Some of the lads decided to get a quick nap in beforehand we departed for Dublin Airport whereas others, including myself, just waited, awake, until we assembled outside the front entrance of the school at a hot 1:45am. The bus arrived as expected and we all stacked our bags at the back and took our seats.
In total we numbered 14 students and 3 teachers. On the bus at this point we had one teacher: Felix Ross, well Ms. Honan was accompanying us at this point (but she only required a lift as far as the airport for her trip to Brussels). We were lacking Fr. Denis Hooper (as we would be picking him up along the way); and Ian Murphy (as he would meet us at the airport) The 13 students: Matthew Lyne (myself), Hugo Mcelligott, Donagh Hyland, Mark Kelly, James Fitzgerald, Clovis H Tenison, Art Keane, Mathew Cannon, Sean Carey, Patrick Browne, Tim Hyde, Richard Enright and Alexander O’Dwyer.
13 out of 14 students, so one was missing. Michael O’Donnell was power sleeping, determined to milk every second, he could, of rest before getting on that bus. What an inspiration. So Sean went up to substitute as his alarm and before long we were on the road to Dublin.
Things went more smoothly at the airport as we dropped off Ms. Honan at Terminal 1 and met up with Ian Murphy at Terminal 2, at roughly 4:00am. We collected our boarding passes and crossed through security relatively easily, Denis got searched (as per usual). We boarded at 06.20 and took off at 08:20 after an hours delay and thoroughly enjoyed our 4 hour flight, wonderful.
Due to the delay we landed later than expected and then ended up arriving at our hotel “The Dorian Inn”, in Omonia, Athens. We got there post 4:00 pm when most monuments were closed for the evening, so unfortunately no sight seeing was to be had that day. But we got something even better, free time! More importantly, FOOD. After some exploration we reassembled at the hotel and went (via the metro) to have dinner in Plaka. Once we had enjoyed our meal, we returned to the hotel and enjoyed the rooftop view of the Acropolis for a few hours, socialized with some other students from Italy and France and then went to sleep at, what I’m sure was, a reasonable hour.
The next morning, after re-fuelling at breakfast, we got together in the lobby at 9:45am and began what would be a very long, yet enjoyable, walk around Athens. Firstly we strolled to the National Archeological Museum, chiefly to view the antikythera mechanism and the treasures of Agamemnon. After this we walked to the Museum of the Acropolis, to gain an understanding of its original structure. We spent quite a while perusing the various sculptures and designs that were once part of the great feature.
From here we went to the site of the Parthenon itself, where not only did we get to experience one of the most famous historical monuments in the world, but acquired an incomparable view of the city of Athens. From here we walked northward to the Agora (the earliest recorded indoor shopping centre) and from there to the old Roman Forum. We didn't actually enter this site, but Tim did spot a small tortoise strolling along the grounds, (sadly despite clear motivation, he abandoned his idea of kidnapping the tortoise). Moving slightly east, in Plaka, kebabs were bought and eaten. Finally we moved south east, where we passed the temple of Zeus, and arrived at the Panathenaic Stadium (which was used as the finish to the marathon and for the archery in the 2004 Olympic games). No one ran the course in it as we were already tired from the walking we had done, instead we just walked up to the top of the seats on the north sides and sat up on the wall. Clovis pushed himself up onto this wall using his recently fractured arm and caused himself quite a degree of pain, nice one. Then we walked back to the hotel; on the way Alex, Mark, Donagh, Michael and Mathew Cannon noticed that the back of their necks had suffered quite a lot from the sun and were significantly red.
We got back just in time for the closing of the pool, so we all got to enjoy not going for a swim. Therefore we settled for showers. At 8:00pm we met in the lobby and took the metro once again to Plaka. Ian Murphy made the foolish decision of letting us decide where to eat, so there was much procrastination before Hugo solved the situation by just picking a place. The meal was enjoyed and we returned to our hotel once again.
Some of us went to the rooftop later in the evening to socialize with some italian students that were residing in the hotel at the time. We made our way back our rooms later and got some sleep in before our journey the next day.
The majority of us managed to get some breakfast in before packing and checking out. Funny how when you leave somewhere, you always feels like you've left something behind. I certainly felt this way, closing the door to room 612. We were all in the bus at 8:00am and were on our way.
First stop was the place of The Battle of Chaironeia, where Alexander the Great gained an exceptional victory over the Theban Sacred Band. Save for the Museum the most noteworthy site there was a 7 metre tall Lion made from 4 pieces of marble, to mark the burial place of the fallen members of the Sacred Band. We looked over the Museum briefly before returning to the bus. We left the place, however, with only 13 students as Richard Enright had taken it upon himself to get in a quick toilet trip. Luckily Richard, being a speedy man, caught up with the departing bus.
Next we went to the centre of the universe, Delphi, one of the most important places in classical history. Delphi was where any man worth getting a prophecy came to get one. The Pythia was said to have spoken the words of Apollo or maybe she was just getting high from hydrocarbon gases, same difference. We walked through the museum at Delphi before moving onto the site itself. The ruins were amazing not only for their significance or quality, such as the Treasuries, the Temple and the Theatre, but also for their placement, the surrounding landscape was breathtaking. All the same we made our way back to the bus eventually.
