Athens: Wandering Around

Athen's Hellenic Parliament House
Athen’s Hellenic Parliament House

There’s a new stamp in my passport: Greece. This three-week jaunt, my first visit to Greece, begins with six nights in Athens. Today, the first day, I wandered around while fighting off jet lag from the overnight flight, which landed after 11:00 Athens time this morning.

Questions: Can a three-week journey be called a jaunt? The dictionary definition of jaunt is a short excursion for pleasure. How short is short? Am I breaking any linguistic laws by calling this trip a jaunt? I worry about such things. Which is another way of saying it isn’t easy being me.

Speaking of jet lag, I managed to get a few hours of sleep on the plane. I know this because, one, the nine-and-a-half-hour flight felt like it didn’t take any more than six hours. And, two, during the flight I participated in some activities that could have occurred on a plane only if the plane had a holodeck à la Star Trek. I suspect they were dreams.

My room wasn’t ready when I checked into my hotel, so I checked my bags and did a little wandering around the area.

Athens’ Hellenic Parliament House

About a block from my hotel stands the Hellenic Parliament House. It’s the building in the picture in the top-right of this post.

I walked past it. I didn’t go in. That is to say, I didn’t walk past, as such, but I didn’t go in. I mean to say that rather than walking past I stopped to take in a spectacle in front of it.

One of the guards in the shift-change ceremony
One of the guards in the shift-change ceremony

As I was about to walk past, I saw a crowd standing, facing the building. At first, I thought it was a tour group listening to commentary by their tour leader. But, I couldn’t see a leader. And then, through gaps between the heads of the people in the crowd, I noticed activity on the other side of the crowd. That is to say, the gaps from from one head to another. No individual head had any gaps between its constituent parts, as far as I could tell.

As it happened, by complete coincidence, a changing-of-the-guard ceremony was in progress. I saw about a half-dozen guards involved, although some might have already left by the time I arrived.. The guards were stylishly clad. Not my style, mind you. I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of their outfits. Well, that is to say, I might be caught dead in one, but only if someone dressed me in it posthumously.

The guard-changing ceremony employed strange choreography. There was a lot of raising of one leg to the point where it was parallel to the ground before dropping it again to move on. In some of the moves, the guards also raised one of their arms high in the air. That is to say, all of the guards performing this maneuver raised one of their arms, not that they selected a single arm from among them to raise. But you probably figured that out already.

Sometimes, they varied this maneuver by raising a leg slowly, but with the knee bending into a precise right-angle before then straightening the leg out so the full leg was then parallel to the ground.

There was also some intentional, determined dragging of the soles of shoes on the tiled pavement.

National Garden

Turtle pond at the National Garden
Turtle pond at the National Garden

The National Garden sits beside the Hellenic Parliament House. It’s a decent-sized park filled with trees, flowers, shrubs, a tiny zoo, a café, seemingly haphazard paths, and a couple of ponds.

One of those ponds is a small, circular one where a number of turtles basked on rocks. When I say “a number of,” I didn’t count them, but they certainly numbered at least a dozen. Mind you, there weren’t so many turtles that they had to climb in multiple levels on the backs of other turtles, such as was the case in the turtle pond in Villa Durazzo park in Santa Margherita Ligure when I visited about six months ago.

My Room

My hotel room's balcony (about half of it pictured)
My hotel room’s balcony (about half of it pictured)

When I got back from the National Garden my room still wasn’t ready. I waited in the lobby until it was.

For my trouble or, rather, more for me having status in the loyalty program of the hotel group that my hotel belongs to, I got a free room-upgrade. My room is on the ninth floor, which is the hotel’s penultimate floor. (The top floor contains a bar and pool.)

My upgraded room has a nice-sized balcony with a few potted plants, some patio furniture and a great view. I typed some of this post while sitting on one of those pieces of patio furniture.

I did some of the rest of the typing of this post while sitting in the bar on the top floor of the hotel while enjoying my free welcome drink from the hotel—another perk of the hotel’s loyalty program. Which is another way of saying that there are some occasions—rare though they may be—when it is easy being me.

Athens’ Ermou Street, et. al.

The guide books I’m using recommend walking along Ermou Street. After settling into my hotel, I left again and did that. Ermou Street is a lively pedestrianized shopping street. I liked it. I’m a big fan of pedestrianized streets. And that’s not the only one in Athens. A couple of the cross-streets off Ermou Street are also pedestrianized. And they have more character, are pretty much as lively, and, unlike Ermou Street, have restaurants that spill out into the street.

One thing Ermou Street does have is a small, handsome, old Greek Orthodox church, one of the oldest churches in Athens, the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, smack dab in the middle of the street. The street diverges around it.

Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Speaking of pedestrianized shopping streets, on the way back to my hotel from the Anafiótika neighbourhood (see below), I accidentally, but happily stumbled into the Plaka district of Athens. It too had at least one pedestrianized shopping street and at least one sort-of pedestrianized shopping street. I say sort-of because it was de facto, not de jure pedestrianized. It had narrow sidewalks and the roadway wasn’t terribly wide either.

Cars were allowed on the street, but pedestrians ruled. The sidewalks couldn’t come close to accommodating the large number of pedestrians using the street, so the the pedestrians filled the street as well as the sidewalks. The one car I saw trying to drive along the street while I was there had to drive at sauntering speed.

Anafiótika

An Anafiótika lane. Not the narrowest.
An Anafiótika lane. Not the narrowest.

Both of the tour books I’m using list Anafiótika as a must-see. According to one of the books, it’s one of the oldest settlements in Athens. The neighbourhood climbs up a hill just below the slope that the Acropolis sits on.

All of the streets within the boundaries of the Anafiótika neighbourhood are pedestrianized. In fact, they don’t deserve to be called streets. “Narrow lanes” and “stairs” are more like it.

There’s no way cars could drive through them. One of the laneways was so narrow as to be claustrophobia-inducing. At one point, both my shoulders scraped the walls on either side of the lane and I had to angle slightly sideways to fit through. Little of my fat is on my shoulders, and I don’t think dieting would shrink the width of my shoulder blade, so my weight probably wasn’t the problem.

A view of Athens from the Anafiótika neighbourhood
A view of Athens from the Anafiótika neighbourhood

The top of the Anafiótika neighbourhood affords some great views of Athens, a sprawling city.

Anafiótika is a cute, quaint, old residential neighbourhood with a very few small restaurants scattered through it. It’s well worth the stroll.

And that’s it for today. Sleep awaits, hopefully.

Aside

Before I started writing this, the first post on my trip to Greece, I made two solemn vows. First, I swore to never say “it’s all Greek to me” in these pages, other than in this note. Despite it possibly being literally true that it’s all Greek to me at times while I’m here, It’s too much of a cliché even for me. Yes, even for me.

Second, I vowed to not employ the age-old “what’s a Grecian urn” pun if I write about a Grecian urn. For one thing, there’s that cliché thing to consider. But more than that, it doesn’t work when written, does it? I mean, “urn” rather than “earn” is right there, isn’t it? So, sorry, I know how much you were looking forward to that pun, but it’s not going to happen in these pages. However, feel free to keep it in your head while reading these posts because you might as well get something out of them.

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