Going to Greece coincided with me moving from Balham back to Ealing. After work I went back home and made sure everything that was going to Ealing was definitely packed and that I had everything for Greece. The original plan had been for Kirstie and I to have a ‘slumber party’ at Stansted airport however Kirstie’s very kind colleague had offered to give us a lift which was gratefully accepted so instead I made my way to Greenwich. We ended up having a late night at her colleagues leaving do, where I’d been made to feel welcome (despite gate crashing) so we were both quite tired the next morning.
The drive to the airport was trouble free and even though we were checked in Ryan Air required Kirstie to complete a visa check and we had a long wait not helped by a very disorganised group directly in front. Then after passing through security we had another long wait because the number of bags needing to be checked by security were beyond the capabilities of one person. The guy working the counter was friendly and whilst Kirstie was adamant she’d removed all her liquids a last minute deodorant addition had sneaked through her net. When we arrived at the departure gate we were told our bags had to be put in the hold because there wasn’t enough space in the over head lockers.
Our final long wait was in Athens when Kirstie had to go through a different passport control. We agreed to meet at the baggage carousel to collect our bags and once Kirstie arrived we made our way to the train. Unfortunately we only just missed the one we needed but we still arrived at the hotel with enough time to have a shower and to freshen up before our pre tour meeting. As I relaxed I made the ‘mistake’ of checking the Watford score just as Igalo scored and when we went 2.0 up shortly after, the emotions really started to build. When Newcastle made it 2.1 I feared the worst and for 35 excruciating minutes I cradled my mobile as my mind became increasingly torn between the tour meeting and thinking of my dad cheering the team on at St James Park without me.
It was when we went up to the roof terrace that I got my first sight of one of the most recognisable ancient structures, the Parthenon. My breath caught in my throat as I saw the structure which (arguably) best represents ancient Greece. It wasn’t quite the picture postcard image I imagined but perched high above the city it must have been a stunning sight before it was destroyed over the centuries. Returning inside Kirstie and I had to quickly change rooms because she’d noticed ‘a water feature’ in the shower (water dripping from a light). Once we had moved our things we joined the others in reception for a pre-dinner guided walk.
After leaving the hotel we made our way to Monastiraki square a small busy market square where we could see the acropolis in the distance. We walked up one of the narrow busy streets where we came to another square named near temple dedicated to the God Hephaestus. Carrying on we arrived at the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos before I realised we were back at the street near the hotel.
I had built up quite an appetite because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and the choice of food looked so enticing I found it challenging to make a quick decision. Ultimately I followed Kirstie’s advice and tried to go for something I wouldn’t have had back home so opted for zucchini stuffed with Mince and rice. When it came out it wasn’t how I expected it to look however it tasted good with the Mythos beer. We were then given a dessert of Greek yogurt and honey which was particularly delicious. It really made me realise that the Greek yogurt I buy back home isn’t as good as the real thing.
Kirstie and I were both slightly torn as to whether to stay out with Steve who had arrived late having just flown in from New York, Dan, Nick, Fallon, Jade and Alyssa travelling together from Perth and a family from the Netherlands. Kirstie and I both knew we needed a good nights sleep and there would be plenty more opportunities to drink so instead opted to take some night photos of the Parthenon before returning to our new room which thankfully didn’t include a water feature.
Sunday 20th September
I felt fairly refreshed when I woke up and after a shower we both went down for breakfast where I admit I was pleasantly surprised at the range on offer. After making myself a ham and cheese toastie I grabbed a croissant and what I assumed was a mini pain au chocolate. When I bit in to this pastry the taste caught me by surprise and I realised it was actually savoury with unidentified filling but I assumed spinach and a soft cheese.
After breakfast we returned quickly to the room and then to reception where we waited for Vicki and the rest of the group to join us. After leaving the hotel we turned left, even though we had been told the night before never to go that way because it led to a dodgy area. The first building of note we stopped at was the stock exchange which whilst I imagine was fairly new had been built in a classical style. As we left an old man shouted something and Vicki told us he’d said “That’s where they steal money”.
We carried on walking and came to the National Library of Greece, the National University of Athens and the Academy of Athens. Outside the Neo Style academy, rather appropriately, were statues of Plato and Socrates. Together, along with Aristotle they laid the foundations of Western philosophy, science and mathematics. Plato and Socrates died nearly 2500 years ago and whilst I am sure many of their ideas have been debunked with technology their opinions and ideas are still studied and quoted.
