The Edge of Heaven

It's Only a Tornado before Breakfast
22nd October 2015

 

After last night's interupted sleep we struggled to wake up this morning but hearing the rain lash against our window we weren't in any rush to leave our bed.

Eventually hunger got the better of us and I popped outside to get some breakfast from a pie shop next door.

It wasn't far at all, which was lucky. It really was unpleasant weather. Such a contrast with yesterday. There's something quite comforting about the smell of a warm bakery on a cold damp morning.

With so much choice of pastries I was like a kid in a pie shop. I didn't know what to have. In the end I went for a large borek style spanakopita and a croissant for Julie. With two Americano style coffees it only came to €6.

Breakfast was served in bed and was perfect.

We spent the morning drifting in and out of sleep, flicking through random TV chanels as the thunder rolled outside.

Browing the internet we came across a report that said Athens was being hit by severe weather including a tornado.

It was even captured on video and posted on YouTube by several people . ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBfEkxp_5z4 )

We faced the real propsect of beeing holed-up in our room all day. Then around midday is was all over, the bad weather disipated, blown itself out. We ventured out from "under the bed" and decided to brave the elements.

It was still very gloomy and there was still some rain in the air but at least the tornados had gone. Our plans today involved a visit to the Acropolis museum, a perfect rainy afternoon activity.

We could have caught the metro from Monastriaki to the Akropolis stop right next to the museum but we prefered to walk.

A little drizzle wasn't going to put us off.

Following a different route we walked towards the city's Metropolitan Cathedral. Disappointingly it was shrouded in scaffolding.

Stood in the square facing the scaffold clad cathedral was a statue of Archbishop Damaskinos Papandreou, the spritual leader of the Greek Orthodox church during the Second World War.

He is remembered for standing up to the occupying Nazi forces and at least tried to protect Greek Jews from being sent to the concentration camps in Poland. He even got the church to issue christian baptism certificates to help them avoid deportation.

You would think that any spiritual leader would have done the same but the catholic church was conspicuous in their silence during the Second World War.

The cathedral's door was open so we popped inside but much of that was also covered with scaffolding. We were hugely disappointed.

However our spirits were lifted when saw the tiny but beautiful 13th century Byzantine Church known as Agios Eleftherios. It's also called Panagia Gorgoepikoos and originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

It was tucked to the side of the cathedral. Obviously dwarfed by its Metropolitan neighbour it appeared even smaller than it was in reality. Although what it lacked in size it more than made up for in style.

It was quite striking, built from a wonderfully warm coloured marble and decorated with several carvings.

Many of these bas-reliefs were from previous incarnations of ancient churches. It's believed some pieces go back to the 9th century even possibly the 4th century.

The doors were shut today. Apparently they only open twice a year, on the 15th of August and the 15th of December.

After taking our time to absorb the church's glory we left Mitropoleos square towards the Plaka district.

The ecleastical theme continued down street Agias Filotheis where there were a few stores selling church paraphernalia such as robes and accesories that surely only high ranking bishops would be allowed to wear.

I don't think it was a fancy dress shop. They looked authentic to me. Which made me wonder; is it a crime to impersonate a bishop ?   Police officers yes, a well known fact, but a man of the cloth?

Could I really have walked in and bought myself a cassock?  Do priests have an ID card to prove they had been ordained?

`

Whilst I was grappling with these questions and many more a black limo pulled up outside a church and out came the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, His Beatitude Ieronymos II.

Obviously we didn't recognise the 80 year old head of the Greek Orthodox Church but we knew he was a very important person by the size of his security entourage. He isn't quite the "pope" of all Orthodox Christians, that title goes to Bartholemew I of Constantinople, but he's at the top table.

We stepped aside as Ieronymos II was ushered inside the building next to his church.

Next we reached the pedestrianised Adrianou street in the Plaka district filled with touristy shops.

Our progress was hindered slightly by the slippery appearance of the road surface. It looked like it was paved with marble which was still wet after the rain. Julie was suddenly struck by the feeling of walking on ice and we shuffled along cautiously. 

