Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Greece with Kids: The Acropolis, Falafel, and Feral Cats

Y'all, this is about to get ridiculous. Our entire trip to Greece was seven days, but that included two full days of traveling, so although I took a couple of pictures of fun/not fun travel logistical stuff, let's just say that I took five days' worth of photos.

And five days' worth of photos is?

Ummm.... 874 photos.

In my defense, we were in GREECE!!!! Where everything is new and amazing. Where the ancient architecture makes lovely angles. Where there's a beautiful alphabet on every street sign. Where the skies were blue and sported nary a cloud. Where my family never all smiled or kept their eyes open at the same time, necessitating fourteen shots for every final photo, and even in that final one not everyone would have their eyes open or be smiling.

In conclusion, buckle up for lots of posts with lots of photos and lots of gushing words.

The children seem happy enough for airplane adventures, so even a full 24 hours of travel and three separate airplanes and three separate security screenings didn't wear them down too much. I normally get pretty near assaulted by TSA officials every time I travel (I have a theory that every middle-aged mom they target allows them to profile 20 or so brown-skinned people while still keeping their numbers looking even), but that didn't happen nearly as much overseas--I didn't even have to take my shoes off during one screening!

Of course, round that off with the fact that we randomly had to remove all of our books for the security screening at the Indianapolis airport (do you KNOW how many books Will and I had packed?!?) but the kids got to keep their shoes on, and that we didn't have to remove our books (although I had prepared for this) at JFK but DID have to remove our tablets and the kids had to remove their shoes, and in between those we unpacked all of our stuff and repacked 90% of it, because United doesn't have free checked bags and Swiss Air does, so on our United flights we packed all of our crap into our carry-ons, along with two rolled up duffels, and then before we checked in for our Swiss Air flight we got out the duffels and switched most of our stuff so that we could take a break from being pack ponies.

You know what else Swiss Air gives you? A meal on every flight, even a two-hour one! And on our eight-hour flight we got two meals! And personal screens so that we could numb our discomfort with movies. I watched Passengers and referred to it so much in Greece that I made Matt watch it on the way back so we could talk about it together.

Also, I just need to tell you this: if you recline your airplane seat, you are a bad person, full stop. No excuses, unless the seat behind you is vacant, which you know it's not. I don't care that you can't sleep if your seat is not reclined, because you being only slightly more comfortable is not worth the misery of the person behind you. On all of my flights, the person in front of me reclined their seat from the second they were told they could until the flight attendant had to come by and make them put it up again as we were landing, and I promise you that it was hell to live with. And I am very short. Please don't be a seat recliner.

Here are the kids just before our last flight. We're about 20 hours into the journey that began the previous day at 8 am, and we still have that flight, then customs and baggage claim, then our van ride to the hotel, and then we can check in.

You can tell they're tired, but they claimed to still be having fun, and in fact, during this entire trip, they barely complained and they fought even less. It was a pleasure to take them traveling.

In that photo of Syd, she's getting her doll out of her bag to play with. Remember in the winter, when Syd worked her tush off to sell over 1,000 Girl Scout cookies? She wanted to use her cookie profits to help the Humane Society (and this summer, she IS! It's her Bronze Award project!), but she also really, really, REALLY wanted the 1,000+ prize, which had a few options, one of which was an American Girl doll. I'll tell you more about her another time, but in short, please meet Zelda, Syd's new American Girl doll.

In that photo of Will, you can see to the left an older fellow. He took approximately 40,000 photos of Syd blithely immersed in her doll, and I think even some video of her brushing her doll's hair and futzing with her outfit, etc. Syd was completely oblivious, and although it's tacky, for sure, to photograph someone without their permission, he was so clearly a tourist from an Asian-speaking country that I gave him a pass. We were about to do so much gazing about at other people's everyday lives that it didn't really bother me to spend some time being the object of another gawker's gaze.

Speaking of something to gaze at... check out the clown car that we flew to Athens in:

Apparently, Swiss Air likes to customize the livery on some of their planes.

