- Submitted by: Gopal Venkat
- Submission Date: 10th Feb 2005
July 16, 1999
After spending a week in France, I returned to London and was all set for my 2-week trip to Greece. I was staying in Central London and since I did not have much baggage, I took the Piccadilly line to Heathrow. Being one of those rare occurrences, my request to have my film hand-examined was considered and done accordingly. My flight to Athens via Milan departed after a 2-hour delay. After the 90-minute flight to Milan, I was surprised to find that the flight to Athens was still waiting for us. I guess it must have been cheaper for ALITALIA to delay the flight rather than pay hotel accommodation for a night in Milan for the 6 people who were connecting to Athens. After a 2 ½ hour flight, we landed in Athens around 5:30 PM local time.
The exchange rate at the Airport was 314 Greek Drachmas to a US dollar. One had to queue up outside for a taxi. It took me around 20 minutes to get a taxi for myself. The drive to my Hotel was 30 minutes. The Hotel (Acropol Hotel, 71 Pentelis Ave, Halandri, Athens. Phone: 6826650) was situated on the other end of town far away from the main attractions. The Cab ride cost me around 3000 Drs (US$ 9.5). After checking in, I walked around for a while before taking a taxi to the Plaka. I had Spaghetti and fried Pepper (!) and Baklava for dinner that cost me 3000 Drs. The Baklava was horrible compared to what I had in Turkey 3 weeks ago. I took a cab back to my hotel and wrote my diary before turning in.
Tomorrow I start the Greek Odyssey tour organized by Cosmos and costing US$ 490. This is a 1-week tour by land starting in Athens and covering Meteora, Kalambaka, Delphi, Olympia, Tolon, Mycenae and returning to Athens on July 23, 1999. I was to follow this up with a 4-day cruise from Royal Olympic Cruises costing US$ 805 departing from Port of Piraeus (30 minutes from Athens) and Island hopping to Mykonos, Heraklion, Santorini, Rhodes, Kudadasi (in Turkey), Patmos before returning to Piraeus.
July 17, 1999
I woke up later than usual and discovered that the hotel had a Bath and no shower. The bathtub was built for a person who height did not exceed 4 ½ feet. Or, maybe the Greeks bath in a different way! After a lousy breakfast, I proceeded to check out. The Manager told me that my one night stay was 15200 Drs, instead of the 13799 I was quoted while booking it from the USA.
He told me that the difference was due to Taxes. For a hotel that charges me US$50 / night, this does not have air-conditioning and is far away from the center. Avoid it at all costs. This was not a good way to begin my day.
I took a taxi to the Golden Age Hotel (located at Michalakopoulu 57, Athens. Phone: 7240861). This was to be part of the Greek Odyssey tour. On reaching the hotel, the cab driver demanded an additional 500 Drs. For 'Luggage'. When I told him that I was aware of the Baggage tariff, he settled for 200 Drs. In less than 24 hours, I have come to the conclusion the average cab driver in Athens is out to get you. All he/she is interested is in making the quick buck. Do learn a few basic phrases in Greek, if you happen to travel to Greece. The drivers here are quite rash. Since I don't drive rashly, I enjoy it vicariously.
The folks at the Golden Age did have a room under my name. I had opted for shared accommodation on this tour and my roommate was yet to check in. The room was really nice. I found out later that the charge for a Single room is 22000 Drs (US$ 70) / night. That would be about US$ 20 more than the dump I stayed at last night. This is a much nicer hotel and closer to the Plaka and Syndagma (Constitution) Square. After dumping my bags, I returned to the lobby and met the tour guide, Sally. There were around 35 people in the group and we had a 30-minute meeting with the group. Almost all the tours are optional and Sally handed out a leaflet to us that had the prices for the various optional tours. After mentioning my dietary restrictions (Vegetarian), I booked myself on the optional tour to Sounion in the afternoon.
Since the tour was to depart around 1:15 PM, I started off to Syndagma Square to visit the American Express office and exchange some money. This was a 20-minute walk from the hotel and American Express traveler's cheques are exchanged commission free. I returned just in time to board the bus for Sounion. There were only 15 people on this optional tour costing US$ 20 and we had over 2 seats per person on a 40-seater bus. Sounion is the place where the Temple of Poseidon is located. We also had a local guide (Francesca) accompany us on this tour. As we drove along the coast to Sounion (located at the southern tip of Greece and 70 Kilometres away from Athens) the guide kept us informed about various things. Just about everywhere we looked, there were locals swimming in the water or sunning themselves on the shore. Despite this, wherever I looked the water was quite clean. I did notice a few topless women on the way!
We reached Sounion around 2:45 PM and the guide explained the various aspects of these ruins for 20 minutes. We were on top of a cliff and the winds were fierce. When the guide gave us some time to visit the ruins on our own, I gave my Hat to her lest I lose it to the winds. There were moments where I had a sinking feeling that my skinny frame (140 lbs) would be swept over the cliff into the waters below. The setting of the Temple of Poseidon is quite grand. There are around 12 columns still standing after all these years. The Temple was built in 420 B.C. to the Greek Sea God Poseidon. Though my guidebook mentioned that the columns were IONIC in style, I felt that they were DORIC. I spent around 45 minutes at these ruins taking pictures and got out just as a group of Japanese tourists were arriving! (Thank my lucky stars) The Japanese tourist monopolizes the place to such an extent that one can never get a decent photo of any ruins or paintings (in a museum). Some of you reading this might be offended, but I call it the way I see it.
The Son-et-Lumiere at the Acropolis, Athens
I bought a couple of postcards and boarded the bus back to Athens. We reached the hotel around 5:30 PM. I wrote some diary setting out for dinner. Following this, I took a taxi to the Plaka which cost me 500 Drs. I went in search of a Vegetarian restaurant called the Eden Café (located at 12, Lissiou & Mnissicleous Streets) in the Plaka. After being misdirected by a couple of waiters of another restaurant, I finally found it. It is a fully Vegetarian restaurant with a large variety. It is quite a nice place. After a decent dinner (My lunch was a glass of Orange Juice!), I set off towards the Acropolis for the Sound and light show. After 30 minutes of walking around I finally found the hill (PNYX hill) opposite the Acropolis from where one views the sound and light show. The Entrance fee for the Son-et-lumiere was 1550 Drs (US$ 3.60) and the Program, which provides the entire script of the English Language show, was 400 Drs (US$ 1.20).
The Pnyx hill is situated across the Acropolis and there is a seating Capacity for 1000 people. The show started at 9 PM and lasted around 50 minutes. Since I had carried my Tripod along, I was able to use it freely and get good pictures of the various parts of the Acropolis that were lit up during the show. As is customary there was the usual gang of idiots who were hell bent on using the flash in their cameras in the fervent hope that it will illuminate an object half a mile away! One of these days they may acquire some Intelligence. After the end of the show, I walked around the Pnyx hill towards the observatory where I was chased by 2 rabid dogs. My Tripod turned out to be a handy weapon to scare away the evil beast! When I reached the Plaka, I took a cab to the hotel that cost me 600 Drs.
The reception informed me that my roommate had checked in. He turned out to be an elderly Psycho Therapist from Long beach, California. He insisted that he was on a vacation and would not spend his time analyzing me. We chatted for a while. I hope we get along well during the duration of the tour. I wrote my diary before turning in. I plan to visit the Acropolis and the Archaeological Museum tomorrow.
