Your reporter has just returned from a flying visit to Greece where some folks complain the socialist government have not kept their promises with the result middle class is destroyed. They talk about “the crisis” where the poor get poorer and entrepreneurialism is stifled,looking around at the angry graffiti everywhere suggests that anarchy might be simmering. Nevertheless, Athens is a charming place to visit in the spring. Greek mythology and artistry is compelling and vibrant; the great men of ancient Greece, the statesmen, thinkers and orators are still venerated and evidence of Greece’s great history is scattered all around the city. A long promenade up and down the Hill of Muses along the patchworked marble paths, planned by the brilliant architect Dimitris Pikionis, afforded stunning views of the Acropolis, our host said you have to step back to see it properly. We admired a tiny immaculately preserved C9th jewel of an Orthodox Church in Thissio, The Church of Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris filled with beautiful frescos and icons; we saw wild tortoises munching the undergrowth and heard hoopoes calling in the trees; it is here that many Athenians enjoy walking their dogs.
The new Acropolis Museum rates in the top ten of international museums, 25,000 square metres on three floors designed by Bernard Tschumi and Michael Photiadis and completed in 2007. The modern building floats over the glass covered excavations; moving through time the exhibition takes you through statues and carvings from the 5th Century BC to the 5th Century AD, Greek and Roman heroes, Gods, Godesses, votives, mythological creature and famous men till you get to the third floor where the frieze of the Parthenon on the rectangular cement core has exactly the same dimensions as the cella of the ancient Parthenon, the famous marbles are orientedexactly as in the original monument they face, enabling a comprehensive viewing of the details of the frieze as one walks all the way around. What is most noticeable is how the light flatters the exhibits throughout the day and night, as the museum is open until 10pm on some days. A light trek up the Kolonos Agoraios Hill takes the tourist to the Doric Temple of Hephaistos from 460-415BC, the best preserved peripteral temple of its type in the world, to marvel at the ancient mathematics, architectural symmetry and splendour of the marble columns and ornament around the roof. The Museum of the famous Greek jeweller Ilias Lalaounis is a quiet place to appreciate the numerous exquisite pieces in gold produced by his atelier and worn women the world over. The 107 year old veteran warship the Averof is now a museum, painstakingly restored by the shipping mogul Alexandros Goulandris and some patriotic Greeks. The Italian built armoured cruiser saw active service in the first Balkan war, against the Ottoman Turkish navy and in WWII, the Averof is a monument to Greek dominance in the Aegean Sea. Interestingly, we were told that Greek shipping businesses account for 20% of today’s global shipping tonnage.
From our apartment we heard lovely old street traditions, like the rag and bone man calling to collect unwanted items, or the utility truck converted into a mobile garden centre selling roses, ornamental trees and compost for the astoundingly verdant roof terraces that decorate the city. We found that suddenly Greek cuisine has embraced fusion, with a new Japanese and Chinese dimension appealing to local palates and that the many tavernas are invitingly convivial places to relax and drink Ouzo until the wee hours of the morning, if you can keep up with your host!