Falling... in love

"Fell in love with a girl.  Fell in love once and almost completely.  She's in love with the world."
-- The White Stripes

The main objective for Mom & I staying in Piraeus, Greece -- the largest Mediterranean hub -- was to hop on a ferry and visit the nearby Saronic Islands of Aegina (pronounced "a-eena"), Hydra (pronounced "ee-druh") and Poros.  However, being sick earlier in the week pushed our itinerary back a two days so the islands were out.

In the daylight -- with shops open, people bustling & city noise -- Piraeus wasn't as awful as I thought the night before.  It was just different than the other tourist-friendly cities I previously visited.  In fact, lodging in Piraeus then commuting via the metro to Athens saved us a considerable amount of money.

Today was the day. I had unfinished business.  Seeing the Ακρόπολις a.k.a. Acropolis from the Hilton balcony gave me ants in my pants, but I became ill and did not immediately visit the "high city" -- its literal, Greek translation.  The waiting period between day one and now (day six) only whet my curiosity.

Mom & I validated our metro tickets in the yellow boxes (a must!) and boarded the green line -- the only line that went as far southeast as Piraeus.  All the men on the train had beautiful, olive-colored skin and dark brown eyes.  As Mom & I exited the green train at Omonia (pronouned "oh-moan-yuh") I saw a red-painted train getting ready to leave so we raced across the platform.  Great timing!  We needed to take the red line to the heart of Αθήνα a.k.a. Athina/Athens (the Greek/American way of saying the city's name).  However, the next station we arrived at was Viktoria, not Akropoli.  Lesson learned: you cannot determine the line of metro based on the train's color.  We hopped a train back to Omonia but once there, saw only two trains (both of which we had traveled on).  Where was the red line hiding?  Mom asked a jolly guy who was part of the private security.  The red line was up a level up!  Mom & I were thinking of the metro like San Francisco's B.A.R.T. where all trains were unilateral. 

We ascended a story and -- as promised -- there was the red line that took us to Akropoli.  Since the red line traveled to other important sites in Athens, it was more crowded.  Mom & I shoved into the train, my purse jabbing a poor girl's side.  I felt like I was suffocating.  The air in the train was hot and quite a few people reeked of body odor.  As I exited the metro I felt sweat drip down my back and chest.  Mom & I were relieved to surface to fresh air and a wide open street lined with restaurants.

Midway through lunch (typically a Greek's first meal) a cute, brown-eyed girl with unruly hair approached the various outdoor tables playing an accordion.  I knew what she wanted but I wasn't sure my mom did.  After the little girl attempted to serenade us for another 30 seconds, she halted and straightforwardly asked Mom "Do you have money?"  We were not in Piraeus anymore Toto.  This was tourist central.

Afterward we sauntered past the Acropolis Museum.  On Dionysou Areopagitou -- which is strictly for pedestrians -- beautiful trees with yellow flowers provided a shade for our stroll.  The first thing we saw was the outside wall of the famed Odeon ampitheatre, however, it was closed off with scaffolding everywhere.  I rebounded, thinking "It's okay.  I'm not here to see you anyway."

Along Dionysou Areopagitou I finally got my glimpse of it perched on the cliffs.
Mom & I arrived at the entrance and I wanted to test Lonely Planet's reliability.  So, I handed the teller my Miami University ID (from 2005 with a picture from 2001) and asked for a concession & regular ticket.  No drama... I paid half price for my ticket!

We followed the path upward and were pleased to have an expansive view of The Theatre of Dionysus.  From the hillside we could see a compendium of marble pieces laid out on the lawn below.  They ranged in size from enormous to pebble size, but all seemed to be meticulously organized and tagged.  To me, the best pieces were the friezes from atop the Parthenon that each depicted an important historical scene.  Moreover, we now had a view of the entire interior of The Odeon of Herodes [Atticus] which we thought we would never see since the street entrance was closed.  The original wooden roof was long gone, but the stone seats still fanned out from the stage in a perfect semi-circle.  Through the remaining, incredibly thick stone arches that looked like windows I saw the entire city of Athens spread into Αττική a.k.a. Attiki/Attica (the state's name) and finally stop at the base of the mountain range.
 
