Going to Greece from Romania was a pretty last minute decision. Luckily, there is no shortage of things to do there! We started in Athens, arguably the heart of the ancient world. Our hotel, the Hilton, was a nice place to stay and in a pretty good location, but the best part was the view. The balcony of our room had a really neat viewpoint facing the hill with the Parthenon on it. It was pretty far away, but still totally cool to look at.
Our full day in Athens began with something not so ancient- the Old Parliament House, built in the 1800s, which now houses the national historical museum. The Hellenic Parliament sat there until around the 1930s. We did not go inside, but we did enjoy the view from the vast square out front. We got to see the changing of the guard, which was quite entertaining. The pom-poms on the guards’ boots bounce jovially as they do a very strictly choreographed march, which involved lots of kicking and seemed a bit like a silly dance.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens was up next, and once again we weren’t able to go inside. This church, also built in the 1800s, was truly beautiful from the outside, however, and also had a large open square in front of it which was a perfect spot for marveling. It recently underwent a pretty extensive renovation and I’m glad we got to see the finished product. Another much smaller church sits very close to it, called Agios Eleftherios Church. I am much more used to large churches and vast basilicas, and this tiny little spot was truly unique and tranquil. We were able to wander inside for a quick peek.
After a bit more walking through the modern part of the city, we finally made our way to something ancient. The Arch of Hadrian (sometimes called Hadrian’s Gate) still stands quite imposingly although it is partially ruined. The most amusing part of this gate is the seemingly contradictory inscriptions on either side. One reads “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, while the other says “this is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus”.
The Arch is a fantastic lead in to explore the Temple of Zeus, which is close by. We paid for the ticket we needed to go into the field and up close to it, but you can get decent views from around the outside if you would rather not pay. Built in the 400s BC, it is truly awe inspiring to imagine how a structure so grand and large was built without modern equipment.
The weather was really messing with us at this point- everyone we spoke to told us it hardly ever rains in Greece, but just our luck, a nice big storm was rolling in! Note in the photo the ominous clouds. The rain would come to get us on our way to the Acropolis, but first we meandered through a truly adorable residential hillside on our way up. Signs kept us on the right path, and we stopped to say “Xαίρετε” to the dozen or so stray cats we came across.
By the time we reached the big, wide, tourist-filled pathway that made up the last leg of our journey to the Acropolis and Parthenon, the heavens opened up. Umbrella-less and totally drenched, we sought refuge behind a trailer where young Greek guys came and went with cigarettes and stories. When the rain finally lightened up we ventured to the entrance and we paid a worthwhile fee to go into the heart and soul of Ancient Greece.
There was only a little bit of signage around to tell you about what you are seeing, but even not knowing much about it, it is a sight to see. There is a lot of restoration work going on at the front of the Parthenon, and I do wish the cranes hadn’t been in the way, but still pretty marvelous. Not only is the Parthenon grand and gorgeous, but the view out over the city from the hilltop is cool as well. Make your way over to the flagpole for the best view. You can also get a great look at the Theatre of Dionysus from the hilltop, which saves you the long walk down to it.
At this point we were soaking wet and quite exhausted, but there was one more thing on our itinerary for our day in Athens. It is especially fitting to write about Panathenaic Stadium today, the day of the 2016 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony! This beautifully unique marble stadium was built as a racecourse in the sixth century BC and was renovated a few times, most notably in marble by Herodes Atticus and again in the late 1800s for use in the first modern Olympic Games. It hosted almost half of the events that year as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. In the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, it was the venue for the entire archery competition and housed the marathon finish line.
A medal podium made for a great photo op for a middle-aged man who wanted a “golden photo” to show his buddies back home. He called in two young backpackers who happened to be nearby and asked them to pose as the silver and bronze medalists to make his photo more realistic. The guys were happy to oblige and played their parts well! Naturally my husband and I each pretended to take home the gold before getting on our way to dinner. There is so much left to do, but I think we made the most of our short time in Athens.