October 30, 2010, Category: Greece, Travel

Day 13: Ancient Athens


If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning.

For the first time on our trip, Greece welcomed us to a new day with cloudy skies. We walked to the corner in a light drizzle and dropped below street level to catch the metro. The red-line carried us to the Acropolis stop and as we climbed up the stairway to the surface, it was apparent to me that Poseidon had released a can of whoop ass on the city. I knew instantly it was my fault. This was his revenge.


The rain pounded the city in a constant chaotic roar. Water trickled down the stairs that climbed up to the street level like it was a small riverbed. Thunder rolled through the sky like Zeus and Poseidon were racing in massive chariots laughing heartily at my plans to explore the Acropolis.

The good thing is that it wasn’t cold, but we were getting soaked fast. We ran for the protection of an awning and I looked for an umbrella at the magazine stand. I heard a lady a couple stores down yell, “these are the best deal,” and looked to see her holding up two umbrellas to show a man standing close to me. He put the umbrella he was holding back on the magazine stand and ran through the downpour to her. I did the same. Why reinvent the wheel?

We huddled together under our new, flimsy, pricy piece of refuge from the angry Gods and walked up the street. I was feeling a little discouraged, touring the Acropolis in this would be miserable. But I was determined not to let Poseidon get the best of me.

“Lets do the Acropolis Museum first, maybe the rain will calm down,” I said, and pointed. We walked into the museum and up to the cashier. My plan was to buy the Acropolis ticket, which got you into everything for a good deal. But they didn’t sell it here, only the Acropolis sold it. I gave Mikayla 5 Euros and told her to get a coffee at the Museum Café, and I ran up the road to get the tickets.

The rain made my quick trip up the road seem lot further than it really was. Then I couldn’t find where to buy tickets. I made the mistake of asking a tour Guide, who proceeded to tell me I really should have a personal Guide for the Acropolis. Here is a shortened version of our conversation.

Me (yelling above the rain): “I’m not going through it right now, maybe the rain will calm down this afternoon or tomorrow.”

Her (yelling back): “Oh no, it won’t. Once it starts like this, it rains for days. You might as well do it now…this is great weather for the Acropolis.” (Said through her drenched hair and drops of water streaking down her face.)

Me: “Well, I’m doing the museum first anyways, my daughter is waiting down there for me.”

Her: “Oh perfect, I do the Museum tour too, how old is your daughter?”

Me (realizing this is going nowhere yet digging myself in deeper): “14.”

Her: “Oh, that is the perfect age for a guided tour, she will learn so much.”

Me (As I walk away like somebody who feels like 60 Euros is a bit overpriced for a short tour): “No Thanks.”

I finally found out why I couldn’t find a place to buy a ticket. It just so happened that this weekend, the Acropolis was free. They weren’t selling tickets and, therefore, I couldn’t buy the pass I wanted to. I trudged back to the Museum and saw that I wasn’t the only one with the “see the museum/avoid the rain” idea. A massive line now extended out the front doors, past the awning, and out into the  rain. You win, Poseidon, I surrender!

After another thirty minutes, I had our tickets and had tracked down Mikayla who had actually enjoyed the extended time sitting in the café with her coffee. We checked our bags and toured the Museum.

IMG_2161First we watched a movie that showed the slow destruction of the Parthenon (also known as the Temple of Athena) over the past millennia. It was heart breaking to see the looters over the years. In 1687 the Turks stored their gunpowder in it and it was hit by a “stray” Venetian cannonball that obliterated it . Nearly 2,500 years old and it was just a mere 300 years ago that it encountered the majority of its destruction.

According to what I heard, many of the ancient Acropolis items were “stolen” years ago and are currently on display in England museums. Greece has asked for them back but was told they didn’t have a museum worthy of them. This new gorgeous museum (opened in 2009) was built in part to provide such a place, but now Greece has been told no because then Egypt and Iran would want their stuff back too and England doesn’t want to set a precedence. I tend to side with the Greeks but then wonder if Greece has offered to return the Egyptian items they have in their own archeological museum.

IMG_2174 Some of the items in the Acropolis are imitations and the originals are in the Acropolis Museum. It is filled with sculptures and treasures that once filled the sacred site above Athens (although can’t show you because photography is not allowed). The top floor is really cool because the glass windows offer a full view of the Acropolis. The top floor also recreates the top of the Parthenon and you can walk around it and get a close up view of the statues and carvings that decorated the top of the temple. Many of the pieces are missing, I’m assuming because most of the relics were destroyed or lost forever. It appears that generic looking placeholders are used for items that have been found but currently reside in other museums (like the ones in England).

