Who knew olive oil is a “Dangerous Good?”
Our last full day upon us, we rose with Helios and began with Dionysus’ Theater at the Acropolis. This was Ohi Day, the Greek National Day with free entrance to the Acropolis and several other sites, and we feared queues yet again. To our relief, no queues, just a rude ticket person at the South Slope. At every sight on the Ministry of Culture Acropolis ticket the ticket-person would stamp our entrance on the ticket; Anna Grace was looking forward to collecting all of the Greek-letter stamps. But no, the person refused to stamp her ticket and even shouted at her, “No stamps!”
Back over to the Temple to Olympic Zeus for the up-close view and a few trademark terrible family selfies, then a longer-than-expected walk to the world’s only all-marble Panathenaic Stadium, now atop the original stadium from 374 A.D.
Rather conveniently as we sat to rest half way along, the guards were changing at the Presidential Palace with nary a tourist in sight. Their fustanella, traditional costumes, adding the pomp to the circumstance.
Visiting the old Olympic stadium was an add-on requested by Anna Grace, Track & Field diva athlete that she is, and was a surprise hit with us. Those passing by on the sightseeing buses missed out. With the ticket an audio guide is included; Tony and I followed along while she climbed to the top of the stadium to take Polaroids. At the end of the tour is the Olympic Torch Museum and its collections of both torches and Olmypic posters. Did you know this is the stadium from where the Olympic Torch begins its journey?
Peer pressure, and travel research recommendations put the Byzantine Museum next on our agenda. Our attempt to hail a taxi for the kilometer between foiled by road closures for Ohi Day parades, the walk was a little miserable for Tony and a lot boring for all of us, none of which served to quell our simmering disinterest in the museum.
Did we gain a newfound appreciation for Byzantine and Christian art? Truth be told, we respected the expansiveness of the collections, but enjoyed much more the chronological narrative of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine world. Or as Anna Grace put it, “At least the museum was free.”
Lunch was not according to the long-scrapped plan, but the photos remind me that it included a sunny table, house wine, bread, olives, and Bouyiourdi—the Mediterranean Diet! Also, a platter of fresh grilled sardines and an extravagant Souvlaki presentation.
A tour of Anafiotika and some shopping was the game plan for the waning hours of the afternoon. At this point, however, the weather had dramatically turned; dark clouds had begun swirling around the Parthenon, inspiring us to weave our way into Plaka to shop first and hope the clouds would keep on moving. But the gods, this once, were not in our favor; we ducked between the raindrops to collect our souvenirs and then walked our drippy selves back to the apartment.
By dinner, the now lightly falling rain outside was not exactly compelling us to head out. But out we had to go, to a cozy wine cellar tavern, the barrels perched above our heads, and from where the proprietor would open the tap to fill the pitcher with our house wine. The tables were few and the menu Spartan; one final Bouyiourdi, a recommended smoked eggplant starter and roast lamb platter to share, with the quiet buzz of conversations around the room was a most pleasant way to end our day.
With the Benaki Museum the only agenda, a later start to our final half day should have been in order, but thanks to Kronos (the god of daylight savings) we were awake before Helios. Just more time to enjoy coffee on our balcony, right? A little later, a lovely stroll through the National Garden brought us to the museum.
We loved everything about the Benaki, I’ll just put that out there. The building architecture; the collections; and even the special exhibit on the Rhodes ceramic factory. And it would seem others shared our enthusiasm, for the museum was the most crowded of any sight we had visited on this holiday. With departure time approaching, Anna Grace and I dashed back to the apartment for the case while Tony caught the last of the Parliament Changing of the Guards; from there we Metro-ed to the airport for the turbulent flight home.
For this trip we decided to use one large hardshell case. At check-in the case weighed 22 kg, and I innocently, or so I thought, joked, “Guess I could have purchased more olive oil!” Apparently, buried three-clicks deep on Aegean Airlines’ website under “Dangerous Goods” is the warning:
“Foodstuffs in semi-solid or liquid form, and especially olive oil, must be suitably packed in wooden boxes with absorbent material to prevent leaks which may cause damage to the property of others.”
At first the ground crew member said she would not check our bag. After explaining that I had only two 250ml tins of oil (maybe I rounded down) wrapped in plastic and inside of plastic bags, further inside of a hardshell case, the staffer relented. As long as I had the case shrink-wrapped in plastic. Funny enough, I’ve long thought it amusing that travelers wrap their cases in plastic, and now I had occasion to have the same fun!
With the dangerous goods shrink-wrapped, I wheeled the case back to our staffer. Suddenly the case weighed 23.7kg? “Your bag is overweight. Take it to bulk luggage drop-off.” After confirming that she had tagged the bag for VIE and not VIEtnam, I gave her an epic eye roll and delivered the bag.
The inbound meal was by name, Soutzoukakia; by taste, barely warm squishy meatballs and dried out potato wedges. But not eating was wise: the equivalent of an American Nor’easter storm (just wind, no snow) was barreling across Central Europe with winds up to 110 km/hr and causing havoc. Our departure from Athens was delayed by an hour, thankfully; even so, the final 30 minutes of the descent was straight out of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. During touchdown a wind gust slapped the plane, and we landed first on two wheels, with a hard bounce to all three. Everyone applauded the Captain when we hit terra firma!
The olive oil (and two bottles of Greek wine) survived intact. Must have been the shrink-wrap.
Postcards to follow.