Athina - City of Ancients

Trip Start Sep 08, 2007
Trip End Apr 30, 2008

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

I recently returned from my brief, but incredible visit to one of the world's most ancient cities and birthplace to most of western civilization.  My brother and I spent about 4 days in Athens, and in that time managed to explore a great deal of the city and fit in an excursion to the southern tip of Attica (the geographical area in which Athens is situated).  

Although the first thing that I saw was an Ikea on my way from the airport, I was still blown away by the view of the Acropolis and Parthenon (the major temple on the Acropolis' summit) that first evening when I arrived at our hotel.  We were fortunate to have found a spot right at the foot of the internationally renowned and recognized tourist site, which enabled us to easily walk and scale its ancient steps the next day.  While there were a large number of tourists, thanks to the low-season, it wasn't as chaotic as I had imagined it would be. I can't even really describe what it felt like to be touring around these incredibly ancient monuments, most of which I've had the good fortune to study in detail already, and so am familiar with a great deal of their significance.  Although it's somewhat sad at how much has been lost, what remains is awe-inspiring - which of course leaves one to wonder at how amazing it must have been in its full splendour! Even the many scaffoldings surrounding the restoration projects couldn't take away from their grandeur. I thought back a lot on my studies and just imagined how it would have been to live here 2500 years ago and participate in the huge religious festivals, and thought of how many "Great Greeks" walked in the same footsteps - a humbling experience to be sure (well almost humbling, this IS me we're talking about here, and it's not like they had a Prada on the way up - now THAT would have been humbling!).

After spending much of the day touring the Acropolis, and the ancient Agora area (an area of Athens which served as the focus for ancient daily life), Nick (my brother) and I walked over to the Temple of Hephaestus, which relatively speaking was in excellent condition and a great example of the architecture of the time.   We wandered through the Monastiraki area, which is basically a big marketplace that was packed with people shopping and stopping at restaurants.   It was a great hub of activity and they had pretty much any cheesey souvernir you could think of!  We then made our way to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a little further distant from the Acropolis, which, while precious little remains, was still very impressive.   Again, the dimensions of the project were mind blowing, not to mention the fact of how much was still standing over 2000 years later.  We also saw Hadrian's arch - for me it is always interesting to see how easily the histories of Rome and other civilizations intersect (I saw many similar sites in Egypt and Jordan as well). 

Of course, while we're wandering through all of these monuments and ancient temples, you have a huge, bustling (and more than a little polluted) city going on around you, which again is an interesting contrast -- Nick and I discussed this a lot as we watched traffic wizz by the Temple of Zeus.  The rest of that evening was spent relaxing and enjoying some good food - best Feta ever!  Worst coffee ever! (for coffee drinkers, I warn you, "Greek" coffee I believe is made from soil, or maybe sand)

The next day we did a day trip out to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, the southern-most part of Attica.   The temple was very impressive, not only for its size again, but also that it had withstood what is apparently a very seismically-active area.  I must mention our tour-bus operator as well - Nick and I were in hysterics over how many times he repeated that Greeks go to school for at least 9 years and how he kept pointing out unfinished buildings - apparently a sad result of the suffering economy and tax loopholes - but I digress, back to the Temple!  When we got there it was actually quite cloudy and threatening rain, but thankfully it broke a bit and we got breathtaking views of the Saronic Gulf area, and could even see some of the distant islands.  Apparently on really clear days (although I'm not so sure those exist here) you can see even as far as the Peloponnese.   It was a great trip and worth making it out there (Thanks Emilia!).  That night we also checked out the nightlife in the Plaka area, which was lots of fun, if a little chaotic.  Oh, and had the WORST service ever at a resto where they basically just forgot about us, and then at the next resto they basically threw a pot of tea at me - SWEET!  All in good fun though, surely - Yay Greece!

On the Saturday we spent a great deal of time touring the National Archaeological Museum.  I must admit I wasn't entirely blown away by it (although this could be due in part to the fact that so many famous Greek artifacts are being kept by rival museums in other countries!) but Nick and I did enjoy it and as ever found ways to have fun with it.  There was a very extensive sculpture exhibition, and Nick's favourite, the Vase collection (a collection of hundreds of ancient vases - I found them interesting, Nick differed in opinion).  Again we were fortunate at how few people there were coming through, making it easier to navigate and get a good look at the artefacts.

Our final stop on the Athenian tour was a climb up Mount Lycabettus - and what a climb it was!  I understood why it's the highest point in Athens - thank god for the cable car that took us to the top!  That night was probably one of the highlights for me - we got to the top around sunset and got just an incredible view of the city, especially landmarks like the Acropolis and Olympic Stadium.  We lingered until the winds almost blew us away and grabbed an Irish coffee (a VERY Irish coffee -sooooo strong) and then headed back down.

The last night we treated ourselves to a stay at the Airport Sofitel as my flight was early (I can only rough it so much you know!) which made things much easier the next day!

Well, a somewhat dry entry I must admit.  Although if I told you about all the times Nick had me laughing (for those of you who don't know my brother and think I'm funny, he's a million times funnier) I'd be here for days writing this thing.  One highlight was when a BBC Reporter on BBC World (our saviour for morning television) suggested those poor Chadian children were lured away with sweets (you really had to be there, well in Greece I mean, not in Chad!  Good lord, can you imagine?)!  And an innumerable amount of comments that would likely be inappropriate for online content!  I must also thank Steph and Emilia for their tips and advice on the trip - HUGE assistance! 

That's all for now!

PS - The videos may drag on a bit, but give a good sense of what we were seeing!  And I got a little trigger happy with the camera, hence the numerous photos (and this is the abridged album!)
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