stay a little longer...

I've been taking my sweet time finishing up my post on Greece. it was the last leg of my vacation, and arguably my favourite. I'm having a hard time finishing off the travel posts because then the experience will truly be over! and also, there's just so much to say about Athens...

those who doubted our decision to head to Athens in the middle of an economic crisis may be surprised to learn that we had a blast. the people there were so, so nice, the food was incredible, and the whole city seemed pretty warm and inviting. yes, there were one or two comments about the economy when discussing prices, but for the most part these two happy-go-lucky tourists barely noticed.

we stayed in the Plaka neighbourhood, right next to Monastiraki, and directly beneath the Acropolis. there are tons of things to see in the centre of Athens, all within walking distance of those neighbourhoods. we walked everywhere, and while the winding streets were somewhat confusing, my map and the obvious landmarks (Acropolis, hello!) made exploring pretty peachy. 

the Temple of Zeus (above) was five minutes from our hostel. it was the first Greek thing we saw, and it was an enigmatic experience for me. Athens was blistering hot every day we were there, so we were just baking there, looking up at this huge, ancient thing in the middle of a busy urban area. like it was no big deal. legends, mythologies, histories, revolved around places like this, and now they're just parts of a city sprawl that stick out like sore thumbs, yet somehow go mostly unnoticed. it's a strange thought, that people just live around things like this. 

...people, and cats. lots of cats. 

of course you can't visit Greece without catching a few rays by the Mediterranean sea! our beach adventures were more like misadventures, since by the time we got there in the afternoon the clouds would be pulling in and the sea breeze was feeling more wind-like. but we did have a lot of fun. 

Athens has plenty of beaches right in the city, albeit basically in the outskirts. you can take the tram from the city centre and hop off at any beach that strikes your fancy; but be warned that the tram is slightly confusing, ticketing is entirely automatic, and everything is solely in Greek. and let me tell you, if you think you'll be able to recognize or decipher Greek words once you've read them a few times, you won't. the alphabet is different, and you may not think it's not that big a deal, but it is. you can simply ask any of the friendly locals for directions, however this means risking embarrassment and attempting to pronounce Greek words. 

(more photos & lots more to say after the jump!)

the climb to the Acropolis is breathtaking in more ways than one; it's a fairly large hill, so add the sweltering sun, thighs extremely prone to uncomfortable heat rash, and one moderately out of shape lover of cheese, and it's not the most pleasurable experience. 

but the view is smashing! and you get to walk these tiny, winding footpaths through people's back yards and past pretty little cottage homes and over balconies with stunning views. we got hopelessly lost and turned-around. you'd think Athens' main attraction would be easier to get to, since you can see it from just about everywhere, but that's not the case. the way is marked sporadically with small, hand-painted signs - "Acropolis --->" - and there are steps and alleys going every which way. at least that's how it was in the direction we came from. just look for the hoards of tourists and helpful old Greek men and you'll eventually find yourself at the entrance. 

from there, you'll continue climbing. 

trust me, it's worth it. 
take all the enigma and awe I got from the Temple of Zeus and multiply by one hundred. I wanna say it's a little surreal, but I heard a lecture once on the misuse of that word and I'm not sure if the feeling is accurate. especially since you will undoubtably be surrounded by annoying tourists, which diminishes the feeling a little. just a little.

on the way down from the Acropolis you can walk through the ancient Agora, the marketplace, where the draw is to "walk in the footsteps of Socrates." draw worked. there's not a lot to see for the first bit, other than ruins, so I'm guessing a guide would have made the experience a little more interesting. but you can visit the Church of the Holy Apostles, which is pretty, and check out the Temple of Hephaestus, which is arguably the best-preserved Greek temple; it looks almost exactly the same as when it was built. 

there is also the Museum of the Ancient Agora at the bottom, but we didn't end up going in. the one thing about Athens that was a bit of an issue is that almost everything touristy closes at 3pm. so we had to get in as much site-seeing as possible between our lazy mornings and our search for lunch! I'd definitely keep that in mind when planing a trip. there were a couple things we missed out on because of bad timing (and our uncanny inability to use Athenian public transit!)- most notably the Archeological museum, which was on the complete other side of town, and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. oh well, I'm saving it for next time!

we did make it to the new Acropolis museum, which is certainly worth a visit. it's located at the base of the hill and contains all the excavated relics from the Acropolis. it's very cool, really open and bright and not too big. it's fun to roam around and check out the many Athena statues, and the everyday items used by ancient Athenians. there's also a bit of glass floor at the bottom where you can see some of the things they're excavating right now, right under the museum. 

Athens has tons to see and do, but I think the markets and the food had to be our favourites. 

we made some new friends on the busy restaurant streets where hosts solicit you with free wine and desserts. it sounds crazy, but the people who worked at these places were so charming and kind, we actually felt like their friends! I'm sure it's a clever business ploy, but it's a nice feeling. these guys would remember us when we walked past and continuously bring us free drinks and ask us questions with genuine interest. Greek people are the nicest. 
and everything we ate was ah. may. ZING. kebabs, gyros, souvlaki, baklava, Greek yoghurt, iced coffees. amazing. my mouth is watering just typing about it. 

shopping is an experience all on its own. there are streets crammed with tiny souvenir shops and leather shops and Greek ouzo shops. it sounds touristy and lame, but it's so bustling and interesting! the flea market in Monastiraki is especially atmospheric and has been around, in some form, for hundreds of years.

there's one shop in particular that's kind of famous called the Poet Sandal Maker, and it is SO worth a visit! it's a family business where they hand-make your custom-fitted traditional Greek sandals while you're there. there are a bunch of original designs to choose from, and a guy in the back hammers and cuts and glues the ones you choose to fit your foot perfectly.  it's a cool little place, with walls entirely covered in leather sandals, art, & pictures of celebrity clients like John Lennon and Jackie O and SJP. I don't even like sandals, but we went here and I just had to have a pair. Caitlin bought them for me as an early birthday present. they're the perfect Greek souvenir!

there is so much I want to say about our stay in Athens, but I've literally been here typing for three hours and I keep remembering things I'm leaving out! like the coffee shop men who casually poured us each two shots of ouzo on our last night in the city, for no reason. or the overpricing of sun screen. or our adorable hostel, the name of which I've completely lost in a muddle of Greek letters and street names. but I can't seem to cram everything in coherently, so I'll stop it here. 
Athens is wonderful. 

if anyone has questions, I'd be happy to answer them via email! I'll probably end up adding something to this in the morning when things are more clear and less nostalgic. I hope it wasn't too much of a mess to read. ♥

andio, bloggerinos! 

playing: rope- the foo fighters


Unknown said...

Hello beautiful wife. I have a question. Who is SJP? I can't figure it out/

Sarah K. said...

Sarah Jessica Parker!!
ya numpty. :)