Day 2 started with creamy Greek yoghurt, honey and a fantastic pine-nut topping at Fresko which is conveniently located near the Acropolis. There were numerous tour groups who turned up while we were there – it is clearly a popular venue for tourists visiting the Acropolis. The walk up to the Parthenon passes many different sites, the most spectacular being the Dionysian Theatre. This is a reconstruction of what the theatre would have looked like in the past, and is an impressive building even when compared to today’s enormous stadiums.
Up on top of the hill there is a fantastic view of Athens, and right in the centre of the summit the Parthenon stands tall. The current conservation work means that parts of the structure are partially obscured with scaffolding but the monument is still impressive, and it is so important that monuments are protected so that they will continue to awe and inspire for years to come. My father spent some time photographing moss on a stone to the amazement of an Asian tour group who proceeded to laugh hysterically whilst videoing the man who was photographing moss instead of the Parthenon.
Once we had finally found the entrance to the Ancient Agora we visited the museum housed inside the reconstructed stoa (portico). My highlight of the ancient Agora was the Temple of Hephaestus. Shortly before closing time the area was filled with the sound of shrill whistles. Staff used these whistles to usher out stragglers, and some were very enthusiastic (almost too enthusiastic) when blowing them. I’m sure it must be satisfying shooing people out through a series of staccato whistles.
So far, I had made good progress in trying out Greek food: I enjoyed holding a warm souvlaki in my hands before eating the grilled meat wrapped in fluffy Alexandrian bread. A gyros accompanied by fries and salad was equally enjoyable. Soft aubergine slices layered with meat, potato and a cheese sauce reminded me of why I liked moussaka and pastitsia was a confirmation that any dish with pasta is delicious. Seafood is also plentiful: battered squid, prawns and grilled anchovies are popular dishes. Saganaki (cheese) and dolmades (chicken and rice wrapped in lettuce with a bitter dressing) were two new culinary discoveries; I liked the former but I’d say the latter is an acquired taste. A spread of warm cheese accompanies warm pitta bread well, and pairs excellently with some cold Mythos beer. I am not usually a fan of salads but I have to make an exception for Greek salad with its crunchy cucumber, tangy tomato, spicy onion slices and generous slab of feta resting on top. It is delicious served with olive oil and crunchy croutons. Ice cream servings are generous, and the cones are delicious – I know this isn’t typically Greek but it’s okay to make an exception for something exceptional, and ice cream definitely is.
I was amazed by the Mycenaean displays in the National Archaeological Museum. The artistry, creativity and technical skills are even more incredible when considering that some of the works are from 1600 BC. I spent ages looking at the gold work which included beautiful jewellery made from fine strands of gold looped in incredible patterns that would still take effort to create today. The Mask of Agamemnon is one of the museum’s highlights. There is also an incredible sculpture of a young jockey riding a horse (Jockey of Artemision); the level of detail is unbelievable. From the jockey’s strained expression, to the horse’s tense limbs and flared nostrils, the creator of this work has completely captured a moment in time – and in 150-140 BC! There is also no shortage of specimens of perfect Greek bodies - I’m talking about the sculptures, of course.
The Acropolis Museum is a state-of-the-art museum where the museum itself is a work of art. It is bright, spacious and makes good use of all the space. The entrance has a glass floor through which you can see excavated foundations of earlier buildings. This museum houses items found on the Acropolis. My highlights were the Caryatids and the marble frieze that ran along the sides of the Parthenon. This frieze is displayed on the top floor on the sides of a structure built in the style of the Parthenon; the columns, spacings, and dimensions are replicated save for the height as the Parthenon is taller than the structure in the museum. There are gaps for the Elgin Marbles, and a documentary shown on the floor below highlights the dubious manner in which the marbles were taken from Greece (for example, Elgin characterises them as ‘stones of little importance’ when labelling them for customs).
I was struck by the numerous orange trees throughout the city and surprised that no one was plucking the fruit. I was told that the fruit was too sour to eat as it was but that at times it was combined with copious amounts of sugar to make a sweet. I was also struck by the number of smokers even inside restaurants. Most cafes away from the tourist hubs were patronised by regulars who sat outside with a cup of Greek coffee smoking their cigarettes and reading the paper. Many of the locals commented on how difficult life was because of Greece’s history of economic problems. I hope that the gradual recovery will continue.