Syntagma – Parliament – Erdou – Athens Cathedral – Plaka – Temple of Olympian Zeus – Acropolis – Ancient Agora – Pandrosou – Hadrian’s Library – Roman Agora – Acropolis Museum – Technopolis/Gazi
If you’re a serious tourist Athens is a great place to see and experience a lot stuff, very quickly. In July or August, see a lot of stuff very quickly and sweat 3 liters of water.
We started our day with a Rick Steve’s walking tour that Shana had picked out before we left. Getting off the Metro at Syntagma Square in front of the Parliament we headed down the main pedestrian street in central Athens. This street is called Erdou and even if you try and pronounce it in your head it wont sound right. Pretty much everything in Greek doesn’t sound right unless a Greek person is saying it. Erdou is mostly in the grips of the economic recession in Europe. Several shops were boarded up and the ones that were open looked understaffed. As we made our way down Erdou we stopped at a small Greek Orthodox church where saw some unique religious artifacts. One of them looked like the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones.
A short detour off of Erdou put us right in front of the Athens Cathedral, the head of the Greek Orthodox church. It has been covered in scaffolding since 1989 and it does not look like that will improve soon, bearing that in mind we spent most of our morning walking through the neighborhood surround the Acropolis called Plaka. Plaka is really only unique in that it is the primary shopping area for tourists and yet is still completely covered in graffiti. Eventually we exit Plaka at Hadrians Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
I feel a bit misled about this place because most of the postcards show these massive columns standing in a verdant field of grass. As far as I can tell, grass has not grown around the temple in at least 1000 years. After a quick spin around the Temple we walked up Dion Areopagitou to the entrance of the Acropolis. Athens was a cool 99 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing the Acropolis is not like a set of stairs or two. However the crowds due to either heat or tourists staying away because of the political climate in Athens were light and that made for a couple things that are pretty rare at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
First off, we got pictures, at the Acropolis with no other tourists in them. Second there were times when Shana and I had an area all to ourselves and we could just stand and enjoy it, not shuffle through other people to catch a glimpse and keep moving. I thoroughly enjoyed our hike despite the heat. Shana got to fulfill a lifelong dream of hers to see the Theatre of Dionysus as well. After the hike to the top where the Parthenon is situated we headed down the back side of the Acropolis to the Greek Agora and walked down through the birthplace of Democracy.
Famished we stopped for lunch near Monastiraki with a pleasant gentleman from Albania who was a big Red Sox fan. Our lunch was an excellent salad with tomato, cucumber, rocket (coolest name for lettuce, ever), katiki cheese and white marinated anchovies with some excellent toasted bread and kalamata tapenade. Stuffed, we walked back through the Aerides neighborhood to see Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora and wander slowly through the flea market on Pandrosou. Shana had me haggle for new dress and a wedding band for her since we left her expensive jewelry at home.
As we finished circling the Acropolis we ended up back at the brand new Acropolis museum and went inside. This is by far one of the coolest and best laid out museums I have ever been in. There are large glass panels that make up parts of the ground floor where you can look down and see the archeological excavations below the museum. The entire third floor is laid out just like the Parthenon would be as if it were intact with plaster castings mixed with the originals to give a sense of the magnitude and detail that went into the Parthenon when it was standing.
At the hottest part of the day we headed back to the hotel to shower before heading out for dinner in the hip nightlife area called Technopolis and/or Gazi. This area is a former industrial neighborhood that has slowly been transformed to a modern art center for Athens. It doesn’t really come alive until 9PM or 10PM but once it does, it gets pretty crazy down there. We stopped at a placed called Gazi College which was designed like a study hall in a university, a place called “The Tramp” which based on the posters, was accurately named, and finally a place called, MishMash that was you guessed it random selections of food and drinks with no coherent order on the menu.
Any person who wants to fit a lot in to a single day will have great success in Athens. What to do after that day? I would head to the islands.