Pasalimani, Piraeus

Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Thu 21 May 2009 14:17
I think I could spend a year living happily in Athens. It is a fascinating city. At times it has reminded me of Paris in the summer - heat, crowds, tree-lined boulevards, pavement cafes, trams and buses, Cairo - the Souk, where narrow streets are filled with rows of small shops, all selling the same thing, such as bath plugs, locks and bolts, spices or pets, and Mexico City - traffic, pollution, grand neo-classical buildings, bustle and noise. Athens also teems with ancient monuments and museums. I have been visiting some of the museums trying to understand the ancient and modern history of Greece, especially the legends of gods and goddesses, the myths, the difference between Minoan and Mycenaean, and the chronology from Homer to Herodotus.

Like many people before me, I have been stunned by the beauty of ancient Greek sculpture, usually representing their gods and goddesses - much larger than life size and shown in heroic poses. They make the later Christian art depicting simpering Virgin Marys and crucifed Christs seem rather insipid, especially in the flat style of the Byzantine icons. The statues stood in public places and were revered by the people as representing the god or goddess who was the patron of the town or city. Athens was dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, Delphi's god was Apollo, associated with prophecy, the arts, sun and light. He epitomised male beauty and perfection. My favourite is Poseidon, god of the sea. We visited a temple, still intact, dedicated to him at Sounion on the southern tip of Attica, the province of Athens. It is built of shining white marble columns and stands on a promontory, with the sea on three sides.

We have been fortunate to have a guide to Athens, Andreas Makrides, who contacted Ian as he is a Byronist and has been reading Ian's Byron blog. On our first night in Athens he took us to Plaka It is on the side of the hill on which sits the Acropolis, and it's the old Turkish quarter, of narrow, winding streets, packed with tiny ancient churches and houses, restaurants, tourist shops and musicians and from where you climb to visit the Parthenon up a flight of stone steps which seems to go in and out of peoples' gardens.

On Sunday we set off again, heading east and I am very excited because Sophie and Lanky are joining us.