Who wouldn’t love to go to Athens, home of gods, myths, legends, inventions and philosophy? I’m sure that any person would adore the notion. We, of course, weren’t the exception. Still, during our journey, many people did their best to undermine our desire. On more than one occasion we were told that Athens is ugly and dirty, that we shouldn’t go there, that we should only stay for the shortest time possible, that we should run to the islands, etc. Obviously, we weren’t going to be easily dissuaded, and thank god we didn’t heed to the advice. What do I think of Athens? That it is the jewel that we already had in our heads. No more, no less.
In spite of that, getting to it was not without complications. At the station in Thessaloniki, the information we were getting as regards train reservations were confusing to say the least, and we couldn’t board a train that we’ve been waiting for hours for not having a reservation (which we were told wasn’t necessary). Then, we had to wait a few hours more, so, once again, we got to our destination late at night. But what a night! Getting to Athens touristic center, Monastiraki, at sinful hours is getting absorbed by a cocktail of lights, warm charming music, old but restored buildings, an atmosphere that flirts with the bohemian, and plenty of youth. Our first impression was: “All right, we understand that some crazy fellow might not like this, but it rocks”.
Quite a normal sight when you’re walking the Athenian streets
It’s true, after all, that Athens is not a place that boasts richness. A graffiti here and there, dirt here and there, crazy people here and there. Nevertheless, nothing conspires against its style, which tries to amaze by means of an obvious mixture: the solemnity and “oldness” of its key historical places (mainly the Acropolis, which reigns over the city and can be seen in all its glory from all places of the city) with the music, glitter and “youngness” of its streets. It’s a romantic, philosophical and utterly bohemian style that’s not satisfied with the “come see me”. No, Athens wants you to live her, feel her and, once gone, miss her.
The Acropolis, the great sentry of Athens
Obviously, we only had three days, and it wasn’t going to be easy to see everything there was to be seen, but we tried our best. We had to start somewhere, and the Acropolis, with the imposing Parthenon, was calling us from everywhere (the hostel had an amazing view of it). On the way there, we passed through the old agora, where you can find the remains of a myriad of temples, homes, monuments, theaters and other buildings (some preserved wonderfully, some represented by only one or two surviving columns). The history of this site is similar to that of many other places of Europe, with an eternal cycle of destruction (due to several wars) and reconstruction. After careful steps (the road up the hill is made primarily of marble, and, often enough, doesn’t have any steps, so it not uncommon to slip), we got to the top of the Acropolis. There, the swarm of tourists didn’t manage to take our attention away from the magnificent Parthenon, from the Temple of Athena and from the fantastic city, which can be completely seen from this vantage point (I would have never expected it to be that big).
On the top of the Acropolis, with the Parthenon to prove it
The temple of the Athena, the mother goddess of the city
Going down was maybe more incredible than going up, for the sunset really paced itself and presented us with some top-shelf Greek postcards.
Vistas como ésta nos regaló la bajada
We didn’t neglect the Temple of Zeus, which, unfortunately, is no longer the wonder of the world it once was. Nowadays, only a handful of columns pay homage to what the temple was, and the whole place cries bitter tears of desolation. In any case, the excruciating summer heat wasn’t really allowing us to stay much time there reflecting on what once was and is no more, so I guess Zeus didn’t really like us that much. It’s a shame, but that “Twelve houses of the zodiac” idea many of us grew up with is nothing but a mirage.
The not-so-great-anymore Temple of Zeus
There’s another hill you can see from almost everywhere, with a tiny building on top. Curiosity got the best of us and we decided to go there, just to find a small church with a massive restaurant next to it (extremely expensive of course). The combination was weird, but the amount of people there was overwhelming. In any case, going up, in this city, is always a good idea, as it has horizons like few other cities. There you can easily understand why Apollo (Helios), god of the sun, was such an important god, since our mother star seems to always shine brightly over the historic country. It’s clear for us that, even if Athens had nothing else to offer, going there just for the poetry of its sunsets is something really worth doing.
Apollo’s carriage waving goodbye to Athens
Our visit was wrapped up by walking the streets and admiring the work of thousands of craftsmen, whose products are always related to history, mythology, democracy and philosophy (well, you can also find the obvious shirts and bracelets for tourists, but that doesn’t sound that good). During our stay we ate gyros more than anything else, and they are like kebabs but with pita bread instead of the flat “tortillas”. Those things were an amazing discovery, since Greek food doesn’t really offer that much variety (goat cheese and olives galore).
Traveling back north was not the easiest thing we ever did, since we had to travel to Thessaloniki by train and then wait many hours until morning (for our train to Sofia). Unfortunately, the Thessaloniki train station closes its doors at night (the guards almost kicked us out), so we had to wait at a nearby bus stop. Luckily, we were victims of nothing more than exhaustion, and we got with no problems to Bulgaria. After our stay there, we went to Belgrade, Serbia.
Soon you’ll hear about our stay in Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Italy and Spain (yep, once again), the last countries of this first From A to G tour.
Care to see more pictures of Athens? Check them out at our Facebook: Athens, Greece, album.
This post is also available in Spanish, at Atenas, del mito a la realidad.
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