Hangin’ with the Ancients: Athens and Nafplio, Greece: November 5 – 9, 2019

It was time to resume our sightseeing adventures after our amazing 3 weeks of climbing in tiny Kalymnos.  Our first stop was quite the opposite of Kaly… Athens.  It is huge with over 4 million people living there, 1/3 of the entire Greek population.  However, we happily discovered that the old town and main sights are clustered together making sightseeing easy to navigate. 

Athens is gritty looking upon arrival with graffiti covering everything and lots of tall, ugly cement apartment buildings.  Once we started to walk around, though, we discovered it was very clean with lots of pedestrian only streets making it fun to stroll with the locals. 

We also learned that to help alleviate traffic and pollution, they have developed a system that you can only drive your car in city center every other day.  The system is based on the last digit of your license plate… odds one day and evens the next.  It was fun to see what day it was as we walked around.

Sightseeing was our main priority, but after walking through Athens to get to our hotel, we decided we needed to lighten our packs by shipping home our climbing gear.  We had already donated our rope, harnesses, helmets and some worn ‘biners to the route setting team in Kalymnos.  However, we still had 20 lbs. of gear left.  We went to DHL first.  They wanted over 300 euros, so we opted to try our luck with the Greek postal service.  We got lucky and had a very nice woman who spoke good English help us out at the post office.  We managed to fit it all into 2 boxes and only paid a fraction of the price.  I was worried if they would make it home, but 1.5 weeks later they arrived at my parents’ house.  It will feel great to have a light, small pack for the last 6 weeks in Europe especially since we will be mostly taking public transportation!

We did a lot of walking, sightseeing and eating while in Athens.  I’m only going to talk about the highlights, otherwise this blog will be way too long!  So here we go…

We watched the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier.  The guards are called Evzone which is an elite mountain unit.  They wear fancy uniforms of tights, a skirt with hundreds of pleats and a tunic.  The shoes were the most interesting part as the bottoms have taps (like tap shoes) and the tops have a pompom.  The soldiers walk in slow motion with high, long steps and a tap/slide at the end.  It was fun to watch the synchronized walks and taps as it was almost like a dance. 

The Acropolis exceeded my expectations and it was a joy to explore this ancient (2500 years-old) ruin.  We were first in line to enter the Acropolis and lucked into a sunny, but not hot, day to explore.  We had 2 hours with minimal crowds, so taking pictures was fun and somewhat easy! 

We started with the main gate called Propylaea.  The gate was imposing with many huge pillars to gaze up at and the delightful Temple of Athena Nike to its right.  The temple had been recently restored, so it gleamed in the sun.  I really liked the 4 ionic columns on each side which added to the symmetrical aspect of the temple.

After walking through the gate, we got our first view of the Parthenon and wow, just wow!  This temple was built in just 10 years and not by slaves, but paid laborers.  Each column is comprised of many pieces called column drums.  They were carved at the quarry and then rolled 16 km to the Acropolis to be assembled into a perfect column with a barely perceivable space between drums.  Each piece was unique as the columns are not vertical but have a slight curve to create the optical allusion that they are perfectly vertical.  It was a true architectural and engineering feat! 

The Parthenon used to have a ring of reliefs around the entire top (575’ worth).  On the front and back, the space over the main entries was covered with statues.  Over time they were destroyed and/or removed.  It was fun to imagine what it must have looked like in its prime painted with colorful colors.

The Parthenon stood through earthquakes and fires.  It was converted to a church and then a mosque.  In 1687, it was a storehouse for gunpowder for the Ottomans during a Venetian attack.  The Venetians got lucky with a canon shot and hit the center of the Parthenon, and we now see its remains. 

Across the hill from the Parthenon stands the Erechtheion.  It is famous for its porch of the Catyatids.  Instead of columns, there are 6 statues of women holding up the roof.  These are replicas, but we saw the originals in the museum later that day.  They were moved inside to preserve them as they were slowly getting destroyed by acid rain. 

Following our morning at the Acropolis, we headed downhill to the Agora.  The Agora was the government/social center while the Acropolis was the religious.  Most of the Agora is in ruins with just foundations to look at.  It was fun to walk around and to think about the ancient Greeks discussing politics and philosophy.  So much of our modern world started here in their Golden Age in 450 BC!  It truly is amazing and so cool to be here to learn about their society and contribution to the world.  “Adventure is worthwhile” to quote the great Aristotle.

