Three months of city life has my nature loving inner child throwing a tantrum so when my friend suggested we go to Mykonos I had already committed before she had finished her sentence. So we boarded an Athens bound flight at the beginning of April for a dose of Greek sun. I got chatting to the lady next to me who was en route from the US to pack up her 20 year life in Athens. Her Greek husband is a victim of the economic crisis so their solution was to start afresh in the States. She kindly offered to drive my friend and I to our hotel which was incidentally very close to their home. Door to door service, such is the kindness of the Greeks.
Feeling very welcome in this foreign city already, we were extremely pleased to push open the heavy hotel door, walk through the thick scent of cleaning products to gaze out the window to the Parthenon sitting like a patient in traction atop the Athenian Acropolis. Having reviewed the fire exit plan like a good architect, I noted that there were possibly only two rooms in the hotel with a view of the Parthenon. A sign of the hard economic times? Or just a good stroke of luck?
What happens once will never happen again, but what happens twice will surely happen a third time. With this in mind we set off in search of somewhere to have dinner. We had not been walking long before we found the Kalamaki Bar where we dined on Souvlaki, a fresh Greek salad and delicious grilled Haloumi skewers. Finished off with grilled pineapple and honey and washed down with a white wine that may have been better off removing my chipped nail polish. None the less we were contented and well prepared for our day ahead.
Sleeping with the curtains open as not to waste a moment of our view, we awoke to a powder blue sky. Dressed in summery clothes we headed for the hill and the treasures at the Acropolis Museum. Nothing leaves me feeling more dissatisfied than visiting museums. Clumsily designed, unstructured pathways (or lack thereof) through an exhibition leaves me feeling as though I have missed seeing something important. Bernard Tschumi has done well to convince me otherwise. The Acropolis Museum, itself, is balanced strategically on piloti that poise the building over a working archaeological site.
You enter the museum through the centre up a ramp flanked by a collection of small encased objects and some larger objects which you are permitted to walk around. On the first level you are able to complete a full circle around the central atrium whilst discovering the objects that were once buried on the slopes of the Acropolis. Once having satisfied our curiosity we ascended to watch a film about the religious usage of the Parthenon and how it came to ruin over the centuries. Armed with this fascinating knowledge we arrived at the Parthenon hall on the top floor of the museum. This hall has the same orientation as the temple, it’s hilltop position less than 500m away is clearly visible through the ribbon window. The reconstruction of the pediments and the metope wrap around the museums central core enabling us to review and imagine them in place at the temple. However striking these sculptures are, there is an unfortunate and conspicuous absence of the Elgin marbles. We then descended to enjoy our lunch on the terrace looking up at the temple. It took a bit of cheeky shuffling of the table to edge it into the sun behind the waiters back but we managed to get our way.
As a ten year old girl ancient Greece was one of the first history lessons I had ever received. We had a Gods and Goddesses day where I got to dress up as Aphrodite (my childhood crush was Zeus) and we ate a Greek feast prepared by one of the mothers (originally from Greece herself). Fifteen years on, in the heat of a spring afternoon we began the ascent to the temple, me at least with a childish fervor. What is astounding is not only the presence the temple has over Athens as viewed from the city below, but conversely the view from the top of the hill. To be atop of the Acropolis is to feel a bit like God, to have the ability to be omnispective.
For the most part, the temple is inaccessible for the scaffolding and rubble from the centuries of decay. Circumscribing it, I was pleased to see the extensive repair work being done with marble that has been extracted from the original quarry. I was convinced that there was a replica statue of Athena at the site so I spent a good fifteen minutes turning the map around in circles trying to locate it. What I was to find out from the map, was the location of it at a point in history, but the original statue’s whereabouts remains a mystery to modern man. After having realised this, we enjoyed one last look out over Athens city before wandering down the hill to Ermou Street in search of an abundance of sandle shops we had been promised we would find. Answering to the souls of our newly adorned, albeit, weary feet, we returned to our hotel that evening via the Kalamaki bar to get our dinner to takeaway which we ate sitting alone on the rooftop of our hotel with this view of the Parthenon.
As a first time visitor to Athens, I can’t compare, but it is plain to see the economic struggle. Many of the larger tenancies are empty and stores that extended over three or four floors only have the bottom one or two open. I was informed on my return to Paris that a man had taken his life in Athens just a day after we had left. He shot himself infront of the Parliament building leaving a note behind linking his actions to the country’s deepening economic crisis. The retired pharmacist stated he wanted a dignified end to his life before he had to start rifling through garbage bins to find food. Just as it is sad to hear of something like that, I can’t help thinking that at the same time, that man stands for what Athens is, a city proud, dignified and rich in culture but broken by poverty.