Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas in Athens - Kerameikos & Sounion

Friday 24 December 2004 
Christmas Eve

I wake up early as usual, around 7.30. It's going to be a beautiful day so I decide to walk up Lycabettus to get some exercise. I have it all to myself. There's a church up here, built into a cave, but sadly it's closed today. The view from the top is breathtaking and another church – the church of St George – is stunning, too. Those lovely white plaster domes and arches that make such pleasing lines...

At breakfast later with Richard I get a nasty surprise. Breakfast is NOT included in the price of a room. So all my haggling for an upgrade has been nullified by the fact that we unknowingly paid E 17 each for three mornings. From now on we breakfast at Flocafe down the hill.

young street musician in Athens
After breakfast Richard and I walk from Syntagma Square along Ermou Street towards towards Monastiraki. It's Christmas Eve and the place is packed with Athenians shopping, begging, busking and talking on mobile phones. Athenian women must have the 'uniform': pointy boots, black leather jacket, any top that reveals some midriff, tight jeans or miniskirt and the three essential accessories of mobile phone, sunglasses and cigarettes. I see a boy about Lupus's age playing a scaled-down bouzouki. And what is it with people dressed like Native Americans and playing pan pipes?

tomb in Kerameikos
At Monastiraki – just past the Plaka – we sip another espresso before visiting the Kerameikos, the ancient cemetary of Athens. Mary Renault has a lovely passage to do with this in my favourite book of hers, The Last of the Wine:

Our house stood in the Inner Kerameikos, not far from the Dipylon Gate. The courtyard had a little colonnade of painted columns, a fig-tree and a vine... The roof had a border of acanthus tiles and was not very steep. If one straddled the ridge, one could see right over the City wall, past the gate-towers of the Dipylon to the Sacred Way... In summer-time, I could pick out the funeral stele of my uncle Alexias and his friend, by a white oleander that grew there. Then I would turn south, to where the High City stands like a great stone altar against the sky, and search between the winged roofs of the temples for the point of gold, where tall Athene of the Vanguard lifts her spear to the ships at sea.

Tassos Bougas - Greek heart-throb
I spend some time trying to get my bearings. For some reason I find it strange that the Sacred Way comes into Athens from the north. But once I accept that fact, everything falls into place. After the peaceful Kerameikos we wander in the busy flea market and buy a Tasos Bougas CD for one of my friends who has a poster of him in her loo. *hee*

Sounion, Xmas Eve 2004
Then we go to the Amalia Hotel and catch the 2.30 tour to Cape Sounion. The drive there is beautiful as is the site. I get a photo of the nearly full moon caught between two of the massive Doric columns. The drive back takes about 90 minutes and the sunset lasts the whole time. Unforgettable.

We told Joanna, the nice customer relations person at the St George Hotel, that we wanted to do what the Athenians did on Christmas Eve, so she booked us a table at a restaurant called Evripos in the fasionable Psiri district near the Plaka. Not fashionable enough, apparently. We arrive at 10.00pm and for a long time are the only ones there. But even by 11.30 there are only half a dozen other couples. There is no choice in the menu, the musicians are not as good as the Plaka guys on Tuesday and there is a power cut half way through so we can't see what we're eating. Just to top it all off the restaurant does not accept credit cards, and this is the most expensive meal we've had so far.

Never mind. Back at the hotel there is a view of the Acropolis. Yay.

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series, including The Fugitive from Corinth, are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans and/or Greeks as a topic in Key Stages 2 & 3. There are DVDs of some of the books as well as an interactive game.]

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