A last day in Athens
Reconstructed doorway in the Roman Agora
The taxi left us at the Plaka Hotel. (This is not its front door, which can be seen in our Athens Gallery 1. The next paragraph explains what it’s doing here.) Fortunately, the hotel had a room ready at that hour, so we checked in, deposited our bags in the room, and went out to look for breakfast. (Having checked in for the coming night, we would be entitled to breakfast at the hotel the next morning, but not today.) It was now about 9:30am and quite a few places hadn’t opened yet, but on the nearby square we found one serving breakfast. I got an omelet made with cheese, ham, and tomato, with tiny, salty french fries, and Dorothea opted for a continental breakfast: fresh rolls, honey, jam, and a piece of delicious (though not strictly breakfastlike) bittersweet chocolate cake.
A few leftover bits from the Roman period
After revisiting our hotel room briefly, we set out into the Pláka, heading up toward the Roman Agora, where we had walked on our first night while trying to put off dinner to a properly Athenian hour. (By now we had accepted our inner Yankness and were no longer shy about eating early.) In the Agora I snapped pictures of a couple of scenes that had frustrated me three weeks earlier, at an hour when the light wasn’t so good. Not having enough pictures for a full gallery, I decided to put them all on this page, and that’s why you see the Roman-era door above. I apologize for its inappropriate placement.
The Museum of Greek Popular Instruments
This time we weren’t on our way to the Platánas tavérna, where we’d eaten dinner that first night, but to its next-door neighbor, the Museum of Greek Popular Instruments (Mouseío Ellinikón Laïkón Orgánon) a very interesting place for anyone who enjoys Greek music. It’s housed in one of the mansions built in the Plaka back in the early days of Greece’s independence by well-to-do merchants and politicians. (Giórgios Lassánis, a veteran of the Greek revolution, built this one in 1842, when he was the country’s finance minister.)

The displays include everything from shepherds’ bagpipes to drums and bells, stringed instruments like the lýra, laoúto, and bouzoúki, and even European instruments that have been imported into Greek popular culture, like the clarinet and violin. These instruments kept their original forms, but came to be played in individual local styles adapted to Greek music—which, in response to the culture of the Near East, to which Greece belonged from the 1400s to the 1900s, also did some adapting of its own.
Instrument display
The collected instruments would have been mildly interesting if all you could do was look at them, but next to every display case is a pair of earphones through which you can listen to recordings of the instruments being played, individually or in small groups or orchestras. A posted menu offers, instead of a tiny sample of each instrument in the case, a list of good-sized recordings from which we could choose to hear as much or as little as we wanted. This arrangement makes the experience not only more pleasant, but more meaningful—after all, even though some of the instruments are visually beautiful, Greeks have valued all of them, whether crudely or finely made, for their sounds rather than their looks. (I borrowed this picture without permission—apologies and thanks to Massimo Pizzicaro, the photographer who posted it on his website—identified in the lower right corner.)
In the museum
Few other visitors were present, and we moved slowly around at our own pace, untroubled by any waiting lines for the headphones. Seeing a woman taking pictures of two young girls, Dorothea made use of her newly refurbished Greek to offer to photograph the three of them together. The woman accepted, and was glad to return the favor, so here is the only picture taken on either of our cameras while we were there.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Museum of Popular Instruments, and made it such a long one that we decided to ignore our list of other Pláka sights and just spend the late afternoon at the Kapnikaréa café listening to rebétiko music, as we had done on our previous visit. If you missed that beginning of this narrative and would like to know more about about what rebétiko is, click the button below to go to that page. (Scroll down until you see the picture of two musicians.)

Breakfast had been late and substantial, so instead of sitting down somewhere for lunch, we stopped into the Pláka Hotel’s breakfast room, which kept coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and simple biscuits (that’s cookies, you Americans) available all day. We had some raisin cookies that the proprietress of the Sitía Bay Hotel had given us, and some nut and sesame bars that Dorothea had saved from our dessert at The Balcony. Being a little footsore after our museum visit, we rested in our room (which, though unfortunately it lacked the gorgeous view of the Acropolis that we had had on our first visit, was otherwise equally comfortable) until about 4:00, and then set out for the café, which of course we had no trouble finding this time. There weren’t many listeners present yet, and we took seats at a small table right in front.
Rebétiko musicians
The bouzouki player was the same one who had been there on our previous visit, but the guitar player was younger than his predecessor—a handsome fellow whose dark eyes, long black hair and short beard reminded Dorothea of the way our older son Chris had looked when he stayed in Athens back in 1987.

We stayed for four delightful hours, until 8:00, at which time we would have ordered dinner had it been possible—but when we tried, the waitress told us that they didn’t serve dinners, and in fact were about to close. So four hours was all we got, but they were four great hours. I drank beer, Dorothea sipped seltzer, and we ordered snacks (mezedákia) from time to time: anchovies (fresh, not salted) in vinegar, meat pies, grilled haloúmi cheese, chicken and rice in a sour rosemary sauce, bread and kasséri cheese. Everything was great, and the music was wonderful.

At one point, a little girl about nine years old (accompanied by her mother) played the violin and sang a couple of songs. At another, a very pretty woman in jeans and a form-fitting black blouse (with a low neckline that Dorothea described as “gracefully cut”) got up and danced in front of the musicians, “slowly and gracefully undulating,” as Dorothea remembered her dance, which incorporated some belly-dancing moves, but remained within the bounds of “sexy but tasteful.”

When the musicians were about to pack it in, they asked us and the people behind us, who had been there almost as long, if we had any requests. When it was my turn I said anything by Tsitsánis would do, but they insisted on a more specific choice. What to my panicky mind should appear but the Tsitsánis song title “Pliróno ta mátia p’agapó” (‘I pay [a price] for the eyes I love.’) But when I blurted it out, I said “plerómo” instead of “pliróno.” Everyone found this amusing, and I was asked to repeat it a couple of times, presumably for its entertainment value—but the atmosphere was so friendly that I didn’t feel like a total idiot, and the bouzouki player, who sang it, obligingly included one verse in English—which I think someone must have translated carefully, because the words seemed to fit the rhythm of the tune too perfectly to have been done on the fly.

Dorothea thinks we may have been the only non-Greeks present (adding the qualification “if I can be counted as such”). She didn’t see anyone else who didn’t look like a native, and noted that many of the listeners knew the words of the songs well enough to join in.

Though we couldn’t order dinner, we decided on reflection that all those snacks had added up to a full equivalent, and there was no point in looking for a restaurant. So we went back to the hotel, where we printed out our boarding passes for the next day’s flight.