Traveling with Grace: Entering Greece

This week, Grace leaves the Holy Land and heads to Greece! Special thanks go to JMM volunteer Harold Toppall for his transcriptions of Grace’s travel diary.

Thursday, May 13, 1953

We boarded the T.W.A. plane and recognized the same French hostess who came with us last week. The trip to Athens was very pleasant. We had a good lunch on board, the Aegean sea was very blue shading from sapphire to jade & we saw the island of Rhodes very clearly as we flew over it. Arrived in Athens where a guide & car met us about 2 P.M. & got a wet welcome.

Came to Athenee Palace a very nice hotel & later took a most interesting sightseeing tour with Mr. Skidmore, a gentleman well-versed in his Greek history in which we enjoy an intensive course this afternoon, even as we enjoyed our course in visual biblical history in Israel. First, we passed the royal palace where the family is now in residence, with the quaintly dressed guards Evzones at their sentry posts. Then to the stadium where the Olympic games are held, capacity 60,000, the foundation laid in 400 B.C. It has marble benches all around. Opposite is a beautiful exhibition hall surrounded by parquettes of flowers. We saw the statue to Lord Byron being held in the arms of a woman inscribed with the names of American Friends of Greece, all prominent people, the old gate separating Athens from the town of Hadrian.

Athens, Greece. Exectheium, Athens. Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection.

We viewed the acropolis from various angles from the Parthenon side, the Erectheion side the temples of Athena, Zeus & Nike & Mr. Skidmore spoke at length on each one on their styles & perfect proportions. We saw the planetarium & observatory on its hills & the excavations under progress in the Agora – or old market place- by Harvard University grants. In the agora are various little chapels of Byzantine design (Mr. Skidmore said they were formerly scattered all thru this section but had to be removed in the interest of the city’s growth), a clepsydra or water clock, & nearby the classic Temple of Theseus, prototype of the Madeleine in Paris. We rose thru the wholesale district of Athens much activity here, saw 3 beautiful modern Greek bldgs. (100 yrs. old is very modern here) the University of Athens, the Library & Academy, all elaborately ornamented with statuary & bright colored frescoes.

Statues are abundant here & wherever a man has contributed anything to note to the city, culturally or industrially, there stands his statue. Another thing which caught my attention; al homes have wreathes of flowers (now somewhat dried out & faded hanging over doorways or windows & we are told they were hung out on Mayday & will be burned in big bon fires on St. John’s day, a holiday in early June, when there will be dancing & festivities in the public places.

We looked in some of the shops specialties as follows: many ornaments of olive wood highly polished which look like ceramic & all is graceful Grecian design, a very characteristic kind of silverware with a pebbly surface representing grapes, one of their principal crops, gauzy handkerchiefs with a beautiful embroidered & bespangled figure of a woman in national costume worked in one corner, & the queerest looking loaves of bread in the shape of a round wreath, something like a huge bagel. Bright red sweet peas dominate everywhere in gardens squares, markets & on the hotel tables. There are also many vases filled with calla lilies. The dining room here is in French designs & very pretty.

Friday, May 14, 1953

A beautiful day & Mr. Skidmore & Johnny took us on an excursion to Sounion a favorite resort on the sea. The ride was pretty & interesting. We went thru a village Paiania (I spell phonetically & don’t guarantee accuracy) which was the birthplace of orator Demosthenes, Laurium, & other small towns. Here we see everyone riding donkeys, usually the men ride & women walk behind. The latter nearly all wear black head coverings with a strip which extends across their mouths, as though to silence them. Mr. S. says this custom is a hangover from the days of the Turkish occupation. The countryside is beautiful. We seem to be surrounded on all sides by mts. & in between the valleys are full of olive groves with stretches of barley at intervals & many vineyards. Mr. S. gave us a lovely brunch of red sweet peas & Johnny got us a big bunch of thyme & blue Everlasting. Near the seashore are many handsome villas. The king comes to this place to shoot (the season is in summer). We rode thru Markopolis, a wine center.

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. Via.

At Sounion there is a little inn & terrace café’ on the mt. side. Many tourist come here. On top of the cliff overhanging the sea standing out in sharp white relief against the bright blue sky & sea is the lovely ruin of the Temple of Poseidon God of the Sea. The marble shows serious signs of erosion. This is the southern point of Attica.

