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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

NEXT STOP GREECE: ALL THE OLD FAMILIAR PLACES

The Acropolis
Going back to Greece is like going home to me.  Since 1979, my first trip, I have spent countless days and months there, living in Athens from 1983 - 1987 then returning in 1989 for a long run of six month stints.  It's only been in recent years, since the double expense caused by the Euro, that I have been staying for shorter periods. This year, for only 3 weeks.  I actually intended to go back there to live once I retired from my daycare work, but in the end realized that to be in touch with the literary communities and since I was by then teaching classes in writing in Vancouver, it was best to stay put.  But my heart is, and always will be, in Greece and in particular, my Athena!
 #14 Vironos Street, Plaka (this is where I used to live)

Each time I return, I walk by #14 Vironos St. (Byron's Street) in the Plaka where I used to live. I touch the gate, peek inside the courtyard and reminisce about my life there.  I have so many memories of that little basement suite and the courtyard with all Kyria Dina's flowers, and the little spitaki where my dear friend Roberto used to live. Although Roberto, who was an artist from Argentina, and several of my other friends have now sadly passed away, I still have a circle of good friends and acquaintances in Athens, and that is another thing that draws me back there time and time again.  They are my Athen's family.
Some of the Athens gang and other family & friends from abroad at the Hill of Muses.
One of the things about Athens that I never get tired of doing is walking around all the old familiar places.  I know Athens well as when I lived there I did ESL classes with children all over the city.  I used the transit and often walked, even long distances.  So I am familiar with where most things are although there is always something new to explore and this year my friend Anna Britt and I intend to check out some of these newly gentrified areas just to see what's going on, as well as a chance to see something new.
View of the Agora from above (that's the Temple of Hephaestion)
I could walk some of those pathways blind-folded I know them so well, yet I never get tired of retracing my old footsteps.  The Acropolis and the Ancient Agora are of course two of the most significant areas in the Plaka.  I am so familiar with them that the first time I stepped into the Agora (1979) I had a deja vu experience that made me feel as if I had really been part of that ancient world.  I've had many such experiences in Greece.  Perhaps that is why I feel as if my soul is there.  I not only write about Greek ancient history, but I  have 'lived' it.
The Sacred Way that leads through the Agora up to the Parthenon on the Acropolis
The Plaka Square is in the centre of this oldest part of the city.  It's a hub of activity with shops and tavernas.  When I lived there, we used to hang out around Plaka Square but these days it is very touristic and much more expensive to dine there.  However, I usually go there to sit in the little square and sometimes for a special evening meal, although I've been told one of my favorite taverns where they had live music and Greek dancers is now closed. (Economics of breaking the strict laws?)
Plaka Square, Kidatheneon Street
The corner, fondly known as "The Dirty Corner" on Vironos Street by the Lysikrates Monument has now been turned into a posh coffee house.  When I write my "Life Below the Acropolis" stories, this place will be featured as there are many tales to be told about the events and people who used to hang out there in the 1980's. 
The once infamous "Dirty Corner", scene of many a Greek drama!
There's lots more to Athens besides the old area of Plaka (although this is the most interesting, it is also the most touristic).  I enjoy browsing around Syntagma Square, the National Gardens, and often walk down Panapistimio Street where the gorgeous Neo-Classical university buildings are located. 
In front of the University buildings.
And then there's Athens at night.  I love when it gets dark and the Acropolis is all lit up with a golden light.  The Plaka is bustling with activity. People are heading for the tavernas for their evening meals. The little squares are full of people out for their evening 'volta'.  Kids are playing in the squares while their parents sit and chat with glasses of ice cold frappe.  This is a part of Athens life that is so unique but often missed by tourists.  There is, however, a popular tourist activity, and that is to see the Athens Sound and Light show, performed at the site of the ancient Pnyx.  There you'll see a reenactment of the history of the city so it's well worth taking in.  There's also the Dora Stratou Dance Company performing traditional dances on Filoppapou Hill.  Athens is alive at night, especially during the hot summer days when it's the coolest time to be out and around.  But at any time of the day, the city has a living pulse. You can hear it and feel it.  And that's one of the things I love about being there.  For some reason, my whole life changes and I feel more 'alive' myself.  Yes, I guess I truly do have an everlasting love affair with this remarkable old city!
The Acropolis from the Tower of the Winds, Roman Agora




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9 comments:

marula said...

Oh, you capture it perfectly! I too love Athens... My husband is from Northern Greece, and we live in the Seattle area, but we travel there as often as possible (not often enough)! I adore the Volta, the Frappe's, the parks & squares, & the neighborhoods that each have a small-town feeling. We generally stay in the Thission area, near Agia Marina church. It's ever so close to the Acropolis, Agora, Monastiraki, Anafiotika, Plaka, etc. There's a metro station right there, and Apostolou Pavlou is one of the pedestrianized streets now, so it's peaceful and lovely! Ahhh, now I've got to get back there!!!

Wynn Bexton said...

I know, don't you just love it? Most people who go as tourists miss all the good parts of the city - the 'real' life. I used to live in Plaka, then Koukaki where I stay with my friends so I'm pretty familiar with it all. Wish I still lived there instead of just visiting for a while.

Wynn Bexton said...

By the way, I'm in Vancouver BC! We are neighbours!

marula said...

I see that! We're just north of Seattle- you pass within 8 blocks of us on I-5... Haven't been to Vancouver lately, guess we'll have to head up there sometime soon too!
I sure enjoy your blog!

Wynn Bexton said...

If you come up, let me know ahead and I'll send you my phone # and we can have coffee or something. I'll be back here after July 10. And be sure to follow my blog while i'm away as I'll post while on the road in UK and Greece.

marula said...

It would be cool to meet! We should be in Italy & Greece this summer, if my husband's back holds up. Italy until 18Jul, ferry to Igoumenitsa, a beach near Parga, then playing it by ear until 9Aug!

We just bought a teensy netbook to take with us, so we'll keep up on your blog for sure... Have a wonderful trip!!!

-Mary

Wynn Bexton said...

I went that route a couple of years ago (probably have a few blogs about it). From Venice by boat to Igoumenitsa. It was an awesome cruise (overnight). And going down that coat thru Parga is one of my favorite trips. Actually I have a story about Parga coming up soon in EuropeUpClose. I've travelled a lot in that area, including Ioannina, doing research for my novel. Do you read my Living the Writer's Life blog?

Anonymous said...

Hello from Freiburg in Germany, i live in Greece for 6 Months in 1985 , it is incredible because i was looking for exactly this address (Vironos 14) at Google and i found your Blog , my name is Juan, i meet on that times this amazing person Robby (Roberto) and i was staying at that house with him, it is really sad to ear that he pass away, i always have the hope to go back and see all the people that was living on that area on that times, my room was the room on the rigth side, allmost opposite to the bathroom in the yard, i remember Roberto painting the chairs for tavernas and cafenios and making so many on that way and drinking always red wine, it is really great to have found your page in Internet , thanks a lot and all the best for you.
Juan

wynn bexton said...

How nice to hear from former travelers and residents of #14 Vironos.