Last Friday I was in Pretoria, South Africa. Today, Monday, I am in Bucharest, Romania. As we were planning this trip, a key question was how would I get from one city to the other and what would I do over the weekend. I joked that I was going to South Africa because it was on the way between where I live in New York and Bucharest. For those weak on world geography, it really isn’t. I wanted to attend both meetings, and so I signed up for an 11 day trip.
The basic idea was to pick a point in Europe to which I could fly directly from Johannesburg and then, preferably, non-stop to Bucharest. I could have stayed in Johannesburg an extra day and arrive in Bucharest a day early, but I decided that I would fly somewhere for the weekend. It was all a wash in terms of hotels and flights.
London, Paris, and Amsterdam were all possible but seemed rather west of my final destination. Istanbul and Athens also would have worked and were within a couple of hours of Bucharest (I’m now stronger on world geography myself). I opted for Athens since I’ve never been there before and, well, it has the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and everything else. Because of the 2004 Olympics it also has an excellent transportation infrastructure.
My flight from Johannesburg arrived in Athens at 5:30 on Saturday morning. It took about eight and one-half hours to traverse the length of Africa sticking to the eastern side of the continent. Around the southern border of Egypt over the Nile, it tacked westward towards Greece. I didn’t sleep very well on the flight, which is why I know this, but also why I slept for a few hours after I got to my hotel.
Once I awoke, I jumped on the Metro and headed into the center of Athens at Syntagma station. The Acropolis dominates the center of Athens but you can’t necessarily see it when you just pop out of the subway. I got directions at the Information Center at Syntagma Square and started walking. I did a lot of walking this weekend.
The subway and the streets were filled with people. While there were tourists such as myself, the majority of people I saw early on were local residents out doing whatever they were doing on a sunny, early Autumn Saturday in downtown Athens. On Sunday, tourists predominated as many of the stores and shops were closed.
I really had just one goal and destination for Saturday and that was to get up to the Acropolis and see what there was to see. It cost 12 euros to enter the area and work up past the Theatre of Dionysus, up and around the hill, through the Temple of Athena Nike, and on to the top of the rock itself.
There I saw the first of many signs, all of which more or less said
Such and such was restored twice, once in 18XX and again in 19YY. We’ve now taken it completely apart to replace the rusty and failing iron supports with titanium. We’re also putting the blocks of marble back where they really belong. In some cases we made brand new marble pieces to hold up the structure. Finally, we’ve decided that the building is really taller than people previously thought.
Humor aside, everything was very impressive. The Parthenon was huge. I overheard several discussions about whether it was proper for several of the original pieces to be in The British Museum.
You can get reasonably close to the buildings, but not close enough to touch them. Signs warn you not to bother trying and, indeed, guards seemingly appeared out of nowhere blowing whistles when people got put their hands on the marble.
After walking around the Acropolis, I went down the northern side and wandered through the Ancient Agora. With the exception of the Temple of Hephaestus, it’s all pretty much all in ruins, though foundations and walkways are labeled with what was there a couple of thousand years ago.
Around 3:30 I realized that I hadn’t had breakfast nor lunch, so I wandered down along the small streets near the Monastiraki Metro station. I found a nice restaurant with outdoor tables across from the Ancient Agora and settled in. I usually don’t voluntarily eat a meal within several miles of anyone smoking, but it was unavoidable in this case. I had the Chicken Souvlaki and a Mythos beer. After my late lunch I walked around some more and then headed back to the hotel. I had Moussaka for dinner and it was better than any I remembered having in the US, as expected.
On Sunday I headed back into the center and walked around the huge flea market near Monastiraki Station. This goes on for block after block, disappears, and then reappears again. I didn’t buy anything because 1) I don’t really travel to shop and 2) I would be at a distinct disadvantage language-wise for any negotiation. I was hoping to walk through the area where Plato had his academy. Though I walked down past the Kerameikos excavations, I never found the academy ruins. From there it was up to Omonia Square and lunch.
I had a choice of going to a museum or walking some more, and I choose the latter exercise route. It was getting late in the day and I wanted to see more of the city. So I wandered back down to Syntagma Square, past the tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the guards in ceremonial dress, and through the National Gardens. I went a bit further to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which is immense even from a distance, and pretty much called it quits for the day.
I had an 8 AM flight this morning to Bucharest which means I was up at 5 after several hours of not sleeping very well. Generally I’ve not slept well on this trip, and two red-eye flights in four days probably didn’t help. I hope I can reset my clock next weekend once I get home. I’ll be in Romania until Thursday when I fly home via London and Chicago.