Athens, Greece

Karie on Feb 1st 2008 05:26 pm

We had heard mixed reviews of Athens, many saying that the city is dirty & overrated.  Apparently there was a lot of truth to that (and probably still is in some parts of the city), but the 2004 Olympics gave Athens a rebirth.  Like any big city, it has both good and bad, but what I liked about Athens is that you didn’t have to venture too far to see all the major sights, so it made a city of 3.7 million feel quite small and charming.

Our friends Thomas & Kaitlin Gertz, who are currently on a 15-month trip around the world, visited Greece just a few months ago.  We have no shame in following someone else’s proven plan.  So before I go any further, thank you Thomas & Kaitlin for the referral to the gyros for 2 Euros!  Between the two of us we ate 7 in 2 days.  That had to be the best tzatziki sauce I’ve ever had.  God bless Sabbas on 86 Metropoleos.

The 2nd great recommendation from Thomas & Kaitlin was our hotel.  No frills on the inside, but a great price in a great location, including a view of the Acropolis from our balcony.  What made this location even more desirable, for this week in particular, was that it gave us a chance to witness a very important part of Greek life and history.

Upon arrival to our hotel, we learned that the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church had died the previous day.  The church was literally across the street from our hotel, with an unobstructed view from the balcony in our room.  Thousands of people were waiting in 4-5 hour lines to enter the church and pay their final respects.  The line did not diminish all day and throughout the night.

The following day was the Archbishop’s funeral, so our morning began with an hour of serenading from the church bell tower.  We went out for some breakfast, then came back and watched, along with the thousands of devout Christians in the street below.  The ceremonial aspects, along with the overwhelming love and respect poured out from the people, reminded me a lot of watching Pope John Paul II’s funeral on TV in 2005.

The services began at 10:00am, so we were able to hear the singing and chanting in Greek coming from the church, while watching the inside perspective of the church on TV.   After about an hour and a half, the government diplomats and church delegates began to spill out of the church, starting with the Prime Minister.  They then carried Archbishop Christodoulos’ body through the streets, escorted by religious leaders, military, police officers, and private security.

The crowds roared with applause as they showered the Archbishop with roses.  In a Continent that’s not very religious in modern culture, Greek’s of all ages seemed to hold this man in high regard.  He was a controversial leader to say the least, but he did bring about some positive changes, such as encouraging the church to accept anyone that walked in the door, and reminding the people that they were welcome, no matter who they were or what they were wearing.

A lot of businesses and city parks and museums were closed for the day, but luckily we had seen a majority of the major sights on our first day.

Our plane had arrived mid-morning the previous day, so we dropped off our luggage, immediately found the infamous gyros, and headed for the Acropolis.  When I think of the Acropolis the first thing that comes to mind is the Parthenon.  What I didn’t realize is how many other historical sites were concentrated on or around that hill.

We spent several hours there, just admiring old stuff.  We were amazed at how well preserved (and/or carefully restored) some things were, and by the shear volume of ruins.  Unfortunately the Acropolis Museum, where they house some of the original artifacts for preservation, is temporarily closed.  It didn’t matter though; there is enough history to get lost in for days just by walking around.  It was just cool to literally stand on the ground where the concept of democracy originated, amongst so many other significant moments in history.

Scott had to work that evening, so the Acropolis and a bit of wandering pretty much took our entire day.  The following day, after the funeral, we hit the streets.  Again, a lot of businesses and city parks, monuments, etc., were closed, but most of the shops were still open.

One of the main areas of attraction in Athens is the Plaka, which was extensively refurbished for the Olympics, and is now a delightful series of pedestrian streets that connect all the major sites in the city – from the Temple of Zeus to the Acropolis.  We “miraculously” stumbled across another recommendation from the Gertz’ (of which we knew the name but not the location), so we knew it was a sign that we had to stop.  It’s true.  Crepes of the World has the best crepes in the world.  Sorry France.

We spent most of the day just wandering the streets, admiring the shops, and sampling more local favorites.  The weather was beautiful – a bit crisp but perfectly sunny, so we took advantage of one last snack stop for a frappé, which was actually invented in Athens, not at Starbucks.

We wanted to get out and experience some more fine Greek cuisine, but without breaking the budget, so we employed one of our favorite methods… “the hybrid.”  The hybrid involves sharing something inexpensive (often purchased at a local market) about an hour or so before dinner, so you never enter a restaurant on an empty stomach.

In this case we of course shared one more gyro, then took our time walking to the restaurant, arriving shortly before the live music was scheduled to begin.  We knew we had 20 Euros left in our daily budget, so we strategically selected a few “mezes” (aka, appetizers) to snack on and enjoy the ambiance.  I’m certain our bill was a fraction of every other table in the joint, but we had just as much fun.   Some may call it cheap, we call it budgeting brilliance!  Either way, it was a great way to spend our last night in Athens, and still get home in time to try to get some sleep before waking up at 3:00am to catch our flight to Santorini… which we realized after booking was at 5:55am, not pm.  Oops.

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One Response to “Athens, Greece”

  1. john mon 16 Feb 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Glad to hear you enjoyed Athens, I have been reading your blog and find it to be wonderful…..It’s nice to read other viewpoints on places I have been….I was wondering if Scott could comment on his viewpoints of Athens…..I find it is nice to see how two people traveling together, can view a city differently or for that matter, in a similar fashion…..Enjoy your travels and hope Scott shares his insights on Athens..

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