Sunday, May 22

Athens, Greece

View of the Acropolis' Parthenon from the roof of our hotel.

When our long-sought Mediterranean cruise’s pregnancy policy derailed our spring vacation plans, Ryan quickly set about planning a trip to Greece to replace it. We left Easton with his best friend from school while McKay and Morgan were at their cousins.

We came perilously close to missing our flight because of a 2 ½ hour stau on the autobahn between Stuttgart and Munich. Instead of taking the usual 2 hours to get to Munich, it took us 4 ½ hours! But as Ryan likes to say of the experience, “The autobahn was almost the reason we missed our flight, but it’s also the reason we made our flight!” Ryan doesn’t usually need a reason to speed down the autobahn, but it’s no fun to watch the clock ticking with so much ground to cover! Tamsyn graciously met us at the airport so we could hand over our van and children before sprinting to our flight that happened to have a short delay. PHEW! She’s always saving our bacon or feeding us well!

Our two hour flight to Athens allowed us to watch almost all of the 1964 Anthony Quinn classic, “Zorba the Greek.” It was fun to have that frame of reference throughout our trip with all the touristy clichés we came across. We took the train into Athens’ Monastiraki neighborhood at the northern base of the looming Acropolis to find our digs at the Plaka Hotel. What a great location near all the big sights we wanted to see, a great selection of restaurants, the trendy old Flea and antique market, a tasty breakfast buffet, and safe atmosphere!

Ryan does such a good job finding our accommodations! He reads reviews on tripadvisor and checks it against’s ratings and prices for these European destinations. When it’s just him and I we like to stay in hotels or B&Bs with a good breakfast. Then we waddle out for the day of site seeing only needing an afternoon snack and a hearty dinner.

Acropolis view from the ancient city at it's base, the Agora.

We spent the first day (Mother’s Day) at the ancient Acropolis with the infamous Parthenon followed by the Agora. The Parthenon was the temple built to Athena, their warrior goddess in Athens' hey day 'round bout 500B.C. We never figured out why, but the sites were totally free! YAHOO! I hadn’t previously realized that Mother’s Day is internationally observed, but the morning BBC news educated me and perhaps that's why sites were free. On the metro to the Acropolis, an older woman with her teenage daughter began chatting with me. At parting, she wished to share a traditional Greek saying to expectant mothers with me. She said it first in Greek and then translated it as, “Happy Freedom!” How fun is that?! A singer at our restaurant that evening said it another way, “Happy Liberation!” If there’s a succinct equivalent in English, I have yet to hear it and love it as much!

As we made the walk up to the Acropolis (from this lower vantage point at the base near the ancient theater to up and around the other ancient theater to the ancient main gate), I quickly discovered the warm sun and breeze were nice, but “I got HOT!” And not a little too cranky Ryan assured me. Oops! The combination of maternity over-the-belly panel pants and undergarment layers simply didn’t breath well together and carrying the baby uphill over some uneven paths just didn’t bring out my happy side. Ugh. My balance also isn’t so good these days and I had to constantly concentrate on where I was walking. I really didn’t plan my wardrobe well on this trip! I thought these pants would stay up better than my low rise pants that I’m always having to hitch up. I joked to Ryan that suspenders really needed to come into fashion for pregnant ladies. Oh, imagine how horrible that would look! Good grief! You’d think by now I’d have the maternity clothes thing down, but I didn’t account for an entire day of clear blue skies and the amount of direct sunshine really warming us up. Germany’s not so much like that!

Ryan scooted over to Mars Hill while my buffet-fed self waddled off to find water, a bathroom and cool off. We joined up to finish our ascent up the Acropolis through the main gate and admire the artistic and historical significance of where we stood. The columns were so beautiful!

Such amazing craftsmanship!

These ladies' hair and dress were each unique and I loved staring at the real ones in the New Acropolis museum.
The mighty Parthenon

Nerd Alert - My usual posture onsite with my trusty friend, the Rick Steves guidebook.

There was a symphony playing between the Acropolis and Mars Hill and a great soloist who sang Carmen. Then we headed down to the Agora - the ancient city where the people worked and lived.

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for a little siesta before the surprise Skype call Ryan had lined up with the kids. What fun! The calls didn’t last long because they had more entertaining live diversions than a computer screen. But so fun to see them in all their craziness having fun too! I love my little people!

