Monday, October 23, 2017

Highlights from Athens

Here's a sight I never thought I'd see in person...

Yes, that's the Acropolis all lit up against a darkening sky. And me? I was sitting on a comfy sofa at a rooftop restaurant, drink in hand, chatting with my students and watching the sun set behind the Parthenon. I felt like shouting, "Pinch me! This can't be real!" (In fact, I think I did say those exact words to my friend, Wendy.)  When I did a report on Greece in the 6th grade, and when my dad brought me back a doll from Greece in the 1960s, and when I studied Greek architecture in my college art history class, I never dreamed I would be sitting where I was in 2017, looking out at the real thing!

I had arrived in Athens on September 30th after completing my workshop in Tuscany. My mom and I had taken the train from Florence to Rome, then caught a flight to Athens, arriving on a cool, rainy day. The next morning, we walked around the historical center of the city, seeing the sights and getting the lay of the land. Imagine our surprise when we happened to glance down a side street and saw this...

No, not the guy on the scooter...the Acropolis! Right there, looming over the ever-expanding megalopolis of Athens. Almost everyone on this tour told me the same story, how they were strolling around town and just casually glanced over and thought, wait, what's that? Oh my gosh - it's the Acropolis!

There's just something so surprising about the juxtaposition of ancient and modern in Athens.

The huge Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens, built in the 19th century, looms over the tiny 12th century Church of Theotokos.

You can hardly walk a block in the downtown area without seeing ruins of one sort or another.

During the three days I had in the city before my workshop began, we managed to squeeze in most of the main tourist sights, like the Plaka, the National Gardens,

the Parliament Building and changing of the guard.

And, of course, I had to hike up the hill to do some sketching at the Acropolis.

My favorite spot was the Porch of the Caryatids (lady columns)

Aren't they elegant?

I loved the hour that I spent sketching by myself on the Acropolis. Even though there were hundreds of other tourists there, when I was focused on sketching the Caryatids, it was as if I had the place to myself. Sketching does that for you - it filters out the noise and lets you experience a place in a personal way.

Of course, my visit to Athens wasn't all peace, harmony, and sunsets over the Acropolis. There was also traffic...

Scooters are everywhere in Athens!

graffiti (LOTS of it!)...

and crowds...

Next time I won't visit the Acropolis at 10 am, the busiest visiting time for large group tours!

But that's the way it is in any city, and Athens is certainly no exception. I found lots of things, though, that charmed me and brought a smile to my face, like this cafe with hats for lampshades...

or this one that I sketched as my mother and I were having dinner across the way.

More funky lampshades, this time Victorian-style.

I enjoyed my time in Athens, but after the rest of the group arrived on October 3, I was ready to move on to the islands. We caught the ferry for the island of Amorgos at 5 pm on the 4th.

The Greek ferries are huge, holding hundreds of passengers plus cars and freight. To be more comfortable on the eight-hour ride to Amorgos, we all upgraded to sleeper cabins.

Isn't this cozy? :)

After we got settled in, we gathered on the aft deck to watch the sunset.

During my time in the islands, I almost felt like I'd joined a cult of sun worshippers, so enamored were we all of watching that big yellow ball sink into the water each night.

I can't believe I managed to capture this shot!

It just never gets old, does it?

A group of us gathered in the first-class lounge (a Blue Walk tour is first-class all the way!) where we worked on our sketchbooks, chatted, had a drink, and got to know each other better. I brought five of my sketchbooks along on this trip to use as examples when I teach, and some of the ladies enjoyed looking through them, asking questions about techniques and process.

Lounge area on the ferry

Then it was time to tuck myself in and try to get a little shut-eye...

but remember how I said in my last post that I can never sleep on airplanes? Well, I found out that the same holds true for ferries. :(

We arrived in Amorgos around 3:00 am and trundled our weary selves off the ferry and into a waiting shuttle bus, then made our way up the hill to the Aegialis Hotel and Spa where we would spend the next six nights. Despite the late (or early!) hour, we were welcomed in the traditional Greek manner, with a small glass of raki liqueur. The full moon sparkled on the waters of the bay below us, and we could see a hint of the surrounding landscape, but everything else was shrouded in darkness. It was time to rest. All would be revealed in the morning.

(And in my next post!)


  1. Wendy Stewart McMillanOctober 23, 2017 at 3:12 PM

    Love this post. You have such an eye for photos and ear for just what to say! Can't wait to see the next segment! ;)

    1. Thanks, Wendy. The writing doesn't come easily for me, but I push through and try to just be myself and tell the story. I hope that comes through.

  2. So fun to read. Love that picture of the changing of the guards! And you tucked into your bunk - priceless. We had so much fun traveling with you and you students Leslie. I too look forward to the next installment.

  3. This is just so exciting! Thank you for sharing.

    1. You're welcome, Christine. It's fun for me too look back at all the wonderful experiences we had. It was an amazing trip. Glad you're enjoying the armchair travel!

  4. I’m so glad you keep your blog going, Leslie, when so many have abandoned theirs for other forms of social media. Blogs are such wonderful platforms for telling cohesive stories, and you do share such beautiful stories in words, photos, and sketches. I look forward to every post! My favorites here are the cafes and the Porch of the Caryatids (amazing how they’ve stood through the millennia). Can’t wait to see your sketches!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoy it, Susan. Wish I had time to post more often. It's not always easy balancing my time between computer stuff, home, and painting. I can't wait to get to painting all the sketches I did on this trip!

  5. I can only imagine how much behind-the-scenes work goes into putting a blog post together. I would think it could easily become overwhelming. You have been one busy lady this year! I hope you are able to enjoy some downtime now and regroup a bit before the holidays.


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