Those Oddball Guards, And A Day Trip To Corinth

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Greece  , Peloponnese,
Monday, December 21, 2009

12.20.09/12.21.09             Those Oddball Guards, And A Neighborly Day Trip To Corinth

[Congratulations to Baby Genevieve and Baby Ashton, who came into this world right before Christmas, giving their parents the best Christmas presents ever!  We are grateful that you are here, and happy, and healthy (and your moms, too!).  We also hope to meet you one day!]

Yesterday (12.20.09), we had an easy and relaxed day here in sunny Athens.  After breakfast, we walked back through Plaka to the Acropolis, where we finally visited the brand new Acropolis Museum.  This museum is less than six months old – a grand, modern-looking building that is situated on a massive site at the southern base of the Acropolis.  We had heard that construction of the museum was plagued by delays and legal action, after the excavation of the site uncovered the remains of an ancient Athenian city dating back to prehistoric times!  Once discovered, the museum architects then incorporated the impressive ruins into the design of the museum, so now, as you tour the exhibits, you are able to see around 2,000 square meters of the old city on display in the basement of the museum, through a series of elevated walkways and glass floors!  It's quite stunning.

The museum collections were also impressive.  Exhibition highlights included the prized 6th century BC Kore (maiden) statutes, votives dedicated to Athena and each one holding an offering to the goddess – all uncovered from a pit on the Acropolis; the relief of Athena Nike adjusting her sandals (Murray I thought this would be more grand and impressive – but it was pretty small and a little disappointing); and four of the five surviving Caryatids, from the Erechtheion (the fifth is in the British Museum).  Another highlight of the museum is its huge, outside patio area, which has gorgeous views of the Acropolis (however, we also had read that another controversy that arose during the building of this new museum was the demolition by the museum architects of two historic buildings nearby, in order to make this view unobstructed!).

After the Acropolis Museum, we took a long, leisurely walk to explore another area of Athens, Syntagma Square (we had previously only passed through this area).  Syntagma Square (Greek: Σύνταγμα/Constitution Square) is the capital’s central and largest square, lying adjacent to the Greek Parliament (the former Royal Palace) and the city’s most noted hotels.  Ermou Street, an approximately 1 km-long pedestrian road connecting Syntagma Square to Monastiraki, traditionally has been a consumer paradise for both Athenians and tourists alike.  Complete with large fashion shops and shopping centers, it now finds itself in the top five most expensive shopping streets in Europe, and the tenth most expensive retail street in the world! 

After spending some time in the square, we crossed the street to view the Greek Parliament and its changing of the guard (the extended ceremony at 1:00pm).  The Greek Parliament is housed in the former Royal Palace, which was built between 1836-1842.  In 1935, it became the seat of the Greek Parliament – it was from the palace balcony that the syntagma, or constitution, was declared in 1843.  The Royal Family later moved to a new palace, which became a presidential palace upon abolition of the monarchy in 1976.

As we saw when we were there, the war memorial in the forecourt of the Greek Parliament, known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is guarded by Athens’ famous, statuesque evzones, the presidential guards whose uniforms of short kilts and pom-pom shoes is based upon the attire that was worn by the mountain fighters (klephts) of the War of Independence in Greece.  Let me tell you – out of all the guards I have seen in the world, these guards were some of the most interestingly dressed I’ve ever seen! 

Moreover, this changing of the guard ceremony was one of the most unusual (bizarre may be a better word) I’ve ever seen – I think Murray would agree!  It was rich in pomp and circumstance, with the new guards dramatically entering the forecourt from one side of the square, arms waving their huge, draped sleeves – while the old guards, still at the forecourt of the square, crossed back and forth in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier several times, lifting one leg up to a bended knee in front of them, then rocking that leg slowly behind their bodies (still only standing on one leg), before finally snapping that leg back in front of them, holding it straight out in front of their bodies for seconds on end (again, still only standing on one leg)!

The most bizarre part of the ceremony was when the new guards "confronted’ the old guards right before the actual changing of the guards.  The old guards approached the new, again lifting one leg, rocking it behind their bodies, and then stretching that leg out in front of them at a 45-degree angle – both of the old guards then holding that one-leg-standing, one-leg-stretched-before-them position for over two minutes!  It was totally weird and wonderful to see.  Both Murray and I really enjoyed seeing such a different ceremony.

After Syntagma Square, we walked until we found a funky little organic place for lunch, called Pure Bliss.  We enjoyed smoothies, fresh salads, and sandwiches – and Murray was even able to try a locally-grown organic Greek beer!  By the end of lunch time, it was later afternoon and I was tired out from all the walking, so we returned to our hotel for some R&R. 

