The Edge of Heaven

The Temple on the Hill
21st October 2015

 

I was so excited this morning. We were up at the crack of dawn aiming to be the first through the gates to the Acropolis.

Breakfast was on-the-go picking up a pastry and a take-out coffee from a small cafe on Monastriaki Square. My spinach & feta pie was incredibly delicious.

"I could get used to having a spanakopita every morning." I said with my mouth full of the warm savoury perfection and in between the groans of delight.

Aided by a small map from the hotel we walked straight towards the huge rock in front of us. I had mapped out the shortest distance.

We soon came to the Gate of Athena Archegetis the Western entrance to the Roman Agora. It was a reminder of something I (sort of) knew but didn't consider, that for a long period Athens and the rest of Greece was part of the Roman Empire.

The gate was itself a wonderful monument but we had no time to stop. I was a man on a mission. Onwards we marched in a straight line towards the foot of the Acropolis.

The gradient soon began to increase as we climbed up the base of the Acropolis. The road then suddenly turned left unexpectedly when we should have been going right. It threw us a little as we scruitinised the map.

We asked a friendly local the way to the Acropolis and he kindly pointed us in the direction of some steps that we hadn't noticed. Following the steps up we reached the top and then turned right. We were on the right track now.

This pedestrianised road skirted around the Acropolis and was a pleasant stroll looking down over the wide open space of the original ancient Athenian agora. Agora simply means an open space where the citizens could gather. This was where it all happened, the centre of it all. Back in the 5th century BC Socrates would have walked down there discussing politics or his philosophy.

Rising above the trees was the Temple of Hephaestus a completely intact classic Greek temple.

"That's where we're going this afternoon" I told Julie.

 

It didn't take us long to reach the ticket booth at the main entrance. It was just after 8am and there was nobody else about. Perfect.

The tickets cost €12 each which wasn't too bad considering it gave you access to six other attractions across the city. It was a reduced Winter tariff, over the summer months it would cost twice as much.

We walked through the turnstiles and slowly made our way up through a shaded wooded area. We had been forwarned about a steep climb. Julie's niece Rachel even said that it almost killed her. But the climb was more gradual than we thought it would be.

I think there was another entrance on the South side which I imagine was a steeper route.

Along the way we stopped to read some commandments carved onto a large stone tablet. It was mostly the obvious ones like "Don't damage the antiquities" or "take any objects" but there were a few surprises.

Singing was forbidden on the acropolis. "That's a shame" I said "I was just about to burst into a Demis Roussos song!"

We began to laugh out loud but had to reign it in. "Ssshh" said Julie raising her finger to her mouth "We can't make any loud noises either"

The first piece of antiquity we came across was the huge Odeon of Herodes Atticus below us on the right.

Nestled into the hillside it created a steep sloped open air theatre capable of seating five thousand people. Constructed in 161AD during the Roman era it was Herodes Atticus' ode to the memory of his wife.

It was destroyed a hundred years later and lay in ruins for a thousand years until it was restored in the 1950s to became once again a venue for musical and theatrical performances.

It would be an amazing experience to see a show here.

We soon came to the main entrance. Steep steps led up to what's known as the Propylaea a monumental gateway into the sacred Acropolis.

What remains today is probably less than half the story as much of it was damaged beyond rescue by a 17th century gunpowder explosion. The restoration work continues today with many of the columns still shrouded with scaffolding as they piece together fragments of stone..

They had done incredible work especially in restoring the ceiling. Walking through the gateway gave you a real sense of entering.

And there it was, the Parthenon, the centre piece of the Acropolis.

"Oh... it's a bit underwhelming" was Julie's immediate impression.

She was right. It wasn't love at first sight. It looked like a major construction sight with cranes and scaffolding obstructing the view.

However it was still a pretty special feeling to have this place to ourselves. There was literally just the two of us walking in through the gateway with just a handful of people already in the Acropolis.