IMG_2143 Poseidon must have accepted my surrender because by the time we left the museum the rain had stopped. Outside, Mikayla had to take off her flip flops cause the marble was so slick. We hiked up and around the hill and climbed the steps that passed through the pillars marking the entrance to the limestone plateau otherwise known as the Acropolis. This refers to the entire area on and around the plateau. Within the Acropolis are many temples, the most famous of which is the Parthenon (or Temple of Athena, the goddess of wisdom).

DSCN0931  We hiked all around the jagged rocks (carefully avoiding the puddles) up on the top of the plateau. It was awesome to stand in the shadow of the Parthenon. In addition to a close up view of the temples, the Acropolis offers a panoramic view of the city. Below the cliffs are views of two ancient theatres, the Plaka, Syntagma Square, National Gardens, Ancient Agora, and various temples and churches. I tried to imagine what it would have been like 2,500 years ago and the mythology, IMG_2184spirituality, philosophy, controversy, and destruction over the years. I regretted how little I really knew. My lack of education limits my ability to understand the significance of Ancient Athena on not only western civilization, but on my own life. My fascination really just comes from my ignorance rather than a deep understanding of history. I’m like a child dazzled by the flashing lights and entertained by glitzy tourist attractions. That isn’t a bad thing, the process itself is an education and fuels my desire to learn more. But I definitely have a lot to learn.

DSCN0964 IMG_2202 IMG_2215 DSCN0951

We descended the hill and stopped for a snack on a park bench. We devoured the fruit I had snagged from the breakfast table along with some bread and jerky. Afterwards, we explored yet another set of ruins, Ancient Agora. This is where Greeks and later, Romans, bartered, preached, and worshipped. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato taught philosophies that helped change the course of history. Here, the apostle Paul preached early Christianity. We walked through the reconstructed forum, old churches, and well preserved temple.

IMG_2241We took another stroll through the Plaka and Flea Market (places I will explain in detail on Day 14) and had a super yummy gyro for lunch. Grabbing a gyro on the run is the way to go if you only want to spend a few bucks for a tasty lunch. Look for a rotating meat column close to a cash register. Find the guy with the big knife and place your order. IMG_2243He’ll shave off several strips of meat and stuff them into a pita along with tomatoes, onion, and tzatziki sauce (made with yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic). I should have eaten more of these while I was there, stuffed my face with them until I was sick and never wanted them again in my life. Maybe if I had done that, I wouldn’t be craving one so bad right now.

  IMG_2274 We walked through the park and stopped at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Only a few pillars remain and Rick Steve’s description of the fallen temple as a bunch of bottle caps is very accurate. We sat on a bench for at least an hour and I grilled Mikayla on Greek history and mythology. Who is the God of War and what is his Roman name, which God was born out of Zeus’ head, what ancient Greek peaceful nation of merchant traders vanished without a trace, what Greek Isle may hide the lost city of Atlantis, where did that turtle come from? Huh? Turtle? I never would have expected to see a IMG_2265turtle crawling around in the middle of Athens, but one zipped on past us (as fast as a turtle can zip) while we sat there.

IMG_2275It was late in the afternoon and we decided to spend our time walking back to the hotel instead of riding the metro. We passed through the market where meat is hacked up and cut on demand. Mikayla didn’t enjoy those smells and visuals so much. At Omonoia square we made a left down Konstantinou. In the future, I think it would be best to avoid this road. The streets were lined with people doing business in a field that does not interest me. We saw drugs being purchased. We saw a guy sitting against the building nonchalantly stick a needle into his arm and shoot up like it was as IMG_2278normal as eating an apple at a park. We just kept walking and tried appear as if we knew what we were doing. I really have no idea if it was dangerous, but I was certainly uncomfortable and glad when we finally made it safely to our hotel.

We turned in earlier than normal and spent some time on the roof admiring the view as the sun set. We chatted about what we had learned from the trip…about history, each other, and life. It was really nice. We found it hard to believe that our trip was almost over. One more day in Athens and it was time to head home.

Continue to Day 14…

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One thought on “Day 13: Ancient Athens

  • By Grandma Henke - Reply

    Oh I hate to see this is coming to an end! It’s almost like being on the trip and knowing it is going to end! Scary street! The toppled pillar was fascinating.

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