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Adventures with My Mother – Athens and Everything After


The modern sprawl of Athens unfolds beyond the ancient Acropolis. Copyright: Victoria Brooks.

Back on dry land after a few days of Greek island hopping, I missed the gentle rocking of the boat. On some nights I would fall asleep on the bow of the boat under the stars. Wrapped up tight in my sleeping bag, I would feel the warm wind caress my face, and the tiny waves slap the hull. In the distance I would hear the sounds made by locals heading home from the tavernas. In the morning the smell of baked goods would mingle with the sea air, only to be snatched away by a morning breeze.

On Corfu we stayed in a big box of a beach resort on Dasia Beach. For some it was the perfect vacation, a big pool, water sports, and all the food you could eat. But I yearned for something more. It was with great relief that my mom and I accompanied my dad back to Athens for his trip home.

The Erecthion, a building on the Acropolis, with its ‘Porch of the Maidens.’ Copyright: Victoria Brooks.Athens is a sprawling, dirty city stuck somewhere between the third and first worlds. Unfortunately, it has some of the worst characteristics of both. The Parthenon, a "highlight," is a large ruin sitting magnificently above the city on a rock. Further investigation revealed that it was under renovation and that anything worth looking at had been hidden in museums. The museums, however, are overrated. The exhibits, chiefly of badly eroded rocks, are unlabeled, so it is difficult to tell what the rocks are meant to represent.

The "touristy area" known as the Plaka, was the prettiest part, with its old buildings and tourist-oriented shops. Roman ruins occasionally peek out from where they were excavated and left open to showcase the history of the city. The parks in Athens and the areas around ruins are overgrown with brown grass and weeds topped with a layer of garbage. Athens is a city most people see only briefly on their way to someplace else.

Unable to reschedule our flights, my mother and I stayed on for another five days in the searing heat. Our morning routine began with breakfast in the quaint cafes of the business district and ended with lunch somewhere in the Plaka. One morning as we were sipping coffee in our favorite coffeehouse, it suddenly went dark and we heard yells in Greek from outside. We departed quickly to witness thick black smoke billowing from the building next door. You could hear the flames consuming wood and plaster and metal creaking as it expanded from the heat. Fire trucks pushed up the pedestrian malls as customers quickly pulled back the outside chairs and tables while employees raised the large overhanging awnings to let the fire trucks through. We departed to find a new breakfast spot as a large crowd gathered to watch the fire.The Theatre of Herod Atticus, a Roman-era building that once featured gladiator fights. Copyright: Victoria Brooks.Most afternoons I wandered the city aimlessly, walking from street to street and exploring where few but Athenians go. I would amble down side streets on a whim and stop to buy Greek pastries from shops that overflowed into the alleys. I walked and walked until I completely lost my way, but if I became too lost, or was too far from our hotel, I would catch a taxi back. To catch an Athenian taxi you stand by the side of the road and yell your destination as the taxi slows. With luck you will find a taxi with at least one seat left going in the direction you're headed. Once in the taxi you memorize the fare on the meter as you are taken for a wild ride towards your destination while passengers are picked up and dropped off along the way. You pay the rate accumulated plus the base rate on your departure. It’s a strange system, which takes into account the shortage of taxis during rush hour and supplements the cabbies' meager wages.

My mom would accompany me back to the streets worth exploring. One night, walking an area of endless pedestrian malls we came across a fashion shoot. Models in cutting-edge street wear were posing in the urban setting. A homeless man lay immediately in the background trying to pull his coat over his face to block out the glare of the spotlights. Two worlds had merged into one.

Athenian Villas. Copyright: Victoria Brooks.Soon it was time to fly back to Frankfurt. Frankfurt is a bustling financial capital devoid of old European charm, a modern city that has turned its back on tradition. My mother's flight to Vancouver wasn't scheduled to leave for a few days, so we spent a day at the mineral baths of Bad Homberg. The baths resemble the ultramodern simplicity of a Japanese bath. Bamboo and Japanese-style bridges graced the property, while modern accessories like a surge channel, waterfalls and spouts added flare to the pool. We entered the warm water from inside the building and waded through an opening to the outside portion of the pool. A strong current prevented us from reaching the far end, so we gave up and went with the flow. The current sucked us into a small curved channel with jets below water level that propelled the heated mineral water faster and faster. It was quite pleasant floating around in circles, occasionally being sucked into the same channel of fast moving water only to be deposited seconds later at the far side of the pool.

On the return journey we were delayed at every station we passed while police and guards ran to and fro searching the platforms. We understood from our limited German that we had stumbled across a bomb scare. We returned safely to our hotel after a few hours' delay. Mom left for home the next day. She is fun to travel with and I felt a tinge of homesickness as I climbed back on my bicycle and continued on to Hiedelberg.

For More Information:

The Athens Survival Guide: www.athensguide.com.
Germany: www.germany-tourism.de.

The Theatre of Herod Atticus, a Roman-era building that once featured gladiator fights. Copyright: Victoria Brooks.Most afternoons I wandered the city aimlessly, walking from street to street and exploring where few but Athenians go. I would amble down side streets on a whim and stop to buy Greek pastries from shops that overflowed into the alleys. I walked and walked until I completely lost my way, but if I became too lost, or was too far from our hotel, I would catch a taxi back. To catch an Athenian taxi you stand by the side of the road and yell your destination as the taxi slows. With luck you will find a taxi with at least one seat left going in the direction you're headed. Once in the taxi you memorize the fare on the meter as you are taken for a wild ride towards your destination while passengers are picked up and dropped off along the way. You pay the rate accumulated plus the base rate on your departure. It’s a strange system, which takes into account the shortage of taxis during rush hour and supplements the cabbies' meager wages.

My mom would accompany me back to the streets worth exploring. One night, walking an area of endless pedestrian malls we came across a fashion shoot. Models in cutting-edge street wear were posing in the urban setting. A homeless man lay immediately in the background trying to pull his coat over his face to block out the glare of the spotlights. Two worlds had merged into one.

Athenian Villas. Copyright: Victoria Brooks.Soon it was time to fly back to Frankfurt. Frankfurt is a bustling financial capital devoid of old European charm, a modern city that has turned its back on tradition. My mother's flight to Vancouver wasn't scheduled to leave for a few days, so we spent a day at the mineral baths of Bad Homberg. The baths resemble the ultramodern simplicity of a Japanese bath. Bamboo and Japanese-style bridges graced the property, while modern accessories like a surge channel, waterfalls and spouts added flare to the pool. We entered the warm water from inside the building and waded through an opening to the outside portion of the pool. A strong current prevented us from reaching the far end, so we gave up and went with the flow. The current sucked us into a small curved channel with jets below water level that propelled the heated mineral water faster and faster. It was quite pleasant floating around in circles, occasionally being sucked into the same channel of fast moving water only to be deposited seconds later at the far side of the pool.

On the return journey we were delayed at every station we passed while police and guards ran to and fro searching the platforms. We understood from our limited German that we had stumbled across a bomb scare. We returned safely to our hotel after a few hours' delay. Mom left for home the next day. She is fun to travel with and I felt a tinge of homesickness as I climbed back on my bicycle and continued on to Hiedelberg.

For More Information:

The Athens Survival Guide: www.athensguide.com.
Germany: www.germany-tourism.de.