We walked up towards the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddes Athena.

"Wow, its big" was my first impression. It wasn't especially articulate of me but it was true and in my defence it was only 8am. We hadn't woken up yet. To say it was big was an understatement. The width of the Doric columns alone was immense, then they rose 14m up to the sky.

Its size only became truly apparent when we saw two people stand next to the columns. (I assumed they were archaeologists working on the restoration)

It defies belief that it was built 2500 years ago. The craftmanship and understanding of architecture was incredible.

Apparently each column tappers in slightly to give the illusion that it is straight on account that its massive scale distorts the perspective. Looking closely you could see that each one was made out of cylinders of carved stone positioned perfectly one on top of the other..

What I would have given to have walked inside the parthenon, to have touched those colossal columns.

The building was completed in 438BC just a few years before the Peloponnesian War where the Athenians fought the Spartans and lost.

Greece during this period was nothing more than everchanging alliances of city-states squabling against each other in a succesion of wars.

It's surprising that the parthenon survived at all. In fact the one that still stands today replaced an older temple of Athena which was destroyed half a century earlier when the Persians sacked the city and raised the temples of the Acropolis to the ground.

The ruined foundations of this earlier parthenon can still be seen as the pile of rubble to the left of the current one.

Looking over in the that direction our attention was then grabbed by the Erechtheion. This would have been the holiest site on the hill. It is said to have been built on the spot where according to glorious Greek mythology the gods contested the patronage of the fledgling city-state.

King Crecops invited Poseidon the god of the sea and Athena the goddes of wisdom to provide the city with a worthy gift. Poseidon struck the ground with his three-spiked trident from which water burst out and flowed into a sea. Athena then touched the earth with her spear from which an olive tree grew.

Cecrops judged the olive tree the most useful especially as Poseidon's water was as salty as the sea and so Athena became the protectorate deity of the city and named the city in her honour.

The temple of Erechtheion was dedicted to both Athena and Poseidon. Now empty, it once would have housed the most sacred of items to the Athenians.

On the North side of the temple there was a large porch with six great Ionic columns. They were Ionic as opposed to Doric on account of the volutes scrolls at the top. A distinctive architectural feature. (Well we learn something new every day.)

They were a much finer column, more delicate with more flutes up the shaft. These ones were also ornately carved at the base.

Here we could reach out and touch the column. There was still a permiter wire across which you could not cross however the temptation was to too much to just touch. I always feel a surge of energy that's difficult to explain.

The most striking section of the Erechtheion was on the South side. Six drapped maidens hold up a portico on their heads as columns. Known as the Porch of the Caryatids these fair ladies are iconic, a symbol of Athens as much as the Parthenon.

It's difficult to believe but the ones here are replicas. The originals now reside in the Acropolis museum.

Well, five of the originals can be found in the new €130 million purpose built museum. One of them (the best looking one - the second from the left) was abducted in the 19th century and can now be found in the British Museum London.

In 1801 Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin famously and controversially purchased the Caryatid along with almost half of the marble friezes that covered the Parthenon and much more besides.

The vendor was the occupying Ottoman government who didn't really care much for Greek antiquity.

A few years later Greece gained its independance from the Ottomans and ever since have been demanding the return of the items, which in their opinion were looted from the Acropolis.

It's easy to sympathise with their request.

However I doubt that it will ever happen. I'm sure they fear the domino effect. If they were to give back the Elgin marbles then it would set a precedent which could empty all the world's greatest museums. Most are filled with what they've appropriated from elsewhere. Repatriatisation would create instead great museums in the countries to whose hertiage they belong.

Which can't be a bad thing, surely.

Anyway, we walked all the way around the Erechtheion from where there was also a great view across the city towards Mount Lycabettus rising up through the concrete jungle.

