Monday, 28 June 2010

Tied by the Knotts Of The Tongue

Next time I comment a hill is really steep, I am going to stop and think about what I am actually saying...

Last week, swung my rucksack on my back and decided to take my first trip out to the Lake District. My plan was to do Scafell Pike Englands highest mountain. Alas it wasnt to be, as I was tied by the Knotts of the tongue (pictured right), about 3 miles away and a 125 metres away from the top.


This is the first time in many years that I have actually had full kit so to speak. I purchased the bulk last year when I did a trip to Hadrian's Wall and this year finished it off with the addition of a tent, sleeping bag and other bits and pieces. At the moment, its not the lightest, but its complete and I now intend to start slowly replacing bits and pieces to lighten it. First to go will definitely be my waterproofs, they weigh a ton for what they are!

Also, as it was the first outing so to speak, I was a little overloaded as I wanted to see what I used and didn't used, and in hindsight, a lot could of been stripped down. Mainly small things, Like I took a complete box of hexi cubes, when I only used five. I took the box of water purification tablets, instead of taking just a strip of them. All small things, but I am sure could of easily lost at least a couple of Kilo's off the total from doing that. The Total was around 20 Kilos including the rucksack and water and I didn't find the weight too bad at all.

I spent some condsiderable time in the week before hand reading up on approaches to Scafell Pike. The easiest route from Wasdale did not appeal at all as I wanted to make a whole day of it and there was a second route form Eskdale doing Scafell before Scafell Pike which looked appealing, but enquiring to a friend about Foxes tarn with is the route between the two, he mentioned it was a bit of an effort. Now, this was from someone who runs up mountains before breakfast, so for him to say it was an effort, I read that as being gruelling for myself so that route was out. There are a few more routes out there, but a lot seemed to involve scrambling which I was more in a rambling sort of mood, so in the end I decided to go for this one, making a variation that from Scafell Pike, I would take go down to Wasdale where I planned to spend my second night.

Next thing was to book the rail tickets, its a four and a half hour journey to get to Ravenglass from Leeds, Changing at Carlise or, as I did on the way back, two changes via Cairnforth and Barrow-In-Furness which is quicker at just under four hours. The trip cost me just under fifty quid for a one month open return.

RavenGlass to Eskdale

I left just before ten from Leeds and arrive at twenty past two in Ravenglass where I then caught a steam train on the RavenGlass to Eskdale line to take us into the valley, which was all rather fun. When I got off the station at the other end, there was a group of old people trying to push past as I left the station, especially one old lady who was determined to push by my right as I tried to swing my rucksack on - there was a whole path to the left. As I came out of the station, it was something like a horror film, as in every direction there were hordes of old people taking up the entire width of paths and roads. Before I had time to check my map, I quickly took the first path with no old people, and walked up to Boot where I obtained water from the local post office and then decided to see how well packed my kit was and get a feel for the terrain by taking a relative short walk up to Eel Tarn.

Certainly not packed ideal, as my tent was on the outside and I found that was giving quite a pull as I ascended and descended.

From there, I then made my way to the campsite where I was to stay for the first night and pitched up, before heading to  the Brook House Inn for a couple of pints of beers from the Hawkshead brewery which were really nice. I also enjoyed some of the inns home made pate. I then took a bottle of beer back to the campsite and chilled out watching the moon before retiring.

I was up at 4.30 am the next morning and straight on with a brew. I repacked my entire backpack and found I could get my tent in the main compartment and that certainly made a great difference. After breakfast, I was on the road by about quarter to six.

Hardknott Roman Fort

I had ummed and urred whether I would take a walk up to Hardknott pass to the Roman fort but as I found it coming into view, the sun was begining to break the top and it was illuminated by rays of sunshine and I found my feet automatically taking us there. The route to it was up a twisting turning road which is a one in three! There are quite a few videos on you tube of people going up this road in various vehicles such as this one and walking it, certantly gave the calves a good excericise

The fort itself must have been a miserable posting, you either really really wanted to be in the roman army or you must have really have pissed soemone off to end up there. From what information I can find, it seems to have been stationed by five hundred calvary from the Dalmation coast. After a short reconnoitre around the fort, I began my descent into the Esk valley to run alongside the river. Occasionally shouting "Centurion!" at passing sheep - yes, I'll grow up one of these days.

