Our arrival in Athens coincided with a dramatic drop in temperature. We went from T-shirt weather to T-hermals weather in the space of twenty four hours. An arctic northerly wind was blowing right across the city. We decided to brave the Athens traffic and head for a guarded parking spot in the Piraeus district on the southern end of the city. At €13 per night it’s less than half the price of the two campsites on the outskirts of Athens and as we would be out and about sightseeing all day it didn’t make sense, in our eyes, to stump up the extra cash for a campsite. Maria, the lady who mans the car park from 7.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, welcomed us and shuffled a big SUV to another area of the carpark so that we could squeeze in. It was smaller than we expected but absolutely fine and with a rolling steel security gate which locked us in between 10.00pm and 7.00am we felt very safe. We would recommend it as a no frills safe parking spot to ‘do’ Athens.
The Metro was a five minute walk away with trains running to the centre of the city every ten minutes for €1.40 each way. All the public transport we have used in Greece has been really efficient and cheap so a big tick for Greece on that score. We were within spitting distance of the Acropolis within thirty minutes of leaving the van. Tim was keen to crack on with getting the Acropolis and the Parthenon under our belts before the weather deteriorated. We finally found the entrance after a thirty minute detour in the wrong direction which took us into the Anafiótika area, one of the old districts in Athens, below the northern slopes of the Acropolis. I had a poke about up and down the narrow alleys and steps feeling more like I was nosing round a hilltop village rather than being in the centre of the largest city in Greece.
Backtracking we finally found the entrance to the Acropolis and spent a very cold but enjoyable couple of hours taking it all in. The weather and the time of year did us a favour as it was extremely quiet and we didn’t have to fight our way through hordes of other people or have an eye or two poked out by marauding selfie sticks.
Figure of the comic Satyr, Silenus, seen in the Theatre of Dionysos.
I had done a little homework before we got to Athens and had semi planned an itinerary so as to make the best use of our time there. It is like no other city we have visited. We only really scratched the surface and would happily visit again to see more. Aside from the ancient sites we thoroughly enjoyed mooching about the flea markets in the warren of streets in the Monastiráki district. The shop keepers wares sprawled out onto the pavements in front of the dilapidated, graffiti covered buildings in which they are housed.
Grafitti is everywhere in Athens, and also much of what we have seen of Greece.
The central meat and fish markets are on the scale of nothing we have ever seen before. It was a mass of people, noise and activity and……………dead things that I’d rather not see but fascinating all the same. I suspect that what you can buy there is the freshest you will ever get.
If you are in need of anything be it ironmongery, batteries, spices, fabric, birds, rope, antiques, art, crafts, jewellery, handmade shoes, bikes, paints etc etc you will be sure to find it in central Athens.
One of the highlights for both of us was a visit to the Acropolis Museum. Now, I’m not really one for museums as I do have a short attention span but what clinched it for me and for Tim was the building it is housed in. Decades in the planning and designed by Bernard Tschumi, it opened in 2008. Concrete pillars and a glass walkway suspend the building above an early Christian settlement. The top floor has a panoramic view of the Parthenon and displays the remaining original parts of the Parthenon frieze that are still in Greece in the order that they would have graced the Parthenon itself.
We missed the changing of the guards at Plateía Syntágmatos Square, home to the Greek Parliament and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but saw the National Guard (ézones) in action outside the Presidential Palace the following day.
They stand motionless for an hour before it is time to switch with another guard. During the changing they work together to perfectly co-ordinate their moves. I’m not sure they can really concentrate on guarding anything when they are so busy co-ordinating their arms, legs and pom poms in slow motion. The two we watched weren’t quite in sync when they had their backs to each other but it doesn’t look easy. Apparently the steps for the changing of the guard are carried out in slow motion to protect their circulation after standing motionless for an hour.
Whenever we are in a city we like to seek out some green spaces between landmarks so we walked up through the National Gardens, created in the 1840’s, to bring us out to the Kallimámaro Stadium, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. We didn’t feel like we were in a city once through the entrance to the Gardens as it was so quiet amongst the trees with paths meandering here and there.
As the weather on the third day had improved we climbed up Lykavittós Hill for a view over the city. There is a funicular railway to get you to the top but I didn’t tell Tim that. It reaches 910ft above the city and is a favourite spot for people to view the city at night. We had to make do with a day time view as we didn’t fancy climbing up in the icy temperatures at night.
Dropping back down to the town we visited the Temple of Olympian Zeus and our three day mini break in Athens was complete.
We celebrated with burger and chips at a small cafe in the Monastiráki district followed by a pint of Guinness at a nearby Irish bar. It would have been the perfect end to our visit but Tim felt unwell halfway through his pint and had to trot to the gents to be sick. He’d scraped off most of the dressing on his burger as he can’t abide creamy type dressings as they can make him ill. It seems whatever was in the dressing hadn’t agreed with him. Either that or it was a reaction to paying €12 for two pints of Guinness! I knew it was serious when I had to finish his pint.
He was not a well chappy and took to his bed as soon as we got back to the van. I was stressing a bit that I might have to drive us out of Athens the following morning with a sick patient in the back but he woke up feeling much better and we left Athens at 7.30 am on Christmas Eve to avoid the traffic and headed for Ancient Corinth on the Peloponnese.