After passing some time at the airport in Frankfurt, our flight to Athens took off. I felt a bit sorry for the chap in the aisle seat next to me. He was about 6′ 5" and was hawkishly watching a seat in the bulkhead row that was empty until just before takeoff. Unfortunately for him, the person sitting in that seat showed up, so he had to spend the flight folded up like a pretzel. We were flying on Lufthansa and they served a nice breakfast of some buns, bacon, ham and cheese, which I gather is a fairly typical German breakfast snack. After breakfast, I was watched the ground for a while and then woke up to discover that we were offshore of Athens.
There was an airport near the coast that I thought we’d land at, but it quickly became apparent that we weren’t landing there because 1) we were way too high turning from the downwind leg to base, and 2) we didn’t turn final. Instead we continued inland and shortly thereafter landed.
Our bags eventually came along the baggage carousel and we made our way to the rental car companies to check out the vehicle we were picking up after my cousin’s wedding. So, we hauled all our luggage down to the rental car lot and looked at a couple of vehicles before settling on one. Having sorted that out, my parents caught one cab and I another and we headed to our hotel in the heart of Athens.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was exciting because the traffic in Athens is nuts. Certifiably insane. But, as busy as it was, we never really ground to a halt and I arrived at the hotel in a reasonable amount of time. Including the tolls, my fare was 30€, which seemed quite reasonable after umpteen hours of flying.
I checked into my room at the Divani Palace Acropolis, hauled my luggage up to my room and got settled in. Stepping out onto the balcony, I found the view to be quite impressive. (That’s the Parthenon, in case you don’t recognize it.)
After freshening up, I headed out to explore a bit of Athens and wandered up the street to the base of the Acropolis, stopping to pick up a SIM for my phone. I later picked up a second one for my parent’s phone so we could call each other without costing a small fortune.
There were a whole bunch of stalls selling books in the plaza at the bottom of the Acropolis near the Odeion of Herodes Atticus, a second century Roman structure, that we later figured out must have been there for some special event because they were packed up a few days later. I wandered about in general awe of everything and made my way back to the hotel to meet up with my parents. We had dinner in the restaurant at the hotel and then headed out in the evening to see more of the area at the base of the Acropolis. We walked partway up the hill and found a whole lot of people on the Aeropagus, a small hill with a metal staircase leading to the top. The view of Athens at night from the Aeropagus was amazing. It very lightly rained for about 2 minutes while we were up there and this is the only rain we’ve encountered while in Greece, so far.
The next day, we headed up to the Acropolis and spent a couple of hours touring the summit. There are a number of distinct structures up there, of which the Parthenon is but one. There’s also the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaia, and the Erechtheion, to name a few. It was hot, the sun was out and the place was crawling with tourists.
Over the centuries, the place has been visited by more than one souvenir hunter. One of the more famous is Lord Elgin, the British Ambassador who had permission from the Turks to erect scaffolding and remove some stones with inscriptions. He interpreted this very liberally as carte blanche to take away almost all of the carvings that once graced the Parthenon and other structures on the Acropolis and sell them to the British Museum. (He also tried to do this in other parts of Greece as I’ll mention in more detail in a future entry.) Today, Greece is demanding the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, as they’re known, but the British Museum has yet to turn them over.
After the Acropolis, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at a nearby restaurant and then headed off to see Hadrian’s Gate, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the National Gardens and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a virtual geocache in the National Gardens. This involved a lot of walking, a short stop in a café next to the Záppio for refreshments and more walking.
After watching the ceremonial guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier go through their routine, we split up. I headed off to find a couple of geocaches, one in the Zappeion Gardens and the other near Hadrian’s Gate. Next, I headed into the Plaka and explored its shops and also saw the Roman Agora and some other ancient sites. I met up with my parents at the hotel and we headed out to dinner at a restaurant called Daphne’s in the Placka. As luck would have it, we bumped into my cousin (not the one getting married) and family during dinner and had a nice visit with them.
The next day, I dragged my parents back into the Plaka where I encountered a very persistent lady trying to sell me a huge table cloth. Even when I walked away after saying "no" more than once, I felt a tug on my sleeve and turned around to discover she’d run down the block after me. I told her no again and walked away and this time she didn’t follow me. On our way back, however, we passed her again and she persisted in trying to sell me this table cloth. Though the asking price was now 20€ from the original price of 80€, I was still not interested and now I was getting annoyed. That’s when I pulled out my very basic Greek vocabulary, emphatically told her "Όχι!" and moved along.
Finally, she got the point.
("Όχι" (pronounced "O-hee") is Greek for "no" and if you’re going to venture into the Plaka, it’s a very handy word to know.)
We checked out of the hotel and made our way back to the airport in the afternoon to meet up with the bus taking most of the rest of the people from Canada going to my cousin’s wedding in Tripolis.
I’ve heard horror stories about how dirty Athens is, but I didn’t find this to be the case. Yes, it’s a big city and it has lots of people and lots of traffic. But the parts of Athens I saw in the heart of the city were quite clean. There wasn’t a lot of litter in the streets, even though there were a lot of people and a lot of cars, and there were trees and flowers that added some colour.
I’ve posted some pictures in my gallery already, but I have hundreds more that won’t be posted until I return to Canada.