Wow I am really surprised by some of the locations I am getting with that feedjit thing. I should probably get used to it but it is so fun to see where all the readers come from!
And now here we go with Athens! As in the capital of Greece!
The morning we left Berlin, we ate a hearty breakfast at the hostel and then left plenty of time to take the S-Bahn to the airport since we would have to switch several times in order to get there. In another typical Amelie moment, I thought it would be a good idea to leave my backpack behind at one of the stops and to not realize this until after we had switched a 2nd time and had finally gotten on the S-Bahn that would take us directly to the airport. As I am prone to do, I freaked out and panicked and left my suitcase with Gaelle and Erika in order to go retrieve my backpack. I was totally freaking out and pressed for time and almost had a breakdown. Easyjet check ins stay open for an hour and 20 minutes and then close 40 minutes before the plane is due to leave. They are pretty strict about those rules and I was terrified at the idea of being left behind in Berlin. A nice couple that only spoke German pantomimed and pointed at the direction and stop I would have to take in order to get back to the stop I had originally left my backpack.
Anyways I somehow figured it out despite my inability to focus on anything for more than a second, that’s how I freaked out I was. I am a lucky SOB and that my backpack was RIGHT where I had left it on the platform and that nobody had reported the unattended bag to security. I grabbed and then had to fight the race against time to get to the airport. I sat on pins and needles when I finally got on the right S-Bahn that would take me directly to the airport. When we got into the station, I tried to make a run for it, I had 5 minutes before the Easyjet check in closed. The S-Bahn station is quite a walk from the main airport check in buildign and I was trying to run with a too heavy backpack… yeah it was quite the sight. I received a text from Gaelle demanding to know where I was but I ignored it as I finally reached the building and ran upstairs to the Easyjet check in, after putting my bags through security (????? at check in, yeah I know it was weird). Only to discover it was the WRONG Easyjet check in as the woman at the desk leaned forward to me and asked “Glasgow?” and of course I freaked out even more, if that were even possible at that point. She made a quick call to some colleague and she told me my bag was being held at a specific counter and that I had to run.
I then had to run downstairs and made it to the Easyjet check in desk as I saw Erika frantically pointing to the woman who was holding my bag for me. And so I made it, but BARELY. Then we went through security and ran like idiots to the room where it said our flight was boarding only to find out it hadn’t actually started boarding. I was all frazzled and I didn’t calm down until once our plane had taken off and was well on its way to Athens. So that was very stressful!
Once we got to Athens, we were a little confused on how to get to the metro stop near our hostel. We ended up taking a train and a metro where we were all packed like sardines, mostly thanks to Gaelle and Erika’s huge suitcase taking up all the room jaja. We finally got off at the right stop and walked about ten minutes to our hostel and I almost felt like I had stepped back into Morocco for a few minutes. We found the hostel and I had to go upstairs and wake Nicole up, one of the WashU girls who had decided to join us in Athens and had arrived at the hostel earlier than us. This is when we learned the hostel’s boiler was broken and that there was no hot water, something that very much upset the other girls. Honestly I could have cared less. My shower in Toulouse has been very sporadic lately with the hot water so I have gotten used to lukewarm water. They wanted to change hostels but I knew we wouldn’t find a hostel at such short notice, especially a hostel where we would have a room to ourselves.
We then walked around trying to find a place to eat which proved to be much harder than we anticipated. There really weren’t any restaurant type places around our hostel so after some waffling, we finally gave in and ate at Subway which was the closest food place near us. After this less than satisfactory dinner, we ended up not sleeping AT ALL thanks to the thundering volume of noise provided by the nightclub right on the street outside our hostel. And all the car traffic which never seemed to die down.
