May 26:  Athens


Typical first day...despite the lack of sleep from the plane and despite taking a couple Simply Sleep tablets before bed, I was up at 5am, wired.  Stayed in bed till 7am to rest my body if not my brain.  The A/C was very cold, which was part of the reason...being a hostel it charged extra for a top blanket, and I thought the free sheet would be enough.

I headed for Syndagma Square, and along the way tried to take out another 300 from the ATM (as I had done at the airport yesterday).  It didn't work, and I realized that on LA time, it was still yesterday.  So I had to wait till 10am Greece time for the $500 daily limit to reset.  I can't believe I spent the first 300 so fast.  (Elaine:  "Isn't that only a few hundred dollars?"  Kramer:  "Evidently.")  Actually I didn't spend it, but I had to reserve 200 to pay to the tour leader at the initial meeting.

Parliament and Syndagma Square.

Closer shot.

Closer still.

One of the guards, about to be changed.  I rarely go for this changing-of-the-guard silliness, but these guys are a little more festive than usual.

LG asked me to take a photo of grease in Greece.  So I did!

Yep, they're real fancy boys.

Ever since I saw Elias's photos from Athens a few years ago, I've been fascinated with that "graffiti" on the wall.

And I managed to get one shot without the Asian tourists in the way.  I've done my diatribe against them before (see Russia & Scandi).

When the ceremony was over I left, but my path took me behind the swapped-out guards, who continued on streets around to the back of Parliament.  I tried not to walk directly behind them, which would have felt disrespectful somehow.

Continuing down the street behind Parliament, I encountered a building with lots of antennas on the roof, which I think Mike said was the Greek equivalent of the Pentagon.  Security guys outside told me no photos, so yeah.  Next door I believe was the President's residence, but even if photos were allowed there were too many trees shrouding it and it was backlit.

To the west of this north-south street, and south of Parliament, are the National Gardens.  I'd read that there's a really weak zoo in there, and I followed the cocorico (cock-a-doodle-doo to you non-Serbs, including me) to it.  Weak indeed.  I took photos but discarded most of them.  I'd say 90% of the animals in this so-called quote-unquote "zoo" are roosters and ducks.  A few donkeys and goats, and peacocks (which at most zoos are not in cages), and cats that don't belong in the cages at all.

Here's the one pic I did keep.  "Now if any--ah say, if any of you other donkeys misbehave, I'm gon' make y'all stand wit' yo heads against the wall like this fella.  Capisce?"  Yes, I'm imagining the rooster as Foghorn Leghorn (no offense, LG) and also as a mafioso.  Hey, I told you it's a weak zoo.  Don't blame me for the material.

I made my way down to the Temple of Zeus.  I think it's 2, but for 12 you get a ticket to 6 sites including the Acropolis.  So you don't save anything.  I found myself wondering why Zeus hasn't achieved sainthood in the Greek Orthodox church.  I can understand the Pope not letting him in, but come on...Greek?  Zeus?  Should be a no-brainer.  Is it because Zeus wasn't real?  That's never been a barrier to being a revered figure in any religion.  Can't he even get honorary sainthood?  Greek gods have been shut out too long...they're like the Negro Leagues of Christianity.  And sure, the exploits of the Olympians have been overglorified and perhaps they don't match up against modern deities.  But the same is true for Josh Gibson, who wouldn't have hit nearly as many homers if he'd had to face white pitchers, and he's in the Hall of Fame.  Seems only fair to give the Greek myths the same status as other myths.

Temple of Zeus.

Temple of Zeus.

By the beard of Zeus!

Temple of Hermes.  I mean Zeus.

This is Hadrian's Arch, just outside the Temple of Zeus grounds.  Hadrian's Arch was part of a multicountry trade involving Hadrian's Wall, the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the Luxor obelisk that went to Paris and the broken cuckoo clock Egypt got.

Still on the Temple of Zeus grounds.  Remains of Classical Houses.

Roman Baths.  Not the Greek bath houses Dave warned me about.

I have no recollection what this is.  Maybe latrine ruins.  "I order you to enter the latrine...and defecate!"

Hadrian's Arch without the fence in the way.  Look, I framed the Acropolis.

I went back to the hostel to check out at 9:40am.  Plan was to store my bag there for a couple hours as I did more sightseeing and take them up to the G.A.P hotel later.  While there I checked the Internet...I was outbid on Kershaw $27 to $24.  My bid was risky, SNK's was riskier.  Currently in 2nd place with 73.5 points, 8 ahead of The Untouchables.  A monster day yesterday with 5 HR, 14 RBI and 14 R.  I finally caught The Fish in RBI.  Eric Byrnes with the 3rd Boner Salami of the year.

At the Acropolis there was a long line to buy tickets.  But I'd already gotten mine at the Temple of Zeus.  Tip:  Do what I did.

This is the Theatre of Dionysus on the way up to the top of the Acropolis.

And the Odeon of Herodes Atticus further down the path.  This is used for modern-day performances.

View of Athens from the Acropolis.

The Parthenon.

From the top of the Acropolis, a view of the Panathenaic Stadium (upper left) and Temple of Zeus.

Parthenon.

Parthenon.  I think the sign said it's been under renovation since 1983.

Theatre of Dionysus.

Stadium, Zeus Temple and Theatre of Dionysus all in one.

A building next to the Parthenon called the Erechtheion.

Erechtheion.

Ancient Agora.

The exit road down from the Acropolis took me to the Roman Agora, which I had a ticket for, so I used it.