"There's a church on top of that hill" I said to Julie to which she replied "You can get stuffed if you think I'm going to walk up there"

Another option to reach the Church of Agii Isidori (St. George) at the summit was to use a funicular railway. That made it far more accesible and a contender for the leading role in tomorrow's itinerary.

At around 8:30am seven soldiers marched onto the Acropolis. Six were armed with rifles resting on their left shoulder as their right arms swung in unison. The one at the front was carrying a large bundle of a blue and white fabric. What it was became clear when they marched up to a flag pole at the Eastern tip of the Acroplois and began to unravel a huge Greek flag.

We stood and watched as they struggled to attach the flag to the rope that would hoist it up the pole. They looked very young, just kids really.

Once they got it up they burst into song.

I assume it was the Greek national anthem or some equally patriotic hymn given their hand-on-heart emotional performance.

Apparently this is a daily ritual to commemorate a National Hero.

During the Second World War the occupying Nazis flew their swastika flag over the city from the Acropolis hill. A month later in an act of defiance Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas climbed the hill and tore down the flag in what was one of the first acts of Greek resistance against the Nazis.

Once the show was over we sat on some rocks in front of the Parthenon and admired the Eastern side.

On top of the thick doric columns, on the lintel or what's known as the entablature, we could see the empty spaces from where the marble frieze was removed.

Above that, most of the gable end or pediment was missing. All that remained were the far corners.

Over the years the Parthenon has been severely damaged. Most notably in 1687 when the Venetians lay siege to the hill as they sought to overthrow the occupying Ottomans.

A gunpowder depot had been set up inside the Parthenon and it took a direct hit blowing the place apart. (Later they built a mosque inside it)

The current restoration work began in the 1980s. It gathered pace when Athens hosted the Olympic games in 2000. And they're still busy at it today.

It was interesting to see many of the columns with patches of white. They decided to make the material they used to "fill-in-the-gaps" a totally different colour so it was clearly different from the original.

In the surviving corners of the East pediment we could see sculptures of a horses head and a reclining figure of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. These were copies made from those now on display in the British Museum.

Much is known about the construction of the Parthenon. Pericles, a powerful and influential Athenian statesman was responsible for the rebuilding programme to restore the Acropolis. The architects are known to be Iktinos and Kallikrates and sculptor Pheidias was in charge of all the ornamental work. It was all documented.

As a temple the Parthenon was dedicated to Athena Parthenos (or the virgin Athena)

There once was a great statue of Athena made from ivory and gold inside the Parthenon standing as tall as the roof. Sadly this most beautiful of all the sculptures no longer exists, dismantled when the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church in the 7th century.

It reminded me that what we see today in monochrome is not what it would have looked like when built.

The entire structure would have been painted, mostly in white with the sculptures and friezes all in glorious vivid colours.

To the front of the East pediment the Temple of Rome and Augustus lay in ruins around us.

Large pieces of columns stood where they fell and we were allowed to walk amongst them. It was the remains of small Roman temple built around 20BC during the reign of Octavian Augustus. It was wonderful to get up close to these pieces.

I found a chunk of rock (part of the architrave) carved with a Greek inscription to be absolutley fascinating. I don't know why but I imagined the craftsman with his chisel and stencil carefully etching away. One mistake would have spelt disaster.

All the columns had fallen over but one had been partially reconstructed.

The top section had been put back together again so that we could appreciate the incredible ornamental detail. This was still classed an ionic column but quite a fancy one.

It was now begining to fill up with people so we moved on, walking along the South side of the Parthenon where it was quieter.

There were four incomplete columns here causing a gap at the top or the entablature.

We wondered how long it would be before the restoration team will have recreated them and joined it all back up together.

"Probably not in our lifetime" was our guess.

Turning our backs on the Parthenon we looked out over the sprawling metropolis of Athens. It spread out as far as the eyes could see, all the way down to Piraeus.

Directly in front of us we saw the huge steel & glass structure of the Acropolis Museum standing head and shoulders above all else.

