I have been wanting to visit Greece for as long as I can remember. In fact, one of the travel posters that I had on my wall as a teenager was of the Acropolis. Now, finally, at the age of 40 my dream of seeing this ancient monument was going to come to fruition.
My flight arrived from Barcelona at 3:30pm. I had a hotel booked in the city centre in the neighbourhood of Psiri. According to the hotel website I could take the metro from the airport to Monastiraki station and it would be a 10 minute walk from there. I love cities that have the metro line linked directly to the airport. It’s a quick, convenient and inexpensive option to get downtown. Knowing that a taxi would have cost at least 50 Euros, there was no reason not to take public transport.
I bought my metro ticket from the booth for 8 Euros and noted that the blue line from the airport goes directly to the stop I wanted. So convenient! An hour later, I disembarked the subway car and went up the escalator. There were multiple exits and I had no idea which one to take in order to lead me to the street I was looking for. I picked an exit at random and as I walked out onto the street and looked to my left my heart skipped a beat.
There, above the city was the Acropolis. Could it be? Was it that easy to stumble upon? I stood in shock and awe for a few minutes before realizing that I still needed to get my bearings and find my hotel. I consulted my map, figured out where I was and set off. As it turned out, seeing the Acropolis from the metro station made things incredibly easy as I knew I had to walk in the opposite direction to get to where I was heading. Ten minutes later I was checking into the Evripides Hotel which I had pre booked on hotels.com for only $40 per night. The reviews had warned that while the hotel was a steal for the price, the neighbourhood was on the sketchy side. If graffiti everywhere means sketchy, then I suppose that’s what it was, but during my time there I always felt safe.
When I arrived at the hotel, the manager greeted me by name, gave me an overview of the hotel facilities and gave me a map and lots of advice. It was a very warm welcome. This was only the beginning of the Greek hospitality that I would soon grow to love. I quickly dropped my bags in my room, and set out to find some food and go exploring. The Psiri neighbourhood I was staying in was only a few blocks from the main shopping thoroughfare of Ermou, a pedestrian only street with more clothing and shoe stores than one girl could possibly visit in one day.
At the end of the street is Syntagma Square, which is home to the Greek Parliament, and has also been sight to many protests over the past two years. It would seem that this day was no different. The entire Filellinon Street was packed with people. This is not a pedestrian street by any means, but in this case it was so packed with people cars could absolutely not get through. The crowd was mainly men including, many in army and navy uniforms. Riot police were standing by, but it was all very peaceful.
I had a quick bite to eat, bought some roasted almonds from a street vendor and decided to end my first day in Athens enjoying a drink and the view from my hotel’s roof top patio.
Brew with a View
Acropolis by Night.
The next morning I woke up very early with only one mission for the day: To visit the Acropolis and to see as much as possible. Big mission. The sun was shining and the sky was a perfect shade of blue when I left the hotel at 8:00am. My hotel provided a very impressive complimentary breakfast buffet so I was full, fueled and ready to explore ancient Greece. The walk from the hotel to the Agora entrance of the ruins took under 15 minutes. Here I bought my entrance ticket for 12 Euros and made my way in. My heart slowed right down as I walked around the grounds.
Site map of the Agora. See the Acropolis looming overhead.
In Ancient times, the agora was a large public square northwest of the sacred hill of the Acropolis. The open square was gradually surrounded by temples, administrative buildings and fountain houses. The Ancient Agora of Athens was the heart of public life. It was a gathering place, as well as the home to the seat of administrative officials. It was a religious centre and also a place where theatrical, musical and sporting events took place. It was a commercial centre, but most of all, it was the ideal place to view the procession of the Great Panathenaic during the festival of the goddess of the city.
Between the view of the Parthenon high above me, and the tranquility of the site I was exploring, it was an incredible experience. As I had arrived shortly after they opened it was very quiet. In fact, I had the entire site to myself for at least half an hour. I wandered amongst the ruins, slowly taking it all in, trying to imagine what life here would have been like thousands of years ago.
When I reached the Temple of Hephaestus I almost felt as though I’d travelled back in time. This temple is the most well-preserved temple in the Greek world, standing close to as it did during Ancient times. It has all its columns and pediments in tact, and even has most of its original roof. As I walked around the base and looked in through the columns, I could almost hear the voices of those who once walked here before me.
As the mid morning crowds slowly started to make their way to the Agora, I started to make my way uphill towards the top of the Acropolis. Along the way I passed the caves of Zeus and Apollo, two of the most important Gods in Greek mythology.
When I made it to the top, the view that I’d been looking forward to for so many years awaited me. No matter how many photos I’d seen of it, or even the fact that I’d already seen it from a distance could prepare me how overwhelming it would be to finally stand atop the Acropolis and gaze at the Pantheon. Goosebumps, heart skipping a beat, hairs standing on end – all the clichés applied.
