“Corinthian,” my friend’s husband nonchalantly mutters, to no one in particular, as we’re walking past some columns in a Bangkok building. I don’t recall what we had for dinner that evening, but to this day I still remember being impressed. At the risk of sounding uncouth, I must admit, prior to that evening I never knew there was even a classification for columns, but since then, I’ve picked up that there are three (at least to my knowledge) — Corinthian, Doric, and Ionian. I’m not particularly an architecture buff, but what was the first thing I researched before heading off to Greece? Not where to stay nor what to eat, but columns. I too, shall be a classic order name-dropper.
In a nutshell, Doric columns are plain jane pillars with a relatively stodgier appearance, and Corinthian columns are fancy nancy posts that look long and slender, and Ionic orders fall somewhere in between. Fast forward four months, and I’m standing below the Parthenon (where else) — far too close, judging by my photographs of hyper-arched backs and listening to our guide explain that the temple is mainly Doric yet with Ionic features. Trying to follow his fingers, I squint up in the summer sun, hoping to make out the Ionic frieze versus Doric metopes … well let me just put it this way, it was some 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a gaggle of fellow tourists were swarming around the same place we were clustered, and we hadn’t had lunch yet, so yes, I just nodded half heartedly and lost interest. In my own defense, what I learned is that though I love to learn a bit about everything, all I really learned from the trip is that columns are but a speck on the tip of the architectural iceberg. Why, for example, of the four main tribes in ancient Greece — Aeolians, Archaens, Ionians, and Dorians — did only the latter two produce architectural orders? And the six female statues that act as columns at the Erechtheum, would they be … Ionic?
For the rest of the trip we decided not to be so academic, opting, amongst other things, to visit Ancient Olympia. A group of us had already planned to be at the 2012 London event, so we decided to visit the source of the iconic Olympic flames. We’d all seen the last Beijing extravaganza on television — vestal virgins in white dresses, the theatrical invocation of the gods, the metaphorical grandeur of the sacred flame being lit against the backdrop of the Ancient Temple of Hera (Ionic columns, I’ll have you know) — in a few months when the same is televised, I’ll be able to relate to the familiar scene unfolding on the box.
Another disgustingly touristy thing we did in Greece, video cameras in tow, was watch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Not an exhilarating activity per se, but the uniforms donned by the Evzones, with suspiciously skirt-like attire and ceremonial slow-motioness accented by pom-poms on the shoes and tassels dangling behind their knees, made for entertainment holiday memories. Having dipped my travelling toe into two worlds in Greece, I would never travel the same again. From now one, I’m going to be a tourist, and I’m sure as hell going to act like one (save for the “V” signal in photos). In fact, the next time I see tourists posing for photos in front of monuments I’d usually scoff at snapping in front of, I will be proud to show off my city. “Can I take a photo for you two? Perhaps next to the Corinthian columns here?”
Tourists to Athens should not pass on the following attractions, which coincidentally also double as excellent photo backdrops for that “guess where I am” Facebook album. These are just to get you started — the city is literally full or worthy stops.
- The Acropolis: Stunning sunsets, but swarming with visitors. Stand a bit further away to see the whole landmark.
- Plaka: Shops, colourful stone buildings, cobblestone streets, and cozy cafes. Enough said.
- Panathenaic Stadium: The host of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, made of white marble, perfect for black and white shots with interesting lines.
- National Garden: Where else are you going to reflect on experiences gathered on the trip? The park also houses a few statues, making for some great, silly copycat posing photos.