Last night, we had another beautiful dinner at To Kafeneio, another guidebook recommendation.  We started the meal by ordering marinated olives, which were served with the restaurant’s freshly-baked olive bread!  We also had another type of grilled cheese – Formaella, from the Island of Arahova – which was divine.  After these starters, we had an “intermezzo" course of fava salad (ground yellow peas) with fresh-squeezed lemon, and Greek salad with gorgeous chunks of tomato, cucumber, and red onion in olive oil and herbs.  For our mains, we ate some awesome meatballs with mint and other herbs, baked in a mildly sweet tomato sauce – as well as a pork dish for “drunk patrons”, or chunks of pork braised in a hot pepper oil.  It was another fantastic dinner.  After rolling out of yet another restaurant, we were back to our hotel and in bed at a reasonable hour.

Today (12.21.09), we planned a day trip to Corinth, Greece!  We left Athens after breakfast, jumping on a train for the 1 hr, 15 min train ride there.  We saw some wonderful countryside en route, even crossing over the famous Corinth Canal!  (The concept of building a canal through the Isthmus of Corinth to link the Ionian and Aegean Seas was first proposed in the 7th century BC, and many important leaders, from Alexander the Great to Caligula, toyed with the canal idea.  However, the magnitude of the task kept actual digging at bay until 67 AD, and even then, the canal wasn’t actually completed until the 19th century (by a French engineering company – haha)!  Today, the Corinth Canal – cut through solid rock – is over 6km long and 23m wide, with its vertical sides rising 90m above the water!)

When we arrived in Corinth, it took us a while to figure out how to get to Ancient Corinth (the station arrives in Modern Corinth, a rather plain town about 7km away) – but we finally managed to maneuver the bus to town.  During this bus ride, our bus driver was involved in a small accident with a truck driver and that driver’s door – it was comical to witness the back-and-forth between these drivers in their very heated Greek!  Once in Modern Corinth, we navigated our way to another, larger bus that took us to Ancient Corinth and the ruins.

Today was another gorgeous day in Greece – clear and sunny, with a little chill in the breeze.  After we were dropped off in the vicinity of the ruins by this huge, second bus – seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with only a general understanding of when that same bus would be returning again in the afternoon – we met another couple in the same predicament as ourselves (where are we?  And how do we get back later?), Jim and Cheryl from Ohio, US.  Together, the four of us managed to find our way to the site, where we explored the ruins for a few hours. 

The ruins of Corinth lie in an expansive and idyllic setting – framed by mountains on three sides and the seas on the fourth, with the small, quaint village of Ancient Corinth nearby.  The remains are mostly from Roman times, with the exception of the largest and most impressive of the structures, the Temple of Apollo (Doric, 5th century BC).  Following this Temple of Apollo, we walked through a vast agora (forum), bounded on one side by the foundations of a stoa.  In the middle of the agora, there also is a central row of shops in which lies the Rostra (or bema), a marble podium from which the Roman officials addressed the people. 

Walking to the far eastern side of the ruins, we saw the remains of the Julian Basilica and the Lower Peirene Fountain.  According to mythology, Peirene wept so much when her son Kenchrias was killed by Artemis that the gods, rather than let all the precious water go to waste, turned her into a fountain.  (Reality check: there’s also a natural spring at the site of the fountain, which also has been used since ancient times and still supplies Ancient Corinth with water!). 

After a while, we walked along the large Lecheon Road (once the main thoroughfare to the port of Lecheon) on our way out of the ruins, passing another stoa, more shops, and “Temple E”, another temple with surviving columns.  Before leaving the ruins at Corinth, we also spent some time in the museum, which had a great collection of Greek and Roman statues, mosaics, figurines, frescoes, reliefs, and ceramics.    

From the ruins, Jim, Cheryl, Murray, and I walked into the neat little town of Ancient Corinth for a long lunch together, enjoying “just ok” plates of souvlaki, salads, fresh feta in oil (everyone except me – boo-hoo), and broad beans baked in a tomato sauce (these were delicious!).  (Oh, yes – beer for everyone else, too!)  Jim and Cheryl are a really neat couple, mid- to late-fifties, who have seven children amongst them, own a farm in rural Ohio, and raise their own bees!  It was fun to meet some new people.

After lunch, we managed to catch the bus out of Ancient Corinth and back to Modern Corinth, but once there, we opted to jump into a taxi together for the ride back to the train station.  We caught an early evening train “home,” afterward saying goodbye to Jim and Cheryl and getting back to our neighborhood well after 7pm.  For dinner, Murray and I went a little more low-key tonight, picking up cheese and meat pies from the local bakery and eating them in our hotel room.  What a great day in Corinth, with magnificent sites and wonderful new people.

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Vicki Schmidt on

Love looking at these warm, sunny, wonderful pictures - we just finally got through a major 4 day snow storm, now sitting in 17 inches of snow! The pictures bring back wonderful memories, but also just seeing you and what you are doing is very great!

Rebecca on

Just to wade into your previous food discussions, Linden, who has sat through most of your slideshows, just said " Why Annnalisa take so many photos of food? Food not very exciting in photos. That's a bit silly!"
One for Christoph's team!

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