Yeah so after the peace and quiet of Berlin, the noisy street and nightclubs were a shock to the system. But we got up the next morning anyways and went to what would become our daily breakfast joint while in Athens. There was this place right near our hostel that had these tables and chairs under a tent and each morning there were these chocolate and cheese and ham pastries to choose from. The first morning I ended up with ham and cheese because the 3 girls went ahead and all picked the choco ones until there was none left. Thanks guys. BUT when I finally bit into it, it was so. damn. good. I had chocolate the next morning just to see what I was missing out on and I definitely preferred the ham and cheese! So me not getting the choco the first morning was a blessing in disguise.
Since we had no idea where we were going, we decided to head to the tourist office to get a map. After asking a few locals and passing the Athenian Parliament, we found the office and got the map. We then decided to attack the Acropolis since we were close to that and so off we went with Erika’s acute sense of direction leading the way.
We got into the Acropolis and all the ancient touristy sights for free thanks to our French student cards. I think we weren’t really supposed to get in for free jaja, because it was only for students studying in the EU, meaning EU students. But since our French student cards were written in French, I don’t think it really mattered.
So we walked up the hill to the Acropolis which took forever thanks to all the tour groups and all the other people. Once we finally got up there, we had a nice view of Athens and all the white buildings all built on top of each other and the ocean which was kind of far off. However entering the Acropolis once at the top proved to be a challenge thanks to the human traffic jam with people trying to enter and other people trying to get out. There was really no one directing this traffic so we weren’t really moving at first.
So what is an Acropolis? Well according to W, it means “Acropolis (Gr. akros, akron, edge, extremity + polis, city, pl. acropoleis) literally means city on the edge (or extremity). For purposes of defense, early settlers naturally chose elevated ground, frequently a hill with precipitous sides.” The Acropolis of Athens is awkwardly placed since it is surrounded by low valleys and then all of a sudden bam, you have this rock sticking up out of nowhere with the ruins of a few random buildings. It looks more like a mesa to me! (And I mean an American mesa, not an actual table!) The Acropolis is important for political and religious reasons but I don’t know much about Greek history even though we studied it in middle school. So go consult the big W if you are so inclined.
As we waited in the long line to see the Parthenon, we were able to admire the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a stone theater on the south slope and is still used today during the Athens Festival which takes place during the summer months.
Obviously the most important building on the Acropolis are the ruins of the Parthenon. These world famous ruins were built as a temple for Athena in the 5th century BC (that’s nuts) and it is the most important surviving building of classical Greece. Whatever classical Greece was supposed to look like. A lot of the temple is covered by scaffolding since the Ministry of Culture is restoring this historical monument. That is a bit of a letdown but I guess we don’t need the Parthenon collapsing on the tourists. Though I’m sure no one would miss the British teenage girls tourists. Just kidding.
The current ruins are remains of the temple built to replace the older temple destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC. Oh those Persians, it seemed they destroyed everything in Athens at some point. The Parthenon was used as a treasury but Wiki also asserts it was used as a Christian church in the 6th century and then as a mosque in the 1460s under the Ottoman Empire. It had a minaret and everything. Ah bon? That’s not something I’ve ever heard of before… but maybe it’s true. The following sentence I don’t really understand but Wiki says “On 26 September 1687 an Ottoman ammunition dump inside the building was ignited by Venetian bombardment. The resulting explosion severely damaged the Parthenon and its sculptures.” Why would you put ammunition inside a mosque? The Ottomans obviously weren’t the brightest of the bunch. Anyways, in the 1800s all remnants of Ottoman buildings on the Acropolis were destroyed because the Greeks obviously didn’t want any reminders of their conquerors once they gained independence.
Somehow the hoity toity British got their hands on some very important Parthenon sculptures that survived the Venetian blast. They are housed in the British museum in London. The Greek government has been lobbying since 1983 to have them returned which only makes sense. They don’t belong to you Brits! What is with countries refusing to give up art to the country it actually came from???
I thought the Parthenon was awesome despite the traffic jam of people. Just like the Romans, they were architecturally advanced and were obsessed with reinforcing their buildings with columns. It is not so amazing it is still standing in my opinion because of all the restoration work and scaffolding put in to steady the ruins. Besides the Parthenon, there are some foundation ruins of other buildings and remains of another temple called the Erechtheion. The most outstanding feature on this temple is the “Porch of the Caryatids” (a series of statues depicting maidens), also known as one of the sculptures that Lord Elgin took which ended up in the British Museum. The ones you see on the temple are replicas–the originals are in the Acropolis Museum which I did not go to.
