Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas in Athens

It was interesting to spend Christmas in a non-North American culture. Here are a few pics that my sister and I took here in Athens.

Christmas Eve is very vibrant here. The small shops are closed by 6pm but the larger ones remain open, but the real vibe is on the street. My sis was out and captured these next ones. Here we have a cute kid enraptured by a street performer (in this case a guy dressed in a white Egyptian costume):
Same kid, more cuteness:
This ol' gent dressed up in his Santa suit - an annual tradition probably - and took to the streets amid all the street vendors, shoppers and those just out enjoying the energy of the city. I believe the instrument he is playing is a Bouzouki.
Gypsy woman dancing to the music...
... and it's easy to get into the spirit with flashing lights on your Santa hat. I got one of these as a gift. I am told I looked adorable. heh.
New Year's Eve is actually the big deal in Greece.... but here is some information on Greek Christmas traditions:

This is Monastiraki Square, right by where we live, with the Acropolis all lit up in the background: Now, to Christmas morning. This is the view that awaited us as we very slowly began our day. This is my sis on kittie watch. You might need to click on the picture to enlarge it, but there IS a kittie in this pic - see if you can find him. We were quite amazed to see him leaping between buildings over the narrow alleys in the area.... It was my turn to make coffee and the little device here chose Christmas morning to "explode", so to speak. Nothing serious, but it created quite the mess that was quite lovely to take pictures of afterwards, thanks to the mirror backsplash in the kitchen. I figure it somehow got it's steam valve plugged, so I poked around later and it hasn't happened again. But what excitement!The rest of breakfast was Greek yogurt with fresh pears and honey. Afterwards, we had a very relaxed day, with our windows flung wide, enjoying all the different church bells that rang throughout the day (Monastiraki means "little monastery" and it seems they all rang their bells on Christmas day). Christmas dinner for us was pretty simple: I made spaghetti with feta and tapane (crushed olives), and Retsina. Served with a smile, still in my pjs:On Boxing Day we went for a stroll in the 'hood. This is Monastiraki Square by daylight. Unfortunately the Acropolis is cut off from this picture, but I thought it was a great crowd pic that captured the moment. More balloons and a little romance....The biggest surprise was seeing "Free Hugs" being offered in Greek in the square - or "Δωρεάν Αγκαλιές". Not sure how new of a phenomenom it is here, but many people seemed quite confused by the concept, though lots participated too.We went out on the 26th for dinner and while we tried to order what seemed to be a seasonal tradition here (?!), they were sold out, so had mousaka and lamb instead. I confess to not being too big on Christmas in the past, but I'm coming around. And this trip has given me a new appreciation for learning about different customs around the world. I wonder where I'll spend my Christmas next year...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dove into the sea today

Limited wifi so no pics... will post later... but was wading in the Mediterranean Sea with my sister today when I had an urge to dive in... and I did it!!! Clothes and all. Awesome experience.

Dec 26 Update: here are some pics...

This is how glorious I felt afterwards... in the background to the left you can see part of the old medieval city walls of Rhodes, Greece and the pier.
The swimming event took place in the commercial harbour, where such activities are verboten (if you are German!)... We were just outside on of the gates to the old town and, we can imagine, were quite the sight... my sis tells me I was practically stopping traffic at one point... hee hee!
Goddess basking.....
My sister's toes (on the left) and mine (on the right)...
... and here is my sis, dancing in the waves....
Still an awesome experience a week later... we both feel it was an iconic experience of both our trips...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Athens' Fabulous New Acropolis Museum

My sister and I made a visit to the FABULOUS new Acropolis Museum in Athens yesterday. It really is quite wonderful. This is a picture of the two of us, believe it or not. I was up on the 3rd floor, and happened to pause to look through the glass floors (yes!) and there was my sister on the ground floor taking another look at the lovely ceramics that lined the entrance to the museum. Just another pic of random people looking down through the floors. Beyond the last people you see are more glass floors, which display the archaeological site exposed beneath the museum. You can read more about how they built the new museum here.
Look down from your chair at the ground floor cafe and this is what you see. The cafe was great, good food, cheap and great service. I had my first Greek coffee, and my sister had her first Greek frappe, and our server was so much fun. I could have a Greek coffee as long as I had a single only and had it sweetened, and drank it slowly. Similar story with my sis' coffee. Once in awhile our server would walk by and say, "drink slower!"... heh.
No pics are allowed inside but I had to sneak this one in (the marble bust/chest is Poseidon; to the left is a chunk of Athena's upper torso/head). This is in the Parthenon Gallery and is an exhibit showing what remains of the Parthenon Marbles - sculpltures which adorned the Parthenon. The missing pieces are in the British Museum, and there is an international effort underway to have them returned to Greece. The old excuse of Greece not having a place to display them properly and keep them safe has been blown away by this rooftop gallery in which you can walk the full perimeter of a space the size of the Parthenon and see all that has been recovered - with gaping holes for what is missing. It is a spectacular space as it is, but think how wonderful it would be if the marbles were returned. Read more here and here.
Another pic I snuck of the Parthenon Gallery, taken just behind the pic above, which shows the spectacular location of the musuem, right below the Acropolis. Truly stunning.
Downstairs, near the musuem entrance, they have a film showing and the people were perched on the coolest little clear coloured stools, kind of like toadstools.
This is the entrance to the museum itself. After the ticket booths, there is a long, gently sloping walkway (they call it the slopes of the Acropolis) with glass floors and lined with ancient ceramics found on the site.
A view of the Parthenon (the building) and the Acropolis (the entire hilltop site) from the 2nd floor restaurant. Would be a marvelous spot to have a drink on a sunny day... BTW, this is the opposite side of the Acropolis from what we see where we are staying.
Neat pic outside the museum as we were leaving. You can walk all around this open view to the ruins below. The Acropolis is just up those stairs, to the left.
And, yes, we were the last ones in the musuem, very politely kicked out as they closed the doors at 8:00pm. We had arrived around 4:00, so it was neat to see the building by both day and night. Oh, and it's 1E to enter the musuem until the end of the year, giving the locals a good chance to get to know their new treasure. I am sure it is already on lists of the top 10 museums in the world - or, if not, it soon will be. I imagine the Athenians, and all Greeks, are proud of this museum, as they should be.
We feel very lucky to have been here at this time, rather than a year ago, as this is a definite trip highlight.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday Morning in Athens