July 18, 1999
I woke up around 7 AM and had breakfast. I departed the hotel around 9 AM and took a bus to Syndagma Square. Each one-way ticket on a bus costs 120 Drs. One can buy around 10 (or) 20 tickets and have them handy. These tickets can be bought at Newspaper kiosks or bus terminals. They must be validated on entering the bus. The Machine timestamps each ticket along with the route number of the Bus or Trolley. I headed to the post office to mail the postcards. The post office is open until 1 PM on Sundays and the postage for each card cost me 200 Drs. After the Post office, I took a bus to the Archaeological Museum. The Museum is open until 2:45 PM on Sundays. The fee is 2000 Drs. There is no flash photography permitted and special permission must be obtained for using a tripod.
Asklepios & his children, Archeological Museum, Athens
I was told that the museum could be toured in an hour. I spent around 4 hours (10:30 AM to 2:45 PM) here and still could not see the entire museum. The Museum has the largest collection of Artifacts from the Hellenic / Minoan / Ancient Greek periods. Some of these date back to the 16th Century B.C. The most recent of the artifacts date to the 4th Century A.D. It is a great place to visit. I am definitely going back after the Greek Odyssey tour to see the remainder of the museum. Having lavished praise on the museum and its collection, I must warn you against eating in the Museum Cafeteria. A doughnut, a can of juice and a Yogurt set me back 3500 Drs (US$ 12). Compare this with the excellent dinner I had last night including a glass of wine that cost me 4200 Drs (US$ 14). Eat at the cafeteria only if you are likely to die of starvation. I took a bus from the Museum to Syndagma Square and another from Syndagma to the Acropolis. The entrance fee was 2000 Drs. I had lemonade at the entrance that cost me 1500 Drs. (And I was NOT dying of thirst!) Double whammy within a couple of hours.
The Interior of the Parthenon is being refurbished. All one can see are the metal scaffoldings all over the Parthenon. Hopefully they will complete the restoration before the 2004 Olympics, which is to be held in Athens. The Acropolis is a grand structure, no doubt about it. Do carry a good map of the Acropolis ruins before you start your visit. It comes in quite handy in identifying the various places within the Acropolis. The Best-preserved structure is the Odeon of Herodus Atticus where live performances are held frequently. The theatre of Dionysus is a complete ruin.
The Parthenon (at the Acropolis), Athens
There is a museum inside the Acropolis that houses a lot of the Original statues from the Acropolis ruins to prevent them from being ruined further by exposure to the natural elements. A replacement statue is what is usually seen in the ruins of the Acropolis. A good view of the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's Gate and the Olympic stadium can be obtained from the Acropolis. One can also obtain a good view of the Agora (Ancient Market) from the Acropolis as well. I spent around 2 hours at the Acropolis before departing around 6:30 PM, which happened to be the time the Acropolis closes. The wind at the top of the Acropolis (similar to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion) can be fierce. Avoid wearing a hat unless you don't mind losing it.
I tried to get a bus back to Syndagma Square from the Acropolis but gave up after 15 minutes and started walking. Within 15 minutes, I was near the Plaka and another 10-minute walk bought me to Syndagma Square. I had a club Sandwich and a Giant Coke for dinner that cost me 1500 Drs (US$ 5). Always eat away from tourist areas especially if you are on a budget tour. After dinner, I tried taking a bus back to the hotel and finally wound up walking back to the hotel (20 Minutes). I guess bus services on Sundays are infrequent.
I wrote my diary before turning in. We do an Athens city visit (as par of my tour) tomorrow morning before leaving Athens for Kalambaka around noon.
July 19, 1999
I woke up early and had breakfast and was ready by 8 AM. We departed from the hotel around 8:30 AM. Since this was the first full day of the tour, the bus carried its full complement of passengers (around 40). We stopped first at the Olympic Stadium for a Photo shoot before continuing to the Presidential Palace. This Olympic stadium was used when Greece hosted the Olympics earlier. A new stadium is being built for the 2004 Olympics. At the Presidential palace we stopped to view the presidential guard. Though their dress is quite unique this is a tame affair when compared to the changing of guards at Buckingham Palace, London.
We headed to the Acropolis from the Presidential Palace. Along the way the local guide (Francesca again) pointed out the various places of interest. The most interesting for me was the house occupied by Heinrich Schliemann (the excavator of Troy) which currently houses the Numismatic Museum. On reaching the Acropolis, Francesca gave a 30-minute lecture on the ruins before giving us an hour to explore the ruins on our own. It was a good thing I visited the ruins on my own, yesterday afternoon.
Today the crowd was maddening at the Acropolis. Just about every tour operator had bought their tour group here and it was a shouting match with each guide using their vocal prowess to explain the ruins to their group. I did manage to get some decent photos of places I had missed out last evening. I will however have to make a separate visit to see the Theatre of Dionysus.
We departed from the Acropolis around Noon and started the 6-hour ride to Kalambaka on the National Highway. After an hour or so we stopped for Lunch where I had a sweet pie and a soda for Lunch. I met some members of the group. Since we had not had a formal introductory meeting, we had to go about introducing ourselves. We set off after Lunch and took a second break after 1-½ hours. A Haagen-Dazs Ice cream bar set me back 1000 Drs (US$ 3). I just realized that I have spent more money in the last 4 days, than I did during my 15-day tour of Turkey. I got to watch my spending habits.
We stopped at a place called Thermopylae to view a monument containing a carving of king Leonides. We continued further on and stopped at a place called Artesiano to view Stork nests built on top of a clock tower. The storks have been coming to this place for a long time and build their nests on the roofs of houses and other buildings. A nice example where nature co-exists with development and tourism. We reached Kalambaka a little after 6 PM. We were to stay at the Edelweiss Hotel (Phone: 23966) in Kalambaka. After checking in, I took a quick shower to wash the sand and dust. It does get quite dusty here in Greece.
We headed to a restaurant adjoining the hotel for dinner. Being a vegetarian, I had a pretty decent dinner. Cosmos includes Breakfast and Dinner on all Full tour days as part of the tour. After dinner I chatted with a British Couple who seemed to be as interested in Archaeology and history as I was. The British Museum apparently has an excellent collection of ancient Greek Artifacts as well. I will have to visit the British Museum, after I get back to London at the end of this tour.
I headed to a local Internet café (500 Drs. for 30 minutes) and tried to check my mail. It turned out to be a waste of money as the connection was too slow. For a tourist town like this, a lot of young locals can be found in the streets even after 10 PM. This could be because the Schools are closed in Greece. I have to catch up on some local activity one of these evenings. Maybe find myself a Grecian Beauty! (Man can dream, can't he?)
I got back to the hotel and wrote my diary before turning in. We visit the Monasteries at Meteora tomorrow.
July 20, 1999
We departed for Meteora around 9 AM. Our first stop was a photo shoot of the Monastery of Saint Nicholas (Agia Nikoloau). From this spot, one also gets an excellent view of the town of Kastraki. There are some huge rocks here and we spotted some climbers on one of these. From here we proceeded to Barlaam (or Varlaam) from one can get a good picture of the Great Meteoron (The Great Meteoron is closed on Tuesdays). Each of the other Monasteries / Nunneries are closed on a day of the week. Depending on the day you visit, you will be taken to the monastery / nunnery that is open. We climbed the 150 + steps to visit the Monastery at Barlaam. The church at the Monastery contains a lot of frescoes some of which are quite gruesome. No Photos of any kind are permitted inside the church, but photography is allowed elsewhere in the Monastery.
