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LYNNE AND JOE'S TRIP TO ATHENS & EGYPT©
I am still smiling about how lucky we were to see and do so many amazing things in just a nine-day trip. We were also fortunate to experience so many memorable people who were very warm to us. There were rip-off artists and anxious moments but they only serve to make a good story even better-now that we're back.
The World Wide Web provided us with a wealth of information about Athens and Egypt. I researched hotels, looked at weather reports, and even read the U.S. Department of State travel advisories. This last one we didn't pay much attention to but each underlined phrase is a link to another website. And many photographs are set up with a link to a larger photograph. Click on the underlined link or the image link and you will leave this story. Please go there later or come back soon via the "BACK" button. Also on the WWW we met someone in Egypt and then took him and his family out for lunch, but that is jumping ahead in our story
Athens was beautiful and easy. All sunshine, temperature in the high 70's, blue skies, no pollution, and few problems. English was spoken everywhere even by teenagers and street vendors. Our plans involved taking a taxi from the airport to the hotel, walking or subway to the major sites, eating well, and shopping in the bazaar. We did. Athens was to be preparation for Egypt. It was. We were changing money, dealing with shop owners and street vendors, reading maps, studying menus, and doing a lot of walking and looking.
Our small hotel, the Attlos, is just a five-minute walk from the very old part of Athens, the Plaka. It's a neighborhood thousands of years old. We found narrow streets filled with destinations: an ancient marketplace, small Greek Orthodox churches, a very active bazaar, and plenty of archeological excavation sites. And beautiful sights. The old city is a big area that can accommodate tens of thousands of summer tourists and according to the locals it does.
People had time to talk with us because this was one week after tourist season ended. Visitors were merely scattered about. We were told that many of them were Greeks from around the country. Several shopkeepers asked us what state we were from. When we replied "Pennsylvania," three said they have relatives living in Harrisburg. However, they might have memorized the capitals of all fifty states and use this knowledge to get customers into their shops.
We had our pick of places for our dinners and were never disappointed. I had seafood, including the best Calmairi I have ever had. Later that night, back at the Attlos, we went onto the roof top garden for this magnificent view of the Parthenon and the Acropolis.
The next morning we traveled with commuters to downtown Athens via the subway. There were no turnstiles. No one collected the tokens we bought. It was public transportation run on the honor system! We got off near the National Archeological Museum.This Museum was filled with treasure such as gold death masks from the time of the Trojan Horse, beautiful marble sculpture exalting the naked human body, and this bronze larger-than-life Poseidon. There were a few groups of tourists and school children but we had the place mostly to ourselves. We left at lunchtime.
The sidewalks outside were jam packed with people walking quickly. The streets were crowded with fast moving cars and even faster motorbikes. While we tried to hail a cab, a half hour and a hundred taxis passed by. Few were empty. We wanted to go to Syntagmatos Square for lunch, the post office, and the National Gardens. I watched Greeks stop cabs that had passengers in them already and get in. People share taxis! The trick is to shout out where you want to go and wave two fingers around if you need room for two.
After a passerby corrected my pronunciation of Syntagmatos we got our ride. The sidewalks continued to overflow with pedestrians for the entire journey and by "community standards"in America there were "unacceptable" displays of the naked body on many billboards. We also witnessed a procession of riot police several blocks long marching single file through the crowd. They added to the spectacle. Our driver told us the riot police were on their way to the university to deal with anti-American demonstrators. President Clinton was coming. Most pedestrians seemed to be paying no attention.
Later that day we tried to get another taxi to take us to the Acropolis. The first driver wanted to charge us 10,000 drachma ($33) for the two-mile trip. We got out immediately. The second taxi driver was more reasonable($2). Then, to get up the 500-yard long cobblestone incline to the Acropolis, we engaged a crusty old man with a beautiful horse and carriage. First he tried to double our agreed-upon price; next he tried to go down the other side without letting us off. Twice we changed his mind. He drove right next to the road's broken cobblestone edge. It had a precipitous drop of a hundred yards and no guardrail. Here I was not afraid; he wanted to gouge us but he was no fool. I gave him a ten drachma tip "for the horse".
Up close the Acropolis is a truly magnificent, actually spiritual place. There are several beautiful buildings here that were built over 2400 years ago by the first civilization not ruled over by kings or tyrants. We stayed until they closed the place at 6:30PM and everyone else had left. I don't think I can convey how completely good Lynne and I felt here.
had vacations where it rained as much as 11 out of 13 days. Everyday of
this nine-day trip had perfect weather but this was the day we saw the
sun set into the Mediterranean and the entire Southern sky appear to be
on fire. Lynne and I were standing alone, surrounded by the ancient marble
columns at the gateway to the Acropolis. We turned around and the white
marble of the Parthenon became gold. We will remember it forever. After
a fantastic day in a very foreign city this moment was absolutely joyous.
I thought our trip couldn't get better but it did. The next evening we left for Cairo