Eventually we made it up and over the hill where at the bottom we found the Acropolis Museum.

The huge steel, glass and concrete structure looked so out of place but at the same time we couldn't help but be impressed by it.

There's been a museum dedicated to the Acropolis here since the late 19th century but they were running out of space to house all the artefacts they kept on finding.

So the city decided to build a new museum. It took them many years and several attempts before agreeing on a design and location. Construction only began in 2007.

Its first challenge was that whilst surveying the land they discovered an important archaelogical site.

A rethink of the museum's design was needed and rather cleverly they lifted the entire structure up on stilts to hover over the top of the ancient city below.

At the entrance we could see exactly how it worked as the excavations were exposed. You could see why it cost in the region of €130 million.

Given they had a lot of money to recoup the €5 entrance fee wasn't too expensive. There were plenty of people about but it didn't feel busy.

We didn't even have to queue to get in.

I handed my bag in at the cloakroom, not because I had to. It was small enough to be allowed in the museum but it was more to give my shoulder a rest.

The first section was a gradual sloping ramp up to the first floor. Many artefacts of pottery all found in the excavated site beneath us were enclosed in glass cabinets and chunks of stonework from the Acropolis were mounted on the walls on either side.

Parts of the floor was made with clear glass to let you see the archaelogical site below. What a great idea.

At the top of the ramp and a short flight of steps there was a temple pediment. It wasn't complete by a long way but what was there was fascinating.  Especially the pieces on the right hand side. It appeared to a three torso serpent tailed mythical creature thing.

I wonder where all that wonderful Greek mythology came from? Was it purely from the imagination or was there more to it? Was it really tales passed down from the begining of time?

From the pediment piece we turned right into a vast hall filled with statues of all description from what was called the archaic period.

By their side was some information about them, what they were, where they were found and in some cases an image of what they believe it would have looked like when originally created, painted in vivid colours to appear as life-like as possible.

I was captivated by one in particular. It was only a head and much of it badly damaged, but it was brought to life by her eyes. They were still painted and over the years the pigment had run like tears down her cheeks.  It was both haunting and beautiful.

We continued through the hall turning a corner and finding the famous caryatids from the Erechtheion.

They stood at the heart of the museum, on a platform jutting out over the ramp we had walked up earlier.

They we placed in their original positions on the Acropolis, holding up the roof of the Erechteion. The absence of one of them was made very apparent by leaving an empty space where it should have stood.  Obviously one day they hope to have her reunited with her fellow sisters.

It felt such a privilige to be able to stand this close to them, especially from behind to see the incredible detail of their braided hair and how the pleats of their dresses hung so realistically.

Ignoring the ugly sister at the back who had lost her head to a Turkish cannonball and was in really bad shape, all the others looked the same, at first glance.

However when you looked closer you noticed the subtle differences that made each one unique.

Breaking with the suggested route instead of going up the escalator to the next level we completed the circle on this first floor. (On the suggested route you left this section for when you were on your way out.)

In doing so we returned to the temple pediment at the top of the ramp and walked through the hall of statues for a second time. Which wasn't a bad thing as it gave us another chance to take a closer look at some of the ones we had missed the first time around.

From there we took the escalator up to the next level which was mostly taken up by a restaurant, the obligatory gift shop and a multimedia centre.

So it was straight up again we went to the top floor for the museum's crowning glory, the parthenon gallery.The entire level was slightly skewed so to be aligned perfectly parallel with the actual parthenon and as it's surrounded by so much glass it's open to plenty of natural light as it would have been up on the Acropolis.

The marble pieces were arranged in two rows. At head height the smaller frieze celebrated the city's Great Panathenaia festival with a 115 blocks depicting the procession. Those famous missing pieces were here, not only in spirit but in reproduced plaster copies which made for a complete view.

Above the frieze cme the larger metopes each one depicted a scene recounting legendary battles such as the sacking of Troy.

When we came to the West side of the gallery the artefacts inside were overshadowed by view of the outside.

Through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall we could see the Acropolis hill in all its glory.