Priority now was food so we stopped fairly soon at a small traditional Greek restaurant. Myself, Mathew and Art enjoyed some fried squid and chips, which by the sounds of it was greatly superior to what the other boys got. Nevertheless we all re-fuelled and sat back in the bus for what would be a long journey to Napflio (the former capital). Thankfully we made one pit-stop along the way in Plataea, an ancient city that was invaded by the Spartans and shortly after converted into a hotel! Here we wandered around the dilapidated walls, many of us searching for pieces of pottery, Richard found almost half of a cup with some glazing left on it. I myself found a rusted shovel but no one accepted my belief that it was an ancient Plataean shovel.
We arrived at Napflio at around dusk. The hotel kindly provided us with some food and we all retired to the rooms. Some wandered around the city in the evening, Donagh remarked that the naval fortress, on the hill overlooking Napflio, kind of looked like a spaceship if you didn't think too hard. It was raining pretty heavy so we didn't linger.
The next day we were up and in the bus again at about 8:00am. Rain was absolutely pouring down. First we went to Epidaurus and viewed the massive Theatre there. We didn't spend much time there as it was lashing rain. Then we moved on to the running track and to the ruins of the residence areas and healing areas of the complex. Again we couldn't spend much time here, as Greece had decided it was Monsoon season. It wasn't long before we were back in the bus, but significantly more wet.
Next we rocked on up to Mycenae and the Palace of Agamemnon. It was still raining so we gladly rushed into the Museum and procrastinated in there as much as possible before braving the wet and wind outside. We eventually came out to explore the Castle grounds, where we viewed the grave circles and the inner chambers and, as per usual in an ancient Greek fortress, we got a spectacular view from the top. The rain hurried us back into the bus where we were carted down to the Treasury of Atreus, a Tholos tomb that bore an uncanny resemblance to Newgrange, just, quite frankly, done better.
Next stop was a decision of our bus driver, Nemea. It was definitely worth the stop. Unlike previous sites, there was very little restriction to where we could go on the grounds, to the point where we could walk onto the Tomb itself. Apart from the Temple of Zeus, very little remained of the original structure. After a quick scan of the museum, we moved onto the Nemean Stadium. The entrance was via a tunnel roughly 20 metres in length. The majority of students raced each other across the wet mud of a running track in the centre of the stadium, some facing the consequences of brown painted packs, or, as in Alex’s case, a lost shoe. Now the weather was starting to clear up so we took our time returning to the bus.
After a long bus ride we arrived at the Acrocorinth, a large fortress on a hilltop overlooking the ancient city of Corinth, it was once the Corinthian equivalent of the Acropolis. It was remarkably well preserved and many of us made it to the structures highest point and were rewarded with an phenomenally incomparable view of, not only Corinth, but everything around.
Once everyone was crammed back into the bus, now feeling better after some sun and not having to endure the downpours any longer, we finally went to Corinth to get something to eat. We feasted quite hungrily and went on to peruse ancient Corinth from the outside, as unfortunately, it had closed before we got there.
From here we went over to the Corinth Canal to see the reality of its massive size, first from the perspective of a new bridge and later we drove over to the old slipway, where the Ancient Corinthians used drag ships on rollers over the headland. Here we pooled together some money and Michael was given the job of passing this generous tip onto our bus driver, who had added so much to our trip. There followed a long drive, and then we finally returned to our original hotel, “The Dorian Inn”. Here Michael passed on the money, which was received with many thanks.
We took one last trip on the metro to Plaka, where we had our last dinner in Greece. On returning to the hotel, close to all of us migrated to the rooftop. A Belgian class was staying there at the time. Unfortunately their standard of English was poor, but this gave many of us the opportunity to test our ability in French. Michael, Donagh, Matthew and myself took pride in leading some top quality irish songs, including Michael's personal favourite “Men behind the Wire”. Mathew made the ambitious attempt of starting “Africa” by Toto, it didn't go down very well!
For the most part we stayed up on the roof until it was closed for the evening. There was, what for me seemed like, a universal feeling that once we went to sleep, our time in Greece was over. In all we had had a really enjoyable experience and it was somewhat saddening to know it was coming to an end. So despite our best efforts of procrastination we made our way to bed and eventually to sleep.
The next morning, the lucky among us, got up for breakfast and some, including Art, Alex, Sean and myself, snuck in a quick swim in the rooftop pool (which was unholy levels of cold), before packing up, checking out and getting on the bus for the last time. Our bus driver treated us with doughnuts and cold water, which was an absolute godsend to many of us.
We collected our boarding passes and went through security at the airport. Michael lost his boarding pass, just to make things interesting. However everything was resolved fairly quickly. Surprisingly no one was noticeably alarmed by Michael’s issue, either we were all just very tired or just trusted that everything would work out. A bit of both probably.
Once again we were treated to a lovely uncomfortable four hour plane journey back to Ireland. Everything went smoothly from here and we were back in Glenstal by around 9:00 PM.
Overall the trip was beneficial, not only in an educational sense, from our amazing experiences of these marvellous relics of ancient history, but also in a social sense. As a group we became a lot closer, i learned a lot about other students that I, previously, did not perceive. I saw several students care for others quite admirably, I saw unconditional generosity from everyone, but most of all there was a mutual respect earned between all of us, teachers included. I believe this trip is a great practice, one that should be continued as long as possible, quite frankly because it teaches lessons that are impossible to acquire in the confines of a classroom.
Thanks to Mr Ian Murphy for organising the trip.