Monday, September 24, 2012

It's All Greece to Me: Athens

After our trip to Paris and an unexpected but awesome, all expense paid trip home to Dallas (Thanks EY!), we made a quick stop back in Madrid to re-pack before heading off on an 8-day Grecian adventure. I've always wanted to visit the Greek islands.  The crystal blue seas, tiny white buildings set atop cliffs overlooking the seas and bright blue doors seemed so picturesque, and August was the perfect month for us to travel here since we needed quite a few consecutive days to fit everything in.  

Before beginning our island hopping adventures, we spent one night and a little more than half a day in Athens.  It's nearly a 4 hour flight from Madrid to Athens and because we saved our packing until late until the night/early morning before our flight, we both quickly fell asleep on the plane (and Luke packed mismatched flip-flops, but we wouldn't discover that until later.) We slept until they woke us up to begin serving lunch. Yes, lunch. We were totally surprised since most airlines, especially these low cost airlines like Easy Jet and Ryan Air, don't even give drinks for free anymore. Though we appreciated the effort and thought by Iberia Air, the mystery meat wasn't too appealing, and we still arrived in Athens with an appetite.

Thanks, but no thanks.
We took the train from the Athens airport to the city center, and then grabbed a taxi to the hotel from there. Driving through the city, we weren't very impressed and maybe even a little scared that I'd booked a hotel in the wrong location.  Most of the buildings that we drove by were run down, dirty and grafitti covered, and holy strip clubs...we passed by an abundance of these "fine" establishments.  Luckily, though, our hotel was very nice, clean and offered a quick shuttle to Syntagma Sqaure, which is the main square in the dead center of Athens, where the Greek Parliament is located and the location for many of the recent protests and demonstrations that have taken place in Greece. After quickly checking in and freshening up a bit, (I think I actually smelled like the mystery meat even though I didn't eat it ;)), we grabbed the shuttle to Syntagma Square. We walked through the National Gardens before wandering through a cute, quaint neighborhood called Plaka for dinner. Unlike the part of Athens that we saw driving through to our hotel, this little pedestrian only area was much more attractive and appealing.

Still stumped by that mystery meat while waiting on the shuttle.

Giant palm trees at the entrance to the National Gardens.

Evening stroll before dinner.

One of the narrow streets in the Plaka neighborhood of Athens.

American beer for sale in Athens. Not Budweiser. Just Bud.

Our taxi driver drove us to see the Acropolis by night before dropping us off at the hotel.

Since we didn't know much about Athens and only had until about 3 pm before needing to catch our ferry to Paros, we booked a walking tour and were able to see everything that we needed to see in a short amount of time.  Our tour guide was personable and knowledgeable, and our total group consisted of us and one other American couple so we were able to hear and follow along easily.  We started early at 9 am to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier in front of the Greek Parliament. The traditional uniforms worn by the soldiers and the way they walked and moved during the ceremony was quite elaborate.  In this video, you'll notice that they wear a big, fluffy pom-pom on the end of their shoes.  Our tour guide told us that when the soldiers actually used to wear these uniforms in battle, the purpose of the pom-pom was to conceal a knife that was connected to the end of their shoe and could be used to kick and stab their enemies. In current days, I believe these uniforms are only worn for special ceremonies like the changing of the guard. 

*Note: Our video from the changing of the guard ceremony wouldn't upload to Blogger, so be sure to click the link above or here to watch it from YouTube if you're interested.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Changing of the Guard ceremony.
After the changing of the guard, we walked through Athens to see the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian's library (not pictured), the Acropolis and Parthenon and several ancient Greek theaters located on the walk up to the Acropolis.  I'm sure it's obvious, but it is crazy when you think about how old all of these Greek monuments are and about how many people still visit them today.  The Acropolis especially was swarming with tourists. An interesting fact we learned from our tour is that Acropolis really just means hill, so when people mention the Acropolis, they are actually just referring to the entire hill. Then on top of the Acropolis are multiple temples, monuments and of course, the famous Parthenon.  We mentioned to our tour guide how we had seen a replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, and she knew about it and thought it was a very good one, so way to go Nashville!

The path up to the top of the Acropolis and the ground at the top is all paved in marble and was very slick, especially when wearing sandals instead of good walking shoes. (I know from experience, so remember this if you ever visit.) During the walk to the top of the Acropolis, our tour guide pointed out several interesting sites, one of which was the rock from where Paul first preached the Gospel to the people of Athens. We thought this was neat to see and think about how that took place so many years ago.  And actually, Luke is currently reading Acts and just read about Paul's trip to Athens, so I'm sure he had a clear picture in his mind to go along with the reading.

The Temple of Zeus in fancy camera mode.

The Temple of Zeus.

The Acropolis from a distance.

Ancient Greek Theater.

Pretty but pretty slippery.

Temple ruins on top of the Acropolis.
Site where Paul first preached the Gospel to the people of Athens.

The Parthenon.
After our tour finished, we had just enough time for a leisurely lunch in Plaka before getting on the ferry to Paros.  Our second meal in Greece included our second Greek salad (of many yet to come).  It is so simple yet so fresh and tasty;. Bright red tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, sweet red onions, strong Feta, olives, olive oil and salt and pepper...yum! Also, many of the restaurants served complimentary watermelon as a finish to your meal, which was also so light and fresh during the hot summer days (and as a natural diuretic, helped with the extra water retention caused by traveling. :))

Our second of many Greek salads.
Juicy red watermelon.
Once on the ferry, we settled in for a friendly game of travel Scrabble while we cruised South through Aegean Sea to the charming island of Paros. 

We can play Scrabble. I will enjoy because I spell well, and I can tell you're bright. So tonight we can engage in quite a fight creating our very own crossword puzzle.

No comments:

Post a Comment