Athens is nuts.
I’d been before when I was much younger and the memories had all but faded, so arriving into the port of Piraues, (Athens’ main port) the obvious thing to do seemed to take the 7 mile (half hour) trip into the main city itself and remind myself of this beautiful old city. The trip in is easy as the City Sightseeing “Hop on – Hop Off” (HoHo) collects you from the port and heads straight into town.
It wasn’t the first time a cruise stop-off had felt overcrowded, but it really seemed that every man and his dog had had the same idea and the queue to the Acropolis was huge. We decided to grab brunch and hope the queue died down. Top food recommendation: Athena Bistrot, Makrigianni 3. Everything they served (we noted; eyeing up other tables) looked divine and our choices were no exception:
Fuelled and ready to go, we went back to the entrance of the Acropolis & Parthenon (just around the corner from the cafe) and sadly discovered the queue had grown. We grumbled, but at least our stomachs were no longer making the same sound.
Half an hour or so later, we were in and began to climb our way up the steep slopes to the Acropolis and Parthenon. You can see ancient remnants outside the citadel walls, but the real beauty is contained within and is quite an up-hill hike. It was a very warm day and we saw tourists dropping like flies, so do consider your fitness and hydration before you take this one on.
There is beauty in not just the ancient remnants; but strangely also in the contrast between old and new. From the peak of the rocky outcrop you can see the city from every angle and the newer buildings stretch on almost as far as the eye can see. It’s absolutely huge.
A ‘monumental monument’, it’s grand and imposing, and currently being restored to former glory so was mid-renovation. Actually, equally impressive is the effort I had to go to to keep the scaffolding, orange tape and hoards of tourists out of shot.
Ah, there they are. Spoiling the view for everyone…
There really were actually far more people forcing their way through the Acropolis than my photos suggest; and we found it exhausting in the heat so reverted back to our favourite touring – Clementina’s tour guiding! (It seemed (from afar) to quieten in the afternoon and I think you could enjoy soaking it all in more with more space and time. My advice would be to head over later in the day if time allows.)
First of all we had the the impressive Hadrian’s Arch. It spanned an ancient road and was proposedly built to celebrate the Roman Emperor Hadrian. I don’t know much about him, but I’m a big fan of his classy arch.
From here we could also see the remains of the never-quite-completed Temple of Olympian Zeus; another dedication; this time to Olympian Zeus who was head of the Olympian Gods. Again, not too sure who this chap is but that’s a pretty great title. Sadly his temple never did get completed but I expect it would have been fairly fancy if they’d have finished it off.
From here we were just a hop, skip and jump from Athens’ National Gardens where our ambles took us past the majestic Zappio building, orange trees and even tortoises! It was the most peaceful part of Athens we’d found and we were grateful for the calm.
On the way back to the Ho Ho we passed the Parliament House where we were lucky to witness the Changing of the Guard. It is the strangest ceremony I’ve seen in a long time; with the ‘elite corps’ pom-pom adorned shoes and guns sitting side by side in the ceremony. This is usually limited to Sundays at 11, so time your visit accordingly.
Would I go to Athens again? Well, not in a hurry. If I found myself in Piraeus again, I’d like to stay there as it is walking distance from Mastella, a hill strewn with beautiful houses, offering majestic views of the Saronic Gulf. This might have suited us more in the heat than contending with the thousands of tourists. That said, if you’ve not been before it would be a shame to miss out.