Athens to Istanbul & A Week In Egypt

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Athens - Lycabettus & the Acropolis

We arrived in Athens on March 19th at 10:30 a.m. Olympic Air had very decent food service and friendly stewards. Customs in Athens and our transfer from the airport to our hotel, the St. George Lycabettus was smooth. When we arrived at the hotel around one, Costas (our tour representative) was waiting to give us a quick orientation. We settled in our room, dozed for a bit, then strolled up and down the Maraslio district looking for a place to eat dinner. We wound up at the Mediterraneo at the base of our hotel. Here we enjoyed a funghi with wine sauce in a crispy shell appetizer, some excellent kalamata butter (have to make this one at home), a fresh salad, and pasta with lobster and langustino. We sipped a Montenero red table wine for starters, then finished our entrée with Lac du Ros, a viognier light style white wine. Next stop is bed for a good nights sleep and recovery from jet lag.

On March 20, we slept in late, then dressed and went downstairs for their buffet breakfast. The coffee was good, but the juices were overly sweetened and the food was just average. After eating, we climbed a flight of stairs (browsing in little shops along the way) and took the funicular up to Lycabettus Hill. From the platform, it is several flights of stairs to the top that offers a fantastic panoramic view from the shoreline to the snow topped mountains. Sal pulled out our trusty map and was able to orient us by various monuments and churches. An odd little man took our picture, squinting into the sun, for a memento of our first full day in Athens (as well as the Vernal Equinox)! There is a small church on top of the hill, and a restaurant (we were warned not to eat there, but coffee or ice cream is okay).

We came back down to the hotel and took the shuttle to Sintagma Square, the center of Athens and the Constitution Plaza. We met an old gentleman who recommended the Athino restaurant, will try it if we can find it. We browsed through the Plaka, in and out of many small shops. Of special interest was the art gallery of Takhe Mepoithe. He has a masterful ability to use light and shadow in is oils. His subjects vary from doorways to seascapes and Sal's favorite was a village by the sea that would have cost about 200,000 drachmas (or $6000).

The weather was threatening to rain, and as it started, we ducked into the Byzantino Taverna for an early dinner. This place had been recommended by one of the guidebooks as having a wide selection of Greek wines and offered a wide array of delicacies. We dove into olives, spanakopita, tzaziki, beef dolmades and a superb marinated octopus salad. We accompanied our meal with splits of Noussa and Kleino, both full bodied red wines. We had the challenge of catching a taxi back to Lycabettus (not an easy task). It seems that all the drivers know how bad the traffic is going up the hill and avoid it when possible. Our daring driver actually drove along the sidewalk to get around a parked car and took some back alleys to get us there. Tonight we will get to bed early because we have an early morning tour of the city and the Acropolis.

We were not too thrilled with having to get up early on March 21 to eat breakfast and catch the 7:30 a.m. shuttle to Sintagma for our morning tour of Athens. The weather was overcast. According to the newspaper, the day before we arrived there had been snow in Athens for the first time in 45 years. Since we are leaving for Egypt this evening, we feel certain it will all be cleared up by the time we return.

Our tour took us to the Athens stadium where we checked out the fools running at that time of morning and had time to appreciate the remarkable pure white marble that forms its entry and trims its seating. The bus took us past the Parliament building and National Gardens (a city haven we enjoyed immensely on our last visit), headed north through Omonia Square (actually a circle), and drove back down via the old part of town (the Plaka and Monastiraki). We had a peek at the city's main market place (Athines St.) - it was quite a sight - fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish and hanging meats. Before going up to Acropolis, we paused for the "best photo op" of the complex on Filopapou Hill.

We visited the Acropolis once before and were impressed by how much more restoration work has been completed. Of course, the sun came out while we were up on top. When you begin to climb the hundred or so stairs to the top, the place looks like a fortress. About half way, you peek between the trees to find the Theater of Dionysus rebuilt by Herodes Atticus around the 5th century BC, this is still used today for major festivals and events. We entered by steps on the west and past the pedestal of Agrippa and the columnar Propylaia which housed an art gallery on the left and a temple of Athena Nike (the patron or protector of Athens) on the right which had historical scenes painted inside. This area opens to a spacious yard with the Erechtheum on the left. It has numerous friezes along the top and remarkably busty Korai (Caryatids) supporting the roof of its porch. The yard is strewn with marble - parts of columns, eaves and roof trims, etc.

On the eastern corner stands the Parthenon, an enormous structure with 8 Doric columns at each end and 17 columns on each side. Since everything tilts slightly towards the center of the building, it has a tapering effect, or a reach to the heavens. Apparently, the white marble of these buildings were once painted in red, blue and gold, and they were decorated with statues, bronzes and stone figures. This still is a truly amazing combination of architecture.

Our guide was very informative and exhibited a great passion for her city and its monuments. She also had very good taste in restaurants. Her referral to the Delphi on Nikis was excellent. We enjoyed fairly priced Greek family style food - succulent lamb in a honey and cumin sauce, tender veal shank slow roasted in oregano and olive oil, home style tzaziki, and super rich baklava, all with the full bodied and tasty Makedonika Red. With their open kitchen and friendly service, it is a place to revisit.

We returned to our hotel in the late afternoon to collect our luggage and head to the airport. We arrived a little early and our flight was quite delayed but finally we were on our way to Cairo - ready to get there and call it a night. It was a long but enjoyable day.

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