After the Acropolis, we decided to fight our way back through the traffic jam and visit the other places around the Acropolis. We wandered around the paths of the Acropolis, passing by a lot of signs explaining the different landmarks that today looked like nothing out of the ordinary. Such as some shallow caves dedicated to specific gods and such. We also saw the Theater of Dionysus (god of plays and wine), another traditional Greek theater where a lot of Greek tragedies were acted out.
Afterwards, we stopped for lunch near the Acropolis and then visited the Ancient Agora and the Agora. That word has always amused me. Agora sounds like a name you would call one of those fluffy and angry looking Winston cats. Or one of those Paris Hilton like dogs that is always dressed up in sweaters. Like a bichon frise! While I’m going off on this totally random tangent, I just want to point out Americans butcher the pronunciation of bichon frise. It is not bee-john. It is bee-SHON free-zay (actually not even shon but close enough for you Yankees), I’ve always wondered where the J comes from.
So yeah… about that Agora which has nothing to do with cats or dogs?
The Agora (pronounced ˈa-gor-rə, with stress on the first syllable) was an open “place of assembly” in ancient Greek city-states. Early in Greek history (900s–700s BCE), free-born male land-owners who were citizens would gather in the agora for military duty or to hear statements of the ruling king or council. Later in Greek history, the agora served as a marketplace where merchants kept stalls or shops to sell their goods amid colonnades.
And the Ancient Agora:
The agora in Athens had private housing, until it was reorganized by Peisistratus in the 6th century BC. Although he may have lived on the agora himself, he removed the other houses, closed wells, and made it the centre of Athenian government. He also built a drainage system, fountains and a temple to the Olympian gods. Cimon later improved the agora by constructing new buildings and planting trees. In the 5th century BC there were temples constructed to Hephaestus, Zeus and Apollo.
The Areopagus and the assembly of all citizens met elsewhere in Athens, but some public meetings, such as those to discuss ostracism, were held in the agora. Beginning in the period of the radical democracy (after 509 BC), the Boule, or city council, the Prytaneis, or presidents of the council, and the Archons, or magistrates, all met in the agora. The law courts were located there, and any citizen who happened to be in the agora when a case was being heard, could be forced to serve as a juror; the Scythian archers, a kind of mercenary police force, often wandered the agora specifically looking for jurors.
The agora in Athens again became a residential area during Roman and Byzantine times.
So yeah this was like the Roman Forum, only the ruins aren’t as crowded and not as on top of each other. I still can’t get over how advanced those Greeks were with their city planning. Even though most of the buildings have been destroyed by wars and time, the fact that archaeologists keep finding artifacts thousands of years later is loco. We walked around reading the different signs explaining what had once stood at the site of the crumbling foundations. The most well preserved monument here is without a doubt the Temple of Hephaestus (the god of metal working), a mini Parthenon. The restored Stoa of Attalos now houses the artifacts that the American School of Classical Studies finds during its excavations.
We briefly passed by the Roman Forum/Agora which was closed anyways. We headed back to our hostel and discovered down the road a long street devoted to a flea market. This wasn’t a traditional flea market. Rather, it was a bunch of tourist shops and a variety of random stores with clothing among other things. It was crowded and as the sign announced, it is open 7 days a week. I suppose it’s just as well it is a bunch of stores since I’m not sure people would want to unload and repack their stalls at the end of every day. As usual, the souvenirs bored me so I put up with everybody’s amazement at seeing souvenirs we kept seeing in every store.
