7 hours in Ancient Athens

Day 26
Athens, Greece

After being delayed in Croatia and then again in Italy, my flight didn’t arrive here until past midnight this morning. And, as my taxi crawled through surprisingly crowded late-night streets, Athens demonstrated first-hand how it has become the traffic capital of the world.

My Dad arrived here yesterday morning — we’re staying at the Athens Gate Hotel, a recently renovated hotel with views from our balcony of both the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Parthenon, which was our first stop of the day.

We hoped that it was early enough that the cruise ship passengers were still gorging themselves on their breakfast buffets. Unfortunately, we found the Acropolis swarming with tourists — when is it ever not? We walked through the ancient Theater of Dionysos before making the climb to the small Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion (with its famous Caryatids columns) and, of course, the Parthenon, at the Acroplis’ highest point.

While they couldn’t rival those of the Parthenon, the city views of the Athens sprawl (and air pollution) were also pretty impressive.

Our next stop along the Ancient Promenade — a 3 km traffic-free oasis — was the Agora, once the center of life here. Socrates came to the Agora to expound on his philosophy while St Paul sought to win converts to Christianity in 49 A.D. The well-preserved Temple of Hephaestus was particularly striking, especially considering that it was built in 449 B.C.

After walking the stalls of the nearby central meat and fish markets and buying a sampling of some delicious (and huge) green olives, we checked out Attica, the country’s largest department store, which only reaffirmed to us how weak the U.S. dollar remains. Admission to the Benaki Museum was a lot less than a new Paul Stuart bathing suit, so we spent the next two hours exploring this fascinating collection of more than 20,000 items, spanning the Neolithic period (6500 – 3200 B.C.) to the early 20th century.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the Parliament, housed in the formal royal palace of King Otto. Out front, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider is guarded by evzones, huge kilt-wearing presidential guards that stand stone-faced while getting taunted by tourists. Every hour, in a regimented ceremony, the guards are relieved — and do a little dance in some very dope pompom shoes.

We walked through the National Gardens, once the private grounds of the royal family, back to the hotel, where Dad asked if every day would be this much walking before promptly falling asleep. We’ll get some dinner at a local taverna in the Plaka tonight and then probably get to bed early. Our ferry to Hydra departs tomorrow at 10 a.m.

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