Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Journey to Athens

Those old Greek ladies are tough. While we were having lunch in the dining car, an old woman slipped into Rod’s reserved seat. She resolutely refused to move, even though she had a second-class ticket in a first-class car. She didn’t care: she wanted Rod’s seat and that was that. Another woman in the compartment spoke to her sharply and finally threatened to call the conductor, at which point the old woman finally yielded the seat, shooting us the evil eye as she marched away indignantly. Five minutes later Rod heard an uproar in the next compartment—voices raised angrily in Greek—and we realized that she was working her up way down the aisle, trying to bully someone else into giving her a first-class seat. You had to admire the chutzpah, if nothing else.

Our trip down to Athens was otherwise uneventful. Vassos and Karin, ever generous, saw us off at the station. The train is clean, modern, and efficient—we arrived to the minute—and we were fortunate to share our compartment with a delightful woman, oddly an academic like myself. We chatted at length about Greek universities, the Greek economy, and her specialty, which happens to be philosophy or, more precisely, Aristotelian ethics. Pleased with our acquaintance, we exchanged contact information. We may get together for a drink this week.

The scenery throughout Greece is just lovely. The landscape changes quickly as one goes from the plains of Macedonian into mountainous regions and then down towards Lamia before reaching Attica. Each region has its own distinctive look, but to a Californian like myself it seems oddly familiar. The train ride from Thessaloniki to Athens is particularly scenic, a 5-hour journey I highly recommend.

Our hotel, the Athens Gate, is right across from the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s arch. Truly it is spine tingling to stand out on the balcony and look upon these ancient edifices. From the roof garden one also has a panoramic view of the Acropolis. The New Acropolis Museum is just around the corner and the Plaka within easy walking distance. The location is terrific. The hotel itself is very handsome, although the noise from traffic might make sleeping difficult. My first impressions of Athens are mixed. It lacks the sweeping boulevards and stateliness of Thessaloniki but possesses a chaotic charm of its own. I suspect Athens is much like my birthplace of L.A. (to which it is often compared), a city that doesn’t grab visitors at first but, if given half a chance, offers its own seductive charms.

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