How to describe Athens when your senses are ‘assaulted’ from the minute you arrive!! The madness of the traffic – cars, buses, motorbikes, taxis, trams and trains. You buy a bus ticket and they remind you that pick-pockets are the plague of the Metro and any busy area. Immediately you are on edge, paranoid and hoping you won’t stand out in a crowd – well that wasn’t happening with all our luggage!! Apparently the Athens Metro is one of the worst places in the world to be pick-pocketed! So we were hyper vigilant and ignored everyone!
We finally made it to our destination of Acropolis station and then had to find our hotel. After asking the Police when we came out of the station, we headed of in generally the right direction. We must have been looking lost as a lovely Irish couple stopped and googled the hotel and gave us our next instructions, and then we asked a local who gave us our final destination. Now if we had only followed the first set of instructions, we would have arrived there [the hotel] a bit quicker! Anyway, the lovely local lady [Danai] said how sad she was to hear about what happened in Christchurch (actually everyone we meet who knows we are from New Zealand, offer their sympathies for the terrorism that happened, and can’t believe that it happened in NZ!!), and after chatting for a few minutes she explained that she was a survivor of the bombing in Brussels a couple of years ago.
So finally we make it to our hotel and are completely trashed after travelling all day! It’s hard work this travel business!! I would just like to point out that we had all the instructions to get where we needed to be, but once it gets dark it makes it doubly difficult to get around and as we don’t have a local SIM or any data, we have to travel on a wing and prayer – a bit like the old days!!
We have had 5 nights in Athens and we are exhausted! We have walked approx 15,000 steps every day [and that is taking the hop on / hop of bus]! I am not sure where to start trying to describe this city with its history and being a melting pot of people and cultures. Nearly 5 million people live in Athens – basically the population of New Zealand! The hotel we stayed in was very central, so after a leisurely breakfast we grabbed a map and headed out into the beautiful sunny day. We decided to get the hop on / hop off bus, as the city is just so big and there are so many sights to see. This proved to be invaluable and we certainly got our money’s worth from this and would definitely recommend it. We did the loop of the city [loop 1] to get our bearings.
We got off and walked past Parliament Buildings and saw the changing of the guards and the monument of the unknown solider. What a long drawn out process of leg swinging, foot scraping, gun banging on the ground, slow marching and then standing to attention while the supervisor comes and straightens the uniforms, tassels and checks their feet are together, the hats are on straight, and most importantly stops all of ‘us’ from getting to close!!
We discovered that it was to be Greece’s National Independence Day so there was thousands of people in town for the celebrations. We read that the parade on the 26th of March (my Dad’s birthday 🙂 ) would be a full on military parade, but the day before (25th) would be for schools, bands practicing and cultural groups. After walking around the streets of Plaka, seeing all the markets we headed to the Syntagma Square to find a spot to see the parade.
We were actually in the wrong place, but we did find ourselves in the middle of a protest! We had no idea what was going on, but when the riot team turned up I decided that I would get some photos!!! I was trying to be inconspicuous, hiding behind a man selling helium balloons. Only trouble was I had to try and keep up with him and everytime the wind blew I was exposed. About a dozen or so riot guys quietly just walked them [the protestors] out of the square while the protestors [3 older Greek men] made enough noise for 10.
Anyway we found the parade route and spent the next hour watching everyone marching to celebrate. From the school groups, sports groups, bands, the special olympians and cultural groups it was a pretty colourful affair. A great prelude for the events the next day. From here we got back on our hop on / hop off bus and took the second loop (of three) out to the port.
Athens is not a pretty city! The buildings are either occupied and covered in graffiti or derelict and covered in graffiti, or just empty and covered in graffiti!! Anything that doesn’t move is covered in graffiti – well that’s not quite true, the trains are also covered in graffiti – they actually look like something out of a sci-fi film. Graffiti is actually a word derived from Greek and legend has it that graffiti has been part of Athens, for as long as Athens has been a city. There hasn’t been much rubbish in and around the city, in fact as far as big cities go, the lack of rubbish here may have been the best of any city so far!! I think though that this is where we have been hassled by ‘hawkers ‘ and beggars the most.
Some of the graffiti is amazing and the rest is just an awful mess!! We have seen a few streets that have lovely houses, but again the graffiti.
Finally Independence Day arrived and we headed out into the throngs of people. The parade start was not to far from our hotel, and actually just a few hundred metres away was where the military armament was all lined up ready to go. We had a look at the tanks, surface to air missile carriers, personnel carriers etc, etc, then found a great place to watch the parade. We waited for over an hour for it to start and once is got going everyone was waving flags, clapping and cheering.
When the huge tanks were passing by, the ground shook as their big diesel engines thundered and vibrated which everyone felt. After the military vehicles, there were fire engines, police and then the bands started. This was when the many guards lost control of the crowd. It took one person to decide they were going to sit a bit closer [past the ropes and guards] and a ground swell of people all followed. People all around us were yelling, the guards were yelling and the bands were marching!! In the end it was total chaos and we couldn’t see a thing!! Bugger!! Oh and I forgot to mention that there was fighter jets and helicopters doing flyovers – very cool.
We then decided to head to the Acropolis Museum. What an incredible building housing just some of the precious artefacts and statues and of course with amazing views up to Acropolis itself. Just one small problem here! Because it was National Independence Day it [the museum] was free! So we, along with thousands of others, wove our way through the museum trying to see as much as we could.
The floors, in places, are glass, so when you look below you can see into the past [ruins unearthed] and when you look above, you are looking into the future [with people moving through the museum] – quite a cool concept. The marble statues, the unearthed pottery and the history of another time take some time to absorb.
As it had been such an incredible day, weather wise, we decided that it would be a great day to climb Lycabettucs hill to watch the sun set. Of course hundreds of others did this as well and the sense of anticipation as this amazing glowing orange-red sun, slowly dipped below the horizon and then the Parthenon lights came on leaving everyone a little bit spell bound. Unfortunately trying to get a picture of this on my phone camera was at best mediocre, and again on this trip I found myself wishing I had a bigger and better one [camera].
We walked back to our hotel (I think it was about 4km) past the tomb on the unknown soldier where they had just finished changing the guards. I managed to get this great picture of the guard and his shadow, which almost looks like graffiti.
Our last day in Athens and we had saved the best for last! Acropolis and the Parthenon. We had a fantastic day, so jumped back on the bus and up to the top of the Acropolis we went.
It was really busy, and again I am glad we are not here in the busy season! This was more than busy enough thanks! We spent a couple of hours here just absorbing the buildings, the history, the views and managing to get a few photos with no one else in them! Everywhere you walk here it is marble and it is like walking on an ice-skating rink, as millions of people before you have worn the surface smooth. It is a bit treacherous and even my new anti-slip skechers did not save me from slipping about. I was ‘nannering’ about terrified of falling over … me thinks the marble would be pretty unforgiving!
After a leisurely lunch we got back on the bus [for loop 3] which took us along the coast, past posh houses, nice beaches (The Riveria of Athens) and to the Vouliagmeni Lake – it was a two hour trip and it was great to be out of the madness of the city for a bit. The lake is warm and brackish water – a mixture of sea water from the underground channels and water from the spring. It is meant to be very good for you, so we will have to plan a swim there next time we are in Athens!!
So that is us from Athens, there is so much to see and do here – apparently there is 60 museums! The people are friendly, the food great and we have had fantastic weather. Today we are heading to Meteora which is in the north – a five hour train journey. I will catch you up with that adventure next time.
“Gallivanting (v) the pursuit of experiences while travelling“