Following our wonderful adventures in Meteora, we had to go through Athens to reach the Greek Islands. We had read several articles on Athens, while planning our trip in Greece, and were surprised to read that they suggested we only spend a day or two in Athens. Since we are stubborn, we decided to spend a few more days when we’d get back from the Islands. What a great decision! We really loved this city, no wonders it’s home to a third of the Greek population.
Let’s start with an ode to our Greek hosts. We have now spent a lot of time in hotels and Airbnb and our accommodations in Athens were the best by far. Our hosts gave us the royal treatment… espresso coffee, bottle of wine and even breakfasts included. One of those apartments even had a gigantic outdoor terrace with an hammock and a view on the Acropolis. What a dream! The Greeks have a great sense of hospitality & this obviously contributed to our appreciation of this short stay.
Athens is a very busy city. Between the motorcycles and scooters that are zigzagging in the city streets and the crowds of pedestrians and tourists who invade the historic district, Athens can be daunting at first, but with the help of a good map and the kindness of the Athenians to give directions, we have quickly conquered the city.
During our four and a half days in Athens, we did: a guided tour of the old town & visited the Museum of the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Arch and the library of Hadrian, the Acropolis and its south slope, the ancient Agora, the Panathenaic Stadium and so on, a true marathon??. Some of these attractions are part of the package when you buy the Acropolis Pass and we well intended to maximize this pass during our time in Athens. Since this is a lot to talk about, we will keep this post short by only covering what we liked the most. Since Hugo was kind enough to write an article for you on the Panathenaic Stadium which we also really loved to visit, we will leave it to him to describe this attraction that would have made our list of top choices.
First crush: the new Acropolis Museum. This museum, opened in 2009 and is the pride of the Athenians. There is a good reason this attraction is considered one of the most beautiful Museum of Europe, this museum is modern and very, very informative. We read somewhere that it is best to visit this Museum before visiting the Acropolis and we would make the same recommendation. We’ve acquired a good basis before visiting the Acropolis which made this visit much more enjoyable. This museum, full of relics of the Greek Antiquity (more than 4000 items), traces back the history of Greece from roughly 1,000 years BC until 700 AD. from a cultural, mythological, political and sociological point of view. In addition, this museum presents hundreds of beautifully preserved sculptures. Unfortunately, the pictures in this post don’t do justice to what we could see there, since taking pictures was prohibited in most parts of the museum. If the Acropolis is an excellent showcase of ancient architecture, we can say that the Acropolis Museum is an excellent showcase of the art and life around and inside the buildings of the old city. Truly, this visit is a “must” if you are visiting Athens.
To continue in the same vein, we have been delighted by our tour of the Acropolis. By far, this attraction was clearly the most popular & was crawling with tourists. I must say we had mixed expectations about our visit of some old buildings in ruins. After hearing so many people describing how they were amazed by watching some ruins, imagining what was there back in time and now is only a fallen column or a heap of rock. Tell us we lack imagination, but we really can’t say that we were excited to spend our day “imagining” what the Acropolis looked like at the time. We quickly realized how wrong we were! The ruins are abundant and grandiose & it’s not difficult to complete the picture of what these sites looked like at the time. We are amazed by the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion. Best of all, we were finally able to put to use what we learned in our philosophy or history of the civilizations college classes :).
Our third favorite, the Agora, although it is another site showcasing ruins, is very different from the Acropolis and is also worth a visit. If the Acropolis has been through the years a place of worship & a fortress, the Agora was the gathering place of the Greeks. Both market and theatre square, it is fascinating to stand there and to imagine life in the time of antiquity. It’s also at the Agora where many philosophers have spent their days discussing and exploring their thoughts. What an experience to sit on the same steps where the famous Socrates, so long ago, spent his days engaging the young Greeks in philosophical thinking. A magnificent building was rebuilt, the Stoa of Attalos, recreating only a small part of the original greatness of what the Agora must have been prior to the passage of time and wars which left this site in a State of ruin.
Finally, our last favorite, the walking tour in the old city. This time again, we used an audio-guide for this tour. It’s really a lot of fun to visit a city, each of us with our headphones on, listening to Rick explaining the history of the city, describing some buildings and some urban art that we would probably not even notice without his help. Mixing fun with learning, we loved our walk in the neighborhood of Plaka and Monastiraki. We appreciated walking through the small streets filled with souvlaki restaurants and shops. Although we spend most of our time in the very touristy areas, it is always interesting to appreciate the cultural and culinary differences between the city we visit.
Honestly, we had some doubts about including Greece in our itinerary before we left for our RTW trip. Not being big fans of ruins or sculptures, we were afraid to be spending our valuable time and money in some very special places that we wouldn’t really appreciate. Fortunately, we quickly changed our minds, impressed by the grandeur and magnificence of what we have seen in Greece. We would go so far as to say that we are now starting a appreciate sculpture in the same way that we appreciate painting or photography. Perhaps the spirit of the ancient philosophers slightly rubbed off on us and have left us wiser Athens that we entered 🙂