I always loved Greece. To clarify, I always loved Ancient Greece, having grown up on “The Trojan War and Its Heroes” (a masterful retelling of the story old as time for elementary school age children, with delicate silhouette illustrations in which I colored in the hair of every single Achaean), “Adventures of Odysseus” (which always made me uneasy because his 20 year absence from home seemed like a little longer than a lifetime to a seven year old me), and “Legends and Myths of Ancient Greece” (a compilation so complete that I would venture to guess that it contained a story of Zeus turning into almost every creature in Greek fauna to pursue various women—and why that would be more attractive than if he simply appeared to them as a handsome guy is something that I took as Olympian Gospel).
My other source of information about Greece was, of course, my beloved childhood encyclopedia, “What is this, who is that?” https://oldladywriting.com/2019/11/03/liechtenstein/ It contained not only an article on Greece, but one on “Ancient Greeks” and one on the “Acropolis”. It stated, quite inarguably, that Parthenon is one of mankind’s most marvelous creations. But, the article grimly concluded, it exploded in 1687. Given that this was before the internet, and in the USSR to boot, even imagining the Parthenon’s remnants was beyond the possible.
And so, when the first Big Birthday that we could afford to celebrate with a Big Trip was nigh, we went to Greece.
The year was 2007, and it was my last vacation with a non-digital camera. Because we could afford to splurge for a milestone birthday, I took four rolls of film for a week’s vacation. Coincidentally, this is the same number of photos I took over an entire summer in Europe almost 20 years earlier. I also would like to have said that it was my last vacation for wearing uncomfortable shoes. But, alas, it was not. I am kind of known (not widely, only within my family) as someone who brings the wrong footwear on vacation. There have been a few vacations during which a day is dedicated to looking for new shoes for me, because the ones I am wearing are literally trying to kill me. A useful tip: if you have freakishly giant double extra wide size 42s, do not attempt to shop for ladies boots in Paris. It is an exercise in frustration, and a waste of time.
And so, armed with several useless phrases picked up from a talking parrot of a Greek guy I used to know, lousy shoes, analog camera, but strong knowledge of Greek cuisine (because we live near one of the best Greektowns in the US, if not THE best) as well as strong knowledge of Greek mythology, we arrived.
Our base was a timeshare in Marathon, which is literally marathon distance to Athens. We never ran or even walked there, because, first, it was long before my running days, and second, it is apparently uphill for half the distance. It is pretty much the toughest race one can run, which explains a lot about Philippides’ fate upon completing it. We took a bus every day, which was not physically exhausting, but mentally taxing. First, it was never quite clear when the bus left Marathon. There was an hourly schedule, but it was not even loosely followed. We often had to just meander along the route with the hope that the bus will overtake us as some point during the 26 mile journey, and preferably sooner than later, because Greece is hot in June. Second, it was completely unclear what bus would take us back to Marathon from Athens. Every evening, we would wander through the bus park, leaning into every one and yelling “Maratonas?” Depending on the reaction of the driver, we would board the bus, which took a different route back every.single.time. And finally, the highlight of the Athens-Marathon trip was when one fine evening, the bus was abruptly stopped in the middle of the road and boarded by heavily armed Greeks in military uniforms who roughly removed an unprotesting and guilty-looking young man. We recognized him as an employee of the resort where we were staying and from whom we bought sunscreen the previous day.
The resort, aside from apparently employing at least one known shady character, was lovely. June is not yet a busy time in Europe, so we had it almost entirely to ourselves. Upon arrival, I promptly invested in a bar card so that I could enjoy local libations every evening. But, as it was not full tourist season, the bar was sparsely stocked. So, spouse drank Greek beer while I drank ouzo like it was my job. Funny thing about ouzo, though—you really cannot drink too much of it. And so it was two beers and two ouzo[s] every night. I also bought a box (yes, you read that right) of retsina at the resort shop, along with a small fortune in sunscreen and bandaids. I have not drank retsina since, as that box did not make much of an impression. I am not sure I have had ouzo since. I still sort of associate it with duty rather than pleasure.
The resort had a breakfast buffet which we enjoyed the first morning. And the second, but less so. By the third, we thought the scrambled eggs looked familiar, as in they seemed to look literally exactly the same as the day before. By the fourth day, they were turning green, along with the ham. We stopped eating there after that.
So, the first day of the vacation we, of course, decided to see the Parthenon. We arrived at the Acropolis and entered through some gate at the foot of the hill. From there, we had to choose to turn right or left. The map we had (for of course this was before GPS as well) did not help with choosing the direction, and being mindful of the fact that most people would go right, we went left.
The trip up the Acropolis hill was literally a long and winding road. Along the way, we encountered a couple of Russians loudly arguing in the shrubbery and predictably calling each other “goat”, giant turtles crawling around in a friendly manner, an ancient amphitheater, and many other similar curiosities during a two hour trek in 100 degree heat wearing entirely unsuitable shoes. Approaching the entrance to the Parthenon, fainting from exhaustion and practically falling on the seller of water and ice cream, we realized that had we turned right when we first arrived, we would have been right around the corner from the ticket booth…
You would think we would have learned something from this experience—and you would be wrong. A couple of days later we went to Corinth, determined to check out where St. Paul preached to the Corinthians. We walked and walked, but nothing in town looked like the ancient Corinth of my imagination. Surprise—we took the wrong turn yet again, as there is New Corinth and Ancient Corinth. We did eventually find the latter, complete with the exact spot on which St. Paul once stood. I mean, he must have—the place is not that big.
And finally, the one place where nothing went wrong during our trip was the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. We spent almost an entire day there. The highlights included the famous Mask of Agamemnon (quite an ugly mug completely dissimilar from the lovely drawings in my childhood book), kouros statues about which I also learned in childhood (clearly I was a very well-informed kid), and busts of all the Roman emperors in chronological order, which I tried to identify by using my extensive knowledge thereof acquired entirely from the Marcus Didius Falco novels by Lindsey Davis. http://www.lindseydavis.co.uk/
As for the famous Greek Islands, we did not visit them. We did go to one, Aegina, because it is the closest to Athens, and a fast boat gets you there from the Port of Piraeus in about 40 minutes. Maybe next time.