Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Greece - Athens (1)

Dedicated to Sarjan

Actually, Sarjan has nothing to with with Athens. He is a young cowherd in Edirne (like a shepherd but with less sheep and more cows). I should have dedicated one of the Edirne posts to him, but I've decided not to retroedit those from weeks ago. I met him outside one of the most spectacular mosque complexes, the Sultan Bayezid Mosque, set in white stone against the Tunca river. It was very like the Taj Mahal. Apparently this was once a medical centre for mental illnesses, centuries ago under the Ottomans. Distinctively, they used music therapy for their patients, a practise which Turkey claims to have invented.

But back on topic - Sarjan and I had one of those no-shared language conversations. Mosques were pointed at and exclaimed to be superb (Enfes!), he would disagree and say "If you think that one is superb, wait until you check out that one", with an eloquent finger gesture and the same word. Similar process for his cows. I recall him beaming with pride as he confidently asked me "Where! Are! You! From!" and "What! Is! Your! Name!". He deserves a post, as he was barefoot, probably rarely saw tourists, and wore very worn-out clothes. I suspect he will never otherwise have a reason to appear on this vast ocean of information that is the Internet, and he may never even approach a keyboard. So Sarjan, this one's for you.

Athens has proven to be a vast, generally clean and energetic city. It is the most European city I think I have seen since leaving London as a small boy. People dress like something out of a David Jones commercial, there are motorbikes and fashionable cafes everywhere, and people seem to live the lives that are promoted in glossy magazines. The city, when seen from the Acropolis, is a complex texture of white apartments and black windows.

I took a walking tour this morning. Just four of us (two Canadian girls, myself and the guide Eduardo) wandering the old city, with Ed explaining Greek mythology, current society, some architectural history and lots of the wars-dates-names history that cities this old accumulate like barnacles on an ocean liner. We saw many things, which I will not list here for fear of sounding like a tour agency flyer, but suffice to say I feel a more complete person for experiencing them all.

That sounds pretentious but I mean it. Walking through the Parthenon and surrounding temples, watching the scaffolding bend under the weight of reconstruction marble blocks, and smoothly sliding between hordes of amazed tourists was something I've wanted to do for a very long time. Likewise, by seeing the site of the Temple of Zeus, I have notched another surviving Ancient Wonder to my belt. And who wouldn't feel enlightened watching tall Greek men with heritage uniforms and pompoms on their boots strut about like a Monty Python skit?

My student card paid for itself twice today, making up for all my time carrying it in Turkey. It lists my university as "Aust Nat Uni", so when they ask where I'm studying, it's Austria. That means I get EU passes (which are FREE, better than $8-10 Australian for students and $20ish for non-students!) for each site. Wunderbar!

Tomorrow - perhaps a three-island cruise. Who knows?


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