Lingcove Bridge

I was making extremely good time at this point and decided to take bit of a break at Lingcove bridge. It was, after checking for dead sheep a good place to refill waterbottles from the waterfall and lighten my rucksack off a few rations.

Great Moss 

Lingcove moss is at 170 metres and Great Moss is up to 380 metres which is reached via a path that runs up the east side bank of the river Eskdale passing Green Cragg. The path hasn't had much use by the looks of things and in the long foliage it was easy to loose it in places. Oddly I saw several pairs of discarded shoes along my walk. At first I believed these to be from walkers lighting their load. But I am now convinced that they are in fact tactfully left behind by sheep, who then put them on and stomp away from paths to confuse you.

I did like the scenery around here, especially the small turn before you get to the Moss at Scar lathing and it was most rewarding after making the ascent.

Moving across the Great Moss, I was again making good time and stopped near Cam Spout to just take in the view. This was also where I saw someone else for the first time all day. We had a good chat and I soon resumed crossing the Great Moss

The Tongue 

Now this is where it started to go wrong, I started making my way up the tongue. The path, in places had recently been recut and there were a lot of loose rocks making it somewhat of an effort. My earlier speed had now been lost. Also, remember those sheeps with the shoes ? They were in full flight here, and with the new cut path, the overgrown old path, it was becoming an effort to check that I was still on the right track. To taunt me, the sheep also refused to budge from some parts of the path.

I had ascended up to about 700 metres, when the path becomes more river as in the photo at the very start of this blog. I decided then, to take off my rucksack and do a reconnoiter further up the gorge.  This image here gives you my approximate location, there came a point only a short distance away from where I dropped my rucksack which I could not see a way through. Note the underlined I, as I'm sure to many people who know it, are probably thinking "what do you mean, thats dead easy". I can't be more honest and say, that I just did not feel comfortable or confident in passing this section. There was a steep bank of very loose stones to one side, then about two foot of fast flowing water and slimey rocks on the other. The thought of pulling myself over that with my rucksack on did not appeal.

Returning to my bag and leaving it there, I then decided to go up onto the tongue itself to see if I could get a better view of a way through by the river, or If I could actually get to where I wanted by crossing the tongue itself to get to Esk Hause.

And I got on the tongue and  my visibility was like this

Four minutes later it was this and it started to rain. 

Don't me get wrong, I love the mist and if this was Dartmoor, which I know well, I would have been over like a shot. But as this was the first time in the lakes, I don't know the terrain or what the weather does. It was a tough decision to make, as literally a couple of football pitch lengths away from Esk Hause, but the fact that I was on my own,  I had only passed one person all day, I did not feel confident going up by the river which was now getting more wetter I decided to turn back. I came to the lakes for some fun, and at this point I was not having any.

As mentioned, I liked the area around Scar Lathing, so I thought I would head back there and do what all good Englishmen do in times of defeat and make a brew which I did. Nearly losing a shoe in the process as I saw a nice rock which looked perfect for setting up the hexi burner on and decided to take a short cut. Next thing I knew, my right shoe was ripped off my foot and sitting under the mud.


Making my way back down the Eskdale valley was pretty non eventful, until I heard in the distance a fair amount of mooing and I watched, as up from the right bank crossed several cows who then moved up to the path in front of me and I was presented with this.

This is the second time I have come across a group of cows, the first was along Hadrians Wall, which was a bit more scarier as they were with young calves, but after that did do some reading up on what to do. They say the first thing, is not to show fear, so I made sure I was very discrete in blowing off and procedeed to walk towards them. They moved across from the stream and formed themselves into a wide line. I don't know whether it was the wind of the way they were formed up, but I was instantly reminded of the WWII fighter Ace Douglas Bader. If I was going to get past these cows, then I would need to outflank them. As in the diagram below, as we both approached, I then made a sharp turn up the bank and the enemy took the bait as they followed me up. I then made a sharp counter turn and cut past their left flank, coming dangerously close to their wing guard and the moment of truth.

I glanced over my shoulder and noticed they did not begin to turn, back on the path and some distance gained between me and the foe, I proceeded safely across the crossing and glancing back, I noticed they still hadn't turned. I imagine their group leader will be giving their spotters a bit of a bollocking to allow  themselves to be outflanked that easy.

