Europe Travel Diary, The Ultimate Europe Trip!

Day 20: Athens Sightseeing

September 18, 2017 – One thing that doesn’t change from city to city is the fact that the best time to visit any famous site is early in the morning. With that in mind, we made sure we were ready to ascend the Acropolis to the Parthenon around 8:00am. This was not only important in order to get ahead of the crowds, but also to beat the heat! The forecast called for 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But first, I needed to get my little kitty paws on some Greek coffee! Most people don’t think of the Greeks when it comes to coffee, but oh it’s so good. Their signature drink is the frappe. It’s a thicker coffee with a sweet frothy cream that sits on top. I was too eager and mixed mine up before snapping a picture.

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Greece had the most stray animals I’ve ever seen in my life. However, I never saw one that looked like it wasn’t looked after. We noticed so many dogs wandering around with collars. We had asked George about this the day before. He told us the collars let people know the dogs have been spayed/neutered. Similar to the tattoo many cities in the US use to indicate this.

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The man feeding his stray cat friends thought it was so funny that I was taking a picture. He said something to us, I could only gather that he loved his little friends.

We made it to the base of the Acropolis where we had to buy our tickets. While planning for Athens, I decided we would do this one our own. I had been there before and it was a very easy place to get around (besides the climb up in the scorching heat). Also, I am a huge fan of Rick Steves. He has an app for free audio tours in Europe. There were several for Athens including the Acropolis, so we just decided to use his guides for our time in Athens to save a little money.

We bought our tickets and made our way to the entrance. We met an interesting lady in line. She was from the US traveling by herself and had been traveling by herself for a while. She was previously living in Russia. I’m not sure what she did for work, but it just amazes me that there are people that have the confidence to travel through different countries on their own, especially as a woman. I felt very unsafe at times when it was Eric and I together; I couldn’t imagine doing some of those things by myself.

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On the walk up to the entrance; can you see the dog?
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The dogs were scattered about on the marble because it was cold; even at 8:00am, it was so hot outside

We both put in our headphones and started the Rick Steves Acropolis audio tour. It started at the amphitheater below the entrance to the Acropolis. This was the theater of Herod Atticus.img_3687

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Simba guarding the theatre
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Theatre of Herod Atticus built in 161 AD. It’s still used today for concerts and plays.

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Even Simba was feeling the heat, the cool rocks probably felt nice

Next it was time to ascend the stairs to enter the Acropolis.

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The Propylaea to the Acropolis (entrance or monumental gateway)
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Temple of Athena Nike
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Intently listening to Rick Steves

By the time we got up to the Propylaea (the entrance to the Acropolis) it was about 8:45am. Even that early, the place was packed! We noticed so many big tour groups wandering in clusters. I loved being able to wander at our own pace. There were a few times I wanted to stop and take some pictures. We just paused our tour and hung back a bit. I think we learned way more using this audio tour than we would have going with a guided group!

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The Parthenon; this ancient architectural marvel has been under restoration since 1983

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The columns of the Parthenon are wider at the base than at the top. It’s an optical illusion because it doesn’t look that way to the naked eye. This was to trick the eye in to seeing the columns as perfectly straight, when in fact they weren’t.
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Porch of Maidens outside the Erechtheion. What you see here are exact replicas, the real maidens are in the New Acropolis Museum. They were moved after it was found that the pollution in Athens was slowly destroying them.
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Back of the Parthenon

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One of my favorite parts of being up at the Acropolis was the incredible views of the city. The landscape of Athens is so interesting with a few big hills, modern day architecture, as well as ancient ruins. These photos were taken from a platform where a giant Greek flag stands. During WWII, when the Germans invaded Athens, the man who guarded the Greek flag was ordered to remove it by the Nazis. He followed orders by removing the flag, wrapping himself in it, and jumping to his death. On May 30, 1941, two 18 year-old’s climbed the Acropolis and tore down the Nazi flag. There’s a plaque to commemorate them next to the Greek flag which flies today. I would have taken a picture, but there were way too many people around it.

