Friday, June 11, 2010

The Last Day in Athens

We moved slowly this morning. Rod and I knew this would be an arduous trip, but the last couple of days I have felt especially tired. I don’t awaken refreshed but groggy, with heavy legs and sore feet. Two weeks of non-stop hiking in the Greek sun (and now smog) have finally caught up with me.

We spent the afternoon at the Benaki Museum, considered the best private collection in Athens. The antiquities on the ground floor don’t come close to rivaling the new Acropolis Museum or the Archaeological Museum, but the other floors were an unexpected surprise. Antonis Benakis acquired objects over the course of a long lifetime, and he had the foresight to purchase items that weren’t especially valued at the turn of the century, such as Cypriot costumes or needlework from the islands. He even bought interiors of mansions about to be razed: the first floor has an extraordinary Macedonian living room, replete with stone fireplace and elaborate plaster walls. The second floor focuses on objects and paintings related to Greek independence, a motley but fascinating collection ranging from Bryon’s pistols to images of Turks bayoneting hapless women and children. Like most Americans, I am woefully ignorant of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Greek history, but now I want to know more.

The collection is housed in the Benakis paternal home, a gorgeous neoclassical building near the Parliament and various embassies. The museum café is very nice and appears to be popular with the ladies who lunch, mainly well preserved and coiffed Athenian matrons clutching shopping bags from Dolce and Gabbana. Clearly, the economic crisis has not affected the very privileged.

Afterwards we walked through the National Botanical Gardens, which are lovely. It’s hot today but breezy with low humidity. The pathways in the gardens are largely shaded, making for a comfortable stroll. We will rest for a while and then head off for a farewell meal at Daphne’s, supposedly the best restaurant in the Plaka.

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