The Acropolis opens at 8.00am. Despite being a regular visitor to Greece it is nearly 20 years since I have been to Athens. What I do remember is the massive queues to get into the Acropolis and the difficulty in getting photographs without hoards of tourists in the background. No matter how exhausted we are we aim to be at the Acropolis ticket office by 7.30am!
We set off through Monastiraki, past Tsisdarakis Mosque and the Library of Hadrian.
Tsisdarakis was governor of Athens in the middle of the eighteenth century, who constructed this mosque in 1759, according to an inscription on the mosque. He brought to this mosque some columns from the Temple of Olympian Zeus. But as he did this without due permission of the Sultan, he was heavily fined and chased out from his position. The minaret of the mosque was destroyed after the outbreak of the Greek Revolution 1821.
After independence, the mosque was used by the army in various ways, including as a prison and barracks. In 1915 it was partly rebuilt and was used as “Museum of Greek Handwork”, while in 1923 as “National Museum of Decorative Arts”. From 1959 on it became the Museum of Greek Traditional Art. In 1973 the main functions of the Museum of Greek Folk Art moved to 17 Kydanthinaion Str., with the mosque remaining as an annex to it. The V. Kyriazopoulos pottery collection of ceramics remains in the mosque to this day. In 1981 the building was damaged by an earthquake and was repaired.”
As we climb up through picturesque Plaka and reach the ancient Agora, I have a flashback!
The last time I was in Athens was 1994. I had just returned from my first island hopping trip. I had gone with a boyfriend of only 6 months and by then I had realised that he was a bit of a ‘nightmare’. We had visited Andros, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Antiparos. Things had become tense during the last few days of the holiday and this charming man left me on Antiparos and scootled back to Athens. Having never island hopped before, I’d allowed him to take charge of the itinerary, the money – everything! Granted, I was a bit naive then and certainly wouldn’t allow myself to be in that situation again!
Anyway, the plan was to leave for Athens that evening on an overnight ferry leaving a whole day in Athens. The flight back to Manchester left in the early hours of the following day. I had enough money to see me through so took the night ferry which arrived in Piraeus at the crack of dawn. I walked towards the city with a heavy rucksack on my back. I had no idea on how to get to the centre of Athens and didn’t get much joy from the locals. It was a bit of a culture shock after receiving such kind hospitality from the island folk. I managed to get directions to the metro and worked out how to buy a ticket to Syntagma Square. I needed to find somewhere to leave my rucksack so that I could take the trip up to the Acropolis – how could I ever come to Athens and not visit here?
I remember having a conversation with a young German man in French – the only common language we could find – and mine being GCE level French didn’t help. Once we understood each other he directed me to a small hotel that would look after luggage for a few dracma.
I headed up to the the Acropolis. It was very busy but I was just delighted that I hadn’t wasted a day in Athens feeling sorry for myself. By the time I’d finished visiting the site it was getting very hot. I was exhausted as it had been over 24 hours since I’d had any sleep. As I walked back down past the Agora, I seized the opportunity to have a rest in the shade. I remember finding some shade under a large rock and before I knew it my eyes had closed and I began to nod off. It had only been a few minutes when I was rudely awakened by a man sitting next to me rubbing my leg saying “hello pretty lady”. I was horrified! I think I said some swear words to him, grabbed my small bag and legged it back down to Plaka as fast as my weary legs would carry me!
No sooner had I arrived back to the hotel to retrieve my rucksack, I was now being heckled by another man on a motorbike. I’d just about had enough by then and decided that I would be safer at the airport – even though I had about 12 hours before my flight left. At least I could get some sleep on the airport floor without being harassed!
This sounds like a completely hideous holiday with a completely hideous man – however, it was this trip that gave me the island hopping bug so at least for this, I am forever grateful!
This could be the very rock that I sheltered under!
Back to today, we arrive at the Acropolis ticket office to see that a party of around 20 people are already there – that’s not too bad! We waited for about 10 minutes for the ticket office to open and hot footed it up towards the Acropolis entrance as soon as we had our tickets in our hot little hands!
As we begin to admire the views of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus from above, a parade of soldiers march past us.This part of a daily ritual of raising the flag at the Acropolis.
Once we’d climbed through the main entrance of the Acropolis we begin to explore the three main temples – the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena and the Erechteion.
The views from the Acropolis are stunning! Here you can see the Temple of Zeus, Filipappas Hill (known as the Hill of Muses) and Areopagus (Mars Hill)
By the time we leave the Acropolis is swarming with hoards of tourists so I’m glad that we got there early!
We only one day in Athens so we need to get around this large city the best way we can. We decide to catch the Hop on Hop off bus at the Acropolis. We don’t have to wait too long but whilst waiting we engage in conversation with the bus sales lady. She asks us where we are from and tells us that she used to work in a hospital in Leeds. “Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a doctor or anything, but I loved living and working in Leeds – the people are so friendly”.
The next stop on our itinerary is the changing of the guard (Evzoni) in front of the Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier at the parliament building in Syntagma Square.
If you haven’t seen the changing of the guard before do make it part of your itinerary. I’ve seen changing of the guard ceremonies in London, Copenhagen, Prague and probably elsewhere but there is something very special about the ceremony in Athens with the Evzones.
I’m a little bit squeamish about photographs like this but I got caught up in the moment! Be prepared to fight for your place in the queue and remember – queuing means nothing outside of the UK!
It is now nearly midday and getting very hot so we decide to hop back onto the bus and just take in the sights of the city.
We jump off the bus to pay a quick visit to the Temple of Zeus
Back on the bus we go past Panathinaikos Stadium where the first modern Olympic games was hosted in 1896. Built entirely out of marble, the stadium was originally built in 566bc and rebuilt in marble in 329 bc. Not the best photo’s taken from the top of the bus!
I must say that the Hop on Hop off bus does have its advantages but is also has its disadvantages. It is so easy to just stay on the bus and watch the scenery go by – you can almost be hypnotised by the scenery of Athens. There is so much to take in. It is a good way of getting your bearings but you must get off and see some of the sights – maybe use some alternative methods of seeing the city!
When we reach Syntagma Square again we decide to go into the metro station to look at the archaeological collection. All credit to the city developers on how they’ve preserved these archaeological collections as pieces of public art and history – even the rather macabre skeleton!
We decide to have a short visit to the Flea Market at Monastiraki – no beauty pageants on this evening but still vibrant and bustling nonetheless.
On the way back to the hotel we go into the market on Attica Street. There is an eclectic mix of shops here many with their wares laid out on the street. I look inside the fish market is fascinating.
What an exhausting day. We shower and return to the roof terrace for cocktails before heading out to Plaka to do a bit more exploring and to have our last meal in Athens. The Attalos Hotel is definitely what you’d call basic accommodation – well we booked a budget room, but it is clean and more than anything convenient.
First stop is Athens Cathedral which is undergoing refurbishment. On the way out of the cathedral our attention is caught by the sound of a church service taking place in a tiny little church called the Church of Theotokos Gorgoepikoos and Ayios Eleytherios. After the service Peter is greeted by the priest who asks him where he is from. They briefly discuss the situation in Egypt and the priest gives his blessing for peace in Egypt.
We stroll up through Plaka. The evening is warm and balmy. We are absolutely spoiled for choice for places to eat but we settle on a little taverna with a roof terrace that overlooks Athens but is also nestled underneath the Acropolis. Yes, we are in the heart of the tourist trap here with tourist prices for tourist menu. But we’re all tourists aren’t we!
This is a lovely end to an amazing trip!
The following day we head off to Monistiraki Station. Luckily our flight is at midday. I don’t like hanging around on the last day and like to just get home as fast as possible.
We take the blue line which we thought would take us directly to the airport. However, passengers for the airport are instructed to leave the train at Doukisses Plakentias station where we wait for another airport train. There are direct trains from Monistiraki to the Airport which also have extra room for luggage.
The Athens metro is immaculate, well priced and very efficient. The journey back to the airport is very enjoyable and we take in the last views of the landscape before arriving at the airport.
This has been an amazing trip and has absolutely rekindled my love for the Cycladic islands. Highlight island of the trip was definitely Folegandros – rugged, wild and stunningly beautiful. I know I’ll go back again another time. It was great to revisit Antiparos – I love this little island and am always tempted to linger longer.
It was brilliant to visit Athens again after so long. When I was last there about 20 years ago my overwhelming impression of the city was that it looked like Beirut. Now it is a city ravaged by grafitti, very tired around the edges but vibrant and alive and an amazing city to visit.
The Attalos Hotel was brilliant and will definitely stay there again – staff were friendly and helpful and the location was just perfect – of course the view from the roof terrace was the icing on the cake!
Island hopping in Greece becomes addictive. I’ve lost count of the number of Greek islands I have actually visited – nearly 40 at the latest estimate. We are already planning our next trip – we were very taken with the look of the Western Cycladic islands that we sailed past on the way back to Athens – Serifos, Kythnos. But that’s next year. Roll on retirement!