Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Uphill in Greece #2

If you read my first blog post on Greece, you may be wondering whether we did anything besides cycle uphill while we were there.  Thankfully, the answer is yes--we did a bit of sight-seeing that didn’t involve bicycles.

I discovered George the Taxi Driver on a travel website, and I corresponded with his son Nicholas about various possibilities before settling on the sunset tour of Poseidon’s Temple at Cape Sounion for our first day in Athens.
George, who lived in NYC and owned a restaurant before returning to Greece and starting his taxi business, was chock-full of information about Greece: the sites, the history, the mythology, the language and even today’s political situation.  He told us myths were created to explain the unexplainable, and at one point, he suddenly turned off the main road, saying, “Oh, let me show you the ruins of a stadium. You know, in ancient Greece most towns had a stadium, gymnasium and theatre.”
On Cape Sounion, temples were built to both Poseidon and Athena, though not as much of the Athena temple remains.  It is astounding to think that the original temple to Poseidon was built in the early 5th century BC, destroyed by the Persians and then rebuilt.
When we were in France on a cycling trip two years ago, we kept saying, “It’s hard to imagine standing in a church that’s older than any building in America.”  Being in Greece among 5th and 6th century BC ruins was even more amazing.
While we were wandering around the temple, sailboats burst into view rounding the Cape, all with their spinnakers up, as though the floodgates had been opened.  Picture the sailboats, the sun setting over the Aegean and the temple, and you know we had a picturesque first evening in Greece.
Later that week, we especially loved touring the island of Delos, which is now uninhabited but was a commercial center in the first and second centuries BC and is known as the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis.  Again, it is just mind-boggling to see what people built oh-so many years ago.  We would have liked to have spent more time there.
We toured Athens our final day with an archaeologist as our guide.  She didn’t just show us sights; she gave us the history of each structure, the construction, the destruction, the rebuilding, what the Romans destroyed or copied, along with examples of how our language today derives from Greek.
Seeing the Changing of the Guard at the Parliament Building and touring the Acropolis Museum were highlights for me.  I smiled when I saw the leather shoes with pom-poms worn by the guards. I have a child’s size pair of those shoes that belonged to my father, and the leather is worn, so I assume he did wear them. It’s hard to imagine my burly Greek dad as a small child, much less wearing shoes like that.
The Parthenon, of course, is the must see of Athens. Sadly, our guide shared with us that she recently had the opportunity to explore and touch the Parthenon with a group of archaeologist, and it is now in such bad shape, that stone dust rubs off the structure when it’s touched.
Her colorful descriptions throughout the day made us all think of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  If you saw it, you will recall the clear message that everything we say and do today comes from the ancient Greeks. If you’ve never seen the movie, give it a try. It will put a smile on your face.