Monday, March 30, 2009

Cat Shit One

What do you get if you cross Metal Gear Solid with cute pets?

We'll find out in 2010


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Athens

Having an opportunity to escape work for a weekend I decided to head abroad. I was going to head to Iceland initially but for some reason chose Athens instead and headed out East. I had 3 aims of the trip; to visit the tourist bits, visit the city's theme parks (which nobody I know had visited yet) and see the Olympic Stadium.

Having been scammed by the taxi driver (the meter said 25 euros but the "extras" brought it up to 40) I checked in. Here's the hotel room. My base for 2 nights!

They'd done a good job cleaning the toilet but there was no satin in sight!

Anyway, having had enough excitement exploring the hotel room I headed into the city. Being in the down season all the tourist attractions had closed for the day so I thought I'd head out to the theme parks starting with the biggest, Park Allou. However this park isn't easy to get to, a half hour estimated walk from Egaleo station, which is at the western end of the city's blue metro line.

Although hard to get to the route was straight forward, head East from the station to the motorway and follow it South. So yep, I was not doing the touristy thing at all! That guy on the bike was taking the opportunity of using the pedestrian footbridge to U-turn. There were quite a few motorcyclists doing it. 

After the walk I found Kidom hidden behind the Carrefour supermarket. This is part of the Allou complex with rides aimed at children. The most thrilling ride was the Big Apple coaster. Having said that the park was closed.

This welcome, sort of gave it away.

Across the road is the main park, Park Allou. Also closed.

Not a big deal, I had 2 more days to come back.

The Western gate however was open so I walked in, a stray dog in tow and started walking around the park. This is the Starflyer, one of the few rides that still fill me with terror. But not as terrifying as the group of security guards who came running into the park after me asking what I was up to. I played dumb and said I thought the park was open, I was told it would open at 5pm and to come back.

Which begs the question, what sort of park opens at 5pm? It was now 3.30 and I could either hang around the industrial estates that surrounded the park, go watch a movie in the cinema compex up the road, do some shopping in Carrefour to kill the time or bugger off to explore the rest of the city.

I chose the latter. Quite a good collection of tall rides in one place don't you think. It would be interesting to see how close the booster got to the starflyer.

To the East of Park Allou is this other park, or was this park, past tense. I think it was a race track.

But now it was a collection of coloured tyres 

and destruction

Olympiakos S.C football stadium. Note the smoggy sky!

Even smoggier. Here's a view of the park from a flyover looking North.

Athens has a lot of bad graffiti, bad meaning "bad" but I liked the scale of this piece.

2 miles later and I made it to the coast to visit the next park Luna Park Tivoli, which I had suspected had gone (I'd checked things in Google Earth in research the trip). This photo confirmed my suspicion. Luna Park had gone. It was home to a kiddy coaster which nobody had been able to find the new location. There was another children's amusement park nearby so I headed off to that.

Another stadium in Pireaus, which I think is home to Olympiakos so I guess the stadium I'd passed earlier is the old site.

Crossing over the main road heading into the sports complex, used in the Olympics. That's Pireaus in the background. Awful sky. The smog is really bad today!

The Pireaus sports complex is dominated by the Peace and Friendship stadium, which was built for the Olympics. In the southern shadow of that is the other park.

This is where the Olympic volleyball championships took place. Doesn't look like it had been used in some time though.

The little park is called "mpuk mpuk". It was full of little rides.

Pireaus.

Mpuk mpuk had no rollercoasters, so the location of the ride is still to be answered and won't be found by me.

Giving up on the hunt I decided to follow the coast down to Glyfadas to visit park number 3. Fortunately the tram terminus is in Pireaus and Glyfadas is near the other end of it so getting there would be easy. 

Tram tickets cost 1 euro for a single trip and having been Olympicised the machines have an English mode so they're easy to use. You buy the ticket then stamp it in the machines on the platform. If you don't get it stamped you'll be hit with a 60 Euro fine. You have 90 minutes from the time stamp to complete the journey.

International Luna Park is in Glyfadas which is supposed to be the "Miami" bit of Athens, although it was nothing like it. This park was also closed. As I approached the park to find it closed the storm that had been hiding behind the smog started to emerge.