These Monasteries were built on these precipitous cliffs so that the monks and nuns could escape persecution during the various invasions. The earliest of these monasteries was built around the 12th century A.D. One can get a great view of nearby Agia Rousianou from Barlaam. After spending an hour at Barlaam, we set of for Agia Stefanou (St. Stephen). Restoration work on a large scale was being carried out here. There are frescoes in the church here as well and no photography is permitted inside the church. This is a Nunnery and the nuns here have a small garden and some were tending to it during our visit.
The dress code during the visits to these monasteries and nunneries is quite simple. There are no shorts allowed and ladies must cover their shoulders. The Monasteries do provide long skirts for women. (No, the men are not allowed inside by wearing these skirts over their shorts) Young girls / boys (up to 7 years of age) are usually exempted from this rule.
Enroute to St. Stephen we had a photo stop at the Agia Trias (Holy Trinity). The only access to this monastery is through a steep climb from the town of Kalambaka. There is a cable car available for transporting supplies to the monastery and to transport the elderly head of the monastery. This is the monastery where part of the James Bond film 'For your Eyes Only' was filmed. All of these monasteries belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.
After spending around 45 minutes at St. Stephen, we drove back to Kalambaka for Lunch. Since I could not get anything decent to eat (being a Vegetarian) I settled for an Ice cream and a Soda. I exchanged some money in Kalambaka before we set off for Delphi. I slept during most of the ride to Delphi. The Uphill drive to reach Delphi is quite spectacular. Delphi is a small tourist town with 1-½ streets. After dinner at a local restaurant we returned to the hotel around 9:30 PM. I spent some time writing my diary before turning in.
We visit the ruins at Delphi tomorrow.
July 21, 1999
We departed from the Hotel around 8 AM and reached the ruins in less than 10 minutes. A local guide was arranged by Cosmos to take us around the ruins at Delphi. Since my guidebook had suggested a minimum of 3 hours to explore the ruins and since I had to get back to the bus by 10:45 AM, I skipped the lecture by the guide and set out to explore the ruins on my own. We were the first group at the ruins and by breaking away from my group, I almost had the ruins to myself. The most important sites within the ruins are the Temple of Apollo, the theatre and the Stadium. The Stadium here is not as spectacular as the one in Aphrodisias, Turkey. The theatre and the Stadium are quite well preserved. The Temple of Apollo had 6 or 7 of the original columns that are still standing. In size, it is not as grand a structure as the Parthenon.
The setting is what makes Delphi unique. The entire place is set in a mountainside and if you are at the ruins as early as we were, one can hear nature's sounds quite clearly. The Stadium area is particularly serene. This could probably be because it requires a steep climb to reach the stadium people may skip it. As I heading down to the main area after my visit the stadium, I came across the members of my group who had attended the 'lecture' by the guide. I am glad I did what I did, since the others would not have enough time to see the entire site properly. From the ruins I headed to the Museum.
The Museum has a separate entrance fee of 1200 Drs that is not included in the Cosmos Optional tour cost. The Museum is quite small (about 12 halls) containing artifacts from the ruins at Delphi. Most of these artifacts date from the 6th to the 1st century B.C. It takes an hour to view the artifacts in the Museum properly.
The ruins of the Temple of Athena, Delphi
I think I wasted my money by paying Cosmos 4000 Drs. for the Optional tour to Delphi. The entrance fee to the ruins is 1200 Drs. and the ruin is a 10-minute walk from the city center where we were staying. You will save 2800 Drs., especially if you are not the type that spends time listening to the lectures given by the local guides. Following the visit to Delphi we were also taken to the Tholos and the Temple of Athena both of which are located a mile down the road from the main ruins. Both the Tholos and the Temple of Athena are impressive structures.
We set off from Delphi around 11:30 AM and headed towards Olympia. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Clovino beach (from where one can get great views of the gulf of Corinth) before continuing on to Antirrio. We boarded a ferry at Antirrio to cross the Gulf of Corinth and reached Patras on the Peloponnese (Island of Pelops).
From the talk Sally gives during our drives, it appears that the Turks committed quite a few atrocities on the Greeks during their occupation. Attila (my Guide in Turkey) blamed the Greeks for everything. Though I lean more towards sally's version of the story, I guess I will have to read an account of the long-standing Turkish / Greek conflict by a neutral entity. Their mutual dislike is quite bad. I will readily admit that I have made broad generalizations based on my travels in both the countries during the past 4 weeks.
We visited a Greek Orthodox Church in Patras before heading towards Olympia. We reached Olympia around 5 PM. This is a small town like Delphi that is geared towards tourists. It certainly lacks the magnificent views one had from the hills of Delphi. We stayed at Hotel Acropole (13, Filellinon Street, Delphi. Phone: 82675. http://agn.hol.gr/hotels/acropole). After dinner, I wrote some diary before hitting the bed.
We visit the ruins at Olympia tomorrow.
July 22, 1999
We left the hotel at 8 AM and headed for the ruins at Olympia. Though Cosmos provided us with a local guide here, upon entering the ruins, I set off on my own. Visited the Temple of Hera (Heraion) who was the wife of Zeus, the Greek god. This is probably the best preserved of all the monuments in Olympia. From here, I headed further down to the stadium. Aside from the main track, the spectator seats are the natural slopes on the three sides of the main track. The lush grass on these slopes has been neatly trimmed and looks well maintained. There is a small area on one of these slopes where the winners were crowned. The Stadium apparently had a capacity for seating 40,000 people.
As usual we were the first group to visit these ruins and since I had broken away from my group, I had the ruins to myself (with the exception of the guards patrolling the area). I continued along the echo-hall and reached the Temple of Zeus. Though earthquakes had destroyed it, the very sight of these mammoth columns (now toppled and broken) give an estimate of the temple in all its glory. One of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, was situated inside this temple.
The Pedestal of these columns is over 2 metres (7 feet) in diameter. Some of the colourful mosaics on the floor of the temple are still intact. From here I proceeded to see the workshop of Phaedias (who built the Statue of Zeus). I continued further to the Leonidaion, the Palaestra and the Great Gymnasium. The Leonidaion baths are not open to the Public.
Just like the signs in ruins at Delphi were in Greek & French (since the French played a prominent role in the excavation there) the signs here are in Greek and German (Since Germany played a prominent role in the excavations here). Of course, a lot of the signs are trilingual as well (Greek, German and English). From the baths I proceeded to the Boulouterion and the South Hall before returning to the Temple of Zeus to have my picture taken!
Following this, I proceeded to exit the ruins by way of the Philippeion and the Roman Baths and headed to the Museum that is situated just outside the ruins at Olympia.
In my obsession with the Temple of Zeus, I missed out on seeing the Altar of Zeus (located between the Temple of Zeus and the Temple of Hera). The Altar of Zeus is where the Olympic flame is lit every 4 years before being carried to Athens and making its way to the country (City) hosting the Olympics. I guess 2004 will be a very short run for the Flame carrier, since Athens hosts the Games. Vendors in Olympia are already hawking t-Shirts for the 2004 Olympics.