We had made dinner reservations at the Geros Toy Moria on the “restaurant steps” because we’d heard good things about the food and traditional Greek live music and dancing. The food was nothing special, but the music and dancing was fun! Some happy drunks nearby liked to holler “Oopa!” and one of the singers gave me some fresh little rosettes, wishing me a “Happy Liberation!” We ate fresh bread and butter, our first ever stuffed grape leaves (lamb, lemon, rice, garlic), and an empanada sort of appetizer. Ryan had bacon-wrapped shrimp while I had chicken souvlaki (chicken and peppers shish kebab) with rice and peas, carrots, potatoes. Ryan also tried their baklava for dessert and real fresh lemonade – unsweetened! Oiy!

Athens, Day 2-

The second day found us hitting the buffet breakfast late to enjoy some scrambled eggs, deli cheese and ham, mini croissants, hot chocolate, and fresh greek yogurt that we topped with honey and sliced peaches.

We made our way to the New Acropolis Museum at the base of the Acropolis but found it was closed on Mondays. It’d been a toss-up anyhow, so we simply headed to the Nat’l Archeology Museum and got a chance to navigate a less-than-direct way there. The museum didn’t open until 1:30 so we settled in at a café for a simple snack to bide our time in more comfy sofa chairs than the stone benches of the museum courtyard. I had the most delicious chocolate soufflé (lava cakes) a la mode! YUM! Apparently they're a common menu dessert because I had plenty more the rest of the week wherever we were!

The museum had a nice collection that our Rick Steves book led us through in a methodical portrayal of the evolution of statuary art from Archaic blocky to Hellenistic very-real-to-life statues. The Romans conquered the Greeks before Christ's birth but fell in love with their culture and arts. We saw a lot of burial treasures which had us both reflecting on what we really do take with us into the next life. It’s so interesting to see that societies really don’t change over time and the pursuit of material things is universal. Our rather Spartan apartment furnishings will never be mistaken for treasures, but our growing family of little munchkins and these opportunities to travel and learn about the world sure feel like the right path for us!

After the museum, we decided to walk back to our hotel’s neighborhood to get a feel for the city. Ryan’s radar didn’t fail us and as always he found a great bakery to try an assortment of baklavas which he absolutely loved. Not overly sweet, but fresh and nutty. Many wet wipes were required! Our walk took us down to Syntagma square which is the hub of modern Athens and it was interesting to learn that German king was installed here for a time and built his palaces whose grand expense angered the subjects. We watched the ---- saw the Parliament, old mansions converted into swanky hotels, and the high end shopping boulevard are there. We saw some great chocolate shops and I made Ryan suffer through a few kid’s clothing shops.

We stopped in at a tiny Byzantine church and realized it was just a block from our hotel. Our bodies had been walking at this point for 7+ hours and needed some R&R. I grabbed us some Starbucks hot chocolate (Ryan’s vacation staple sweet) and some more food from a favorite shop nearby to eat in our pjs in our room. I got the greek version of bruschetta and a chicken souvlaki wrapped in flat bread/pita with lettuce and tzitzaki (cucumber, garlic yogurt dip). Ryan was still full from all his sweets but devoured the spicy roasted pepper feta dip with flat bread. We headed to bed wicked early so we'd make it out the door in time for our 8 hour boat ride to the island of Santorini the next morning!

{Insert four days on Santorini Island detailed in the next post. But for the purpose of archiving, I’m putting the final day in Athens here.}

We returned to the Plaka Hotel for our last night and enjoyed the buffet breakfast one last time before catching the New Acropolis Museum at the base of the Acropolis. It opened just last year or two. We’re glad we’d seen the other major museum first. The new Acropolis Museum is beautiful, but seemed rather lacking in substance comparatively - except for the top level’s exhibit and movie. It really is true that you see most of Greece’s impressive ancient treasures in the national capitals of more recent powers! Greece actually built this museum with room to house some of those treasures in hopes that some will be returned. Ya hear that Rome, Spain, Paris, London, and Berlin? Especially you, London! They’ve got a big beef with you and your late Lord Eglin!

That said, I really enjoyed the movie about the Parthenon and the way the museum recreated its dimensions to scale on the museum’s top level and displayed remaining reliefs of their pantheon of Gods, the annual festival’s procession, and glorified battles. It gave me a better appreciation for what the Parthenon would have looked like back then.

And then we flew home uneventfully to collect our babies and kiss all over them! It was so classic to see Morgan ecstatically greet Easton! Oh she loves her oldest brother! From her seat which he had to pass entering the van, she stretched out her arms for hugs and kisses. He was too tired to appreciate her joy, but Ryan and I just soaked it up for him, totally in love with our family. While I fumbled to unlock our apartment, Easton pulled his cold and shivering brother, McKay, close to him and wrapped him in his coat with him. The super sweetness lasted a few days as we were all so happy to be together again!