So whilst I had the beach to myself I didn't want to be there for too long, and here's my little tip for you! When you buy a tram ticket from a machine that works, buy a second ticket for the return trip making sure you don't stamp it until you start heading back. I found out much to my disappointment that the machines aren't always as reliable as those at the end of the lines. I had to walk 2 stops up the tram lines after I couldn't get a ticket back.

This is the main Parliament building at the east end of Sytagma square.

The square is one of the main focus points in the city.

This is Kapnikarea, a very old Orthodox church at the end of the main shopping street at west end of Syntagma square. There was a ceremony underway so I didn't stay in there for too long.

Syntagma square would be THE main central point of the city but of course in Athens its the Acropolis that holds the title, which it has done for some time. At least 2 months.

I knew that the Acropolis would be closed but I thought I'd take a walk to it anyway. I told you the graffiti was rubbish but it was good to see an Obey piece.

In the centre of the Plaka, the old town, east of the Acropolis.


A nice piece in the Plaka

This is the new museum located at the south-east foot of the Acropolis. It's supposed to offer nice view of the Parthenon from its top floor.

This was as close as I could get. I didn't want to risk getting arrested in going further. The authorities have locked up brits in the past for photographing airplanes, something I was aware of the whole time I was out there.

Having had my fill of the Acropolis for tonight I headed back down the hill. This is Hadrians Gate, an impressive structure which loses its impact when you realise you can just walk around it. I have no idea who it was supposed to keep out.

A rather striking art piece located near the Athens Hilton hotel. It's titled "The Runner".

Anyway, having seen enough of the city for the first day I grabbed some food at a small restaurant near my hotel (not the Hilton btw) and called it a night.

The next morning was glorious, no sign of smog or rain so I was up and out early grabbing the metro back into the tourist part of the city. The plan being to visit the sites in the morning and get around the parks again in the afternoon. This is a small Agora en route to the Acropolis.

Looking up towards the Acropolis, my intended destination.

This is the Tower of the Winds. I think this was part of a wind powered mill.

This is the Church of the Metamorphosis in the heart of the Plaka.

An incomplete smurf derivative.

This is the back-end of the Theatre of Herod.

Looking up towards the Parthenon.

Having scaled the small hill that is the Acropolis you enter the Propylaea, basically a big gate. I think I'd got here very early as there were only 5 other people up here and no tours or chinese conglomerates whatsoever. It meant I could get lots of photos with no people in sight! Bonus!
 

Having said that this guy had a knack for walking into my shots. This is the side of the Parthenon that isn't seen from the city hence it being covered in scaffolding. There is a massive amount of money being invested in renovating the city.

This is the Erectheon, another building atop the Acropolis.

The Parthenon again. It uses some tricks in its structure to make it look more square than it actually is. Having a wide-angled camera does the same thing!

The crane is a shame. I could photoshop it out.

This is not an authentic greek sink unit.

The Parthenon is an absolutely amazing structure.

Looking down from the Acropolis towards the Agora. That temple is the Temple of Hephaestus.

and that's the Temple of Zeus down on the other side to the Agora. Hadrian's gate that I'd passed the night before is just out of shot to the right.

The Parthenon

Looking towards Likavitos hill. I was intending on ending the day up there.

Up close to the Erectheon.

Proof that in Ancient Greece women were seen as being the pillars of society. (I'll grab my coat)

Looking down on the Theatre of Herodes, which I'd passed earlier that day.

The new museum complex.

There is a second theatre beneath the Acropolis, that of Dionysus, but there's not much of it left.

The scaffolding around the Propylaea spoils the attraction but I am visiting out of season and the work does need to be done, so I can't grumble.

Inside The Propylaea

Likavitos again.

This is the Stoa of Attalos, the first of the fully renovated buildings within the Agora. It does look impressive.

The old observatory building and some old church.

Ominous skys coming from the East meant it was time to head down off The Acropolis and get back into the city.

The Temple of Hephaestus hasn't been restored nor does it need to. It is a magnificent original.

A statue of Hadrian, which you can tell from his face...I mean his fingerprints...I mean his clothes.

The Hephaestus Temple, I think is my favourite in the city. Just because of its condition.
Some more ruins within the Agora.

Inside the Stoa.

Some more statues in The Agora. Quite liking the snake person one in the foreground.
Looking back towards the Stoa with more ruins in the vicinity.

North of the Agora is a massive street market, where you can buy stuff you never thought people would ever sell. Not for sentimental reasons, but because its all junk.

