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Thursday, August 14, 1997

[Brian] Our general plan is to spend the morning in Athens and the afternoon on a ferry to the island of Paros, where we would be spending the next few days. I get up early and manage to find a morning overview tour of Athens, in English, with space for us, only to find that my fellow so-called tourists would prefer to sleep the morning away. So I go off alone to get an overview of Athens.

I am really surprised by what I find. Most of the guide books I read warn that Athens is a crowded, hot, polluted place that you want to spend as little time in as possible. I found it to be quite pleasant in all regards. I especially like the Plakas, a large area of the city that has been pretty much designated as pedestrian-only, where there are tons of open-air shops and restaurants.

I see the remains of the temple of Zeus, the stadium that held the first modern-day Olympics (the stadium that housed the first-ever Olympics is just out of town), lots of old ruins, and the Presidential Palace with its famous goofy-looking guards out front (yes, those are pom-poms on his boots).

Goofy-looking Presidential Guard

Next stop is the Acropolis, a hill in the center of Athens that has several very old and famous buildings like the Temple of Athena Nike (the God of running shoes) and the Parthenon. I learn a couple of interesting things about the Acropolis:

  • Its generally poor condition (roof is gone, most columns broken) has little to do with the fact that it is 2500 years old. As little as 360 years ago, it was still intact - it was a Venetian military commander in 1640, during a Venetian occupation, that decided to fire cannons at it, igniting the gunpowder stored within, that produced the current state of affairs.
  • Virtually none of the original statues and other treasures of the Acropolis remain - they have all been pilfered or plundered over the years. In fact, we unknowingly saw the two lion statues that used to guard the Acropolis in St. Mark's square in Venice, where they were placed after being appropriated by the Venetians. Another very large set of pilfered prizes were apropriated by British lord, and eventually sold as a set for only $50,000! A huge gold and ivory statue was taken to Constantinople, and vanished during a revolution there.
  • Not only is the Parthenon an example of great architecture, it is an example of great optical illusions. They used a few tricks to make it seem even more massive than it was, including making the columns bulge in the middle and tilting all the columns inwards to enhanced the perspective when looking up at it.

Brian at the Parthenon in the morning

Nike Temple

The final major stop of the tour is the flagship of the Grecian Navy, an old Cutty Sark ship built in 1910.

I come back to the hotel after the tour only to find that Patti has been having a very hard time finding a way to Paros island, something the hotel told us wouldn't be a problem. It turns out that besides being the high season for island tourism in general, tomorrow is a Greek holiday and the festivities take place on one of the islands, and it seems everyone in Greece is going that way today. After visiting 3 travel agencies and a number of airlines, the best we came up with was a 10:00 PM ferry that arrived in Paros at 3:00 AM. Cameron and I took off for a second round of beating our heads against the travel agency wall and finally managed to find a place that said they could get us tickets on a 7:00 ferry which got us into Paros around midnight. We jumped at the opportunity to shave off 3 hours from our arrival time and got tickets to the 7:00. While we were waiting, I took the now fully-awake Kaelen and Cameron back to the Acropolis and tried to regurgitate what I had learned about it in the morning.

Brian and Kaelen at the Parthenon in the afternoon

I now believe that the 7:00 ferry tickets we bought were to a fictitious ferry that this travel agent invented when it was clear we wouldn't buy his 10:00 tickets. Because when we arrived at the port we were told that there was no 7:00 boat, and in any case the boat that the tickets were for did not go to Paros.

Here is where we had perhaps our luckiest moment of our trip. We had fortunately arrived early enough to try to get the 6:00 ferry to Paros (one we know had been sold out). We ran over, dragging our bags behind us, and tried to explain the situation to the crew member collecting the tickets, but he was very unsympathetic. He told us in no uncertain terms that this boat was full, and besides, we had the wrong ticket and would have to go to the ticket office to be re-ticketed (meaning we would probably not get a ferry until the next day). He pointed to the name of the boat on the ticket to show us we had the wrong boat and told us the ticket was to Sifnos. But as it turned out, I knew just enough of the greek alphabet (thanks to idle hours on the ferry) to know that the ticket did indeed say Paros, even if the boat was wrong. I pointed that out and faced with this, as well as a backing-up truck that threatened to run us all over, he hesitated, then grunted and let us pass. Yippee! We got a boat, and left even earlier than expected!

The boat was very crowded but it was a lot of fun. I went up to the top deck to get a GPS fix so I could identify the islands we were passing and it wasn't long before I was surrounded by a group of curious Greek geeks . They were interested in the GPS, but even more so by just the laptop itself. They asked how much it cost and whether they were sold out of the US. It seems laptops are not readily available in Greece, or at least people seem generally unaware of them. I ended up meeting a number of very nice locals and getting some tips on the islands.

A little later, I went below and started writing this page. A young greek boy caught sight of my camera and thought its flash was the coolest thing.

 

[Patti] We must have said, "We were so lucky to get on the 6 o'clock ferry!" too many times. Once we got off the boat, a mere 2.5 miles from our fabulous accommodations at the Yria Bungalows, we found ourselves stranded, taxi-less for nearly 2 hours. The crowd at the boat landing was unreal. It was more crowded than any of the high season crowds we have faced in any city. There were people everywhere. There were a few cars in the crush, but we quickly settled on a strategy of making our way out of the people to a place where cars seemed to be moving more freely to look for a taxi. We hiked out to an intersection. There were lots more cars and every now and again (let's say, one in 100) was actually a taxi. We tried to flag one of the taxis down, but they would either wave us away or make some gesture and keep on going. Hmm. It took almost an hour for us to figure out that there is an ordinance in Paros that says taxis can only pick up passengers from a designated area down by the port. We sent Cameron down to see if he could snag one for us since we were loathe to go back the whole distance with all our junk. In the meantime, seeing that not all the cab drivers were taking the ordinance 100% seriously, we continued our flagging efforts. Brian stood on one side of the intersection. I stood on the other and Kaelen guarded the luggage. Soon Cameron was back with bad news. The taxi line was very long and hardly any cabs were coming by. We decided Brian should call our hotel again (he'd talked with them earlier in the day to let them know that we would be arriving after midnight and they said getting a cab would be "no problem.") to see if they had any ideas. Only problem was that the public pay phones don't take coins, so that required a sub-mission - finding a phone card. That done, he called the hotel and they said they would try to get a cab to come get us. Taking no chances, we continued our flag-down efforts. This time, with three of us fanned out. Eureka! We finally managed to get a cab and arrived at our hotel at about 2 in the morning. We all flopped into bed, hopping that our first impression of Paros as an exhaust-filled, car and scooter over-run hell hole would be shattered in the morning light.