Who has not learned about Athens and ancient Greece in school? Who has not wanted to see the famous Parthenon in person? I have left writing about Athens for last, no particular reason. I guess if it has been there a couple of millenia without me writing about it, what’s a couple more weeks, right? But I absolutely would write about this most ancient of modern cities, a open textbook waiting to be explored so the lessons of yore come to life!
My Travels into and within Greece
Landing in Athens, I was immediately thrown back to landing in Santiago, Chile from the vantage point of my airplane seat. Seemingly, the same semi-arid look to the hills around the airport and the fact that there were hills in the landing path of the plane…
Upon landing, I was not leaving the airport since I had a flight to Mykonos in 3 hrs. I had carried all my luggage on board as I didn’t want to risk lost luggage in the 3 flights I had to take to get to Mykonos. A small roller bag and a backpack were all I had so that was good. I went through immigration and then went to check in for the flight to Mykonos since I would have to check the roller bag as it was too big for the smaller plane’s cabin compartments. Once that was done, my step was just a bit faster as I was freed from the bag. I went to a café at the airport, ate something and promptly discovered that it offers free wi fi for 60 minutes. I had not brought my laptop but had by nice Android with me so I was able to leave some messages about having gotten there safely, etc. The Athens airport was clean, well organized, with signage in English for everything – much better than some airports in the States, as a matter of fact.
I returned to Athens 4 days later after my visit to Mykonos and headed to the suburb of Athens named Kifissia. I already wrote about the wedding events that led me to stay there, how I and later moved to downtown Athens proper after the wedding events were over.
Downtown Athens, I found, was again well signed for tourists, and there was plenty of info (for example, at the airport or kiosks) about the city. As most cities, it has the Hop On/Hop Off type of buses which is a great way to get your bearings. I used them to go take a peek at the port town of Piraeus and generally move about town as the buses stopped at my hotel. I don’t mind walking, which I did, but it was sometimes more about getting to and from faster than walking.
Downtown Athens has a LOT to see and experience. Experience being a key thing since I imagine most of us visitors jam pack seeing every possible sight (I don’t blame us!) and forget to just feel Athens. I tried to do both and I am pleased with what I got to do on both counts though I certainly did not have enough time to do both well.
Of course, first stop was the Acropolis. If nothing else, that stop has to be made. I had read that it was better to go early to avoid the afternoon sun but I also discovered that the volume of tour buses is greater later in the day. Pictures I took when I arrived and when I left of the entrance to the Acropolis show a marked increase in the number of people coming in. Though there were a lot of people when I got there, it wasn’t too bad. One could manage. The ticket to get into the Acropolis serves to enter other historic sites in that neighborhood so the 12euros was well worth it.
Unfortunately, the scaffolding in parts of the Parthenon detract from it but it still is an impressive structure considering its size, age, and location. I was even more impressed with the great walls around the hill of the Acropolis. The walls on the side of the hill were very high at some points – how did they manage to build those back when?! The views from the Acropolis were very nice. As one walks around, one gets a view of all of Athens. The Temple of Zeus this way, Piraeus that way, etc. The Acropolis has more than the Parthenon, of course. I especially like the Erechtheion and the Porch of the Caryatids – the latter being the object of MANY pictures I took. At the foot of the Acropolis are a couple of ampitheater-like sites that you can view from above and, one of which, you can actually visit when you get back down to street level. It is amazing to think of the key historical figures and events that took place around these sites. A good guide or good reference material will cite examples for these places. Incredible to see firsthand that which we learned in high school (much as I had forgotten a good bit of whatever it was I learned!).
One key place to see at the feet of the Acropolis is the NEW Acropolis Museum http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/. Unfortunately, poor planning left it on my to do list as the day I thought of going, my last day in Athens, was the day the museum was closed… It was very highly recommended so I regret my mistake.
Also at the feet of the Acropolis are the areas of Plaka and Monestariki. The former seemed to be more about cafés, local and tourist shopping, and real life. The latter seemed more a nexus of transportation (train station is there), eateries and the flea market. However, I do them a disfavor as there are beautiful and old churches as well as very old sites like the Ancient Agora. So these areas are both for tsightseeing and experiencing Athens. I greatly enjoyed sitting at a side street café on a wide pedestrian street (off Ermou St.) and drinking a Greek frappé (a must have!). I did this in the same café two days in a row – that’s how much I liked observing life and sipping my frappé. These areas also made for great photo opps with all the people walking by.
Other Places in Athens
I cannot do Athens justice, nor will I try. Of the many other places in Athens, some of the ones that may be worth seeing are:
- Lycabettus Hill: the tallest hill in Athens (abt 900 ft) best reached by funicular though you can walk it up or taxi part of the way. The best view of all of Athens especially as you get to look DOWN on the Acropolis! I highly recommend seeing it. The neighborhood around it is nice to walk in as well so an enjoyable little trip. It is not far from Parliament so walking to the funicular is easy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lycabettus_Hill
- Parliament and Syntagma Square: typically something tourists go see in any capital but with all the recent economic woes and protests in Athens, more of us know the name of this square than before. It is not that it is an impressive square (like Krakow’s) or Parliament (like England’s) but it is the center of political activity these days.
- Olympic Stadium: where the first Games of the Modern Olympics took place in 1886.
- Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch: almost side by side and just about across from Melina Mercouri Square, these are also visible from the Acropolis (I guess everything is…). The former is about 2500 yrs old give or take and the latter a youthful 1900 yrs old… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Olympian_Zeus,_Athens http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arch_of_Hadrian
Athens impressed me as did the overall visit to this ancient land. I am eager to go back and keep exploring all that was left to be seen AND experienced by me in Athens, the Isles and the rest of the country!