Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Athens: the Finish-Up
Photos here. And others from the trip here. And now here (cemetery pictures).
As I mentioned, we both felt a little ennui returning to Athens, as the island life was quite relaxing and we felt we had seen most of what we intended to see in Athens (which is certainly not to say we had seen everything). But it was actually kind of fun to come back into a now-familiar place and make further explorations. And I have to say that I just gel better in a city setting than I do on the beach. I love water, but it's the city that energizes me.
Our plan for the next morning--Sunday--was to explore the much newer of Athens' two major cemeteries, the First Cemetery. This one, a couple clicks Southeast of the Acropolis, dates from the 19th Century--comparatively just yesterday in this place--and contains many of Athens' prominent citizens of the past century or so. It seems space here is at such a premium that people only rent a plot for a few years and the bones are then removed to make space for another tenant, as it were. Indeed, as we climbed up a hill in the cemetery we looked down on a maintenance area with hundreds of metal boxes, some of which were open to the weather and the bones clearly visible. Most remains are supposedly removed to an "ossuary," though that term leaves plenty of interpretive leeway. We saw a small chapel-like structure packed to the gills with these metal boxes, many with photos and lit candles on them, but there are clearly a lot more ex-tenants than there is available space in a structure like this one.
The cemetery itself is lovely, though maybe a bit tired and at times unkempt (in a way that's not an automatic demerit for a cemetery). I still find it hard to adjust to the arid climate in this part of the world. There are trees, but (as I understand it) only those actively provided by some intervening human. And without any lush vegetation the ground is dusty and dry and cracked and rocky and generally uninviting. This is the setting for the cemetery, though plenty of trees have been planted here and some of the monuments are, well, monumental.
This consumed our morning, and by the time we walked back it was lunchtime. Our pattern then has been to follow lunch with a short time indoors for the hottest part of the day (many shops seem to close for a siesta as well), and then we venture out for another adventure. I suppose my world is entirely too food-focused anyway, but I think I could live very happily with Athens' leisurely approach to food. Lunches and dinners are prolonged affairs by default; service is leisurely; nothing happens quickly. The wait staff will never bring you a bill or hurry to remove your dirty dishes. And I think many of my fondest memories of this trip are of sitting under an umbrella or awning with a spectacular view of this or that archeological artifact, sipping endless Coke Lights and munching on cheese croquettes and watching the diverse crush of humanity parade by.
Today's post-siesta adventure was the climb up to the terminal of the funicular railway up to Lycabettus Hill. This is the highest point in Athens, rising to nearly a thousand feet MSL, and from whence one can look DOWN on the mighty Acropolis! The views were in fact spectacular, with a 360° panorama of the entire city's four million inhabitants. And we got to wander through unfamiliar neighborhoods getting to and from.
On the last day we took an above-ground tram to the beach areas on the South side of the city (and East of Piraeus), just to get a glimpse of some of the areas we had not seen. And then further exploration of the little streets of the Plaka around our hotel. We found a brilliant, narrow shopping street a block North of Ermou St. that was like a picture of 100 years ago. With meals and packing that was about all the day had in store. We did some last minute shopping and lingered in the squares over a beverage and tried to soak in a scene we may well not see again, or certainly not for a while. The flights back were long, long, long but uneventful. (I must say that Alitalia was competent and got us there mostly on schedule, but there was always some hiccup with every flight. I heard other folks bitching about them, but ours was an OK experience.)
I think the aftermath of this trip for both of us is a gratefulness that we saw the place and its historical treasures. And even knowing that we saw so very little of the Greek isles, I think we both enjoyed our visit to Milos and could happily investigate other islands if the planets aligned this way. But in comparison to other places we've visited, I don't think either of us feels compelled to return here for further exploration. If my work travels should send me here, I'd be thrilled to revisit things and maybe see other parts of the city I didn't see on this trip; but I don't know that we'd plan another vacation here without some external pressure. This is in contrast to many people's reaction to Greece, I think. Many people find a particular pull to this place, and I can see it in a way, but I just think we're not those folks especially. I think, by contrast, I could return to Paris or London an unlimited number of times. I suppose that pigeonholes me in some way, but there it is.
And as quickly as that we're back in WI, with a yard that's overdue for some mowing!