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Here you can see the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. At the very top left of the screen you can just barely see the Olympic stadium.
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That’s Mount Lycabettus in the distance

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We finished up our audio tour and made our way back down to see the Theatre of Dionysis. It was about 9:45am and we were nearing 96 degrees Fahrenheit. The Rick Steves audio tour ends at the Acropolis, so you’ll have to explore the theatre on your own. If you’re contemplating buying a tour or doing this on your own, if you have the Rick Steves audio guide there is no reason to purchase a tour. He tells you where to start and where to walk the entire time. Also, you don’t need data to use it. Just download the app and the tours you want before you leave for your trip or with the wifi in your hotel. Once downloaded, all you have to do is go to the app, click on the tour, and hit play. He even breaks up the tour in chapters so if you want to skip something, you can hit next. Needless to say, we were more than happy about our decision to forego a guided tour for the free audio tour.

The Theatre of Dionysus dates back to the 4th century BC and was used for plays. It was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of plays and wine. It is said that it was the birthplace of Greek tragedy.

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I was surprised they let tourists walk all over it

When we were up on the Acropolis, we heard Rick mention Mars Hill (or Areopagus Hill) as another great viewpoint of the city. After we wandered through the Theatre, we decided to go check the viewpoint for ourselves.

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They weren’t lying, I was wearing tennis shoes and I almost bit the dust a few times
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These stairs were SO slippery and steep!

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The viewpoint was wonderful, but not sure if it was worth the hassle. It was hot as you-know-where up there and the surface was a very uneven, soft, and shiny rock so it was like climbing on a hot ice skating rink (read: slippery). I don’t know how more tourists don’t fall to their death from there. No railings and a very uneven, slippery surface. The history of Areopagus hill is lengthy, but to boil it down it was mostly used as a place of judgement for those who committed deliberate homicide. It was also the place where Apostle Paul delivered his famous speech from Acts 17:16 – 28.

It was almost 11:00am when we completed our adventure up and around the Acropolis. We decided to make a pit stop at our hotel to grab another water bottle and then we were back out exploring some of the other ancient sites of Athens.

Our second major site of the day was the Ancient Agora of Athens. Located in the center of Athens, this was a prominent gathering place as well as a major marketplace with a history that dates back 5,000 years. Before it became an important and bustling meeting space for government and trade, it was used as a cemetery around 1,600 BC (Mycenaean time). Throughout history it was destroyed and rebuilt several times.

This was another area where we were able to listen to a Rick Steves audio guide. Honestly, if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have had the faintest clue as to what we were looking at! In fact, we might have skipped the Agora all together.

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A little cat welcoming everyone at the entrance
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A big group came in behind us and little cat jumped in the olive tree to observe from there
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The beautiful Church of the Holy Apostles; same Byzantine architecture as Hosios Loukas Monastery

The Rick Steves audio guide for the Ancient Agora includes the little museum in the restored Stoa of Attalos. What I loved was that he took you through the museum at different stations and explained what you were looking at in more detail than the little plaques gave you. We saw so many people breeze through it, glancing inside the cases, not really getting the full experience. Rick did a great job tying the items we were seeing in the museum to what we eventually saw wandering through the Agora itself. I know I’m starting to sound like we had Rick there with us; to be honest, it kinda felt like that! Also, I’m not getting paid to say any of this. Everything you’re reading is 100% my honest opinion.

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Porch of the Stoa of Attalos; this is obviously not original, but was restored to look exactly how it would have looked in ancient times. The Agora museum is inside the building.
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You might be thinking, “oh that’s nice they had a breeze”. If you enjoy scorching hot, dusty air in your face, then yes it was lovely!

From the museum, we walked through the middle stoa (one of the most prominent monuments built in the first century BC). Then we walked up to the Temple of Hephaestus which started to be built in 449 BC, but wasn’t finished until 30 years later. It was a temple to worship the god Hephaestus (metal working) and goddess Athena Ergani (pottery). Later in 700 AD, the temple was used as a church.

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This pup found himself a cool spot in the mud!