The Museum is about a 7-minute walk from the ruins at Olympia. The entrance fee was 1200 Drs. If you buy a combination ticket to the ruins and the museum, the cost is 2000 Drs (US$ 6). I started an express tour of the museum since I had a little over 30 minutes left before the bus departed Olympia. The museum contains a lot of Bronze artifacts from the 6th Century B.C. It also has a hall devoted to Roam Emperors and also has a lot of statues of Greek Gods / Goddesses and warriors. The impressive among there are the 'Nike of Paeonios' and 'Hermes of Praxiteles with Dionysus'. I however, did not have enough time to fully appreciate the museum collection.
We proceeded from Olympia to Megalapolis (from where the English word originates) where we had lunch. From here we proceeded to Tripoli (which means a combination of 3 towns) and onward to Navplio. The ride from Tripoli to Navplio across the Argolis Mountains was spectacular. We had a 20-minute stop at Navplio to get some photos of the 3 Venetian forts (all visible from the quay at Navplio). We continued on to the resort town of Tolon. Except yours truly, the rest of the group was excited about the possibility of swimming in the waters there. I must concede one thing though. The waters here are the cleanest I have seen. There is absolutely no debris of any sort floating near the shore or washed up on the beach.
While the rest of the group was swimming and sunning, I spent time writing my diary. After dinner I went out for a walk. I came across some members of my group and we headed for a drink and chatted for a couple of hours. Being a group of 35 people, we never really got to know everyone in the group.
As I mentioned in Delphi, if you are in Olympia Do not take the optional tour of the ruins offered by Cosmos. Walk to the ruins (15 minutes), buy a ticket and do it at your own pace (till the bus leaves the ruins). You would definitely need a good guidebook if you were going to do these tours on your own. I would recommend the 'Blue Guide Greece'. It contains all the historical / Archaeological information on the various sites that one can ask for. It does not contain any Hotel / restaurant information. You do not need that if you are on a tour.
We see the ruins at Mycenae tomorrow before crossing the Corinth Canal and returning to Athens.
July 23, 1999
We left the hotel a little after 8 AM and headed towards Mycenae. During the 1 hour ride to the ruins Sally told various stories / theories on the Mycenaean / Minoan civilization in her rapid-fire English. Enroute we stopped at a ceramics factory! I was not surprised. The owner / manager of the store gave us a small presentation on Good and Bad quality ceramics. He stocked both! (I guess he wants to make a buck either way). I did not buy anything.
We reached Mycenae around 9:4 AM. Since Sally was not allowed to accompany us as a guide to the ruins, we were given the entrance tickets and given a little over an hour to wander around the ruins. Mycenae was another of Heinrich Schliemann's excavating interests. The other was Troy. I had now seen both and felt good about it. One perceives a civilization's existence (in the past) at Mycenae, while Troy fails to give that Impression. One reason could be that in the excitement to find the Troy of Homer's Iliad the excavators possibly ruined the site. Now they have no clue of fixing it.
One can obtain an excellent view of the surrounding hills and the Mycenaean Citadel from the Palace area of the ruins. One hour is ample time to explore the ruins. The Ornamental objects found here are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. All of the objects are from the 16th Century B.C. The entry into the Citadel is guarded by 2 lions and hence is known as the Lion's gate.
Departing from the ruins, we drove for less than a Kilometre before stopping for 15 minutes at the Treasury of Atreas (who was the father of Agamemnon). This place is also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon. This is a classic example of a Tholos (or) Beehive tomb. The Dronos (or) the approach to the tomb is awesome. The Actual tomb rose in a cone to about the same height as the diameter of the floor. This form of tomb building is called a Tholos tomb. The Aerial view of the whole structure resembled a Beehive and hence the same.
Fro Mycenae, we headed towards the Corinth Canal. On reaching the Corinth a little after noon, I had a quick lunch before going up to the pedestrian walkway above the canal. We were fortunate not only to have 3 ships (including 2 sailboats) pass below us on the waters of the canal, we also witnessed a train going on top of the bridge at the same time. We crossed the Corinth Canal and continued on to Athens.
I did give a gratuity envelope to Costa (our driver) but I did not do the same for Sally. I just did not feel that she had done anything special to deserve a Tip. She was not too helpful in catering to my dietary restriction. I felt that's the least she could have done for me (since she spoke fluent Greek and I did not) to deserve a tip from me. I somehow did not feel like following the herd and tipping her just because it is customary to do so.
Enroute to Athens, we stopped at the Port of Piraeus (30 minute drive from Athens) to drop off almost half our group who were continuing with Cosmos on a weeklong cruise of the Greek Islands. Sally went along with that group and we had another guide board our bus and take us to our hotel in Athens. We saw one of the new stadiums for the 2004 Olympics on the way to the hotel. We reached the hotel around 4 PM. Since the tour had officially ended, I was on my own. After checking into the hotel, I headed to Syndagma Square and booked myself in another hotel for tomorrow night. I did a quick check of my mail on the Internet before having a Cheese pie and an Ice cream for dinner.
Following dinner, I headed to the Acropolis to see a performance of the Gershwin Piano Quartet at the Herod Atticus Theatre. The Performance cost me 6000 Drs (US$19). The 2-hour performance was entertaining. More than that, it was the ambience provided by the theatre set in the Acropolis that enchanted me the most. After the performance, I walked back to the Hotel. It took me 30 minutes and I did not have any problems (since I looked like a Greek). Athenian streets are quite safe for people to walk around.
I will have to find something to do tomorrow.
July 24, 1999
I got up quite late for a change. At breakfast I bid adieu to some of the remaining members of the group. Me and David (my roommate during the trip) wished each other luck and I thanked the hotel staff, (who were extremely pleasant and helpful during my brief stay there) before taking a taxi to my new Hotel for the night (Hotel Carolina, 55 Kolokotroni Street. Phone: 3243551 and 3243552. www.hotelcarolina.gr). This hotel was costing me 10,000 Drs (US$ 33) per night compared to the US$65 that the Golden Age Hotel would charge me.
After checking in around 11 AM, I set out to do some sightseeing. I headed to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. There are 12 Columns that are left standing. This was apparently the largest Temple in Greece and took over 700 years (Yes!) to complete. It is a pity that it is a ruin now. The entrance fee to visit these ruins is 500 Drs. After Spending some time here, I crossed Hadrian's Gate and headed to the Temple of Dionysus which is located below the Parthenon and just beyond the perimeter fence of the Olympeieon.
I reached the Temple of Dionysus around 12:45 PM. Unlike the Odeon of Herodus Atticus, which has been quite well restored to have live performances frequently, the theatre of Dionysus is still in ruins. Almost 50% of the Original theatre still exists. The restoration work here is dependent on funding and the folks here are trying hard. One of the ways to do that is by charging s separate entry fee to this place, even though this is part of the Acropolis. The entry fee of 500 Drs (US$ 1.60) is quite nominal and goes toward a great cause. I spent around 45 minutes here.
After lunch, I headed out to see the Ancient Agora. On reaching there, I was informed that the Agora would be closing at 3 PM. Rather than taking an abbreviated visit in the 40 minutes I had, I decided to return to the Agora tomorrow. I headed to the Archaeological Museum to see the sections I had missed during my earlier visit. On reaching there, I realized that the museum closes at 3 PM as well.
