La Serenissima

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Discovering the Ancient World – a cruise with Azamara

I started out in this great city, as I wanted to see the new Acropolis Museum and
to just ʻhang out” in the place really, as last time I was there, I was very sick and
didnʼt get around too much I stayed at the same hotel, the Electra on Ermou, which is a pedestrian only street. A great spot, which lovely side streets and some great local restaurants
(more of that later …)

The short answer is that the museum is fabulous. Beautifully designed, open, airy
spaces show off the vast collection of antiquities superbly. Simple translucent
blinds allow things to be bathed in soft, filtered light. The first floor displays
artefacts from the slopes of the ancient acropolis, a transition zone between the
city and its most famous sanctuary, dating back from 3000 BC until
approximately the 6th century AD. The second floor is devoted to the Archaic
period – from the 16th century BC to the 5th century BC. This level includes
statues of Athena, votive offerings (which take the form of various sculpture
figures) to the goddess. The most distinctive of these are the marble statues of
young women – the Korai. 

The 3rd floor is the Parthenon gallery (5th to 4th
century BC). Architecturally fascinating, it is a glass box offset from the lower
floors and seems to be laid out to replicate the Parthenon itself, which you can
see from this gallery. The Greeks are very diplomatic – there are beautiful
brushed stainless steel plates below each section of the reconstructed Parthenon
frieze, some noting the actual name and original location of each section, others
name the section but indicate current location “BM” … er, that would be British
Museum, courtesy of Mr Elgin!!

 Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures at all in the museum, but I have scanned
some postcards I bought there, so you can get some idea of it. A Kore being
moved into position before the museum opened; detail of a Kore and a shot of
the Parthenon frieze; and a photo I did take outside at the museum entrance,
which shows the excavations of the ancient city on the Acropolis slopes. They
hope to make this part of the museum, so that you can walk through it.

I also spent time just walking around near the museum (which is only 1 stop
away from Syntagma on the underground – which was terrific) where I saw
gorgeous orange trees in the streets – with oranges no less! Also walked around
the Athens Cathedral and nearby streets off Ermou. And I discovered a fabulous
restaurant around the corner – all locals dining at tables on the street. Great!!

Alexandria Egypt

Set on the western edge of the Nile delta, Alexandria has a beachside city feel
reflected dramatically in the Corniche, a sweeping 30k long. The city has
remnants of the grandeur of European architecture from the1900s as well as
poorer, dusty neighbourhoods where horses and carts mix with modern
transport. Old open-air trams rattle along with mixed & segregated carriages.
Alexandria Museum.

 The museum has a stunning collection of Greco-Roman art and ancient Egyptian
treasures. It’s smaller than Cairo, but well worth a visit. Generally well displayed
and lit, I saw Hatchepsut – a favourite of Julian’s since his childhood – she was
the only woman pharaoh (I knew there was a reason I liked him!!); Ahkenaten;
countless sculptures of various figures, all clearly individual and many with a
modern, minimalist feel of contemporary art. 

The hieroglyphs were impressive too, as were photos of recovered treasures from the sunken Palace of Cleopatra.

I had to keep pinching myself as I gazed at these 4000 year old wonders.

Port Said
We sailed overnight to dock in Port Said next day. From here, it was
a 3 hour ride to get to the Pyramids at Giza. One hour out, the air
became misty – Cairo pollution!. The ride was an experience in itself
– some highways don’t have lanes; others are advisory! – and all
kinds of vehicles vie for space.

We lunched at a very nice hotel, which, I discovered was right next door to the Pyramids, which were
very evident from the car park!

Giza is a very big site, sand quite soft
(& therefore ankle-threatening as I discovered!) and lots of camel,
photographic and horse/cart entrepreneurs touting their wares. Even
so, this doesn’t detract from gazing upon such iconic treasures and
you are struck by the mightiness of ancient Egyptian culture.

the Great Pyramid is a museum housing one of the funery boats
found nearby by and reassembled by archaeologists. It took 10 years
to put it together. King Khufu was to use it to sail across the heavens
with the sun god Re.

I couldn’t resist this last photo … no, your eyes aren’t fooling you! They were
setting up for a private sound and light rock concert. THE loudest duff-duff music
I’ve ever heard. I said to the guide that whilst the pyramids had been here for the
last 5000 years, much more of this music and they won’t be around in 5000 years
time!! She assured me it wasn’t usually this loud. At any rate … yes … the sun
did set over the pyramids … …