Saturday, April 04, 2009

Absolute Athens

So I've been slack keeping things up to date. I last wrote while on the train to Athens from Istanbul, before entering Greece. It was definitely so because I did not mention the hassles I had on that train after the border. When I bought the ticket I was told I'd have to change trains at Pythion on the Greek side of the border and I'd have to get a reservation before boarding. What wasn't mentioned was the fact that it would cost €6.50, nor that the station would not accept Turkish Lira, US dollars, bank cards of any kind and it did not have a bank machine. I and a Spanish guy were lucky the two Japanese girls on the train (the train had a grand total of four passengers) had just enough Euros to pay for us as well. When we changed at Thessaloniki we had to pay another €8.50. Fortunately this station had some ATMs and snack bars, so I could pay back the Japanese girls and buy some food, as all I'd had to eat that day was two bread rolls and about a dozen pieces of Turkish delight. Dinner was a nutritious bottle of coke and two snickers bars.

I arrived in Athens in the morning and checked in with no hassles. The room was a bit cramped with maybe a foot or so between the bunks, which were two regular bed securely connected on top of each other.

That day I took a walking tour that took in all the impressive remains from antiquity, various agora, temples, monuments, and of course the Acropolis. On the way back to the hostel after the tour I saw a Games Workshop reseller, and popped in to buy a hand drill which has made adding coins to my chain a lot easier. I also learnt a bit about 5th ed.

The rest of the time in Athens I visited museums, one or two a day. The museums in Athens have the annoying habit of closing around two or three o'clock, as do the banks. This meant my afernoons had little to do, especially once daylight savings kicked in.

Other highlights of Athens include the Archeology museum which has a pretty good sculpture collection (comparable to that of the Hermitage) and the Antikythera mechanism, Thanasis kebabs where I had lunch for three out of five days and the original Olympic stadium from 1896 with the required statue of a naked guy in front of it.

Did I mention most of the statue of guys were naked guys. Even the soldiers. Especially the soldiers. They must have been good. I'm sure I'd at least where underpants if I was going to war.

Going from Greece to Italy was a multistep process. First I caught a bus from Athens to Patras. Then I caught the ferry from Patras to Bari. The ferry was huge with a bunch of semi-trailers parked in the garage, and giant escalators to get from the shore level to the main passenger level. My berth was small but comfortable. There wasn't much motion from the sea, but there was a lot of vibration from the engines. After arriving in Bari, I caught a train to Naples, the home of pizza, situated between the sea and Mt Vesuvius. I got to the hostel at about 6, and for dinner I got a marinara pizza from a nearby pizzeria that was really good. They have the kitchen right up the front and it was entertaining watching them make all the pizzas.

The first full day in Naples was spent around Pompeii. I started with a trip up Mt Vesuvius, which has pretty good views from the top. No lava though. I descended the mountain and after lunch I explored the ruins of Pompeii. After Greece, a 7pm closing time was glorious, although I only stayed until 6. Pompeii was great to wander through. Most stuff was pretty well conserved compared to other sites I've seen. Thank you volcano. The audio guide was pretty good, having a lot of background information as well as specific details about buildings and structures.

The second day was spent walking around the historic centre of Naples. The highlight was the underground tour of the aqueduct system built by the Greeks and Romans and since then used as air raid shelters, trash cans, winery and more. I also saw a few churches and castles, but they weren't as cool.

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