Then directly beneath us was the remains of the Theatre of Dionysus. Its seats cut into the lower slope of the Acropolis. It was much older and larger than the Odeon of Herodes Atticus we saw earlier but certainly not as well preserved or restored.

In its heyday during the 5th century BC it would have seated an estimated seventeen thousand people and to perform in a Greek tragedy at the Theatre of Dionysus would have been the pinnacle of every actors career. It couldn't get any better than that.

Then someway in the distance we could see what was left of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. A cluster of columns of what must have once been a colossal temple.

I made a mental note of its location so we could find it tomorrow when we visit that area of the city.

Before leaving we walked around reading all the information boards, especially of those temples that no longer existed. You had to use your imagination that the pile of rubble in front of you used to be of some importance.

Originllay there were much more temples standing on this hill than what we see today.

We had spent almost an hour and a half wandering around but it was getting busier by the minte. It was time to go.

We were so pleased we had arrived early to experience the Acropolis in relative peace and tranquility before the hordes arrived. By the time we left people were literally queuing up the steps of the Propylaea.

However, there was one last temple to see, one we didn't notice on the way in. Perched on top of a ledge jutting out at the main entrance was the Temple of Athena Nike. It was only a tiny little temple dedicated to victory.

It was a fairly complete structure. Although you could see that it had been pieced back together with many missing bits recreated in the white stone similar to the work being carried out on the Parthenon.

The temple was once completely dismantled by the Ottomans and the stones used to build a bastion or protective wall in their fortification of the Acropolis.

Once Greece gained its independance they reversed the process, painstakingly identifying parts of the temple in a mammoth jigsaw puzzle. It's been reconstructed several times over since then.

We left the Acropolis and made our way down the slope towards the exit.

Our plan now was to find somwhere for a cup of coffee but first we decided to climb a lump of rock known as Areopagus.

I'm not too sure why really. Yes, it was a great place for a view over the city but we had just been up the Acropolis from where we could see the whole of Athens.

Nevertheless we found ourselves scrambling up the rockface. Well, when I say scramble we did climb up steps etched into the rock but they were so steep we were practically on all fours.

Once at the top we sat down to admire the view of the Acropolis from this different perspective.

It was a popular spot with plenty of people stumbling around looking mostly through the lens of a camera rather than where they were stepping.

I was no exception as I almost fell flat on my face.

Looking away from the Acropolis we could see the Ancient Agora directly below us.

Marking the boundary to the Eastern side was a modern reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos a long colonaded marketplace, for want of a better description, which nowadays houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora.

Between it and Areopagus hill we could see the Church of the Holy Apostles, a small 10th century Byzantine church which seemed positively modern compared to the city's ancient history.

Emphasising that fact was the amazing Temple of Hephaestus built in the 5th century BC and looking the part of the perfect Greek temple.

It looked spectacular and I couldn't wait to get down there. So we didn't hang about and soon got off Areopagus hill, then headed down towards a district known as Thissio which was also another name by which the Temple of Hephaestus was known.

We followed the pedestrianised street downhill along the Western side of the Agora.

The houses in this area were quite stylish, none of that graffiti strewn concrete jungle here.

We decided to stop for a coffee at a cafe called Senso and we both went local; a Greek coffee for Julie and a double Greek for me.

Having chewed on plenty of strong coffees in the past we knew to allow the sediment to settle before slurping up the coffee sludge.

They were, as promised, very strong coffee but I have to admit if given the choice I much prefer the Italian style espresso to the unrefined preparation of the Greek style.

We moved on, walking over the train tracks past the Thissio metro stop and then we walked down Adrianou street following the tracks towards Monastriaki.

Before entering the Agora we decided to find some lunch. A little further along we stopped outside Cafe Kotili and checked their menu. They had a reasonable lunch menu so we went inside.

The waiter came over and handed us two menus - the a la carte and the drinks menu. When we asked for the lunch time snack menu he huffed and said "Of course" through gritted teeth unable to hide his annoyance.

