I’m continually surprised at the distances in Greece. Not only at how much further places are than they appear on a map, but also at how much longer it takes to travel those distances. The drive to Athens from Delphi took several hours, with most of it along rather minor roads, travelling up and over countless small mountain ranges.
We started noticing the occasional ball of cotton on the road, and then started seeing more and more of them, lining the edges of the road. We were now driving through some enormous cotton farms, all of which had been recently harvested – or were in the processes of it. Tractors pulling enormous trailers filled with little clouds of cotton were holding up traffic, and every time they hit a bump (which was frequent), it would send little groups of cotton into the air, where they eventually joined the other escaped cotton on the side of the road.
It was close enough to dark by the time we made it into Athens. We found a free car park only a short walking distance from the Acropolis. It sounded too good to be true. We read that there was a slant to the car park, and that it was a little noisy due to the location, but it was too good for us to resist. It was too good to be true, the gradient of the park was not something we could tolerate, nor overcome. To be honest, I have no idea how anyone could sleep in a van on such an angle.
Our Plan B was another free park, this time by the ocean, just outside of town. The driving at night time in a busy city like Athens in a motorhome wasn’t something anyone could consider fun. It’s less chaotic than Albania, but that didn’t mean it was organised. We had mixed feelings about the parking location. It was indeed free, but it wasn’t the kind of place that filled you with confidence about leaving your car. The paid options didn’t sound much better (other than having a proper fence), so we thought we’d give it a go.
Dinner, was predictably, another gyros. We had a look at a nearby seafood restaurant. It had exceptional reviews, but we felt out of place walking through the doors – and realised why when we saw the prices on the menu. The gyros from Kalamogyros were everything we wished for – fast, cheap, delicious and the appearance of being healthy. They also had ‘shot’ sizes, which were supposed to be small enough to fit into a shot glass – they weren’t, they were probably 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a regular gyros. I ordered way too much, and struggled to sleep.
For some reason, 2AM was the time of choice for people to come out to this port area and practise burnouts in the car/scooter, too. I just reminded myself, at least it was free.
I can’t believe how fast last 100 days have gone by. The first 100 felt like an enormous holiday, these second 100 have just raced by. We were in Mersault in Cote d’Or, France with our friends at their restaurant for the 100th day. Today we’d be off to explore Athens! The tram into town was only a short walk from the park. We double checked to make sure there was nothing of value visible in the van, and that all the doors and windows were locked. I had a sense of dread about leaving our car parked here – at least there were some nicer cars parked next to us now.
We were now seeing Athens in the bright daylight, and it didn’t make the city look any prettier. I know that most capital cities aren’t very pretty, but this is especially true for Athens. It’s actually moderately clean, and not too much decay or other problems. It’s also reasonably modern. Yet somehow, it just feels… unattractive. At least the weather is incredible – another warm and sunny day.
I had mistakenly thought that it was going to be quiet, since it was a random weekday in October. The rest of Greece has been rather quiet, so saw no reason it wouldn’t hold true for Athens, too. We joined the crowds and queued to buy tickets to enter. I can’t deny, we were not prepared for the price of the tickets and got a nasty shock when it came time to pay the €30 each for entrance. This is the single most expensive place that we’ve visited on the holiday!
While we were queuing we started listening to a free audio guide podcast that Risa had found – Rick Steeves. We started with a background and historical explanation of the city and country. Once inside, it formed an actual walking tour, with guidance for making your way around the site, and explanation for what there was to see. It was surprisingly good, and wished we’d had this for more of the places we’d visited – it was pretty cheesy though.
It wasn’t a large site, but there was much to look at. We started with the views out over Athens, including the old amphitheatre, and the sea of white houses that filled the landscape, lapping at the edges of the surrounding hills.
The Parthenon was the key sight of the Acropolis, and it didn’t disappoint. It was grand, and even though I’ve seen countless photos, seeing it in the flesh was such a different experience. The scale is hard to understand without being there, seeing these huge blocks that make up the dozens of columns holding even larger facades (the key sculptures now live in the British Museum in London).
There was no respite from the shade (I’d hate to visit during summer), but this sunshine made the marble buildings positively glow.
There were a few other temples located on this hill. They might have had intricate carvings for columns, but they couldn’t match the sheer scale of the Temple of Athena. The whole site was in quite good condition, and they were busy at work with further renovations (or protections to prevent further damage).
I couldn’t believe it when I learnt that there is a full scale replica (complete with 10m high golden statue of Athena) – and that it was in Nashville, Tennessee.
It was exceptionally pricey, but it’s a place that I won’t forget, and could not be skipped on this trip.
