Athens to Istanbul and A Week In Egypt

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Athens - Museums and Around Town

Up at 5 a.m. on March 29, we had coffee and orange juice, made it to the airport and are waiting for the plane back to Athens. We had to travel early in order to avoid the expected traffic caused by the beginning of the Hadj. We bid farewell to Kaled. He really tok good care of us and had a fun sense of humor. Most people here have been very warm and friendly (except for the occasional pushy vendor). The language can be disconcerting with all of its kh's and ch's but it is quite musical for the most part. There has been an ever-present police or tourist police presence but they are helpful, friendly and not in the least menacing or intimidating to us. (Sal was uncomfortable upon seeing a man in Bedouin clothing with an automatic weapon - he turned out to be a port policeman.) The people tend towards a genuine sense of morality according to the Kuran but play by their own rules when it comes to business. The country is beautiful in an agricultural way and it seems locked in time past. It could be hundreds of years ago except for the power lines. They city is intense, colorful, brightly lit into the early morning, a hazard for traffic, more of a hazard for pedestrians (we cross streets in large groups). The information systems are primitive but the economy is based on cash and baksheesh so it probably will not be seriously effected by the year 2000; it will be easy to revert to manual systems. We have had an amazing, wonderful and enlightening experience here.

By 4:30 p.m., we checked into the Grand Bretagne, unpacked, and settled in for the week. I took a nap while Sal went out for local newspapers and water. When he returned, I got up and we opened the French doors onto our marble balcony. We sat at the café table while Sal filled me in on the flash flooding, windstorms and massive power outages we had just missed. Within our view are the snow blanketed hills, the parliament building and (of all things) the Egyptian Embassy. The weather is clear and sunny with a cool breeze. Since it is Sunday and everything is closed, this is a good afternoon to recuperate from our rigorous week in Egypt and make plans for the week to come.

We strolled down to the Plaka for dinner and stopped at a little taverna specializing in seafood. We had noticed Nikolini last week because of the giant octopus displayed in an iced display case at their storefront. We dined on tzaziki, green salad, very fresh grilled squid, octopus, huge shrimp and langoustes accompanied with Cava Manzanino (a mid-body slightly acidic red wine), followed with a dessert of fresh fruits and coffee.

March 30

This was the first time in quite awhile that we slept in until we woke up on our own (8:30 a.m.) what a pleasure! We ate a hearty "American" breakfast at the hotel, stopped by the bank for some drachmas, then hit the streets. We headed up Vasilisis Sofia passing many of the embassies (which are in old mansions across from the National Park). Our destination was the Benaki Museum known for its folk art, icons, woodcarvings, embroideries and costumes. It was closed, but we went in to the gift shop and viewed many reproductions of the fine Byzantine art and jewelry in the collection.

Further along, we went in to the Museum of Cycladean Arts. It holds an interesting collection of island artifacts dating from 3300 BC to 4-5 AD. The earlier period was much more detailed that the symbolic (plastic as the call it) style of later years. In later years, the postures changed from canonical to active forms. The pottery displayed ranged from geometric style (700 BC) to classic (300 BC) and show a variety of mythological detail. I especially liked a two-eared Klethios with lions and sirens painted on it. Before continuing to the new wing, we paused to rest in their small garden, enjoyed the shade and flowers as well as an intricate mosaic bottomed fountain. The new wing held the "Archanes" which were heavily Minoan in influence. Archanes is the summer palaces of the royal families of Minos. There was a dollhouse sized ceramic replica of a typical house showing porches, atria, living spaces, and a simulated reed roof – this has survived since its manufacture in 2000 BC and is in perfect condition.

The new wing is in the mansion of Helmut Kieller, an artist and collector. It has tall ceilings edged with intricate cornice moldings, mahogany paneling, a three story tall curved and carved mahogany staircase, patterned marble and wood parquet floors, stained glass windows, ornately trimmed marble and wood fireplace mantles. As we left, we took a photograph of the outside colonnade and wrought iron porch railings.

From the museum, we wandered north towards the Kolonaki district. It is full of trendy shops, sort of like our Rodeo Drive, but very colorful and fun to walk through. We found a little wine shop with a terrific assortment of Greek wines, some French, German and Italian, and one American, Mondavi. We purchased a Boutari red wine, Fivofiaupo, from Nemea which was highly recommended as a dry, elegant blend of grapes. Wine in hand, we were inspired to put together our own dinner. We stopped at La Maison du Fromages and bought portions of brie, bleu and Theraki (a sharp local cheese) along with a mixed bag full of eight different types of olives.

We headed west on Kanari and found ourselves at Fileterias Square, a small park with a refreshing fountain in Kolonaki. We sat on a bench in the sun, watching the pigeons and the people, and delving into our bag of delicious olives. We continued on down Kanari and stopped in at the Jackson Hall Café. They had beef burgers and San Diego chicken on the menu, a cigar store Indian out front, pub signs, then end of Route 66, and jazz playing in the background. We did not stay since they would not serve just coffee, but it looks like a fun place to visit at another time.

The scent of fresh baked pastries drew us into Mr. Baker with its piles of cookies, sweet rolls, baklava and breads. We picked up a batard to complete our dinner menu. We continued to wander around and window shop until we found the Greek National Tourist office. We picked up a new map and flyers on the islands we'll be visiting tomorrow. From there, we stopped at one of the many small local theaters that is playing La Cage Aux Folles. It had cast photos of some of the ugliest drag queens we have ever seen. An interior courtyard held a cigar shop where I selected a Quintero Habana just for fun. At the end of the courtyard, we found the familiar Brazil Coffee Store and stopped to enjoy a cup of their potent and tasty brew.

It was a short walk back to our hotel, cool drinks on the balcony and time to rest up for dinner. Our wine was rich and tasty,a good complement to the cheeses and olives, the bread had more cornmeal than desired but worked well enough. All in all we had a wonderful romantic supper in our room that made for a perfectly relaxed evening. Later on, we ducked out to Zonars for coffee and dessert. It's a tough life, isn't it?

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