WoolPack Inn

As I had been unable to get pass Knotts of the tongue, my original planned campsite for Wednesday night in Wasdale valley was not now realistically possible.So I popped in to the Woolpack in to see if they had a room, which they did. By now was also beginning to feel it in my legs a bit, and the temptation of ordering a large steak was too much to resist. Sadly I didn't get that steak, as after a shower and a  couple of pints I found myself beginning to switch off.

Back to Ravenglass 

Again catching the steam train, it was back to Ravenglass where I decided to have bit of a walk around and see the old roman baths and had lunch at the Ratty Arms (Beef sandwich -naturally) and then it was the train back to civilization.

The decision I made to turn back plagued us a bit not just the morning, but the night before at the WoolPack Inn. Had I given in to easily ? and even writing this, it is still niggling. But I believed I made the right decision, If I hadn't been on my own then I'm sure would have got over it, but not having that confidence to proceed on my own, I think if i pushed myself then that was a risk. I am starting a new job in a week (new career in fact), and the prospect of a broken ankle to start wasn't appealing.

All in all I think what I saw of the lakes was very pretty, but it felt a little bit too pretty for my liking. I didn't get that wilderness feeling which I was after. I do want to go back, and do Scafell Pike - this time from the Wasdale side without the slog, but its not a place I want to swing a rucksack on again, it didn't hold that appeal unlike the aforementioned Dartmoor.

Plenty of other places to go to first.

More photos here
Mount Norfolk - If you fancy a bit of fiction after this

Friday, 18 June 2010

Down the end of lonely street....

I was seventeen and had just started work for Charlotte City Trucks as a driver when I first heard Heartbreak Hotel. As it came over the radio, I was instantly mesmerised by its haunting lyrics and sombre tones and had to pull my truck over to the side of the road to listen to it properly. I was hooked.

I later found out, that the song had been inspired by a suicide note, which simply read:

'I walk a lonely street'

But it was the line in the song 'Do cry away their gloom' that sent a shiver down my spine the most,  and to this day, twenty years later, it still does the same to me.  I have an image in my mind of a lone man sitting on the hotel bed, head held in his hands and his shoulders riding up to his ears. The weeping is a quite an affair. One which is given through a throat that has long had its mouth quenched and is barely fuelled by the blood pumping from the heart. There is no energy, or want to move from that position.It's a solemn moment captured in a lonely time.  All that is missing from the scene is a gun on the sideboard, a sure sign of its impending end.

I guess it has always curios-ed me as I have been rather fortunate in life. Three weeks after starting at the Charlotte City Trucks company, the foremen had a freak accident and as I had my high school diploma, I was put in the office in his place. Three years later, the owner of the company wanted to spend more time with his family. So I took over the day to day running of the firm and in ten years went on to becoming a partner. The fleet in this time expanded from six trucks to twenty six and when the owner retired, I was able to buy out his share and I turned it into one of the largest trucking firms in North Carolina. I also met my wife Julianna and we had two beautiful daughters: Bessie who is sixteen years old and Anna-Marie who is twelve.

As I neared my forties, I became a respected citizen of Charlotte city standing for mayor and though I did not win, I won the respect of my peers and a whole new world  of opportunity was opened up to me.

You could say I was living the American Dream, but one thing always niggled in the back of my mind. That line "Do cry away their gloom". On August 16th 1977 Elvis Presley died and the string of Presley hits filled the airways in tribute.  On my way home that day, driving my Lincoln continental, sure enough Heartbreak hotel came on and I pulled over, feeling the same mesmerising haunting that I heard, the first time I heard it all those years ago.

The very next morning I went into work and sacked our entire accounts department. I then pulled in a favour from the Senator of NC and pulled a major contract which would double our workload. In the afternoon, I went down to our main depot and laid off a third of the truckers and spent the rest of the day at the car dealership where I purchased several Cadillacs with petty cash. I didn't go home that night, instead taking a ride to one of our regional depots where we based some of the drivers, who we wanted out of sight - the kind that not even the post office would employ,  and I purchased a cocktail of drugs.

The next morning, I slipped a small amount of LSD into my daughter Bessie's morning milk and crushed up a small amount of cocaine for my other daughter into the juice bottle she took to school. Over the coming weeks I would slowly increase these dosages. For my wife, I played around with a mix of barbiturates and cocaine depending on how I was feeling.

I continued to spend the petty cash of my company on whims, such as a yacht which I have no idea to where it actually is, a dune buggy which I left at the side of the road , plane tickets for destinations such as Rome which I never used - I was disappointed that it took the IRS so long to cotton on.

