May 18, 2019

Day 2 and a free tour!

9:45AM Friday morning brought us to a special rendezvous.  We had decided to wait until we got rid of our jet lag before we took our free walking tour of Athens.  One of my blog readers who has become a friend and writes the blog, Living on the Cheap,  had traveled to Greece with her husband in 2017/2018 ?? and she recommended that I contact this particular company for our city tour.  Thank you so much T, you were spot on.  The best free tour we have ever done.  The 2.5 hour tour went to 4 hours 😀 and we learned so very much. In case I forget to add this later, the tour is free but the guide makes their living on our tips.  They are very well educated and often University students.

As we headed out we crossed paths with a demonstration, something that Greece is well known for. We later saw another. Turns out that today is the day to protest climate change. Some bystanders clapped as the students walked past. Bravo to them. They are the future. Photo by me.

We walked a new route to Hadrian’s Arch, our meeting point. Colin took most of the photos today, I only have to supply the words. The lower part of the Arch of Hadrian follows the tradition of Roman architecture, whereas the upper one the Greek.  Hadrian was greatly loved by the people as he provided water, sewer and a good deal of structure to the city. For those who might miss it, that is the Acropolis under the arch.  Great shot Colin.

Situated in the National Gardens, this is known as Byron’s statue. It was inaugurated in July 1895 in time for the Olympic Games of 1896. In the monument, Greece is depicted as a seated half-naked woman larger than life and larger than Lord Byron. She demonstrates her gratitude to Byron by placing a branch of a palm tree over his head, a symbol of immortality. Byron, in turn, is depicted as a young beardless round-faced youth, wearing fine European clothes and boots. The semi-reclining male figure on the back side symbolizes the Greek nation under seize.  Lord Byron was a ‘bad boy” in many ways from engraving his name in marble in many of the famous monuments something to the effect of ” Lord Byron was here ” which can still be seen to this day, to having affairs all over the place including a menage a trois with a married couple.  Not surprising that he died of syphilis.  Yet Greece loved him as much as he loved the country.  I now know more about Lord Byron than I want to.

The original Olympic Stadium ( 1896 ) situated here in Athens seats 85 thousand.  It is still used as the departure point for the flame for each new Olympic Game and as the finish line for the annual Athen Olympic Marathon.  The rest of the time is is used for concerts. Photo by me.

So much history with each of these shots and I really can’t remember all the details and have decided that I am not going to do much more research.  However I remember this one.  This runs true to most of such statues in Europe.  When someone is depicted on a horse it is always a general. Two hooves aloft mean that he died in battle.  The position of only one elevated hoof means he was wounded in battle and the height of the hood depicts how soon after the battle that he died.

An Evezone guard in front of the Presidential mansion in Athens.  FYI there is no longer a president but the guards continue.  Every male in Greece needs to complete military duty.  It used to be three years but now it is only nine months. There are many divisions to choose from but this one is most unique and the lowest paying.  These guards work 12 hour shifts with one hour on and one hour off for a full nine months with no days off.  For this they get paid a total of 70 Euros for what they consider to be an honor.

They are not allowed to move at all for that one hour not even if at 45C in the summer the sweat is pouring down their face.  The uniform is heavy and they have two layers of white wool stockings on.  A sergeant comes by every so many minutes to adjust the uniform to make sure it is perfect, including the drop of the fabric coat, the position of the silk tassel etc.  Much more detail to add to this but suffice for this post.  So many rules, you are allowed to stand in front of the white line for a photo but you must not have a hat nor sunglasses on nor stand on the pedestal next to the guard.  The guard stands with his eyes looking up ( so you see 3/4 of a white eyeball ) out of respect for other soldiers who have died in past battles.  Not sure if he can blink but then he must but for certain he can’t move a muscle.

Every hour he is allowed to move in a precise manner with a specific gait and routine to get the blood circulating.  They then get one hour off and to it all over again.  We were fortunate to see the change of the guard.

There are two guards, one at each end and they eventually walk towards each other and then turn and walk off as they are replaced.  Note the raised shoe, there is a horseshoe on the heel that makes a distinct  sound as it strikes the pavement because of the unique leg and foot movement.  You can also see the spikes in the shoe ( for gorilla combat ).  A knife is concealed on the top of each shoe in the pompom.  You might say a lot of pomp and circumstance.

