I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sunday, September 9, 2007 Athens-Market, Museum, and Malaise

We woke up around 9 and were still quite tired. The long days of sightseeing were beginning to take their toll, but we had planned a fairly light day for ourselves. Had another not-worth-8E breakfast at the hotel, this time without incident thank goodness.

I knew that Sunday was the day for the Monastiraki Flea Market and was looking forward to doing my gift and souvenir shopping. I had avoided buying much up to now, planning to take care of it all this day. I misread my notes and walked us all the way up to the Central Market, where fruits and vegetables and all sorts of foodstuffs are sold...during the week. It was deserted. You could practically hear crickets chirping. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have worried about such a mistake but I felt horrible about using K's dwindling energy reserves for a fruitless walk. She was also cultivating some wicked blisters and every step was a stab of pain.

We walked back down to Monastiraki, where K had gently pointed out perhaps we were headed as I confidently bypassed it and marched us all the way to the Central Market, but she did not make any I told you so-s as we made our way back down. She is in need of sheets and one of the few open shops we passed was a linens store, but the prices were crazy! 50E for what looked like poly-blend sheets! We had passed an Ikea near the airport, and K decided she'd stop there for her home furnishing needs on her way back home.

We got to Monastiraki and it was clear we were in the right place. There was tons of stuff, most of it junk. There were lots of made in China gewgaws and doodads, and a little bit of everything else, including one table of plumbing supplies! We slowly wandered (the only way to move in the packed streets) our way to Abyssinia Square, where the antiques are. It got a little more interesting here, lots of glassware, coins and stamps, old newspapers and magazines, and furniture. I guess real Athenians must come here at least on occasion, as I don't know how many tourists are in the market for furniture!

I had been eyeing the textiles I'd seen several places in Greece, beautiful white cotton tablecloths with Battenburg-type lace work. I sew, and while I didn't want to spend my limited time trying to find fabric stores, I wanted to get some kind of textile to work with and knew I could make something interesting out of a tablecloth. At one of the stands I found a large white tablecloth with fairly simple lacework on it, and a few spots that looked like they might (but not for sure) wash out. The woman said 20E. I cannot bargain. I've done it a few times in my life but find it a wretched experience. It does not come naturally to me, to put it mildly. K has more experience with it, and told me to tell the woman I'd think about it. I figured I'd look around before committing, anyway, as I hadn't realized this sort of textile was common in Greece so I had done no research and had zero knowledge what I should pay.

I walked around and looked at a few more textiles, but none were as large and as simple as the tablecloth (simple being necessary for a garment! I will line it, but I don't want to look like I'm wearing Swiss cheese). At one stand I picked up a smaller placemat sized piece and a little boy asked me, "Thellate?" This was one of the few things I had learned from my Pimsleur tape--it means "Do you want it?"--and I was able to bust out with "Then thello, efharisto" (I don't want it, thank you), which startled him a bit, I think.

I went back to the original stand. I found something else I liked, a round blue tablecloth with white tape flowers on it and a scalloped edge finished in white. The woman says 20E. I ask her how much for the blue piece and the white piece and she says 50E! I guess the price has gone up? I tell her she said 20E before for the white tablecloth and she says she said 30E. Her English is small (and I am not complaining, my Greek is much smaller) and it is possible "twenty" and "thirty" feel alike in her mouth and she said the wrong one. 50E is more than I plan to spend so I walk away. I was really walking away--knowing I'd probably regret the decision--but she thought it was part of my gamesmanship and asked me to make an offer. I said 40E, she took it. So I really don't know if I bargained or not, considering I thought 40 was the price.

I really really didn't know if I was being had or not but I loved the two pieces. They were certainly cheaper than the equivalent items would have been in the States, but had I been at home I wouldn't have bought them because I never buy nice things for myself at home. That alone made it worth it to buy them. In Naxos I checked out some similar textiles; judging from those I got a good deal. A piece the size of a large placemat, slightly more fancy, was 15E. Mine were used, not new, but I think I can extrapolate that I actually did quite well, though who knows if the price of used goods is much lower than the price of new. Given how un-materialistic the Greeks seemed (not that I had any contact with everyday Greek life), though, that would surprise me.

I was frustrated in my quest for gifts, though. There was too much to look at, and no prices listed of course, so the only other thing I got was a 3D wooden dinosaur puzzle for one of my nephews. Other gifts would have to be purchased from a tourist shop, the way god intended.

We went back to the hotel so I could drop off my purchases just as the housekeepers were about to get to our room. When we left it 15 minutes later they were gone. Oh dear, we feared we had missed housekeeping service again.

We walked down to the Metro and headed for Viktoria station and the Archaeological Museum. The Metro ticket machines are fairly easy to operate. A one-way ride for an adult is .80E. There's a big button that says .80E, press it, put some money in (coins only; it gives change if you don't have exact), and it spits out your ticket and your change (if any) below. You can also buy your ticket from the window, if the machine is intimidating. When you head into the platform area there are yellow validating machines and you must validate before entering in. Our tickets were checked for validation on most of the legs of our journey. Failure to validate is a huge fine.

The Metro is easy to navigate; just three lines. They are referred to by number, but each has a color too and being from DC I am used to the color system. There are system maps above every door of every car so you can check your progress. Stations are announced in Greek and English...sort of. A woman's voice first says, "Epomini Stassi" (at least that's what I heard) and then the name of the station. Then it says, "Next station," and the name of the station again. The station name in the English announcement is not anglicized in any way, so unless you have a good ear from Greek it doesn't help you out much. But signage is good and it would be hard to get lost.