Saturday, May 15, 1953

Sat in the parlor of the hotel today & a sweet Greek lady came up to talk to me. She is very aristocratic in appearance, dressed quietly but elegantly & we spent most of the afternoon & evening chatting together. She told us she left Greece after World War I when all homes were commandeered & went to live in Dar es Salam in Tanganyika where she owns a sisal plantation of 3,000 acres now managed by her son. She returned to Athens this year for reasons of health & now makes her home in this hotel. She is very friendly & interesting, speaks quaint English & has travelled widely.

Sunday, May 16, 1953

Thanks to the Greek lady we had a beautiful trip which she recommended. In Athens we see the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter, several schools including the American College, several large hospitals, a number of embassies, quite a few of the royal guard in their picturesque & fascinating dress, the Pentelle Mt. from which was taken the marble for the Athenian monuments (even the sidewalk here are of square slabs of marble worn rather crooked from much walking over the years.

This on our way to the pretty mt. resort towns of Kiplisia & Ekali where there are the most beautiful villas hung with purple, yellow & multicolored flowering vines & shrubs, stately palms in the gardens, summer homes of wealthy Athenians. Dozens of old-fashioned horse-drawn hacks, like those of N.Y.’s Central Park are seen in the towns. The policemen here wear shiny illuminesum helmets, khaki uniforms with white shirts & sleeveless jackets.

From Ekali we went to Boyati and Marathon, a beautiful place full of flowers – the driver got us a bunch of yellow ones which look something like sweet peas only they grow many to a stalk & have a delightful fragrance. I have never seen any like them before. From Marathon the runners start for the Stadium in Athens. Here is built a beautiful reservoir & dam. The driver told me that formerly all the water from rains used to drain out to the sea leaving this valley dry. American engineers built the reservoir & dam to keep the rainwater in & now it supplies all of Attica.

The port of Piraeus, vintage postcard c.1915. Via Wikipedia.

We came back to Athens, saw the racetrack where the horses ran Wednesdays & Sundays & there are great crowds. We rode out to Piraeus a lovely city on a rocky promontory with view of the sea on all sides. It has 600,000 inhabitants & there is a subway running between here & Athens. It is very prosperous looking with beautiful villas, many outdoor restaurants, a yacht basin on one side with many trim small craft & a yacht club, on the opposite side is the port, quiet today, but there are a few freighters lying at anchor.

At 5 o’clock we returned to the hotel where Mike Grynstein met us to take us to the airport (Eliniko) & we boarded the B.E.A. plane at 7:30. Dinner was served on board & the trip seemed very short.

Street view of Istanbul, 1953. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy via Wikipedia.

We arrived at Yesilkoy airport at about 9:15 P.M. The attendants all very courteous & helpful the few could speak English. An elderly gentlemen helped Ann thru the customs & then we went to the waiting car (this time a Hudson) with a very nice guide Mr. Mohamed Korfram & drove the 15 miles into Istanbul. We entered the city thru a narrow gate in the 1600 yr. old thick Roman walls & further on beneath the arch of the old Roman aqueduct. Two huge mosques are brilliantly illuminated as we are in Ramaron now. We drove along a side blvd. & over a long bridge both named for Ataturk. Then over the Galata bridge. The view of the city is beautiful by night. There is a clear full moon. Istanbul has 1,700,000 people. We are lucky to get into the Park Hotel (the nicest & it is always full) tho my agents at home had not been able to secure reservations. Our room has a balcony facing the sea of Bosphorus & the view in front of me is unbelievably beautiful. In the moonlight it looks like an etching on steel. Little boats are darting in & out & searchlights fanning to & fro on the Golden Horn, a fascinating scene.

Thanks for reading “Traveling with Grace,”a series where we’re sharing (and annotating) posts from the travel diaries of Grace Amelia Hecht, native Baltimorean, b. 1897 and d. 1955. As mentioned in myintroductory posttranscription errors sometimes occur and I’ve made my best guesses where possible, denoted by [brackets]. – Rachel Kassman, marketing manager


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