The teamsters on the other hand, were straight in on the case with the increased workload and longer hours,the strikes started pretty much straight away. Good old teamsters , though you should have seen the look on their representative's face, when he came into my office and suggested extra security would need to be paid for, to prevent any trouble with the truckers. Naturally, I paid his request there and then - from petty cash.

It was one of those worst kept secrets in that the District Attorney's seventeen year old daughter was something of a whore, but I made sure it became secret no more as, I splashed her with gifts and paraded her around town. I even gave her the use of my American Express and Diners club card without hesitation, and made sure everyone saw us arrive.

It was the charity fundraiser for the local college team that I think i really nailed in the nails for my fall from society - you would be surprised at how well the post ivy league go to  protect their own.  For as in front of the two hundred guests, on the lawn of the DC gardens, I and the little Missy...well I think you can fill in the blanks there.

As my business and social standing began to fail, my family remained surprisingly strong and  it did lead me to question my motives. Another trip to those truckers at the remote stop providing them with photos of my oldest daughter and where she would be, soon speeded up things. I knew my work was done when my wife called me a monster when I returned late in the small hours stinking of perfume and when heard of the news said "the little bitch probably deserved it"


So now I sit in the most run down hotel room I could find in the entire state. On my way here I paid a bum to beat me up to add to the pain, but alas I am not crying, no matter how much I try. I have been sitting in the same position for four hours now and just can't get any gloom into my mind at all. I feel surprisingly sober after getting half way through my second bottle of bourbon.  I turned on the radio and another Elvis song is playing. How apt I think as You're the Devil In Disguise fills the room.

Done for a Leeds Savage writing task, entitled "Elvis"

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Theogony & Works and Days

Firstly I think Hesiod needs bit of an introduction as he is not as well known as Homer. Hesiod was an oral poet who it is thought, wrote in 8th century BC. He said he was given his 'gift' of poetic inspiration from the muses themselves as he tended his sheep in Boeotia.

His style is like that of Homer -dactylic hexameter. It is not as polished as Homer and he tends to go off of on one every now and then. The works that have survived which I am reviewing here, are very short, but nonetheless a very entertaining read.

The translation I have, is by M.L West, which is a fairly modern translation (1988) and I found the introduction notes most interesting. He talks about the problems of interpolation (dirty filthy hippy writers take note!) and also most interestingly, he talks about common themes between this and ancient Babylonian, Egyptian mythology, and more surprising Oriental mythology and influences.

My one criticism of the translation is, that the line numbers do not appear next to the text, but are rather summarized a the top of the page - which personally, I find annoying.


Onto the poems themselves, Theogony has all your cool bits of mythology. Such as everything coming out of chaos, Gods being put inside other gods bellies - or swallowing each other. War between Titans, god and man, Thunder bolts and lighting and more.

Essentially its a chronicle of Zeus coming to power and defeating Kronos and the Titans and the creation of earth and man.  As mentioned, Hesiod does goes of on one every now and then and you do find yourself suddenly presented with a list of gods/goddesses/nymphs thrown in every now and then. In the one thousand and twenty two lines of the poems, he gets in no less than three hundred names of gods and their qualities.

Works and Days

Now, this is where Hesiod starts really  jumping all over the shop. Part of Works and Days is essentially a farmers almanac as we find out what months and seasons are best for doing certain agriculture tasks. We also get what days of a month are good for certain things such as the 11th and 12th are perfect for shearing sheep and gathering grain and the 4th is a good day to bring a wife into your house.

Now mixed into this, is a bit on sailing - though Hesiod admits he's not a sailor. Some astronomy, a feud with his brother who he thinks is lazy and got to much a share of his father's estate. The golden ages of man and, also of interest is the first ever reference to Pandora's box - or more correctly, Pandora's Jar.

Both works are an entertaining light read. Do not read the articles on wikipedia as they are dull stilted and make the works sounds tedious. They are far from that. 

Theogony and Works and Days (Amazon Link)
Online Versions

Monday, 14 June 2010

Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual

What a cracking book, this is the kind of book I would like  one day to write. I am not trying to be lazy here, but I have copied the following from the back of the book as it does exactly what it says. 

Your Emperor Needs You! Rome stands supreme  from the desert sands of Mesopotamia to the highlands of Caledonia. The empire rests completely on the sturdy shoulders of the legionaries who hold back the barbarian hordes and continue to expand the frontiers. Join them and conquer the world! 

