Planet View: N37°57.918’ E23°43.559’
Street View: N37°57.918’ E23°43.559’
We spent three nights in Athens to explore Greece’s capital city, our last stop in Europe before making our way southeast to Australia. On Saturday after a fantastic few days on Kerkyra we arrived to meet up with one of my childhood friends, Jim Staridas, who has been living in the northern Greek town of Ioannina for a couple of years. I hadn’t seen Jim for probably close to 10 years but it was good to catch up over a few beers in Athens’ Pangrati district. Jim plays the trombone in a band called Spiros Grammenos, spending his time split between gigs in his university-centric home town of Ioannina and traveling across the rest of Greece with the band. We organized our arrival in Athens to coincide with a Spiros Grammenos gig at Cafe Alvastron as part of the venue’s Native Tongues Festival. Greeks have astonishing stamina when it comes to late night drinking and partying, Spiros Grammenos didn’t start playing until around 11:30PM and were still playing when we left around 2:30AM! A really fun concert, the crowd packed into the hip cafe venue sang along to a lot of the songs and even though we couldn’t understand a word of what was being sung we had a great time. Spiros Grammenos performs a mix of comedy and jazz fused together, as long as we laughed along with everyone else we didn’t feel too out of place! As with other bars and cafes in Greece, by the end of the night we’d inhaled enough secondhand smoke to equal smoking about a packet of cigarettes each! Californians and Australians don’t realize how lucky they are when it comes to smoke-free public places. It was a little tough to take photos in the dim lighting of Cafe Alvastron, but we snapped one of Jimmy playing (shown to the right) and also managed to take a couple of videos of the band with Lisa’s point-and-shoot camera which can be viewed here.
We stayed in Athens’ Koukaki district, a quiet area of the city just south of the Acropolis and old town area of Plaka. We were a little wary of staying downtown after hearing horror stories from our friends in Santorini about drug peddlers and prostitutes sitting on the steps of their hotels in Omonia, but Hotel Tony (N37°57.918’ E23°43.559’) in Koukaki proved to be quiet and safe for our few days in the capital. Athens’ metro system was fantastic for moving about the city. While Athens itself isn’t the cleanest place in the world, with graffiti lining most of the streets in the center of the city, the metro system and buses were extremely clean and efficient. The metro trains seem to run almost constantly and offer a very cheap and quick way of getting around, €3.00 allows unlimited travel on all trains for a 24-hour period. We spent a day exploring Athens’ famous Acropolis which was a short walk uphill from our hotel in Koukaki. The views of Athens from the Acropolis were great, 360° panoramas of the entire city. We spent an hour or two exploring the grandeur of the Acropolis’ ruins, then walked down around the edge of Monostiraki to the Ancient Agora. The amount of effort the Greek authorities put into keeping the Acropolis presentable was quite evident during our visit, the Parthenon had one entire face covered in scaffolding as the wall was being transferred to one of the city’s museums to be replaced by a copy. It was interesting to see the ancient ruins and imagine the civilization during the time of their construction; while the Acropolis was a sight to behold we didn’t rate it quite as grand as some of the ruins in Turkey, namely Termessos and Ephesus. Definitely worth a visit, all the same…
After some time walking around the Temple of Hephaestus (the three photos above) we were beckoned to Monostiraki by the sounds of street performers and the bustling flea market. The walkway bordering the Ancient Agora was filled with vendors selling everything from antique knickknacks to cheap kids toys, so much to see and so many different types of people. The flea market is an interesting dichotomy of hip and trendy clothes stores mixed amongst some of the most junky antique stores we’ve ever seen. The Greek teens love American clothing brands, with WESC shirts in almost every store as well as a number of Converse and Vans shoe stores dotted throughout Monostiraki’s narrow alleyways. Another of Athens’ famous ruins, Hadrian’s Library, is located in the center of Monostiraki next to the metro station. When we were there the columns of Hadrian’s Library were in the process of being reconditioned; to do so, new sections of marble are inserted into the ancient columns where the existing pieces require mending (pictured left). Lisa had a keen eye in Hadrian’s Library, spotting a couple of the local reptilian inhabitants, one of which is pictured here (above right). The tortoise here was the largest one we found, measuring around 30 centimeters (12 inches) across its shell!
From Hadrian’s Library we continued our walking tour through central Athens, making our way through more of the Monostiraki flea market and into the old town of Plaka. We feasted on another €2.00 gyros (yiros) along the way and returned on another day to dine at one of the plethora of tavernas littered through the central tourist area. Our walk through the old town toward Syntagma Square took us along a section of Ermou, Athens main shopping district, which houses stores of pretty much every designer label you can imagine. Lisa couldn’t resist all the wares on offer and shelled out for a top at the Zara store on the main drag. A coffee at Syntagma Square next to Greek Parliament and a walk through the Greek National Gardens took us to the Temple of Olympian Zeus (N37°58.178’ E23°43.954’). The temple is a gigantic structure in the center of a large grassed area, another ruin that boggles the mind to think how it was constructed hundreds of years ago. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is visible from the Acropolis, the view of it from the Parthenon is included up at the top of this post. After the Temple of Olympian Zeus and a quick look at Hadrian’s Gate our feet had pretty much had it for the day, so we trudged the kilometer or so back to our hotel for a quiet dinner.
One could spend a month in Athens exploring the overabundance of museums spread about the city but, given our (my!) attention span for museums, we instead opted to explore only one of the most lauded museums: the National Archaeological Museum. The National Archaeological Museum was a few metro stops from our hotel, we ventured up to the Exarhia area of Athens early Monday morning only to find that the museum opens later (12:30PM) on Mondays. We killed an hour or two walking about the streets of Exarhia, making our way to the quiet courtyard-like square of Plateia Exarhion amidst the concrete jungle of high-rise apartment buildings. I can’t quite remember its name, but if anyone reading this finds themselves around Plateia Exarhion in the Exarhia area of Athens make sure to have a bite at the gyros (yiros) shop on the western side. It had, hands down, the best chicken gyros (yiros) either of us sampled throughout our travels in Greece, whole chicken breasts on the spit made for scrumptious fare. The National Archaeological Museum isn’t as large as some of the other famous museums we’ve visited on our travels, but what it lacks in square footage it definitely makes up for in the sheer number of artifacts it houses. We spent the whole afternoon viewing the expansive collection, everything from Egyptian sarcophagi to gold-leaf crowns and, my personal favorite, intricately detailed ancient bronze statues. If we took our time we could have spent a couple of days there, I’m not a huge fan of museums but some of the wares at the National Archaeological Museum and especially the historical excerpts explaining most of the exhibits were absolutely fascinating. One particularly eye-opening display was that of a 3000+ year old sarcophagus in the Egyptian section of the museum; upon examining the feet of the mummy we noticed that the toe bones of the skeleton were poking out of the tomb!
Athens completes our travels through Europe, we thought a month would be a long time to explore Greece and Turkey but it sure went by fast! Next stop on our adventure is my home town of Adelaide in South Australia, where we’ll be for some time with my family before deciding what comes next.
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