Day 9 we arrived at Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and the main port of Athens. The night before we watched the preview show and learned that one of the highlights of Athens was shopping. Since we hadn’t done too much serious shopping on the trip so far, we decided to shop in Athens. In fact, we had selected an excursion entitled “Ancient Athens, Plaka and Shopping.” Our excursion book described it as: “Designed for guests who would like a more leisurely visit to Athens, your city drive will take you from Piraeus to Athens covering the main points of interest (both ancient and modern) as your guide provides interesting commentary. First stop will be the pedestrian zone of the Acropolis where your guide will give you a short explanation of the Acropolis and Parthenon (exterior only). From the scenic view, you will be able to photograph the famous Acropolis which stands in the distance on a rocky hill high above Athens. From there you will re-board your coach and go see Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Constitution Square, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Parliament, the Academy, the University, and the National Library. At the end, at the conclusion of your orientation drive, you will arrive at the most suitable point for entering Plaka. Plaka is a maze of cobblestone pedestrian streets with shops, boutiques, souvenir stands and flea market stalls.” We were to have about an hour and a half to shop and that sounded just fine to us. Because our excursion was only four hours long, we each had time that morning to check e-mails, and I completed my morning walk around the Promenade Deck again. Carol and Marjorie stretched out for a little while and read a book. There was a nice leisurely pace to the day.

At lunch time, we went up to the Windjammer Café because unfortunately the formal dining room was not open. As I may have mentioned before, our preference was to go down to the main dining room for meals because there was much less chaos and it was much quieter. We liked the service rather than having to elbow our way through the buffet. We didn’t have that option, so our tactic was to go in to the buffet area, grab a light salad and then go out and sit in the quietest area adjacent to the buffet dining hall.

After lunch we went ashore and boarded our bus for our excursion to Athens. Driving through the city of Athens, I was taken with it. I’m not really sure what it was, it just felt very comfortable. I felt at ease in the city and it seemed somehow oddly familiar even though I had never been there before. It’s certainly somewhere that I’d like to return to visit. It was nice, frankly, to sit on the bus and get a tour of the city. Our route wound up and around a hill with beautiful views of the Saronic Gulf. Suddenly we came around a corner and there was our first view of the Acropolis. It was from a distance, but it still was a magnificent site. I know I’ve said this before in the previous blog entries for this trip, but it’s very difficult for me to express how amazing it was to see all the many sites on this trip that I had read about in books and seen on television or in movies. Each port reinforced the feeling that we truly picked a fabulous vacation for our joint 50th birthdays.

Our first stop on the excursion was the Acropolis. The word Acropolis literally means a high city. Acropolis is the ancient city of Athens and according to the website http://www.stoa.org/athens/sites/acropolis.html, the Acropolis was both the fortified citadel and the state sanctuary of ancient Athens. Early building programs resulted in a loss of original stone work, but there is still a great deal of archaeological evidence that attests to the importance of the Acropolis. As we walked up, one of the thoughts that came across my mind was the fact that the United States is such a new country and everywhere we’d been on the cruise was, in a sense, the “Old World.” So many of the buildings and so much of the lifestyle had been there for so many thousands of years longer than the United States. It’s one thing to know that intellectually, but it’s another thing to see it and actually walk in those places.

The Acropolis actually consists of four ancient buildings: The Parthenon, The Temple of Athena Nike, The Erechtheion, and The Propylaia. Throughout its history it served as a military fortress and religious center. The entrance is on the Southwest side at Dionysiou Areopagitou Street. It turned out to be another pretty warm day and of course the Acropolis was uphill from where we were. Around the outside there were two levels at which one could circle the city and even though some of these climbs were a little bit challenging (especially because the shoes I bought as walking shoes turned out to be slippery on dry ground with the stone), I had decided that because I didn’t know when I’d ever get back I would go as far as I could and see as much as I could.

Not only was the Acropolis itself quite a magnificent site, but the views from the hill were also very beautiful. Now I don’t know about you bloggies, but I really was unclear in my mind about the difference between the Acropolis and the Parthenon. I’m sure I should know better, but that was one of the things that got clarified for me as our tour guide walked us up the hill and talked about what we were seeing. Apparently, the Parthenon sits on the Acropolis which is the hill city itself. The Parthenon was a temple to the Goddess Athena. I guess I never really understood that. For more information about the Parthenon, you can go to http://academic.reed.edu/humanities/110Tech/Parthenon.html.