This book provices all the essential information needed to get in and get on in the Roman army. Learn....

How to be accepted into theLegions and which Legion is for you 
What to wear - And what not to wear whilst on campaign
Who's who in the Roman army, and now to tell a Berber from a Pict
How to Wield a Gladius and fire a catapult 
How to storm a city and survive
How to act while Rome is Honouring your Legion with a Triumph

This book is extremely well written and laid out. The author Phillip Matyszak has done a tremendous job of getting the balance right  between historical facts and an entertaining read. I particular enjoyed all the  Know your enemy type bits and that this book pulls from several sources and packages them into one easy to reach reference.

It is also well bound and feels like a book that is going to last. The illustrations and photographs are superb and their is a good, nice and short glossary in the back.

If you are looking for an introductory read on the Roman army then this is the must read * or if you are like me and have several books on the Roman army and looking for a consolidated reference. Then again, this is a must have.

I really can't stress enough how well this is written. More books like this please.

Legionary: The Roman Soldier's (Unofficial) Manual (Amazon Link)

*The book covers the Romany army circa 100AD 

Saturday, 12 June 2010


I have only read two Clive Cussler books but I do have to say I like the fellow. The first book I read was Black Wind (2004) which was about a planned biological attack on the United states and I picked up at random,  Iceberg (1975) the other week to kill sometime at the airport.

I'm not going to go too much into the plot of Iceberg, as I think that's half the fun of a Cussler novel is going through the twists and turns of the plot - which are many. I should also note that a plot in a Clive Cussler novel seems to be one in which you will have to take several large leaps into the realms of disbelief, but it is all done in a rather entertaining way.

The books main character is Dirk Pitt who has been the protagonist of twenty of Clive Cusslers book. The character is two dimensional in a very good way. There is no twisted Batman style past, no James Bond 'Missing teddy bear' psychological scars or anything else it seems for that matter. Dirk Pitt is an adventurer who likes fast cars, loose women and sharing a joke after getting nearly blown up/shot at/falling down/getting trapped/crashing/captured/escaping etc etc.

It makes a nice change having a hero like Dirk as you feel right from the start you know where you. You can simply kick back and enjoy and I certainly enjoyed reading Iceberg - especially with its dollop of good old fashioned squeezing the secretary's bottom and other seventies throwbacks.

The action in the story starts off somewhere in the Atlantic with a boat encased in a... Wait for it....Iceberg. Then fast forwards to Iceland before ending up in... Well not going to spoil that as it did make it chuckle where it ended up - as I mentioned, you are going to have to take several leaps away from reality.

To sum up, an enternaining read. No its not up their with the greats of literature and I doubt any CC book will be. If you are reading this and thinking it sounds a bit Dan Brown, then don't. They are a world apart. For a start Clive Cussler can actually write and whilst the leaps are there, they are certainly more credible than using your jacket as a parachute(Angels and Demons) and your are not going to find any of this.

I look forward to reading more CC books as they are perfect for reading at the airport and then leaving on a beach, which on that note, if anyone wants my copy of Iceberg or Black wind just shout.

Iceberg (Amazon Link)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Athens & Nafplion

I was going to start with 'Athens, the city where the car is king', but King is far too gracious a word. A better word is bárbaros AKA Barbarians. The city of Athens is overrun by this horde and the trolleybuses, and metro bravely stand as the last small bastions of civilisation, but the war is lost. The Pedestrian is the mob and can only pray to the gods that their invading rulers treat them fairly and ignore the fear imposed...

Amongst this mob, the anarchists have formed and have covered the city walls head to toe in graffiti, its messages lost by the huge scale of this acrylic sea that sprawls like a spiders web - I mean come on seriously, its ugly OTT and you would probably make a far better point by sneaking out in the middle of the night and actually cleaning a wall.

So that's the bad and ugly out the way, and now onto the review.

Getting to Athens wasn't easy, in the end we had to go down to Birmingham, catch a flight to Frankfurt, wait four hours then catch a flight to Athens. On the way back, we had to go to via Zurich (4 hours again), Birmingham. We could have gone from Manchester, but this would have involved a seven hour wait at Frankfurt and from Heathrow, the flight would of cost the best part of an air fare to Vancouver and in the end, that was cancelled due to the BA Strike action. A plus though, was our carrier on the way out was 
Lufthansa, which is always a pleasure to fly as they do make you feel like you are being taken care of - plus the big free bottle of beer was most welcome.

