Greece, History
Comments 4

Athens Part Three: a day in the ancient world

On our second day in Athens, I finally got to do what I had really come to Athens to do – visit the Acropolis. It was set to be another hot day but I just hadn’t packed for it, which was stupid really. I had looked up the weather before I left and saw that it was going to be between 20-25°C but I figured that was just nice and warm. That wasn’t hot hot, so jeans and a top would probably be the necessary attire, right? Er, wrong. Obviously that’s wrong. I live in England. Anything approaching 20°C is beach weather. Still, I pulled on my ankle boots and black jeans to go to the Acropolis.

We wandered over from our hostel and found the ticket office on the hill up to the Acropolis. For €12 we not only got entry into the site but into the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Keramikos cemetery and its museums and the Theatre of Dionysus.

According to our free walking tour guide, our tickets would be valid for four days and made of various tokens for each site, which would be torn off upon our visit so that we could only go in once. We were therefore slightly unsure when we were handed receipt like tickets that were then ripped to show that we had entered the Acropolis site. This didn’t look like it would get us very far but we were told that it would.

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From looking up at the Acropolis on top of its rock, I thought it might be somewhat painful to climb up to but a very handy path has been placed there. We passed the back of the Theatre of Herodes Atticus on the way up, which we had only seen from the front the day before, and stopped for a quick photo but soon we were inside the complex. The site was made up, not only of the Parthenon, but of the Erechtheon, the Propylaea and the temple of Athena Nike. It was also littered with the marble remnants of other ancient structures.

It was going on for 11am by the time we arrived so there were people bustling around but the crowds weren’t too dense. It started to fill up as time went on and I can imagine that at times it must get difficult to move during the high summer season. Annoyingly, some of the buildings, including the front of the Parthenon, were covered in scaffolding, which didn’t exactly help make for a pretty picture. That was a shame but it didn’t stop me from taking a gazillion photos nonetheless.

My Dad told me that when he visited the Acropolis, he was able to actually wander inside the various buildings but that was a long time ago. Now we could only see them from the outside. As much as I would have loved to explore the places more, seeing them from the outside was still great as they are remarkable. Having spent many a lecture studying the Parthenon, I was just happy to be there at all.

Unsurprisingly, the Parthenon has deteriorated over the many years since its creation. More surprising is the fact that it didn’t sustain serious damage until the 17th century when it was used to store gunpowder by the Ottoman Turks. It was then hit by fire from the Venetians and exploded, destroying some parts of the temple. What a waste. I find that story quite devastating. You can only imagine how even more amazing the Parthenon would be if it had been used as a gunpowder storage centre.

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Anyway, we spent some time exploring the site and taking in the surrounding views before making our way back to ground level. Our next stop was the Theatre of Dionysus. We had saw an entrance up in the hill, close to the Acropolis, but didn’t notice this on the way down. Instead we went for a walk around the base of the hill until we found a way in.

This was another site I was pretty excited to see. I’m a big fan of classical literature and the playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, amongst others, all competed in City Dionysia festival at that very theatre. The theatre was surrounded by the leftover rocks that made up other buildings but the amphitheatre was the thing most in tact. This time, we were not just able to walk around the outside but we got to actually go and sit on the stones seats. It was not a bad place at all to take in some sun.

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After a short while, I left The Flatmate and The Uni Friend to go and see if there was anything else to see past the theatre. I climbed up the hill behind the theatre, which took some effort I can tell you, and found several more stones and columns lying around. I eventually made it to the back of the Theatre of Herodes Atticus and spotted the entrance we thought we had seen. It turned out to be right at the spot where we had stopped for a a picture on our way up to the Acropolis.

As I made my way back, I was kinda shocked to spot a tortoise lounging in the sun. Apparently, Greece has native tortoises. How unexpected. Eventually, I made it back to my friends and we headed back the way I’d come, so that they could see everything else there was, including the tortoise.

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We left the site and headed back down the Sacred Way to the Ancient Agora, an open space that would have been used by the locals for assemblies and markets. The area was filled with various ruins, including the Odeon of Agrippa and the Temple of Hephaestus (which was my favourite thing there). More unusually for an ancient agora, there was also the Church of the Holy Apostles.

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There was also the Stoa of Attalos, a massive portico, which had been reconstructed in its entirety by American architects. It now houses a bit of a museum, where various relics found on the site are housed. My personal favourite was a Spartan shield. How any solider was able to carry something so big and heavy is beyond me.

