The Greek Odyssey

It must have been Fate.

The Bank Holiday in England coincided with Memorial Day weekend this year.  We had planned to get away with another family to Cinque Terre to do some hiking in the hills of western Italy.  We assumed the weather in late May would be seasonably warm and sunny, perfect for hiking along coastal mountain trails.

As Fate would have it, the weather report throughout most of Europe this past weekend was cold and rainy.  Cinque Terre warned of “interruptions due to extreme thunderstorms”.  Not ideal.

On Thursday, my friend Liz and I met for coffee to go over our pending trip.  We couldn’t muster much excitement.  Liz had done a search for sun the night before and found that Athens, Greece was promising 85° and blinding unadulterated sunshine.  Five minutes later, we were at my house, laptop open, making new plans.  One hour later, we had successfully re-routed our trip from Italy to Greece. The next day, we were at the airport and ready to go.

As fate would have it, there was an emergency landing that morning at Heathrow and half the airport was shut down.  Hundreds of flights were cancelled, including our original flight to Cinque Terre.  The travel Gods smiled upon us, and the flight to Athens, Greece miraculously left on time.

Within an hour of landing, we were sitting on a rooftop terrace, sipping a signature cocktail, admiring this view of the ancient Acropolis:

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The next day was filled with sightseeing, moving from the ancient ruins of one God to another. We climbed up to the Acropolis and wandered around the ruins of the Parthenon and other temples dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, once arch-enemies in the battle for power over Athens.  Even though it was constructed in the 6th century B.C., the Theater of Dionysus is still relevant as it was being set up for a concert series later in the week.  What Athens lacks in modern architectural beauty, it more than makes up for in ancient ruined splendor.

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After a brief respite, we journeyed outside of Athens to visit Cape Sounion where the temple of Poseidon resides. The temple’s remains are perched on the headland, surrounded on three sides by the ocean.  There we watched the sunset over the Aegean Sea, a peaceful spectacle and perfect ending to our day.

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The next day promised adventure at sea.  We were told to take the an all-inclusive boat tour to cover three islands in one day.  As Fate would have it, there were no Sirens to tempt us off the ship, but there were some reasons we considered jumping overboard:

  1. Upon boarding, we were forced into a group photo taken with people dressed in goofy Greek costumes beneath a big “Welcome Aboard” sign (setting the tacky tone)
  2. The morning “entertainment” on deck was amateur break dancers accompanied by very loud pulsating music (no one told them the ’90s are long over)
  3. The Greek dancing contest required watching the equivalent of a Greek Conga line lap around the ship (Jackie and Ben couldn’t help themselves!)
  4. Upon disembarking, an overweight saxophone player dressed in a loud Hawaiian shirt played Old Lang Syne (he didn’t realize this is something we might actually want to forget)

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The experience was not entirely ill-fated as we had a chance to visit three beautiful islands, exploring the quaint seaside villages of Hydra and Poros, swimming in the crisp refreshing Aegean sea, and climbing to another well preserved temple in Aegina.

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On our last day, we enjoyed our visit to the Panathenaic stadium where Olympic games were held in 329 B.C.  The stadium was refurbished for the first official modern games held in 1896.  Jeff and Jackie did an exultant victory lap around the track and then took their place on the podium.

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From there we wandered through the National Gardens and ran into the Presidential Guards.  They make the Buckingham Palace sentries look quite staid in comparison.  The Greek guards sport pom-pom topped shoes called tsaroukhia that weigh 7 lbs. They certainly put them to good use during their unusual marching protocol that includes slowly lifting and extending the leg and then stomping it heavily while sliding it back along the ground as if attempting a strange tap dance routine.

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Last, we crossed through Hadrian’s Arch and walked around the giant temple dedicated to Zeus.  He may not have made it to the Acropolis with Athena, but he got a very big tribute of his own.  This temple once had 104 impressive Corinthian columns.  Now only 15 remain standing, tall and proud in memory of the once mighty Father of the Gods.

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Our Greek odyssey was made more special by its spontaneity.  Like Homer’s Odyssey, both Free Will and Fate played a hand.  We willingly changed our initial plans, but Fate certainly played a role in making the new trip come together perfectly.

I raise my glass to the Gods for smiling upon us.

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