Athens is a wild and crazy place, but we were awed by the Acropolis, Parthenon, and all the ancient sites and museums there, which were astounding in person and very peaceful. The food is delicious and we enjoyed the Plaka area and it’s many outdoor cafes near the Acropolis, but we really did not care for the campsite in Athens (Camping Athens) which is noisy, packed, primitive, expensive and there is a six lane road to cross to catch the bus with no cross signal. Just going to the store for groceries or off to tour in the morning was a death defying act in the endless and maniacal traffic.
We actually found very few cross signals in Athens so that adds to the craziness, along with some insane taxi drivers who either are not interested in picking anyone up or take you for joy rides. Luckily we had a few excellent and honest taxi drivers, but we ended up with a few doozies, including one who might have been certifiable. I got a picture of his license plate and that stopped his antics.
If I am going to mention the craziest person we met, I must also mention the sweetest. When we had gotten off the ferry we were not sure where we were going to camp and had no GPS coordinates to any place close by. We were going to follow an RV from Germany who had been here many times, but they were stopping off for food and said it was very easy to find. It did not seem so easy for us and it was quickly getting dark and apparently we took a wrong turn and got hopelessly lost in a very bad area of hills, narrow streets and detours with impatient rush hour traffic behind us.
I said a little prayer as I held my breath and like a miracle, an angel seemed to appear out of no where and signaled with his arm to follow him. The streets are particularly hard in Athens due to signage in a different alphabet (sometimes they have it in English, but not always), crazy drivers and traffic. We were not sure what to do, but since we were totally lost and in a precarious spot, we decided to follow him. He did not speak any English (DaVinci got out at one point to talk to him at a red light) and led us on quite a wild goose chase, but eventually took us right to a great campsite. DaVinci joked that maybe his brother owned the campsite as he was incredulous that anyone would give up that much time for strangers, but I think his motivations were purely altruistic. Who knows what we would have done without him!
We also got a little lost headed towards downtown Athens the next morning when we missed the sign for our campsite which was also a little hairy in endless traffic with no opportunities to turn or make a U-turn. Just dealing with the traffic was part of our adventure in Athens. We actually rather enjoyed Athens and its people, despite the downsides, but we were also glad that our stay was short as a hot, crazy city is not the optimum environment for a family or young child.
All of it was worth it though, when we made it to the Acropolis, Parthenon and ancient sites. There is a pass to all the ancient sites for twelve euros that is good for 48 hours which is handy and most are close together. When we reached that area which is the original site of ancient Athens, we saw lots of olive trees, an old man fully dressed in native costume sitting under one and the Parthenon up the hill. We asked to take his picture and then he asked for a euro, but we were more than glad to give it to him so that we might pose him with Mozart with the Parthenon in the background.
There were not very many people in this area, so we decided that it would be a good spot to do our violin video. The few people that did show however, seemed to be exceedingly interested in Mozart playing her violin with the Parthenon in the background. People from many different countries (Slovenia to Italy) all asked if they could take her picture too and continually interrupted our filming. This has happened before, but never to this extent. One even offered to give some money for the opportunity and since Mozart loves money, she could not understand why I said no. Don’t be surprised if your neighbor has a shot identical to the one at the top!
We were told to come very early before the crowds got there from tour busses, but of course it is not our modus operandi , so we arrived much later and were pleasantly surprised to not find it over crowded. There were people, naturally, but it was really not bad at all, perhaps partly because it is high on a hill, it was hot and there are no guard rails. I think we were there on a Sunday too and perhaps that made a difference, although I am not sure why.
There are many buildings to see on this one limestone plateau, but it seemed most of the people gathered at the first landing where we took the picture of the three of us. The space opens up to a very large area after that so there seemed to be few people, which allows one to have a personal and private experience with these wonders. One can see all of modern Athens from the height of these ancient sites and that in itself is beautiful and the contrast is thought provoking.
It reminded me a little of our experience with another over photographed spot, Pont du Gard., in the fact that no matter how many pictures one sees of it, the experience of being there is just so much bigger and more grand. Despite knowing this Acropolis image intimately from all the images that I have seen of it in my lifetime, I was still taken aback by the profound beauty and immensity. Pictures just can not do it justice, so we were grateful to see it in reality.
I loved the Erechtheion building and especially its six stone maidens. Four of the original maiden figures are in the Museum of the Acropolis right there (the other was stolen by Lord Elgin and is on display in the British Museum...which adds intrigue to the story).
Parthenon means literally “virgin Athens” and is an all marble temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Part of it is in scaffolding (as is often the case in so many places in Europe) but we did not find that it took much away from this work of art as it was not extensive.
The Acropolis consists of five different buildings including the Parthenon, Propylaea, Erechtheion,The Temple of Nike (Winged Victory) and the Aeropagus. The Museum of Acropolis is also here, plus there is the Theatre of Dionysos and Oderon of Herodes Atticus nearby where there are theater and music events still held in the summer with the Parthenon in full view. We did not get a chance to see anything when there, but we will have one more chance at Athens and I would love to see an opera or something in that venue together.
After the Acropolis we headed to the nearby Agora which was the market place and center of commerce and government in ancient Athens. What fun to be in the same spot where Socrates spent much time explaining his philosophy! There we saw the well preserved Temple of Hephaestus and then the Stoa of Attalos which houses a great museum.
We found a great book for kids there called “The Hill Of The Hidden Secrets-A chronicle of an imaginary excavation” (3rd addition) by Panos Valavanis (ISBN 960-328-103-4). He is a professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Athens with a PhD, but has a great way of making it fun as well as educational for kids and Mozart plowed right into as soon as we bought it. She loves it and is plotting and planning to use the activity and game section for her “archeology sleep over” that she is planning for her friends in Spain this winter.
After a full day, we headed to a restaurant with a view of the Acropolis just outside of Stoa of Attalos and had the best meal we have had in Athens including home made apple pie and ice cream for dessert (for Mozart and DaVinci) which was a yummy surprise. My food passion in Greece is the Tziki, (a scrumptious yogurt dip) , grape leaves around rice (which I first tasted at a famous Greek’s home when we were neighbors in NYC and made by her mother and loved ever since), Greek salads and slouvaki (chicken grilled on a stick). Oh and the really good fresh made pita bread that is so much better than what we call pita at home, the fresh feta cheese, the ground olive spread.... hmm, come to think of it, there is not much I do not like in Greek food and it suits the weather perfectly and is a healthy choice!