All sites close at 3 PM on Saturdays and Sundays and are closed for the entire day during Mondays. The exception (to my knowledge) is the Acropolis. All the Shops were closed as well. Except for the Plaka, the City appears dead.
I returned to my Hotel for a short nap and set out at 6 PM to meet a friend of mine at Hotel Christina who was on a Cosmos tour as well. This appears to be a Nice Hotel though not as centrally located as the Golden Age. I got to the Plaka around 9 PM and headed to Eden, the Vegetarian restaurant, for dinner. The food here was filling and delicious especially after the lousy food I had during the Greek Odyssey tour.
I walked back to the hotel after dinner. I am gradually getting my orientation of the City of Athens (the Central part anyway). I am now quite confident of finding my way from the Acropolis to Syndagma Square or the Plaka and vice versa. I only wished that I spoke more (and better) Greek. The streets are quite safe at night. There are too many stray dogs here. The chances of getting bitten are therefore, quite high. I would certainly avoid dark streets with stray dogs! (One never knows what could happen)
Tomorrow I shift to another Hotel that has been highly recommended by the Lonely Planet Guidebook on Greece. I will hopefully get to see the Agora and the remaining sections of the Archaeological Museum as well.
July 25, 1999
I had a horrible night. Hotel Carolina is probably the worst budget hotel I have stayed so far during all my travels. Around midnight one of the guests decided to take a shower (or do the laundry in the common bath). The water flowing through the pipes created such a racket that I woke up. Short of rendering myself deaf, there was no way I could keep the noise out. After about 40 minutes, this stopped. Around 4 AM, someone had to use the common toilet and the water being re-filled in the tank created yet another racket. In all, I had 2-3 hours of sleep. The rest of the night was spent trying to compose a symphony from these various sounds. For 10,000 Drs, no air-conditioning, no breakfast and no sleep, this qualifies as a certifiable DUMP. Avoid it at all Costs.
I took a taxi after 8 AM to the Marble House Pension (35 Zinni Street. KouKaki. Phone: 9234058 and 9226461). The ride from Hotel Carolina was around 15 Minutes and it cost me 600 Drs. Since my room was not ready, I left my bag there and headed for some sightseeing. I walked to the Agora and the Theseion from the Hotel. It took me around 20 minutes. The entry fee to the Agora was 1200 Drs. Apart from the Temple of Athina and Hephaistos, the Stoa of Attalos and the Middle Stoa none of the other structures are grand. Stoa refers to a Porch / Portico not attached to a larger building. There is a museum housed inside the Stoa of Attalos. In all I spent about 75 minutes exploring the Agora and the Theseion.
I took the Metro from Monastriki station (it is quite close to the Agora) to Victoria station, which is quite close to the Archaeological Museum. The cost was 120 Drs. The guard at the entrance to the museum objected to my carrying the camera bag inside the museum. He wanted me to take my camera out and deposit the bag in the cloakroom. When I explained (and showed) that all my bag contained were the film cartridges and different lenses, and that I needed to used different lenses depending on the subject I was photographing inside the museum, he reluctantly let me in. I guess they must have made these rules after seeing folks carrying backpacks containing everything to survive a nuclear disaster!
Here is yet another pet peeve of mine. I cannot understand why folks don't exchange equivalents of US$ 100 every time they change money. Or, why they have to carry all their important documents (Passport, Tickets, Travellers' Cheques etc.) with them all the time. Most of these people exchange US$20 every 3 hours! If I were to choose mugging tourists as a profession, I'll always have a great payday. These days the tourist masses don't carry waist packs. They carry cloth waist packs / neck packs that are 'hidden' underneath their dress / trousers / shorts. The fact that it is not so well hidden is because they reveal this hidden 'cache' every time they want to buy something (from a Soda to a Souvenir). Carry the equivalent of US$40 in your pocket so you don't have to reveal your stash every time.
After spending an hour at the museum seeing the sections I missed earlier, I took a bus back to Syndagma square and another bus from Syndagma to the Hotel. My room was ready (on the 3rd floor - no elevators) and it had a small ceiling fan and a mini refrigerator. For 7000 Drs. (US$ 23) this is not a bad place. It is located in a quiet Cul-de-Sac. The room rent does not include breakfast.
I took a nap till 6 PM. I paid my hotel rent and an advance of 7000 Drs towards the remaining 2 days I was to spend here after my cruise. This place (Koukaki) is well connected to the Acropolis / Plaka and Syndagma square. After having dinner at Syndagma (Neon - a nice inexpensive deli) I returned to the hotel. I had the owner arrange a taxi for me tomorrow morning to take me to the Port of Piraeus from where my cruise starts (and ends four days later).
I hope it turns out to be good.
July 26, 1999
I woke up early and was ready by 7:30 AM. The owner's wife informed me that my cab was apparently waiting for me at the end of the Street. (Since the Hotel is located in a cul-de-sac most vehicles wait (or) drop-off at the end of the street). The drive to Piraeus was smooth and I was there by 8:30 AM. The cab fare was 1200 Drs and since I had radioed for it, it cost me an additional 600 Drs. A total of 1800 Drs (US$ 6).
The folks at the Royal Olympic counter told me to wait till 9 AM when the boarding would commence. I proceeded through security and Immigration a little after 9 AM. My films were neither x-rayed nor hand inspected. The Passport check is done at the entrance ramp to the cruise ship. On boarding the ship one has to surrender the passport at the hospitality desk. This is for them to note down the various information about you!
My Cabin was located 2 decks below the Main deck. It was a compact one with 2 single beds. The ship was carrying 370 passengers out of a total capacity of 450 passengers. As luck would have it I did not get a cabin mate. Considering the fact that I did not pay a single supplement during all of my travels starting in May, I have been quite lucky to get a cabin / room to myself most of the time.
We departed Piraeus a little after 11 AM. Since the ship would not be able to maneuver out of the port on its own, a tugboat pulls the cruise ship out of the port and on to the seas before the ship cruises on its own. We were herded to the upper deck for a fire drill and were given life jackets and given instructions on which members of the crew to follow in case of an emergency and were assigned a lifeboat number as well. There are 8 lifeboats on the ship and I was assigned to lifeboat 8. The Captain of the ship inspected the entire assembly before we were dispersed.
Lunch was at noon and I did not get any decent vegetarian stuff on the buffet served on the upper deck. I went to the main dining area and had an Ice cream. I met a kid from Dubai and we chatted for a while. Following Lunch the Cruise director (A French lady by the name of Pascale) and Tour Manager gave a brief presentation about life on board and the various optional tours available at the Islands we were visiting. Following this, I had a nap till 4:30 PM.
I picked up a copy of my Passport (the original is retained by the purser of the ship until the end of the cruise) and my disembarkation tag. The photocopy of the passport is required, as a member of the crew will inspect it while we board the ship after visiting any of the islands. On returning to the ship, we will have to surrender the disembarkation tag. This is for the crew to keep track of who has returned to the ship and who has not. Each Disembarkation tag is associated with a single passenger for the entire duration of the cruise.
The Island of Mykonos
We reached the Island of Mykonos around 5 PM. Disembarkation here was by tender. Small motorboats will ferry us to the shore and back. Apart from the narrow streets and while washed houses with colourful doors / windows, Mykonos failed to impress me. I wandered around Mykonos for 3 hours. I took some pictures of an excellent sunset on the Mediterranean. It turned out to be a full moon night and I took some pictures of that as well.
