Thursday, March 5, 2009

Welcome to Athens! (part 1)

One of the things that I love to do is travel, both around Greece and abroad. I am proud to say that I have visited quite a lot of places, but this is a thirst that is never quenched. There are always new places to see, and new people to meet. So, I have decided to share some of my favourite destinations with you, with some info on sights, delicious food, funny or frightening experiences, and most of all, lots and lots of photos!

I could not start my first post in any other way. I HAVE to present you Athens. The city all Greeks love to hate. We all bitch about it, but alas, we cannot stay away...

Athens is the capital of Greece. It is one of the most overpopulated cities in Europe, as nearly 50% of the Greek population stay there (4.5 million people out of almost 11). It has nasty traffic, outrageous prices and very stressed, chaotic way of life. But it also has things you just can't miss.

5 things to see:

1. Well, the first place you visit HAS to be Acropolis. You've all heard about it quite a lot, but it's ok if you are not quite certain what it is (an embarassing survey conducted among Greek teenagers showed that half of them didn't know the difference between the Acropolis and the Parthenon, and most of them had never visited the site - now, THAT'S a problem!)

Well, 2500 years ago, each Greek city represented a separate "state" - it had its own laws, traditions, financial power and tried to achieve domination over its neighbours. The most powerful Greek city was, at the time, Athens. So, its leader, Pericles, having a lot of money to spare (how this money was obtained is another, embarassing story), decided to use the highest and most imposing part of the city (the hill of Acropolis) to build impressive temples (the most well-known is the Parthenon). The Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the godess Athena who, as discussed in another post, was the city's protector.

So, as centuries go by, there the temple stands. The city may have changed drastically, different types of government have followed one another, but the temple is always there, telling its story to those who want to listen...

This is Erectheion. It is a temple next to Parthenon. Remember the story about Athena, Poseidon and the olive tree? Well, this was the site of their competition (hence the olive tree)!

This is the Parthenon. Unfortunately, the restoration works don't do the temple's picture justice.

2. The Ancient Promenade

One of the benefits of the Olympic Games of 2004 was this 3 km pedestrian district (reputedly the largest in Europe). It allows you to have a delightful stroll around the foothils of Acropolis, without having to worry about traffic and crazy drivers. It was a very ambitious project, and managed to unify many scattered sites, offer some much-needed greenery and restore key monuments and neoclassical mansions.

You can stroll along the cobbled streets and enjoy the blue sky and the blossomed trees.

So, starting opposite the temple of Olympian Zeus (colossal in size - it took 700 years to build), it continues past the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (it is an open theater and it is considered an once in a life time experience to attend a play during a warm August night there), along Thisseion, with its vivid cafes bustling with students, all the way to the Ancient agora. It then branches off west to Kerameikos (ancient cemetery) and Gazi (notorious for its night life), and north to Monastiraki (famous for its flea market) and finally, to the atmospheric Plaka, with its amazing neoclassical mansions.

The theatre of Herodes Atticus

The collosal temple of Olympius Zeus

The "ant" at the base of the pillar is me!

Turtle at Kerameikos


Monastiraki flea market

Neoclassical building in the neighbourhood of Plaka

3. The National Archaeological Museum

This is the world's largest and finest collection of Greek antiquities. It is vast and beautifully presents different eras in Greek history.

Museums can be overwhelming, (surprisingly, I was not bored or tired at all after spending more than 2 hours there - but maybe this was because I was biased with the subject!) so if you had to see 2 pieces only, these are the one I would recommend:

The first one is an imposing bronze statue of a Greek god. It is not determined if it shows Zeus (the leader of Greek gods, with its trademark being the lightning bolt) or Poseidon (the god of Sea, its trademark being the trident). Obviously, the statue WAS holding one of these 2 items, but it is now missing, so we can only guess.

Zeus or Poseidon?

The second one is the statue of horse and young rider. It was discovered in a shipwreck, broken in hundreds of pieces. It was restored beautifully, and its sense of motion (depicted in the features of both the horse and the rider) is striking.

Horse and young rider

Ancient piggybank

I can't remember what this is exactly, but it is so cute!

The museum also has a beatiful inner yard, where you can relax afterwards.

Ernesto under the trees in the museum's inner yard


4. Lykavittos Hill

Well, Ernesto wouldn't be happy with me suggesting this as a must-see. Basically, it is a hill that offers panoramic views of the city. There is a ridiculously pricey cafe there (the first reason for his discomfort!), and a church. Its open-air theatre is well known mainly for summer concerts.

Lykavittos open-air theatre

It is nice to watch either a sunset or a sunrise there. To see the city lights turning on during the evening, or the first people waking up and going around in their cars in the early morning. To be fair, I would have to add Ernesto's comment that, "it is better to be at the centre of Athens and see the green hill in the distance, than actually be on the hill, and see the ovepopulated city, with the "forests" of skyscrapers and cement building blocks!" Well, you can go and decide for yourselves!

5. Athens by the sea

Whether you visit during the summer or not, you cannot miss going to the beach. If you want to swim, there is a 25 km coastline from Faliro to Glyfada and Vouliagmeni. If you prefer a stroll instead, or a seafood dinner, you could go to the port of Mikrolimano.

Ernesto at Mikrolimano (this time I didn't get his picure in time, before he made the "classic-and-annoying" frown!!

Well, that's it for now! If you liked it, I can come back soon with more info on Greek food and way of life. Until then, you can still visit Athens... in your mind (the way I daydream about going to New York, or driving along route 66!). See you!


  1. OH...I LOVED this post! I had to show the pictures to hubby, as he is a sucker for Greek Mythology, ancient history (especially European), and historical sites in general. He is now a BIG fan of yours! LOL!

  2. Awesome post! I would love to come and see Greece for myself, it's so beautiful. I watched a travel show that was all about one particular city that looked amazing. I'll have to find out what it was and ask you about it.

  3. Great post. I had a friend who studied abroad for almost two years. She studied in Italy and visited a lot of European countries while there. She said her favorite was Greece. Looks like a great place to visit. Ah, perhaps someday I'll be able to go. Looks fantastic.

  4. Oh goody! A travelogue! I've always wanted to go to Greece and I now have a basic education for when I eventually get there!

  5. I'm so jealous! I've wanted to visit Greece for as long as I can remember. Maybe when the kiddies are a little older (they do have passports, though...).

  6. Thanks, guys (and Raoulysgirl's husband - so that must be Raouly)! I hope you come here someday. I'd love to meet you all, and give you a chance to know the famous Greek hospitality first hand! Greece is a wonderful country, and I will miss it terribly when I move abroad. But I take comfort in the thought that, after I leave, I will tend to remember the good stuff only, so I will love my country even more (and enjoy it more, every summer I get back for vacations in the islands)!

  7. I would love to visit Greece! It looks amazing there, everything is so beautiful!

  8. This is awesome! A friend and I visited Athens after graduation and we did all that stuff. I'm glad to hear we saw the right stuff. I loved it there.

    Also, Germany's not so bad.

  9. I have always wanted to travel abroad. I've been to Tijiuana. Awesome.

    If I could go anywhere in the world, it would be the Mediterranean.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!! I see a few of my blog friends are your blog friends, so I definitely like you.

  10. Kristina P., thanks for stopping by too. Your blog is a doctor's nightmare - laughter is therapeutic, and soon we would all be out of work! Honeypiehorse, I keep telling myself that about Germany - actually, I have already been there three times, and I have many German friends (plus my parents moved there 6 months ago). So, I have nothing against the country, or the people. I am just stressed about the prospect of change. I generally adapt easily once I "settle", but the whole in-between phase freaks me out.