Here’s the thing. Up until Anna Grace decided she could spare a few days of her autumn break on holiday (heavy IB load), I could never find the love for Athens, and I do not know why. There are other places I feel similarly about, as well, like Lisbon and California and Iceland and the whole of South America. Yet, Athens kept coming up as an autumn city break destination, and so the flights were purchased. By the time I had slogged past all “epic” and “ultimate” trip reports and blogs I came across during travel research to concentrate on the remaining writings by travelers with vocabularies, I was smitten. Funny how these things happen.
Excited, I suppose, I woke Tony at 0530 to make coffee on Acropolis Day (he has a magic touch with our morning elixir, and our apartment had a French press!) I also wanted to linger over our Greek yogurt with honey and fruit breakfast and still have time to head off any ticket queues that I had hoped to avoid by purchasing our ticket the day before. (See, plan going to Hades). I was much kinder to Anna Grace, though, waking her at 0730 with, “Rise and shine! Here’s an apple. We’re leaving in 15.”
Plaka was quiet, its many kitties padding about while restaurant staff prepped the cheery checkered-cloth tables for the lunch and dinner crowds.
Helios smiled upon us, too, on this day and mostly throughout the holiday, with sunshine and wonderfully mild temperatures. In good time we reached the ticket booth at the South Slope, passing one of the Acropolis sentries to find…not one person queued!
Our tickets purchased, we walked over to the Acropolis entrance to find…no crowds! Tony and his walking poles confidently navigated the paths, the rocks, and the stairs, and then before us was the Parthenon, the morning sun in just the position to make my amateurish photographs a bit enviable, if I do say so.
Anna Grace proceeded on ahead, as she had brought along her LOMO and wanted to find the best spots for her goregous(!) snaps; plus, she had visited previously with her school group. Tony and I walked about and read notes and our guide book, and took snap after snap after snap.
After two hours in awe of the birthplace of democracy, in awe of the “ancientness” of it all, and otherwise generally in awe we began our descent down the north slope, deftly maneuvering around no fewer than seven tour groups schlumping about and crowding pathways; included among the masses, a couple wearing flip-flops and a loud person who exclaimed, “Whoa! Look! There’s Mountains!” that made us laugh.
The shrill sound of the docent whistles from this guy, whenever someone touched the Parthenon, picked up rocks, or otherwise did something stupid, however, did not make us laugh and we hurried as quickly as possible to remove ourselves from the visual and audible clutter.
A sign of the Greek times posted in the Ladies WC at the Acropolis.
From the Parthenon we walked to the Ancient Agora, also blissfully void of tourist crush.
The reconstructed Stoa of Attalos helped shape our perspective, physically and mentally of this ancient city center. We paused in the Museum of Ancient Agora long enough to appreciate the Kleroterion, and then to view the statue of Winged Nike in the arcade, devoting the rest of our time to imagining Greek life in this ancient city. And believe me, that is no simple task!
The temple to Hephaestus, Zeus’ son and the god of metalworking (weaponry) in the Ancient Agora, and one of the best preserved temples in Athens.
As it had been more than 12 hours since Anna Grace savored Bouyiourdi, and her lone apple for breakfast had long since waned, the lunch gods called to us. With restaurant Atlantikos in the near-ish, we set our sights. Our U.S. home was in the Mid-Atlantic, and we summer-ed many years on Cape Cod, so we have a fondness for seafood in all of its forms. Alas, though our iPhones read the time as nearly 1300, the restaurant was not quite open for customers. Sadness befell us, and we settled on a perfectly flavorful non-seafood lunch, with street kitties galore, at a touristy restaurant in Monastiraki and with views of Hadrian’s Library as company.
I think perhaps we ordered more Souvlaki and Bouyiourdi; I was preoccupied with the people and monument watching and forgot to note what we enjoyed.
The main room of the Library, the “Stacks.”
The time we spent lingering over lunch was ideal for a break, and afterwards Tony felt up to walking along the ancient potter’s way, or “Ceramic” path to Kerameikos Cemetery. As we walked this path I discovered a quiet memorial to Holocaust victims in a tree-shaded area. To my dismay, I approached the memorial (a grouping of large, mostly flat boulders) to find a trio of Athenian youth laughing, drinking, smoking and taking photos while posing on the rocks. I paused, hoping the group would disband, but instead found them accusing me of being in their space! These 20-somethings had, apparently, decided this shaded memorial grove was an ideal spot for a photo shoot, and I was an unwelcome photobomber. I gently reminded them that the site was a memorial to those murdered, and suggested perhaps they were being disrespectful. The retort? “Well, that is your opinion.”
It being that this discussion would go nowhere, I continued along toward the cemetery. With imaginations at optimal strength we mentally reconstructed some of the cemetery’s ancient stories (omitting the part about the gaggle of prostitutes at the Dipylon Gate during the Panathenaic Procession for Anna Grace’s sake); watched several tortoises amble over the dry and brown landscape; and otherwise appreciated the breadth of history before us.
I read *somewhere* that sections of the main road through the cemetery (used during the Procession) were eventually used to cover graves; some of the road sections still retained chariot tracks. Whether this is true or not I can not seem to confirm, but the tracks on this stone look convincing…
Needing a change of pace, the Athens Central Market was our next destination. We did a slow wander through the meat and fish sections, partly out of necessity to avoid slipping on the wet floors. I love markets that are genuine, and there’s little that is more genuine than the meat aisles looking like galleries from “Bodies…The Exhibition.” If I lived in Athens, my camera and I (and my shopping trolley) would be frequent visitors.
Not sure if we had the mental energy for more than idle wandering until dinner, we told ourselves, “Let’s have refreshments at the Acropolis Museum, and see if we change our minds.” Guess what. A sunny terrace and a round of sour-cherry lemonades, with the Parthenon against a Pantone blue sky as our backdrop changed our minds, and into the museum we went. The museum we declared extraordinary for its design (principally how the timeline flows throughout the building and weaves a story) and collections, but were more divided on the caryatids having been tucked into a space without natural light. Just didn’t seem fair.
Our long day officially over, I was drawn this time to a restaurant (in Plaka, of course) announcing “varieties of fresh fish.” At one of the pretty checkered tablecloths we sat for whole grilled snapper that I selected myself; roast lamb knuckle (Tony); and an exquisitely fresh Greek salad (Anna Grace). Prefaced by a shared Bouyiourdi, naturally.
On this evening, the time it took for our eyes to close after hitting the pillows no doubt set an Olympic speed record.