Ancient Adventures in Athens

When the group left Corfu, we took the same ferry that brought us to Corfu, back to the port of Igoumenitsa. As I said before, we were supposed to be on a later ferry, but it was cancelled due to weather, and we were forced to take the earlier one. After we arrived in Igoumenitsa, we boarded buses that would take us to Athens, the capital city of Greece. Since we had to take so many different forms of transportation throughout the trip, Melissa and I developed a system. I would huck both of our luggages under the bus, while she fought for a good seat. This time was no different. Mel picked the front seat of the bus as it had the most leg room, and that definitely paid off later in the trip.

As we left the port area around 11:00 PM, we began a long and winding drive through nowhere Greece. The roads were dirt and there was nothing but fields and a few random houses for the duration of the trip. As we were driving, the buses just stopped on these backroads around midnight with no explanation. One by one, each driver exited to buses and just stood outside. Everyone, including the trip leaders, was severely confused. The trip leader on our bus got up and asked them why were were pulled over in the actual middle of nowhere. They nonchalantly responded in broken English that they had to go to the bathroom. It was such a weird moment, to which Melissa responded “Yamas,” which means cheers in Greek. A random anecdote that provided a good laugh, as the rest of the bus ride was anything but funny.

Overnight, the bus continued on and at one point boarded another ferry as I remember waking up and we were on water. In addition, we were originally supposed to get to Athens around 9 AM, but with the ferry cancellations our new arrival time was scheduled for around 5 AM. The trip leaders knew that none of the rooms at the hostels were going to be ready, so to waste time they would have the buses pull over every hour or so. I’m someone who can sleep on most types of transportation, but the stopping and starting of the bus throughout the entire night allowed me to only get around 2-3 hours of non-continuous sleep. We arrived in Athens around 8 AM, after the horrible 9 hour bus ride.

Only some of the rooms were ready, of course me and Mel’s was not, so we had to sit in the courtyard, eat our breakfast of bread and jam, and change in the bathroom. At around 9:00 AM the trip leaders came in and told us the walking tour of the Acropolis would be leaving in ten minutes. Everyone scrambled to change and get ready in a two stall bathroom and we left the hostel looking as presentable as you can after an overnight bus ride and no access to running water.

Our hostel was located in the Plaka, which is the old town of Greece. This meant we were only about a 20 minute walk to the entrance of the Acropolis. Along the way, our tour guide brought us through the small town of Analfi. She explained that a group of people from Italy, came and inhabited the small area at the base of the Acropolis many centuries ago. They never paid for the land, but they brought their unique architecture and never caused any issues with the Greeks and were, therefore, allowed to stay. The small town features colorful houses, stray cats and narrow walkways.

The town of Analfi on the way to the Acropolis.
The town of Analfi on the way to the Acropolis.

We continued onward as we passed by Greece’s first university, and a rock that overlooks the entire city where it is said one of Jesus’s apostles spoke to the citizens of Greece. We finally arrived at the entrance to the Acropolis. Acropolis means hill, and Athens has 7 Acropoli like many other Western European cities such as Rome. The Acropolis with the Parthenon just happens to be the most important Acropolis in the city. The Greek flag is flown on the Eastern side of the hill, along with many other buildings in the city, as it symbolizes where the sun rises and that everything started in Greece.

Greece's first university.
Greece’s first university.

We climbed up the stairs, passed by the Nike Temple, and finally set eyes on the Parthenon. Albeit it was the side with scaffolding as they are in the process of restoring it, so the real awe did not come until later in the tour when we viewed the other side. We walked passed the other temples and ruins that stand alongside the Parthenon as our tour guide explained what some of them meant. Many of the temples are dedicated to the Athena, the goddess of wisdom whose is often represented by an owl.

The Erechtheum temple.
The Erechtheum temple.

Many of the buildings have black decay on them that is due to metal within the pillars. When the buildings were built over 5,000 years ago, the builders put metal inside of the columns to make them stronger. Over time though, the elements have led to a decompisition of the columns, leaving the black residue behind. One prominent example of this was at the Temple of Poseidon. The top of the temple was covered in the black decay, but also featured a hole in the roof. This was deliberate though, as there was also a hole in the floor which would collect water when it rained.

Poseidon's Temple, which shows the decay visible on some of the ruins.
Poseidon’s Temple, which shows the decay visible on some of the ruins.

After admiring some of the most important ruins on the Acropolis, we made our way to the Parthenon. The tour guide talked about the history and meaning behind the Acropolis, but between the language barrier and my awe with the structure I did not get much out of her speech. What I do know, is that the temple is dedicated to Athena and there was once a golden statue inside the temple of the goddess.

The Parthenon.
The Parthenon.

One we finished the tour, we walked around the Acropolis. This included taking too many pictures of and with the Acropolis, heading up to an outlook point that gave us a view of the Athens which expanded out to the sea and up to the mountains, and soaking in the fact that we were among 5,000 year old ruins that have been here since before Christ.

Melissa and I at one of the many outlook points atop the Acropolis.
Melissa and I at one of the many outlook points atop the Acropolis.
Just me and some wicked old temple.
Just me and some wicked old temple.

