We left off leaving Turkey and heading westward back toward Greece. The morning of July 24th we docked at Piraeus, the largest passenger port in Europe that sits a short distance away from Athens. The highlight of the trip to Athens was definitely going to be the visit to the Parthenon at the Acropolis, the gem of ancient Greek sites. We got to see large sections the Parthenon’s friezes and the pediments in the British Museum at the very beginning of our trip. We saw more in the Louvre in Paris. We had just recently been in Venice and Turkey, and the Venetians were responsible for bombing the Parthenon while it was under Turkish (Ottoman) control in the 1600’s. Despite its long and scattered history, it remains as the symbol of the idealized ancient Greek culture that gave us democracy and philosophy.
The day itself began with an early morning bus ride from the port into the Athens, where we got off and hoofed it up the hill into the historic site. The word “acropolis” simply means “high city” so while getting up there involves some leg power, the views of the surrounding city are impressive.
Sadly, visiting the Acropolis wasn’t anywhere as romantic as its history. Much like our experience with the Mona Lisa, it was more about working your way around the other people than really getting anything out of the sights. And rather than seeing what you see on postcards, you see this.
Just as they were still doing excavations in Ephesus, they’re still doing work on the Parthenon. While it’s great that they’re trying to piece things back together and rebuild what they can, if you plan on visiting anytime in the next 20 or 30 years, plan on seeing lots of scaffolding.
After walking around the scores of other tour groups, we worked our way into the long line to head back down the hill. Back on the bus we drove around some of the other sites of Athens – the Panathenaic Stadium, Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Zeus – before making our way back to the ship. Maybe it was because we had to get up so early, or because it was too hot, or just in comparison to how amazing Ephesus was the day before, but we basically let out a “meh” after the visit to the Acropolis. Worth visiting the most famous of Greek sites? Sure. Are we in a hurry to go back to Athens? Meh…
July 25th – Katakolon, Greece (Olympia)
Our ship made its way back to the western side of Greece where we stopped at Katakolon. The excursion for the day was a trip to Olympia, famous for, of course, being the site of the original olympic games. When visiting these places, having a good imagination is important. You see quite a bit of this –
Dusty pathways covered with fallen stones that would have been resting inside building walls or columns had you visited 2700 years ago. Olympia was the site picked to hold the original Olympic games starting in the 7th century B.C. Every four years for over a millennium, athletes from around the Greek states would gather in the city to wrestle and race their way to victory. When the games were restarted in 1896, they returned to Olympia, as they do every Olympics, to light the torch before competition begins.
Other than a few bigger structures, most of the ruins are laying directly on the ground. Some have been organized well enough to show you where rows of columns stood and where the outlines of buildings were. Other areas look as if the archeologist said “I have no frigging clue where this goes” and started putting stone fragments in big piles.
One of the draws of the ancient city was the Temple of Zeus and the gold and ivory statue of Zeus within. Named one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, all that remains of the temple is a bunch of sections of columns and walls. They rebuilt one of the pillars to give you an idea of scale.
After the temple of Zeus, we got to walk out onto the field where the sporting events were held. To get there, we walked through the same pathway that the athletes themselves would have taken to enter the stadium.
Sure the archway had been rebuilt, but stop to appreciate the fact that these games were held regularly for over 1000 years, and you can’t help but get a little chill as you walk down the path into the stadium. The stadium itself only had an open field where they would have the games. A bunch of crazy people were running from one end to the other, but it was definitely too hot for us to consider that.
After the stadium we went into an archeological museum that had a few cool displays showing the pediment sculptures from the temple of Zeus.
They also had the helmet of Miltiades, a general at the battle of Marathon.
After the museum we had a few minutes to shop before hopping on the bus back to the ship. We had some lunch at a small restaurant by the water. Steve was lured into a small grocery by an ancient, lightly bearded Greek woman, where he bought a bottle of whiskey with hopes of getting it on the ship using the same “I’ll just stick it in my bag” method as before. This time they caught it and made us take it out, saying it would be delivered to our room the following night. Oh well… That night the dinner dress code was “Formal/70’s Disco” which just confused the hell out of us, so we all enjoyed an evening at the buffet.
July 26th – Day at Sea
The last day of the cruise was spent on the water as we made the long trek back to Venice. After six busy and often early days, we were happy to get up late and relax on the ship. Steve went for a run, Jenny laid out in the sun. At 3:00 Steve went and entered a couple blackjack tournaments in the casino. On the last hand of the second round, he and another guy were tied for chip lead, so he doubled on his Ace/8 vs. dealer 7, dealer busted, and he won. After that we went and climbed the rock wall at the back of the ship. Jenny made a fine showing by climbing the medium difficulty path, which a lot of the guys seemed to have trouble doing. By dinner time, the (horrible) whiskey we bought got delivered to our stateroom, so we all met up for drinks and enjoyed one last meal in the dining room.
The cruise ship was docked in Venice before we woke up the next morning. We were up just early enough to randomly catch Steve’s parents getting on the elevator to leave the ship as we were heading for breakfast. We ate and dragged out our time onboard as long as we could until we felt guilty about keeping our housekeeper from being able to prep the room for the next trip. Then, like so many other times, we loaded up our big backpacks and small backpacks and giant bag of accumulated food, got off the ship, and were once again on our own and off to spend a few more nights in Venice.