We then went to Subway again for dinner. Yeah, yeah I know. However to be fair, it really was the only food place near our hostel. All the other restaurants were a 15-20 minute walk in the opposite direction. After Subway, we discovered there was still no hot water in the showers at the hostel. I braved it the first 2 days, only washing my hair. The girls were still talking of switching hostels which all I could do was shrug and let them try to feel better about it by looking for other hostels on hostelworld. Predictably, everything was booked.
There wasn’t as much club music blasting that night so we all slept better that night. The next morning, “we” decided to go to the beach and by we, I mean the 3 other girls. I knew I had no choice and I didn’t bother trying to convince them it was a waste of time. Now, I’m not a party pooper, I swear (well not in terms of the beach). I love the beach, I’d live at the beach all the time if the sun didn’t hate my skin so much and if that were possible year round in the American Northeast.
But consider my reasons:
1) It was April. Even in Greece, I knew the beach season hadn’t started yet. Meaning there would be nobody there.
2) The water would be freezing.
3) I didn’t have a bathing suit anyways.
So we took the tram from Syntagma Square, the square with the main Parliament building. We didn’t really know where to get off. When we started seeing the coastline about a half our later, we got off at a random stop. Like I had predicted, the “beach” was deserted which consisted of a lot of rocky sediment. There was a sign warning us the beaches were officially closed since the season hadn’t started yet. We wandered onto another beach with softer sand and sat down. I think the girls were confused. Why is it so cold? Why is nobody here? As if there weren’t a logical explanation…
After awhile though, it began to warm up and my bad mood evaporated and I was happy we had come. While we were the only young people there (and clearly foreign), there were a bunch of old men playing some kind of paddle ball in Speedos. Yeah, in Speedos! Oh Greece. I think this surprised the girls but we are in Europe after all. When I was younger, Pape and Papa wore Speedos a couple of times when we visited France. And maybe when they were younger, I’m sure (actually I know Papa did as a kid, I’ve seen the childhood pictures). Before you all freak out, I was young back then and didn’t think much of it. It didn’t traumatize me or anything. Papa has now embraced the American swimming trunks so as far as I know, there are no more Speedos in the house. If there are, Mom please throw them away.
And of course, yes there were some topless old ladies sunbathing. This is also a fixture on French beaches. And no, I have never done it and luckily none of my French relatives subjected me to that.
At this point, I needed space. I had been traveling with the same people for so long and I needed to get away. So I got up and told the other girls I was going for a walk. And I did, I walked all the way to the other end of the beach. I put my toes in the water and was surprised to find the water wasn’t as cold as I’d expected. There were even a few brave souls swimming in the water. I absolutely love walking along the water and feeling the water wash over my feet. Ooooh how stereotypical “sunset walks on the beach” Yeah yeah, it’s corny but how can you NOT like it? Except for the lame people who hate sand. There is something about a beach and the ocean or the sea that is elusive and it is that mystery that has always attracted me to it. And the soothing, calming quality it has on my nerves and the zen like feeling it puts me in. A lady with her new puppy was walking around near me and I instantly thought of Milou and how much I missed him. When the puppy neared me, it jumped all over me and I happily petted it, it has been so long since I’ve been able to pet a dog. The woman addressed me in Greek (again getting mistaken for a local which was weird considering I was about as pale as the sand) to which I had to unfortunately answer with “Sorry, I’m American.”
Speaking of which, the Greek language is very beautiful to the ear. I have confused Greek with Italian in the past and it seems to me both languages have the same rolling, musical quality. It was such a relief after the harsh, sputtering German. If I could learn another language, it would probably be Greek even though it is a bit useless since it is only spoken in Greece.
As I meditated and thought about life in general, I realized I would have to head back to reality soon. And so I did, knowing I would soon see Megan in a few days. I liked the girls I traveled with but we all have very distinctive personalities not really conducive for traveling together for an extended period of time. I enjoyed the places I visited, but for a lot of it I was stressed out by trying to please the other girls.