We slowly made our way down from the summit, taking a freestyle approach to the trails. As we left the Acropolis behind, it became possible to see it clearer. When standing on top, you don’t quite notice that you’re standing on top of cliffs.
We were headed for lunch (yes, gyros again), and our path took us through some large open-air craft markets. Risa found a few more Mishka souvenir pins, which thankfully don’t take up too much space in her luggage. Lunch was at Souvlaki Bar, or SVL BAR, and once again, the gyros were exceptional. I’m not even get close to becoming sick of eating them every day. I’m actually worried what will happen in a few days when we leave Greece behind.
In the shadow of the Acropolis lay a huge complex of ruins. Entrance was included in the ticket we bought this morning, so thankfully we didn’t have any further expenses for our time visiting sites in Athens. This was the old market and downtown area, with large streets of stone still remaining.
The highlight was the rebuilt stoa, with its colonnade portico. It was beautifully geometric, especially in those brief chances when there were no other tourists in sight.
There was a small museum inside. It showcased exhibits from the Agora, and I was amazed at how advanced the culture was. There were relics that showed people performing Jury Duty, as well as voting systems to ostracise people from the town – thousands of years before Big Brother.
The other thing that caught my attention, but not at first, were these strange sculptures – I’m not quite sure why they chose to add genitalia to it.
There were many other buildings in the Ancient Agora grounds, including another ancient Greek temple. This was far smaller than the Parthenon, though also in far more complete condition. It was said that this particular temple was in such good condition because Christians used it as a place of worship during Turkish occupation. After seeing so many skeletons of buildings, it was quite amazing to see something that was largely complete after thousands of years.
There were a few other sites that we were able to visit with our ticket, however, they had either already closed or would do so shortly. We swiftly made our way through the semi-pedestrianised streets, filled with souvenir shops, before popping out at Hadrian’s Arch and then in to see the ruins of the temple of Olympian Zeus just before it closed for the day.
We could see the colossal ruins of this temple from the lookouts on the Acropolis. Even from there it appeared gigantic.
From here, at ground level, it appeared like madness. It was twice the size of the Parthenon, which itself was unbelievably large. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the 128 original columns still remains standing, including one that only recently toppled (if mid-19th Century is recent), where it remains like a spilled pile of chequers.
The sun was approaching the horizon, and we were being slowly, but ruthlessly, rounded up and herded towards the exit. The scale of the temple was incredible, however there wasn’t that much there to see, other than the 16 giant columns and enormous foundations.
We walked around some of the central sights of town, and up towards Syntagma Square, but the noise of the traffic, and the general concrete nature of the city were putting us off.
I read about this small community that had developed just below the Acropolis, and it sounded too amazing to miss. Fishermen from a small Greek island of Anafi, not too far from the more well known Santorini, moved here in the 1950s, and feeling homesick, built these houses in the image of their homes on the islands. I’ve never been to the Cyclades, but I’ve seen enough Instagram photos of Santorini to get the general feeling.
It felt like we’d stepped back in time (and been transported out of the buzz of Athens). We were walking through bleached white alleys, squeezing through equally stark white concrete buildings. The pathways were tiny, and clearly a product of evolution, rather than planning. They twisted, stretched and compressed around these beautiful houses. It was a white washed oasis. I guess we were lucky with the timing, as the cats outnumbered tourists 2:1.
We caught the tail of the sunset from here, with Mount Lycabettus glowing with the fading light of the day. It was about now that my camera battery suddenly went flat and refused to power back on… I decided to discard this battery, as it’s let me down several times now.
It didn’t take long to loop through the streets of this tiny community. It was time for dinner, and for something different, it wasn’t going to be a kebab – or was it? We read about some fantastic sounding restaurants in the town, so we walked back to the other side of central Athens, only to find that they were completely full – we had to walk up four flights of stairs to find out they were full.
We were exhausted, our feet ached, and we just wanted to eat. There were no shortage of restaurants in this area, with touts trying to pull you in off the streets. We gave one a try, but after waiting fifteen minutes without getting an opportunity to order, we excused ourselves and went looking for somewhere else.
To avoid further disappointment, we did a little research about where to eat. Psaras looked like a good compromise, but we would have to walk back around to the other side of the Acropolis, back near Anafiotika. It was a beautiful location, up on the terrace, just below the Acropolis. It wasn’t cheap (compared to gyros), but it was at least tasty. We had some veal meatballs with tomato sauce; lamb, cheese and potato in a hotpot; and some grilled vegetables with haloumi.
It was a huge day, mostly spent in the sunshine, and by the time we got home, it was 11PM, and we collapsed straight to sleep. It might have been ambitious, but we’d managed to see all that we wanted to see in a single day, and could make our way north on the long drive towards Thessaloniki in the morning.