Part 6 - Piraeus (Athens)
This morning, the sun was in high spirits again and very early sent her warming beams down on us. While we enjoyed them at breakfast on the outside deck, a fireboat in port showed us its skills and sent water fountains into the bright blue sky.
Invigorated, I first went to our car and returned it to Hertz. To get back to the ship, I went to Terminal A opposite the car rental, where passengers of one of Cunard’s Queens were leaving for their shore excursions. From Terminal A I took a shuttle bus to Terminal B, i. e. back to our ship.
Birgit wanted to spend the day in the sun, and I decided to go to Athens after all just to walk around and take photos.
This was made really easy for me. Directly at the exit of Terminal B there is a bus stop from which the public X80 bus goes to the center of Athens and back.
I puchased a ticket at the kiosk and spent the short wait for the bus by using the Free WiFi of the terminal building, which was still strong enough at the bus stop.
After a half-hour ride I got off at Syntagma Square and started with a visit to the Parliament Building, where the Presidential Guard was doing its rounds in slow motion in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier.
The large Syntagma Square beneath the elevated building, which over the previous months could be seen on TV filled with protestors time and again, was lying peacefully in front of me. Tourists were taking photos, locals were on their ways across the square, merchants offered drinks and pastry from their mobile stands ... nothing even remotely hinted at the scenes so often seen on the news.
My path led me across the square towards the pedestrian zone with all its shops. The street was very busy, and the shops were filled with people. I was curious whether they’d be tourists or Greeks, so I went into a few of them. With just a few exceptions, people were speaking Greek, and I only noticed a few tourists. I found the same situation in a jewlery shop selling expensive watches. Our impression from the previous day continued – both joy and surprise about the fact that there were little to no signs of a nation in crisis.
I followed the pedestrian zone and soon reached the cute little Kapnikarea church at the end of it. It is one of Athens oldest churches, but in 1834 it almost fell victim to the construction works of the shopping street. However, Ludwig of Bavaria was able to convince his son Otto, then King of Greece, of its historical importance. As a result, the street was built around the church.
From there I soon reached Monastiraki Square. At its edge you can see the ruins of Pantanassa church representing the few remains of the former monastery, which gave the square and the area its name.
On the other side of the square you’ll find the old mosque dating back to the 18th century, which slightly hides the adjacent columns of the ancient Hadrians Library from 132 AD.
From the square, a few colorful and lively streets spread out and and invited me for a stroll. They were all full of life, too, and I let myself drift with the hustle and bustle.
The countless little shops offered a rich variety of products: groceries, fruit, olives, olive oil in unimaginable variations, cosmetics, jewelry, clothes, Greek liquor and colorful touristy knick-knack – a beautiful picture.
Along some inviting restaurants and past the Hard Rock Cafe you also get to the great ancient Agora.
The Agora, dating back to the 5th century BC, was the market square and civic center (polis) of ancient Athens. It formed the contrast to the center of cult and politics above with its temple and castle grounds, the Acropolis.
Even though you can only guess the original dimensions and splendor of the Agora from the remains of some columns and walls, it is still easy to imagine how impressive the buildings must have been that were built at this site some 2,500 years ago.
On a little hill at the western edge of the Agora you’ll find the Hephaestion, where Hephaestus, god of smithery, and Athena, goddess of crafts and fine arts, were worshiped.
The ruins of this temple, one of the best presevd buildings of ancient Greece, are another example of the achievements and capabilities of that advanced civilization.
I continued my way right across the Agora towards the Acropolis. With temperatures far above 30C (90F) and the mercilessly midday sun burning down on me, the walk up the hill was quite arduous. At the top I was rewarded with a great view of the Agora with the Hephaestion and the reconstructed “Stoa of Attalos”, which served as a strip mall in ancient times.
In the other direction I had the majestic view of the Acropolis.
On this tour, I skipped the visit of the ancient temple grounds and went back down the hill on the wide street on the other side. This road also took me past the modern complex of the Acropolis Museum.
The view of the illuminated Parthenon at the Acropolis by night, adorning many of the post cards on offer here, was obviously denied to me at this time of day.
Through the streets of the historic Plaka district, which were also lined with countless restaurants, I found my way back to Syntagma Square.
From the square of the Athens Cathedral I walked through a narrow street taking me back to the pedestrian zone. On my way, I passed a little bar which reminded me of a Parisian bistro with its pretty little tables and chairs – and the name was actually French: “Le Petit Village”.
A blackboard on the wall advertised various “Homemade Lemonades” with exotic names. Thursty from the heat, I found this to be the ideal spot for a break before heading back.
Since the tables outside were directly in the blazing sun, I sat down at a table in the entrance area in front of the bar and was immediately served by a friendly young man. First he brought me a pitcher of cool water and then he served me a fantastic Melon Lemon Lemonade, which he had freshly prepared to my order.
Delighted with my lemonade, I got talking with the owner, who told me that he had opened his business in the midst of the turmoil of the crisis. He impressed me with his courage and his optimism. Amid those difficult times he had opened his bar in the hope that quality would somehow prevail.
He told me that he’d go to the market in the morning, look for the freshest fruit and finest ingredients and then draft his menu accordingly. Since I had already relished my first lemonade to the last drop, I asked for his personal recommendation and tried his creation “Fall in Love in August”, a lemonade with pomegranate and other ingredients, which he also freshly prepared.
It was, indeed, easy to fall in love with this delicacy...
I watched the world go by, enjoyed my drink and was happy to have found this little place, which is still first to come to my mind when I think of my day in Athens. After I had paid the surprisingly low bill, I said goodbye and wished him all the luck and success in the world. I sincerely hope that I see him again some day if we happen to be back in Athens. I can wholeheartedly recommend a break at “Le Petit Village” to all lovers of delicious homemade lemonades and refreshing fruit juices.
The X80 bus stop wasn’t far, and I didnt’ have to wait long for the next bus to take me back to Piraeus and to the ship. Once there, I enjoyed the little refeshment at the entrance of the ship.
When looking for Birgit I also crossed the Solarium. Usually rather well attended in cooler climes, curiously enough it was almost always full on this cruise – since the air conditioning always kept it pleasantly cool.
For the Sail Away we stuck to our cherished routine of meeting Linda and Pete at the Sunset Bar. While exchanging our stories of the day and enjoying each other’s company, the Wind Star sounded her horn as a farewell to the Club Med 2 and sailed into the sunset. We followed her soon after.
Birgit and I agreed that we had made the best of those two days in Athens. Our visits to Corinth and the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion together with our dear friends were fantastic and unforgettable. On day 2, Birgit could enjoy a leisurely day in the sun and I had all the time in the world to stroll through Athens, free of any pressure to work off a list of sights. Therefore, our initial disappointment about Athens as a replacment was gone, and we wouldn’t have wanted to miss a single minute.
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