Roman Agora looking east.

Photo is included solely as a reference to Rio's so-called "funk balls".

Roman Agora looking west.

At this point I was hungry so I went to Monastiraki Square.  There are three highly-regarded souvlaki shops there, but the one I went to is called Bairaktaris, because Mike's mom reputedly knows the owner and grew up with him in Agrino.  I had a huge meal:  giant Greek salad, two skewers of chicken souvlaki, pita, and a 500-mL Mythos.  I'd had a Coke before so my stomach was full already, and I was barely able to get all the chicken down.  But I did, along with the beer.  The salad and pita had to be left.  On the way out I flagged down the owner and through a translator (the waitress) I told him that Efrossini Pilichos said hi (even though she didn't even say "regards").  He recognized the name and shook my hand and thanked me.  I intentionally name-dropped after the meal so it wouldn't seem like I was trying to get a discount.  Gotta stay classy.  The meal more than made up for my 24-hour fast.  If you're in the area, be advised that there's another Bairaktaris on a parallel street (with many more photos of Mr. Bairaktaris with celebrities than the main one has) and yet another annex next door for takeout only, but the old man was working at the one near the other two souvlaki shops (Savvas and O Thanasis).

So far I've noticed that there are tons of hotties in Athens.  Moreso the tourists than the locals, but the Greek girls are nonetheless hot.

I got my bag from the S&T Inn and walked up Athinas St to the Hotel Cecil to check in.  It was originally called the Hotel Milk Thistle, but one day Ryan Rowland saw it and asked "what's this, Cecil?" and the name stuck.  Evidently I'm in a single room.  Can it be?  And I checked the G.A.P noticed that was posted in the lobby.  The group comprises 11 girls and 3 guys.  Jackpot!  This is why I picked Greece.  I'm assuming the other two guys are matched up with someone, which is why I get the swinging shagpad to myself.

I still had time to kill so I went to the Ancient Agora, which I'd seen from the Acropolis.  This is also included in the 12 ticket.

Random ruins.

Hephaesteion, a temple on a hill in the northwest corner of the Agora.

Hephaesteion, up on the hill.  I totally framed the Acropolis again.

Agora and Acropolis from the Hephaesteion.

Hephaesteion.

Hephaesteion.  Reminds me of when I was on Mulholland Dr and I saw Hephaestus shoot 4 fireballs into the sky.  It was actually part of a show at Universal Studios, but inspiring nonetheless.

Next to the Hephaesteion I saw this creature, which the sign referred to as a "swap turtle", but I think that was a misspelling.  (Same inside joke here as with the towel bunny.)  Every turtle should be called Myrtle, and every woman named Myrtle (including you know who) should be nicknamed Myrtle the Love Turtle.  I'll refer to this again later in the travelogue.

Back down in the Agora proper.  Ruins of dwellings I think.

One more thing I tried to see that was covered by the ticket was the Keramikos, which I think is some kind of necropolis.  But it didn't look interesting and I didn't want to walk around the grounds.  So I retired to the hotel to rest and cool off.  I showered but it was difficult because the shower curtain kept hugging me...you know, when the curtain is too flimsy and the updraft blows it inward.  Makes the showering process so much longer.  It reminded me of Ralph Wiggum walking into the porn section at the video store:  "Everybody's hugging!"

Just before the group meeting I took this pic of the G.A.P sheet in the lobby:

I blotted out the last names etc. other than mine.  At 800x 600 it's hard to read anyway.  Just a cool reminder of when we all didn't know each other yet.

So we had our group meeting.  Our tour leader is Gabriel, from Colorado.  My first American tour leader.  There are two couples in the group (although the status of one of them was a hot topic early in the tour) and a mix of young and old people.  The young'uns are not bad at all.  Again, this is why I picked Greece after the somewhat lackluster group in Yugoslavia.  Greece attracts the attractive.  When I introduced myself I mentioned the standup comedy thing.  Three members of the group had not yet arrived...two would be joining us at dinner and one wasn't arriving till 2am.  Gabriel confirmed that I indeed had a single room for the duration of the tour.  Drinks were served during the meeting and I consumed most of a small bottle of ouzo.  Getting off to a good start.  Uh huhuh...getting off.

We went out for dinner to a place called Sisyphus with a nice view of the Acropolis lit up at night.  The waiter offered to keep a separate check for each person, and then couldn't handle it and chaos ensued.  I had some good lamb souvlaki but the beer I ordered never came.  I was dropping Birnbaums (cheesy one-liners named after George Burns aka Nathan Birnbaum) throughout dinner as I had during the meeting.  Gabriel got in a "send those balls down here" when requesting pumpkin balls.  It would be that kind of tour.  A running joke started when people repeatedly asked Gabriel to define "opa" (kind of an all-purpose interjection).

One bit of info I learned:  One member of our group, Gloria (touring with her mom, Rosalie), recently graduated from the University of Florida.  I'm just saying this in case you're considering attending UF...be advised that there are cool people who go there.  I'm just saying.  They're originally from Long Island, so I sort of have an East Coast connection here.  But not really.  And during dinner another mother-daughter team (Dawn and Stacy) joined us.  In total this group has 6 Americans, 6 Canadians and 2 Russians.  No Aussies or Kiwis for the first time in 8 tours.

Back at the hotel, I took this pic of the illuminated Acropolis from the roof.

We went to bed at 12:30am and check-out tomorrow is 12pm, so let's see how much sleep I can catch up on tonight.


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