Saturday, September 9: After checking back in to the Acropolis View Hotel, I venture again out into the heat of Athens to explore the rest of the historical route. After having an iced coffee at an appealing little cafe along the road, I go by metro to Syntagma Square, where I see the funny guards at the Parliament.
Greece’s Parliament was built between 1836 and 1842, after being designed by a Bavarian architect. Originally it was the royal palace, and from its balcony the constitution (syntagma) was declared on September 3, 1843. In 1935 the palace became the seat of the Greek parliament. When the monarchy was abolished in 1974, the royal family moved to a new palace, renamed the presidential palace.
The war memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, sits in front of the Parliament, and is guarded by the city’s presidential guards, wearing kilts and pom-pom shoes. This is based on clothing worn by the mountain fighters, called klephts, in the War of Independence. After watching the interesting little parade-dance changing of the guard in front of the Parliament, I head to the National Gardens.
The National Gardens were formerly the royal gardens designed by Queen Amalia. They’re nice enough, except maybe just a little unkempt. After strolling through the gardens, I walk to Hadrian’s Arch, through which I can see the Acropolis on its rock-solid perch.
Hadrian’s Arch was erected by Hadrian in AD 132, probably to commemorate the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Inscriptions show it also divided the ancient and modern city.
Next to Hadrian’s Arch is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in Greece. This temple was begun in the 6th century BC but was abandoned for lack of money. Other leaders tried to complete it in vain, until finally Hadrian completed it in AD 131. It took more than 700 years to build.
Only 15 of the temple’s impressively huge 104 Corinthian columns remain standing today. One of the columns was blown over by high winds in 1852. Hadrian put a huge statue of Zeus in the cella, and in typical egomaniac fashion, put an equally large statue of himself beside it.
By this time, I’m quite hot and sweaty, but I have it in my mind I want to go see Athens’ first cemetery, the resting place of many famous Greeks. I follow a long road, and cross a busy eastbound highway. Here in the median strip of this big highway, is a narrow and colorful open-air cafe called Banana Moon. Bottles of liquor and sodas and water are lined up on the open shelves. Fresh flowers and bowls of limes adorn the tables. Strangely, no human proprietor is in sight. I haven’t had either a drink or a bathroom break in a long while, so I go poking around in the cafe. Finally I come face-to-face with a tall guy in jeans, a tank top and a gray ponytail, holding a broom and dustpan in his hand. He introduces himself as Bill Michalopoulos.
Bill tells me he is Greek but also Dutch. He works at this cafe, which I understand is really a popular nightclub. Offering me use of the toilet, and a drink of bubbly water with a lemon, he puts his broom and dustpan aside and takes a seat at my table. He chats with me for quite some time, mentioning that he used to be a model. Now he is 42, and I can tell he knows he is still handsome. He’s wearing a gold cross necklace and has a wreath of thorns tattooed around his upper arm, which he flexes continuously. He also keeps pushing a stray strand of his gray hair behind his ear. I take one picture of him alone, but he asks me to set the timer and take a picture of the two of us together. He wants me to mail it to him when I return to Oman. When he writes down his address on a piece of paper, I’m surprised to see it’s actually a street address, not an email address. I say, “Really? You want me to mail this to you? To your house?” He says yes, he doesn’t use computers or the internet. Huh? A throwback to some bygone day! I take his address and agree to mail it. I note aloud that he has also written down his phone number and he says, yes, if you ever come back to Greece, give me a call. Strange.
I don’t want to take more of his time as it’s obvious he’s trying to clean up the place, so I take off across the westbound highway and walk up and down streets looking for the cemetery. No matter which way I turn the map, and no matter which direction I walk on the streets, I can’t find any cemetery. Finally, I give up in frustration and head to Plakas, where I stop for a sandwich and some lemonade at an outdoor cafe.
After this late lunch, I head back to the Acropolis View Hotel, where I have a glass of wine on the terrace and take a nap. Tonight I’ve arranged to go with a group to a musical museum and a Greek taverna to hear some Greek folk singers.