April 27 - Athens
Last day before we fly out to Crete. Bob was still sick (he unfortunately was under the weather for most of the rest of the trip) so we left him behind and headed into Athens. This time we used the Metro and that worked fine too. Apparently the idea of parking at a metro station and taking the train in hasn't caught on here yet - only a few of the stations have lots, this one had a 600-space lot and I think only about 20 were filled. More win for us.
We got off at Parliament (Syntagma) Square (no protests or suicides today, happily), which is just a few blocks from the Acropolis. Today though we were checking out some of the sites around the base, particularly the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Theater of Dionysus, and the Acropolis Museum.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was the largest temple in ancient Greece, and also clearly of later design than most of the other temples we saw, as evidenced by the elaborate Corinthian columns with leafy shapes carved into the tops. The Theater of Dionysus, set into the slope of the Acropolis, was interesting because it was open to wandering around.
The Acropolis museum was pretty stunning as well. The ground floor contains dioramas of the Acropolis through various ages, the first floor a bunch of statues and artifacts (including the real Caryatids, which were gorgeous), and the top floor is an actual-size reconstruction of the top of the Parthenon, putting the friezes and metopes and pediments at eye level, with the actual carvings in place where they have them, and reconstructions of what they know of many of the others.
We couldn't dally, however, since we still needed to get to the National Archeological Museum. So, fortified by another stop at our favorite bakery (a chain, it turns out, and lunch cost use eight euros this time), we headed in with about 2 hours to explore. Lots more statues and sculpture, of course, but the museum really held two highlights for us: the Bronze Age galleries, packed with Minoan and Mycenean finds, including everything that Schliemann had uncovered in Grave Circle A, and a special exhibition on the Antikythira shipwreck that we would have missed entirely if one of the docents hadn't noticed our intense interest in the artifacts and asked if we had seen it. Antikythira is an island south of the Peloponnese where a ship full of Greek treasures bound for Roman markets went down in the first century AD or so. Many of the bronze and marble statues were buried in the sediments and thus preserved very well, others that were partly buried are partially eaten away by seawater. The most impressive item, however, is the Antikythira mechanism, a gear-driven astronomical and navigation device that is widely considered to be the world's first computer, and by far the most sophisticated instrument that we know of from the ancient world. We stayed in the museum until the absolute last minute; the staff was literally locking the front doors as we descended the steps.
Monument death march concluded for the day, we relaxed in the museum square and had some overpriced beverages (a round of drinks cost three times what lunch had). Then we set off wandering, did some shopping - I got a silver and opal bracelet that had caught my eye on the first Athens day, and then we ended up in a rug shop where we were treated to homemade wine, lots of conversation, and ended up buying a rug for the entryway. (As of this writing, it has not yet arrived.) we had a rather non-memorable dinner in the Plaka district, headed around for one last look at the Parthenon, lit up at night, and metroed our way back home.
Saturday, April 28 was a travel day. We took a brief stop to the Tumulus of the Athenians, the mound where rest the fallen from the battle of Marathon in 490 BC (when the Athenians held off a much larger Persian force, thanks to a military strategy that utilized the geography well and allowed the Athenians to outflank the Persians). Turned out the Athenians' original line was right where our resort is, on the north side of a small wetland.
It was about an hour flight to Crete, and we got nice views of several other islands along the way, including Santorini. We decided to take it easy that day, in part because we knew all the sites would be closed by the time we got there. The hotel we had found on Expedia turned out to be paradise. It is called the Knossos Beach Bungalows and Suites, just east of Iraklion, situated on its own private beach and absolutely gorgeous. The kids finally got to play in the pool for a while. Then we wandered around the area and found a little taverna that looked nice, called Manousos. Had a fantastic meal there, including several Cretan specialties - dakos, a crunchy bread called rusk topped with tomato and cheese; sarikopita, a pastry made with local cheese and honey, and the legendary Raki, a local aperitif distilled from grape must - similar to grappa in process, but much tastier (also way better than ouzo).