What is a trip to Greece without visiting Athens? With its historical significance, and world heritage sites, I definitely wanted to check it out if I was in the country.
The day started off with an early drive to the Heraklion airport. We had a short 1 hour flight to Athens. The Heraklion airport is terrible! One of the worst I’ve ever been to. Despite the thousand of tourists that pass through there everyday its just not set up for that amount of people. Its so inefficient – you have to stand in one line to check in, stand in another line to send your luggage through security and then finally a third line to actually go through security. We got “randomly” selected to get our checked luggage searched. The guy opened the luggage, took one look at all my bottles of toiletries and let us go. Little did he know, we had a bottle of raki inside as a gift from our host in Panormo. Guess we avoided a confiscation.
Athen’s airport was easy to navigate, but trying to figure out the system to get into the city was a bit confusing. There is a metro that runs all the way to the airport, but you require a special ticket and it runs only every half hour (annoying!). The hotel we were staying in was right in the center and required just one change on the metro. The metro itself was surprisingly very clean and new. I was expecting something like Budapest’s metro system, but it was nothing like it. The only issue I had with the system was that service to the airport isn’t very frequent.
We easily located our hotel, checked in and headed out to explore Athens. First stop? The Acropolis of course! The climb up was excruciating. Even in ideal conditions, I’m not the biggest fan of scrambling up and down mountains, and the 38+ degrees in Athens was definitely less than ideal conditions. But the only way to get up was to walk.
On the way up, we stopped to check out the Theatre of Dionysus – the god of fertility and wine, and later considered a patron of the arts, and the better preserved Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which is now a prominent performance venue.
Finally we made it to the top and arrived at the Propylaea, which is the entrance way to the Parthenon. Apparently the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the Propylaea in Munich were copied from the central portion of the gate – pretty cool. The gate way was under restoration (as was much of the site), so it was difficult to imagine what it would have looked like in the past.
Walking through the gate will bring you to one of the most famous structures in the world: the Parthenon at the Acropolis. From a distance, it doesn’t look that big at all, but the closer you get to the building you can truly appreciate the massive size of this thing. I have no idea how they managed to move all the construction materials to the top of that hill – it’s a terrible climb even when you’re not carrying anything. I was a bit disappointed to see all the construction materials around it (since 1975 apparently!). The cranes and scaffolding really didn’t add much to the overall experience.
The Parthenon was built to honour the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron. It has experienced quite the violent history, with it exchanging hands many times and even at present, there is controversy over some marbles that were removed and placed in the British Museum in London.
When I was standing before it, I really couldn’t believe that I was looking at it in person. It all just seemed so surreal.
The view from the top was great. The rest of Athens is primarily flat and if you looked hard enough, you could see the water off in the distance (but you’d be squinting into the sun – no fun).
There were a couple other buildings at the top, the biggest of which was the Erechtheion, an ancient Greek temple.
We spent the rest of the day wandering around the streets of Athens – in particular the area called Plaka. The streets were narrow, with it twisting and turning every which way. It was hard to tell if you were going the right way because many streets just weren’t labeled at all or if they were, it didn’t appear on the map that we had. Trying to get down from the Acropolis to the main road was confusing too. It was almost like the twisty paths that lead up to Gellert’s Hill in Budapest – you really don’t know if you’re going the right way until you’re there.
The houses in this area were really cute – it almost felt like I was wandering the streets in an Italian village. Most had a balcony, flowers and adorable shutters. The most surprising part of it all? Even though we were right in the middle of the city, it was absolutely quiet. You’d hear the occasional motorbike or car come by, but otherwise it was silent. No honking cars, no buses, no loud partiers. It was such a refreshing change.
I was really exhausted and rather cranky from the heat and endless walking that I barely took any photos of this part of town. My only photo is this one I randomly snapped on my phone. For the rest, you’ll just have to imagine it – or better yet, go yourself!
Have you been to Athens? Did you like the Acropolis?
PS. Check out the rest of my posts about Greece!