A Day in Athens
May 9, 2008
It was Jim's leg as we departed Budapest yesterday. I listened in on the 3rd headset as it took almost 20 minutes to load a very complicated flight plan into the Flight Management System on board. We all enjoyed the controllers. One of them, in Macedonia, sounded like the epitome of a B-movie horror type in his voice. Kind of like Count Dracula on Sesame Street! The flight was smooth and beautiful with great visibility. We passed over 7 countries in two hours of flying including Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece.
We saw the Acropolis as we descended into Athens, where we found excellent handling. Flight time was exactly 2 hours. The traffic in Athens may be the champion of all time. The motorcyclists are crazy and so are the car and bus drivers. Our van driver must have missed the shoulders of five pedestrians by less than 4 inches on many occasions as he sped down narrow crowded streets. We had a simple afternoon after finding the hotel to be very nice, but the route to it would never be discovered by an amateur. A winding circuitous route through narrow streets and suddenly there is the Marriott. Everyone was kind of tired that afternoon, so we went up to the bar/snack bar on the roof and had a 3pm lunch of Marriott burgers. That was enough food, so we decided to walk to the market and look around and all agreed to skip dinner. We ran into a Continental Airlines crew that was staying at the same hotel. The captain gave us directions to the “best bar in town” by telling us to walk until we saw the colored bottles on the wall, where we would find a bar that had been open in the same location for over 100 years. Find it we did, where once again Chris Hall demonstrated his worldly knowledge of all things beer and ordered an excellent local beer by name from memory!
We had a great conversation with the owner of the bar as well as an American and a Canadian couple that shared the small tables with us. As we have found everywhere, we ended up reciting the itinerary for our trip. As everywhere, people are astounded to think that they have met anyone as lucky as the five of us! Turned out there is also an excellent Cabernet wine made in Greece, I would rank it with any I have tried from anywhere. We walked around some more miles before taking cabs back to the hotel for the evening.
May 10, 2008 - Athens
The next morning proved once again to be glorious. We met Corso, our driver, for another adventure through the streets of Athens. We found our way to the Acropolis, where for $100 Euros, Elaina took us up for an hour and a few minutes to tour the ancient edifice. She was full of information, a bit hard to understand and completely devoid of any sense of humor, a tough combination when faced with our group.
The Acropolis is truly a masterpiece of design and with the architect’s understanding of proportion and the effects of light on large objects really interesting. Two examples of this are the fact that the last two columns on each side are just a little bit smaller than the rest and a touch closer together. You can see this in some pictures up close, but never at a distance, where everything looks the same size. If they were the same size, the outside columns would appear larger from a distance than the others! Also, the steps are slightly convex as they run across the face of the edifice. If they weren’t convex, they would appear from a distance to be convex. Again, up close you can see it, far away- it looks perfectly proportioned.
The guide recommended a fine place for lunch which we all enjoyed. I think I need at this time, since we have heard some complaints from the peanut gallery, about the food being the center of what we write about. Ok, the wine and beer too! Well, I would like to state categorically that there has not been a single dessert eaten by a single member of the ATW group since leaving home. Back to the log… We once again got back in the bus after lunch where I managed to strike the pointy side of the flat monitor in the bus with the top of my head. That pain caused me to wrench my back as I recoiled from the impact to my head. Since then, I’ve been slowed but not stopped. We retired to the rooftop bar and had dinner there that night, this time local specialties rather than hamburgers though. The Moussaka was excellent I might add, no dessert. We retired early as we had a 7AM crew bus to head out to the airport, once again with our friend in the Mercedes endangering every species moving near our highway! We were wheels in the well at 9AM for our one hour flight to Istanbul, flying over the Greek Islands of the Adriatic on a beautiful flight. Due to my back ailing me, Jim got a bonus round and once again had the leg and made an excellent landing in Istanbul! Not good enough to take the lead, mind you, but an excellent attempt! - Bob S.
It is Ok, we are all alive. These people drive like maniacs. We have a very nice driver, I guess. I can only understand 20% of what he says but he laughs a lot and we all shake our heads up and down as we fain understanding. We have a big black Mercedes ,12 passenger coach that our driver thinks is a Ferrari. As pedestrians jump for their lives and motorcyclist yell and glare, we make great progress through this city and its 5,000,000 people. They all have cars and they are all in them all the time. Our driver, his name I think is Corsa, or that may be only 20% of his name, took us to the Acropolis this morning where he arranged for a tour guide, Elaina. She spoke at light speed and I think she knew a lot about the Acropolis but my comprehension dropped to 10%. She was a no nonsense woman with a challenged since of humor. Not good with our group.
The Acropolis is really amazing. These ancient architects were into the effect of light on structures and how it alters the perception of shape. Perspective and foreshortening were the tools of the trade. Their use of these concepts, resulted in a perfectly beautiful structure. You can’t see the full affect because of the scaffolding and cranes, but you can see enough to know that these people were brilliant at this technology 400-600BC years ago. Then a rip across town in our Mercedes chariot of fire to the National Museum. The building and the landscaping is a little apologetic but it is what is inside that counts. This collection of Greek antiquities counts a lot. The art, religions and life styles of ancient Greece is displayed here with English subtitles. We all probably marveled at these early cultures during our student years from our textbooks. See it in person before you die. It is worth it.
We are getting hungry and we make the mistake of telling our driver so. He stepped up the pace a bit. I don’t think we hit anybody directly, but some guy carrying a sheet of plywood did get a little upset when we ran him off the road. I don’t think we hurt him but clearly we were not stopping. Lunch was wonderful. The Greeks know how to cook! I am coming back loaded with new culinary ideas. We are off to Istanbul Turkey in the morning. Our ride to the airport is with our driver, Corsa. God be with us. More later, Mercer.