Friday, April 12, 2013

Athens...ancient ruins and modern strays

Today I actually had a chance to go out and visit Athens.  I began with a trip to see the one thing you can't miss in Athens; the Acropolis.  When I say you can't miss it, I mean it.  You can see it from most parts of the city, rising high above skyline with the ruins of the Parthenon visible at its rear edge.  I took the metro to the Akropoli stop, and upon exiting the station and seeing it up close from the base, I realized it was going to be a daunting climb.  I hadn't yet had lunch and decided that such a task should come after getting sustenance.  Since I wasn't quite ready to eat, I headed to see the ground-level Temple of Olympian Zeus first. 

In the park near the temple, there must have been a dozen or more dogs snoozing in the shade.  All of them are strays.  Athens (all of Greece, really) has a huge stray animal problem.  If I lived here I would probably have a hundred dogs and cats!  They are everywhere you look.  In every square, in every park, in the streets...everywhere.  The dogs are friendly; the cats are cautious.  Neither species seems terribly interested in human interaction unless it involves food.  They don't beg or follow you, but they'll take something if you're willing to give it.  The dogs will let you pet them, but don't really seem to care one way or the other about attention.  The cats will stare back at you as you stare at them, but they won't let you get close enough to touch them.  Neither the dogs nor the cats seem to be starving or in distress.  Some of the dogs look a little dirty and ragged and could use a good grooming, but they seem fairly healthy overall.  I wondered how, or what, they ate until last night.  I went out late to grab a bite to eat and passed the local fishmonger's shop in the neighborhood where my hotel is located.  It was closed, but all the day's scraps had been set out in tin containers beside the building and about 2 dozen cats were having a feast.  I imagine the dogs are eating the same way...on the generosity of people who leave something out for them. 

I'm glad the animals in the city are getting fed by people, because I saw 2 dogs on the train trip to Athens that broke my heart.  Our train stopped for about 20 minutes some place that appeared to be a train wasn't a regular stop with a station.  I have no idea where we were, but it seemed like the middle of nowhere.  People got off to stretch their legs and walk a bit.  I was sitting in the dining car at the time having a turkey wrap for lunch.  I looked out the window and saw 2 pathetically skinny dogs come out of some bushes and begin approaching people cautiously.  They were could see every one of their ribs.  A girl on the train who had her dog with her started feeding them some leftover crackers.  I immediately got out with the half a wrap I had left and fed that to them.  They gobbled everything up like they hadn't seen food in quite a while.  Another girl came out and started feeding them too.  The girl with the dog got back on the train and emerged a moment later with her bag of dog food.  She poured almost the entire bag on the ground and they ate it up in seconds.  It was so sad.           

I wondered why there aren't shelters or pounds or some sort of government agency to address the stray problem so I looked it up online.  According to what I read, most municipalities did, at one time, have shelters and dog catchers.  But the conditions in local animal shelters were abysmal.  An animal rights group made some photos and videos in one of them, and the mayor of the town was brought up on charges of animal cruelty.  It's a serious charge here and he was imprisoned.  To avoid having the same thing happen to them, local officials all over Greece closed their shelters and fired all the catchers.  So now there is a terrible stray problem.  I realize Greece is in the midst of an economic crisis, but they really need to address this problem.  There must be a way to at least curb the population growth.  I read that there were such programs - they would catch the animals, spay and neuter them, and then return them to wherever they had been caught - but because of economics the programs have all but been abandoned.  It makes me wonder what the population of strays will look like 5 years from now.

After leaving the temple area, I was walking back around the park when an old man on a bench looked up, pointed directly at me, and said "South Carolina."  It sounded more like suth-car-o-linia, but clearly I knew what he meant.  I was stunned!  I laughed and said "how do you know that?" and he pointed to my shirt.  I had forgotten that I was wearing a Clemson Tigers t-shirt.  He patted the bench beside him and I sat down.  His name was George and he's a retired engineer who worked for 10 months on a project at the Oconee River Nuclear Plant near Clemson.  He said he liked SC...that the mountains and rolling foothills reminded him of the countryside in Greece where he had grown up.  It really is a small world!     

After a delicious lunch of spanakopita, I did make the big climb to the top of the Acropolis.  The ruins are fascinating, but the views of Athens from way up there are possibly the best part.  Here are some pics of my first day sightseeing in Athens....

This is the Arch of Hadrian.  At one time a road that lead from the city center to the Temple of Olympian Zeus ran through the arch.  The people of Athens erected it to show appreciation to the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who finally completed the temple in 132AD, 638 years after construction on it had begun.  During most of that 638 years, it sat unfinished and forgotten.  Hadrian had been well educated by his uncle, the Emperor Trajan, and had a strong interest in Greek history.  When he became Emperor, he began renovation and completion of the temple. 

This is a stray taking a nap in the shade of the ticket office to the temple.

The ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  The full structure was once as big as a football field.  Only this corner and a few random columns remain.  You can see the Acropolis in the background.

The Acropolis.

About halfway up the south slope of the Acropolis is the Theatre of Dionysus.  It's one of the oldest amphitheaters in Greece.

This is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus...the newer, larger, and better preserved amphitheater on the southwest slope.  It is still occasionally used for concerts.

This is the Temple of Athena at the top of the Acropolis.  I'm not posting pics of the Parthenon because, frankly, they aren't very pretty due to lots of scaffolding around the structure. 

Looking out at the city from the top.  The view is spectacular in every direction.

A little residential street a few blocks from the base of the Acropolis.

No comments:

Post a Comment