Flying from the very quaint and peaceful Puglia into Athens was a bit of a jolt to the system. We were able to fly direct from Bari, Italy into Athens but it meant a late evening flight. As you may have been following, this is basically the summer NOT to travel in Europe as the airports are an understaffed mess. We didn’t really notice this in Bari, besides the fact that our flight kept getting delayed and there were loads of people in the airport all facing similar delays. We didn’t arrive in Athens until around 2am. We arrived in the baggage claim area to mountains of unclaimed luggage and started to sweat a little that we may be one of the many other travellers plagued by the lost bags routine. Luckily after a bit of a wait our two checked bags rolled out and we were on our way.
Arriving somewhere in the middle of the night is always strange, especially if its a new destination for you. Its dark and you have no frame of reference. Add to that a new language AND a new alphabet. Interesting. We were happy when we were finally checked into the hotel and could climb into bed around 4am.
The next morning we headed up to breakfast on the roof of the hotel. And there it was, like you could reach out and touch it, The Acropolis. Wow. I mean, that’s why we came to Athens so why should we be surprised. But its right smack dab in the middle of this vast sprawling city. I really had no idea. I just imagined it being out on some sacred mountaintop in the country. Nope, its right here and its walking distance. I guess I need to brush up on my Lonely Planet reading.
Les Enfants were tres fatigues, so we left them to their (own) devices in the air conditioned room and Monsieur and I took a walk. We ended up in the Plaka neighbourhood enjoying all the little shops with the cute dresses and eyeball paraphernalia (we were taught that these are not in fact Evil Eyes, but rather intended to ward off the Evil Eye and its bad luck). We ended up in a little shop called Laetitia, home to hundreds of reasonably priced super cute dresses and a very bossy AND handsy sales lady. I bought two – only to realize that one of my picks would be found in just about every other dress shop in the Plaka and on the Island of Crete (and probably in loads of other places too that we didn’t get to). Oh well, its cute.
While on our walk, we did a little lunch reconnaissance and stumbled on a taco place. Well, we hustled back to the hotel, woke the kids and went straight back to indulge in some guacamole and el pastor. YUM. After a month in Italy, we were over pizza and pasta. I never thought I would ever say the words ”I’m sick of pizza” but just before leaving Puglia it happened and I couldn’t imagine having a slice any time soon. The tacos were awesome and we were thrilled for some variety in our cuisine.
I was really amazed by how seemingly new Athens is. Of course, it is arguably the oldest city in Europe and is filled with ancient ruins, but as a modern city it is relatively new. The buildings are new and the city feels modern in comparison to the historic centres of Rome or Paris. Unlike our time in Italy, where the only variety of cuisine is limited to the different regions, Greece had options; juice bars, burger places, taco joints, Indian. The vast variety of international cuisines that we take for granted in Vancouver seemed to have also infiltrated this European capitol and we were grateful.
Although that evening, we needed to have Greek food. Of course we did because who doesn’t love Greek Food??? We went to a modern Greek restaurant called Ella Greek Cooking and had a great meal accompanied by a yummy local wine recommended by our server. Don’t ask me what it was, he just brought it! We were amazed by the kids walking through the restaurant patio begging for money. Somehow this seems to be a professional endeavor when one of the little guys whispered ”fuck off” to me when we didn’t cough up. We asked the waiter what the deal was and he confirmed that it was a professional enterprise and that these kids were trained for the role.
The next day we were booked for a tour of the Acropolis. We were all excited. Our seasoned guide recommended that we take a taxi up and then walk back down. This was great advice as it was already very hot and to be honest, the taxi stop is only part way up the hill anyway so we still had plenty of climbing to do. Now if you’ve been to the Acropolis, feel free to scroll on. If you haven’t, then this part is for you.
As I mentioned before not much of a Lonely Planet reader, so before our tour I was a little foggy on what was the Acropolis and what was the Parthenon (which I always mix up with the Pantheon in Rome and the Pantheon in Paris – which is Par, which is Pan? Who can remember?). ANYWAYS, turns out that Acropolis means “hill” in Greek. So when we say Acropolis, we are referring to the hill that the temple is on. The Parthenon is the large temple with the many columns that we know from the pictures. In addition to the Parthenon, on the Acropolis there is also the Temple of Athena (oh hey, Athena=Athens) and many other ruins to see. On the south slope of the Acropolis are the two amphitheatres – The Odeon of Herodes Atticus which is now an amphitheatre but was originally a covered theatre and the much larger Amphitheatre of Dionysus. Traveller’s note: atop the Acropolis (and like Pompeii), there’s no gift shop or coffee stand. Bring water, wear a hat, be prepared.
Luckily, in addition to our guide we also had the Big Kid who happens to be an avid fan of all things Greek Mythology so she helped fill in the blanks on many aspects of the tour. It was fascinating to experience the scale of the complex and the crushing heat that goes along with a summer visit to Athens. After our trip up the Acropolis, it was straight back to the hotel and into the AC.
Our trip to Athens happened to coincide with a tour date of our friend Diana Krall. It was old home week as a pile of former colleagues descended onto Athens while we were there and coincidentally all stayed in the same hotel. Its always such an amazing time to see familiar faces on this trip and helps us feel just a little less homesick. We were very grateful to S, D, P and G for making sure we had great seats for Diana’s show. Even more amazing, the show was in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Not every day you get to see a show in a venue that is 2000 years old. While the seats haven’t been updated, the theatre now fortunately supplies cushions (2000 year old marble is as hard as you can imagine) but that’s the only modern amenity. The steps are steep, the seats compact. It was hot and cozy. But Diana slayed and we were grateful for such a cool opportunity.
It was very hot in Athens, so we kept the daytime activities to a minimum. We did manage to pop over to the Parliament to catch the hourly changing of the guards. Otherwise, our hotel was packed to the gills with tourists and in order to avoid the crowds and the high temps, we spent the afternoons in our room. After a few days, we were ready to continue on the journey and were on our way back to the airport and onward to Crete.