August 24 – 26
After our pizza snack, we walked through the Plaka to the Arch of Hadrian, which offers a neat framing device that many tourists take advantage of, either posing in front of the arch or making sure they get a bit of the Acropolis in the background.
From there we continued north along Siggrou Blvd. until we reached Syntagma Square. The name Syntagma means Constitution. When Greece was liberated from the Turks in the 1830’s three Great Powers, Russia, Britain and France decided that a king was needed and chose Otto of Bavaria. Since he was too young at 16 to actually rule he came with a military force and three regents who ruled as dictators, imposing heavy taxes, and stealing from the country.
When the king finally came of age he tried to function as an absolute monarch, but was, as has been described, neither ruthless enough to be feared, nor compassionate enough to be loved, nor competent enough to be respected. Greeks were fed up with the tyranny and in 1843, with the support of British diplomats, two Greek soldiers led their troops to the palace and demanded the king produce a constitution within 30 days. A bloodless coup followed and the next year, a constitutional commission was formed and a constitution was proclaimed.
We stopped for a bit in front of the Old Royal Palace, now home of the Greek Parliament since 1935, to watch the changing of the guard in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is a highly stylized ritual, with some moves that are frankly quite odd. One was left wondering how they came up with some of the leg kicks and why they thought them necessaryWe walked through the square and then down Ermou Street, a pedestrian only mall full of all of the international chain stores one finds in any city. From here we would stop at three different Greek Orthodox Churches. The first was the Church of Kapnikarea, a classic 11th century Byzantine design, squire and topped with a central dome. Telltale signs of this type of church include tall arches over the windows, stones surrounded by brick and mortar, and a domed cupola with a cross on top.
From there we hit the Cathedral or Mitropolis, built in 1842 it is the most important in Athens and thus the head church of the Greek Orthodox faith. Unremarkable in design, it does feature balconies inside where traditionally, women worshipped separate from the men, a practice that continued to around 1952, not long after women in Greece got the right to vote.
Our final church was Agios Eleftherios, built in the late 12th century, small but used by the Archbishops of Athens after the Ottomans evicted them from the church within the Parthenon. Not much to look at inside, we walked down Agia Filotheis Street, home to many of the Orthodox clerics and the stores that cater to their clothing and religious paraphernalia needs.
It was getting to be later in the day and we’d been busy. With an early departure planned for the next morning for our tour (8am) we’d need to be packed and ready to walk the few blocks to our pick-up point, the Athens Gate Hotel. For dinner we decided to try a restaurant that our tour guide Michael had recommended, Liondi, just across from the Acropolis metro stop.
We were seated outside and the friendly staff helped to make us feel comfortable while we ordered a beer and a glass of wine and settled on the sea bream for Joanna and chicken souvlaki for me. The food was all we could have asked for; Joanna’s whole fish a bit of work to get through but worth it for the freshness and flavor.
We savored the meal, knowing we’d be leaving the next day and yet returning in five for one night before heading to Crete on the overnight ferry. Not knowing what to expect from the tour we were about to embark on, we discussed the possibilities and then let it all go, finishing out the night in our room with a couple of glasses of ouzo and water, the best way to relax before sleeping.
Note to our readers: We are always a couple of weeks behind in posting the events we describe. In most cases this isn’t an issue as most of you don’t care if you are experiencing our travels in real time. On this trip, it presents us with a minor dilemma as we are about to embark on about five weeks of hiking on the Camino de Santiago, which will necessitate paring our belongings down to a bare minimum, as we will carry everything we need in our packs as we hike. When posting I rely on receipts, guidebooks, brochures, and other information we’ve picked up to inform me as I write. This won’t be possible with the limited amount of gear we’ll be packing.
So, we’re going to take a break on Greece, this being a good stopping point with the tour about to begin and will pick it up when we return in early November. In the meantime, we’ll begin posting our adventures on the Camino and try to make them as close to real time, within a day or so for each post, as we can get.
Arch of Hadrian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Hadrian_(Athens)
Syntagma Square: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntagma_Square