Finally arriving in Athens, we took a cab to the area of 
Pyschiko where we would be staying at Maria's parents house. If you are wondering what a house in Athens is like, its a house of doors. Every other door opens to a room containing more doors. I am not convinced that they all actually lead somewhere and lacking in a ball of string, I decided not to venture too far.

The next day, we got up at midday and after lunch walked down to the Metro station at 
Panormou and headed over to Syntagma to see the guys in the funny shoes and dress outside Parliament as pictured. The Metro is only one euro for a single and three euros for a day ticket. It is also very clean, modern and most importantly very well air conditioned.

It is very hot in Athens and it is not a nice heat, its a hairdryer heat. In the day we had temperatures up to 35'c. At One am in the morning it was still 27'c and by  three am you are still looking at 24'c - and this is May. It was not included in the bad and ugly bit, as other built up Mediterranean cities are exactly the same, such as Rome. As long as you avoid the midday sun, drink plenty of water and are not dressed in a suit of armour you'll be fine.

The Acropolis 

Syntagma it was only one stop to the Acropolis and we headed first of all to the New Acropolis Museum. Entry was 5 euros and it was definitely well worth a visit. What was interesting, was the display of statues and seeing the traces of paint on them. In the upstairs gallery they have what they have of the Parthenon Marbles displayed in-situ, and I really think that the Elgin Marbles and the rest scattered across the world should be returned. The gallery they have set up for them, gives great views of the Acropolis and I think seeing them there all united would make it a greater attraction as it would put them in proper context.

Also, worth a mention is the restaurant in the museum that stretches out onto a large terrace in front of the Acropolis. It was very reasonable being 2.50 euros for an ice cold Frappe which was bought with most welcome jugs of ice cold water - perfect before embarking up the Acropolis itself.

Tickets to the Acropolis were 12 euro which, we only found unfortunately later, but not too late also includes entrance to several other archaeological sites around Athens as is valid for an entire week.

The Parthenon and the Acropolis is very impressive, I found it more so than the Coliseum in Rome. It has a sure feeling of grandeur when you climb up the steps to the top and you see the vista. Not just of the Parthenon but the city of Athens itself. Truly worthy of the Gods themselves. We 
spent a fair amount of time taking in all the ancient buildings and the staff also seemed friendly enough to answer questions about the site. 

There is a rock next to the Acropolis, called Aeropagus (or Mars Hill if you are a Roman) is quite interesting in itself. In classical times it served as the 'high court' and it is said, that this is where the Apostle Paul gave his speech, If I was that way inclined, and was looking for a spot to try and convert the pagans, then I would of probably chosen there too. 

Annoyingly, I did lose my camera bag (luckily not camera) and memory cards on the acropolis, so I hope Zeus, Poseidon and Aphrodite and the others are enjoying my pictures of Leeds . I know it wasn't taken as entirely my own fault for not securing the clip properly and most likely came off my belt whilst scrambling up steep steps. On the subject of photos, I don't think the ones I took are my best by a long shot. Mainly because I couldn't see Jack because of the sun and if you are one of these people that like exif information. Then feel free to gawp at some of the F8, 1000/s craziness on my fotki site. A thought i
f you are rich, you could have some serious fun with a tilt shift lens in Athens. 

Catching a Taxi back to 
Pyschiko we got caught up in a demonstration along the way but luckily weren't held up too much. Taxis are very very cheap in Athens but a few things to note:

  • Sometimes - well most times it might be quicker to walk
  • If you are not on the right side of the road for where you are going, they will tell you to go away 
  • Don't be surprised if the Taxi driver picks up another fare whilst you are in the cab, thats quite common
  • They are above the rules of the roads, a one way sign or no entry offers no sign of defferal for them

After eating back at Maria's parents we set off at just after 10pm to 
Exarchia Square which is in downtown Athens and near the polytechnic. The area is the stomping ground for the Greek Anarchists. A quick google search on Exarchia makes for interesting reading. Our cab pulled around the corner to the square which was full of banners, people and past a line of Riot police full geared up on the corner.  To the untrained eye, the officer with the Tear gas at the ready might be cause for concern. But to the seasoned, there is no way he is going to throw that straight off and if he did, the effect would of been minimal. They were there for display and harmless which was confirmed talking to the waiter who dismissing them as you would likttle children , assured us they rarely cause trouble. It also didn't phase the children in the square who quietly got on with their game of football amidst the potential rioters and police

Beer was around four euros and after having a drink in the square,  and being pleased to see that the Riot police were using the scutum style riot shield, a shield I am particular fond of and 
versed in its use . We headed a short distance to Themistokleous Street where we spent to the early hours drinking in a very nice bar, Ostria. I think they were quite surprised as well, when I ordered in Greek. As much as I berate the American tourist, I can't stand the 'a' typical British tourist who expects everyone to speak English and also, Exarchia aint the area you are likely to find tourists.

