Athens: Greek Gods and Temple Rocks

Athens was the start of our 18 day honeymoon, so you can say that it was here that we were first welcomed by Europe’s summer heat (almost at its peak), and were we not ready for it!

Still, countless reapplications of sunblock later, I must say it was pretty surreal, standing on the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon in front of our eyes, learning about the layers of history that exist between these marbled rocks.

We’d booked our Airbnb apartment with Sean quite early in advance at a good rate. It’s actually possible to get an apartment for 40 euros in Athens during peak season! The location was perfect, just 5 minutes walk to the Acropolis station. Due to a communication breakdown, we had to wait outside the apartment for 2 hours before Sean arrived, but he was so passionate in giving us suggestions on what to do, see, and eat, which was especially useful because we had no idea where to go for food. And by then we were famished.

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Our humble Airbnb apartment in the heart of Plaka

After resting our post-flight achy bodies, out we went in search for the falafel joint recommended by Sean. It was a quick, juicy and satisfying bite for 2.40 euros. The combination of greek yogurt, pita bread, tomatoes and beef kebab was so appetising (or perhaps everything tastes good when you are hungry) that we got a second!

 

Now that hunger was off the list, it was about mid-day when we started exploring Plaka, the neighbourhood where we lived. The streets, lined with souvenir shops, were quiet. The skies were clear. People were moving at a leisurely pace, unhurried, a stark contrast to the crowded Orchard Road shopping district in Singapore.

Now we were on a quest to find Anafiotika, which we’d read about – a tiny, picturesque 19th century “village” on the northern slopes of the Acropolis that very much resembled The Cyclades – and we got very very lost.

A waiter, mustached, with a strong greek accent approached us and asked if we were lost. When we told him where we wanted to go, he quickly pointed us in the right direction. “Just up these stairs!” It was a long flight of stairs. But I was just thinking to myself how kind of a stranger to offer his help, when we’d showed no intent in patronising his restaurant.

I still am not fully convinced that we’d found Anafiotika, because it did not look quite the same as the pictures online. Perhaps where we wandered was only a part of it, but the views from the top of the hill were lovely, and we were both flushed red and dripping with sweat – it was enough exploring for the day.

On our way back down we stopped by an ice cream shop that served organic greek frozen yogurt. It tasted nothing like Llaollao or Yami Yogurt. It was thick, rich, with a slight sweet aftertaste. Edwin added a raw honeycomb topping which he happily finished, though not to my liking.

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Oops took a bite!

At about 9 in the evening, we headed out of our apartment for dinner, surprised that the sun had only just set. The traditional greek restaurant we had chosen was a short walk away, one that we had passed earlier in the day. “Choose 5 dishes. 30 euros for 2 people,” we were told, with complimentary wine and dessert. First attempt to order failed. “No, no, 1 from here, 2 from here, 2 from here” pointed the waiter. Second attempt to order failed. Eventually, he impatiently chose for us something on the menu – an appetizer – and hurried off before we even had time to ask what it was. It turned out to be Tzatziki – a yogurt sauce mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt and olive oil that we heartily ate with bread. It complemented our other dishes well and we were both full and satisfied by the end of dinner. That night, we fell asleep thinking about how nice our first day in Athens had been, and if the next 17 days would be so.

Day 2

We arose early, excited to get to the Acropolis while the sun was not yet at it’s peak. Quickly, we grabbed a bagel sandwich and chocolate croissant at a nearby bakery. Breakfast in hand and iPhone in the other with Rick Steve’s audio guide playing (highly recommended if you don’t have a guide), we were ready for the climb.

The word Acropolis comes from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, “highest point”) and πόλις (polis, “city”). Each step up the Acropolis’ slopes was a laboured climb, though the higher we went, the better views we were rewarded with. Along the way, we caught sight of the Theatre of Dionysus, Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Temple of Athena Nike before reaching the Propylaea, entrance of the Acropolis marked with tall, grand columns and monumental statues.

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Theatre of Dionysus in the foreground
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Odeon of Herodes Atticus
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Temple of Athena Nike

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The Parthenon soon came into full view, and around it, hoards of tourists snapping pictures of it (and with it) from all sides. From this height, the heat was starting to become unbearable, but we could not tear our eyes away from its impressive marbled columns, and grandeur of the entire structure. It felt like we had entered a different time period. I later discovered that The Parthenon was built in 447 BC (more than 2000 years ago!) as a temple dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom.

 

What remains of the Parthenon today is just a fragment of it’s original glory, yet the fact that it is in ruins only amplifies the significance it has played throughout history. Parts of the Acropolis have been under construction for the past few decades in attempts to restore it. As such, there is much scaffolding against its structure.

The journey downhill was easier and we were thankful to sneak into the air-conditioned Acropolis Museum next door. Real physical artifacts of the Acropolis were on display, pieces that have broken off over the years, damaged from war and arson. Though I was clearly struggling to appreciate these artifacts for what they were (never been much of a history person), I did find the The Contest between Poseidon and Athena particularly interesting. One thing I know is I will not look at olives in the same way again!

Later that night, we met up with friends staying in Athens, who brought us to a rooftop restaurant in Monastiraki Square overlooking the Acropolis, and introduced us to a dish that would become our favourite Greek food – fried Zucchini! (Why have we not tried this before??). Over casual conversations and catching up on life in Athens and Singapore, day slowly turned into night and before we knew it, our short time in Athens had come to an end.

Follow the rest of our Europe 2017 adventure:

Day 1 – 2 / June 24 – 25 Athens: Greek Gods & Temple Rocks
Day 3 – 6 / June 26 – 30 Chasing Sunsets in Santorini
Day 7 – 8 / June 31 – July 1 Venice: A Modern Day Fairytale
Day 9 – 13 / July 2 – 6 Romancing Florence
Day 12 / July 5 Cinque Terre in One Day
Day 14 – 17 / July 8 – 11 Rome: The Eternal City

 

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