We returned to the ship in time for dinner. While Lunch is seat as you please, dinner is according to assigned tables. The seating is 6 persons per table and each table is assigned a waiter for the duration of the cruise. In addition to myself and the Kid (from Dubai), we were joined by Dutch couple. The remaining 2 members at our table did not turn up for dinner. Dinner was quite lousy for a vegetarian.
Following dinner I headed to my cabin and wrote some diary for a while before turning in. We reach Heraklion tomorrow morning. Since I have not taken the optional tour offered by the cruise ship, I am planning to arrange a taxi to take me to the Palace of Knossos and back hopefully for a decent price. I hope it works out.
July 27, 1999
Despite being a large cruise ship we had a rocky sailing last night. After being tossed around in a small 10-passenger boat on the pacific 2 months ago (on a visit to the Galapagos Islands), this did not affect me much. I woke up at 6 AM and was at the breakfast table by 6:45 AM. I was all set to disembark by 7 AM. While disembarking at any of the Islands, the passengers who have taken the optional tour conducted by the cruise ship disembark first followed by the rest of the passengers. Unlike Mykonos, we were able to dock at Heraklion.
I disembarked by 7:15 AM and was soon surrounded by a group of cab drivers. After a bit of haggling, my friend and me got a deal for 10000 Drs (US$ 33). This would include taking the 2 of us to the Palace of Knossos, waiting at the site while we visited the ruins, drive us to the local museum, wait there while we explored the museum and then drop us back at the ship. For US$ 16 per person this was a pretty decent deal.
We reached the Palace of Knossos in 20 minutes and had to wait till the official opening time of 8 AM. The tour buses carrying the passengers from our ship arrived later than we did. We entered the ruins at 8 AM and spent an hour exploring the place. Large sections of the palace are in ruins and restoration work is underway. Some areas of the palace are well preserved. The North entrance / Gate is the most famous picture of the Temple of Knossos that one gets to see in most publications.
We departed the Palace and arrived at the Museum around 9:15 AM. We instructed the driver to pick us up at 10:30 AM. The entrance fee for the museum was the same as the Palace, 1500 Drs (US$ 5). The Museum contains a lot of artifacts from the Minoan Civilization as well as objects from the Palace of Knossos. The frescoes (on the second floor) and the huge clay jars on the lower level are not to be missed. In all we spent an hour at the museum (at a leisurely pace).
We met the driver around 10:25 AM and were back at the ship around 10:35 AM. The Museum is a 10-minute walk from where the ships dock. I decided to rest until lunch (12:30 PM). The total cost for our visit to the Palace of Knossos and the Museum was 8000 Drs (US$ 26). This was a little over half the price quoted by the cruise ship. If you are the kind that likes being led by someone and spoon-fed Information then this kind of stuff is not for you.
After lunch I took a siesta till 4 PM. I went up to the top deck to view the approach to Santorini, which is quite picturesque. Since I was not taking the optional tour here, I was among the last to get off the ship. The disembarkation here was by tender. On landing at the pier, we took the funicular railway (cable car) to the town of Fira. The Cost was 800 Drs. We reached Fira in 2 minutes. We walked to the Taxi stand and negotiated a cab for 10000 Drs (US$ 33) to take us to the excavations at Akrotiri and back to Fira.
The drive to Akrotiri was a little over 20 minutes. The entrance to the excavations was 1200 Drs (US$ 4). This site has been buried under volcanic material and is considered the best-preserved pre-historic site in the Aegean. The frescoes found at this site are currently housed in the Archaeological museum in Athens. The site was apparently destroyed around 1500 B.C. Our visit at this site was around 35 minutes. On the way back we had a couple of photo stops. We reached Fira around 6 PM and wandered around the streets of Fira till 7:30 PM before taking the 8 PM ferry back to the Ship.
After a shower I wore a Blue Shirt. Tonight was 'Greek Night' on board the ship and all passengers were requested to wear the National Colours of Greece (Blue and White). Hence the Blue shirt. Went to the dinner table and chatted with the Dutch Couple and had a decent dinner (for a change). The Baklava here is still not up to the Turkish Standards.
After dinner we headed to the main lounge for a cultural show being performed by the crew. The standout act was the DJ who played the 'Bouzouki' a traditional Greek musical instrument. I will definitely have to buy an album of 'Bouzouki' music. On getting back to the cabin, I wrote my diary and went to bed.
I had booked myself on the optional tour of Rhodes and Lindos tomorrow. I hope it's worth the money. As for today, I spent around US$ 53 on the visits to the Palace of Knossos and the excavations at Akrotiri. I saved over US$ 40 on the prices quoted by the cruise ship for these tours. Not Bad!
July 28, 1999
I woke up late was forced to skip breakfast to be at the departure lounge at the appointed time. We departed from the dock around 7:30 AM. We took a brief driving tour of the city of Rhodes before proceeding to the Acropolis at Lindos situated 30 miles (50 Kilometres) away. While the guide rambled on about this and that, I read my guidebook. I took a brief nap towards the end of the ride.
On reaching Lindos, we had a steep ascent of 20 minutes before reaching the base of the Acropolis. The second option (similar to the one at the port of Santorini) is to take a ride on the back of a mule. Once inside the ruins, I set off on my own. The tour of the entire site took me around an hour. It turned out to be a disappointment. There were hardly any ancient structures (In Part or in full) remaining. While the view from the Top of the Sea and the town of Lindos is quite good, I did not pay US$ 47 to see this. In the past 2 days whenever I have traveled on my own I have managed to see good things at half the price (as compared to the ship's tour rates). Now I have paid the tour price and I wind up quite disappointed. My advice would be to avoid the optional trip to Lindos. (Unless you like swimming and sunning on the beach there)
On the way back to Rhodes, we stopped at a ceramic workshop. I did not buy anything as the prices were highly inflated. On reaching Rhodes we took a 30-minute walking tour of the city of Rhodes located within the Old city walls. It is quite an interesting place. On returning to the ship, I had lunch before setting off to the city again. Since we were to sail out of Rhodes at 7 PM, I had quite some time on my hands.
The 2 Columns at the Entrance to Mandraki Harbour, Rhodes. It was upon these columns (reconstructed) that the colossus of Rhodes apparently rested.
A Mosaic of a Wild Cat at the Archaelogical Museum, Rhodes
I went to the Mandraki Harbour where (as legend has it) one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, stood. I proceeded from the harbour to the palace of the Grand Master located within the old city walls. Most Archaeologists think that the Colossus of Rhodes stood here. The entry fee for Museum was 1200 Drs. The Museum had an exhibition on Alexander the Great. In all I spent around 1.5 hours here. From here I proceeded to the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes. The entry fee was 800 Drs. I was quite Impressed with the collection at this Museum. By skipping the visit to Lindos, one can see a lot more at Rhodes. There is an Acropolis at Rhodes as well.
I returned to the Ship around 6:15 PM and rested till 8:15 PM. Tonight the captain was hosting a cocktail party and one had to be dressed formally to attend the same. Since I did not have any formal wear (I am on a vacation!) I did not attend the party. Dinner was around 9:15 PM. I met the remaining 2 members at our table who turned out to be an American Couple. I was quite surprised at their reticence!
Since today was the formal night they celebrated weddings anniversaries and Birthdays of the Passengers. The American couple at our table was celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary and we had cake and champagne at our table tanks to them!
