Christmas '16, Part 2

I turned this one around quick for you- it’s amazing what you can get accomplished on a nine-hour flight. Speaking of flights, it was all Air France on the way home today. I have to give them mixed reviews, but since they’re partners with Delta they match my Platinum status and that goes a long way. And speaking of Delta, I’ve softened up on them after flying other airlines so I’m at peace on that front. Let me not get ahead of myself though, I’ve forgotten to tell you about the other half of the journey…

When we left off, I was catching a 4:30 am car to FCO. Destination: Athens (Greece, not Georgia). After a couple of uneventful flights connecting CDG, I landed at ATH. A thirty-minute train ride away and I as delivered to the doorstep of my hotel on Monastraki square. After a much-needed nap, I was up to up for exploring the city. By this time it was dark out and my first impressions of the city were to be at night. Despite being in one of the more happening districts in the city, it was a damp and chilly Monday night so I figured it would be a fairly subdued scene. It turns out that the Athenians like to go out, every night. The city was heaving with people of all ages, but there was a prominent cohort of stylish, youngish folks. The streets were lined with busy retail and restaurants spots from the modest to the upscale. There was an element of “urban grit”, but my first impression was that this was as healthy and urbane as most cities in Europe. I grabbed a gyro from a street vendor (cliché, I know), caught some BBC World on the tele and passed out for the night.

The Lion's Gate- the only way in or out.

It was another early morning to catch my ride out to the Peloponnese for a day trip to see the couple of ancient sites. These places have held my imagination since I took the Introduction to Architecture course with Christopher Mead in New Mexico 25 years ago. Mycenae was the capitol of the civilization that was the progenitor of the ancient Greeks  and the Theater of Epidaurus was a center of healing and performing arts dating from the 15th century BC. I’ll spare you a history lesson, but they’re fascinating places if you’re into such things.

The Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon...or neither.

We got home at a reasonable hour and I had another night out on the town, This time I traveled off the beaten path and found the part of Athens that was more in line with my expectations of what I would find in a country that’s undergone everything Greece has in the last ten years or so. Shuttered shops for lease, half-completed building that have obviously laid fallow for quite some time, and low-level retail focused on low-level tourists. The more I paid attention, I also found that even in the nicer streets in the city, very every inch of vertical surface in Athens was covered in graffiti. I’m not talking about the fake-urban artsy graffiti we encourage in Chattanooga to make us look edgy, I’m talking about crappy tags and poorly done wastes of paint. I suspect the amount of money they spent on spray paint is what plunged them into economic chaos and default. It was an eye-opening evening, but it didn’t necessarily change my opinion of the city as decent place- it just gave me another perspective.

It's no Bryant-Denny, but the view ain't bad.

I woke up early once again the next day, but this time with good reason. I was going to see one of the most iconic sets of buildings in the world. It’s one of the few sites in the world, where the buildings transcend mere architecture and become symbols of something much larger. In this case, the ideals of individual freedom and democracy are embodied in ancient Greece and in the Acropolis. The site itself has been undergoing perpetual reconstruction, so I was prepared for the machinery and scaffolding. The big daddy of them all, the Parthenon was about what I expected, so there were no surprises. What I was surprised by, was how relatively small a couple of my favorite other buildings were. The Temple of Athena Nike is quite small, but so very tidy in proportion and scale. It is truly a gem. The Erectheon was a bit more baffling in person. The Caryatid columns were only about a third of the size that I imagined they would be. The columns on the eastern side of the building were taller and more slender and attenuated than I anticipated- but that’s the hallmark of the Corinthian order, so I’m sure why I’m surprised. While that building caught me off guard, the rest was pretty much in line with expectations- which I must admit were sky high. My only regret is that the top of the hill was windy and freaking cold. The rest of the day was spent walking around aimlessly, nibbling on street food from time to time and taking the train to get some brief glances of some of the other neighborhoods.With that the trip was essentially over, save for another early morning and the flight back (which is where I write from today). I may sleep for three days when I get back to the Scenic City, so you may not see me for a while.

The granddaddy of them all...and the Parthenon.

With the trip in the books, here are some general observations on the whole Christmas Vacation:

-Rome just wasn’t the same this time around. Maybe it was because the food sucked; maybe it was because the people weren’t quite as nice as I usually find them to be. 

-Athens met or exceeded expectations. I did not hold out high hopes for food, and they met that expectation. The people were quite friendly. The amount of graffiti while cute at first became disturbing the more I paid attention to how much of it there actually is. 

-I was two of three on hotel selection. The place I stayed by myself for one night sucked- and I shared my opinions. The other two places exceed expectations- especially our place in Rome, has found a place on my top five list of accommodations.

-The amount of tour and ticket hustlers outside of the Vatican is impressive and annoying.

-If you can’t properly prepare spaghetti Carbonara, you should not be allowed to live in Rome. 

-Delta and KLM stayed on my good side this trip- primarily because most of my flights were on Air France.

-There is no place like home for the Holidays.
-I’m sure there are more, but it’s been a long journey and I’m worn all the way out.

The Caryatids- they got a bum deal.

Let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas. You have all of my best wishes and love.

The Stoa of Attalos. We actually had one in Chattanooga.
If you squint, you can see Community Pie at the end.
I haven’t really talked about health in my two-blog description of the journey. Perhaps that’s because (with the exception of our day in Florence) it’s not affected my daily activities. I am, however, having a tough time with fluid retention and swelling in my abdomen and legs. The problem is that this puts pressure on my stomach, limiting what I can consume. After already losing 30% of my body weight, this is a big deal. It’s tough to say how much I “really” weigh because much of what the scale reads is fluid that has to go. Looking in the mirror, however, I can see that I’m not in good shape. I am worried about this.

As for the tumor, it’s still sitting in the background waiting to do its thing. As of last scan (three weeks ago?), it was stable in size and not really doing anything. As for the absecess and infections, I finished my last dose of antibiotics during the trip and it appears that I have them beat. 

I suppose it’s good news/bad news in the health front. During my last few days alone, however, thoughts death and dying keep popping up in my head. Am I ready or not? Am I traveling to run from it? Would I even care if it weren’t for D and the boys? Will I be able to do it on my terms (outside of a hospital bed)? I’ve turned those over more than a few times. (For the record, the answers are: Yes. I don’t think so. No. God, I hope so.)

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