Sunny Sundays in May are the best kinds of days, especially if you find yourself somewhere outdoors. It is the perfect opportunity to take a walk through the city or the countryside and just enjoy the marvel of the sun.
On such a wonderfully sunny day I found myself in Athens (Αθήνα), Greece. Not wanting to miss an amazing opportunity, I arranged to meet with a close friend, Anastasia, so we could enjoy the weather together.
Our day started at the new Acropolis Museum.
Apart from the wonders of antiquity it houses, the museum is also equipped with a marvelous café/restaurant that provides a breathtaking view of the Acropolis (Ακρόπολη), thanks to its unique position directly under the ancient hill on which the monument rests.
Despite the mighty wind determined to push us off the café roof, our time of heartfelt conversation and human connection was well spent. Tourists and other visitors never stopped coming and going, all admiring and enjoying what we Greeks take for granted. I guess when you see something every day you tend to forget the significance it may hold to others.
Not wanting to spend our entire day sitting on chairs, we followed the flow of tourists through the crumpled crowded streets of Plaka (Πλάκα), the old historical district of Athens located right at the old city center beneath the slopes of Acropolis. I found myself realizing for perhaps the first time the thousands of years this city has literally been on this earth. How many people had walked the same streets I was walking over the centuries? How much history can be contained in one place? Lives started and lives ended in this very place one passes through regularly without registering its existence, simply because it has been here forever.
We continued towards Monastiraki (Μοναστηράκι), another old neighborhood in the city center. Our destination: the taverns every self-respecting tourist needs to visit for lunch. There’s nothing like some traditional Greek souvlaki (σουβλάκι) to quiet a restless mind. The smells, the food, the friendly people inviting you to take a seat and eat are so ingrained into my culture it seems natural, if not annoying, to me sometimes. After lunch our walk continued to Monastiraki Square (Πλατεία Μοναστηρακίου) and the famous flea market. I don’t know if philosophical discussions about friendship, love, the nature of the human condition or the inevitability of life itself are common with your friends, but those are the topics Anastasia and I found ourselves delving into. Maybe that’s a common topic for us. Maybe it was the time and the place that prompted us to share our thoughts.
We found ourselves at a crossroads, figuratively and literally. We decided to turn towards Thiseio (Θησείο), named after the Temple of Hephaestus (Ναός του Ηφαίστου) that rests at one’s feet when passing through. The paved paths before us held small street vendors who sold everything from handmade jewelry to dusty old books in Russian. Among popular cafés and restaurants one cannot help but marvel at the view this district offers of the ancient monument that has become synonymous with the city of Athens, or perhaps Greece itself: the Acropolis.
Someone might rightly wonder what a lump of ancient rock with a bunch of marble ruins on top of it in the middle of a modern city has to offer. I can only say that when we reached Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (Οδός Διονυσίου Αρεοπαγίτου) we sat there filled with a sense of wonder that I cannot explain. I feel the same wonder being close to any monument of any kind of any culture, but even more so for my own. It gives me a connection to the past and a sense of identity that is much needed, especially living in a time when our sense of self is constantly being broken into small parts and disconnected from a larger whole.
Dionysiou Areopagitou Street led us to Amalias Avenue (Λεωφόρος Αμαλίας) and we walked to Syntagma Square (Πλατεία Συντάγματος) and the Greek Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων) that is so prominently featured on the news lately. It was our final stop before parting ways and arranging to meet some other time. I have often wondered about the irony of such places. Places named after critical moments in time when history happened, moments that are now forgotten, taken for granted or ridiculed by current events, becoming places whose names have lost their weight. The modern Greek Parliament used to be the palace of King Otto, while Syntagma Square was named after the 3 September 1843 Revolution where the people demanded that the king grant a constitution (Syntagma means constitution in Greek).
I have walked the streets of Athens for years. Most times I never paid attention to my surroundings, mostly because they seemed unimportant at the time. Usually, I never notice the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that resides at the feet of the Parliament dedicated to all those who fell heroically defending their country. Or the Evzones (Εύζωνες), the soldiers who tirelessly stand guard day and night in front of it. There comes a time, however, when your view of things changes and the messages the world sends your way become more perceptible prompting you to reflect. You realize that though things may seem unchanging and eternal, they are not. In that moment, it is not our surroundings that change. It is the way we see the world and ourselves. Only then can we perceive what has always been right in front of us.