I'm guessing this is a nightclub on Monastiriki Square. I didn't come back to find out.

Another Obey piece.

This market area is like Camden Town x 10 but selling stuff you don't want.

A small monastery building in Monastiriki square.

When building the Metro, needed for the Olympics, lots of archaelogical finds were discovered and built around. So some of the stations are like museums. I was headed out West to Egaleo again, my destination the not-easy-to-get-to Park Allou.

Not wanting to follow the motorway again I decided to walk parallel to it through the backstreets of Athens. I'm pleased I did otherwise I'd have missed stunning sights like this.

and a few dozen caterpillars marching in single file. This amazed me, I've never seen this.

Another short walk later and I was back at Park Allou.

and the park was open! Yay! I started with Kidom and got a ride on the apple coaster, called Apple Coaster.

It's a cute little park but there's no reason to visit unless you're collecting ride credits!

A quite cute carousel.

So Kidom was finished, now to go to its big brother.

This is the park map. Although its the nearest the city has to a theme park its still quite small. You can easily cross it in a couple of minutes. I don't know if it was an intentional design to have the triangular shape, which was also how Athens was designed. 

Omonia Square to the North, Syntagma to the East and Kerameikos to the West.

This was quite amusing but unfortunately not open. It's a self service waffle stand.

Not sure what this attraction was supposed to be but it was closed. I thought it may have been the log flume, but that was running.

This park also has a Big Apple coaster but its not a big apple.

Its a rollerskater ride.

Quite a nice one too. This would have made a nice photo if there was a log coming down at the same time, but it wasn't to be. The park was just too empty.

The most basic of freefall towers. I'm assuming it's a mini-scad tower but from a distance it looks like you just walk off the plank.

This is one those Caprio 6G booster variants. I'd ridden one at a park in Rotterdam and they're quite a tough ride to endure. However I was saved here as it was being worked on.

Two things I noticed on the park map. Firstly, I wonder what happens in the Redemption Area and secondly before "Waffle Yourself" the space was occupied by a "Juice Yourself". Perhaps they're linked!

The second coaster in the park along with the big apple that isn't a big apple, is a bog-standard crazy mouse ride.

Arty splashdown shot!

The TopSpin wasn't running probably because it would take all day to fill it.

There's a saying "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie", and in Greece there are lots of strays. I thought I'd take a pic of this one asleep but as soon as the camera was raised he woke up. I guess the saying is true.

The big wheel wasn't running, again I think due to lack of numbers. The coaster took 10 minutes between runs just to get people on it.

Legend is one of those spinning swinging rides. Quite good too!

I've seen the bullfighting game before, but don't recall every seeing the karate one. I guess because in more Health and Safety prone countries like our's that would be deemed to be too dangerous, or promote violence, or something.

The name "Monkey Rugby" really triggered my imagination, but alas it was just a simple fairground game.

Another shot of Kidom's Big Apple coaster.

Walking back towards Egaleo (I didn't fancy going to Pireaus today as there was nothing new down there). Just ahead is the city's Ikea shop. Parked along the motorway are cars belonging to shoppers who don't want to pay the parking, and here I am being forced out onto the motorway by that traffic.

My plan was to take blue metro from Egaleo back to the centre of town before heading out North to Irini for the Olympics site. But that didn't go quite well either. There was engineering work going on on the line and some of the line, including my destination was inaccessible.

The good news is that I was still able to get there with a short walk from the last station that the train stopped at today. So from Iraklio station just head East and you'll soon spot this.

The Olympic Site is a massive complex, as expected but also quite deserted. I'm not sure if its still used for anything. It's all fenced off with motorbike security people, however the Eastern end is open so you can get fairly close from that side.

To the East of the stadium is the headquarters. I guess now that the event has moved on there's no need to keep everything in order. Just look at the rings on each side :D

Golden Hall is to the East of the Complex and I think is now home to business, or it could be a mall. I didn't go in.

Just up the road is a little childrens park, no coasters here though.

This was quite cool. A remote control race track and an aerial assault course over it. Good use of space.

This was quite bizarre though. From a distance it looks like a stack of trampolines but up close you can see that it's a series of webs that kids can climb through and adults can hang themselves on.

Quite a collection of inflatables too!

But I was headed to another park, Ta Aidonakia just up the road. This park has a tiny footprint and is found on the corner of two main roads. I'd walked to it but you can reach it by X14 bus from Syntagma. It takes around 40 minutes to get there.