I hadn't realised until now, looking at it from the South, how fortified it was. Its base built like that of a castle. I don't know if that was an original feature or a later addition but it looked impregnable from here.

After completing the full circuit around the Parthenon Gallery we sat and watched a short video in the atrium before marvelling at a scale model of what they beleived both the East and West pediments of the Parthenon would have looked like, crowded with all the gods in heaven.

We returned down to the restaurant level where we decided to have some lunch.

The food turned out to be of excellent standard. Julie had the pork souvlaki which was fall-off-the-bone quality. A sauce was drizzled liberally over it which she said was the best thing she had tasted all holiday. Despite being called a souvlaki it was not served with any pitta bread. It was clearly trying to be a bit more refined than your usual late-night kebab.

I had a varitation on the traditional feta, tomato and cucumber salad with the addition of large croutons and caperberries. It was delicious and despite the fancy twist it was the flavour of the humble tomato that stood out.

What stole the show however was the tea. We shared a revitalising Greek mountain tea which was a plant similar to chamomile. The tea was then enhanced by lemon verbena, olive leaves, rose petals and rosehip for such an astonishingly refreshing brew.

Fed & watered we left the museum and walked down to Hadrian's Arch. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, who famously built a wall to keep out the Scottish from the rest of Britain, who was the adoptive father of Antoninus Pius who I had my arm around yesterday, was rather fond of Athens by all accounts.

We found his arch by the side of a busy main road. At one time it was a symbolic gateway into the city along an ancient road from the South East. As we looked through the arch we could see the Acropolis perfectly framed. Whether that was intentional or not I doubt it, but it must have been a mind-blowing sight back in the 2nd century AD. Whether it was once part of a great wall was unclear but today it stood alone.

It's believed to have been built around 131AD not by the Roman Emperor Hadrian but in his honour.

There were two inscriptions, one on either side. Facing the Acropolis, as you left the city it said "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus' ... in Greek obviously. On the other side, the one you would have seen as you entered the city it said "this is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus", showing a rare glimpse into the Roman sense of humour!

Or perhaps it was just being factual, indicating a boundary between the old and the new.

Beyond Hadrian's Arch, heding out of the city was the Temple of Olympian Zeus, at first glance it looked as ancient as anything in Athens. Whilst work on the temple began during the 6th century BC it was only completed under the reign of Hadrian.

We walked across to the Olympieion as it's also known. Our two day multi-entry ticket we bought for the Acropolis yesterday was still valid for here.

We headed towards the cluster of columns. All that was left was just a small corner of what would have been a colossal temple.

It's thought to have been the largest temple in all of Greece, larger than even the Acropolis. From an estimated 104 columns only 15 still stood with another one on the ground where it fell in 1852.

It was really fascintating to see the collapsed column as it showed clearly how the 17m tall columns were constructed from several segments carefully positioned one on top of the other. 

Whilst I walked around the base of the temple Julie decided to sit in the shade.

It took some time to complete the circuit which made me realise how massive this structure would have been.

Despite its gargantuan size it still had the delicate Corinthian design at the top of the columns. Such craftmanship on such scale was impressive.

Not only would it have inspired by its sheer size it would have been the most beautiful as well, I'm sure.

Sadly its fate was to be damaged beyond repair only a hundred years after it was completed when the Babarians came marauding through the city.

I rejoined Julie and we sat admiring the view for quite sometime. We had nothing planned for the rest of the day so we weren't in any rush to leave.

From here we had a superb view of Mount Lycabettus. It made us realise that there wasn't a cat's chance in hell of us walking up to the Church of Agii Isidori today.

The rock rose high and suddenly above the city, even climbing up on the furnicular railway would be a daunting prospect for some.

Instead we decided to head back slowly to the hotel for a siesta.

Mind you our plans for a gentle stroll through Plaka were scuppered when Julie bladder suddenly decided to let her now it was about release. We frantically searched for the nearest open cafe.