When we left it was nearly 11am and Vicki quickly hurried us along so we could see the ‘Changing of Guards’ for the unknown soldier in front of the Parliament building. It was a lot busier than I had expected considering we were visiting in the low season and we didn’t have a clear view of the ceremony. After it was over and the crowds dispersed a few of us got pictures with the guards who looked pretty tough despite their clown-esque boots (Tsarouchia). One or two tourists from another group got a bit close prompting the guard to strike the ground with his bayonet and another that did an army salute was equally reprimanded!
Next we walked through the Palace Gardens which took us past the zoo and also gave us a glimpse of the president house before we arrived at the birthplace and spiritual home of the Olympics the Panathenaic Stadium. Originally built out of wood it was rebuilt from marble in 329BC and by 140 AD could hold 50,000 people. The remains were excavated and renovated for use in 1870 and again in 1896 so it could be used in the birth of the modern Olympics. It was then renovated again so it could have a symbolic role in the 2004 Olympics where it was used as the end of the marathon. Vicki explained that the word “Marathon” commemorated the victory of the Greeks over the Persians when Pheidippides ran all the way from the settlement Marathon to tell Athens of the victory before he died of exhaustion.
After all the walking we had a brief stop to rest and have a drink at a coffee shop. The poor waitress seemed to have a constant look of anguish but I suppose I looked the same when I worked at McDonald’s. In fact I’d have broken down and cried if a big tour group had turned up and didn’t listen when I called out the orders. I had planned to have a Greek coffee but instead went for a Frape with ice cream which was more refreshing in the heat.
It was in the afternoon that we really began to explore the remains of Ancient Athens. It started with the impressive Hadrian’s Arch, positioned in front of the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and through which you could see the Parthenon on top of the Acropolis in the background. The Temple of Olympian Zeus was completed in 132AD having taken 632 years to build. Sadly due to the conversion to Christianity and having been damaged beyond repair by war it was abandoned between 267 and 425. Over the next centuries it was quarried for material and what had been envisaged as the greatest temple in the ancient world is now just a few pillars.
Heading towards the Acropolis we made our way through the crowded streets of Plaka and passed the the Winds which was unfortunately under restoration so we couldn’t see it and the ancient Agara (market) which as the centre of Ancient Athens is arguably the birthplace of democracy (meaning ‘power from the people’). Vicki explained it was the ancient Athenians who created a new form of government whereby they could choose and replace leaders because they were tired of being ruled by tyrants.
The path soon turned in to a steep climb so I had a little photo stop (breather) when I had a nice view of city and could see Temple of Hephaestus we’d seen the night before down below. Eventually we came to an area of rocks where there were two routes, one a set of steps, and the other a short but steep scramble over the rocks. I scrambled up over the slippery rocks which had been smoothed from all the people climbing the path over the centuries however at the top I was greeted with a stunning panoramic view of the city.
Vicki wasn’t allowed in the in the Acropolis itself so we all made our own way round at our own pace. The first major set of ruins was the Monument of Agrippa followed by the Shrine of Athena Hygieia. There was also the Erechtheion Temple which included 6 female figures ‘holding up’ the roof. Apparently only replicas remained and 5 of the originals were in the Acropolis museum and one in the British museum.
I have to admit I personally felt the ruins, especially of the Parthenon were quite underwhelming not that I’m trying to sound blasé about seeing them because I was thrilled at that. It’s just whilst historically the Parthenon is such an iconic structure its surrounding location kind of resembled a demolition site. It was also quite obvious where restorations had taken place unlike other ancients sites I’ve visited that attempt to disguise them.
After we’d wondered around the whole site and with some time left before we were due back at the hotel Kirstie and I went in search of the museum however the signs weren’t particularly good. After ending up where we had started we decided to go home via the Ancient Agara. I think it is fair to say we were both slightly disappointed at the number and state of excavations in comparison to those in Rome. We briefly called in to a free museum there but didn’t stay long.
Instead we returned to Monastiraki square and wondered around the various shops selling souvenirs. After we had finished wondering around we returned to the hotel room so we could get ready for dinner. As a group we then caught the underground train to one of the nicer suburbs so that we could have dinner. After we had eaten we went to a bar where Nik and I had a shot of Ouzo whilst Kirstie and some of the others had Tequila however as we had an early start no one suggested going for further drinks and we all returned to the hotel.