He returned, throwing the lunch menu onto our table and snatched the other menus away. We were pretty hungry so we tolerated the bad service. It was the first we'd experienced and thankfully the last.

He even returned with a bottle of fizzy water, opened it and poured it before we could say no thanks and charged us for the pleasure.

Unfortunately the food wasn't that great either. I had a cheese omelette which tasted a little odd and Julie had a ham and cheese toastie which didn't have much in the way of ham nor cheese.

We paid our bill and left without complaining yet doing our best not to hide our displeasure. That showed him.

The entrance to the Agora wasn't far. At the ticket booth it was €4 each to enter but the lady asked if I wanted to buy a combination ticket for the Acropolis to which I replied 'Oh, we've already been'.

I had clearly forgotten that the Acropolis tickets also covered the entrance fee to the ancient Agora in addition to the Roman Agora, Hadrian's Library, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the archaelogical site of Lykeion and the cemetary of Keremeikos. The tickets were also valid for five days.

I rummaged in my bag for them and she stamped the tickets to note they had now been used for the Agora.

Other than the Stoa of Attalos, the large concrete reconstruction housing the museum (on the left) there wasn't much to see in the way of complete structures here just a field full of ancient rubble but it was still interesting nonetheless.

You had to use your imagination to visualise what it would have looked like in the 5th century BC. Its signifcance wasn't so much what you could see there today but of what it used to be.

The Agora was the heart of the city where the people came to buy and sell, meet up, socialise and excercise. It was an administrative centre with several government buildings; a place of learning with many libraries and even had a religious role with several temples within the area. It also provided a place for entertainment.

We walked past several statues of Giants with snake tails and Tritons with fish tails which would have originally stood at the front of the Odeon of Agrippa, a concert hall or lecture hall. This was a more recent addition built during the Roman period.

We continued along the path towards the impressive Temple of Hephaestus.

The ancient agora was damaged and destroyed several times throughout its history, which makes it all the more remarkable that this survived almost intact.

It was set up on a slight hill.  Julie sat this one out. She sat on a bench whilst I went on ahead to have a closer look. I was pleasantly surprised how quiet it was. It was almost midday and there was hardly anyone about.

I was itching to get inside but it was cordoned off. There was no one there to stop me but it didn't mean I wasn't being watched. So I admired from afar.

It was so well preserved. The mind boggles to think it was built in 415BC and it still stands today in all its glory.

The temple is dedicated to Hephaestus the Greek god of metal working & craftmanship, a very practical god by all accounts. Although fire is also attributed to him which makes him sound a little more exciting.

I walked all the way around the temple fascinated by its history, imagining men in white robes wearing laurel on their heads and carrying scrolls walking about the temple.

I imagined Athenian craftsmen coming here to pray for good fortune and inspiration.

Later on in its history, from the 7th century onwards until the 19th century it was in constant use as a Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of Saint George Akamates, which may explain why it has been maintained so well over the centuries.

Many of the friezes were still in place which was remarkable. Fortunately Lord Elgin must not have been interested in these ones.

It looked like it did two and a half thousand years ago. Even the fact the roof was still up was so impressive. The only difference would have been its colour. It would have been painted white with the friezes and adornments painted in gold and bright colours.

I left the temple to rejoin Julie on the park bench.  We sat there for a while longer admiring the temple from afar.

From there we walked back across the Agora not paying much attention to the archaelogical site. The ruined remains of other temples or market places failed to make any impact on us. Our imagination had run dry but to be fair there wasn't much to see.

At one point we actually got excited over a neatly arranged pile of rock only because it so precisely done.

We were naturally drawn to the only other intact structure in the Agora, the Church of the Holy Apostles.

The tiny 10th century Byzantine church stood on the Eastern side of the Agora, just a little bit up the hill from the Stoa of Attalos.

