100 posts of AthensWalker blog

This is the 100th post in this free online guide / travelogue / journal of living in Athens and I think the anniversary merits some type of a celebration. Instead of sharing a cyber-cake I've decided to share with you a very uplifting and welcome collection of stories ("9 Types of Travelers You’d be Blessed to Meet") from the "Matador Network", as well as some stories and incidents from my own travel experiences that it made me recall. If you ever doubted that traveling can be much more than sight-seeing read on below.

The first 3 short incidents come from my time in Paris, France, back in 1993, as an Erasmus student (that's an EU study abroad program). They do not involve other "travelers" in the narrow sense of the word but I think they're related to the spirit of traveling with an open mind and heart and being perceptive to the signals around you. This was my first ever trip where I had nobody waiting for me at the destination, no set place to stay, a load of suitcases to carry around and a (true) feeling that my French had gotten rusty.

The airport designers 
First of all, the airport (Orly) seemed so well designed, with every little detail taken care of, that I instantly thought it impossible for anyone to get lost even if they had wanted to (airport maps, town maps, well-placed signs, free phones connecting you to in-town hotels if you had no booking -  a real novelty to me back in those days!). Just like most travelers, I've never had the chance to meet the people who designed the airport but I remember relishing the feeling of them thinking so much of their future clients and trying to make things easy for them.

The delicate professional in the Metro
...An hour or so later, having boarded the train to downtown Paris and after a failed, rather annoying attempt of communication with some young, "snooty" local men, my mind was venturing into cliché-land and to the 3 strenuous months lying ahead of me. Then, as a fellow student and I were trying to exit the Metro station, walking up and down stairs with our huge suitcases in hand and almost out of breath, a young, professionally-dressed and delicate-looking woman, pauses and opens this huge metalic door for us and asks us to go through first, since we carry baggage. A miniscule, "unimportant" scene but I still remember it with gratitude 18 years later. It changed, once and for all, my perception of French people and my expectations of them and I've felt lucky for that ever since.

The flatmate who thought of others
...A couple of months later I'm settled into a nice apartment and my flat-mate (painter Yorgos Voulgaridis) and I are going to attend the Orthodox Easter mass on Saturday night. "T.", an English guy who was quite nice but seemed to be having some serious issues, has managed to somehow crawl into a little corner in our flat (four of us in total!) and spend some weeks there. We invite him to come along to mass and, waveringly, he follows. As we are sitting outside the church right before midnight, all Greeks and Russians are holding lit candles and are either listening to the mass or talking to each other. Yorgos notices that "T" is the only one without a candle and somehow, within seconds, finds a lit candle and passes it on to "T". A subtle and thoughtful way to make him feel part of the picture! And the best thing about it? I don't think Yorgos even thought that one out. He simply just did it, as a natural act. I think I could even get jealous of this natural tendency for openess and kindness and that's certainly the type of people you'd want to meet in your travels.

Last, a short story from traveling in Greece: My wife and I are doing a road-trip in northern Greece. We have spent the first night in Thessaloniki (Greece's second city, 500kms north of Athens) and are ready to hit the road and start the main part of our trip on Sunday morning after a nice hotel breakfast. As we load the car with our luggage we realize we have a flat tire. I call road assistance and the guy who comes along not only provides the temporary fix for the problem but also give us directions to the only car service place open on Sunday, for a more permanent solution. Realizing we are not from town, he drives along for some 5 miles or more, asking us to follow him all the way. Fifteen minutes later he has taken us to a remote junkyard [we couldn't have ever found it on our own] where, together with other unlucky Sunday drivers we wait for our turn to have the tire fixed. Hens, dogs, cats and pigeons are roaming around the old cars and machinery while the guy's wife seems to be cooking in their house-cabin in the back! We both decide it's a great way to start a road trip!

Suitcase sculpture - airport

Are there any stories you'd like to share from your travels? Have you ever come along a stranger who made your vacation / travel so much richer by their presence? I'm sure everyone would love to hear that...

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My impressions from the Museum of Cycladic Art

I recently visited the Museum of Cycladic Art, at 4 Neofytou Douka St. and 27 Vasilissis Sophias Ave. The Goulandris shipowner family, well-known for their support to Greece's heritage (different strands of the family are also behind the Museum of Natural History in the Athenian suburb of Kifissia and the Museum of Contemporary Art in the island of Andros) is behind this central Athens museum. Initially established to house the archaeological collection of Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris it has grown to be quite a gem in Athens' list of museums.
Corner of Vasilissis Sofias Ave. and Neofytou Douka St.

Entrance of the Museum of Cycladic Art, at 4 Neofytou Douka St., Athens, Greece 

Temporary exhibitions are hosted in a long hall to your right ("the new wing") as you enter the Ground Floor. The current one (running till April 10, 2013) is called "Princesses of the Mediterranean in the dawn of history" and showcases findings (golden artifacts like ornaments) found in ancient tombs, belonging to women who posessed power and/or wealth. It includes exhibits from what is currently Greece, Italy (including from the Vatican Museum) and Cyprus. Photography in the temporary exhibitions is not permitted but you can take a good look at it through the museum's official websiteThe Ground Floor also hosts the museum shop, a cafe inside an atrium and takes you, through a ramp, to the annexed Stathatos Mansion  which also hosts temporary, special events.

