(photos by Jane Frotton)
It was just one of those trips that was too good to turn down! An opportunity to go back to Greece, a country I first visited 30 years ago, see some of the Greek islands on a cruise ship, and also go into Turkey and visit some spots I only knew from reading the Bible!
Couple all of that with going with Nuovo Tours…whom I’ve long since known offer the most economical trips without sacrificing quality, some fine old friends and soon to be new friends from Our Lady of Perpetual Help/St. Agnes parish and 12 days led by Monsignor Salemi…who, anyone who went on the trip to Ireland already knew, guarantees a most enjoyable if not necessarily restful but always entertaining and educational trip…it was a must do.
Flying out of Philadelphia had the distinct advantage of a nonstop flight to Athens, a morning arrival and an immediate chance to get a quick tour through part of this very ancient yet still cosmopolitan city with its Syntagma Square and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Plaka, the bustling, crowded but always fun crooked streets filled with souvenir shops selling everything from honey with walnuts to worry beads and sponges, and everything inbetween, including the embassies of many different countries. For whatever reason, the guides like to point out while the British Embassy rises behind a small forest of tall trees, the American Embassy is the only one with a fence around it….”like a fortress,” we were told.
But rising above all this sprawl, looming high on hill overlooking the city, is the Parthenon and the ruins of three other buildings that were all part of the Golden Age of Greece nearly 2,500 years before Christ. It’s a hike to the top of the Acropolis to be in the midst of this ancient wonder, but it’s unforgettable once you’ve been there. The Acropolis itself, a hill made mostly of limestone and featuring some pretty steep cliffs, has been a natural fortress throughout the centuries and has seen the Greeks battle the Persians, the Romans and the Ottomans before finally winning control and maintaining its place among the historic and beautiful monuments to gods and mankind. There are writings about the Acropolis some 7,000 years before Christ from the very beginning of recorded time, so it was the natural spot for the Greeks to build their temples to their gods.
The view from the top is spectacular, looking down over the city…but then, the view from our hotel, with the buildings bathed in light against a starlit sky and full moon, is equally unforgettable.
The Parthenon stands at the highest point of the Acropolis and while wars, wind, rain and all the elements have left it in ruins today, you can imagine the grandeur and magnificence of the building which was almost as long as a football field, and about 100 feet wide. There were more than 60 columns in the temple, all 30 feet high and six feet in diameter. Though it was built as a temple to the goddess Athena, the patron of the city, the Parthenon was also used to store the city-state’s wealth in its day.
Checking into our hotel for the night, we learned we were not far from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and could see the colorful and precise Evzone Guards, the elite infantry unit of the Greek Army very much like our elite soldiers who guard our Tomb of the Unknowns. The Evzones, however, are clad in traditional pleated kilts, with white britches and pom-poms on their shoes, and march with a slow-motion, high-stepping strut that dates back to ancient times.
Anymore visitation in the city would have to wait until the last couple of days of the trip….we were bound for Port Lavrion, just outside the city in the morning to board a Greek cruise liner for another eight days of visiting islands and Ephesus and Istanbul I turkey. Istanbul, by the way, is the only city in the world that spans two continents…so we spent time in both Europe and Asia on this trip.