We did a little wandering around on foot when we got to Athens later that afternoon, found sunscreen, got ourselves fed, but let's just fast-forward to the next day, after a good ten hours of sleep and a nice, big breakfast (our hotel's buffet was short the full English breakfast by the beans and the black pudding, but had a doohickey that let you fresh-squeeze your own orange juice, and real Greek yogurt is even more delicious and not as tangy as American Greek yogurt, and you're allowed to stir jam and honey into it and put walnuts on top!), when we met up with our tour group for a tour of the Acropolis.

These devices that you'll see in all of our photos look super dorky, but they're genius:

When we wear these and the connecting single earbud, our tour guide can talk to us at a normal volume, and we can hear her entire spiel at both the super-crowded outdoor sites and inside the super-quiet museums. I was ambivalent about how it was going to be, touring in a herd led by a guide, but actually, it was awesome. I always want to know all the things about everything, and tour guides both know all the things and deeply desire to tell them, as well, to you. We understood what we were looking at and why far more than if we'd toured on our own.

And here's what we were looking at!
This is actually the view of the Acropolis from the third floor of the Acropolis Museum, which you'll see later, but it's my best shot from outside the area.
I was surprised to learn that lots of Greek cities had an acropolis, since in Greek it just means the "highest point in the city," from the Greek άκρος and πόλiς (my Greek improved a LOT during this trip!), but this one, of course, is THE acropolis.

Here's what you can see before you ascend:
In the foreground you can see the facade of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a concert venue since 161 AD through the present day. In the background is the Temple of Athena Nike, which used to have a "wingless victory" statue, because if your Victory doesn't have wings, then she can't fly away, can she?
Here's my admission ticket, with the Parthenon in the background. I told you that before we left for this trip, the kids and I were learning Greek phonics so that we could sound out words. I had a harder time with diphthongs and blends, but since there are so many Greek root words in the English language, I found out that if I could sound out a word, I could often figure out its meaning, as it was often a cognate.  I spent the entire trip trying to sound out every single word I could find--I simply couldn't help myself. It reminded me of the kids when they were learning to read--I wonder if they experienced that same compulsion, because I know they, too, tried to read every word they saw!
This one's not a cognate, but it's good to memorize so that you always know where the entrance is.
You climb the hill to the Acropolis, then enter via the Propylaea, with the Temple of Athena Nike past that on your right. Here's more of the Propylaea:

I've cropped out most of the tourists, but this place was packed. It was by far the most crowded site of our trip, but it was about par for the course in temperature; on most days, the temperature where we were hovered between 38-40 Celsius. For those of you who haven't had a crash course in temperature conversion, that's 100-104 Fahrenheit. And we were generally on bare, baked ground surrounded by marble ruins. The kids quickly got used to it, and there was little complaining, and the tour guide kept us well hydrated, but it was distinctly uncomfortable, and apparently my face would get so red that total strangers would become concerned for my health.

Interesting fact: if a column is completely reconstructed, it's to show you where the ceiling was and how high it was.

Here's more of the Temple of Athena Nike:

At this site, the original marble is the weathered brown, and the restorations are white. In other places, the marble weathers differently, though, so you can't always use that as your guide between old and new.
Once you make it up the path, whose original steps are as slick as ice (the Greek people must just be used to walking on all that marble all the time, but I about fell on my butt eight thousand times on this trip--marble is SLICK!), you really are at the highest point in the city:

This spot is Areopagus Hill, where there was a court where Ares, for one, was tried for murder (regular people were also tried there), and where the apostle Paul gave a famous sermon (Paul had a LOT of things to say to and about Greece). It was decorated on this day because it was Paul's feast day.
Here's what you really want to see, though: the Parthenon!

It's taking a lot longer to restore the Parthenon than it took to build it, which makes sense when you realize how many prior "restorations" are having to be repaired and redone, as well.

I really like this photo Matt took, in which you can see all of the restoration equipment. Also, see how the vertical columns are perfectly parallel? If you've paid much attention to tall buildings, or even railroad tracks, you know that straight lines don't look parallel from a distance. These columns actually taper, so gently that they'll come to a point 3 miles up, but so perfectly that they correct our vision distortion.
You can also see the pieces labeled and organized around it, ready to be replaced.