My 5-minute sum-up of the permanent collections has as follows:
Cycladic figurine
Floor No.1 [notice I'm not saying "first floor" so as to not confuse my US readers!] holds the collection that gives the museum its name: Marble figurines and other artifacts from the Aegean island group named the Cyclades from the early Bronze Age (that's about 3200 to 2000 BC)! The name Cyclades comes from the rather cyclical shape this island group seems to form when seen from the sky (which is a good starting point for crafting theories on aliens inhabiting earth and the like, but that's another story...!). I'd be a phoney if I pretended to make expert judgements (read here) but the way the collection is set up (just like the rest of the museum) is a real feast for the eyes and you get a strangely cosy feeling walking around these marble figurines which are 4 to 5 thousand years older than you.

Floor No.2 continues chronologically from floor no.1 but expands geographically to include a much larger part of Greece. Besides the exhibits themselves I was intrigued by a short and most informing presentation on the Linear A and Linear B scripts (ancient forms of writing) in one of the several touch-screen presentations (if only the touch-screen was a bit more responsive...). If you devot enough time here you can see exhibits and read about various aspects of life in ancient Greece (athletics, death, music, the status of women) and how they passed into art.

Stone-made ship anchor, from the early to mid-bronze age 

Animal shaped figurines and more, at the 2nd floor of the Museum of Cycladic Art 

Screen explaining the basics of the Linear B script - Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens 

Floor No.3 holds the permanant Cypriot Collection. It is the most visually stunning display of ancient artifacts I've seen in Greek museums as the exhibits are held by -almost invisible- metal tongs, mid-air against a bright blue background. Again, there's a whole number of screens for those who want to delve deeper into the subjects presented (coins from Cyprus). An interesting piece of trivia I learnt while here: The English word "copper" derives from ancient Cyprus (due to its vast copper reserves); "Cuprium aes" (‘metal of Cyprus’) was the name given to "copper" back in those days.

Glass bowls / vases from the Cypriot collection - Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece 

Cypriot collection - Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece

Money and copper in ancient times - Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece 

Floor No.4 is the most interesting one if you have children with you. It follows the life of an ancient Greek boy as it goes through several stages in life. A timeline in the form of a long comic strip is drawn here -at a height suitable for a small child to gaze- while the wall's background has photographs from the life of this imaginary ancient young man. A video is also presented towards the end of the hall. I would suggest that if you come to Athens with very young children the Goulandris museum, and its 4th floor, should certainly be part of your vacation. It might even entice your young ones to be less restive while you visit other archaeological sites and museums.

The life of an ancient Greek boy, portrayed in the 4th floor of the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece 

The life of an ancient Greek boy, portrayed in the 4th floor of the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece 
The Stathatos Mansion, at 31 Vasilissis Sophias Ave, pictured above, has become part of the Museum of Cycladic Art (connected via a ramp/corridor).

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Herakleidon Museum: Experience in Visual Arts

I've included "Herakleidon Museum" in both my lists of museums and galleries, since it's a hybrid between the two. However, I thought I should empasize more the "traveller-friendly" character of  this small-yet-significant private museum and the need of including it in your  travel plans when visiting Athens.

First of all, the exhibitions here last longer than in any other Greek museum. Practically, it's one exhibit per year, so you can easily plan ahead since you'll know what will be on display 5 or 6 months down the road. 

Most exhibitions hosted here present the work of internationally renowned artists (Edgar Degas, M.C. Escher, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edvard Munch, Carol Wax are some of the artists whose work was presented in recent years). I'm not saying that fame necessarily makes one artist better than the other, but most visitors will certainly find more interest and will feel more inclined to visit in these cases.

Great location! It sits in a pedestrian friendly area (Herakleidon St. itself, which lends its name to the Museum, is pedestrianized), close to the grand pedestrian walk of Dionysiou Areopagitou & Apostolou Pavlou, with the Acropolis in view once you step out of its doors. The entrances to the Ancient Agora, the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum are within walking distance. Plus, it has great access to the Metro network with Thission Metro Station (Line 1) being only 400m away, while Monastiraki Station (Line 1) and Acropolis  Station (Line 2) are a slightly longer but pleasant walk away.
"Herakleidon Museum: Experience in Visual Arts", Herakleidon St., Athens, Greece 

It's not a vast place. One hour should be enough for the casual visitor to see whatever exhibit is on display. The building itself is a beautiful 19th century neo-classical mansion with an atrium. You can read more about it (and feel the owners' sense of pride) in the Museum's official websiteLast but not least, it has a neat little store, where you can buy posters, games, clothing accessories, cards and other memorabilia from past and current exhibitions.

The exhibition currently on display draws from the Museum's permanent collection. I imagine it's the Museum's way of coping with the economic crisis but you won't feel short-changed in any way if you pay a visit, as it comprises of original works by Hungarian-French op-art leader Victor Vasarely and Dutch master-illusionist M.C. Escher. The common thread uniting these two is the relation between "art and mathematics", which is also the title of the  exhibition. A 2-hour lecture and tour of the exhibition, in English, is provided by the museum upon request. Details on opening hours, admission fees, current exhibition, etc. can be found here (mid-page).

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