We didn't go inside, I'm not sure why. I think we simply allowed gravity to physically pull us back down the hill and into the museum.

In spite of being of total reconstruction the Stoa of Attalos was still an impressive building. There was a double columned colonade, several hundred metres in length. We could hardly see the end it was so long.

On display up against the back wall were many statues and fragments of buidlings found in the excavation of the Agora.

The Stoa was originally commissioned by the King of Pergamon, Attalos II in the 2nd century BC, and completely rebuilt in the 1950s by the American School of Classical Studies to house the many important pieces they unearthed at the Agora site.

We went inside to have a closer look at the many artefacts, all safely protected behind glass. There were statues, jewellery and pottery, some from as far back as neolithic times.

What I found the most fascinating was a small flask, known as an aryballos, in the form of a kneeling athlete dated as 530BC. It would have been used to store oil for rubbing down the athlete.

I couldn't believe it was two and a half thousand years old and in such good condition. Even the little penis was still attached.

We gave each cabinet a respectful amount of time but didn't spend an inordinate amount of time in the museum.

Back outside Julie spotted the bust of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius and noted my striking resemblence. Since recovering from chemotherapy my hair had grown back as curly as a Merino lamb. It was an opportunity not to be missed so I leaned over for a photo.

All of a sudden we heard "No, no, no, do not touch" as this member of staff came running towards me. She was besides herself with fear I was going to topple poor old Antoninus off his plinth.

I stepped back yet as close as possible without actual contact. She couldn't handle the pressure and had her head in her hands whilst Julie took a photo. She was literally holding her breath as I posed two steps behind my Roman look-a-like.

Once the photo was done and I moved away she began to hyperventilate and laugh hysterically. She was honestly petrified I was going to cause some damage.

I made for a quick escape upstairs to the balcony for some more curly haired Roman action whilst Julie stayed downstairs.

Part of the upper colonade had a slight macarbe feel to it as most of the busts were heads on spikes like some gruesome display of the beheaded.

They were all fascinating. These were the faces of real people, the rich and powerful of the time. One caught my attention. It was the eyes. Normally they are blank because they would be painted on but this one had eyes that looked directly at you. It brought the statue to life, incredibly so.

There were also a few gods amongst the mortals. The one of Triton, son of Poseidon, the god of the sea, with his wild hair flowing in the water was simply amazing. It was another one I simply stared at for a very long time.

I soon rejoined Julie where we sat together for a while watching the people coming and going. Strangely enough no one stopped for a selfie with a bust.

We left the Stoa of Attalos and the ancient Agora, walking back over the train tracks and straight into the narrow streets of the Monastraki Flea Market.

Somehow we ended up in an Irish bar called the James Joyce. It would have been rude not to stop for a drink so a Guiness was ordered.

In the back of the bar room there appeared to be an interview taking place with the Irish ambassador to Greece. We couldn't hear what the conversation was about but there were plenty of journalists there taking notes so it must have been quite a serious topic.

It was probably about Greece's financial crisis and the EU bailout or perhaps the increasing migrant crisis of desperate people escaping war torn Syria now flowing through Greece into Europe.

Anyway, once I reached the bottom of my glass we left the James Joyce and walked through the busy market stalls towards Monastriaki square.

Here we had two choices. To take a break and head back to the hotel for a siesta or to carry on into the afternoon and visit Syntagma Square for the ceremonial changing of the guard.

We both felt surprisingly sprightly so we marched onwards along Ermou, a shopping street filled with familiar stores like Marks & Spencer, H&M, Foot Locker and the unfamiliar like Pink Pussy.

Then quite literally in the middle of it all was the beautiful Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea.

The story goes that when it stood in the way of the construction work for Ermou Street the church was saved from demolition by King Ludwig of Bavaria, the father of King Otto, the first ruler of the newly independent Kingdom of Greece.

