My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 19 November 2015

In the Steps of St Paul - we arrive in Athens

The Erechtheum at Acropolis
Clouds are banking up ahead and rain threatens as we join the main road to Athens at Kastro on our way from Delphi. We pass Lake Yliki on our left. It is very pretty with the rippling water sparkling in the evening sun. Then we have views of the sea at Schimatari. The scenery is becoming more built up as we near Athenssigns of the current financial crisis very evident in the derelict factories behind locked gates on industrial estates. We glimpse the Bay of Evia and the Island of Evia, Greek's second largest island. It is long and narrow, but not very fertile, and it is to here the Athenians escape from the city for their recreation. It has been connected to the mainland by a bridge since the 1990s. We also see the vast Parnitha national park to our right, spanning the highest parts of the mountain of the same name. This park is of great aesthetic and ecological importance for its rich and protected flora and fauna.    
The larger than life female statues (caryotids)
on the Erechtheum

For me the build up of urban sprawl is very depressing visually; it is ugly, with graffiti everywhere, even all along the road side sound barriers. I feel more and more gloomy as we drive deeper into the centre of Athens. It has to be explained that cities are not my scene at the best of times. They often seem so dirty and I quickly become overwhelmed with traffic and people. Not to mention the ubiquitous chewing gum adorned pavements. I'm beginning to wish that Paul had travelled in the other direction so we could finish in Kavala! 
Parthenon detail
My mood is not lightened when I step out onto my small hotel balcony to a view of a Shell petrol station and high rise flats, but I am agreeably surprised when all falls silent well before midnight. And imagine my delight and surprise to wake up in the morning to hear birdsong above the build up of traffic noise at 7.30. What a real treat. And as Athens reveals its many treasures to me over the next couple of days I warm to everything it has to offer. I very soon appreciate that Athens and Corinth are indeed the right way to end our pilgrimage after all.

The hotel is clean, comfortable and very friendly indeed with true Greek traditions of generous hospitality awaiting our enjoyment. The food is OK, although there is really far too much for me - no less than four courses tonight - in an obvious endeavour to please and delight with generosity I fear our host the patron has overdone it. No wonder so many around here seem to have rather large stomachs!

I feel rather self conscious the following morning as I go down to breakfast in my purple shorts, but they are to prove sensible attire in the extreme heat of the day. Breakfast is a good range of cooked foods, not so overwhelming on the pastry front but it is the first really good cup of English Breakfast tea, in fact any kind of tea, that I have enjoyed since the start of our trip.
We have been generally underwhelmed by the quality of food in Greece, but perhaps with the Greeks struggling to make ends meet at present, savings must be made on the quality of ingredients and we cannot blame them for that.
the Theatre of Dionysius at Acropolis
There is another coach party in our hotel - a tour of Europe by a group from Brisbane in Australia
A walking tour of Athens awaits us today, a city seen by many as the cradle of civilization and democracy; although not much remains of the former glories of the 5th century BC. 
The Acropolis, foremost site of classical Greece, with its famous Parthenon, is awesome. We are there at 8.10am to enjoy this monument to best effect, because by 11am the tour coaches, taxis and backpackers will have poured in and it becomes total madness.

painstaking restoration
  Restoration of the Acropolis has been going on for some time and is nearing completion. Oldest methods as well as latest technology are being employed, using existing stones etc from the ruins wherever possible and making it easy to recognise where new materials have been used. The rebuilding is also such that if at any time in the future ideas change on what should be restored, the work is readily reversible.
Mars hill

But in spite of the sheer numbers of people and the heat and the general filth of the surrounding streets and the wider town as viewed on our way here yesterday, within the site's boundaries it is all kept immaculately, swept by numerous cleaners and polished by thousands of tourist feet as they buff it up each day. Rather like Dubrovnik.
The new Olympic Stadium
From the Acropolis we walk down to the site of St Paul's sermon on Mars Hill, the Areopagus. Paul's reception here was very mixed. While waiting for Silas and Timotheus to join him here and concerned about the idolatry he sees all around him, he has been talking to many in the synagogues and in the market place, and certain Stoics and Epicureans call him to explain himself more at the Areopagus. There he preaches his disquiet about the altar inscription he has found "To the Unknown God", and tells them of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection promise. Some mock him,but others are persuaded, including Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris. (Acts 17: 15-34). 
Greek soldiers at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior

We then visit the Agora, the centre of public life in Athens at the time of St Paul.
After our own guided tour I return later on my own to climb the Hill of Mars to take in the view and contemplate the significance of where we are in my own way. Some go to buy souvenirs and presents in the Plaka shopping area.

Temple of Hephaestus at Agora
The streets of Athens are prettily lined with many orange trees, relieving the graffiti, but apparently the glossy and inviting fruit is bitter and only good to make marmalade with plenty of honey to sweeten it. Like the mulberry, these trees provide much welcome shade.
95% of Greeks are practising Greek Orthodox, we are told, with just 1% Catholic.
From the acropolis we are driven to the Olympic Stadium, built for 60,000 but 76,000 were counted when David Beckham started the Olympics with the symbolic torch in 2012. There is a great view of the Acropolis Parthenon from here. We watch the presidential guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It's nearly 11.30 and the storm clouds are gathering across the city.


  1. Eleanor, like you, I also immensely dislike cities--the crowds, the noise, the dirt, the chaos. Your photos are terrific! If I remember correctly, the Parthenon was destroyed primarily by a gunpowder explosion during some war or other. (Napoleon's troops?)

  2. thanks for comment Jo Anne - quote from Wikipedia "After the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque in the early 1460s. On 26 September 1687, an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures." Perhaps this is what you are thinking of. I had not picked that up until now. Thank you.