Knowing a bit of Greek goes a long way, it can turn an angry kiosk owner into friendly banter and if you want it in measurable terms. Its the difference between your wine jug being filled to the line, or to the top. When I say a bit of greek as well, I mean the ability to be able to say hello, please thank-you etc.

National Archaeology Museum 

The Next day we headed over to the 
National Archaeology Museum which is near to where we were drinking the previous night. The cab driver dropped us off nearby and we had to walk down a street which was sadly is a street that exists in many modern cities which was mainly filled with junkies. That was the only part of Athens where I didn't really want to take my camera out.  As said, its a street you'll find in any city and general Athens feels relative safe. The police do an impressive job of chasing away street traders, when I'm sure they would far rather be watching pretty bottoms - which unlike the Italian police who prefer the leer, the Greek police go for the full turn head, straight stare approach.  Another thing to note as well, if you are approached by a street trader or begger, They will normally leave you alone if you tell them No from the outset. There does not appear to be much of hassling unlike say Florence.

Onto the museum itself, it was 7 euros for entry and I am saying this in hindsight, might be worth researching what is in there before you go. There is a lot of items in there, some of them very unique. I have a horrible feeling I missed a few things but did catch the 
Antiykthera  mechanism, the Artemision jockey amongst others. The private collections on display were pretty impressive and they also had on display some of the Frescoes from Santorini which condsidering the age of them, 15th Century BC are very stylistic.

We spent a good couple of hours in the museum, and I can imagine to spend three or four hours there would be very easy to do. We skipped the Vases as there is only so much Attica vases one can take in.

Monastiraki & Ancient athens

A fifteen minute walk away from the museum we ended up  over at Monastiraki (little Church). There is a flea market in the area, and you are also near the Agora, Hadrian's Library, and several other archelogical sites. This is also where you ticket from the Acropolis comes in handy as mentioned earlier, your ticket for that includes entry for several of these places. There is also a Metro nearby of the same name.

The flea market, what can I say except didn't really see much of it as it was about five pm and the sun was very horizontal in the sky. Walked through it with a constant glare off my sunglasses. What I did see, was a mixture of boutiques and tourist shops. A handy place if you need to do some last minute shopping.

As mentioned I thought the Parthenon was more impressive than the Colosseum, but the Old Forum in Rome is more impressive than the Agora. Not to say, that it isn't worth a visit. On the contary the Temple of Hephaestus is very impressive, especially given its completeness. The reconstruction of the Stoa as well is worth a looktoo. I think the difference between this and the forum is, With the forum and the amount of tourists, you get a feeling of what ancient Rome would of been like. With the Agora in its more peaceful environment you get a "what ever happened here, happened a long time ago" sort of feeling. 

After checking out Hadrian's library we headed to a small square for a couple of beers near the Metropolis. Outside the Metropolis was a gathering with a high police presence, which turned out to be Greek Fascists. Worst of all they were playing the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Thankfully the Fascists in Greece are a minority and not taken at all seriously. 

After our beers, we headed a short hop to Thissio to eat in the shadow on the Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaeastus which were illuminated and made a very nice setting. We ordered several starters to pick at, which is the way to eat in Greece. This included:  

Meatballs (keftethes)
Stuffed vine leaves (dolmades)
Giant beans (gigantes)

Which with a half a jug of wine came to forty euros. Normally myself and Maria always get off the beaten track to eat and drink to save money, but in Athens we didn't have to do that. Drinking in the main areas we were paying around four to five euros for a beer and no doubt if you did head off the track, you could probably find beer cheaper. Wine is very reasonable at around four to five euros for a half litre jug and very reasonable to drink - tis fruity.