The Stoa, commercial hall, was rebuilt using many original pieces to the exact specifications as the original.  I especially liked the columns.  The bottom 6’ were smooth, to allow for people to lean against them and then became fluted above.  It made for fun picture taking.

The only original building left standing is the Temple of Hephaistos.  It was well preserved and helped us better understand what the Parthenon must have looked like when it was in its glory days.

We also saw some Roman sites, including Hadrian’s Arch and Zeus’s temple.  The temple took 700 years to complete.  Hadrian, the Roman emperor finally completed it in 100 AD and built his arch to commemorate it.  This was our best view of Corinthian columns.  The tops are much more decorated than the Doric and Ionic columns that we saw at the Acropolis and Agora.  There are only a few still standing, 56’ tall and spectacular!  I can only imagine the sight it must have been when it was intact with the Acropolis above. 

The National Archaeological Museum was a delight.  I really enjoyed the Mycenean treasure recovered from a royal grave dating to 1500 BC.  Over 30lbs of gold in various forms (masks, daggers, mugs, and jewelry) was found among the bodies.  A few days later, we would see the grave site itself. 

The museum also did a great job of walking us through the evolution of Greek statues.  My favorite statues were in bronze, both found in a shipwreck in the 1920’s but date back to 500 BC.  They are called Jockey of Artemision and Artemision Bronze.

After 3 weeks of climbing and 3 days of sightseeing in Athens, our bodies were feeling exhausted.  My feet were swollen and sore and my body was super stiff.  I was surprised by how tired we were, but I forgot how tiring a few big days of sightseeing can be.  It was perfect timing that we decided to take a quick side trip (2.5-hour bus ride) to tiny Nafplio.

Nafplio’s old town is very welcoming with pedestrian streets, tons of nice shops and restaurants and a beautiful harbor.  It is topped with 2 Venetian forts towering on hills overlooking the city.  It was the perfect place to see a few more sights but also get away from the city.  I can see why it is a popular get-away for the Athenians.

 A mere 999 steps took us to the top of the hilltop fortress.  We arrived at the base at 2:30, and the site closed at 3:30, so we climbed fast using it for Ecuador training. We quickly toured and mostly enjoyed the views of the harbor and town below us.  Then at 3:15, the whistle blowing started.  At first friendly little toots and then louder and more frequently.  They didn’t want to have to chase us out, and we got the picture quickly.  So down we went back into town.

Our other highlight in Nafplio was touring Mycenae, a ruin dating from 1500 BC.  It was a hilltop fortress with a great defense position… hills/cliffs on the back and wide-open valley in front so they could see their enemies coming for miles.  A few of my favorite highlights included:

The Lion Gate dating from 1300 BC.  The carvings above the gate are 2 lionesses flanking a column.  It is in an arch above the lintel (a massive stone horizontal over the door).  The lintel weighed 18 tons, which according to Uncle Ricky is the same as a B17 bomber. 

As we walked around, we realized that the Myceneans like to build things in massive proportions including the Treasury of Arteus.  This was a royal tomb built into a hillside in a cone shape.  The walkway leading to the entrance, displayed its massive stones.  The lintel over the door is 26’ x 16’ x 3’ and weights 120 tons.  This is 4 times as heavy as the largest stone in the pyramids!  It would have been an impressive sight to see them lift it into place!  The interior was also quite impressive with the dome featuring, you guessed it, super huge stones.

After our little getaway to Nafplio, we headed back to Athens for one more night before heading to Barcelona.  We enjoyed one last Greek yogurt and spinach pie-filled breakfast with amazing views looking at the Acropolis.  It was quite the farewell breakfast.  I really enjoyed our time in Greece, and I know we will be back.  Not only to go climbing in Kalymnos, but also to continue to tour mainland Greece.  The history is rich, the people are warm and welcoming, and the food is phenomenal!  Yammas, Greece!

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2 Responses to Hangin’ with the Ancients: Athens and Nafplio, Greece: November 5 – 9, 2019

  1. Doug says:

    Wonderful, the pictures are great, I like the columns . . . but after all it is Athens – right. Nice blog, glad the boxes came ok.

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