Our 1997 tour of glorious Greece began on a sunny October day with a splendid walkabout taking us through city streets to the heights of its three most prominent hills.
At the outset, we came upon a quaintly costumed changing of the guard ritual outside the Greek parliament buildings, and a nearby protest demonstration. It was just like home! The protestors were unionists staging what purported to be a one-day general strike. Police outnumbered protestors and, judging by the steady surge of Athenian traffic, not too many residents took much notice.
A finely crafted statue stood at the edge of a commercial area, but without an identifying inscription.
Athens, like many great cities, is dominated by its hills. The Acropolis, of course, crowned by the ruins of the majestic Parthenon, is most central and awe-inspiring either up close or from afar. Lycabettus Hill, a narrow pinnacle of rock, reached on its steepest slope by a funicular, offers a panoramic view of the capital.
Another, known as the Hill of the Muses, offers a closer view of the Parthenon which, after surviving more than two millennia, was partially destroyed by Venetian cannons firing from that vantage point. The Parthenon, otherwise known as the ancient Temple of Athena Parthenos, was then being used by occupying Turkish forces as an armoury.
A unique feature of the Athenian urban landscape is the almost total absence of skyscrapers. Guides told us they are banned to preserve the dominance of the ancient ruins. A handful of high rises did break through during lapses in bureaucratic vigilance due, one suspects, to the cunning artifices of some wily public affairs lobbyist.
While in Athens, we took advantage of two extra excursions laid on by our Trafalgar Tours hosts. The first was a bus tour which began badly with a horrendous rainstorm that continued until reaching our destination. Happily, as we reached Cape Sunion, storm clouds moved swiftly away to allow brilliant sunshine to show off the glorious Temple of Poseidon, one of the best preserved ancient ruins in all of Greece.
Dramatically situated on the coastal cliffs overlooking the Aegean Sea, the Temple dates back to 444 BC. Today, all that remains is a series of gleaming white marble columns, standing proudly atop the cape. Only 16 of the original 34 Doric columns remain, one of which is famously inscribed with the name Lord Byron.
Colourful indoors entertainment greeted us in a delightful Greek folk music cabaret on the shores of Athens’ port city of Piraeus.
Festivities began with a serving of liquid refreshments, inevitably including a taste of ouzo – some of it furtively shared with a garden plant.
Costumed waiters tended our tables while entertainers performed colourful Greek folk dances.
A beaming bouzouki player was for us the star musical attraction.