Going on a Bear Hunt: a Quick Trip to Brauron - Attic Explorations - CycleBlaze

April 9, 2022

Going on a Bear Hunt: a Quick Trip to Brauron

My last day in Athens, and common sense says that I should spend it finishing up work, packing up my flat, and so on.  However: the sun is shining, my flight isn't until this evening, and I haven't yet taken the pedals off my bike.  And on top of all that, because of the bad weather earlier this spring, I still have a few places to tick off my Should Visit list.  In other words: it would probably be irresponsible not to go for a bike ride today, right?

My objective is Brauron, on the east coast of Attica.  (Actually, very close to the airport, so I'll make two trips there today.)  And the reason to go there is to see the Sanctuary of Artemis, an important (and lovely) site, particularly associated with rites of passage for Athenian girls and women (part of which seem to have involved dressing up as and/or pretending to be 'bears', and making a ritual trip from central Athens out to this site at the edges of the state -- hence the title of this entry...)

Because time is a little bit tight, I take the metro out of town for a few stops to save a bit of fiddly urban riding.  I disembark at Pallini, suffer the usual (or usual for me, at least) post-train disorientation which sees me pedalling off in the wrong direction on the first attempt, but then sort myself out and get properly underway.

First (non-ancient) ruin of the day: the 'Old Watermill' in Pallini (positively modern in this context, though: a post-revolution construction, built by a French admiral who bought the land here off a departing Ottoman).
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The first few kilometres are still a little bit built up -- though suburban rather than urban -- but things soon become properly rural.  Perhaps even a bit too rural for comfort: because I decided on this ride slightly at the last minute I hadn't done quite as much due-diligence on the route as I should, resulting in a bit of unexpected cyclo-cross action.

I am not at all convinced by OSM's claim that there's a viable bike route through here. On the other hand, there are worse places to get lost.
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The good news: a road! The bad news: oh... (This is considerably deeper than it looks. Ask me how I know!)
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In the end, though, I make it back to the safety of the tarmac, and start to make slightly speedier progress east, skirting round the north end of the airport and, after a short climb, dropping down to the coast near the village of Artemida (which, I guess, takes its name from the Artemis sanctuary).

The sea, the sea! (And Euboea across the water.)
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This is not the most touristed bit of Attica's coastline, but (/therefore?) it still has its charms.
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From here, I work my way south towards Brauron, heading a little bit inland to approach the site from the west.  I have learnt from past, and soggy, experience that the tempting shortcuts from the coastal side lead you through, and in my case into, some atmospheric but damp swampland, and are best avoided.  Also, coming this way means some bonus sights.

I have a feeling there's probably an inverse correlation between the amount of effort put into decorating this souvenir shop and the number of tourists who actually pass by to see it.
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How to separate the sheep from the goats? Well the goats are the ones climbing the tree...
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At the sanctuary itself, I am once again the only visitor. It's a really lovely place to be, particularly at this time of year: the only sound is birdsong, and the croaking of the frogs from the surrounding marshland.

Brauron: the function of this stoa is (of course!) disputed, but one possibility is that this is where female initiates stayed as part of the 'bear' rituals. (A combination of river, spring and sea mean that the site is often waterlogged, hence the raised walkways.)
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Brauron: Temple of Artemis and (more visible!) church of Ag. Giorgios.
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To be strictly accurate, the other -- occasional -- noise is from planes coming in to land at the airport, which reminds me that I really should get going.  And so, after a visit to the excellent museum here (which not only has the finds from this site, but also a lot of other material which has been dug up in this, archaeologically very rich, region), I hit the road again.

The Brauron Museum is full of wonderful things, but I was especially pleased to see this. The bottom half has been here since it was discovered nearby in the 1960s. The top half was illegally excavated and exported, and turned up in the Met Museum in New York in 1990. After some wrangling, it was returned to Greece in 2008. So now (almost!) all of it is back in one piece, and (more importantly) in one place.
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My plan now is to head west, coming round the southern end of the airport, before turning north back towards Athens.  This is wine and olive country, and it feels incredibly remote and rural given how close I am to the airport and the motorway.

Heading west from Brauron: this one really is a Frankish tower (built, in part, from ancient blocks).
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Busy roads...
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Between me and central Athens are two significant barriers: the motorway (the Attiki Odos), and Mt. Hymettus.  The first is relatively easy to avoid, particularly with the help of the network of farm tracks. The second has to be circumvented (there are no roads over Hymettos from this side), which means going a little bit further north than is geographically necessary, and skirting the northern edge of the mountain, before dropping back south-west to the city.

Avoiding the motorway means a certain amount of wiggling around on farm tracks, but these ones are in reasonable shape. (That's Hymettus in the background.)
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The final stretch of ride isn't the most scenic in the world -- I'm back in Athens' urban sprawl -- but it's still pleasant enough.  Actually, almost the very last stretch, between Papagos and Goudi, includes a lovely bit of surprise green space -- but the reason that this patch of urban countryside exists is because it's part of an army base, so I couldn't take a photo to prove that it's really there.  You'll have to take my word for it.

By 2pm, I'm properly back in the city. Athenians are enjoying a sunny Saturday in the traditional way (by sitting in the squares, eating and drinking), and I join them.  Packing can wait a bit longer, after all...

It's slightly perverse, I'll admit, to cycle to the seaside, and then come back to the city to eat squid. But it was tasty!
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Back at the airport: all good things must end...
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Today's ride: 66 km (41 miles)
Total: 461 km (286 miles)

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