Had the most incredible meal with my sis last night. Lamb souvlaki (yeah!) that was soooo flavourful. Served with incredible vegetables (peppers, tomatos, onions) - all with slightly burnt edges where they got a little too close to the flame as the skewers were being turned. It's hard to describe why that taste is so wonderful, but think of grilling on an open fire (camping?) and that touch of smokiness....
Another view of our restaurant, and some of the other nearby eating places, just steps from our door. We have a big job to do, just testing out all these places!
Just an interesting perspective on my perspective here... As we were tucked in for a bit, we often had the news on (in Greek, of course!), one of the other of us at the laptop (here I am doing some contract work), looking out over the rooftops. If I tilted my camera up, then you could see the Acropolis .... In the background here you will see we have evil eye protection!
Athens nightlife...
Oh, that's not me out at some hot nightclub, it's me taking a picture of my reflection in the kitchen window, with ancient ruins lit up in the background. Though there might have been some imbibing involved.
The rioting is continuing here, but we have a much better handle on where it is and is not happening, and which way to walk from our place to be heading in the opposite direction. Got some good tips last night from a young Greek woman out walking her dog with her boyfriend.
My sis and I are having an awesome time hanging out together, so that's the best part of all...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Monday morning in Athens

I found some really beautiful pictures this morning, most of which highlight the true importance of yesterday, that is commemorating the anniversary of the death of 15 year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulo, who was killed by police in Athens one year ago.

These were taken on Saturday night, on the eve of the anniversary. Since then, there was been rioting in Athens. Last night (Sunday night) we were up late getting a handle on had -and still was - happening.

My non-journalistic nutshell:
  • the shooting incident last year incited 3 weeks of rioting throughout Greece (more here)
  • the anger over the incident is well founded, but there is a new government in place that also abhors what happened, and had pleaded for peace
  • the youth's family had pleaded for peace, as they did not want their son's memory to be linked to violence
  • local demonstrators have been joined by anarchists from other countries
  • many have been arrested
  • there have been people injured here, including bystanders
  • the protesters are holed up in the university, which had been closed in anticipation of possible trouble
  • the dean of the university has been injured and is in hospital
  • the demonstrators brought sledgehammers and have been damaging marble stairs at the university
  • demonstrators took down a Greek flag at the university and raised their own (an anarchist flag?)
  • have seen pics of the Greek flag being burned in the streets
  • the garbage strike has litterally added fuel to the fires
  • have seen footage of molotov cocktails being thrown at riot police - and police with their uniforms on fire
  • police on motorcycles have pulled off their bikes which illustrates how hand-to-hand the fighting has been
  • bank windows have been smashed, and shops as well

Those are just a few things I remember from the coverage last night, and they may not be perfectly accurate.

I am not going to pretend to provide accurate coverage of what is happening here, just want to share my reactions, and a bit on what it means to be a traveller and visiting a country when something like this erupts.

Tip: if you Google the Athens riots to learn more, check that you are reading stories from this year - as opposed to last year, which were very extreme. Twice yesterday we were reading something and made ourselves stop and check if it was this year or last year's news - and it was last year's - to our relief.

Tip: Associated Press has had the best, most detailed coverage we've seen, however we learned things from Al Jazeera that we didn't find elsewhere

One such thing is the fact that police are not allowed to enter the university, so this must add a whole rangeg complications to the situation. We still do not know the source of this law, but are guessing it might be a result of the November 17, 1973 Athens Polytechnic uprising and massacre in which dozens of students were killed by police (more here)?. Will have to research, but it is a bit baffling to an outsider.

