Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 8: Athens, Greece

If New Jersey took the Statue of Liberty and set it on the highest point of the state, you’d have an idea of Athens. The Acropolis was the sole highlight. The rest of the city was dirty, unkempt, spoiled, large and unimaginative (my apologies to New Jersey – the metaphor extended after describing Athens as the armpit of Europe and New Jersey mysteriously inserted into the conversation).

The visit to the Acropolis was worth the stop in Athens. The journey straight up the side of a hill offered panoramic views of Athens and even to our port town of Piraeus on the outskirts of the capital, and the monuments were imposing and grand. That is all though. The overcast sky provided graciously cool weather (there was no shade and all the stories we had heard were that it was a brutally hot visit) so our hike to the top and brief tour spiel were bearable.

Archaeologists have determined that none of the structures were built using slaves. Today Athens is working to repair damage with marble from the same quarries where the original marble was found and using the same tools and processes as were used in ancient times. Unlike other sites that are undergoing excavation or restoration, the scaffolding could not diminish the size of the structure – the site is massive.

But this is only the view from a parachuting tourist. The trouble with cruising is that you have a few hours to visit a place steeped in thousands of years of history. The descriptions come from what the eyes can take in through tinted windows on an air-conditioned bus. It is not an accurate look at the heart of a city – there’s not even enough time for a cursory glance at life from a café seat. To the eye, to my eye, Athens was not a visually stimulating city. I’d venture a guess that spending even a couple more days would open new perspectives on the people and some of the sights that remain in the shadow of the Acropolis.

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