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Next, we saw what remains of a statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (first century BC).

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Then we walked to the end of the tour where we saw a few more pieces of beautiful architecture and walked out of the Agora via the Panathenaic Way. This was the famous path that connected the Dipylon Gate (the main gate of the defensive wall) to the Acropolis.

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All these pups looked well fed, probably really hot, but well fed
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I spy an Eric!

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After our time at the ancient Agora, we were starving! We decided to go find a place to eat. After researching a bit, Eric found a place right across from the new Acropolis Museum that had great reviews called Yard Restaurant. We would be heading to the museum after lunch, so it seemed like the perfect option.

All of the reviews mentioned how this was one of the only restaurants in the area that didn’t harass you to death to come eat at their restaurant. They were right because as soon as we walked up we were greeted by a lovely woman. She told us to take our time, look over the menu, and if we decided we wanted to eat there to just let her know. No pressure at all. It was refreshing. The menu looked delicious so we decided to sit down. We were going to eat outside to people watch because it’s so fun to do in a foreign place, but it was SO HOT (have I said that yet?) so we ate inside with the AC.

I got a Greek salad and Eric got a pizza. We totally forgot the Greek ways with their sharing, so we were brought the salad first. Our server realized I had ordered it as my meal, but we quickly told him it was fine. We ended up sharing both plates and it worked out perfectly! Both were delicious and so fresh. The food in Greece was definitely my favorite of the whole trip.

After our meal, we made our way out of the restaurant. We stopped to ask the friendly hostess what the best way would be to get to the museum. She told us there was a little cut-through path directly in front of us that would put us right at the entrance. Then she pointed to one of the windows at the top of the museum and said, “You’ll have a great view of the city from there. Don’t forget to wave to me when you get there!” She was so sweet, I wish we had gotten her name.

When I visited Athens 10 years ago, the Acropolis Museum did not exist. So this was going to be a first for me! We had heard great things about this museum so I was excited to see it.

Before you even step inside, there are ancient ruins beneath the see-through walkway leading to the entrance. It’s unlike any other museum I’ve seen! We went through a brief security check, bought our tickets, and started wandering the gallery. There wasn’t a Rick Steves tour for this museum (yet). I wanted to get an audio guide from the museum itself, but there was no option for that which I thought was weird. So we were entirely on our own. I was glad we did the Acropolis first with the audio guide so we could picture where some of the artifacts were a long time ago.

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One thing that kind of set the tone for the visit was the no picture rule. I had seen signs that said no pictures with flash, which we encountered in nearly every museum we had visited so far; no big deal. As soon as we entered the gorgeous entrance of the museum I obviously wanted to take a picture. I pulled my camera up to my face and all of a sudden, “NO PICTURES HERE!” Did we suddenly transport back to the Sistine Chapel? I replied with, “Even with no flash?” and the guard said,”Correct, absolutely no pictures.” BUT WHYYY?! What could a picture with no flash possibly do to those artifacts?! The only thing I could think was they didn’t want people clogging up the entrance (even though it was HUGE). We continued up to the first floor gallery. The amount of artifacts they had on display was overwhelming. Some had descriptions on them with the location of where the artifact was found and some only had a name. It was difficult to navigate and I felt like it didn’t flow. Also, some of the descriptions on the pieces were so long. There would be a bunch of people crowding around one piece for what seemed like forever because it took so long to read. You wanted to read it to learn more, but it was a pain. When we were at the Louvre, they had these big laminated cards that you could walk around with to read more about each piece in that room. That was much more manageable than this.

There are so many words here, did I forget to add pictures? Nope. Nearly every time I tried to take a picture I was met with another guard yelling at me to put my camera down. I finally just put it away. Why would you have a sign outside specifically saying “no flash” if you weren’t allowed to use your camera at all? Why not just say “no pictures”? Also, there were zero signs inside that said no pictures. I was very irritated if you couldn’t tell.