A hotel built itself around this old unique church.

Yet another much older church ( Church of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos and Ayios Eleytherios )  that I am walking to see.  It is a Byzantine church from the end of the 12th century, the period when Michael Choniates was Bishop of Athens (1180-1204). According to legend, Empress Eirene of Athens founded the church in 787. There was room for perhaps 8 -10 chairs inside.  To the left you see another more modern church.

It is much larger and modern but has been destroyed three times while the small one has remained intact.  That yellow in the painting is pure gold.  A good deal of history to this church but not on this post.

Ancient agora of Athens.

I was pretty tired after four non stop hours of touring the area without a bathroom break nor rest stop. It was a wonderful tour but at this point I was done and both my feet and my brain were dead. Alex was a great tour guide and we all learned so much more about mythology in a logical way as that is one of his passions.

However a pizza and some wine restored me to near normal.

We had not quite finished our meal when the thunder & lightening Gods appeared and the sky opened up. there was a lot of rain falling and of course we had no umbrella.  We ended up taking a taxi home.  I used Uber for the first time.  Once back I went to work on yesterdays post.  Colin had a nap and I started editing photos for this post.  Eventually the rain stopped and the sun came out.

We ended up wandering over to the next street to find a place for dinner.  We got lucky with To Kouki.  This is the first place that brought us appetizers  at no charge.  Cucumber and olives, warm nuts and a variety of breads.  A small place but classy. Most of the photos today were taken by Colin but as you can see I took this one and the last three, poor focus.  The camera does not do so well at night.

I have been craving fried Greek cheese but instead settled for oven baked Saganaki over a bed of mushrooms & tomato.  It was just what I wanted and so very tasty.  Sorry for the blurry photo.

Colin had the smoked salmon with Philadelphia, much the same as what we have at home except I serve it on croissants rather than thick bread.  We both ended up eating all of our meal.

We were preparing to leave and to pay our bill when we were served two small shots of Mastich as a special thank you for coming in.  The table next to us at lunch earlier today had been offered the same and I saw one of them spit his sip out onto the table.  We were much braver and took several sips, eventually drinking it all.

It was not unpleasant nor very special but enjoyable enough.  We found out the name when Colin went to pay.  You need to Google Mastich.  I came up with Mastic and several definitions including:

A resinous exudate from Pistacia lentiscus (family Anacardiaceae), a small tree of the Mediterranean; used in chewinggum, as an enteric coating, and as a temporary filling material in dentistry.
Synonym(s): mastich, mastiche

Mastic resin is used in alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, in some cosmetic mixtures and perfumes, in dentistry as an ingredient in filling material, and in toothpaste. The resin has been used traditionally as a chewing gum and for protection against lip dryness.

Mastic (plant resin) Mastic asphalt, or asphalt, is a sticky, black and highly viscous liquid; Mastic cold porcelain; Mastic, high-grade construction adhesive commonly used to bond ceiling, wall, and floor tiles, plywood panels, concrete, asphalt, leather and fabric. Mastic, waterproof, putty-like paste used in building as a joint-sealer or filler.

 Mastic is an essential ingredient of chrism, the holy oil used for anointing by the Orthodox Churches. Other uses. Mastic is used in some varnishes. Mastic varnish was used to protect and preserve photographic negatives. Mastic is also used in perfumes, cosmetics, soap, body oils, and body lotion. In ancient Egypt, mastic was used in embalming.

That last one about using it for embalming was enough to put me off of it forever.  So ends a very long day here in Athens.  Seriously, it is 01:30AM and I am tired from an even busier day today ( that will be tomorrows post ) so please go easy with me on the non proofing errors in todays post.



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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Day 2 and a free tour!”

  1. The tour sounds very interesting. For me, it would put into perspective everything I remember from my education.

    The food looks like it is to die for!

    Have fun.

  2. Maxx Trails says:

    Very interesting, especially the part about the guards.

  3. Kathryn Tycho says:

    Superb post, so much effort and so interesting…thank-you!

  4. George Yates says:

    A nice tour your had of the area and some tasty cuisine to wind up the day.

  5. Kelly says:

    I am really enjoying this trip. Thank you for taking time to post Contessa.

  6. I am so glad you did the free tour – great organization! Dinner looks fabulous – I am not sure we tried Mastice…..I don’t tend to do shots of any kind lol

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