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Cats Amongst the Ruins: A Week in Athens

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

(Originally written in December, 2016)

Saturday, 10th:

After seeing some spectacular views on our descent, we arrive in Athens. I squeal when I see the first ruined archway. I continue to squeal periodically as we walk through the centre to the restaurant. I frequently run away from the group to get a better look at various buildings, which are all conveniently bathed in a soft yellow light. Also the centre of Athens is just goddamn gorgeous in general; steps leading upwards that have bars and restaurants on every level, and cats everywhere. It feels good to achieve a life ambition by coming here, but it’ll feel even better once I’m up close and personal with it! *More squeals*

Sunday, 11th:

Went to the Athenian Agora. The light spilling into the ruins over the acropolis was blinding and very moving: there was a real sense of the numinous at that moment. The Hephiasteion was awesome. There was a bush beside it that was absolutely full of bees. Rex (the Agora dog) followed us around happily, often pre-empting the route we would take. After sweeping through the Stoa of Attalos (reconstructed and very pretty) we went to the Diplyon Gate, and saw the old graveyards. Some of the headstones were very impressive, to say the least. A marble bull was stuck on a marble tree-stump. I felt bad for him. There are orange trees everywhere. None of them look particularly appetising though. The Peruvian flute band was nice background music during lunch. Greeks aren’t great at sausage rolls. Got bits of pastry everywhere.

The metro here is balls: no barriers but you have to get your ticket stamped instead (what’s realistically going to stop you from just not buying a ticket? Greece is so mysterious). Everything has graffiti on it. Piraeus disappointing; the old city was built over to accommodate returning Greeks when they exchanged populations with turkey, and now it’s just ferries and portside industry. Piraeus museum was cool though. Nowhere near metro station. Got in trouble when my camera flashed, so I feel like a real tourist now. Feet starting to hurt and I’m falling asleep. Tea here is really weak (needed two to perk up).

Parthenon museum was great. Whole thing is on stilts to preserve the old Byzantine/Athenian town plan below (which is super cool!!). Whole bunch of stuff inside. There’s a looped video in the foyer of five rotating korai that look like they’re turning to address me. Very creepy. We lucked out when Elgin took what he did when he did: practically nothing left of any of the other metopes. Why would you leave the Poseidon/Artemis/Apollo section of the frieze though? You took everything else. Museum is very passive-aggressive by leaving a spot for the Caryatid in the British museum. Almost got lost walking back to the hotel. Cats everywhere. Saw the cave of Pan (not even the ancients knew about its existence so that was really cool!). Big plate of meat for dinner, and now I’m going to die on my bed. Bleh.

Monday, 12th:

Died at the Acropolis (Editor’s note: please use different verb in future case of death). The views were amazing, especially the west side which had Salamis, Aegina, and even the Peloponnese right at the back. More cats. Frequently left behind by group because of my chronic addiction to scenery shots. Seek help upon return. Quick run past the Roma Agora before lunch. I had the best time at Lulu’s bakery: pomegranate juice, lemon tart, and black forest gateau. It felt like proper writing weather, or at least weather where you feel completely comfortable sitting outside a café and watching the world go by.

The British School of Athens was also really cool for a couple of reasons. A scholar there made me realise that children are basically invisible to historians and archaeologists, and the lecturer made me realise that I had never seen disability portrayed in Greek pottery, sculpture etc. And then I meet an old lecturer from King’s at the reception afterwards, which was really nice! I’m now convinced I should take a year out before doing a Master’s. It was actually a surprisingly enjoyable and enlightening experience, which is always nice.

Went out for dinner with Michael. Had a chicken and feta thing with rice. Rather tasty. Chatted about Greece, politics, Europe, the future. Delivered his mail to him. Apparently they’re not orange trees, but he doesn’t know the word in English so I’m stuck in description purgatory. In my restless dreams I’ll see those not-oranges and weep at my inability to name them. I am now deceased (Editor’s note: *suppressed sigh*)

Tuesday, 13th:

Day trip to Delphi. Greek countryside is either ridiculously beautiful, or I’m just not used to seeing mountains in any capacity. I have a feeling it’s the latter. Regardless, it’s the first place to have trees that aren’t covered in lumpy not-oranges, but it also means that it’s bloody frustrating trying to take crappy photos of scenery with trees whizzing past every half-second. We stop at a petrol station en-route. I find those raspberry/blackberry sweets that they don’t have in England for some reason, and I take them all. I spend the rest of the trying and failing to do the view justice with my photos, and utterly failing.

We finally arrive around 11ish, and I…’fall over for lack of life’ again. There are too many cats. I discovered I could attract them by rustling the empty sweet packet, consequently my fleet of cats will finally be realised. I am cat-god now. Unfortunately I had to leave my fleet behind so we could actually see the place. I’m again distracted by the incredible view, but hear me out this time: when you go to Delphi, and see what I saw looking out from it, you’ll immediately understand why they decided to build a temple complex here. Those Greeks understood aesthetics alright. After forgetting I couldn’t speak Greek for a second, I didn’t take a rock as a keepsake to remember being there, I swear.

Back in town we got some lunch (but I walked the entire length of the place before ending up where I started) at a place overlooking the valley which opens up to a plain, which itself lead on to the Gulf of Corinth. I know it sounds weird that I’ve been focusing more on the view than the site itself, but good god it was stunning. There was a bunch of cool stuff in the museum: my boys Kleobis and Biton, the Delphi Charioteer, funky fresh statues, and sculptures everywhere. It’s almost like this was an important site in antiquity or something. A tiny cat waited to finish being petted by everyone. It was tiny and adorable but, frustratingly, eluded my affection. All in all I have more pictures of animals than I do of anything else. No regrets.

Wednesday, 14th:

Last half-day. Theatre of Dionysus was cool: didn’t realise it extended to the base of the acropolis, which made it much bigger than I originally thought. Asked a question about the walls of the acropolis, and it turns out a lot of the statues we’ve recovered were kind of just thrown in there when the Athenians rebuilt the walls after 480BC. I can imagine limbs sticking out of the stonework like some kind of fantasy villain’s fortress.

After some pop-culture references that came out of nowhere from our guide, we’re shown the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, who was possibly a paedophilic serial-killer. Suppose it’s more efficient than having to walk round every neighbour’s door individually; just look at my huge theatre where I’ve commissioned statues of my dead underage lovers instead. I trek up the other green hill in Athens to find out what the old thing I was seeing from the acropolis was. Was severely disappointed: it was a grave-marker for a Syrian diplomat that helped the Athenians in their negotiations with Rome when they were doing something or other? It was made specifically to be seen from the acropolis and has nothing on the reverse of it, making it a very flat piece indeed. I did get to see the prison of Socrates on the way back down though, which was fun. Probably wasn’t for him though. I can see why hemlock would be an attractive option after being in there for any length of time.

Huge waffle for a late breakfast, and then back on the coach to go home. I’m not looking forward to remembering I have a life with obligations and deadlines, but as long as I don’t see another bloody cat I’ll be content.

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