Athens January 17, 2016


The first half of this post was included in Roman’s Learning Journey, but the second half is original content.

During the Christmas Holiday, we went in search of the sun: we visited Athens, Greece. On the way there, we had a stopover at Heathrow airport, where we ran into Santa and one of his elves. Santa wanted to know where all the children were going, and where he should deliver their presents. He also gave us chocolates!

Athens was nice and sunny when we visited, which was not guaranteed to happen; at least one of the locals we talked to said “this is not Christmas!” It wasn’t exactly hot—all of the locals were were wearing heavy coats, scarves, and hats—but it was much warmer than home, so we all wore short sleeves. We visited the Acropolis and walked around the Parthenon, which was built by the ancient Greeks. I told Roman and Elena as much as I could remember about the Ancient Greeks, especially about all the gods and goddesses they believed in, such as Athena, Apollo, and Zeus. The stories about the gods and goddesses and their adventures are called myths, and I went through a period in my childhood when I really loved learning about them; I tried to recall some of the stories to tell the kids. As happens on most of our trips, we did a lot of walking around, so there was lots of time for talking. In addition to seeing lots of other ancient ruins, we did some shopping and ate lots of lovely Greek food. One evening we watched part of a free Christmas concert in the big public square.

Throughout all of it, Roman’s really wanted just one thing: to visit a playground. I did some research on the internet and found one, but imagine Roman’s disappointment when we got there and the gate was locked shut. The kids wanted to believe that it would be open later that day, but I could tell that it had been shut for a while. I blamed the debt crisis. We fortuitously overcame that disappointment at our next stop, the Panathenaic Stadium. The steep stands are made of marble, and we climbed all the way to the top. Even better, Roman and Elena got to run on the same track as ancient athletes and modern Olympians from 1896 and 2004 much as they wanted while I tried to take action photos. Roman ran two full laps! The stadium was mostly empty, so we got to occupy the victors’ podium for a long time, and everybody got more than one chance to stand on the top step. The stadium is also where the Olympic flame handover ceremony takes place; my favorite part of the visit was the display of many of the torches that have been used since 1896.

On Christmas Day, recognizing that most things would be closed, we took the tram to the beach and played in the water. It was lots of fun, but not quite warm enough to stay for a very long time. When Roman and Elena started shivering, we knew it was time to dry off and head back to the city.

We rented a car for a couple of days to see some of the other sights in the area. In addition to being famous for an ancient battle and the resulting long run, Marathon is home to the only marble dam in the world. The Schinias Rowing and Canoeing Center, which hosted events at the 2004 Olympics, is also nearby. These days it’s mostly abandoned, which is the real reason that I wanted to see it. It probably should have been built someplace not quite so prone to high winds. Other stops on our driving tour were also closed or inacessible: the Temple of Artemis at Vravrona, the temple of Apollo Zoster which is right on a beach, and saddest of all, most of Delphi. In each place, we took some pictures and then rolled on; after a couple of rounds of this, I started to wonder if this behavior made us bad tourists but concluded that it probably didn’t. If nothing else, the fact that not very many other people were there seems to be a good sign; even if we hadn’t adequately prepared to appreciate the history and significance of the locations, at least we were out there, off the beaten path, trying to appreciate more of the world we live in.

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