I headed back to the group to discover they were getting henna tattoos. I considered getting one but decided against it and I’m glad I didn’t because the tattoos got clumpy later and didn’t resemble the shape they were supposed to represent in the end. They all pretty much looked like black blots. Afterwards, one of the old Greek men approached us and wanted to know if either of us wanted to play paddle ball with them. I politely declined since I have no hand/eye coordination and am not very comfortable when it comes to sports in general. However, Nicole was game and I snapped some funny pictures of her playing with her new Greek friend who later told us as we were leaving the beach that he would take us out to a bar later that night. Well, it was to be expected since we are young and beatiful, heehee.
We had lunch near the Acropolis and then all three girls wanted to go souvenir shopping. I dragged my feet along, exhausted from being exposed to the sun for so long on the beach. After we visited every souvenir shop in Athens, we went back to the hostel to shower. And there was finally hot water!!!!!! We ate dinner at this amazing restaurant called Tepina where I had the most delicious chicken and pasta which I couldn’t finish because there was too much of it.
And here we go with Day 3!
I started to worry that I hadn’t heard from Megan since I was leaving the next day for Scotland. After breakfast at our usual hangout, we decided to take a walk around the National Gardens, one of the only places in Athens that has trees. It was nice to get away from the narrow and loud Athenian streets. We came upon a few duck ponds, including a pond full of turtles. There is also a small zoo farm in the gardens where we saw some chickens, donkeys, goats, and the like.
After the gardens, we walked over to the 1896 Olympic Stadium, the site where the modern day Olympic Games were first held. To be honest, it is not very interesting to look at, it has obviously been renovated and it is just a track. You can’t even go in it because it is closed off to visitors, you can just look at it from the outside which takes a grand total of 2 seconds.
After this, we traipsed off to see the ruins of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Greek: Ναός του Ολυμπίου Διός or Naos tou Olimpiou Dios), also known as the Olympieion, is a colossal ruined temple in the centre of the Greek capital Athens that was dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD some 650 years after the project had begun. During the Roman periods it was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world.
The temple’s glory was shortlived, as it fell into disuse after being pillaged in a barbarian invasion in the 3rd century AD. It was probably never repaired and was reduced to ruins thereafter. In the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, the temple was extensively quarried for building materials to supply building projects elsewhere in the city. Despite this, substantial remains remain visible today and it continues to be a major tourist attraction.
I’ll admit, I was a bit sick of ruins by this point. However, while the temple’s glory was short lived, it is fun to reconstruct in my mind what the temple might have looked like. There are always drawings that explain what the ruins were supposed to look like but they are usually floor plans and those don’t help me visualize things at all. These columns were colossal and enormous. It’s amazing what people will do for their faith because back then, people really thought there were several gods for several things. This has always led me to thinking about religion in general and the popular religions of today. Whose to say that Christianity is dead wrong? What if 50 thousand years from now we’re all worshiping something completely different? Will those people laugh at how silly their ancestors were? I should have faith, you say? Well the Greeks had faith back then too, in Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hades, just to name a few!
We also saw Hadrian’s Arch:
The Arch of Hadrian is a monumental gateway resembling – in some respects – a Roman triumphal arch. It spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens, Greece, to the complex of structures on the eastern side of the city that included the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It has been proposed that the arch was built to celebrate the adventus (arrival) of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and to honor him for his many benefactions to the city, on the occasion of the dedication of the nearby temple complex in 131 or 132 AD. It is not certain who commissioned the arch, although it is probable that the citizens of Athens or another Greek group were responsible for its construction and design. There were two inscriptions on the arch, facing in opposite directions, naming both Theseus and Hadrian as founders of Athens. While it is clear that the inscriptions honor Hadrian, it is uncertain whether they refer to the city as a whole or to the city in two parts: one old and one new. The early idea, however, that the arch marked the line of the ancient city wall, and thus the division between the old and the new regions of the city, has been shown to be false by further excavation. The arch is located 325m southeast of the Acropolis.