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Finally, after a long morning of walking and exploring, we headed into Plaka for lunch. Our free walking tour guide had shown us some really cute, local hillside cafes and we were able to find a table at one of them, the Klepsidra Cafe. I spotted meatballs on the menu and spied that some of main courses looked delicious but in the interest of being cheap and cheerful (and healthy) we all went for Greek salads. For €5.50 each, we were presented with big bowels full of fresh salad topped with a massive slab of feta cheese. This is how Greek salad should be. Admittedly, I would have liked some dressing on it but we did have plenty of olive oil and white wine vinegar to drizzle over it.

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After our big salads, we weren’t particularly hungry but we were still in the mood for something sweet. So, in order to both satisfy our cravings and try some more of the local cuisine, we ordered a portion of baklava to share. Baklava is a dessert made of layers of filo pastry, syrup and stuffed with chopped nuts and raisins. It was very sweet and very dense, making it quite hard to prise apart. I generally just waited until one of my companions managed to break off a chunk and then I’d steal some of that. It was yummy but I was glad we were sharing the slab.

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By the time we had finished our late lunch, the archeological sites had closed and we were far to tired to traipse around a museum. Instead we went back to our hostel for another siesta. We did first try to go up to the roof balcony to sit in the sun and read but I could barely keep my eyes open so admitted defeat. My friends were not far behind me.

When we finally awakened, we were ready to eat again. Much like last night, we had planned to find someplace nearby but instead ended up in Plaka, on the tourist shop ridden streets, searching for food. We ended up at the Vizantino Taverna, which was another place recommended to us by our free walking tour guide. He said it was like the food you would have at home and that’s pretty much what I thought.

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The menu was long and I spotted a picture of something that looked like meat in a cheesy tomato sauce called “spesial saganaki”. I asked the waiter what it actually was and he said it was eggs fried with cheese and pieces of sausage. It wasn’t what I thought but I love eggs, cheese and sausages so I thought I’d give it a try. It was unusual but I liked it. I think perhaps it’s meant as a starter generally so it didn’t completely fill me up but that was my bad.

As we started our walk back, we passed a very cutsey-looking gelato shop, called Coco’s, which had loads of interesting flavours. We debated whether we should have some before stopping to question what on earth we were doing. Obviously we were going to have some. Since I was still quite peckish, I chose two scoops of Kinder Bueno and Ferraro, which were so tasty and complemented each other well. We all went for the chocolate covered cone option as well. I couldn’t believe we’d almost passed up the opportunity for this amazing dessert.

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Once we were well and truly stuffed, we went to a rooftop bar above a hotel, A for Athens, which we’d heard cook things about. When we got up there, we found that it was really busy but there was a nice, buzzy atmosphere and one of the waiters was just able to find us a table inside as a party was just leaving. It was in a corner, between two tables, towards the back but we could just about see the amazing view of the Acropolis, all lit up at night, from the window at the front. As we sat down, we noticed that the couple sitting at the table behind The Flatmate were kissing. Aggressively. That was awkward.

We started flicking through the quite extensive cocktail menu/book, which were all arranged according to city, including New York, London, Singapore and Athens. My friends wanted to try something from the Athens page and both settled on a cocktail that included olive brine. We were sure that it would be quite a subtle taste. I went for a Mango Swizzle (I think from the Singapore section). The description included lots of different fruity flavours and sounded like something I’d like. Plus I was trying to go for something different, i.e. which didn’t involve gin.

When they were delivered to our table, I found that mine was served in a glass and topped with a lime, full of hundreds and thousands. That was random and actually kinda cool. My friends had their cocktails served in small, white tea cups, while a toothpick holding three olives was balanced on top. Despite the number of fruits in my drink, the flavour wasn’t particularly great but I was still able to finish it off. My friends however were not fans of theirs. Apparently the olive taste was quite strong. They didn’t manage to drink there’s and they couldn’t take them back.

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To make matters worse, the two couples at the table next to us also started kissing a lot. We were now sandwiched between a lot of PDA, which somewhat killed the mood. We quickly paid up (€10 per cocktail) and left. It was a shame. As we walked out, through the main section and passed all the chattering tables, the atmosphere got better again. If we’d been able to sit out there, or up on the roof itself, with a glass of wine then it probably would have been perfect. Instead we left disappointed.

Not wanting to end the night there, we found a bar close to our hostel. Wanting to try some place new, we went to the bar, called the Verve, next to where we’d been the night before, instead of just going back there. There we found some sangria and had a quick drink, sitting at a table outside, before bed. This is what we had been looking for.

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