If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning.
We said goodbye to our cute little room in Nafplio and departed for Athens. It isn’t a long drive, only a couple of hours if you drive straight through. We, of course, did not drive straight through. When I first told Mikayla we were stopping at the ruins of another ancient city, Mycanae, she was far from enthralled.
“Haven’t we seen enough ruins?”
“But those were Byzantine, Venetian, and Ancient Athenian ruins. Today we get to see Mycenaean ruins!”
That didn’t seem to help.
“The castle we hiked up to yesterday? That was 300 years old. These ruins today are over 3,500 years old! These are the people ancient Athenians called giants because they figured humans could not build the massive structures found in their abandoned cities. These are the people that, according to legend, built the Trojan horse and defeated the city of Troy. A fierce warrior-like people that vanished without a trace over 3,000 years ago. These are the people that Homer tells about in the Iliad and Odyssey, where Greek Mythology comes from…”
“Okay dad! I get it!”
I don’t know whether my words or passion did the trick, but something sparked at least a mild interest and she found a way to enjoy yet another hilltop covered in rubble.
We walked through the remains of castle of this ancient powerful civilization. Like many of the other places, there isn’t a whole lot left and without the history most of it would be quite boring. But using Rick Steve’s Guidebook it came alive through fascinating facts and historical anecdotes:
- The massive rock across the Lion Gate (the lintel) weighs 18 tons (picture).
- The Grave circle was full of golden treasures (giving credibility to Homer’s tale of Mycenae being rich in gold).
- Up to 60,000 people lived in this city.
- Underground clay pipes carried water from the springs in the hills to the cistern in the fortress.
- Only a mere 10% of the site has been excavated.
Before we left on our trip, I had read that the cistern here is sometimes open and those up for an adventure can descend into the darkness if they have a flashlight. I packed a flashlight just for this purpose and halfway through our tour realized I had left it back in the car (D’oh! /forehead_slap). At the back of the fortress we found the little archway and stairs that vanished into darkness. It looked open to visitors and I decided to try using the LCD and focus assist light on our cameras for light before running all the way back to the car.
I use my cell phone as a flashlight all the time and figured a camera would also do the trick. We hit the first bend in the stairs and it got really dark; the cameras weren’t doing jack for us. We started taking pictures, using the flash to get a split second view of the stairs and then looking at the picture to see what was ahead. The walls were narrow; the rock steps small, steep, and slippery. It was pitch black and dead quiet and it seemed to twist and turn forever deeper into the ground. In other words, it was totally awesome.
It took us a while to get to the bottom because we moved really slow knowing a tumble into the darkness would have really sucked. As we neared the bottom I realized I could see the ground ahead of me now with just the camera menu. My eyes had adjusted from the bright sunshine and probably looked like huge black holes like a vampire or something.
We stayed for a while at the very bottom and turned off our cameras to enjoy the complete dark, quiet solitude. Our voices echo off briefly before being quickly sucked away by the earth. It seemed as if the stone walls around us snuffed out any form of light or noise. I’m not sure how long we stayed down there and we might have stayed even longer had we not heard a group working down the passageway. We climbed back out, moving at light speed compared to our earlier descent. The camera LCD now offered plenty of light.
We squeezed passed quite a number of people and different groups coming down and I felt quite lucky that we had enjoyed the place to ourselves for so long. As we neared the top, there was a couple stumbling forward in the dark, using their camera to take pictures just as we had. Faint daylight behind them made it easy for us to see them and I wasn’t really thinking about how they were totally blind to us. He held up his hand, took a picture, and they gasped. Afterwards it made me laugh to think about how startled I would have been on our descent, moving quietly, thinking we were alone, and suddenly somebody appeared in the flash of light directly ahead of us.
We hurried through the museum, the ancient BBQ was one of my favorite exhibits. It was filled with items excavated from the site and was interesting, but we were tired, short on time, and most of the golden treasures from the dig are located in the Athens Archaeological Museum. We stopped on the drive out to see the Tomb of Agamemnon (a quarter mile down the road).
The Tomb of Agamemnon (also known as the Treasury of Atreus) was the largest dome in the world for over a thousand years. The massive lintel weighs 120 tons! For comparison, the largest Stonehenge rocks are only 50 tons and the space shuttle weights 85 tons. Keep this in mind as you walk inside: that ancient giant rock 20 feet above your head has been sitting there over 3,000 years, has a visible crack, and could even turn Hercules into a pancake. No wonder the ancient Athenians figured the Mycenaean’s were giant Cyclops’s.
I was nervous to drive in Athens. Everything I read said it was a nightmare. I had even thought of taking the car to the airport to check it in early and then riding the metro back into Athens. I had a route planned directly to our Hotel and as we drove into the city, my apprehension mounted. It was a thrill to see the Acropolis in the distance as we approached but driving kept me from really basking in the moment. In the end, the drive to the hotel wasn’t a complete nightmare. I mean, yes, it was tight and parking impossible, but we made it. I dropped Mikayla off at the Hotel to ask where to park while I circled the block. They moved some planters and had us pull up next to the building and that is where our car sat for three days. We never planned on driving once we got there, it’s too easy to use the Metro instead.
We checked in and took the metro to the Acropolis stop. We spent the afternoon and evening walking for miles through the Athens tourist areas: the shops in the Plaka, the food in Monastiraki, the flea market, and Syntagma Square. We walked, shopped, walked, dined, walked, shopped, and walked some more. It was awesome, and in fact, Mikayla has said if she could pick one day to go back and do again, it would be this one (especially with her favorite Greek dish, a salad. That actually looks really good right now, I’m glad it’s on the menu for dinner tonight. We spent the final two days exploring these same areas and I will cover them in detail in the next two blogs.
From my Journal:
I’m sitting right now on the roof of our hotel in Athens. It’s dark, the moon is out, nearly full. About a kilometer away hovering above the city on the Acropolis on a throne of limestone is the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena. It’s all lit up, giant pillars standing tall as they have for over two thousand years. It’s temple that has been a shrine to honor the Greek god Athena, a Christian temple, a Muslim mosque, and now one of the world’s greatest monuments. Tomorrow we will visit it.
Continue to Day 13…