It seems very odd by today's standards but back in 1832 the European powers could not allow Greece to become a republic. They feared a domino effect would spread across Europe overthrowing monarchies left right and centre.

They didn't want a repeat of what happened in France. So up popped a 17 year old German prince with some tenuous Greek lineage.

We decided to take another break and sat outside a cafe called Lucafe overlooking the 11th century Byzantine church where I hade a lovely frappe, an iced coffee, as we people watched.

The church was an oasis engulfed by the shoppers of the modern day marketplace. A few, like ourselves took some time out to sit down and relax, absorbing the tranquility the church projected amidst all the chaos and business.

It had a lovely mosaic image of the virgin Mary and the baby Jesus right above the entrance. Its golden background shimmered in the sunlight.

We crossed the large open space of Syntagma square with its water feature centre and continued towards the palatial parialment building. In fact it actually was the former royal palace of King Otto.

In the Greek language "syntagma" means constiution and the square is named after an event in 1843 where the people and the army, unhappy with the rule of absolute monarchy, came to the palace to demand the King granted constitutional change giving powers to a National Assembly.

He agreed to their demands and in the process kept his position as King, albeit mostly in name only.

He remained the country's figurehead for almost another twenty years until he was dethroned in a coup in 1862.

Strangely enough the country only repeated itself by inviting another foreign prince to be their King. This time Danish Prince William, another 17 year old, became King George I of Greece. At least this Danish dynasty was a little more succesful and remained in place until the monarchy was completely abolished in 1973.  Strangely enough the busy streets that now form the square are royally known as Otto Street, Amalia Avenue (named after his queen) and King George Street.

Another throwback to royal traditions continues today in the form of the ceremonial changing of the guards. Known as Evizones they were inaugurated in 1868 as a corp of elite soldiers. Their role now is only to guard the Tomb of the Unknown soldier and of course uphold the traditions and ceremony of the past.

They have five variations of costume. Today they wore the Macedonian blue winter uniform.

It begins with the strangest looking pair of shoes, tsarouchia, topped with black pompoms. From a distance they look like a comfy pair of novelty slippers but looking closer you could see tough leather hob-nail boots.

Then came a pair of white woollen stockings with black garters and dangling tassles just below the knee to hold the stockings in place.

Next they wore a pleated skirt/kilt. I read somewhere that it should have 400 pleats, one for each year of Ottoman occupation but I think that was only the white foustanella version. The look was completed with a red felt cap, known as a fessi, with a long pony tail of silk tassles brushed down the right hand side. It was a very unique look.

There are always two guards present, 24 hours a day and they are changed on the hour, every hour. Luckily we arrived just in time for the show. And what a performance. It was highly choreographed almost balletic dance.

After standing motionless for an hour they then had to walk in an extremely controlled and awkward way. Their movements were in slow-motion, their steps exaggerated. They stood on one leg, raising the right knee as high as possible before ever so slowly extending the leg straight and as perpendicular as possible.

They must possess incredible strength in their legs to physically hold those positions. They then tilted the foot forward balletically before completing the step with a scraping of their hobnail boots along the floor. It was the oddest of sights.

John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) and his Ministry of Silly Walks would have been so proud.

They made their way towards the centre and paused for their replacements who we waiting in the wings.

The new sentry recruits were exchanged in a strange bird-like hokey cokey under the watchful eye of a supervising officer, who then escorted the replaced back to their barracks.

This they did in a more standard quick march as it would have taken them hours to goose step their way to camp on Herodou Attikou Street, just behind the Parliament building.

With the guards changed and the show over we headed towards a very large bronze thing in the corner near to the parliament building.  There was a hint of a swastika in its design but clearly (if intentional) of hindu origin not Nazi. I have not a clue as to what it was or what it represented but it was a striking piece of art, whatever it was.

We made our way back across Syntagma square and down Ermou street where we came across this deli called Meliortos. We were stopped in our tracks as we couldn't resist the amazing looking pastries and sandwiches on display. Literally drooling we ordered our second lunch of the day.

