28th October 2016 Friday Patras

We had never really been certain if the ferry actually went to Patras from Bari so, imagine our confusion early the next morning, when we were awoken by announcements that we were about to dock at Igourmenitsa! In a befuddled state I went to seek reassurance from the crew but it was ok, and we continued on to dock at Patras a few hours later.

We drove off at Patras (still no passports required) and set off through the Greek mainland. There were extremely strong winds, even bullying The Cobar, so we travelled slowly along the coast road. Although it felt like 200km of roadworks, and it sent our Sat-Nav bananas (it thought we were off road 1/2 the time), it was worth avoiding the motorway. the sea was a gorgeous dark turquoise sheet, storm tossed with white horses galloping to their frenzied destruction at the shore. In places the waves would crash high over the rocks and soak the road. cars were crawling hesitantly through the inch-deep water. Cobar didnt mind and just sailed through impervious. You see The Cobar is already wearing a glittering crystalline jacket of sea salt so a wash off is needed anyway. Because of the weather and ferry crossing we still had damp laundry packed so we decided to book a last-minute hotel room and make the most of constant hot water, air-con & Wi-Fi.

29th October 2016 Saturday Argo Hotel Athens

We had decided to have a look around Athens but laid in and made a late start. We changed our minds and went off to see our shipping agent in Pireaus. Finding the office wasn’t much of a hassle -except we were on foot and things were further apart than we had imagined -but when we arrived the office was closed. It was Saturday and most businesses close Saturday PM. Now we would have to wait until Monday – our bad.

Plan B: Visit Athens by night and see the Acropolis lit up. 1st task get into Athens center (we were already footsore) now The Cobar is slumbering peacefully in secure parking & city traffic is hard work so we elected to go by public transport. When we finally located the Metro Station indicated by our tourist map it wasnt completely built yet. So we switched to a train option and a change over closer to town. As a confirmed monoglot (I just cant pick up languages) it is humbling just how much English is spoken and written here (quite lucky really because the rest is all just Greek to me :-)) The signage on the metro has English translations as do the announcements and the tourist maps. After shelling out the enormous sum of 1:40 Euro we arrive in Syntagma Square and realise that breakfast was about 9 hours ago and it is now 6pm Mission creep – find some dinner.

A suitable place was chosen and ordering was fun. They dont speak English, we dont speak Greek, the menu has no pictures and I cant do Cucumber. Once we overcame this the meal was a great success and, full of kebap and souvlouki we set off to visit the Acropolis. Now this shouldn’t have proved difficult as:
1. It is a big target
2. It is on a hill in the centre of the city
3. It is signposted (albeit mostly in Greek)

We could see it from way off but actually getting to the front entrance proved harder than we thought. By the time we finally arrived it was of course closed. We didnt really mind though as there is such an amazing view out across the city and we got to walk all the way around it and see it lit up – really dramatic. We also got to see the monument of Fillopappos atop its hill glowing like a spectral UFO above the city. On our way back to the metro we stopped off for a fresh Greek yoghurt smoothie with honey and fresh fruit Mmmm. Just for reference the Metro/train tickets for 2 person round-trip cost 5:60 Euro & no parking charges. It’s not like London.

30th October Sunday Piraeus
We walked around town trying to identify somewhere to buy a lubrication syringe (I will explain later) not found. We resolved that this time we would go into Athens, ascend to the Acropolis, enter the citadel and view the Parthenon. By now we had seen it from afar by by night and also up close by day. In either case it is mind-blowing to encounter so much history contained in one site. The sophistication and skill of the Artisans and craftsmen who created these buildings at a time when many peoples were still living in mud huts is simply astonishing. Even mighty Rome respected the talent & the culture of Athens and left it unchanged for many years. It was fantastic to see modern Greece taking such care to preserve and in some cases restore their heritage. The new Acropolis museum is a dramatically beautiful building with glass floor panels allowing visitors to see some of the ancient foundations (as well as scare themselves silly 4 floors up!) It explains the different artifacts as well as the many, many different stages of The Acropolis citadel and history of The Parthenon in a coherent, interesting way by displaying them in a life sized space to mirror The Parthenon as their positions are important to give context.

The Acropolis is the Hilltop Citadel containing several significant buildings including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, it was Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site’s most important buildings. The remains of which still stand today.

The iconic Parthenon, which dates back over 2500 years ago, was originally built as a temple to the Goddess Athena. It then served as a church to the Virgin Mary for a thousand years & then became a Mosque. During the Rule of the Ottoman Empire it was used as a gunpowder store and in 1687 a Venetian cannonball crashed into it and blew much of the structure apart. It fell into disrepair and circa the early 1800s ‘Lord Thomas Bruce’ 7th Earl of Elgin & British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire sought permission from the then rulers to remove some of the beautiful sculptures & transport them back to Britain. In 1816 these sculptures were sold to the British Government and then given to the British Museum where they still reside They became known (in Britain) as the ‘Elgin Marbles’. Following a protracted war, Greece obtained independance from the Ottomans in 1832 and started to rebuild their country. Greece would now like those ‘Elgin Marbles’, superb examples of the pinnacle of Greek artistry during the Doric period, returned and here the debate starts. Britain says they were removed with permission and are being kept safe, modern Greece says they were looted with the collusion of an occupying power and that they belong in Greece where they originated.
For my part, I saw the ‘Elgin Marbles’ in the British Museum but I couldn’t grasp their significance- there was no context. I have now seen their counterparts at the superb Acropolis Museum on the site that they were created for and I got it-they moved me. I hope a way can be found to return the marbles to their home.