Delayed flights are annoying but fairly common. So, even though the plane had been parked on the tarmac for half an hour beyond its scheduled departure time I assumed that the flight would take off shortly. Another thirty minutes passed before we were all asked to disembark. This was the first time I had been told that there was a flaw that meant flying a particular aircraft would not be safe. Anyway, better safe than sorry, especially when talking about planes. The new plane took off without any problems and we arrived in the city centre close to midnight. I was surprised by the number of restaurants that were open but was later informed that Greeks eat late and meals are drawn out.
When I was younger, I loved reading the Greek myths. I have a well-worn edition of Greek mythology compiled by Phillip Pullman – a fantastic book that perfectly captures the majesty of the gods and goddesses as well as emotions felt by us all: pride, anger, jealousy, desire, and love. I have seen recreations of Greek temples in films with dazzling white marble and olive trees at aesthetic intervals, but seeing the eroded rock and fallen columns of Zeus’ Temple felt much more real. Only a fraction of the columns remains today but the site is still special, and as I looked at the remains of the temple I could imagine how spectacular it would have been in the past.
Another spectacular structure is the Panathenaic Stadium. This is where the first modern Olympic games were held. I didn’t go inside but if you’d like to say you’ve run at an Olympic stadium here’s your chance. The blocks at the front for first, second and third place medallists are also a popular photo stop. We then walked through the beautiful Zeppio Gardens, past the Zeppio Palace and stopped at the Roman Baths (an archaeological site). Just across the road from the baths is a church at the site of a venue visited by St Paul during his journey in Greece. The vicar very kindly let us in to have a look around.
Lunch was at Plaka, my favourite neighbourhood in Athens. The narrow streets are lined with cafes and shops. Gold and silver laurel wreaths flash in the light (not real, obviously) waiting to be picked up by a tourist. Loose, white cotton dresses and shirts flap in the wind. Leather sandals are stacked high on shelves. Reasonably authentic looking patterned vases are displayed on tables alongside postcards and miniatures of the Acropolis. And, of course, the blue Eyes stare at you unblinkingly.
The restaurants in Plaka are a mixture of those visited only by tourists and those also visited by locals. Some of them have good happy hour deals with cocktails for 5 euros; coming from London where cocktails are exorbitantly priced I was very happy with these prices. I also tried the ouzo, but won’t be having it again. It is definitely an acquired taste with a strong taste of aniseed. On the other hand, it has a strong alcoholic content and is definitely value for money.
The next hour was spent trying to locate the entrance to the Ancient Agora. I began to think the entrance only existed in myths. Google Maps said the Agora was in the enclosed area to the left of the walkway we were on but a trio of teenagers who said they were from the area said they didn’t know what the Agora was. Everyone else we asked either didn’t know what the Agora was or knew about it and didn’t know where the entrance was. Finally, a man pointed back in the direction we had come and said to go down a path. Once we had made it down this rather lengthy path we discovered an entrance. Sadly, it was locked with a chain and giant padlock. We could see the ruins inside; so close and yet so far.
Deciding to turn back towards the centre, we soon stumbled upon the Roman Agora. This has an entrance dedicated to Athena: the columns are fantastic, looming high above everything else, and at the back, the Tower of the Winds can be seen. There is also an area where 64 latrines used to be arranged in a square; I don’t know about you but I am so happy that it is no longer the norm that business discussions and socialising take place in the toilet.
I would have loved to have seen Hadrian’s Library when it was a functional building – imagine how many books it would have housed!