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Friday, March 27, 2015


One thing I love to do when I am visiting friends in Athens is to go on the Senior's Bus Tour.  These are special bus tours designed for seniors (although sometimes younger people are aboard too).  My friend Carol told me about them and last year we went on one to Euboea, crossing the island to the east coast to view towns and villages I'd never seen before We ended up on a lovely beach where we spent several hours.
These tours are like 'magical mystery tours' and usually go to destinations even the Greeks don't visit.  This year it was a trip to some mysterious islands off the north-east coast. 

The price for these day tours is reasonable (usually about 25  Euro). We boarded the bus early in the morning and headed up the coast to a town named Kamena Vourla noted for it's resort hotels. From there we got on a boat and head out into the Malian Gulf that separates Euboea from the mainland. 

It was an overcast day which made the trip seem even more mysterious.  We were headed toward Monolia Island which is apparently steeped in legend. I am not quite sure exactly who it was, but either Herakles or Zeus, in a fit of anger, was said to have tossed rocks into the sea which formed these tiny islets.  The other more 'logical' explanation is that they were formed by pre-historic volcanic explosions enhanced by an earthquake in 600 BC.   Some of the islands are treed and have signs of settlements but others are merely heaps of black volcanic rocks jutting out of the sea.
 Roman Ruins
 Volcanic remains forming islets

Remains of settlements.
One of the islets has some Roman ruins, another a lighthouse. There was a settlement on Monolia, and along the shore  you can see abandoned stone houses. There may be still people living there as I saw a woman on the pathway leading into the trees.  According to what I've read there are bars and pensions on the island but we didn't see them from our small boat. 

We circled Monolia and the boat anchored at Lixadonisi island where there is a small beach strewn with beach chairs, deserted on this chilly day. Usually the beach is crowded and popular with kayakers.  It was our intention to have a picnic here but the weather proved to be too inclement.  A few folks braved the chill and went swimming while the rest of us shivered on the shore.
 Lixadonisis Island 

To compensate, after failing to picnic or even sight the monachus monachus sea turtles that are usually present in the area, we boarded our boat again and headed back to Kamena Vourla.  There we were treated to a buffet lunch at the posh Galini Wellness Resort Kamena Vourla
Galini Wellness Resort, Kamena Vourla 
Kamena Vourla is famous for the hot springs and boasts several resort hotels. Nearby, up the hill, is the monastery of Iera Moni Metamorfoseos tou Sotiros built around the 11th century. We didn't visit the monastary but were treated to a stop at the monument and museum to the Battle of Thermopylae located nearby.

NEXT: The monument to the Battle of Themopylae.

Friday, March 13, 2015


When I first visited Athens back in 1979, it was the Plaka that attracted me most.  I stayed in an old walk-hotel on Aeolou St. and wandered the area (though for some odd reason, those first few visits I totally missed Plaka Square, choosing instead to hang out in the area around Hadrian's Library and the old Roman Agora.  Perhaps because I had made friends with the taverna workers there and they always made me feel at home.

 I decided to go to live in Athens in 1983 but a friend and I had an apartment farther away in the Koukaki district.  It wasn't until 1984 that I moved into Plaka in a basement suite at #14 Vironos St.
This appealed to me partly because "Vironos Street" was "Byron's Street" named so because at one time there was a small monastery at the end of the street where he used to stay. And right around the corner from that was Shelley Street named after Percy Byce Shelley,  Bryon's poet friend. 

My suite opened to a lovely courtyard in which there was another small house (spitaki) and over the years a variety of interesting people lived there including artists and writers.  Most of my years at #14 though it was Roberto, an artist from Argentina, who became my best friend. The owners lived upstairs, Dina and Ioannis and yiayia - lovely people, so friendly and accommodating. And in another small house behind Robert's spitaki, in a back courtyard, was a workshop of one of the curator's of the acropolis museum (the old museum) where he was often restoring old statues.

Down the street at the place where Bryon used to live, there was a milk shop. The excavation on the old monastery site had caused a lot of dust so we called it "The Dirty Corner".  Right there at the corner was the old monument of Lysikratis, a tripod monument award the chorus of a drama held long ago in the ancient theatre of Dionysus.  This are, it seems, was once the theatrical part of old Athens. That suited me fine!
Milk shop (now a posh cafe) at the "Dirty Corner"

I still love browsing around Plaka every time I'm in Athens. It's quite touristy with many souvenir shops, tavernas and tables crowded with visitors, but it's a fun part of town.  I used to pass #14 every day I was there and look through the gate. Sadly the owners are no longer there and the last time I went the gateway was totally boarded up.  The Dirty Corner is now a rather posh restaurant. And the dust is gone from the excavations. 

One of the things about Plaka is all the graffiti. This is a big thing in Athens - good or bad. I find it upsetting in some cases but in others it is attractive and artistic. Sometimes it's political slogans or people's names sprayed on the old walls, but often it is well-crafted artwork. What I don't like is when it's sprayed on neo-classical buildings.

