Saturday, August 23, 2014

The 1 Thing I Heard About Athens and the 5 Things I Learned On My Own

Hey y'all.  Last Tuesday, my bestest blonde homegirl April, and I left DC and headed to Athens, Greece. I had no intention to really visit Athens, but the nearby islands of Santorini and Mykonos instead. However, it's smart to fly into the capital city and the largest city in Greece. People warned me, "Athens is dusty and boring. The only thing there to see is the Acropolis and you're done. So just stay for a day and leave." That was my initial intention, but I stayed for two nights anyway. Guess what? There's more to see than the Acropolis! And I'll tell you what else...

1. Athens is indeed dusty. But of course it is. It's one of the world's oldest cities. It's older than Jesus. At 3,400 years old, I'd expect to wash a bit of Athens down the shower drain at the end of every day.
You have to pay to enter the Acropolis, but it's not much, like 12 Euro, which provides tickets for other monuments in Athens, like the Temple of Zeus.



The Acropolis...and dust. The word "acropolis" literally means "upper city" in Greek, so the Acropolis is on very high ground, and you have to climb very high to get to the top. This climb is not for the weak, but once at the top, the views of the city are pretty breathtaking.

April's Gator Chomp at a competition ring at the Acropolis.


On top of the Acropolis. There are huge marble slabs for you to slip and break your neck on up here.

On top of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, or what's left of it. It was destroyed by, well, many things--but largely by a Venetian mortar round in 1687. For the next 150 years, it was looted for building materials and any valuables left.


2. Don't visit Athens in August. When it's 95 degrees at home, you don't go galavanting outdoors for hours; you stay in air conditioning. But when you only have 48 hours to see all there is to see in a city, you get out there and sweat it out. Sure we smiled for the camera but we were secretly wet and miserable. The end of each day felt like a huge accomplishment. We didn't just see Athens--we endured Athens.


3. There's more to see than the Acropolis. And you're not allowed to touch it. I can't blame Greece for surrounding the world's oldest structures with rope or scaffolding--all of their ruins are...already ruined. And there's graffiti everywhere. So the best you can do is what we did: take pictures in front of monuments and imagine what it was like to be there 3,000 years ago. What people wore, how they spoke, how they walked about barefoot or in sandals, what they discussed, whether they were allowed to eat food inside the Temple of Zeus, etc. All courtesy of one of the best inventions ever: the Hop On/Hop Off Tour Bus.

Hadrian's Arch, or commonly known as Hadrian's Gate, built from marble in 131 AD to celebrate the arrival of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. And then we arrived and took a picture in front of it. You can see the Acropolis in the background.

Temple of Zeus; started in 2 BC but not completed until 640 AD. It was pillaged by barbarians in the 3rd century and never repaired again. Pillaged. By barbarians!!

We sat down to rest and I ate a potato chip when an eagle-eyed woman, 100 yards away, blew a whistle at me to stop.

Panathenaic Stadium, also known as Kallimarmaro, meaning "beautifully marbled." Reconstructed from the remains of an ancient Greek stadium, it is made entirely of white marble and hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

The stadium was built long before dimensions for athletics venues were standardized, and its track and layout follow the ancient hairpin-like model. It could once seat about 80,000 spectators on fifty rows of marble steps and currently holds 45,000 spectators.
4. The food is tasty! If you are a picky, healthy eater like me, leaving home could put you in a panic. Add to that April, the vegetarian, AKA selective pescetarian. Alas, we had no reason to fret, since Greek food serves everything we like to eat: salads with healthy oil-based dressings, and fish, fish, and more fish. And bonus: tzatziki!!

Greek salad, served absolutely everywhere.

Tzatzki, made from strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, salt and olive oil.

Dinner in Plaka.
Dinner at Lithos.

Sea Bream.

Delicious salmon. I'd eat it every day if I could.

One of the owners of Lithos, Stavros, deboned our fish for us.


Stray cats. Everywhere.

Still weird to eat on the street with cars grazing your tablecloth. April wasn't fazed at all.




The owners of Lithos, brothers Stavros and Nikos, were very sweet and hospitable. Lithos was awesome, go there if you visit! It's in the center of Athens, in an area called Psiri.

5. Athens is still a metropolis. Like any big city I've visited, Athens has similar elements: bars, restaurants, a shopping district, dirt, crime, graffiti, police, homeless people, metro, street vendors, etc. All found amongst the oldest buildings still standing.


Athens police officers. They ride two-up on each motorcycle (AKA two per bike).


Statue just outside of the Panathenaic Stadium.


Metro Mall. It has an H&M, because what European mall doesn't?


The Metro system was pretty clean. But turnstyles were non-existent. There was absolutely nothing, other than the honor system it seemed, to stop you from not buying a metro pass and just walking onto the train.  Also, like DC, there are new trains and old trains. Old trains didn't have air conditioning, which made for some interesting odors.



This is a photo from a little alley in Athens called Pittaki Street. In 2013, a non-profit organization called Imagine the City, creative studio Beforelight and 150 citizen donations of lamp shades turned this short, forgotten street into a literal ray of light in the middle of a decaying and crime-ridden area. How cool is that?
We also met some really cool Americans in Psiri--this crew was from South Carolina, Virginia, and even Upper Marlboro, Maryland!

Overall, I liked Athens. I think we maximized our two days there and I can say I'd go back. But not in August.

Have you ever been to Athens? What did you think? Has this review swayed your decision to visit one day? Tell me about it.

Stay tuned for photos from our next destination: Santorini. :)

-Insana

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