Our first European travel since moving to Sweden (other than Copenhagen) finally came together this week as we spent 3 days exploring Athens. The trip was short and sweet, focused on the historic sites of the ancient city. The flight was an easy 3 hour non-stop hop from CPH.
We started strong with a food tour by Julia Pant, a local guide whose grandfather ran a butcher shop in the central market for many years. We tasted our way through the market … olives, fish soup, souvlaki! Then on to Julia’s shop where she showed us how to make tzatziki, and a tomato-feta appetizer with some of the very last fresh tomatoes of the season. We enjoyed local wines and yogurt sour cherry dessert. After a shot of rakia to “warm us up” we headed off again to a fish restaurant where we tried a creamy fava (yellow pea) lemon dip with chickpeas, giant white beans, calamari and fresh fried whole anchovies and fresh local grapes. Julia said the girls were some of her most adventurous eaters and the only American kids who tried everything including the anchovies (which they loved). And we all loved everything, except that we were very over full. Luckily we were able to walk it off through the Plaka neighborhood before bed. It was a fun evening with “Ioulia and Yiorgos” and the couple from the Netherlands who shared our tour.
Sleep, however, was hard due to the traffic outside our hotel. Cars and scooters/motorcycles ran basically all night out the window. Next time we’ll check on the room details because I’m sure the ones on the opposite side were much quieter. But the location was perfect for access to the places we wanted to see. We used earplugs and white noise and slept fairly well since we were pretty tired!
I remembered JenJill! Here she is at one of many churches dedicated to Saint Sophia/ goddess of wisdom. Here we discovered that we are not allowed to take photos of JenJill because it would violate the rules around commercial photography and she might be confiscated by guards. Horrors! So we were very careful during the rest of our visit, taking covert shots, even though it’s not fair to poor JenJill. We guess “influencers” have ruined our fun by abusing famous sites for product placement. At least JenJill was able to pose uninhibitedly and wave to her very own wise Sophia before we were informed of this rule.
The second day was a customised walking tour with Ioanna (who was awesome and we fully recommend). We told her how long we had and what we would like to see, and she took care of the rest.
We started with the Acropolis and the Parthenon (along with the rest of the temples on the hill). It was amazing to learn all the history and it really struck Bryant how complicated the histories of things can be. For example, the Parthenon housed a christian church and a mosque at different times, as well has having been the subject of canon fire from a Venetian invasion! Here are our favourite shots from the Acropolis.
After a delicious lunch, the afternoon was all about the Acropolis Museum. Most of the amazing sculpture is not kept on the site of the temple, but rather in a very modern and nice museum next to it. You can see it as the modern black/glass rectangle in the picture of the Theater of Dionysus above. While there is a lot of the sculpture and art in Athens to look at, much of it was “taken” (however you choose to interpret that) by Earl Elgin and sits in the British Museum (where we have seen them as well). Read more here. The art and guiding by Ioanna was amazing, and the process of walking through the long history of the place was awesome, and exhausting. But, we got a couple of snaps of the art in the museum.
After the Acropolis Museum, we made our final stop for the day at the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Gate. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture started a restoration project on it this year, so there is a bunch of scaffolding blocking it. Most of it is (obviously) collapsed, although it was huge when it was originally built. Hadrian’s arch is interesting as it was a gift from Athens to the Roman emperor Hadrian, as they were co-existing with the Roman occupation pretty well, and (ever diplomatic) they decided to show their appreciation for him not destroying the city. On the side facing the Roman area it reads “the city of Hadrian” and the other side (facing the Athenian area) reads “the city of Theseus”. The marble roof portion was interesting to Bryant. Because they started with wood in their building, they used big nails to hold it together. The rectangular decoration on the roof was simply that they were keeping the look of the nail heads, even after they had moved on to marble as the material.
Finally, we let Ioanna go, and we had dinner at a super-cool patio in the Plaka.
The next day we started at the main Athens Museum of Archeology. LOTS to see in this collection, and Ioanna led us thru the history, connecting it to the stories of Homer and the actual archeological artefacts that connect to it. Interestingly, there were many bronze statues made, but few survive as the Roman’s melted them down for the material.
We rounded out the day with Ioanna at the Roman Agora, the Temple of Haifestus, and Hadrian’s Library. There is too much to talk about so, here are some interesting snaps from the day.
Dinner ended up being a little light, and we were all really wiped out!
The next day was the last day, but we still squeezed in the original Olympic stadium (all solid marble!) with some fun geometric pictures and a hall with the torches! And then the Lyceum of Aristotle. Nothing like walking around the first western university! Finally, we walked back to the hotel thru the city gardens, and passed some more excavations. This city is amazing for how the ancient and the modern are right on top of each other!
And then it was time to head home. A jam-packed trip, but we did our best to see Athens. Next up, Rome!