Julie had a chicken salad bap and I had a feta and tomato salad wrap. We sat inside on stools and groaned our way through eating them. They were extremely delicious.

We returned to our hotel for a little rest, to put our feet up and relax for a while before the evening began.

Shortly after 6pm we went up to the roof top terrace for a drink and watch the sunset set.

Today's Golden Ticket was brought to us courtesy of Neil who works with Julie. So we were free to have our beverage of choice, a glass of white wine and a cold beer was the perfect starter to the evening.

There wasn't much in the way of a spectacular sky but it was still interesting to watch the fading light gradually descend darkness over the Acropolis.

It was a view we could never tire of looking at and it became all the more breathtaking when illuminated against the night sky.  We spent over an hour up on the roof before our thoughts turned to food.

Browsing Tripadvisor for the best restaurants near to us we settled on one called Lithos. It was in a district known as Psirri, a distinct neighbourhood known for its concentration of bars and restaurants.

About 8pm we left the hotel armed with a screenshot of the route on my phone.

It was a lively area with plenty of places to eat and drink. I'm sure we could have picked any of them and had a decent meal.

I suppose that's the double-edged sword of Tripadvisor in that it gives the consumer the confidence to choose one place over another but it can equally ruin a business when competition is influenced like that.

All the tourists will flock to the highest rated, as we were doing, ignoring places a further down the list.

The streets were dimly lit adding to the atmosphere of the area. Lithos was on the corner of Taki and Esopou street and seemed to be the most popular of them all.

We were warmly welcomed as we sat outside and browsed the menu. It didn't take us long to decide. Julie already had her mind set on the rib-eye steak having read the rave reviews.

I surprisingly didn't have much in the way of choice and ordered a few appetizers instead. I went for some grilled vegetables, fried potatoes and their "homemade pie of the day", which was a fennel pie.

The pie turned out to be more of a stuffed flatbread and whilst it was tasty I did struggle a little with the fennel's slight aniseed flavour. A mispent youth getting very very drunk on Pernod has made me less than open to the taste of aniseed.

There wasn't much substance to it either but I needn't have worried about going hungry. They brought out a complimentary basket of bread with some tapanade and oilve oil and vinegar in spray bottles (which we thought was a really clever idea, for us and for them!)

The "on-the-house" treats didn't stop there.

We had decided not to order any desserts but the waitress brought one out anyway. She described it as a brownie with "very good ice cream".

It turned out to be a nice ice cream but I wouldn't have gone as far as calling it very good. But it was free so we weren't complaining.

The bill came to €40 which was quite reasonable and made us realise how expensive Santorini was in comparison.

Leaving Lithos we wandered down dark alleyways stumbling across a funky little bar called Thesis7.

We stopped for a drink and got a small plate of olives, cucumber and salami slices impaled on cocktail sticks to go with our wine.

It had a great vibe to it despite being sat on tables literally in the middle of the road. There was no pavement, the bar opened out straight onto the street.

Moving on we ended up by chance at the James Joyce Irish pub where we watched an awful game of football. United scraped a fortuitous 1-1 draw away to CSKA Moscow. (They've simply not been the same since Sir Alex Ferguson retired!)

Julie spent much of the second half on the phone. The smoke alarm in one of the holiday cottages was beeping constantly and needed dealing with.

There's always something that goes wrong whilst we're away. Feeling tired, frustrated and a little grumpy we headed back to the hotel after the match had finished. We were so deflated we didn't feel like finishing the evening on the rooftop either, we just went straight to bed.

To make us even gumpier we were woken up by a roomful of rowdy young girls directly above us laughing and screeching and moving furntiure around. This continued for over an hour or two. I was just about at the end of my tether and ready to get dressed and go down to reception to complain when it all went quiet. I'm guessing someone else cracked first.

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