Their coaster is another big apple called Alexanderou. At least its not called Big Apple.

The park is so small that I spent longer riding the coaster than getting around the park. I was in and out in under 10 minutes.

Good for kids though.

Another of those trampoline towers, this one didn't look quite as webby as the one down the road.

From here it was time to head back into town.

The Temple of Zeus and a little tip. You can get some nice photos without paying to go in. Just look for the worn grass paths leading between the trees that are there to stop people getting photos without paying.

Hadrians ineffective gate again.

A statue inside one of the city's parks

Hurrah! Some decent graffiti. Well I liked it.

From the city centre I caught the tram down to Glyfadas again, and once again the park was open for business. Saturday is definitely the day to get around. I'd nailed all the main parks in half a day!

Nicely themed spinning ride and probably the most extreme ride here.

This park is like a travelling fair that has set up permanent residence along this quay.

The one coaster is a dragon of the powered variety.

Camp looking genies.

This is the view of the park from Platio Vergoti tram station. You'll know when its time to get off the tram when you see the wheel.

Back to Syntagma square, some kids were using it to skate on! From here I headed East to climb Likavitos hill.

A view half way up. There's a vernicular railway that'll take you to the top. You can find it on the corner of Aristippou and Ploutarchou. As you get near you'll see the signs for it.

This is the station, easily mistaken for a gift shop. The taxis waiting outside gave the game away. The vernicular is underground so you won't see it until you enter.

Atop the mountain, hill, mound, whatever it is.

There's a little monastery at the top.

Rather depressing note written on the wall at the top. I wonder if the person jumped?

Another theatre in the city, this one also on the top of the hill.

The sun starts to go down. It was recommended that seeing the sun go down over Athens was a good thing to do, and it was quite cool, then colder, then very cold. So bring a thick top!

Another shot over Athens. I had to climb over the wall and shoot this through a gap in the protective plastic screens.

When it got dark I went back into the town to grab Souvlaki in the Plaka and to get one more shot of the Parthenon at night.

The best I could get.

The final day I decided to do the official city tour. That's the Athens Concert Hall at Megaro Moussikis on the blue line. It was my home station for my stay, my hotel was just down the hill from it.

Syntagma Square looking towards the Parliament building.

The Acropolis.

This woman thought she'd get her kid to push her wheelchair up a cobbled hill. They made it all of 5 metres before getting stuck. She then got out and walked. This isn't Disneyland lady, stop being so lazy!

Today was busier than yesterday, we had organised tours. My little tip is never bother with those. You get the same information from a guide book or wikipedia and you also have the freedom to go where you want when you want rather than being a sheep.

The Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Parliament building. Happens every day at 11. So if you want good shots of it over the crowd jump the tour bus that leaves Syntagma at 10.30. By the time you get to Acropolis and back you'll arrive midway through the ceremony.


Panaithinako Stadium was the original Olympic stadium but its now too narrow for events. They used it as the finish of the marathon.

The Athens Academy, one of my favourite buildings in the city. A great example of Neo-Classical architecture.

Just up the road is National Library.

Omonia Square is one of the main squares in the city. It looked too European haha!


Athens had seen quite a bit of anti-police rioting following them inadvertantly killing a young boy. So there was plenty of graffiti like this around. 

Some more quite nice graffiti. The yellow girl I mean.


The Greek "Last of the Summer Wine" appreciation society meeting just outside the Agora.

Athens doesn't get to escape from the pan pipe players.

The walk outside the Agora. Plenty of opportunity to buy trinkets and tatt. I walked past that to visit a really cool MC Escher exhibition at a small gallery on Herakleidon.

and some counterfeit goods being sold illegally. It was very amusing to see all the Africans and Asians (who were the naughty ones, I'm not being racist) quickly pack up their "displays" and leg it into the backstreets. 
Back in the market of tatt!

A little bit of Western culture invades Athens. To be honest I don't recall seeing any McDonalds or KFCs, which is quite refreshing. 

and some more graffiti.
Monastiraki looking South towards the Acropolis.

A big piece of, I guess commissioned, art!

A protest in Kotzia Square.

The old parliament building is now the National Historic Museum.


and that was Athens!! It was only when I got back that I realised I'd reached 25 capital cities. Now to get to 50 haha!