Something we have been reflecting on as well, is that we saw police - just going about their regular duties the other day - and they looked so young, and were especially struck by one young man who barely looked 15. How terrifying it must be to be thrown into such a situation at such a young age, essentially in combat with one's peers.

We had been curious as to whether by Monday (today) things would be back to "normal" or whether the disturbances would continue. It is too early to know yet. But last night we were thinking that it may very well carry on, as the protesters are still in the university.

If that's the case, there might be a little adjusting of plans (and a detour to a Greek island now instead of later?), with the idea of deferring the Athens sights until later in the month.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Tucked in Safe and Sound in Athens

Just a quick update for the benefit of my friends and family who might be concerned upon hearing news of the demonstrations in Athens this weekend. We - my sister and I - are fine.
For now, tucked in and watching this aspect of our view (above)....

Here's a bit of what's been going on for anyone who hasn't seen the news:
My sister had learned about the anniversary, and the concerns the government had about possible violence, so we stayed in both yesterday and today. This turned out to be a good decision, as some of the incidents weren't that far away.

Hoping we find out that things settle down, and we can go out and enjoy some of the historical sites soon, but won't rush it. If the rioting continues another day we'll probably adjust our plans and do a sidetrip to a Greek island sooner than planned.

Anyways, we are being smart and staying safe.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Chocolate, worry beads and a Greek rainstorm

OK, I was really feeling culture shock last night after my arrival in Athens (which I'll say more about another time), so today I set out to shift how I was feeling. I figured I was in the right spot to try out worry beads (these are a creamy yellow) - they really work - and gave myself some time to doodle, which always relaxes me.
This is the spot I ended up sitting. I thought I had chosen a little cafe, but it turns out I was at Haagen-Dass... oh well, what's a girl to do? Had a Coke Light (as they call Diet Coke here) and a banana and chocolate crepe that was so rich I couldn't even finish it. Yum.
But it wasn't long until a storm erupted... and I mean fast. Even the most hardy ducked inside. Raindrops so big I could capture them on my camera from my new spot inside! The spot that I ended up warming with a nice shot of vodka (it was quite a cool HD place)
My charming waiter clearing up the tables as everyone vanished from the terrace. I got a clearer picture, but I love the movement in this one...
Girl walking by...
If you didn't have an umbrella, no worry, there were guys out hawking them an instant after the first drops fell. This industrious guy was making sure everyone inside knew he had the essential wares....
I hadn't meant to take many pictures today. I was thinking that I needed to just settle into where I was, and focus on what I was feeling, and be here. Versus picture myself being here. But ended up capturing these few....
I spent a couple of hours getting to know my 'hood, having coffee, doing some banking, getting more provisions... just getting the lay of the land.
Oh yeah, and shopping. You know, when the going gets tough, the tough get shopping.... But just a bit. Got worry beads both for myself and my sister who arrives at midnight tonight. And a little silver bracelet. And a pair of lovely little harmony balls.
I am now home, dry and tired. Listening to Stevie Wonder and I'm just going to chill for the rest of the afternoon - then stir myself later to head out to meet my sister's flight (very excited!).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Arrival in Athens

So... I have arrived in Athens!!!! I took this picture from my window (which opens!)...
Just to prove it's really me, here, in this place, taking these pics...
So, how did I get here?
If you have been to Athens, I am staying in the Monastiraki area, about a block from the Metro station. Right below the Acropolis. Ruins everywhere, a big square with vendors selling fresh fruit and olives, huge flea market streets....
This is my street. I kid you not.
This is the inside of my elevator. Yes, there is an elevator, but it's a little different from what I'm used to...
OK, now to the flat. It's like this place is plunked down on top of the city, one amazingly incredible flat, renovated by the 2 architects who own it.... down on the street it is hard to imagine that this exists just upstairs....
Here's my "picture" window...
This is the view from where I sit at the kitchen table, on my laptop. Thank goodness I've been able to "borrow" some wifi here.
This is the view looking the other way in the flat:
I will post some more pics another time... for now, I am here. And I am experiencing my first big dose of culture shock this trip, and I was only partly ready for it. I'd spent one night in Athens on my way to Rhodes, but it was in the Syntagma Square area, which is more tourist based. A bit of culture shock, but not much. And Rhodes was mild, mild, mild....
Athens is chaos. Period. Much good, but a little mind blowing. I am reading Dinner with Persephone (review here), which has done alot to explain what I am seeing... I really gotta finish that book!

Anyways, I'll say more another time... but for now, I got enough provisions that I can tuck myself inside, enjoy the view (which is about to get spectacular with the sunset and the lights...), have a few drinks and just decompress.
Tomorrow night my sister arrives from Canada to spend the month with me here, I can hardly wait...
There is so much to see here, and so much history, I am looking forward to it. But veeeerrry glad we can have a relaxed pace here.
Oh, and one more pic, look closely, and you see the eyes of a slightly dazed woman... you should see the pics I took before I remembered to smile. Heh.