wouldn’t come into the house.  As you can imagine, I was hesitant to try it in Greece but I did and I’m happy to report I loved it.

Roast Lamb

Lamb roasting on a spit in the Plaka

We found several restaurants in Athens where we particularly enjoyed lamb as well as other Greek dishes.  Our favorite restaurant, Taverna Karavitis, sold lamb by the kilo and when you’re traveling with my family, that’s definitely the way to go.

Lamb by the kilo at Karavitis Taverna

Lamb by the kilo at Karavitis Taverna

We sat in the garden on a warm evening and enjoyed the house wine with our Greek salad, bread, tzatziki (cucumber yogurt dip), tirokafteri (spicy cheese dip), Keftedes (fried meatballs), and grilled lamb.  As my son commented, it was an epic experience.

Garden at Karavitis Taverna, Athens, Greece

Garden at Karavitis Taverna, Athens, Greece

Another favorite restaurant is located directly behind the new Acropolis Museum.  To Kati Allo is a small family run operation with food prepared right before your eyes.  We struck up a conversation with our waitress and learned she’s an American who met the son of the owners while studying in Athens, married him, and is still there raising a family and working in the restaurant.

To Kati Allo

To Kati Allo Restaurant

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My fish on the grill at To Kati Allo

To Kati Allo

To Kati Allo Restaurant

Along the pedestrian walkway of Makrygianni Street, you’ll find many restaurants that cater to the constant foot traffic of tourists to and from the Acropolis metro station.  The outdoor seating is especially pleasant on warm evenings.  We had some very tasty dishes at God’s Restaurant, which is recommended by Rick Steves, according to their sign.

Restaurant on Makrigiani

God’s Restaurant on Makrygianni

Mixed grilled meat

Mixed grilled meat with tzatziki

Lamb chops

Lamb Chops

Dolmathes

Dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves with lemon sauce)

There are many other good basic restaurants as well as fine dining establishments in Athens.  Strofi Restaurant was close to our hotel with a terrific view of the Acropolis from the rooftop dining area.  We had an excellent meal but I somehow neglected to get photos.  In the Plaka, a charming old neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis, you’ll find lots of eateries but keep in mind you’re paying for location here in addition to the quality of the food.  If you want take-out, opportunities abound.  Be sure to stop somewhere for souvlaki, grilled chunks of meat on a stick, the Greek version of fast food.  (I’ll cover our favorite place for souvlaki in a later post about Santorini.)  Whether you prefer to wander and pick a place that appeals to you or do your research ahead of time, you’ll find plenty of delicious Greek food in Athens.  Opa!

 

Based on events from April, 2013

 

References:

Peluso, M. (2005). The Feta Cheese Dispute, Issues of Regional Identification Involving EU Regulations and “National” Brands of Food. Retrieved from https://courses.cit.cornell.edu/his452/fetawars.html

Categories: Greece, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Still More in Athens, Greece

I’d be content visiting Athens if it offered no more than the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum but it actually offers the visitor so much more.  There are additional ancient sites, both Greek and Roman, world-class museums, inviting green spaces, interesting neighborhoods, great shopping, and outstanding restaurants.  Here are a few of my favorites.

We particularly enjoyed several ancient sites within walking distance of the Acropolis and our hotel.  On the southern slopes of the Acropolis are two ancient amphitheaters, the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.  The former was built during the 5th century BCE as the venue for festivals and performances of early Greek plays.  To my knowledge, it was still in use until the major renovation project began in 2010 which is slated for completion in 2015.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a newer facility built by the Romans that opened in 161 AD.  Seating around 5,000 and restored in the 1950’s, it continues to be used for performances today, most notably during the Athens Festival beginning in the spring.

The Ancient Agora was the marketplace, the center of social, economic, and political life in ancient Athens where Socrates and his student, Plato, walked and discussed issues of the day.  There are many ruins in the Agora to explore while imagining what it was like to live in 6th century BCE Greece.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus must have been a colossal masterpiece judging by the remains.  Only 15 of the original 104 marble columns are standing today but they make quite an impression both from a distance and up close.  Note the fallen column between the two columns to the right and Hadrian’s Arch in the lower left area of the photo below.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus from the Acropolis

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The nearby Arch of Hadrian, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD, separated the Roman city from the ancient Greek area of Athens.  You can also see the Acropolis through the arch.

Hadrian's Arch

Hadrian’s Arch

On our first visit to Athens, we visited the National Archeological Museum of Athens.  Although it’s not within walking distance of the Acropolis area, it was well worth the bus ride to see one of the top archeological museums in the world if you have the time and the inclination.  Here are a few exhibits to whet your appetite.

We walked to the Panathenaic Stadium which is close to Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.  A stadium has stood on this site since 330 BCE but more notably, this restored stadium was chosen to host the revived Olympic Games in 1896.  For the 2004 Olympic Games, it was the site of the archery competition and the finish line for the Marathon race.

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium

There are also other sports facilities within this complex and son, Brian, and daughter-in-law, Abi, were welcome to work out there.  One of the local coaches even offered some advice.

IMG_3257

IMG_3256

We enjoyed a lovely and leisurely stroll through the National Garden on our way to

National Garden

National Garden, Athens

see the changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Parliament Building at Syntagma Square.  The traditional uniforms of the guards (Evzones) and the pageantry of the ceremony were particularly impressive.