On the 3rd floor, there were two great videos that gave more insight in to the excavations and history of the Acropolis. My two favorite parts of the museum were the Parthenon gallery and the original sculptures from the Porch of Maidens which we had seen a replica of earlier in the day. The only place where I wasn’t yelled at about taking pictures was at the Porch of Maidens gallery. Why? No idea.

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Overall, the New Acropolis Museum did not blow me away. The architecture of the building and the natural light throughout make it a different experience than most museums in Europe, but the layout and the confusion behind taking pictures just killed it for me. I got way more out of wandering the Acropolis itself. Eric agreed, although I left his opinion out because he’s not really a museum person to begin with.

After the museum, we set out to explore more of Athens. We still had about 3 hours of daylight, so we decided to do the last Athens tour on the Rick Steves app. This one was just a sightseeing tour through the city. We didn’t feel like walking very far, so we skipped to the middle and started near where we already were. I’ll describe what we saw through pictures.

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Gorgeous olive trees were all over the city
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They were so pretty they almost looked fake!
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The Arch of Hadrian, 131 AD
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We walked down the street opposite the Arch of Hadrian and there was this beautiful view of the Acropolis. What you can see is where we were standing to get that beautiful view of the city when we were up there. That is the flag where those 2 boys were commemorated during WWII.
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Rick took us to so many pretty areas. This is just one example. There were so many alleyways and neighborhoods that looked just like this one. I slid down one of those stairs. Who thought it was a good idea to use marble literally EVERYWHERE?! Pretty, not practical.
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There’s a little village hidden under the Acropolis called Anafiotika. It’s beautiful whitewashed walkways and buildings look like a village straight out of Santorini! We would have never known about this without the Rick Steves tour.
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A little friend posing for me behind a giant fig leaf. We couldn’t believe how quiet it was there. It was like we were transported to a quaint little Greek island!
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The village was a little difficult to navigate because some of the alleyways were so narrow. It looked like a few were a dead end, but then you’d get to it and there would be a way out.

After we reached the end of the village, we decided to make our way back to our hotel. It was about 6:45pm, so the sun was starting to set.

We climbed a bunch of stairs until we reached the base of the Acropolis where we had bought our tickets that morning. When we got to the top, there was a group of street musicians standing around. We passed them and one started following us. About a hundred feet later, another one started following. They were a little too close for comfort and there was no one else around so I told Eric I needed to tie my shoe and we pulled way over to the side to let them pass us. After I pretended to tie my shoe, we started walking again this time with them in front of us. Once we reached a busier area with lots of tourists around, they stopped and started doing handstands. Yes, handstands… I kid you not! We passed them and they turned right around and walked back to their group. That was probably the closest we got to being mugged while we were in Europe.

After that, we were both tired and covered in dust and grime from the city. We went back to the room to relax for a little bit before deciding what to do for dinner.

Once we were ready to set out again, we both agreed we wanted something quick and cheap for dinner. We had an exhausting day in the heat and an early flight the next morning. We settled on a gyro place that I guess was considered “fast food” in Athens. For 6 euros we got two pork gyros and a cone of fries. Now if that isn’t a cheap dinner for two, I don’t know what is.

After our meal, I could barely move. Not because I was full, because the exhaustion just hit me like a brick wall. It was only 8:30pm, but we went back to the hotel, packed, took showers, and crashed. I think we fell asleep to Greek cartoons.

Bisous!

Lauryn

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2 thoughts on “Day 20: Athens Sightseeing”

  1. Looking at your photos of Athens made me curious to see when we visited there. It was in September 1998 and the Parthenon was under construction, but it was just as crowded back then as it is today. We were there before we started a two week flotilla sailing around the Greek Isles. We saw some of the main attractions you did, but we had a local guide who was part of the flotilla’s crew to take us around. It sounds like you did the right thing to take Rick Steve’s tour. We didn’t have the time to walk around in the neighborhoods which added a lot to your experience. I have a photo of Lycabettus in our album and noted that we climbed the 909 feet to the top. We obviously thought that was quite an accomplishment. Loved all your photos and comments. Again, thanks for sharing. Grandma

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