Going Greek: Athens Is a City Full of Surprises

Woe is me. Yesterday I wrote a lengthy post about my recent trip to Athens and the Greek islands with my daughter, but forgot to save it. So you are spared my verbosity, and will now instead get the shorter version, with photos and some light commentary. We’ll begin with our day and a half spent in Athens.

Most people I know who’ve been to Greece are not particularly fond of Athens, especially when it’s very hot, so my expectations were low. As it turned out, we had a lovely 36 hours there despite the dreadful unexpected heat wave, and I would have enjoyed at least another day or so soaking up the local vibe which is my favorite part of traveling.

We spent the evening of our first day (exhausted from our flight) taking a stroll through the winding medieval streets of La Plaka, lined with boutiques and restaurants and cafes, to our destination: A restaurant with a rooftop terrace overlooking the Acropolis.

Our walk was filled with small surprises, like an amazing church we found when we turned a corner which turned out to be “an 11th century gem planted right in the middle of a busy shopping district on Ermou Street. The stone, tile-domed church was built on the site of an ancient temple to Athena, incorporates Roman columns from the Forum, and escaped demoition twice as Athens began to burgeon in the middle of the 19th century.” (Frommer’s Athens and the Greek Islands 2017)

Turning another corner in this maze of streets out of the corner of my eye I spotted a long view of the Acropolis wedged between the commercial buildings of the street. Apparently there is magic everywhere in Athens, especially under the streets. If you were to poke a hole into the ground anywhere in Athens I’m sure you would find either ruins or some treasure.

We finally came upon the street where our restaurant was located and found ourselves climbing a narrow, uphill, winding staircase with cafe tables and chairs squeezed on both sides of the stairs. It was very picturesque and crowded.

Our waiter led us up a flimsy metal staircase to the rooftop terrace where…lo and behold…we were amazed to see the back portion of the Acropolis (the Erechtheion). I felt like I had died and gone to heaven!

We had a leisurely, tasty meal with a charming waiter who recommended the feta fried in phyllo dough and topped with honey as a starter. It was soooooo delicious. As we dined we gazed out at the Acropolis, and over the rest of Athens, as the sun slowly set. When the sun disappeared some lights appeared on the Acropolis to highlight the beautiful monuments, while lights began twinkling all across the Athenian cityscape. It was indeed magical.

Early to bed for a busy next day. We were given a 1/2 day tour of the city by bus which allowed us to see many of the sights we would not have time to see otherwise including the site of the original Olympic Stadium, refurbished in marble by a rich Athenian, and used once a year to greet the winner of the Marathon which still takes place annually in the streets of Athens.


We rolled past Hadrian’s Arch, his gift to the Athenians whom he greatly admired;

the Parliament Building guarded by two soldiers 24/7; the Pillars of Zeus which we caught only a glance of since they are ensconsced in the middle of a very green park, and other such treasures.

We arrived at the Acropolis Museum at around 10 am, which is a beautiful modern museum showcasing many of the original artifacts of the Acropolis and its surroundings. Replicas are being installed on the Acropolis in an effort to preserve what is left of the actual antiquities. As we entered the museum we walked over a glass walkway which revealed the ruins of the city beneath us which are under excavation.

The three story museum houses gorgeous artifacts of Greek life and the Classical Era of the Acropolis.

The top floor, encased entirely in glass walls, provides a splendid view of the Acropolis and all of Athens.

After spending over two hours in the museum we were ready for the Big Kahuna…the Acropolis. Athens was experiencing a mini heatwave, so we emerged from the museum to temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was skeptical about my ability to make the climb up to the Acropolis in the heat, but the realization that this was my one and only chance to do it gave me the impetus I needed. So my daughter and I trudged slowly up the gravelly path, stopping wherever we could find a spindly tree for shade, and finally reached the top.

There were tourists everywhere, even on this scorchingly hot day, swarming over the ruins like ants. And there were certainly as many people my age up there as there were younger and older tourists, all driven to have the experience of a lifetime.

The glory of the Parthenon was somewhat diminished by the reconstruction efforts that are ongoing. About a third of the Parthenon was covered with scaffolding and there was heavy machinery here and there on its outer edges.

Apparently the Greek government, despite its near bankruptcy in recent years, is making the best effort it can toward finally preserving what is left of its glorious past.

My daughter and I wandered around the Acropolis for about an hour stopping at each monument, until the heat became unbearable.

We slowly descended the path we had climbed as we spotted more temples, the Agora (marketplace), and the site of the ancient Theater of Dionysus which originally held 17,000 spectators, and is now reduced to 20 marble rows.

We had had a very full and fulfilling day, and were ready for a cool, leisurely dinner and an early bedtime to prepare for our departure from Athens early the next day. Dinner was at a lovely, somewhat modern restaurant along one of the busy streets near our hotel, but it had a/c and was very peaceful inside. I loved my grilled fish and various Greek appetizers and my daughter enjoyed her seafood pasta. Our complimentary offering this time was a lovely creamy, frothy milk concoction flavored with Mastic, a local liqueur.

We were sorry to leave Athens so soon, despite the heat. It is not a showy city like Paris or Barcelona; in fact, its postwar architecture is somewhat rundown and even sometimes shabby. But beneath that dilapidated veneer lies a city of vast treasures and living within are some of the friendliest people I have ever met.

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barbara suter

I'm a retired teacher who enjoys writing and sharing in this; unique blogging community.

12 thoughts on “Going Greek: Athens Is a City Full of Surprises”

  1. Amazing pictures. I totally understand the fact that you are and may never be there again as an impetus for doing something. That’s how we got through so much of our Australia trip. Looking forward to your next installment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re a kindred spirit. Somehow we find a way to overcome our limitations when we really need to. Amazing as it was for me to climb to the Acropolis in that dreadful heat, I did a couple of even more amazing things on Santorini. But that comes later….

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I planned the trip for late Sept. hoping the worst of the heat would be over. Climate change has made it impossible to plan around the weather…it’s become unpredictable everywhere. Two years ago when we visited Berlin at Christmas the temperatures were in the 60s! Everyone was outdoors.

      Like

  2. Thanks for persevering to (re)create a second draft. I thoroughly enjoyed a vicarious vacation via your words and pictures. You had me at “rooftop terrace overlooking the Acropolis,” but that proved to be just the iceberg tip of your Athens travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dinner overlooking the Acropolis was, indeed a “high” point of my trip. But there were lots more on each of the islands I visited. I hope you’ll join me on that journey in the weeks to come.

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