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Finally, we finished our tour with a little browsing through high-end shops near Syntagma Square, then a walk through the Plaka to stop at some souvenir shops on our way back to our hotel.

We enjoyed many other sights and neighborhoods while visiting Athens and I’m looking forward to repeat visits in the future to discover even more.

 

Next time: Our favorite Greek food in Athens.

 

Based of events of 2009 and 2013

 

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The New Acropolis Museum

The new Acropolis Museum beautifully showcases the treasures of the Acropolis with views of the citadel from the new location.   The old museum, situated on top of the Acropolis, displayed only a fraction of the artifacts but expansion was not an option in that space.   The new facility, with 14,000 square meters of exhibition space, now displays over 4,000 objects.  While I am not normally a fan of modern structures, this is an architectural masterpiece.  Built over an archeological site, construction of the museum was required to preserve the site below and incorporate it into the architecture of the museum.  Both goals were accomplished in an astonishing venue.

As you approach the entrance to the museum, below your feet you will see the archeological excavation through both an open area and glass floors.  As you enter the museum, the glass floor continues on the first level of the museum allowing the visitor to view ancient archeological remains.

Entrance to New Acropolis Museum

Notice the glass floor between the stairs and the open area where you can observe the work below

Entrance to New Acropolis Museum

Jim, Brian, and Abi at entrance to New Acropolis Museum with view of archeological dig below

Inside, the exhibits are arranged in the order they are naturally found.  As you enter on the main level you’ll see an incline to the second level.   This slope simulates the walk up the Acropolis and every day artifacts uncovered on the slopes are displayed here.

Everyday items found on the slopes of the Acropolis

Everyday items found on the slopes of the Acropolis and glass floor on the first level

The second level displays finds from the archaic period which preceded the building of the Parthenon, followed by a partial level that houses a coffee shop and terrace.

The fourth level contains the Parthenon Gallery, exhibiting marbles from the pediments, the frieze, and the metopes (meh’ toe pees).  On the photo below, the blue line points to the location of the pediments and the red line points to the metopes.  The  frieze would have been at the same level as the metopes but on the inside of the temple so not visible here.  Large sculptures depicting the birth of Athena from the head of her father, Zeus, and the battle of Athena and Poseidon over Attica were found on the two pediments (gables) on the east and west ends of the temple, respectively.  The frieze depicts a Panathenaic procession which was a festival celebrating Athena’s birthday.   Finally, the metopes are individual mythological scenes that were placed high on the outside of the temple just under the pediments.

Photo showing pediment is at the top with metopes underneath on the Parthenon

Blue line points to pediment and red line points to metopes at the top of the Parthenon

The photo below shows large sculptures from the pediments, the continuous frieze, and the individual metopes above the frieze.  They have been removed from the Parthenon and displayed for optimal viewing in the museum.

Parthenon Gallery

Brian ad Abi with the Parthenon marbles: pediment sculptures, frieze, and metopes

Parthenon Gallery

Jim viewing the Parthenon marbles with the Acropolis visible through the window

Leaving the Parthenon Gallery, the visitor is routed back to the second level where artifacts from the Propylaia, the Erechtheion with the Caryatids, and the temple of Athena Nike are displayed.

Items that were removed from the Acropolis over the years and not on display in the new Acropolis Museum are the subject of controversy. The most well-known of these controversies concerns the Elgin Marbles which are on display in the British Museum in London. At the risk of totally destroying my credibility, let me tell you about my first look at the Elgin Marbles. I’d read that they were one of the most famous exhibits housed in the British Museum and, although I was anxious to see them, I wondered what could be so special about some marbles. I mistakenly thought I was going to see half-inch diameter glass balls. Imagine my surprise when I saw the collection sculpted in marble which “includes sculptures from the Parthenon, roughly half of what now survives: 247 feet of the original 524 feet of frieze; 15 of 92 metopes; 17 figures from the pediments, and various other pieces of architecture. It also includes objects from other buildings on the Acropolis: the Erechtheion, the Propylaia, and the Temple of Athena Nike” (The British Museum). Oh.

So how did Lord Elgin come by the marbles and what’s the controversy? The Greek version is simply that they were looted from the Acropolis and should be returned to Greece for display at the new Acropolis Museum. The British version is that Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, saved the antiquities from destruction in the early 1800’s when he was British Ambassador to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Mainland Greece was, at that time, part of the Ottoman Empire and mostly had been since 1456. The story goes that he was authorized by the Ottoman Empire to take antiquities and that he subsequently sold the marbles to the British government who then placed them in the British Museum (The British Museum).

The British long maintained that Greece didn’t have adequate facilities to protect or display the Elgin Marbles but that argument was effectively refuted with the opening of the new Acropolis Museum.  Today, you can tell where the missing pieces belong in the exhibit as they are replaced by noticeable bright white plaster reproductions.

Incidentally, artifacts from the Acropolis can be found in other locations outside Greece such as the Louvre in Paris.  But then there are Egyptian antiquities found all over the world, too, including some in Athens at the National Archeological Museum.

No agreement to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece has been reached to date.

 

Based on events from October, 2009 and April, 2013.

 

References:

What are the Elgin Marbles? The British Museum.  Retrieved from http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/articles/w/what_are_the_elgin_marbles.aspx

 

 

 

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