Post 2 of a series – you can read my other Greece posts here.
Athens’ ancient monuments were what brought me to Greece, and today we went to see them: the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon, Agoras, Panathenaic Stadium and many temples. They were just as epic as I’d imagined and really good value too!
Because we wanted to start out early, we surrendered to getting a bit ripped off at breakfast. We went into pretty much the first tourist-trap cafe we saw on our way to the monuments, which I think was Azzurro Caffe. Breakfast cost almost as much as our dinner last night, but it was okay: I had the chocolatiest croissant ever (both filled with praline, and drizzled with chocolate sauce – bit much for breakfast!) and Steve had a panini of some sort. Being an awkward British person, I had to ask for tea instead of coffee and then struggle to get the attention of the surly waitress for 10 minutes to ask for milk to put in the tea she’d brought. And why, when you order tea in a foreign country, do they bring you hot water and a tea bag that you have to unwrap and dunk yourself? It makes it even clearer you’re paying 2 euro for a teabag worth 5p.
Ruins amidst modernity
Anyway, when we finished we headed to Monastiraki Square, where I bought a hat from one of the market stalls. There were loads to choose from and the stall holders were really friendly; adding foam padding inside the hat I liked to ensure it fit. Hadrian’s Library was our first set of ruins, and here we bought a single 12 euro ticket each that would get us into all eight of the city’s archaeological sites. Hadrian’s Library was like a warm-up for the more famous ruins; the most interesting thing about it was its position in the midst of the town – an island of ancient history in a sea of modernity.
Next came the Roman Agora, a larger, grassy square with rows of tall pillars that once made up the ancient marketplace. But the main event, of course, was the Acropolis; impossible to ignore looming over our heads. We wound our way towards it, down narrow streets draped in flowers and up stone steps clustered with restaurant tables, eventually reaching what looked like the entrance. From here, it was a walk up the hill, past a ruined church and long wall to Acropolis. The first monument we saw was the Odeon of Herodes Atticus: a semi-circular amphitheatre where shows are still put on today. In fact, they were doing a sound-check when we were looking down into it.
Up on the Acropolis
Next we joined the path up through the Propylaia up to the main plateau of temples, and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by other people. I think we must have got there at exactly the same time as at least two tour groups. But we managed to weave our way through the crowds taking selfie-stick pictures on the Propylaia’s steps and emerged onto the Acropolis, the Parthenon standing proud in front of us. There was clearly a lot of restoration work going on, with scaffolding and information boards covering parts of the structure. Nevertheless, seeing Athens’ most famous monument up-close felt really special.
We circled the Parthenon and made sure to stop and admire the other monuments about, the stand-out being the grand Erectheion with its beautiful Caryatids (female statues holding up part of the roof). While there were a lot of people up here, there was still plenty of space in which to stop and imagine you’d stepped back in time.
We descended back through the Propylaia and immediately climbed up the Areopagus: a small mound overlooking the Acropolis and the town. The view from the top was spectacular, and the pleasant breeze made it the perfect spot for some rest and reflection.
The Ancient Agora
We’d definitely earnt our lunch by now, but couldn’t pass the gate to the Ancient Agora without going in to explore. Once a large area of markets, houses and communal areas, today this is a vast area of parkland scattered with stones that were once buildings. Within the debris stands a small church-like building and the unspoilt Temple of Hephaistos, which looks much newer than the buildings on the Acropolis.
Just as we were leaving we spotted the Stoa of Attalos, a huge column-fronted building built in the 20th Century to emulate the covered walkway destroyed in 267 AD. It houses the small Museum of the Ancient Agora, containing various sculptures and other artefacts. Its long row of columns looked fantastic.
Lunch at Ydria
Hoping we wouldn’t meet any other distractions, we left the Agora and sought out the restaurant I’d picked out for lunch on Tripadvisor: Ydria. We were shown to a table in a covered, garden-like area and knew immediately what to order: two different tasting plates that would allow us to try many Greek specialities at once. We loved the moussaka, courgette balls and spinach pie; the only thing we were less keen on were the stuffed vine leaves. It was the perfect lunch, and the free liquor shots we received at the end were really nice too!
The Temple of Olympian Zeus
The final ruins on our list were Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which were easy to find across the main road Andrea Sygrou Avenue. In stark contrast to the Acropolis there was barely anyone here, meaning we were able to wander round the towering columns and take silly photos at our leisure. Don’t sit on anything resembling a ruin though – if you do you’ll have an angry guard blow their whistle at you!
The Panathenaic Stadium
With some time left before sunset, we decided to make the Panathenaic Stadium – the birthplace of the Olympic Games – our final sight of the day. Entry to everything at this point had been included in our initial ticket and although this was separate, at just 5 euro we weren’t complaining! This price includes an audio guide, which we thought went on a bit too long. Just walking around the stadium, used for both the ancient and modern Olympic Games, was an experience in itself.
The highlight was following in the steps of the athletes by going through the tunnel to what used to be the changing rooms but are now an Olympic Games museum. This displayed all the posters and torches from past Olympic Games and it was interesting to see how they changed from country to country, and from decade to decade. It also houses the Parabolic Mirror that is used to light the Olympic Flame.
Back out in the daylight we ditched the audio guides and went onto the field – I had to have a go at running the track myself! Steve shot a silly video of me doing so, which you can watch on the Jubbiz Facebook page here. We were now the last people in the stadium and about to be thrown out, but there was just enough time for us both to have our time on the podium!
A rather odd dinner
Seeing the sun beginning to set, we walked past the illuminated Hellenic Parliament building to Syntagma Square and admired the colour-changing water features before going in search of dinner.
We chose O Tzitzikas Ke O Mermigkas based on its good TripAdvisor reviews, but were not impressed. As we hadn’t booked we were sat up on the mezzanine, which had zero atmosphere, and brought us dry bread with no butter or oils (they then tried to charge us for this, despite not even asking us if we wanted it!) Steve ordered the souvlakia with baby potatoes, which was a bit dry, and I ordered the Mastihato: chicken and bacon in a ‘kadaifi’ pastry nest in a ‘mastic’ sauce.
Not knowing what mastic sauce or kadaifi pastry were, I was expecting something like a chicken and bacon pie. Unfortunately, it turns out that mastic sauce resembles British custard, and kadaifi pastry resembles sweet shredded wheat! It felt very strange to me, and was too sickly to eat much of. The best thing about the meal were the free shots provided near the start. Nevertheless, it had been an amazing day and we went to bed looking forward to climbing Mt. Lycabettus.
All photos and text (c) Juliet Langton, 2015. All rights reserved.