We breakfasted at the Phaedra and then did the one chore that is absolutely necessary on any long trip, one not often described in detail in any guidebook and yet requires an outlay of cash and an hour or two of lost time. Yes, that’s right…. the laundry.
We’d spotted a place not far from the Phaedra on our first pass through Athens and made our way there. Reasonably priced for a laundry, the Athens Launderette is connected to the Athens Sports Bar, a cozy place that early in the morning has a few breakfast specials, good coffee and blazing fast Wi-Fi, a welcome relief as our room at the Phaedra was in a dead spot.
Laundry done, we went back to the hotel, re-packed the clothes and our bags and soon thereafter hauled it all downstairs to be locked in the lobby until we departed later in the afternoon for the ferry. We hopped on the metro for the ride up to the National Archaeological Museum, arriving not long after noon and began our tour of what is It is considered one of the greatest museums in the world, containing the richest collection of artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity.
Ancient Greece set the tone for all Western art that followed and the museum traces its evolution, taking you from 7000 B.C. to 500 A.D., chronicling the rise and fall of Greece’s various civilizations; the Minoans, the Mycenaean’s, Archaic Greece, the Classical Age, Alexander the Great, and the Romans. It houses artifacts from all over the country, including Mycenae, Epidaurus, Santorini, and Olympia and the treasures displayed here are generally better than those remaining at the sites themselves.
We started with the Cycladic Figures. No one knows for sure their purpose, which could have represented a goddess, fertility figure, and good-luck amulet or spirit guide. None the less, although these statuettes were made only in the Cycladic Islands, well-traveled ones have been found all over Greece.
Next up was the Mask of Agamemnon (1550 B.C.). Found in the ruins of Mycenae in its Grave Circle A, it is made of beaten gold and shows a man’s bearded face. It was tied over his face and when found by Heinrich Schliemann (the Indiana Jones of his era) in 1876, he declared it to be the funeral mask of the legendary King Agamemnon, which isn’t true as the mask predates the fall of Troy that occurred 300 years later.
In the same section of the museum are the Vapheio Cups (1600-1550 B.C.), found with other precious items in a Mycenaean tomb. These metalwork masterpieces feature intricately detailed scenes; one a bull sending a guy head over heels.
We moved on clockwise to another display room, this one with the Dipylon Vase (750 B.C.), as tall as a person, which likely honored the grave of a woman. In its center, the deceased lies on a funeral bier, flanked by a line of mourners who pull their hair in grief. Discovered in Athens Keramikos Cemetery, the vase gets its name from the nearby Dipylon Gate, the ancient city’s renowned main entrance.
From there we encountered the Artemision Bronze (460 B.C.), a statue discovered amid a shipwreck of Cape Artemision (north of Athens) in 1928. The weapon was never found, so no one knows for sure if this is Zeus or Poseidon. The god stands 6’10” and steps forward, raising his arm sights along his other arm and prepares to hurl his thunderbolt or trident.
At a juncture of two halls, we viewed the Artemision Jockey (140 B.C.), a bronze statue of a horse in full stride with a young jockey looking over his shoulder to see if anyone is gaining on them. Recovered in pieces from the seafloor off Cape Artemision, missing are the reins the jockey once held in his left hand and the whip he used with his right.
The statue, like other ancient bronzes of this time, was made not by hammering sheets of metal, but with the classic “lost wax” technique, where the artist makes a rough version from clay, covers it with a layer of wax, and then covers that with another layer of clay. When heated in a furnace to harden the mold, the wax melts, or is “lost”, leaving a narrow space that the artist next fills with molten bronze.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly as we visited room after room of amazing artifacts and pieces of art, too many to include in this post. We eventually wound our way back to the Hotel Phaedra and picked up our luggage and walked to the Metro station to take the blue line out to Piraeus. We were scheduled to sail at 8:00 pm and wanting to be sure we could find our way to the ship, had left a couple of hours early.
Lucky enough we were allowed to board with a couple of hours to spare and once we’d stowed our luggage in our compartment, found it easy enough to kill time enjoying a beer or two in the lounge, wandering about the ship, and then repairing to our cozy cabin to read, work on the blog and enjoy an Ouzo or two. During our exploration of the boat, we’d checked out food options and at the appointed hour made our way to the main dining room for what would be a very enjoyable meal.
As we would discover throughout the rest of our time in Greece service personnel are genuinely helpful, friendly, and just generally glad you are there. We ordered a bottle of good Greek Rose, bread, a seafood bisque for Joanna and Veal for me. As the meal progressed, the service was attentive and efficient, speaking of an elegance that came with the ship board experience.
And that is when it hit us that this particular ferry line suffers from changing lifestyles brought about by new transportation options. In the past, it would have been just about the only option for getting Crete; now low-cost air carriers get you there in just a couple of hours, granted for a bit more money but saving a lot of time. Our ship’s capacity spoke of brighter days in the past when it would have been crowded, now barely 1/3 full.
At the end of our meal, that bottle of wine but a memory, we were treated to what would become a common feature at each meal we would enjoy on Crete, the Raki or Rakia ritual. This entails the waiter, or sometimes the owner, bringing over a bottle of the stuff with three shot glasses, one for each of us. The glass is filled and the shot downed. Usually that is the end of it but on board the ship, our waiter was insistent about enjoying more than one and being good tourists, we indulged him.
We settled our tab, 41.70 euros and made our way back to our cabin. What I thought at first was the ship rolling on the open sea was actually me staggering a bit, the effects of multiple beers, ouzo, wine and Rakia having caught up with me. I’d pay a price for it the next morning when we disembarked early, having arrived before 7am in Heraklion, the port town for Crete and our home for two nights. It wouldn’t dissuade us though from enjoying the ritual at each meal, but in the future we’d remember to temper our enthusiasm with this lesson learned the hard way.
Athens Sports Bar: http://www.athenssportsbar.com/
National Archaeological Museum: http://www.namuseum.gr/wellcome-en.html
Heinrich Schliemann: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Schliemann
King Agamemnon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agamemnon
Trojan War: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_War