Breakfast at the Lotus is a sight to behold. Not only does their breakfast room on the top floor have fantastic views of the Acropolis, the breakfast offering doesn’t disappoint either! Prior to Covid this did open as a bar in the evening too but at this point has not yet re-opened in that capacity.
Last night I was pondering how to spend my time in Athens. I’ve seen a lot of the key highlights (some several times) and to be honest after 7 weeks of travelling I’m feeling weary. I’m now staying in my 13th hotel of the trip or rather my 13th mattress of the trip, all of which have offered varying degrees of comfort (or discomfort!). Whatever I do over the next few days I want it to be easy.
Last night I was looking at organised tours. I quite like travelling independently and making arrangements myself but there is something to be said about guided tours. They pick you up, they drop you off, they tell you things about a place that you may not find out when DIYing it. With that said I’ve booked the sunset tour to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. There is an advantage of doing this late afternoon tour in the fact that it gives me the morning to go and have a mooch around some well trodden paths.
I find myself almost on autopilot and heading down Ermou Street. It is still early and the street is still waking with street cleaners busy at work and delivery vans dropping off goods. I keep walking until I reach Syntagma Square. Although I’ve seen the Evzones many times it’s almost as though a trip to Athens isn’t complete without seeing them. When I saw them last it was just over a year ago and they were in their khaki summer uniform. This time they are in their dark blue winter uniform – another reminder that autumn is most definitely upon us despite how warm it feels to us visitors.
The Evzones changing of the guard ceremony is a very unique spectacle that takes places on the hour and every hour in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. If you happen to be in Athens on a Sunday at 11.00 make sure you catch the Grand Change. Here the Evzones wear their most elaborate of ceremonial uniforms that includes the white kilt called the Foustonella which has 400 (Yes 400!) pleats. Each pleat represents every year that Greece was under Ottoman occupation. This ceremony is quite spectacular as the whole regiment is accompanied to Syntagma Square by the marching band.
Everytime I watch the ceremony I can see significance in the movements that I’d never noticed before. After conducting the elaborate ritual they are required to stand motionless and expressionless. One of the parts that I find absolutely fascinating is the inspection by a uniformed soldier. Whilst the Evzones stand at their sentry boxes the soldier inspects their uniform in absolutely microscoptic detail. A lot of attention is given to the silk tassle on the red cap called the Phareon. The Phareon is symbolic of the blood that was shed during the Greek War of Independence and the silk tassle, the tears shed for those that lost their lives. It is understandable why every piece of the uniform is given such reverence. The soldier takes the tassle and uses it to mop the sweating brow of the Evzone, dabbing his skin so purposefully yet gently. I can see that the soldier is talking to him but there isn’t even a flicker of acknowledgement from the Evzone.
It is nearly 10 o’clock which means that a changing of the guard is about to take place. I walk around the corner onto Valisissis Sofia Avenue (the one where you’ll find the embassy buildings) and in the distance I can see them marching down from the barracks. I jump back into the square to catch their entrance. I will never tire of this whole spectacle.
I do eventually manage to drag myself away and walk back towards Ermou. In that short space of time since I was there the street is beginning to get busy. Mr Taraposos is out with his barrel organ and other street vendors begin to amass.
I veer off Ermou and find myself by the Metropolitan Cathedral. On the other side of the cathedral is a street called Agias Filotheis street where I find a shop selling liturgical vestments, incense and all things ‘churchy’. It’s the small bowl of burning incense outside the shop that draws me in. Mr Chrysafidou is a charming man and talks me through the various incense fragrances. I buy two bags of these aromatic little pebbles along with some charcoal tablets. My Egyptian husband loves burning incense resin as it reminds him of the church back home. Before I leave, Mr Chrysafidou sprays my arm with a heady perfume which will definitely invoke memories of the church for my husband so I buy some of this too. To hell (or heaven) with the packing logistics – I’ll make it work some how.
I have a few more hours to kill before I have to make my way to the meeting point for the Cape Sounion trip so I do some of what I do best – aimless wandering. This takes me through the charming streets and steps of Plaka and I just about skirt the edge of Anafiotika. I haven’t been into the midst of Anafiotika since the pick pocketing experience last year and as much as I love this little village within a city, I’m in no rush to go back on my own.
Wandering aimlessly can take you to some interesting places. I head read about this place before but had never actively sought it out – but here I am. Toms Place is on Iperidou Street. Tom is one of the eccentric characters that make up the city of Athens. Tom isn’t Greek. I’d read that he is originally from Northern Ireland. I’m always drawn to grafitti/street art and all things quirky and I noticed the political slogans before I realised where I was. I don’t agree with his stance on Brexit but I’m curious nonetheless. Behind the plywood hoardings are what remains of Tom’s house which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1999. Apparently he no longer lives there – I guess it has been condemned as unsafe but prior to this he filled the space with a collection of quirky art installation pieces. This I would love to have seen but unfortunately that’s not possible today.
Conscious of time, I make my way back to the hotel to change. I need to get to Chalandri Metro Station for the pickup point. I had booked this trip through Viator and the tour company that facilitate this trip state that meeting at Chalandri not only helps beat the traffic but is better for the environment.
Just time for some refreshments before I catch the metro at Monastiraki. Across the road from the Lotus Inn is the Athens Hall of Horrors. Next to this is a little cafe adorned in faux vines and roses called Sweet Screams. I call in for a coke and an I Scream – I mean Ice cream.
I jump on the metro to Chalandri, allowing extra time for unexpected eventualities. Thankfully the journey is straight forward. I’m the first one there but eventually people arrive, mainly in two’s. Our guide Stavroula (Roula) introduces herself to us and ticks everyone off her list and then we’re off.
The bus takes the route east of Athens, through Spata, close to the airport and then through Markopoulo before hitting the coast at Lavrion. These are all familiar landmarks if you’ve ever caught a ferry from the port of Lavrion. Following the coastal road around a little further we eventually arrive at the archaeological site. We line up to purchase our tickets and then before going our own individual ways, we are given the meeting point and time to return.
The Temple of Poseidon is a small site and I try and connect it with the information that I head read about and also that Roula had told us about on the way here. The first thing that I notice is that the temple has a resemblance to the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina that I visited back in April 2017. Both temples along with the Parthenon are said to form a sacred triangle. When viewed from above it appears to form an isosceles triangle. I decided to put this to the test using Google Maps and I can see the rationale for this.
Despite it being early November it is pretty busy here at this small archaeological site. It is practically impossible to take photo’s of the temple without lots of selfie taking in the foreground but hey ho – it’s to be expected. The sky is now tinged with a little bit of pink as the sun makes its way across the horizon. I sit on a rock and just take it all in.
The journey back through the rush hour traffic is pretty horrendous and seems to take an eternity. The travel time is longer than the visit time at the site. However, this has been a nice way to spend half a day. The bus drops us in Syntagma which is heaving with people. I make my way directly to Plaka to eat and tonight I choose Kitro – and I’m on the Prosecco again!
As I finish my meal I can hear music. I can hear a drum and trombones and I know exactly where they are. On Ermou, the space next to the church of Kapnikarea is the place that at times transforms into a public performance space. The entertainment is usually of a good quality but what’s even better is the opportunities to people watch!
Tomorrow I’ve booked another tour – this time to Delphi and Arachova and it’s an early start.