We flew Austrian Airlines with a stop in Vienna; great airline! The sun was bright white yellow in the blue sky, and the feel of spring welcomed us. The metro carried us from the remote airport into the heart of Athens in 40 minutes, and we were checked into the Melia and back to the metro by 4 p.m. to go check out the new Acropolis Museum that sits under the south slope of the Acropolis.
The museum had some unique features. It’s built atop Greek ruins, and accents this fact with large glass floors providing an aerial perspective of the archaeological sites below. Oddly, the collection itself seemed lacking, but I had to keep reminding myself it was only for the one hill you could see out of the large glass windows. It was a good introduction to the Acropolis, although it didn’t really tell the story.
Outside the museum we spotted many orange and olive trees. My mom was adventurous enough to try an olive straight from the tree; it was not ripe enough and looked to be the bitterest item she may have ever tried. I took an orange, but that was past ripe (I suppose the locals are better at finding the ripe produce…). We wandered into the Plaka shopping district as the sun set, the vendors desperate to make sales with the failing tourism industry. We eventually came upon a small tower called the Lyssikrates Monument that had an interesting view to a main road. It happened to lead straight to Hadrian’s Arch with the Temple of Zeus behind it. From there we could make out the Acropolis lit up. We were hungry by then though, and found our way to the Hard Rock Cafe before calling it a night.
The Acropolis. That was number one on the agenda. We rose early and got there before the crowds really showed up. The south slope was easiest to enter from the metro, so we saw the ruins of the Theater of Dionysus and other random rocks (it is hard to picture them as buildings with mostly grass covering everything) as we ascended the slope. The Herodes Atticus Odeon was a magnificent theatre mostly intact that seems to still be in use (awesome!).
We finished the climb, past the first or second tour group and had the Parthenon Hill with a few select others. We passed through the Propylaea gate with the Athena Nike Temple perched precariously to the right. I would have loved to see that upclose, but renovations still limit access. Also in the renovations area was the Brauronion (next to the Athena Nike Temple), and good portions of the Parthenon itself. The Erechtheion, however, was fully restored and still bared the scorch marks of fire in its old temple. We sat at the far end of the Acropolis, and just soaked in the cold marble beneath us and all around us. Very awesome.
We trekked back down and spotted a rock people were climbing on not far away. By now, the tour groups and classes were everywhere. We stopped for ice cream along the way (yum! Slightly bitter but very tasty) and climbed the Arios Pagos, otherwise known as the Supreme Court of Greece or “Rock of Ares”. From there we had a fantastic view of the ancient agora (marketplace) with the Temple of Hephaestus as well as the Acropolis to the southeast. Ice cream eaten, we continued down the path into the agora to walk among the ancient foundations. Someone got in trouble for posing with one of the male statues… before we hiked up another (smaller) hill to see the best preserved temple, the Temple of Hephaestus.
My next point of interest was Hadrian’s Library (*surprise*), but we got caught up in the multitude of shopping along the streets. After quite a few purchases, we also found a restaurant to have an authentic Greek meal. It was amusing to eat while watching tourist “trains” pass by. By the time we got back to sightseeing, the ancient ruin sites were closing up. We weren’t able to walk through the Roman Agora or the Tower of Winds, by we could see them well enough through the fencing. Afterwards, we wandered along more roads and shops, retailers eager to make sales. We were pretty sore when we reached the hotel but still went out for a quick jaunt in the direction of the national library and university buildings.
Today was a mixed bag day. At first, we were going to look at taking a trip to one another city, like Delphi, or a cruise to the islands, but logistics were too much to think about. Instead, we took it easy going to the Monastriaki flea market to discover we had already been to parts of it the previous day. Nonetheless, we found ourselves idly slipping into more shops before deciding to check out the hill that is next to the Acropolis. At the base is an observatory that could be seen from the road that ran between the two hills. The view of the Acropolis from this road was awesome, with natural Greek forest land framing in the white rock of the Acropolis hill. We broke from that road to find the peak of the neighboring hill that had a couple more ruins of theaters and a breath-taking view of the city. Along the way to the top, we ran across a demonstration of ancient Greek soldiers moving in formation.
We soaked up the sun (maybe a bit too much) as we rested our feet at the top of Athens before descending back into the mountains of buildings below. Eventually we stumbled into the National Gardens. They weren’t terribly grand, but by then we just wanted to sit for a while and did so. We all had run out of steam by this point and chugged our way back to the hotel.
This was mostly dedicated to hanging out at the airport to get back to Germany. We had our yummy baked goods in the morning, and I had my last fresh orange juice (by which point I think I was turning orange from having so much). Overall we saw a great deal but mostly concentrated in one day. We probably should have arranged to take a tour of something on Sunday to avoid so much extra walking in the sun. Oh well! I’m looking forward to seeing more of Greece, maybe a cruise among the islands…?