After eating we headed to a bar near the Metro stop of Thissio and sat outside to the early hours. As mentioned in my Paris review , I much prefer drinking in europe than to the UK. This bar was mainly filled with Greeks of all ages and was a very chilled affair. There was a group of youngsters going through the rites of passages and getting slowly drunk and falling over, but it was a merry affair and full points to the young greek gentlemen who ended up horizontal on the stairs to the Loo. 


The next day, up slightly earlier and we headed over to the coach station in Athens to catch a coach to Nafplion which is a hundred and fifty Kilometres from Athens. The coach station was just as grotty and concrete as Victoria coach station in London, but the coaches surprisingly modern, comfortable and of course air conditioned. A ticket to Nafplion cost just over 11 euros. 

Nafplion was the first capital of modern Greece before moving to Athens and the town has a long colourful history stretching back to ancient times and the Venetians who occupied the city in the middle ages and later in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They  certainly left their mark on the place. It is a very pretty city to walk around. 

We found a hotel in the centre square called Hotel Athena, which was advertised at 90 to 120 euros a night, but ended up only paying 50 euros. Annoyingly its not on tripadvisor, which has perplexed us a bit, as filling in hotel reviews after a trip has become for me, part of the whole going away process. Anyway, its a very modern hotel, and very comfortable. Would recommend. 

After dumping our bags, we headed for along for a walk around the coast. The Path was blocked off due to falling rocks, but that didn't seem to stop anyone else. Scribbled on the sign there is 'at your own risk'. 

After that we headed back to the square and to the Archaeological museum which was two euros to get in. It was a small museum, but of most note was the Mycenean Armour pictured. For those Homer fans amongst you heres the description of the helmet in the illiad. 

Illiad X 260-265:

"They then put on their armour. Brave Thrasymedes provided the son of Tydeus with a sword and a shield (for he had left his own at his ship) and on his head he set a helmet of bull's hide without either peak or crest; it is called a skull-cap and is a common headgear. Meriones found a bow and quiver for Ulysses, and on his head he set a leathern helmet that was lined with a strong plaiting of leathern thongs, while on the outside it was thickly studded with boar's teeth, well and skilfully set into it; next the head there was an inner lining of felt."

The thing that impressed me most was the size which probably doesnt come across in that photo very well at all. But considering the ancient Greeks were a small bunch, this armour was for someone who must have been very tall in their time. I would say about 5ft 10 

In the evening we sat at the quay and enjoyed the sun coming down over a beer. The area was mainly filled with Greek tourists and of our entire trip, we scarcely came across any english accents. Tourists seemed to be bit of mixed bag with a lot of accents I didn't recognise. Surprisingly a lot of young American tourists were in Athens also. The Japanese were there too, obviously an advanced scouting party as their was not nearly enough Nikons going off in their group. 

We ate in a small taverna in the evening, again ordering several starters which came to only thirty euros. 

The next day we were planning to head to Mycenae but unfortunately there were only two coaches aday from Napfolin, (10 am and 2pm) so we took a boat over to the Bourtzi which is a small island fort in the harbour built by the Venetians. The boat trip was only four euros and its worth taking the short trip out to it.

All in all, Nafplion is well worth a visit, it provides a nice contrast to the sprawl and hustle of Athens and is very pretty. 

The Return 
We caught the coach back to Athens and headed back to Marias Parents for our last night. We got caught going in the Taxi from the coach station with a protest outside the Israel embassy due to the flotilla incident. Thankfully our taxi driver ignored the one way signs and no entry and took us on a detour around it. 

Then in the early hours we started the slog back, via Zurich and Birmingham. Zurich isn't a too bad airport with posh smoking lounges. Tip do not buy a newspaper. I had very little change from ten euros buying the Times and a bottle of water.  

Fifteen hours later and we were back in the pub in Leeds. I think thats the only real negative about Athens, is the time spent travelling there and the cost of getting there. I guess it is probably just that bit to far, that the airlines don't run the weekend breaks flights as they do for other cities.  

To sum up, Athens is a very lively city and the Parthenon is certainty the must see. Do not be put off by all the mentions of riot police, fascists, protests (oh and I forgot to mentioned the strikes) . I think Greeks are very passionate about their freedoms and it adds to the atmosphere.  As mentioned, learn a little Greek and it will get you that full jug of wine, and if you are of a photo persuasion make sure you back some gradient and ND filters. 

Will no doubt be going back in the near future, but next Berlin.

Photos from Athens
Photos from the Archaeological Museum
Photos from Napflion



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