From the Acropolis, we headed to lunch where I was able to indulge in my first true Greek meal. I had a Greek salad and the feta on top was like heaven in cheese cube. I also ate chicken kebabs with fresh pita bread. Feeling full and satisfied, Melissa and I went out to explore the central part of Athens.

My first true Greek salad. Take note of the delicious feta.
My first true Greek salad. Take note of the delicious feta.
Chicken kebabs.
My equally delicious chicken kebabs.

We stumbled upon some ruins in the Greek Agora, which was totally casual you know. The only thing that stinks about exploring ruins without some type of guide is that you can’t totally appreciate what you’re looking at since most of it is half a pillar or the bust of a once full length statue. Melissa and I made the most of it though and enjoyed the sunshine since it was the first truly sunny day since our arrival in Corfu. We attempted to find the old Olympic stadium and the Acropolis museum, but some of the locals told us it was a metro ride away and we didn’t feel like figuring out the metro system since the Greek language is indecipherable if you do not speak it. Even though we didn’t get to see either of those attractions, we later found out that you could walk there and it wasn’t nearly as far as everyone made it seem. We were able to see the Greek Olympiad, which is different from the old Olympic Stadium and features Hadiran’s gate.

A temple in the Greek Agora.
A temple in the Greek Agora.

Since our whole middle of the day was free, we decided to do some shopping in the old town. I bought a traditional silver bracelet, olive oil soap, and some postcards. One postcard featured the recipe for tzatziki, which happens to be my new obsession. It is a dip made of yogurt and cucumber that has a creamy consistency and is often served with gyros and pita bread. Melissa and I also decided to buy 3 postcards featuring Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle for our freshman year philosophy teacher. That was one of the classes Melissa and I had together freshman year that led to our friendship and our professor still remembers us, so we knew should would enjoy a present from Greece with some of the most influential philosophers in history. Another cool aspect of Athens is that since there are ruins everywhere including public squares and underneath house foundations, glass floors are put above the ruins so locals and visitors can view them when walking throughout the city.

Hadrian's Gate outside of the Greek Olympiad.
Hadrian’s Gate outside of the Greek Olympiad.

Since we had about 3 hours of sleep the night before, we went back to the hostel after shopping to take a quick, much needed nap. Once we woke up we decided to head back up to the Acropolis to watch the sunset. When we arrived, we found out that the Acropolis closed at 3 PM. So instead, we went up on the top of the rock where one of the apostles once spoke. We were too early to watch the sunset and so we just took some pictures and walked back down to be at our group dinner in time.

View from the rock outside of the Acropolis.
View from the rock outside of the Acropolis.

The tour company set up a group dinner at a local restaurant and is was a traditional Greek meal. Melissa and I sat with four other girls while we ate. Two were studying in Rome, and the other two, Alison and Christine, were studying at my school in Florence. Ironically, one of the girls is from right outside of Boston and was on my flight from Boston to Florence. Melissa and I got along with them really well and we ended up hanging out in Santorini, which was the next stop on the trip. We were served bread, meatballs, and fried cheese for appetizers. For the main course we had a choice of chicken souvlaki or moussaka paired with unlimited white wine. Since I ate chicken at lunch I opted for the moussaka, which is kind of like a Greek eggplant dish that I had been dying to try. It was very rich and filling and while it wasn’t my favorite of the Greek foods I had throughout the week, it was well worth trying. Melissa and I stayed at dinner chatting and enjoying some wine with Alison and Christine until around 11 PM. We had to get up at 4:30 to leave for Santorini at 5:15 so we walked back and enjoyed our few precious hours of sleep.

My moussaka at our group dinner.
My moussaka at our group dinner.

We left Athens in the wee hours of the morning and boarded you guessed it, another ferry to Santorini. As interesting as Athens was, I was wicked excited to be on the water again and off to the island of Santorini, which was the location I was looking forward to visiting the most. The spring break saga continues with Santorini in the next blog post.

While Athens was not my favorite stop on the trip, I’m so glad it was a part of the itinerary. I couldn’t imagine having gone to Greece and not visiting the Parthenon and the ruins scattered about the city. Seeing the Parthenon was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip for me. The fact that I was one with ruins and temples that had been there since before Christ was an indescribable feeling. As much as I tried to soak in the moment while I was on the Acropolis, the feeling didn’t really hit me until I came home. Athens in not a modern city by any means and reminds me how I think a city like Cairo would look. All of the buildings are very similar looking and are not tall. Since Greece is in the middle of an economic crisis, many buildings and areas of the city were dilapidated and in need of repairs. Even amongst this, the Greek culture and sprit was not dampened. Greece, and Athens in particular, was the first place in Europe where the country’s flag is flown everywhere. I’ve heard that people who visit the U.S. from other countries notice how we fly the American flag everywhere. I never took notice to that, until I came to Greece and saw the same phenomenon. Whether it be in regards to their music, food, or the fact that they were the birthplace of Western civilization, the Grecian people are proud of their history and culture, which definitely enhanced my overall understanding of the people and places in the beautiful country.

Ελλάδα.
Ελλάδα.

Ciao for now,

Emily

All photography by Emily Houston. 

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