I first went to Athens in 1997. Acropolis aside, it was hard to like the place. It's certainly no Rome or Prague. But since then, having studied philosophy, I thought that perhaps I'd see a different side of Athens, the Athens of old, the Athens that gave us some of the superheroes of thought. So, for UniCycle50's Athenian adventure, I put together a philosophy tour. In my tour group, apart from me - the guide - was The Lovely Nina and absolutely no one else. Which, as it turned out, was just as well.
Our first destination was the garden of Epicurus. Despite giving his name to an adjective that suggests excess and gorging - two swans and a koala bear for breakfast, that type of thing - his own diet couldn't have been more different. He shut himself away in his Athenian garden with his friends, wrote more books than Barbara Cartland and ate little other than bread and cheese. But this simple life made him happy. Chasing wealth is for fools.
Chasing Epicurus's garden is also for fools. The first reason we didn't find it is because it doesn't exist, not any more. But I knew that. The internet gives clues as to its possible former location, possibly in the grounds of St George's church. As a memento of our inaugural tour we found the church and I took a snap. Tour item one completed! It was only about an hour later, when I checked the map properly, that it wasn't even the right bloody church. The St George's I snapped wasn't the one in the scruffy bit of park with a woman taking a piss around the back. No, it was the nicer one we passed later that I didn't photograph.
Not the former garden of Epicurus
Anyway, no one really knows where his garden was and so I suppose it could have been near the crappy little church I photographed. In my head, anyway. But it was this sort of half-arsed planning that was to plague the rest of my first ever guided tour.
Next up was Plato's Academy. Unlike Epicurus's garden, this still actually exists although Athens seems strangely reluctant to tell anyone where it is. As a result of this, after trudging out through a delapidated industrial estate and walking for what seemed like hours in the midday heat - mainly because it was hours - we didn't find it. A quick Google once we got back to the apartment told us we'd walked right past it, and then a few kilometres further. Signposts are for the weak, not the Greek, obviously.
Stop number three on our tour was more successful. Possibly. This was a visit to Aristotle's Lyceum, a metro ride across town from the school of Plato, Aristotle's former teacher. We found a site that had some ruins in the spot where the internet said the Lyceum was, and that would have to do. There were no signs or labels, just a big metal fence behind which was - perhaps - the site of some interesting philosophical, and even more misguided scientific, teaching. But at least we saw something.
The next day - yes, softies, this is a multi-day tour! - was Socrates Day. The plan was to find the Ancient Agora in which the pug-faced thinker used to annoy people and then find the prison in which he was forced to drink hemlock as punishment for annoying those same people. Both of these locations are below the Acropolis, an area rich in sites and poor in signage. To be honest, we had more chance of finding Socrates than his prison and that option was quickly put aside. That was OK. We had a higher goal. The Ancient Agora! It's famous. It's massive. It's incredibly well-preserved. It's...it's...it's shut. What? Why? Because today, this Sunday, the 17th of June 2012, is the Greek election. It isn't usually shut on Sundays. Just this Sunday. This one Sunday, just this one Sunday, in probably four or five years of Sundays.
The Ancient Agora, Socrates' former stomping ground, closed
And with that, my philosophy tour finally ended. So The Lovely Nina and I retired to a taverna for a huge kebab and enough beers to ensure that we talked bollocks, albeit philosophically.
If you and your friends would like to participate in any future philosophical excursions that I might run, please contact me. All trips will include a pre-tour lecture in how to handle disappointment stoically.
Oh, and perhaps our timing to visit the Parthenon wasn't the best either.