Part 2: Outside of the city
8 May 2014
We aren’t going to visit Yiayia this morning, because Mom has made arrangements with a tour company for a driver to pick us up at the hotel and take us to two sites outside of the city. I’m sort of looking forward to the experience, as after visiting Athens so many times I feel that there is very little left in the city for me to discover. We only wait in the hotel lobby for ten minutes before a young man, probably no more than ten years older than me, walks in. Mom approaches him, and sure enough, he is our driver. He introduces himself as Dmitri, and we quickly pile into the mini-van he has brought. And just like that, we are headed for the port city of Piraeus.
When we first made this trip, I don’t think anyone realized that it would become a yearly thing. Mom may have hoped, but she never mentioned it to my sister and me. Actually, the mantra of that first trip seemed to be, “We don’t know if we’ll ever be here again, so let’s do as much as we can.” Towards that end, we didn’t spend the entire two weeks in the city. At least once we took the Metro (subway) to Piraeus and caught a hydrofoil out to the island of Aegina to spend the day at the beach. We also took an overnight bus tour to Delphi, home of the legendary Oracle of Apollo, situated in the mountains. Of all of the sites we visited on that trip, the town of Delphi was my favorite.
It’s been four years since I was last in Piraeus, and that last trip was made via Metro. It is very different to approach it from the highway. When he learns that we have never driven to the town, Dmitri makes a point of exiting the highway early and driving us through some of the different neighborhoods, so that we can get a proper appreciation for the place. I recognize the area near the docks where the Metro station is located, but the rest is new to me. Several minutes later, we pull up in front of the National Maritime Museum, a building that has become something of a family joke.
You see, in all of the years we’ve been traveling to Greece, the only place Dad has ever suggested visiting is this museum. Given that his family is the one with the cottage on the lake and his father, my grandfather, is a boater at heart, this isn’t too surprising. So when Dad first suggested the museum three or four years ago, Mom readily agreed. However, the first two years that they tried to visit, they could not locate the building. The third year, my sister managed to find the place, but it was closed. So finally this year Mom arranged for the car and driver to take us here. As we enter, it is plainly obvious that the museum does not have access to the same resources as places like the National Archaeological Museum or the New Acropolis Museum. The building is one long hallway, lined with naval uniforms, parts of ships, and model ships, many displayed in old-fashioned wood and glass cases. Aside from a tour group of about twenty, my family are the only ones in the place. We spend a half-hour or so looking over things before heading back to the car. Next up: A drive along the coastal road up to the ruins at Sounion.
By this, our fifth trip, it was understood that we would continue to make the effort to come to Athens for as long as the grandparents were around. Even so, Mom made a concentrated effort for us to see as many cultural sites as possible, both in and out of the city. We had already made a return trip to Delphi, so this trip Mom booked us on another bus tour, this one a two-night affair, which hit the towns of Epidaurus, Mycenae, and Nafplion, with a stop at Corinth on the way out of Athens.
I have yet to see any places in Greece that I would term “ugly”. Even so, the drive along the coast has to be one of the most beautiful things we have done. It’s about twenty-five minutes to get to Sounion, and Dmitri keeps up a steady patter about the little villages we pass through and the history of the place. I’m impressed; when we told him how many times we have visited the country I could see that he was a little stunned, and maybe a touch concerned that he didn’t have anything new to tell us. He is doing fine, however, and we make a point of telling him so.
The Temple of Poseidon at Sounion stands on top of a cliff, immediately above the Aegean Sea. Actually, the temple is part of the myth about the origin of the sea’s name. Aegeus was the king of Athens who had to send twelve youths to King Minos of Crete to be sacrificed to the famous Minotaur. Aegeus’s son, Theseus, offered to go kill the monster and put a stop to this practice. Aegeus agreed, but told his son, “If you are successful, raise the white sails on the ship on your return.” Of course, Theseus defeated the Minotaur, but he forgot to replace the black sails with the white ones. Aegeus, standing at the temple, saw the black sails and in his grief committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea.
As we clamber out of the car and approach the temple, Mom and Dad exclaim over how different things are since their last visit thirty years ago, and I can’t help but laugh. It’s amazing how we expect things to be the same, even though we know that that can’t be so. Dad pays at the ticket booth, and we start up the path to the temple itself.
While the Parthenon is made of marble, the Temple of Poseidon is constructed of limestone. Even so, it is in pretty good shape for a building over two thousand years old. Like the Parthenon, there is a rope surrounding the building to prevent people from going inside. However, you can get much closer to this building. Once I get over my awe of the temple, I turn to take in the view of the sea, and what a view!
Later, once we are all done at the temple, the parents and I go to explore the other promontory of the cliff. I find a little trail that leads to a shelf of rock, where I find the best view of the day. Finally, about an hour after we arrived, we pile back into Dmitri’s car and head back to the city. I know that the point of coming to Athens is to visit Yiayia, but every once in a while, it is good to leave the city.