After hearing some different stories about Athens, from various people who had been there previously, we were actually pleasantly surprised with the city.
It’s no secret that Greece is going through incredible economic hardships, but there aren’t really any visible signs of it, at least not to they eye of a passerby.
We had the odd beggar wanting money for this or that, but you encounter that abundantly in Canadian cities as well. We never REALLY felt targeted as tourists, and we were able to safely meander the streets and take in tourist sights, and the local markets alike.
Having only one day in Athens meant that our priority was to visit the Acropolis. I had read in my guide book that the Acropolis literally stares down on the entire city of Athens. Much to my disappointment, when we exited our hotel in the morning, I couldn’t see it anywhere. We were located smack dab in the middle of a jazillion high rises, so it took some effort to snake our way towards it, before we finally caught glimpse of this famous spectacle.
Perched on top of a magnificent marble mountain, it really does look over the entire city, like some sort of guardian taking care of the people. We referenced our map and wound our way through the streets until we came to the base of the entrance.
I must say, the Acropolis is not for the faint of heart. A steep hillside rises up to the base, and then stairs provide access to it. There is no wheel chair access (unless you take the cage lift up the rock face), and I can imagine, for many elderly people, and those not in the best of shape, it could be a difficult climb. Not too mention when you get to the top, it isn’t exactly a nice flat surface that you can stroll around on. Jagged marble, it’s rough edges rounded off over centuries of wear, juts out once you leave the proper pathway. More than once I almost tripped on my face as I gawked at the immensity of the Parthenon, while still trying to walk. Not a good idea! I finally suggested that we take a seat on one of the nearby benches, and just sit and look for a while. The Parthenon, meaning ‘virgins apartment’, was dedicated to Athena Parthenos, by the people of Athens. It took 15 years to build (starting in 447BC) and is built entirely of Pentelic Marble. The 17 pillars were absolutely awe inspiring! They are officially Doric columns, and are slightly narrower at the top of the pillar, than they are at the base. The base measures 1.9 metres across, and they are 10.4 metres high. Truly massive! They have been fluted all the way up, providing an even more incredible definition to what is already pretty incredible to begin with. Obviously there are other buildings on site, but the Parthenon was by far, the biggest spectacle of them all.
I think what struck me the most about it all, was the fact that they are continuously restoring it. It’s been ongoing for a long time, AT LEAST since the early 1900’s. I can imagine that people are spending their whole lives work, helping to recreate a piece of history.
I was also struck with HOW they are managing to fit new pieces of marble, into old pieces of marble, lift it up, keep the structure secure…….all of it is just so mind blowing. The pictures will show you just how accurate this procedure is.
We walked around up top, investigating all that we could. We stopped at a lookout spot and gazed out over the incredible sprawling city below. We felt the rush of adrenaline as we craned our neck over the rock wall, that one must have felt, being important enough to stand up there and gaze out over the “commoners”. I envisioned cobble stone streets, donkeys pulling carts, bright and colourful displays of vegetables being sold in the streets, and far, far less buildings. As it stands now, there are buildings as far as the eye can see, like a gentle white wash covering the land and hillsides.
We meandered down from the upper portion, eager to get a taste of the quaint little streets that we could see from above, and literally stumbled smack dab into the Acropolis Museum. And we are so happy that we did! It is a site to behold in itself.
The floor to the entrance, and parts of the floor inside the doors, is made of a thick plexiglass glass, that allows you to see the excavated, original, architectural sites below. Frames of stone buildings could be seen 10-12 feet below our feet, and it really gave a sense of what the scene would have been like 400+BC. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures inside.
We meandered through many relics that had been excavated from the Acropolis site that rose above it. Impossibly intricate carvings dotted the landscape inside, and many bits of ancient pottery, tools, and vessels lined the cases on the walls.
After watching a short documentary on the basic history of the Acropolis, we made our way upstairs to bear witness to the ‘piece de resistance’. The upper floor was an exact size replica of the top of the Parthenon, basically the part that is no longer visible on the real thing. Having been smashed to bits by various vandals and wars, I am assuming it was in many pieces, but they have managed to recreate what it would have looked like, had it been standing. Plaster has been used to fill in areas that were no longer, but the parts that were original, were a thing to behold. The carvings from marble were unbelievably detailed, and I can only imagine that 100’s of workers must have been working on it, for it to be built in 15 years.
We left feeling so very lucky to have bared witness to such an incredible engineering, artistic, and simply stupefying marvel of the ancient world.
As we had stumbled across a couple markets in our way up, we were eager to get back to those and check them out. The Monastiraki flea market was at the base of the Acropolis, and although mostly tourist driven, it was an interesting sight none-the-less. Little shops led from from the level of the narrow alleyways, and small staircases carried you up or down to tiny little shops with eager vendors manning them. We stopped for a little bite to eat with one of the street side vendors, and ate the most amazing food. Chris had a real Greek gyro, and I had some pork souvlaki with the most incredible tzaziki that I’m sure I will ever taste. There is nothing like the real thing!!
We also were eager to bear witness to more of a locals market. We had seen one in our way to the Acrpolis, and were able to find it once again. Here we found an incredible abundance of fruits and vegetables, eggs, olives, olives and more olives, and a couple incredible antique stalls. Two that come to mind were literally piled so high with different antiques and trinkets, that if you pulled something out from the bottom, you were likely to be killed in an avalanche of stuff. It was unreal!
We walked along one of the main streets called Ermou street. Along it we found many coffee shops, furniture shops, restaurants and just interesting things to look at. We stumbled into one of the coffee shops and had “Greek Coffees”, the Greek equivalent to the Turkish coffees we had in the Istanbul airport. This time we were wiser, and left the coffee grounds for the compost pile!
We buzzed our way back towards our hotel, and our afternoon was rounded out with a stop in an incredible patisserie. The smell that was emitting from this shop was to die for, and we knew that we would not be leaving without buying something. We managed to find some simply adorable mousses (meese??), and scurried back to our hotel room to devour them.
We ventured out a little later on for dinner. The receptionist pointed us to a traditional Greek restaurant that was located about 10 blocks away. We had a great dinner that was capped off with a complimentary serving of local Raki. The waiter said it is also made with grapes, but it is incredibly potent! We prefer to call it the local hooch!
**I apologize for the delay between posts. My access to wifi has been limited, and is unreliable when I do get it. **
Up next, we zip off to The Island of Paros!