On our first afternoon in Athens, Mum and I went for a wander around the city centre. We decided against visiting the Acropolis that day, as the ticket would be valid for multiple sites and they would all be closing at 3pm. So we walked the streets, checking out the plethora of tasteless souvenirs. While I’m happy to announce that I did not purchase any of these, mother bought a ancient-Greek-Kama-Sutra style deck of cards. I bet she’s regretting that now I’ve told the world.
We checked out Hadrian’s Gate, which sits right on the side of a main road and looks a little forlorn, with electrical wires crossing in front of it and cars zooming past. We passed churches and cafes and fashion stores, flower sellers and piles of things we couldn’t identify for certain. And, both being exhausted from the less-than-ideal sleep we’d had on the bus the night before, we decided to have an early dinner.
We also found some cats, and particularly liked this one. It was intent on getting inside that shop.
I’d found a restaurant in our newly purchased guidebook that sounded reasonable, and we were making our way there when an older man stopped us to ask where we were going. When we told him, he said that we didn’t really want to go there and that he knew a better place. He seemed like a nice guy, and soon we were following him down alleys until the restaurant appeared before us. He came in with us to tell the manager there to give us something for €12 or less, and to make sure it was good, before leaving. We ordered food and some wine, and when it came it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that Mother insisted on embarrassing me in this very public place by licking her plate clean. I swear, you can’t take her anywhere. Some eye-rolling and face covering may have occurred, for my part. It was a nice restaurant, too.
The next day we visited the Acropolis. This was what I was most excited about in Athens – like most people, I imagine – and to be honest it was a bit of a letdown. The main reason for this was the restoration work being done which meant that the photogenic Parthenon was covered in scaffolding and decorated with a crane.
Strangely, my favourite memory from the Acropolis was when one of the security guards blew his whistle at us and started running over shouting ‘NO!’, thinking that we were trying to steal some of the gravel on the ground. I suppose that people must actually do this, which is a little disturbing. Despite the deceptive blue sky you can see in the photos, it was really quite cold, and the ground was littered with puddles that had frozen over. Mum was trying to pick up one of the sheets of puddle-ice, and the security guy thought this was quite funny [if a little strange] when he realised what she was doing. Note: Melbourne doesn’t get cold like that, so frozen puddles can be bizarrely exciting for some Australians. Like my mum.
The Acropolis sits on a flat-topped rock rising 150m high above the city of Athens, and from there you can see the city spreading from the base of the plateau. Archaeological evidence indicates that the area was occupied in Neolithic times, although the temples there today – the Parthenon, the Erechtheum, the Propylaea – were built in the fifth century BCE. The sheer scale of what remains is impressive, and I could scarcely imagine what it must have been like in its heyday.
Tickets for the Acropolis cost €12, or €6 for concession. The ticket is a combined ticket, and can also be used for entrance to other sights in Athens including the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Forum, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Theatre of Dionysus and Kerameikos. We visited most of these places, although in winter it’s a little harder to do them all in a day due to them all closing by 3pm. Still, even if you can’t get inside of them all you can at least look through the fences and get an idea of what you’re missing out on.
We visited the Museum of Greek Folk Art after lunch, marvelling at the richly embroidered and decorated traditional folk costumes and the intricately cut leather shadow puppets. We had to rush through here though, as they were closing pretty early. It was beautiful though, and I’d visit again.
I particularly liked the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which we’d seen from the outside the day before. There’s not a lot left, only part of the old temple, with beautiful columns and lots of birds flying around.
We explored the Monastiraki Flea Market, where Mum bought a pile of lovely olive-oil soaps wrapped in pretty paper and tied with raffia and pressed pewter charms and I tried not to look at all the shops selling Doc Martins in every conceivable colour – trying to forget about the cracked leather and holes in the soles of my own travel-weary-ten-year-old-second-hand Docs. Reminding myself how painful it is breaking in new Docs was fairly helpful. We sat and watched the people milling around, young guys playing instruments, others chatting in cafes, while pigeons circled overhead and traipsed around the square in the hopes that someone would feed them.
We then headed up Ermou St, back to Syntagma Square, passing the brightly lit European fashion chain-stores. I felt decidedly unfashionable in my worn backpacker uniform, and my search for new jeans on the H&M sales racks was entirely unsuccessful.
That night, after trying to figure out where to go next – deciding on Nafplio at the last minute – we checked out a restaurant that turned out to not only have giant portions of delicious food, but a great atmosphere in a hip little lane with wandering musicians, free dessert [hell yeah, I’m not saying no to that!] and a stuffed chicken in a tree. No one could explain the chicken.