Its All Greek to Me: Athens

Been home from our recent vacation about a week now (it is really difficult to get back to a normal schedule once home). We got to spend a week in Greece!!!!! We split our time between Athens and Santorini, a few days in each so we could to the history thing in Athens and the relaxing thing in Santorini.

Our first day in Athens was only a half day due to travel, but we actually got more time than I thought we would have, and we weren’t near as travel weary as I figured we would be. Before we left for Greece we had booked airport to hotel transfers at welcomepickups.com, they were wonderful!!!! Our driver, Nikos, was super informative about the sights we were driving by. On our way to the hotel I realized just how far from the city center we were……but we did walk it that first night. But that was the only time we walked the entire way, we took taxis into the city center every time after that!!!

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View of the Temple as close as we could get

Our first afternoon (Wednesday) we walked up into the city center of Athens and we went and saw the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. You see pictures of old ruins and think “Oh wow, that must be really big”, but you do not realize just how massive these old temples are!! There was a map talking about the different ruins, and we might have eavesdropped on a tour that was walking through. In its prime the Temple had 104 columns surrounding the inner chamber area, that held a statue of Zeus.

Hadrian’s Arch is located right beside the entrance to get in to see the Temple of Zeus. It was interesting because one side of it references the “old city” and the other side the “new city”. It was a way of showing respect to the old ways, but also of bringing in a new era.

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The Temple of Zeus

We also walked to the Olympic stadium, but only got to see it from the outside because we were two minutes late trying to get to the ticket booth to get inside. We decided to try and come back on another day, to see it fully. Afterwards we walked all the way back to our hotel, and decided to try and find somewhere to eat that was close by because our feet were killing us! We lucked out and there was a delicious restaurant right next door to our hotel. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and the service was amazing! The owner was the one to serve us, and she even gave us a free dessert! The food was wonderful, and I highly recommend eating as much Greek food as possible!

On our first full day (Thursday), I got the days mixed up and we headed up to the city center for a walking food tour. Thankfully the company was forgiving and let us join the other couple for the day, and we got started on our way. Our guide for the day, Nikoleta, was super knowledgeable and took time to point out different places and the history of the streets. Not only was she a walking guide book, but she shared personal stories of each place we visited.

20160609_11341720160609_122357Our first stop was a 100 year old coffee shop (Mokka), where they make Greek coffee. It was interesting to watch as they brew the coffee in hot sand. The building was beautiful and the coffee was delicious, and a little definitely goes a long way. On the way to our second stop we walked through the open air markets. The fruit and vegetable one was pleasant and we even got to taste some of the wares, but you could smell the meat market before we even came to it! Once out of the markets we got to sit down in the oldest pastrami shop in Athens. We had a platter of meat and cheese with some tsipouro to wash it down with. After that we walked down a street that was lined with different restaurants with tables and chairs down the middle.20160610_144349 We stopped in at a restaurant (Meliartos) that served a small platter with a variety of Greek dishes. Our last stop was for dessert! It was this amazing little dount cake ball things that we had covered in chocolate and cookie crumbles. We ended up going back later to have some more at Lukumades!

After our tour we took a walk through Plaka, which is neighborhood where the streets are lined with shops, all kinds of shops! We had a lot of fun walking around just looking in the different shops, some were full of beautiful jewelry while others were complete tourist traps. At the end of one of the streets we found a gorgeous old orthodox church, but we couldn’t go inside because I wasn’t dressed to be going into a church.

20160609_170625We made our way to the Parliament building and we got there in time to watch the changing of the guards. The guards are there to protect the tomb of the unknown soldier, which is directly in front of the parliament building. It was interesting to see, and fun to watch some of the other tourists try to go up and have pictures taken only for them to get too close and have the soldier slam his rifle on the ground. The guards had taps and what looked like tacks in the soles of their shoes, so you could hear each step they took and at specific points they would stomp their foot or slide their feet across the tile. You could see where they walked each time because the tile was worn down in straight lines.

On Friday we went back up into the city center and decided to talk a walk through some of the museums. We went to the National History Museum which was fascinating. Learning about the history of Greece as a nation. My favorite part was how there was entire wing dedicated to the history of the fashion and how you can see the influence of different cultures and countries. After the museums we followed our footsteps from the day before and stopped for lunch on Eoulou, the street lined with restaurants. We tried to go see the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds, but again we got there too late to get inside. So we decided to make our way across town and try to get into the Olympic stadium. We walked down by Parliament again and walked through the National Garden instead of around. In the garden you forget that you are in the middle of big, bustling city because all you can hear are the birds and the wind in the trees.

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Panorama of the Olympic Stadium
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THE OLYMPIC TORCH

IMG_1802The Olympic Stadium was amazing. We got there with plenty of time to walk around and enjoy the audio tour. The tour was full of information about the building of the stadium and the history of the stadium and the games that took place there. We got to sit in the seats that were designed and built for the King and Queen. My favorite part of the tour was walking up the cave-like tunnel that the athletes would walk through to get to the field. At the top of the tunnel there was a room where they have the Olympic torch, like the one that all the torches are lit from! It also had every torch from the Olympics, and posters from the cities that hosted! They had a winner stand set up at one end of the field, and we had some fun playing around with that.

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On our last full day in Athens (Saturday) we went up to the Acropolis. We went first to the Acropolis Museum. We got to see some of the pottery and statues that have been found on and around Acropolis Hill. We also got to see the pieces that they have pulled down off the Parthenon for restoration. After the museum, we started the hike up the hill! The way up to the Parthenon was packed, there were so many people it made it a little difficult to get up some of the steeper stairs. Once we got up to the top, the view was breath-taking!!!

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Half way up Acropolis Hill
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THE PARTHENON!!!!!
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Athena’s Olive Tree
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Temple of Hephaestus

Seeing the Parthenon in person is a huge check off the bucket list! We also got to see an olive tree that was planted in honor of the original olive tree that Athena gave to the city. We decided to check out some of the other sites on Acropolis Hill, and headed down to the Theater of Dionysus. Most of it was still intact and you could actually sit up in the seats! The hike from the theater back to the entrance was way harder than the hike from the entrance up to the Parthenon. Leaving the Acropolis we headed down a little further and made our way to the Ancient Agora, which was like a huge market place and meeting area. Located in the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus. It was built 20 years before the Parthenon, and is a wonderfully preserved example of what the temples looked like. There were hardly any people around, so we were able to really take our time. Most tourist just go to the Parthenon, but I recommend that if you have the time you need to go to the Ancient Agora and see the Temple of Hephaestus!!!!

Stay tuned for part two: Its All Greek To Me: Santorini!

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