There's lots to see around Plaka from the shops to the old ruins and Plaka Square is a great place to meet up and enjoy a cold frappe or a beer at one of the sidewalk tables, or to just sit inside the square on a bench under the trees to watch passers-by.
One of my favorite taverans on Tripidon Street

Plaka is the old Athens and that's what I like most about it -- philosophers and dramatists once walked those cobbled streets. And yes, people like Byron and Shelley too!  And once when I was sitting in Square who came strolling by escorted by her 'bodyguards', dressed all in white, her red-gold hair like a halo, but the beautiful Greek actress Melina Mercouri.  There's a museum for her now in one of the old houses.
Roman Agora

former Mosque, now folk art museum

Former Turkish school

Plaka Street

Plaka Wine Bar

From Plaka you can visit the Monastiraki bazaar and experience some of the Ottoman parts of the city alongside the Roman.  And towering above it all is the magnificent Acropolis crowned with the Parthenon.  If you want some quiet away from the bustle of it all walk along the pedestrian roadway beside the Herod Atticus Theatre and you'll come to the tree-covered Filopappou Hill and a bit farther than that, pathways through the trees will lead you to the Hill of Nymphs, my favorite picnic spot.

And whatever you do, don't miss the New Acropolis Museum which is one of the most wonderful museums I've ever visited. I had the thrill of watching it being built from the first excavations to the shining finished product. It's all part of my old 'hood!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Just west, beyond  Monastiraki and Thissio along Ermou Street, is the ancient city wall of Athens and the great Dipylon Gate, once the busiest part of the city.  The road from Pireaus and Eleusis lead here. Next to it is the Sacred Gate, a ceremonial entrance or "Sacred Way" used for the Panathenai and Eleusinian processionals. Between the two gates are the foundations of a building known as the Pompeion where preparations for the processionals were made.

City Wall

Along the area near the Kermeikos is where the potters of ancient Athens had their shops and plied their trade (ceramics= keramikos) .  The area, called Kermeikos, just outside the gates, is where the Street of Tombs was located.  Here wealthy and important families buried their dead marking the way with elaborate statuary.  Many of these still survive making it an interesting place to walk about.

The site, along these important roads that led into the city, was a prestigious one. Among the grave markers are the flat, vertical stele of the Classical period and sarcophagi from later Hellenistic and Roman times. Some of the monuments are memorials to soldiers killed in wars such as the large tomb with a semicircular base as you enter the pathway, a Memorial to Dexileos, a 20-year old who was killed in battle in Corinth in 394 BC.  Adjacent to it is the Monument of Dionysios of Kollytos, a pillar stele supporting a bull carved from Pentelic marble.

I love wandering around the Kerameikos, exploring the many grave monuments and imagining life as it must have been, the bustle of people coming and going on those roads.  One of the roads leads to Plato's Academy. Imagine the philosopher and his followers walking there on their way to the Agora.

There's a museum on the site too and it contains many of the interesting artifacts collected from the area including some beautiful ceramics and burial finds such as children's toys, jewelry and other objects.

The site is open daily April - Sept 8 am - 7.30 pm, Oct - March 8.30 am - 3 pm. The museum opens at 11 am. Admission  2 Euro or it is included in a joint Acropolis ticket.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Just behind the National Gardens in Athens city center, a short walk down Rigilis Street from Vassilisis Sofias Avenue, a newly excavated green space offers visitors a chance to stroll in the footsteps of the Peripatetics, the "walking philosophers" of Aristotle's Lyceum.

I first came across this two years ago when I was visiting Athens, but that day the gates were closed and it wasn't until this past September that I was able to go inside and spend a pleasant hour wandering the pathways where once Aristotle lectured.

The pathway circles this green retreat. In the center area are the excavated gymnasium and other former structure that made up the philosopher's school. A meeting place in a grove of trees, it was named "the Lyceum" after its patron Apollo Lyceus ("Apollo in the form of a wolf") It was actually in existence before Aristotle founded the Peripatetic school there in 334/335 BCA and it continued long after Aristotle fled from Athens in 323 BC . It was eventually  sacked by the Roman general Sulla in 86 BCE.

The remains of the Lyceum were discovered back in 1996.  I was aware of the location somewhere 'behind the National Gardens' and often had wondered if they were actually within the gardens.  So now that mystery is solved.  And today you can find it easily (behind the Byzantine museum) and spend a pleasant quiet time meditating or strolling.

I've visited all the places where Athens' famous philosophers frequented.  In the Agora you can find areas where Socrates was known to hang out and not far away from the Agora is the cave that is said to be "Socrates Prison".  You can also take a bus to Plato's Academy, another interesting quiet place where you can wander and contemplate life.

You can read about my walks with the philosophers here in an article that was published in EuropeUpClose

And next time you're in Athens make sure you take time to visit them.