One of the elderly ladies I met earlier during the day set me up with a 19-year old! Following dinner I went to the Disco and spent an hour there. The dance floor was filled with pre-teen girls and I did not feel like going there and mingling with that crowd. As I heading back to my cabin, I ran into the 19-year old. As I was quite beat I promised to dance with her tomorrow evening. I presume tomorrow will be a day of rest and relaxation!
July 29, 1999
We reached Kusadasi (Turkey) early morning. Since the optional tour was to Ephesus (which I had visited during my tour of Turkey 4 weeks ago), I decided to skip it. I had a late breakfast and sauntered into the town of Kusadasi along with a Canadian lady (Rita) around 8:15 AM. I spent around 2 hours in the town of Kusadasi. On spotting Rita alongside me, most of the shopkeepers in Kusadasi wanted to show her some 'Nice' Carpets. We declined the offer and continued walking. I tried to do some Internet surfing but the manager / owner of the shop wanted the equivalent of US$10 for an hour of surfing. This is a special rate for 'Cruise' Passengers. Having gotten used to pay 2 or 3 dollars for an hour of surfing, this was daylight robbery to me. I skipped the Internet surfing. I was quite glad (my stomach and tongue were overjoyed) to spot an 'Indian' restaurant in Kusadasi. Since I had just had breakfast, I could not gorge myself on the food at that restaurant.
Before leaving the USA on my Travels, I had obtained a dual-entry Visa to Turkey. I had assumed that a visa would be required to entry Turkey (Kusadasi) during my cruise. I was wrong. All one has to do is to show the Passport Copy to the Port authorities and one can get into and out of Kusadasi. Therefore, there is no need to get a VISA for Turkey if you are visiting on a Cruise ship.
I returned to the ship in time for Lunch. The food was quite bad. I wrote a strongly worded comment on the suggestion form. Following lunch I played cards with a couple of folks till 2:30 PM. We reached Patmos around 3:30 PM. We were able to dock at Patmos. (More often than not the ship anchors off shore and the passengers are ferried by boats to the shore and back).
Since Rita has been on these cruises many times, she gave me the directions to the Cave of the Apocalypse. It is a decent climb and takes around 25 minutes from the dock to reach the cave. I did not find the place to be spectacular. There is a good view of the dock and the town of Patmos from the Cave of the Apocalypse. If one continues further on for another 25 minutes, the Monastery of St. John (founded in the 11th Century A.D.) can be seen. If you are fit and up to it, you can save yourself US$ 33 that the cruise ship charges to take up to the Monastery.
On getting back to the dock, I wandered around in search of a good bookshop. Found one but they did not accept credit cards. I decided to postpone my purchase until I reached Athens. I bumped into Rita and we had a drink and chatted for a while before heading back to the ship. On reaching the boat I went to the Upper deck and played table-tennis (ping-pong) for an hour or so before heading back to my cabin and packing up. Dinner tonight consisted of an 'Indian' dish prepared none-too-well. I nevertheless proceeded to stuff myself and had a decent dinner.
Being the final night of the cruise, the crew of the ship had organized a talent show. The participants would be the passengers who were willing to display their talents. I spent an hour at the talent show, which turned out to be quite entertaining. I headed to my cabin wrote my diary and went to bed.
We disembark at Piraeus at 7 AM tomorrow.
The cruise has been anything but satisfactory. I paid US$ 800 for the 3-½ day cruise. That works out to an average of US$ 225 per day. And this does not include any of the optional tours! All I wanted to see was Rhodes, the site of one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. I had to take this cruise primarily to visit Rhodes. If that is your area of Interest as well, do enquire around in Athens and see if you can arrange a 2 or 3-day visit to Rhodes. As far as the other Islands go, I think there is too much hype and little worth seeing there. This cruise of ours should not cost more than US$ 500. If you are going to pay the price I paid and your interests are not swimming / sunning and gorging yourself on food, you would feel as ripped off as I do now!
July 30, 1999
I woke up around 6:30 AM and checked out of my cabin around 7:00 AM. I exchanged hotel names / numbers (in Athens) with some friends of mine who (like me) were staying in Athens for a few days before proceeding to their home countries.
The Customs / Immigration at Piraeus (for disembarking passengers) was a joke. The entire lot of us walked off from the ship to the Taxi stand (on the shore) without showing our passports to any official. I guess the Customs / Immigration folks are lethargic (or) place a lot of trust on the cruise ships (not to take any undocumented folks during their various stops). There was a huge queue at the Taxi stand. For some reason none of the taxis that were around were coming over to our area to pick us up. Rita and me had decided to share a cab that would drop us off at our respective hotels.
After a wait of 30 minutes, we got a cab. Upon getting in, Rita informed the driver that we were to be dropped off at 2 different hotels (Myself in Koukaki and Rita in Syndagma). After nodding the driver started off towards the city. After 15 minutes of driving he told us that he would drop us both at the Plaka. When we insisted that we needed to be dropped off at 2 different hotels, he mumbled something and kept driving. He continued driving past Koukaki and near the Plaka he stopped abruptly on the left most lane and talked to a traffic cop in Greek. We told our part of the story (on wanting to be dropped at 2 different hotels). On listening to both the stories, the Cop proceeded to berate us for not speaking Greek before informing us that the driver would be doing a single drop (at Rita's Hotel) only.
Mr. Blue uniform should realize that if he insisted on every visitor learn to speak Greek before entering the country, there would be no tourists (and no traffic) and he could be sitting at home! After the driver stopped at Rita's hotel, she banged the door shut to show her displeasure. This infuriated the driver and he started screaming and yelling. Since we were in a 1-way street, a long line of cars was waiting behind us. One of the ladies on listening to our problem berated the driver and insisted that we note down the taxi number and inform the police. The cab's meter was hugely inflated as well!
On reaching Rita's hotel, we had the manager radio in a cab to drop me off at my Hotel. In all I wound up spending 2200 Drs. On my way to Piraeus (4 days ago), I spent 1900 Drs. that included a Radio call in as well. A word of advice: Avoid H-5074 (the Taxi registration Number) if you ever set foot in Athens.
On checking in at the Marble House Pension, I was given a different room where the shower was located across my room. It was still a private shower / toilet and I was given the key to access the same. In other words, no one else would be able to use it apart from me. I departed the hotel around 9 AM and headed to the American Express Offices at Syndagma Square. In addition to buying Drachmas, I bought some Pound sterling as well for my stay in the UK after this trip. The dollar had devalued in the 5 days since I left Athens. I went to a couple of Bookshops in search of books. I found a Virgin Music store and bought a 'Bouzouki' Compact Disc. I tried to do some shopping. The folks here were none too impressed by my cut-rate bargaining (offering 70-75% of the quoted price) and I ended up buying nothing. I am not the kind that gives in easily!
I returned to the hotel and had a short siesta and set out at 7 PM to visit some more bookshops. I did not find an English Language version of the Book I was looking for. I met Rita at her Hotel and we headed out to Eden, the Vegetarian Restaurant in the Plaka. I had a decent dinner in 4 days and we chatted a while. A sudden downpour started during our dinner but fortunately did not last long. After dinner we bid adieu to each other and parted. On my way back to the Hotel, I found the book on Greek Mythology I was looking for and the establishment accepted credit cards.
