A Lesson in Self Discipline

27 08 2015

For our last night in Athens, we meandered through the streets of the Plaka, past the tourist shops selling ouzo, olives and breezy cotton dresses, through Monastiraki Square and up Ermou Street – Athen’s best known and busiest shopping street – to find ourselves at Syntagma Square, the central square of Athens, and finally at the Parliament Building to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Monastiraki Square

The Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded around the clock and we spent about 15 minutes watching the Evzones, members of the Presidential Guard.  With the exception of switching positions with each other every 15 minutes, the guards remain completely motionless and at attention during their one hour of sentry duty.  Every hour on the hour they have a ‘little change’ where the two incoming and two outgoing sentries exchange places.  But every Sunday at 11AM is when the ‘Grand Change’ takes place, which involves the whole Guard with its officers and a military band.

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As I watched their slow and highly stylized movements as they switched positions, I spent some time really looking at their uniforms.  For one, I loved their shoes.  They were pretty cute with pom poms on them, and although they looked pretty light and fluffy these tsarouchi clogs actually have 60 – 120 nails under the sole and weigh 7.7 lbs/3.5 kilos.

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They’ve got to have some pretty strong legs and amazing discipline to complete their stylized movements in tandem while wearing two sets of white woolen stockings, garters, and a cotton kilt and waistcoat, without wiping away the sweat that was surely soaking into their uniform.  It was high 80’s in temperature at 6PM and as I watched these soldiers stand guard in the setting sun, I could feel a drip of sweat easing its way down the center of my back. It’s a feeling that stands out in my memory and I definitely did not have the self restraint not to press my dress into the small of my back to try to absorb that drop.

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While I was planning our trip to Greece I heard a lot of people say that there wasn’t a lot to do or see in Athens, and that we should not spend too long there.  Those opinions kind of shaped our trip and so I had set aside a day and a half for Athens.  But I don’t think I took into account our jet lag, the heat, or our need for an afternoon nap.  So, although we saw a lot while we were in Athens, and I’m glad we made it a point to see these amazing Evzones, I think I could have used one more day to satisfy my curiosity and my sense of sightseeing accomplishment.

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