Athens was a city that I was really looking forward to going to. After going to Rome and seeing all of these ancient ruins, mixed in with amazing architecture, fountains on every corner I had really high expectations for Athens. I was at first really disappointed as we drove through crazy, busy streets with really modern, simple architecture and graffiti EVERYWHERE. My first impression was Ah, typical big city.
The first thing I did, of course, was climb to the top of the acropolis and look down over Athens. This was a really awesome experience. The climb is a pretty easy hike, the only problem is the slick, slick, slick marble steps leading up to it. The path on the way up is surrounded by olive trees which is perfect because according to the myth that’s how Athena got to be the goddess of Athens- she gave the gift of the olive tree. The ruins have been excellently preserved by archaeologists, and they’ve done some reconstructing which, I didn’t know how I felt about that, but they made it so you could very easily tell what was reconstructed by leaving it a bright white color. When a lot of people think of the acropolis, they only think of the Parthenon, but there is a lot more up there. If fact, my favorite part of the acropolis was probably the Theatre of Herodes Atticus. Another one I really enjoyed was the Erechtheum, which has the Porch of Caryatids. Even though the ones up there are replicas, they still look majestic and so beautiful.
After leaving the acropolis, I did a bit more site-seeing. I went to the Olympic Stadium, that held the first modern Olympic Games, where I saw a spectacular view of the acropolis perfectly illuminated by the sun. I saw the remaining columns of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, some of the older buildings and then I went down into the flea market and antique area which was filled with a bunch of tourist/souvenir vendors when you were in the Plaka, but if you went down towards the less touristy area there were a lot of really cool shops. I met a really sweet man named Nic who owned one of the shops I went to. He left his daughter in charge while walked me to the nearest bank and while he walked me there he pointed out great places to eat, where to watch out for pick-pockets and taught me some conversational Greek. He was very sweet and gave me his card and told me to call if I had any problems. In fact, everyone I met in Athens was insanely polite!
I went to the Athens Cathedral, which was under a lot of construction and restorations, but you can tell how beautiful it is. I met the priest of this church and he was very polite and pointed out some different aspects of the church. When I told him he had a beautiful church he smirked in replied, “Not yet, but soon.” Inside there was a lot of scaffolding blocking some mosaics and some plastic protecting things from other restoration work, but every detail of what was uncovered was exquisite.
Later that afternoon I met my archnemesis: Mousaka! The description I read in the menu wasn’t quite how I would describe what was placed before me. It didn’t look very yummy, and to me it tasted a bit like dirt with maybe a dash of nutmeg and meat. Really, all around I wasn’t a huge fan of Greek food as far as entrees go. However, I did love tzatziki, greek yogurt with honey, taramosalata, the fresh squeezed orange juice that was so thick and rich, and don’t get me started on the olive oil.
Another thing I love to do in European capitals is watch the changing of the guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and Greece definitely did not disappoint. Their changing ceremony was so beautiful and sacred. I love the intensity that they express because it just conveys their genuine respect- something that I think a lot of people don’t have.
The New Acropolis Museum was a really amazing museum. As someone who is studying archaeology I thought it gave a better understanding of how these remains and works of art were preserved so that people can view them. First of all, the museum was built on stilts with all glass floors so that you can see current excavations that archaeologists are doing underneath the museum. Second, they did a really amazing job of organizing things so you can see where they came from along with what time period they were from. Lastly, they do restorations on the original Cayatids that were removed from the porch in the museum while on display. They do a blanket around it to shield onlookers eyes from the lasers, but they have a live video of the restorations playing! What an amazing way to make patrons to museums see the work that goes into it.
So, the moral of my story of Athens is the same thing my mom told me since I was a kid- Don’t judge a book by its cover. There were so many more things to see in Athens that I hope to get to do someday, but I’m really glad Athens showed me how unique and awesome it is.
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