I returned to my Hotel, wrote my diary and turned in. I have another day of leisure tomorrow. For the first time during this entire trip, I did NOT take any Photographs during the entire day!
July 31, 1999
I woke up later than usual and wandered to Syndagma, Monastriki and the Plaka to do some shopping. My bargaining tactics (so successfully employed in Turkey) did not work here. Nevertheless I bought a couple of Ceramic Plates depicting the Triumph of Achilles and an Athens 2004 Olympics T-Shirt! I had a light lunch and headed back to the hotel for some rest. I had booked myself to attend a Performance of 'Iphigenia at Aulis'. This was a play by Euripides and it was being held at the famed Ancient theatre of Epidaurus (Phone: 0753-22026). This theatre dates back to the 4th Century B.C. and is renowned for its acoustics.
After a brief siesta I left the hotel and took a bus to Omonia. From here I took another bus to Kifissos where the Central Bus Station is located. I bought a round-trip ticket to Epidaurus that cost me 4500 Drs. (US$ 15). The bus was to take me to Epidaurus for the Performance and drop me back at the Central Bus Station after the performance. We departed from Kifissos at 5 PM. After crossing the Corinth Canal the scenery was quite enjoyable. The journey time to Epidaurus from Athens is around 2 ½ hours. We had a break after traveling for an hour and a half. I used this opportunity to get something to eat. On reaching Epidaurus, the bus driver gave us specific instructions on where the bus was parked and how to get back to the bus. I noted down the license plates of the bus since many of them look alike.
My telephone call yesterday was merely to have a booking. I wound up in the wrong queue and finally wound up paying 6000 Drs. (US$ 20) for the performance. The English language program was an additional 2000 Drs. This is something unique to Europe. I can never understand why they don't charge a couple of dollars more and provide the program for free (as they do in the USA). As I mentioned earlier this theatre dates back to the 4th Century B.C. As with my other experiences (in Turkey), I was here more for the setting than for comprehending every word. It was Greek to me anyway!
The Performance was to start at 9 PM and finally started at 9:30 PM. Despite the instructions for no flash photography and no smoking, there were plenty of both during the performance. What a bunch of dimwits!
Iphigenia was dressed up in white indicating Purity / Virginity / Goodness. Almost all the other cast members (especially the male members) sported western clothes. I was quite disappointed in not seeing all the performers in ancient costumes. I can understand if this were being staged in Covent Garden (London) or in Off Broadway theatre in Gotham City (New York for the Uninitiated) where they may give a modern twist to the play by sporting western clothes. However, when you are performing an Ancient Play in an Ancient setting, I expect the performers to wear Ancient Costumes.
The Highlight was the 18-women Greek chorus that filled in the Gaps between the various Acts. They were good and so were the 3-member band that played the Music during the Play. After listening to the loud and shrill 'miked' performances on Broadway, this was great. There were at least 10,000 people on hand for the performance, played in a natural setting with no Microphones. This is pure theatre.
The authorities should definitely prevent people from smoking anywhere in these environs if they intend to preserve this for future generations. Then again, whom am I kidding? This is Greece!
The Play was over by 11:30 PM and the bus departed Epidaurus around 12:10 AM. I slept most of the way. We reached Kifissos around 2:30 AM. I shared a taxi with 2 ladies and the driver dropped each of us at our respective streets. I would up paying 1000 Drs as my share. I only wish that I had spent at least half-a-day exploring the ruins at Epidaurus. I could have done it this morning instead to engaging in some shopping.
I leave Greece for London tomorrow. I have experienced quite a bit of history in the past 15 days. In my opinion Greece is an expensive place with extremely poor service. It is certainly not a bang for the buck. (Which is my Credo)
August 1, 1999
I woke up around 5 AM after a 90-minute sleep. I was at the lobby around 5:45 AM. The taxi was waiting with the meter at 600 Drs. The driver informed me that he had been waiting for 15 minutes. Why did he have to arrive 15 minutes early (I had requested a pickup at 5:45 AM) and charge me for the waiting, god only knows? I did not feel like starting the day with an argument so I let it slide by. The drive to the Airport was 20 minutes. With the Radio Call, the nighttime charge (all cabs charge a night fare between 10 PM and 6 AM) and the tip, I paid 3500 Drs. (US$ 12)
The flight departed to Milan on time. I slept most of the way. The flight from Milan to London was delayed by an hour. I reached London a little after noon and took a cab to my Hotel, which was 3 miles from the Airport. I rested and repacked by bags for the rest of the day. I headed to an Indian restaurant for dinner and had a contented dinner.
I plan on doing some sightseeing tomorrow.
August 2, 1999
I woke up late and had a leisurely breakfast. Since the Travel card is valid only after 9:30 AM, I had a wait of 20 minutes at the Train station before buying the card. I headed to Russell Square station and on to the British Museum. This was primarily to see the stuff stolen from Greece and Turkey. Despite the Glorified theft, the collection here is fantastic. The entrance to the museum is free and a donation of 2 Pounds is suggested. I paid 2 pounds before going in. Flash Photographs are permitted all over the museum (except where explicitly prohibited). This was Music to my ears. This is something that should be observed and implemented in museums around the world. With all the liberalism here, you have idiots who go about touching their exhibits with their filthy hands. (I don't care how clean your hands are. Your sweaty palms should never touch these artifacts, period).
I spent around 3 ½ hours here. I could have easily spent the whole day here. The Computer generated simulation of the construction of the Parthenon is quite good. The Artifacts from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in Room 12) is excellent. There is much more here from this ancient wonder of the world than there is in Istanbul (or) at Bodrum (where the Mausoleum was located). King Maussollos was buried here and hence the word Mausoleum. The Assyrian collection from the ancient city of Nineveh is superb. There is an excellent collection of Egyptian and Asian artifacts (from China and India, in particular).
At least the British were not as barbaric as the Spaniards who just plundered and destroyed wherever they went in South America. The English at least had the taste to 'collect' these artifacts from their far-flung empire and display these in a London Museum. Despite being a sore subject for folks like me whose countries were one part of an 'empire, where the sun never sets', the collection here is quite extensive and is displayed well.
Following this, I spent some time at an Internet café and caught up with a friend before heading back to my hotel and packing up for my departure to India tomorrow. My Travels that started in May 1999 have ended (temporarily anyway). I am heading to India to take a 2-month rest. These travels have been tiring. The Sabbatical has been good. I hope I get a job later!
Blue Guide - Greece
By Robin Barber
Published by AC Black (London) and WW Norton (New York)
This is the only guidebook, I carried with me during my Travels in Greece. With this around, you don't need any guides for the explanations at the various sites. This deals extensively in History / Archaeology of the various ruins. It also tells the reader on how to reach a specific site. It does NOT provide Hotel / Restaurant listings or recommendations. In short, an Excellent Book.
Greek Mythology and Religion
By Maria Mavromataki
Published by Haitalis
This book can be obtained in Greece. It costs around US$ 10. It gives an overview of the Various Greek Gods / Goddesses / Heroes along with a brief overview of the ancient Customs. The Book does not have an ISBN number which leads me to believe that it cannot be obtained outside Greece.
Greek - Phrase Book and Dictionary
Published by Berlitz
Do buy the above phrasebook or any other Greek Phrasebook and practice your Greek before you depart for Greece. It will definitely come in quite handy.
Rec.Travel Library: The World - Europe - Greece