Not a moment too soon we came across a restaurant calling itself a Trattoria, a Pizzeria and it also did traditional Greek food. It was in a little square called Filomousou Eterias. We sat down, ordered a Greek coffee and a sparkling water.

Julie was by now coming out in a sweat.

We asked if we could use their facilities not really knowing if they had any customer toilets or not. Thankfully they did and a very relieved Julie was shown where to find them.

She had been gone a while, I had drunk my coffee and her sparkling water had gone flat. I was begining to worry she had locked herself in the toilet and couldn't get out. It wouldn't have been the first time.

Eventually she reappeared all calm and collected ready for the gentle stroll back to our hotel.

None of the souvenir shops caught our attention until we came to one selling large bouquets of Greek Mountain "tea".

I felt they were too large to take home so we only bought a small packet of hibiscus tea instead. With hindsight I wish I had picked up a bunch. It would have made a lovely brew I'm sure.

After several graffiti strewn backstreets we returned to the Metropolitan Cathedral and then on to Monastriaki Square.

There was a church in the square called Ekklisia Kimisi Theotokou with a convenient ledge on which we could sit and people watched for a while.

We weren't the only creatures making use of it. A collection of pigeons were up on the roof taking the weight off their wings.

We entertained ourselves by wondering what peoples stories were. Did that little old man shuffling along with his head down see Hitler's tanks role into Athens in 1941?

Were the melancholy young couple refugees from war-torn Syria? What's that dredlocked Jamaican giving away friendship bracelets actually doing here?

The place was teeming with people coming and going.

We could have easily found ourselves sitting there all night but decided to leave to watch the sunset from the hotel's rooftop bar.

However, by the time we reached our room we allowed our heads to touch the pillows and we instantly fell asleep. I didn't think we were that tired but it was dark when we woke up.

Hungry we headed out for some supper choosing to eat in another highly rated restaurant in the same area as last night.

It was called Oineas and was literally on the same street as last night's Lithos.

We arrived starving as if we hadn't eaten all day despite us having a large meal for lunch. We had a look at the menu and ordered as quickly as possible.

Julie went for the pot-roasted lamb with artichokes and baby potatoes and I once again struggled for choice but found a bulgur wheat & lentil salad that sounded nice.

The service was wonderful, the staff were very attentive without being irritating and in your face. They were very pleasant.

The food arrived impressively quick and looked great.

Julie was enjoying tucking into her lamb whilst my fresh and zesty bulgur wheat salad was absolutely delicious. The star of my dish were the tomatoes. The flavour was so sweet and a perfect balance to the lemony dressing.

We also shared a plate of mushrooms which were amazing. Large porcini-like ceps, thinly sliced and simply cooked with a little butter.

With ingredients this good you didn't have to work hard to get a tasty dish.

With no Golden Ticket to give us a drinking pass we were back on the Sober for October today, so a bottle of fizzy water was our beverage of choice.

Within fifteen minutes of posting our sacrifice on Facebook with a "on the water :( " someone stumped up £15 donation to the Macmillan Cancer charity.

We ordered a half carafe of the house red and posted a photo back up with a big thankyou. Truth was we didn't really feel like a drink. In fact Julie didn't have any, she musn't have been feeling very well.

We were ready to leave when a fancy strawberry millefeuille arrived "on the house".

Julie declined hers but I accepted mine out of politeness.

I'm not the greatest fan of cream cakes and would never had ordered a millefeuille from the menu but I have to admit that I now been converted.

I really enjoyed my dessert. Instead of cream it had white chocolate mousse in between layers of puff pastry topped with a strawberry sauce.

Once I had finished we paid out bill and headed back towards the hotel. Julie was declinning rapidly.

I think it was a combination of tiredness, feeling a little unwell and an overwhelming cloud of anxiety for the flight home tomorrow.

We reached Monastriaki square and hung around briefly to gaze at the Acropolis one more time. It still took the breath away no matter how often we had already seen it.

It was sad to know our amazing Greek adventure was coming to an end and a shame that we were going out with a bit of a whimper. We didn't have a last blast in us.

We were back in our room before 10pm settling down for an early night.

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