As the Viktoria metro stop is the easiest way to access the Archaeological Museum, I assumed there would be giant signs directing you toward it. No such luck! We got turned around and of course walked the wrong way for a block (again, my fault, again, K's blisters) before orienting ourselves. For future reference, if you exit from the Heyden St. exit there's a big street 180 degrees behind you. This is the 3rd September Street. Great, you think, the Archaeological Museum is on a street named after a month, this must be it. But no. The Archaeological Museum is on the 28th of October Street. Ay! It seems almost intentionally confusing. You can either turn back around and walk down Heyden to 28 October and make a right, or make a left down 3 September, left on a side street, and then right onto 28 October. Once you're on the right street in the right direction the museum is very easy to spot on the left about three blocks up from the metro.

The entrance ticket to the National Archaeological Museum is 7E; photography is allowed with no flash. It is a huge collection, arranged chronologically and by art form (statues, pots, funeral markers). One of its star collections is its Mycenean Gold, which is indeed intricate and exquisite and there's just so much of it. Actually, though, I feel the Archaeological Museum in Thessalonika did a better job with its collection gold (Macedonian not Mycenean, but to my untrained eye many of the techniques and motifs were similar), maybe because of the simple fact that there are some windows in the museum in Thessalonika while the Athens museum's gold collection is in an inner gallery with no natural light.

In visiting all these museums with their simple-to-comprehend chronological collections I finally came to understand what is meant by "The Dark Ages." I never quite got this before, but in the Greek museums it's starkly played out for you. Most collections start around 1200-800 BC, with pottery in symmetrical but simple shapes painted with geometric designs that are impressively regular but have no depth or sophistication. Around 500 BC you start getting finer workmanship; the metals are done in filigrees, the pottery decoration becomes figurative, the statuary more detailed to mimic the human body. Within the next couple hundred years technology in the decorative arts explodes and you get exquisite works, especially in sculpture, with detail of flowing cloth, movement, playfulness, drama. But then around 1500 AD--2000 years later--you're back to the simple forms and simple geometric designs. Technology stalled for TWO THOUSAND YEARS. That does seem like a dark age. I still don't understand why or how it happened, but now I get the term.

We had read about an unusual Aphrodite in the collection, one who is trying to keep her clothes on rather than taking them off. She is in a red-painted room which makes photographs come out really nicely. I appreciated that thoughtfulness on the part of the curator. She is so intact! Her nose is still there!

In the same room is the famous bronze, The Little Jockey. The details on this are just amazing. The horse's face and mouth is rendered as though the artist made a cast of a real horse mid-gallop to get all the details in.

The Archaeological Museum's gift shop was reputed to be one of the better ones in Greece, but really no dice for us. They had nice postcards and very expensive repro jewelry and miniatures of sculptures, but really nothing in between. I got some postcards. Most of the museum shops focused more on sculpture than jewelry or wearable items. Is there really that much demand for a small sculptural pieces? Most people's homes aren't large enough for such a thing. I can't imagine where they fit in.

We were really exhausted at this point, and crossed the street to the Museum Cafe (not affiliated) for a tiropita (2.50E) and an espresso for K (4E!!!!!). Note that prices are higher for sitting down, which we did. I wrote my postcards and we both zoned out. The shop had an enticing display of gelato in the front so I got two scoops for the road (3.50E), chocolate and strawberry. The names were in Greek so actually it was σokoλαtα (sokolata) and φpαγoλα (fragola, which is a Greek transliteration of the Italian word for strawberry). Alas, the ice cream was not as good as it looked; it was icy and not very rich. I was expecting gelato, I got refrozen generic brand ice cream. Disappointment. I never did end up finding good ice cream by the cone in Greece.

We got back to the hotel around 4:00 and were just dead. I tried to muster some energy to, if nothing else, go to the corner store for one of the good Magnum ice creams. Couldn't. We rested, dozed, and showered and headed out for dinner at 9, a little earlier than had been our habit. As we were both leaving early in the morning we decided to settle up our hotel bill before dinner. The Art Gallery Hotel accepts only cash for payment. Our room rate was 100E/night and we had three nights, plus four 8E breakfasts total (two of us for two days), so our total was 132E. We had 140E, and needed 8E change. The desk woman said she didn't have any change, and seemed to believe that was the end of the story, as though it was our responsibility to run out and buy something to make exact change for her!

I really am not demanding about customer service, but I do expect a business to make it easy for me to give them money. We weren't budging and so, sighing loudly, she pulled out her own purse and we figured out the change situation. While I found the Art Gallery to be a good bargain and the room was perfectly fine and I would still recommend it, I was not impressed with the staff at all. I am fine with a neutral attitude--I don't expect people in the service industry to be ecstatic about their jobs or care about me personally. But a negative attitude, which we got from both the woman who called us racist and the desk clerk who refused to make change, does rub me the wrong way.

That taken care of, we naturally headed in the direction of Ksenios Zeus to enjoy our last meal together and our last meal at our favorite restaurant. I had read many trip reports in which people went back to the same restaurant day after day and never understood why you'd do the familiar when the unknown is out there waiting to be discovered. With Zeus, I finally understood this! We got Greek salad, the oven potatoes, the grilled mushrooms, and a special eggplant dish named after a person, I *think* it was called Eggplant Merakles. K was still trying to recapture the Elusive Eggplant Experience we'd had at Dion. The eggplant was fine, it was sort of a cold eggplant parmesan --cooked eggplant rounds topped with a tomato puree. But it could not compete with the mushrooms and potatoes, that's for sure! The owner had recognized us again and this time he brought us dessert at the home of a nicely-textured walnut cake, possibly made with whole wheat flour and ice cream on the side. The ice cream was not too sweet and very rich...the gelato experience I'd been looking for earlier in the day.

We went back to the hotel, K set her alarm for an obscene hour to make her early flight to Corfu, and fell instantly asleep.

You can see all my photos from Athens and all the pics from this trip to Greece if you'd like.

No comments: