Athens – worth a visit?
Athens has always been famous for its ancient history. These days, it’s almost more famous for its modern history. Corruption, financial crisis, ruin and more recently, protests and violence. Everyone we spoke to prior to coming to Athens said “see the ruins then get out – not worth anything more”.
We think Athens has had a bad rap!
We arrived in the middle of a mid-summer afternoon and took a leisurely drive to our fabulous Penthouse Apartment let to us by Carole from Greek Vacation Rentals in the central suburb of Egiptou. Small but perfectly appointed, we felt immediately at home as we were welcomed by our hostess Nadia, who showed us around this lovely little nook. The location is perfect for exploring the city and yet, you get to see a bit of Greek life as you’re not among the international hotels nor surrounded by hoards of tourists.
We headed out to start exploring the city on foot. As we later discovered, the city virtually empties out in August as all the native Athenians head off on summer holidays, so the streets were wonderfully quiet.
Athens on foot
As you wander this city, you are under the constant watch of the Acropolis, as it can be seen from virtually every part of the city centre. This provides a special sort of comfort and feeling of being part of history as you are surrounded by ancient wonders.
Everywhere you look, you are also surrounded by the scars of the modern history with immense amounts of graffiti everywhere, shops closed and barred and signs warning of upcoming protests in various locations around the parliament. This hasn’t affected the genuine warmth of the people however and we were welcomed with big smiles and much affection wherever we went. There was definitely no undercurrent of fear or danger anywhere.
The Temple of Zeus
Down the road we wandered past the Temple of Zeus. Coming from Australia where the oldest building is not older that a couple of hundred years, I am still wowed and amazed by these
cities where people are walking to work in their heels past buildings that were built in the years BC! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. A small tip on this particular ruin though – we paid to go in but you can also stand outside the gates at any of the points that ring the grounds and get equally good pics – save yourself the 6 Euros to spend sampling some of the great local wines!
The Acropolis with Kids…
The next day, we braved the ascent to the Acropolis with the two kids. Prams are not allowed so it was a case of walk or carry for the Little Chubs (who currently weighs about 15kgs) and we had to drag the slightly sooky Miss Sparky up the path as it was still hot and sunny in the late afternoon. Once again, we were warned not to attempt this trip with two kids, especially one who had to be carried as there are so many steps and rocky ground. I want to emphasise here that this is absolutely not the case!
Even my Dad, who had recently injured his foot and was limping around was able to hobble his way up to see these magnificent ruins. And whilst it’s certainly not the only thing to see in Athens, it is something you definitely do not want to miss! Take only water and the camera and enjoy soaking in the amazing surroundings and the magnificent views.
We think the perfect time of day is the late afternoon or upon opening at 8am. Any other time, you will be trapped in hoards of tour bus groups who are very focussed on what they want to see and will push and shove their way to whatever they want a photo of. The site doesn’t close until 8pm so around 6pm is the perfect time to go up – you get the perfect late afternoon light for photos, the sting is gone from the sun, and when you are finished, you can wander down to one of the restaurants at the base that will mist you with cool water and provide you ice-cold Mythos beer to quench your thirst.
The Acropolis Museum is also worth a visit and has some interesting pieces which have been rescued and restored. One thing that the Greeks like to make well-known is that there are ruins from the Acropolis site that were stolen many, many years ago without Greek permission, which are now housed in the British Museum. There is a campaign to have them returned to their proper home but I believe this battle of diplomacy continues with no end in site, which is a huge shame for the integrity of the site.
When we visited, they also had a cool section in the museum which re-created the ruins in lego, an awesome thing for the kids to see which also helps them appreciate what you are looking at when you see the ruins as they can picture the original buildings better. We had to make a hasty exit from the museum though as the Chubs had a massive meltdown for no apparent reason (which stopped the second we exited I might add). I’m assuming he was outraged at the ruins that had been stolen and was vocalising his desire for their return, but I could be putting words in his scream there.
These big-ticket items out-of-the-way, the rest of the time we wandered Athens on foot and explored all the little nooks, crannies and soaked up the atmosphere and the warmth of the people. There is some incredible food if you are willing to walk for it as well and one of our best meals was a cheap lunch in a little diner near the town square, which had authentic Moussaka to die for as well as the amazing eggplant creations you find a version of in most Greek restaurants.
The Greeks are a late-rising, stay up late kind of culture and there’s something about Athens that makes you forget the time as you wander the ancient laneways. We would amble out of house after an immensely satisfying breakfast of cheese, eggplant, olives and fresh crusty bread (all purchased from the little grocer down the street) and usually not get back until well past 9:30pm. The kids adjusted beautifully, much to our surprise as they are normally a “go to bed at 7pm”-type bunch. I think the fact that it gets dark so late combined with all the life and atmosphere surrounding us meant that they wanted to stay up as much as we wanted them to.
The other thing to mention is the bakeries. The Greeks do awesome cakes – all types! I’m glad in some ways that we only stayed a couple of days as I may not have been able to fit my ferry seat had we stayed much longer given the variety and accessibility of cake, and those of you who know me understand how important that is to me!
And so, if you have the opportunity to visit Athens, I would strongly recommend that seize the chance with both hands. Don’t let summer deter you, in fact, I would say it’s one of the better months to be there as the city is so quiet.
And don’t let having little ones with you deter you either. The Greeks LOVE kids and you are welcomed, often with hugs and kisses, wherever you go – never did we feel like the lepers we do in some places we visit. And perhaps that’s why the kids behaved so well for a majority of the time we were there, save the odd sooky moment over having to walk or hissy fit in museums.
Help Athens keep on keeping on! They need the support of the international community and they have so much to share with the world – enjoy every moment!