After a light spaghetti lunch, we trekked to Lycabettus Hill, the tallest hill and point in Athens:
Mount Lycabettus (In Greek: Lykavittos, Λυκαβηττός) is a Cretaceous limestone hill in Athens, Greece. At 277 meters (908 feet) above sea level, the hill (also known as Lycabettos or Lykabettos) is the highest point in the city that surrounds it. Pine trees cover its base, and at its peak are the 19th century Chapel of St. George, a theatre, and a restaurant.
The hill is a popular tourist destination and can be ascended by the Lycabettus Funicular, a funicular railway which climbs the hill from a lower terminus at Kolonaki.(The railway station can be found at Aristippou street). Lycabettus appears in various legends. Popular stories suggest it was once the refuge of wolves, possibly the origin of its name (which means “the one (the hill) that is walked by wolves”). Mythologically, Lycabettus is credited to Athena, who created it when she dropped a mountain she had been carrying from Pallene for the construction of the Acropolis after the box holding Erichthonius was opened.
The hill also has a large open-air theater at the top, which has housed many Greek and International concerts.
To walk to the base of the funicular, we had to pass the Parliament where we were able to see up close the funny uniform the guards wear. As we walked on, 3 guards in the traditional get up marched past us accompanied by a soldier wearing modern camouflage making sure people got out of the way. It was the changing of the guards but we didn’t go back to the front of the building to see the whole thing.
Getting to the funicular proved to be quite the walk. We ended up climbing up these stairs which definitely gave us all a good work out. Erika and I walk faster than Nicole and Gaelle so we stopped every few landings to catch our breath and to let them catch up. Towards the top of the stairs, there was a guy struggling to carry several grocery bags up the stairs. He seemed to be doing it in several trips. Erika and I offered to help and it turned out we were right next to the funicular which is where the guy was heading as well. After paying and waiting a little bit, we got in the funicular which took us to the top. And trust me, the money paid for the funicular was worth it, I don’t think I could have walked up that hill. The view was amazing and we could see all of Athens sprawled out on all sides. I was confused as to how far Athens stretched out because there wasn’t really any divider marking the city limits. We could also see the Mediterranean in the distance. We walked along a path for a little while and I was so happy that I had insisted on going to the top of the hill. Afterwards, I went off on my own to find the small chapel at the summit and in the process there were quite a few restaurants at the top of the hill. The chapel was very small so I didn’t spend much time in there, but the view from the front of the chapel was unbelievable. It was almost like being back in Malaga, all the white buildings squeezed on top of each other against a backdrop of mountains rising on one side.
Afterwards I realized the funicular to go back down was leaving soon and I ended up getting a little lost in the chapel’s confusing pathways. I found our grocery friend and he pointed me in the right direction so I made it to the funicular on time so all was good in the world!
For dinner, we went back to the Tepina restaurant and Gaelle and Erika ordered what I had had the previous night. However for some reason, their portions were a lot smaller which was strange. We ate outside again which was nice, it really was nice the whole time we were in Athens.
We actually had had decent weather so far. I had been dragging around my brown fall coat to all the hostels up til this point and I hadn’t actually worn it because it was too warm in all the countries I had been in so far!
I liked Athens. I know a lot of people don’t like the city because they consider it to be dirty and polluted and that after visiting the Acropolis, there isn’t much to see. I think 3 days was perfect for visiting the city. Hopefully next time I come, I can make a trip to the Greek islands which I am dying to visit. Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes… all the pictures I’ve seen of those places are breathtaking, it all looks like a slice of heaven on Earth.
One thing I didn’t like about Athens were all the stray dogs all over the place. They would be lying in unexpected corners, especially around the touristy spots. I ran into several while at the top of the Acropolis dozing away. A lot of these dogs had collars so I’m not sure if people own them or if the city puts collars on them. It was all rather confusing. Otherwise that’s really the only complaint I had about the city. Greeks are friendly and most have a working knowledge of English so communication wasn’t too much of a problem.
And that was Athens, folks! Next up you will get to read all about my adventures in Scotland, land of the Lochness and bagpipes! And leprechauns, if I’m not mistaken. Or maybe that’s Ireland.
Sending Ville Rose love your way!