Once we got up to the very front of the Acropolis from the street, our guide left us for about 45 minutes to wander around and take pictures. I took that time to wander around and take pictures from all the different perspectives. We didn’t go in (you could pay a fee and go in) because this was a short tour. When I climbed up a little higher and walked around on the side where you would pay to enter, there was a lot of reconstructive work going on. Coming down the hill there were lovely views of the city of Athens. That was a great first stop on our short excursion around Athens. Our tour guide was a little irritated though because she had given us very strict time limits because of our limited time so that we could make it back to the cruise ship before it would leave. One couple returned to the bus late. It held everybody up, but we were fine. It just meant less time for shopping and that was OK. Our next stop was at an Olympic Stadium and we took a few view pictures of that. We then boarded the buses again and we drove by, what I believe is, the National Museum. If you recognize these pictures and I’m not right, send a message and we will get it re-labeled. One of the disadvantages of this trip was that we saw many things from the bus, but we didn’t stop because of the short time period so you couldn’t really get off and get a picture of the sight and the sign. (I’m really operating from memory so those of you following along, if you recognize a site and I’ve mislabeled it, write in and let us know.)

From our tour bus, we saw the University of Athens , the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier , the Syntagma Square which is where the Parliament is located , the Academy of Athens and Constitution Square. Then we left that area and drove to the Plaka area where we were going to be able to spend a little time shopping.

Plaka is an older area of the city of Athens. It’s located on the North slope of the Acropolis. It has narrow cobblestone streets, winding staircases, old mansions, tavernas and lots of tourist shopping. Our guide walked us from the main street down into the older section where there wasn’t any car traffic and showed us how to get back to our meeting point for the bus. From there we just wandered through Plaka. As we wandered through Plaka we went in (of course) jewelry stores and bought a few things. I bought some gifts there, but nothing for myself. We had a lot of fun doing that and I think the merchants were pretty happy to see us. I have to say we got creamed a little bit on the exchange rate.

We ended up in a small little jewelry store that had a beautiful display window and unusual jewelry. The owner asked us where we were from and Marjorie said, “New Jersey,” and he said, “Oh, New Jersey, we have big sale for New Jersey today, just for you. Sit down, my friend.” It was so funny. So, we all sat down and his son brought us out some bottled water and we tried on lots of different pieces of jewelry. Marjorie made a very shrude and wise purchase. If you’ve gone abroad and bargained before, you know how this goes. The problem is if you’re the person making the purchase and it’s an item that you really like, it’s hard for you to bargain, so it was kind of like good cop, bad cop. He would say a price and I would say, “Oh, come on man, we’re the only ones in here. Marjorie is looking at earrings and a bracelet or whatever and you’ve got to do better. What happened to the New Jersey discount?” Marjorie would just laugh and Carol would laugh and he would say, “Oh I see, you are a very hard bargainer.” Anyway, all of this took place over a discussion of the upcoming American election, the war on terror, the tourism industry, and who his relatives were in the United States. It was just really hilarious and pretty fun. After Marjorie completed her purchase, it was about time for us to meet the tour guide. I think she gave up on all of us, that is, the cruise passengers, finding our way back to the meeting point so she came and got us and we walked back to the bus to head back to the ship.

That evening we had a caricature of us done. That was pretty fun. The entertainer that night was a guy named Paul Emmanuel and he was billed as one of Britain’s leading vocalists. The title of his show was “A Tribute to Nat King Cole.” We were like “Oh boy, I hope it’s not going to be corny,” but he was actually a wonderful singer. He sang a lot of familiar ballads and had a beautiful voice and a whole lot of stage presence. We really enjoyed that. Later that night there was 70’s line dancing – which need less to say we did not participate in. We did go out and catch the Centrum Cabaret put on by the entertainers from the main show. They were singing jazz standards which I just absolutely love, so that was great. Later that evening there was a 70’s disco dance party and it was hilarious because it really showed us how old we were because when we got up to the disco there were very young teenagers (maybe tweens 13 and 14) dressed like flappers for the 70’s disco party. I was like, “Holy cow man, it wasn’t that long ago!” Anyway, it was pretty funny too because also some of the men of the crew dressed up like the Village People. It was billed as a lady’s show and they came out dancing. It was really fun. We sat with a group of people that we had met on the cruise. It was a group of middle age Americans who put chairs together and were hanging out and dancing and talking and laughing. The younger folks were like “yah, this is o.k. music,” but for us that was the music of our heyday, so it was a hit. After an evening of 70’s dancing, we turned in for the night.

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