For the next couple hours I divided my time between wandering around while taking in the magnificent ruins from every angle, and just sitting in once spot and appreciating the magnitude of it all. It’s really remarkable that these ruins are thousands of years old and have stood the test of time.
Acropolis is translated from Greek as “high city”. Of course, this is due to its high position on the hill overlooking the city below. Often, the Acropolis is thought to be one building, but in reality the Acropolis is home to many ruins, all making this a site well worth visiting. Perhaps the most well-known ruin is the Pantheon, but equally as stunning are the Temple of Athena Nike honoring the Goddess of Victory, and the Propylaea, which serves as the entrance to the Acropolis.
As I was there in September, it was no longer peak season, but not quite yet into low season so there were still a number of tour groups that made their way through – mostly from the cruise ships. Here’s where I had a big advantage having gone on my own. I could simply wait out the crowds as they did not stay long. A group would descend upon the site, take photos of one another and then leave 20 minutes later. If an area was too crowded for me, I found somewhere else and simply waited. Eventually the crowd would leave and the site would feel deserted again. Well, at least until the next group showed up.
After hours of wandering, listening to the wind, and feeling the hot sun beat down on me, I decided to make my way down to modern-day Athens. I came down the opposite side of the slope which I’d gone up, so when I hit street level, I was in a neighbourhood new to me. I took the side streets from there which eventually lead me to the heavily touristy Plaka neighbourhood, full of restaurants and souvenir shops. After a bite to eat, I wandered around town, taking in ruins at what seemed to be at every turn. And always, high above me, I could see the Acropolis. It was a bit surreal.
Worshiping Zeus? I don’t think this is what the Ancient Greeks had in mind.
That evening for dinner I returned to the Plaka and made my way through the maze of streets, passing restaurant patio after restaurant patio, all of which were full. Yet the touts continued to hold out their menus and invited me to come inside and ‘have a look’. I finally chose a place which was essentially empty. My decision to sit down was met with much delight from the manager who then proceeded to wait on me hand and foot. By the time I left the restaurant his patio was as full as the others I’d passed by earlier. He told me that this was because my beauty had drawn the crowd, and as a thank you for bringing him business, he gave me a complimentary dessert. Good for the belly and for the ego!
The next morning I decided to make my way over to Athens highest peak – Mount Lycabettus, also known as Mount Lykavittos. At 277 meters above sea level, the hill is the highest point in the city that surrounds it. I started my accent up the steep streets that lead to the base of the beginning of the hike. On oneof the small side streets I stumbled upon an open air fruit market. This was a delight for all the senses. The vendors were all yelling at the top of their lungs, presumably about their offers. From fruits and vegetables, fish, flowers and olives, everything was available. Noticing that I was taking photos, one vendor asked me where I was from. When I replied Canada, he bestowed a large bag of grapes to me and simply said “Welcome to Greece.” Again, amazing hospitality! For the record, these were the best grapes I’d ever had!
Now armed with a delicious healthy snack, I continued my trek uphill. It was a tree-lined path for the most part and quite steep. Suddenly, as I rounded a corner, there was a clearing and I gasped. I had a unobsturcted view of downtown Athens, and in the centre of it all was the Acropolis. This vantage really allowed me to see how high the Acropolis sits above the city.
As I continued up hill the climb was getting increasingly difficult, but the scenery was unbelievable. Once I made it to the top, I had a view of nearly 360 degrees of the entire sprawling metropolis of Athens. Until this moment I had not realized how big the city actually is. As the top of the hill there is a restaurant and a church. There’s also a theatre nearby that I walked over to, but there was nothing happening, and from there the view is entirely obstructed.
Chapel of St. George, located at the summit
After spending some time up top and soaking in the view, I made my way back down the mountain on the other side, so that when I reached the base I was in an unfamiliar suburban area. I love getting lost in cities like that. I end up seeing things I never would have seen otherwise. I walked by a school yard full of playing children and saw a group of old men at a cafe playing cards. Everyday Athens life. Priceless.
The rest of the day consisted of booking a trip to Delphi, shopping for sandals in the Plaka (an endless task seeing that there are dozens of shops that sell nothing but leather sandals), enjoying Greek cuisine on a patio, and people watching while enjoying a glass of wine. While these were certainly not my only 2 days in Athens, they were the first two and were definitely a highlight of my stay. They also happen to be the reason I’ve moved the city of Athens to my top 10 list of favorite European cities!
I have no Greek blood in me. At least not to my knowledge. My parents can both trace their roots back pretty far, and no where is there any mention of Greece. Yet somehow, I had an amazing connection with this city, almost feeling as though I’ve been here before. Maybe that’s why I was so happy to spend so much time up atop the Acropolis. Maybe I used to call it home.