The crowd's eyes were drawn outward as it looked at the remains below and the cityscape beyond, but I was instantly drawn to what laid behind me: The Temple of Athena.  I have always been infatuated with Greek mythology.  First, as a young child my favorite scene in Fantasia was Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony which was an animation short that featured many popular Greek gods.  Second, I spent the summer after third grade imagining I was a gumshoe from Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? and typing about the Acropolis.  Last, in college I earned an A+ on a thematic unit based upon Greek culture.
Mom & I walkd further along the single path that lead upward.  Now to my right, I could better admire the dainty Temple of Athena. I loved how the structure scaled the edge of the hill; I loved how its Ionic columns and boxiness mirrored the vertical lines of the rock wall; I loved staring at its friezes; and of all the Greek deities I loved, Athena was always my favorite.  She was wise & cunning -- hence how she "won" the city of Athens; she was Zeus' golden child -- and he had a lot of kids!; she was powerful but just; she was a protector and the only other god/goddess that shared the Aegis a.k.a. shield and cloak with the mighty Zeus.
Mom & I continued along the Panathenaic Way and decided it was time to find shade.  As we descended the beautiful steps before the Προπύλαια a.k.a. Propylaia, I slipped on the slick marble and fell.  Mom screamed as I absorbed the brunt of the fall with my butt and hands.  It's no surprise I fell since the soles of my tennis shoes were covered in beige-colored dust from the walkway and the Pentelic marble was worn smooth from millions of visitors.  From then on I took baby steps.
Through the grand entranceway -- where statues of Athena used to be mounted -- the Parthenon stretched over the hilltop to our right.  Did you know its design is an optical illusion?  Although built during pre-historic times the thinkers made the foundations mildly concave & the Doric columns slightly convex to give the appearance of being straight.  Despite the ugly scaffolding and major pieces that were missing, I imagined how breath-taking the Parthenon must have been upon completion.  There used to be a wooden ceiling that was painted blue & gilded with stars; a massive 40 foot statue of Athena decorated with ivory and plated with gold; entire scenes reenacted in the metopes.
Shade is scarce on the Acropolis so Mom & I rested -- along with many other visitors -- in the shadows of the lofty columns.  We commited the 360 degree view of Attica to memory and moved on to the Erechtheion/Porch of the Caryatids.  The Caryatids' gowns were beautifully carved and I liked how this was the only temple that had [I believe unintentional] greenery.  The Erechtheion was built on the most sacred part of the Acropolis: the famed spot where Poseidon struck the ground with his trident & Athena produced the olive tree in the contest to win the city.
We descended carefully down the steps, but there was still so much slick marble/stone on the walkway Mom almost fell.  I noticed a roped off area -- quite common for the site -- but the curious cat in me needed to peek.  On the other side of the rope I sneaked down steps that lead to an underground gate.  I peered through the rustic gate and saw more stone steps leading down, again, but to a wall.  My mom -- who was on lookout duty -- hypothesized there were many underground/hidden exit routes.  I agreed.
Sunburnt and exhausted from the climbs, Mom and I wanted to see more of Athens since this was our last full day in Greece; tomorrow we embarked to Italy.  So, we wandered the shaded & tranquil paths that wove through Filopappos Hill.  The park is littered with semi-important sites such as monuments, an observatory, Greek dance theatres, a tomb, and -- our favorite -- the prison of Socrates.  The wall visitors can see used to be the third wall inside the jail and is actually part of the earth.  It felt eerie to look inside the raw stone cells and grasp the same iron bars that one of the most controversial & famous philosophers lived in until he willingly accepted his death sentence.
Mom and I returned to Piraeus and headed for the usual 21:00 dinner, where I had my best meal yet: fried pork chunks and fried balls of kefalotyri cheese (the same used in saganaki a.k.a. flambeed, fried cheese) with a side of lemon halves.  The pork was perfectly cooked and the cheese melted in my mouth leaving its salty taste linger.  Mid-meal we heard drums in the distance.  Five minutes later the drumming sound drew closer.  Mom's eyes grew wider and the other diners looked around in confusion.  Soon protestors -- many holding signs -- marched up the main street as they chanted in Greek.  A symptom of the building political tension.  Mom seemed nervous but I was proud of the Greeks.  I thought "Good for them. They're standing up for their beliefs.  I wonder why more Americans don't protest?"  Socrates, the man who believed "Let him that would move the world first move himself" would be exultant with the Greeks.

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