Our disembarkation from the Queen Victoria was early, smooth and efficient. The Cunard folks really know how to move passengers off and on their ships with minimum perceived effort on their part and definitely on ours.
We left our bags out in the hallway the night before, and they were whisked off in minutes. We kept a small duffle with us for overnight and next day necessities like clothes and of course makeup.
Up early, we had to vacate our stateroom by 8 a.m. and proceed to the Royal Court Theatre to await our call to leave, which was one of the early ones at 8:30 a.m., since we were not on an organized tour or shuttle service. We claimed our bags and said good-bye as we walked off the Queen Victoria into the Athens port arrival terminal. Cabs were lined up right there to take us to the Hotel Intercontinental in Athens. Ironically, this is the same hotel Cunard had arranged for our fellow passengers who were extending their trips like us. I’ll bet we paid a lot less for our accommodations.
The hotel runs a very convenient shuttle van into the heart of Athens, which we gladly hailed for our excursion into town. Even though Intercontinental is located fairly near the central part of Athens, it is on a major thoroughfare that resembles Airline Highway and does not lend itself to walking. The shuttle is quicker, more direct and certainly more comfortable.
We stepped off the van at the intermediate stop in front of Hadrian’s Arch, the historic Greco-Roman ruin that looms over the street fronting a very picturesque park where more Greek ruins lay. Greek ruins are scattered all over Athens, as if the inhabitants of the last three millenia never bothered tossing out the trash.
Signage to the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum is clear and easy to follow. Our objective was not the Acropolis itself but the Acropolis Museum, which holds most of the major sculptures salvaged from centuries of destruction of the Parthenon by various armies and the blatant looting of the place by the British Earl of Elgin in the very early 19th century. No less a contemporary than Lord Byron severely criticized Elgin’s rapacious plunder of the priceless ancient Greek art. To this day, Greece wants its art back, and it is hard to blame them. Harder still to recover it from the British Museum, which purchased the looted goods from Lord Elgin for 35,000 pounds in 1816. Good luck getting that back.
What is left is housed in the Acropolis Museum, opened only in 2009 to display some 4,000 artifacts from all ages of Greek antiquity going back well before the Acropolis was ever conceived in Athens.
This is truly one of the great museums in the world, a must-see on the level of the Louvre, the Prado and the Accademia. The third floor is exactly the size and proportion of the nearby Parthenon and displays all four walls of friezes and reliefs from the building, some originals but many reproductions due to tragic loss over the last two thousand years since the Romans. All the pieces are situated where they were placed on the original building, but somewhat lower for ease of viewing. Forty-eight metal columns are spaced around the room in exactly the same location as they are in the Parthenon, which is visible outside through the glass walls of the museum all around .
The effect is stunning. It recreates the experience of the Parthenon with detailed explanations in English of the history, meaning and importance of all the pieces. And you don’t have to stumble through rubble on the ground.
On one end of the museum floor is a short very informative film about the destruction and degradation of the Parthenon after it was converted to a Catholic church by the Byzantine Christians, then a mosque by the conquering Turks and the subsequent bombing of the place by the Venetians in their eventually successful campaign to drive the Turks from Greece. Followed, of course, with a detailed description of Elgin’s looting binge.
After two hours in this marvel of a museum, we were ready for a couple of cold ones with a simple lunch of pork souvlaki for me and moussaka for Lynn, who had been lusting after this classic Greek dish ever since we arrived in the islands. This restaurant’s version was meatless but no less filling. Moussaka is basically a Greek version of British shepherd’s pie, substituting eggplant for ground beef. This version also used bechemel sauce, which added to the richness of flavor and filling.
Sated with our simple but most filling lunch, we returned to the shuttle stop through the streets on our way to Syntagma Square and the Parliament building where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by Greek soldiers with pom poms on their shoes standing at attention for an hour at a time.
Unfortunately, we could not get the shuttle to stop for us (we were standing in the wrong place, and the driver was forced to the other side of the street because of an obstruction), so we had to take a cab back for the princely sum of 3.67 euros. I tipped well.
After showers and cocktails, we were ready to head back out to the center of Athens for dinner. Saturday night is central Athens is wild, with throngs of people streaming through the pedestrianized streets off Syntagma Square.
We found a wine bar named the Black Mirror for a quick glass of the juice, then went forth in search of a restaurant that held to our dining standards.
As we walked around, a very distinguished looking older gentlemen approached Lynn and insisted on walking us to his favorite restaurant in all of Athens. It was located at the top of a small hotel with a picture window view of the Acropolis above. The Athens Status was serving at the early hour of 8:45 p.m., as we were not the first to sit down. We were gratified to see a group of six adult Greeks come in as well, validating that this is not purely a tourist destination.
As we waited for our order to arrive, we noticed that one of the bartenders from the wine bar on the street walked into the restaurant. Later, we realized that the Black Mirror bar is part of the F & B operation of hotel and we had walked right around the block in search of a place to eat.
As late as it was, we decided to order just one appetizer and one entree. Thank goodness. The grilled vegetable appetizer was a full dinner, with delicious roast peppers, eggplant, zucchini, a tomato and a large, sliced mushroom that tasted smoky and savory in a way we had never experienced in a mushroom before.
The shrimp and pasta plate was so huge we could not finish it between the two of us, but we gamely plowed through the huge pile of cheesy tagliotelli with a few well prepared if obviously frozen imported shrimp. After we surrendered, the waitress brought out a plate of what amounted to corn bread pudding on the house. Just what we needed. We sliced into the spicy squares swimming in a thick sugary sauce, declaring them delicious but way too much.
We waddled out, bound for the shuttle to return us to the hotel and caught it right on schedule and right on location this time. After two weeks on a ship, we would sleep on land.