As you move around the Parthenon, you can get perspectives that aren't so busy with construction equipment.
Only one of them has her eyes closed, and they're all smiling!

Oh, look! I'm here, too!

I really like this photo Matt took of me: neck craned like a tourist, open-mouthed in awe, face beet red, getting myself some more water, wearing my dorky orange Whisper, the Temple of Olympian Zeus in the background.

Here's what you can see from the Southern side of the Parthenon:
Theatre of Dionysus, where Greek tragedy was invented
Temple of Olympian Zeus--we walked over there later in the day, so I'll show you more of that later.

another perspective of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
The cleanest views of the Parthenon are of its east side:

Check out the tops of the columns, waiting to be replaced.
There's also more original surface to walk on here:
Slick as ice, I assure you, although worth it to step on the footprints of thousands of years.
You go around, then, to the north side--
Check out the intricacy of the reconstructions added to the original pieces. How on earth could they place these broken pieces in exactly the right spot?
--and to the Erechtheion, which is my favorite structure of the Acropolis:
My favorite structure of the entire trip may have been the Porch of the Caryatids, here with reconstructions so that the Caryatids can live in the Acropolis Museum. I'll show you the real Caryatids in a minute.

After drinking our fill of the structures, we walked back through the Propylaea--

See my two adventurers, with the Temple of Athena Nike in the background? See that slick-as-ice marble under their feet?

--and met back up with our tour group to walk over to the Acropolis Museum. One of our fellow tourists had bought herself an ice cream; I was super jealous.

During construction of the Acropolis Museum, archaeologists had discovered settlements from the Byzantine and Roman times, so they put a glass roof over them, and you can see them throughout the ground floor of the museum:

Pictures aren't permitted in most of the Acropolis Museum, but my second favorite part was the floor dedicated to the surviving relics damaged when the Persians sacked the Acropolis during the Greco-Persian War. This was after the Battle of Thermopylae, the site of which I'll show you later! The Persians deliberately broke up all of the statuary that they could find, and when the Greeks  regained the city,  they simply buried their desecrated things. This was lucky, because it enabled archaeologists to discover them later and they're displayed in the museum with the damage purposefully not restored, but the pieces set up so you can see them as a whole despite the missing parts. I'm not describing it well, unfortunately--too bad I couldn't take any photos!

Here's my first favorite part of the museum, and something that we COULD take photos of:

Here are the original Caryatids from the porch of the Erechtheion, on a raised pedestal so you can walk all round them. Lord Elgin took the sixth one,  so her spot is left blank.

See me fangirl!
You can also take pictures on the top floor, where the original metopes and friezes from the Parthenon (the ones that Lord Elgin didn't remove with dubious permission and that the British Museum absolutely refuses to give back)

The pieces are displayed as they were on the Parthenon, in a room lit by natural light during the day but illuminated at night, and surrounded by picture windows that look out at the city, but most particularly at the Parthenon just across the street.

Many of these pieces are damaged because Elgin, even if he didn't want an entire metope or frieze, would chisel out a piece that he did want, an elegant turn of the foot, say, or an enchanting background.

In Greek mythology, centaurs do a lot of raping and murdering. Every time we came across a centaur sculpture, I'd sigh to myself, knowing that the kids were about to get an eyeful.

I love seeing my kids so enthralled.
After the rest of our tour, we ended up back on the Plaka adjacent to the Acropolis, where we ate some gyros--

--petted one of the hundreds of seemingly happily feral cats of Greece--

--and walked around a little more in history before going back to our hotel for a shower and a nap.

And then we went out again and saw even more things!


Tina said...

You need to be a travel agent for homeschoolers, creating packages that people can buy that include lesson plans and everything.

julie said...

Oh, my gosh, that would totally be my dream job!!!

As long as I didn't have to deal with the travelers' passport issues and food allergies and blisters and missed flights and other problems...


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