After my morning coffee, I decided to make the most of my day and head toward the Acropolis, which looms high above the city that was named for the very reason the Acropolis was built: to honor the goddess Athena. Assuming there would be a bus that would take me to the top, I set about to find it. When I discovered the bus was not a direct route (this seems to be a recurring theme so far), I gave up and in my frustration, decided to see just how far I could get on my own two feet. To my surprise, the slope up to the Acropolis is mostly gradual and anyone in reasonably good health can make it up on their own. Still weak and dehydrated from my harrowing journey to Greece, however, I wasn’t in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, with water in hand, I slowly made my way up the hill and when I finally got to the top (after several rest stops in between), I felt like I had just won the Olympics. It was well worth my efforts—not only because the Parthenon and Erechthion temples are extraordinary, but because the view of Athens from the top is breathtaking. The city is a teeming metropolis punctuated by ruins and 11th-century Athenian churches; the city is literally built around these sites, creating an unusual effect. You can walk down a street and these things just pop up in the oddest of places.
A curious thing about Athens—there are dogs everywhere. Morocco has a problem with feral cats, but in Athens it appears to be dogs. Apparently, Athens is taking measures to control the dog population. When a ‘feral’ dog is reported (I use the word ‘feral’ loosely here because they are quite tame and most appear well fed), the city captures it, vaccinates it, spays or neuters the dog, microchips it, then places a collar on the dog so people can recognize it as a dog that has been ‘treated.’ All of this was explained to me by a friendly (and talkative) Greek shopkeeper after we had struck up a conversation. Apparently, several decades ago there was a problem with burglaries and many Athenians bought dogs for protection. Once people discovered how much maintenance a dog required, however, many of the dogs were abandoned to fend for themselves. After decades of leaving the abandoned dog problem unchecked, the dog population multiplied many times over.
My conversation with the shopkeeper continued (actually, he did most of the talking and I just sort of nodded my head and laughed at all the right moments), and somehow the conversation meandered to the topic of horses, which in the shopkeeper’s opinion, would make a better watch animal than a dog.
“Do you have room to keep a horse in the city where you live?” he asks, after I had already explained to him that I live in a small condo in the middle of my city’s downtown area. “No,” I reply. “Well, how about a Doberman and a parrot?”
This starts him off on a joke about a parrot and a Doberman named Jesus. Before I know it, he’s telling me all of his latest jokes. Interestingly, in all of them a genie granting three wishes figures prominently and each one is a little more off-color than the last. I would love to capture one in its entirety here, but I don’t have the shopkeeper’s knack for telling jokes—and coming from me, his ‘slightly off-color’ jokes would just sound crude. Suffice it to say that the Greek word for a type of bird is the same as a slang word that we use to describe a part of the male anatomy. Enough said.
Before we could digress any further, I left the shopkeeper with many thanks for the conversation and headed for the Roman Agora, which is an archaeological site virtually at the foot of the Acropolis and right in the middle of the busy Plaka (as I mentioned before, all of the major sites are right in the middle of everything—the city was built around them). The Roman Agora is comprised of the Tower of the Four Winds, which was built around the 1st century B.C., and the ruins of a Roman bath house, which was built upon a natural spring. One of the best-preserved baths still has water filtering into it from a hole cut into its wall. You can see from this bath (and from ruins all over the city) that the craftsmanship was amazing. In fact, I found myself surprised by how advanced some of it appeared. For example, there is an archaeological site that was uncovered when the city built the metro that clearly shows terra-cotta piping that looks astoundingly similar to modern-day piping, even though it dates back to the 4th or 5th century B.C. It seems that many concepts upon which modern-day conveniences are based are really not all that modern—only the materials have changed. Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.